What's the best film camera for medium-format hand-held photography?

Discussion in 'Medium Format' started by rexmarriott, Feb 3, 2019.

  1. I want to do medium-format hand-held outdoor work. I've got a Hasselblad 500CW, but I don't consider it practical for hand-held photography.

    I'm limited to 6 x 6 because of my enlarger, and would prefer 6 x 6 to 645. I prefer a prism to a waist-level finder. I don't want a TLR. I'd love a Mamiya 6, but I'm a little put off by the price. I'm also interested in the Pentacon 6.

    Which medium-format film camera would you recommend for my purposes?

  2. The Mamiya 6 is a great camera with great lenses. I use mine all the time for handheld work. They are pricey but well worth it in my opinion. You would not be disappointed.
  3. Check out the Fuji bodies as well. I still like the Pentax 645n
  4. I don't use it as much as I should, but I have an original Pentax 645 that's great as a grab and go camera. It's light, relatively speaking, has a built in meter and auto exposure(yes, it's all straight out of the 70s/80s, but is more advanced than a lot of MF cameras) and an integral prism that doesn't add too much weight or bulk to the camera.

    I've never seen any complaints about the quality of Pentax lenses, and if you get brave there are even zoom lenses for it. Move up to a 645N and you can get autofocus too.
    Dave Luttmann likes this.
  5. It is about style of photography.
    I started with my father's Exakta with a waist level finder (which you actually had to use close to your eye), so looking down to shoot was how I learned. So TLR or Hasselblad with a WLF is not an issue for me. I seem to be able to switch gears easily.

    BTW, there is a 90 degree and 45 degree prism for the Hasselblad.
    I have the 45 degree prism, but usually use the WLF.

    I second the Mamiya 6 or Pentax 645 as options.
    On the 645, I understand that there were different models, and some are preferable to others.
  6. For me it's the Bronica ETR series with the ergonomic Speed Grip. Easily hand held, not much bigger (if at all) than a 35mm SLR, handles the same with a thumb advance, and comes with a hot shoe. It's relatively light weight also.
    wogears likes this.
  7. I wonder why you rule out the Hasselblad. And why you rule out TLR's too.
  8. - Great lenses, shame about the camera.
    The P6 with prism is a top heavy beast. Quite hand-holdable at waist/chest level though, with surprisingly good mirror damping. But you're looking at a 40+ year old camera that wasn't the most reliable in its prime.

    I like my old metal-bodied Mamiya 645s. OK if you're into weight-training. Don't touch the Supers, Pro or Pro-TL though.

    Only ever handled a Pentax 645 briefly, but it would be on my short list if I was shopping for a small-ish medium format camera.

    Bronicas? They should come with ear-defenders and CE approved anti-vibration gloves.:cool:
  9. Which is the best medium format film camera? Simple, the one that comes with the most film and accessories. :)
  10. Have 2 Bronicas (Etrs & Etrsi ) which I traveled extensively with and they always provided great results, however even with the speed grip I found that the film back was always bumping into something . Had a few YashicaMats and once again great results , but only one lens and contrary to common remarks , you can't always zoom in with your feet . Have a couple of Kowa Six cameras , love them too , but I fear a bit too close to the Hasselblads for their ergonomics . Finally got a Pentacon 6 TL , that after a pretty intensive cleaning and lubing seems to hit all the right buttons for for a hand held 6x6 with good lenses (that are reasonably priced ) . My 2 bits .:) , Peter
    ps: Yes the prism certainly adds to the girth , but is easily changed over to the WLF
    andyfalsetta likes this.
  11. Leaf shutter Bronicas aren't THAT bad-they're a bit louder than a Hasselblad, but not terrible by any means.

    Focal plane shutter ones are a different story...
    david_smith|35 likes this.
  12. A Rolleiflex TLR is compact from front to back, which makes it surprisingly steady to use either at waist or eye level. The WLF can be replaced with a prism, but IMO makes it too top heavy and bulky. I just used the sports finder, which lowers a mirror and magnifying lens for focusing (also at eye level). I use a 45 deg prism on a Hasselblad, with the advantage of interchangeable lenses and the ability to change film types mid-roll.

    Unless you are using electronic flash, shooting MF by hand is a fools errand. You throw away any advantage MF offers for detail, other than less grain. If you are going to lug a large heavy camera around, it makes sense to use a tripod too. Unless you can shoot at 1/500 second, you need a tripod, and even then a tripod wins. In a very practical sense, MF film runs a dead heat with a 24 MP digital camera. That's not much to say for burning film at $20 a roll (with processing) for 12 exposures. That said, film offers unique rendering of colors, and is arguably superior for B&W. Why blow it with camera shake?
    ken_kuzenski and Jochen like this.
  13. Narrowing down exactly what you want to do (and how you want to do it) is the key to getting something that satisfies you on the first try, rather than being disappointed several times until you hit the right camera system. A Pentacon 6 isn't in the same galaxy as a Mamiya 6 or Hasselblad.

    What do you primarily want to shoot handheld? People or cityscape/landscape? People/portraits mean a fixed normal lens or option to mount a short tele. Landscapes typically lend themselves to wides or teles.

    The standard for handheld MF is a TLR: Rolleiflex, Minolta Autocord, Yashicamat, or Mamiya 220/330. All but the Mamiya are small and light with excellent 80mm lenses, whisper quiet leaf shutters with no jolting mirror or huge focal plane shutter. The Mamiyas are larger, heavier, slightly noisier but offer interchangeable lenses (55mm or 65mm wide, 135mm or 180mm portrait). If you can live with just a 75mm or 80mm lens, and waist level finder, TLRs can be amazing. But slap a prism on one, and you'll kill its charms dead. A TLR with a prism is like a gelded SLR: all the weight and clumsy, without the lens and viewing accuracy advantages.

    If TLR is absolutely a no for whatever reason, that leaves rangefinders and SLRs (which you say you'd prefer with prism). The rangefinder is the most lightweight eye-level choice, and most have leaf shutters like the TLRs (no flapping mirror or huge FP shutter, so careful handheld technique can allow 1/30th sec). In 6x6, the Mamiya 6 is of course the high water mark, but at this point is a pricey "three-strikes-you're -out" choice as a user camera. Very expensive, great lenses, but the bodies are less than stellar (several common failure points that are difficult to get repaired nowadays).

    If you can live without interchangeable lenses, the later non-folding Fuji GS645 is a dynamite, affordable choice with a killer fixed semiwide 60mm f/4 lens (in essence, a bigger slower version of Leica M with a 35mm lens). Built-in coupled manual-exposure metering with in-finder +0- LED display. Drawbacks are portrait orientation (you must turn the camera to shoot horizontals), and the mechanical Copal leaf shutter has a reputation for failing in very cold weather. The final GA645 series added AF, much more reliable electronic shutter with AE, and built-in motor winder (one even has a zoom lens).

    I don't see the point in buying another SLR, since you already own a Hasselblad: if you're gonna go that route, just slap the small NC2 prism and a side grip on your 'blad and call it a day. Any Bronica, Mamiya or Pentax equivalent is going to be nearly as large, heavy, clumsy and blurry at speeds below 1/250th: the only significant advantage they hold over a 'blad would be integrated metering with auto-exposure feature. The Pentacon 6 is a tinkerer's dream but a photographers nightmare: as rodeo_joe succinctly put it, "great lenses- shame about the camera". Handling is similar to the Pentax 67 (a giant 35mm SLR), which some prefer to the more boxy traditional 6x6 cameras with interchangeable backs. But it can be hard to find a fully-functional Pentacon, or keep it fully-functional if you do.

    If you're drawn to the Mamiya 6 but can't really justify the price, I don't think you can go wrong with a Fuji GA645: it's basically a Mamiya 6 with fixed semi-wide lens and AF. Perfect grab-and-go, spontaneous shooter. For more contemplative shooting ala your Hasselblad (but less weight and ability to use much slower handheld shutter speeds), reconsider your aversion to TLRs: you can't beat a Rolleiflex for 6x6 versatility. Can't resist the lure of SLR? Save yourself a bundle, and just pop a prism/grip on your Hasselblad.
    Jean-Claude and rexmarriott like this.
  14. Vincent Peri

    Vincent Peri Metairie, LA

    I had a couple of Hasselblad 500CM bodies and 4 lenses some decades ago. For some reason, I could hardly ever get a sharp photo handheld, and I usually shot either Tri-x (ISO 400) or Kodak color negative (ISO 100) film in bright sunlight. I sold it all to a NY City photo store and bought a ton of NIkon equipment with the proceeds.
  15. I know you are restricted to 6x6, but I found a Linhof 220 to be a good handheld camera that is virtually silent in operation. You can always lop-off a bit to fit your 6x6 enlarging frame.
    orsetto likes this.
  16. Would agree with you Peter. If you can tune one yourself, they turn out to be a wonderful camera/system.
  17. If rexmarriott doesn't mind the format compromise, the Linhoff 220 is a splendid candidate! Ground-up designed for handheld street shooting, albeit optimized for portrait/vertical orientation. Drawbacks are collectible status = pricey, and tricky film advance mechanics that make the Pentacon 6 seem a paragon of reliability. But oh, that Rodenstock lens is amazing: runs with the Hasselblad 100mm f/3.5 Planar, or Ektar 100mm f/3.5 on the Medalist.

    Other vintage options would be the incredibly versatile Mamiya Press or Koni-Omega Rapid, which I believe can be fitted with 6x6 backs or masks. Or a sentimental favorite with Zeiss glass options, the Graflex XL (random eBay pic, no relation to seller):

    Graflex XL Planar.jpg
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2019
    Gary Naka likes this.
  18. IMHO 645 is an excellent format. The neg is 2.7X the area of a 35mm neg, and the gear is lighter and more compact than larger medium format options.

    Rangefinders are going to be the most portable, but it's tricky if you need graduated ND filters. The Mamiya 6 is too pricey, so why not a Fujifilm GW670 and crop?
  19. the Linhoff 220 is a splendid candidate! Ground-up designed for handheld street shooting, albeit optimized for portrait/vertical orientation. Drawbacks are collectible status = pricey, and tricky film advance mechanics that make the Pentacon 6 seem a paragon of reliability. But oh, that Rodenstock lens is amazing: runs with the Hasselblad 100mm f/3.5 Planar, or Ektar 100mm f/3.5 on the Medalist.

    I am on my third Linhof 220. I agree about the winding mechanism, you have to be careful but deliberate when winding it. Because of it's odd shape I was often asked what kind of movie camera is that. The viewfinder is large and life size that makes for easy shooting. I still have a bunch of 220 Provia in the freezer.
  20. The pancake style "ideal format" cameras were introduced in the mid 60's, and used primarily for news photography and weddings. I left tongue prints on a few, but never jumped (for lack of funds or other priorities). While they were generally used hand-held, consider that a large photo in a newspaper is about postcard sized, and that weddings were shot using a flash (electronic by that time), inside and out. I never saw one at a news event, but a friend had one for weddings. 35 mm was pretty well established as the news medium of choice.

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