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

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

  1. Sorry, I didn't get any email alerts, so thought there were no replies. I'll start here.

    Re the Hasselblad, I've two concerns. First, I find it quite awkward to hold; second, all in it cost me more than I'm prepared to admit, and I'm a bit paranoid about either dropping it or having it stolen.
    Re TLRs. I've got a Mamiya C220F, which I bought for this very purpose about a year ago. I'm really impressed with the images it produces and I love the fact that I can get really close up with it. As with the Hasselblad, I find it not the easiest thing to hand-hold and I've got major issues with the focusing. I'm using a 105mm lens, so the plane of sharp focus is pretty slim. I find focusing a pain.
    Thus, to get the results I want, I'm thinking about a camera that handles more like a classic SLR, so has some sort of grip I can grab on to.
  2. Food for thought here.

    I want to photograph people. I've got an acceptable set-up for turning my kitchen into a studio and am pleased with the results using the Hasselblad on a tripod. I have a dream of producing more spontaneous outdoor portraits. I'm mindful of Ed_Ingold's comment about the difficulties of hand-holding. Nonetheless, that's what I want to do.

    Side grip for the Hasselblad?
  3. First time I've heard of this. Will explore.
  4. Yes, it looks a bit like a cine camera.
  5. People. medium format, and handheld (without flash) can be a tall order. Modern 120 rangefinders are light, eyelevel, quick to operate, but rangefinder focusing for portraits is... problematic. The DOF with 6x6 is pretty slim at portrait distances, so you can't really fudge as you can with a 35mm Leica rangefinder. With 6x6 dedicated portraiture, it really does help to have reflex viewing.

    The Linhoff and press type cameras are tricky beasts. Yes, they're optimized for handheld spontaneous shooting, but more along the lines of being gigantic candid-camera Instamatics that happen to use 120 film and cost a fortune (back when they were new). As Ed_Ingold noted, they were meant mostly for news gathering (where you're usually trying to document an overall situation, not necessarily trying to capture a fleeting expression in a single-person portrait sitting).

    They were indeed used by some wedding pros, but here again (in those days) weddings were a very stylized setting with specific ground rules amenable to that type of camera. I don't think this would work too well today for the goals you expressed. Perhaps leave the Linhoff to collectors: fabulous in theory, but they tend to have hidden issues in the film transport and lens that 90% of repair techs are baffled by. When new, the cost was beyond ludicrous (more than a complete Hasselblad outfit), so they're scarce now. The rarity + cult-ish Rodenstock lens makes it collectible, but the film advance is a real danger point when working quickly (if you forget yourself and treat the Linhoff 220 like a normal camera, it will reward you by permanently bricking itself).

    The Fuji 645 rangefinders won't do for portraiture because of the fixed wide angle lens. Even if you wanted to spend for the Mamiya 6, its rangefinder is notorious for mis-focusing with the 150mm portrait lens, so nix on that too. The recent Fuji/Voightlander folders are reliable, with great 80mm lens, but cost more than a Mamiya 6 outfit. Old folding rangefinders like Zeiss Ikonta are too slow to operate. That leaves us with TLRs and SLRs. A Rollieflex with prism and pistol grip is fairly small, handles nimbly, and will let you shoot available light at lower shutter speeds than Hassy. Or, you could cautiously experiment with the Pentacon/Praktisix that seems most appealing to you at the moment. Just, don't spend too much at first: like an old exotic car, they promise a lot but many spend most of their time in the repair shop. You might get lucky and find a good one, but its a crapshoot.

    My suggestion: pick up an affordable Pentacon Six and see how you get on with it. If you feel instant love, and bond with it like glue, start saving your money to put towards a couple spare bodies, and have them completely overhauled by a Pentacon specialist with a rep for durable repairs. A good Pentacon has its handheld charms for sure, and some of the lenses rival Hasselblad's.

    Yes, like this (Vivitar made a similar generic version which is just as good, and can be used with any camera). There was also a more modern Hassy side grip with more integrated, built-in shutter button and mechanical coupling to the camera shutter button (instead of a cable release coupling). Or perhaps better, a pistol grip. If you don't already have one, an Acute Matte focus screen with split image focus aid can be a night-and-day difference in speed of use. Still rather heavy, and (as Ed_Ingold often reminds us) not everyone can hand hold a Hasselblad and get tack sharp results without flash. Of course if you'll be using flash in your kitchen studio, no problem:

    500c NC2 CableGrip 2.jpg
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2019
    peter_fowler likes this.
  6. No issues using the later Mamiya 645(Super/Pro/ProTL) with a prism finder, a drive grip and an 80/2.8. They're an ergonomic mess without the grip which improves handling but also increases the noise level. Swappable film backs are a bonus. A monopod does come in handy in iffy light. They're also undeserving of the failure-prone POS label some habitually slap on them. YMMV, as usual.
  7. - The mirror rest/brake on yours obviously hasn't cracked then.... yet!

    I'd call a 3 out of 3 (2 supers and a ProTL) failure rate in as many years a pretty poor record. Even my Kowa 6 lasted longer than that.
  8. Probably the way to go!
    I'm no Hasselblad fan.
    • Frequent need for extension tubes (sometimes already for portraiture)
    • slightly more awkward reloading
    My big eye level camera experience always involved grips (Linhof) or hammerhead flash attached cable releases for the left hand. - I wasn't really successfull adapting a Mamiya 645 system grip to the TLRs, but yes, such a grip would be the way to go if I wanted to use my prism finder. - I prefer WLFs and chimneys. People look better shot from that POV and it takes significantly less strength to hold the camera. So for 1.88m me it was absolutely worth getting used to those finders.

    I have a Pentacon 6; the film spacing is not even but did not yet produce overlayed images. I'd call it waiting for disaster to strike. No clue if the Exakta using the same mount is more reliable.

    I really recommend using the 'blad you have. Get a reliable strap, do the security drill (i.e. never place it on a table with strap dangling down) and get something out of the money, you sunk in it. <- Yes, I have been there too. I really felt not good during the start of my Monochrom relationship. Even leaving it at home did not feel "right", since I'd have loved to have a more solid door there...
    Get over the "investment"! - The odds that you'll get much (or "enough") back, when you resell, seem dwindling. (<- Things are worse with digital but for every reason mentioned against film people will be unlikely to spend fortunes on premium gear to "just dip their toes once". Which seems the main reason to buy into film today. And hardcore users seem dying out plus most likely looking for well maintained budged beaters instead of pristine shelf queens in need of a CLA., if they haven't already scooped up more than they'll ever need.)

    The Mamiya 6 was a quite lovely and tempting camera. - But AFAIK it is already facing spare part shortages? - For that reason I would not want to buy one now. + Maybe the minimum focusing distance of the portrait lens is quite limiting too. (I am not sure.) I did handle it at my dealer's, back in the day. What I did not really like: It was heavier than my old folding RF but yes, that camera has a squinty VF with a quite dim RF patch, so it is primary ultra portable.

    There is not very much to recommend on the MF market. In doubt: Evaluate stuff hands on, before you'll buy! - I have not tried any 645. - In theory you'll save money on film and you might hopefully be able to get either a brighter focusing screen in a Pentax or a digital future for the lenses you'll buy. But I don't see a chance to acquire anything combining snappy focusing leaf shutter sufficient reliability low eight and acceptable glass beyond a standard lens for so little money that getting it on the side from what you already have seems worth it.

    Anyhow: Shooting people won't be easy. MF costs you DOF / makes focusing one level harder than on 35mm, so you'll need time and light, lots of light, to eliminate camera shake and stick to your 1/500sec. But maybe you'll find a way to bring strobes / flashes and stands? - In that case a Pentacon with it's FP shutter won't get you anywhere... Maybe the Pentax 645 offers somewhat usable sync speed or some leaf shutter lenses? - IDK.
    For portraiture I'd use my chimney finder magnifier flipped in, for focusing, flip it out for recomposing and use a medium aperture like f8-f16 to benefit from DOF, just in case. - Shooting my 135 & 250mms wide open wasn't that successful and seems too risky, considering film cost. With the EOS I'd shoot at f5.6 and could most likely rely on the AF to get it's job done + I'd also benefit from the IS, so I could maybe risk a 1/125 sec, so using MF hand held costs me about 3 f-stops.
  9. One more grip option that might be worth trying with your existing Hasselblad. This is my own outdoor "park portrait" setup: 500cm, NC2 prism, and pistol grip cm. Even my large 250mm Sonnar handles well this way (of course you need endurance training for your wrist):
    Hass 500cm PG 250.jpg

    Much lighter and more fluid would be a Rolleiflex TLR with pistol grip, or side grip like the Vivitar. photoyann10 posted a picture, and a good description of the ergonomics, in an older photo.net Rolleiflex grip thread here.
  10. Sounds Iike a bad case of confirmation bias. Time to give the tar brush a rest.
  11. What I like about the Linhof is its individuality, but I've definitely been put off by your comments (and others') about film advance. Besides, 120 film is expensive enough already (best price £4 for a roll of HP5+ in the UK) without me sacrificing a bit off each frame when printing.

    I've looked at Pentacons on eBay and haven't been massively encouraged by what I've seen. Will chew over your comments though.

    I guess I'm leaning towards making the best of what I've got. Maybe both my TLR and my Hasselblad can be made more suited by the addition of grips and better focus scenes.

    Thanks for this info, orsetto; very useful.
  12. Yes, this might be an avenue worth exploring. A 645 helps me to economise in the use of film (I'm kidding myself here, splashing out on photo kit as if there's no tomorrow). At one time, the default portrait format would have put me off. Since I've gravitated towards portraiture, this might turn out to be an advantage. I'm definitely considering a 645 as an option.

    What is POS?
  13. I've been doing portraits of my wife (very patient, thankfully) and she said that she felt more at ease when I was using a waist level finder than a prism finder. Maybe it feels a little less intrusive.

    I think you're right about the Hasselblad. The fears I have are illogical if they cause me not to get the maximum benefit for my investment.
    mag_miksch likes this.
  14. For the Hasselblad do you have a preference, side- or pistol-grip?
  15. OK, I've now got POS. No need to spell it out here.
  16. Errrrm, 645s are landscape orientation by default. They need a prism finder to make them at all useable in portrait mode. And even then the handling becomes a bit 'wrist-twisty'.

    The old metal M645s are slightly better in this respect, since they have a secondary shutter release.

    WRT a waist level finder and portraits: For formal portraits the camera is usually tripod mounted. Therefore you can more-or-less focus and forget; leaving you free to make eye contact and interact with the subject. Talking around or through a camera isn't the best way to get a rapport with your sitter.
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2019
  17. What the hell is confirmation bias?

    I suppose I've imagined the hundreds of other users that have reported broken mirror-rests then?

    Or the gaps that have appeared between magazine back and camera body, or the loose shutter solenoids? Etc. Etc.
  18. Sorry, I'd got the idea from somewhere that all 645s were portrait format by default.
  19. We've all been dancing around nearly every conceivable medium format camera configuration in an attempt to give you an overview of alternatives to what you have. But the irony is, what you already have is two of the three best systems ever made for portraiture (the third being Mamiya RB/RZ67). It may be a more productive use of money (and learning curve) to start by trying to accessorize what you already have into a configuration more suited to where you want to go. If after that you still feel confined, you'll be more certain about what you need in a third system.

    Re Hasselblad: honestly I vastly prefer the WLF to any of the prism options, tho I will use the NC2 or PME occasionally for very active people situations, long tele work with the 250mm, etc. With the waist level finder, a side grip can make things a bit more steady and comfortable. I also usually find the side grip comfortable with prism finders, but now and then the pistol grip operates more fluidly. Be aware there are multiple versions of genuine Hasselblad grip: one for the crank-wind bodies, and one for the motor-driven EL bodies. These further break down into "early" and "late" versions: at some point in the late 1970s, Hasselblad switched the tripod base from dual socket to single socket, so for your recent 503cw you would need the most recent grip design.

    The genuine Hasselblad pistol grip is not compatible with later bodies like your 503cw, but third-party knockoffs are available. Compatible 503cw side grips would be models 45071, 45072, 45073, and 45169: all have integrated shutter button and mechanical base coupling to the camera release (not a cable release like the older grip in my photo above). Note the grips are not much smaller or lighter than the Winder CW: it may be worth considering the winder instead, which will add even more convenience (no cranking, mirror comes down immediately after each shot).

    Your 503cw normally came with a bright Acute Matte screen, either plain cross or cross with split image rangefinder and microprism donut. Bought second hand, you may have gotten a non-AM screen with black cross, which is dim and difficult for portraits. The early 42250 screen with large bright central microprism spot and checker grid lines is inexpensive and nice, the similar 42234 omits the checker grid. Both typically sell for about $50. A plain Acute Matte center cross screen typically runs $150, depending on your eyes it may or may not be easier to focus than the earlier darker microprism center screens. Much more expensive at $250-$450 are the various acute mattes with split image: these give arguably the fastest, most positive focus indication, but the split image can be hard for your eyes to lock on when the camera is handheld and jiggling.

    Re your Mamiya C220f: you were very smart to choose the final "f" model, as this has the brightest contrastiest screen of all Mamiyas (nearly as good as Hasselblad's Acute Matte), and it has the (undocumented) ability to easily accept any of the optional bright screens that were made for its more elaborate sister the C330S. I have both cameras, and swap the split image screen from my 330S into the C220f when I think I'll need it. The split image screen I bought is the Mamiya B2, there was also a B1, either is fine. Japanese eBay sellers occasionally have them for about $50.

    As with Hasselblad, I prefer the waist level hood on my Mamiya TLRs. The prism (and cheaper dimmer porrorfinder) handle MUCH better with the side grip. Mamiya had a very comfortable side grip which makes WLF or prism viewing more steady: see my pics below. The grip shutter button couples to the release button on the 330 cameras, but does nothing on the 220: you simply use the body side release as always (only with the side grip, your right hand is always on the right focus knob or the shutter release: great for portrait sessions). The Mamiya grip has a very secure mount with two pins on either side of the tripod socket: no flex or wiggling. Your Sekor 105mm is a beautiful portrait lens, esp outdoors where its interesting Helios-style background blur can be exploited. The 135mm is also lovely, and the 180mm Super possibly the best MF 180mm ever made (equals the Hasselblad 180mm at a fraction of the price).

    Mamiya C220f Grip 105DS.jpg
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2019
    Jochen likes this.
  20. Most of the 645 cameras I've seen and worked with, including Bronicas and Pentaxes, feed the film vertically(bottom to top or top to bottom) just like their 6x6 counterparts.

    I seem to recall seeing a FEW 645 cameras that feed side-to-side(as is "normal" for 6x7), which gives portrait format images, but they're the exception rather than the rule. The Fuji GA645 is the only one that comes IMMEDIATELY to mind.

Share This Page