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

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

  1. I have a Mamiya 67, Pentax 67 and a Fuji 69. The Mamiya is awkward like the Hassy with all the steps required to take a photo, not really operable in the field. (I hear some people wincing, but I just find it plain awkward looking down to look up, looking at parts of camera rather than what's being photographed) Not as sharp as the Pentax which is a real workhorse for a large job. I used it for a 36 portrait show because I wanted consistency in my printing size and framing. This is a fantastic camera. For sharpness and landscape photography, the Fuji 69 is ideal because of its slight vignetting. It yields images almost as sharp as my Toyo 4x5, as I make mural sized images 27 x 40 in my darkroom. It's a TTL, so focussing can be a struggle in certain light. Almost always use it with a tripod unless the sun is out. Now don't forget the Holga Pinhole! $26 It too requires a tripod for the 2 to 10 second exposures.
  2. The 180mm Super is easily identified by the red all-caps "SUPER" inscribed in the front name ring next to Mamiya Sekor. All the Supers I've seen also have the blue shutter cocking lever (final shutter revision of the C lenses for TLR).

    As it happens, all versions of the 180mm are pretty good, even the ancient silver-front model. Condition of the glass is more significant than model all these years later (a clean clear silver front 180 will beat a hazy or fungus marred Super). That said, if you had all versions at hand in clean condition, the Super will be best - overall performance strongly resembles the legendary modern 180mm Zeiss Sonnar for Hasselblad in color and microcontrast. The black front non-Super has the same optics as the silver, just repackaged in a barrel and cocking mechanism compatible with auto-cock C330 body types.

    Since your 220f is manually cocked, you can use the old silver 180 on it with no problem (if you come across a clean one at a bargain price). Over the past couple years, prices for all three 180 versions have merged to nearly the same level: the Super is the most desirable to shoot with. I've seen nice Supers change hands on eBay for as little as $50 (US) recently: that has to be the greatest single bargain in medium format.
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  3. See below for a pic of the 180 Super front name ring I used in a related post last year. If the lens doesn't have the red SUPER moniker, its an older version. The three "pre-Super" lenses (18cm silver, 18cm black and 180mm black) all share the original optical formula of four elements (two ahead of the diaphragm, two behind). This formula becomes nicely sharp across the frame (diffraction limited) at about f/11, at wider openings the corners soften but the center holds. The Super revision has five elements (four in front of the diaphragm, one behind). This design improves corner resolution at wider apertures, and adds a Zeiss-like "snap" to colors.

    Not everyone finds the Super preferable: it has a more modern rendering and slightly harsher bokeh. The older version has smoother transitions into/out of focus. Depending on personal taste, one or the other might be more suitable for a given landscape or portrait session. For general purpose flexibility, the Super is the one to get, and more likely to have clean glass. The old silver (and some black) 18cm lenses are fine on the C220 but foul the auto-cock linkage on the C330: hence their lower prices.

    Last edited: Mar 4, 2019
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  4. Great stuff, orsetto, thank you.

  5. Perhaps the Bronica ETRSi, it's a more reliable camera than the Mamiya 645 from all reports on the internet that I've read. The Bronica with the auto motor wind (the motor wind with the thick base for the batteries) means you're free to hit the shutter button again almost straight away. The shutter speed is displayed in the viewfinder if the camera comes with the AE11 or AE111 finder. The only problem I've had with mine is with the batteries, the slightest problem, they needed to be changed

    A Mamiya C3 I have in my collection is a great taker but I tried it with a handle and removed it because I found that I could keep the camera steadier without it. With a prism finder fitted for eye level I cradle the camera in both hands and my right thumb falls naturally on the shutter release knob. The camera needed a slight repair to prevent double exposures but it has very clean glass and the way I have it rigged now, it's nice to use even out in the field

    With a Mamiya Press, you can fit a 6x7 film back and dispense with fitting an internal mask, then you only need a "6x7" mask for the viewfinder

    Then there's the Kiev 60 TTL, shock horror, haven't used the one I bought yet, but it has needle rollers for easier transport and for flatness of the film. It has mirror lock up (not many around). The camera, while heavy, is shaped like a 35mm SLR and works like one. Buying one near mint would probably mean the curtain shutter is still performing well at all speeds, but they're 6x6 and the lenses are reasonably priced
  6. Re the Mamiya Press, kmac (mine's a 'Universal'), I'm getting confused about what accessories might be required when I change backs or lenses. When I'm using the 100mm lens I can choose 100mm using the slide button for viewfinder field selection and then I can follow the guidelines in the viewfinder for 6x9 and 6x7. You say I need a 6x7 mask for the viewfinder. What extra purpose does this serve?

    I've now got a 65mm lens for the Universal. It comes with a separate viewfinder which is fixed on the accessory shoe, so now I guess I'm framing in one viewfinder and focusing in another. The fact that my dominant eye is my left eye seems to multiply the complications. I've shot a roll of film with the 65mm and find it nicely sharp, so am I safe to assume that the rangefinder will work equally well without adjustments or accessories for lenses of different focal lengths?

    The Mamiya Universal instruction book doesn't acknowledge the existence of the 65mm lens, so I'm assuming it was a later addition to the range.
  7. Shock horror about sums it up neatly. I got through 2 samples in as many weeks and found a catalogue of faults.

    There is no - zilch, nada - frame spacing mechanism on these cameras. Frame spacing relies on turns of the take-up spool, so overlapped or widely-spaced frames are common.

    There is no mirror brake mechanism, so the mirror bounces back down during the exposure, allowing light from the viewfinder to enter the (not so) dark chamber.

    Sample one had erratic flash triggering in addition to the above design faults. It would misfire about 1 frame in 3 and went back. It also had frame spacing issues.

    Sample 2 wouldn't accept Jena Pentacon lenses due to a poorly machined lens throat. This was a deal breaker because the only reason it was bought was to make use of a collection of P6 lenses. At this point I gave up on Kiev 60s and this sample also went back. This time for a full refund.

    If you like the thrill of Russian Roulette, then by all means go for a Kiev 60. Don't blame me if you lose!
  8. I'd like to stress that my spending spree is now over but, out of interest, is there anyone who will champion the Voigtlander Bessa/Bessa 2? I thought it looked a candidate.
  9. rexmarriott, I'm guessing you found your Mamiya Universal instruction book at the wonderful Butkus site. His copy of the IB is from the end of Press production, after the Super 23 and older lenses had been discontinued. So the 65mm is not mentioned in that IB: it had been replaced by the much more modern 50mm and 75mm. Both superb, both ridiculously expensive today because A) the ever-annoying "collectors" and B) the ever-annoying millennial Polaroid dabblers, who want these lenses for their coverage of the full Polaroid frame (the 65mm vignettes). Some useful bits of info on the 65mm can be found in the older Super 23 instruction book on the Butkus site: between the two PDFs, all lenses and accessories are included.

    kmac was praising the convenient option to shoot 6x7 with the Universal simply by changing to a dedicated 6x7 back: all the finder frames include 6x7 indices inside the primary 6x9 frames. The masks he refers to were required only with the oddball old knob-wind multi-format backs and/or very old early-1960s Standard, Deluxe and 23 Press bodies (which had more primitive finders). You don't need any additional masks for your Universal unless you happen to shoot the 127mm lens with Polaroid back (there is a dedicated 127mm masking plate that clips over the front viewfinder, brightline and rangefinder windows).

    This week I picked up a 65mm and 150mm to complete my own Universal +100mm kit. Like many before me, I soon discovered a couple of issues arise when using anything but the standard 100mm lens.These issues don't immediately turn up in general Google or forum searches on the topic of Mamiya Press: one has to rephrase questions and drill down. Mostly because these glitches aren't apparent unless/until one acquires alternate lenses, and they become more significant depending on version and age. As with their TLR system, in some respects Mamiya didn't pull their act together with the Press system until the final years of production (its hella sloppy and inconsistent pre-1970s).

    Yes, you need a separate viewfinder for any wide angle lens below 100mm. Some users with perfect 20/20 vision (no eyeglasses) can get away with using the edges of the standard viewfinder (outside the 100mm brightlines) as a makeshift 75mm frame, but at 65mm and 50mm you need the auxiliary finders. The original Mamiya 65mm finder is crap: bulky and poor eye relief for glasses wearers. I snagged a beat up original finder for $71, but I think I'll do what many other Press owners have done (sell it and buy a Voightlander 28mm / 35mm dual bright-line finder made for 35mm rangefinders). The frame format and angle of view are nearly the same, and the modern finder is smaller/nicer. The Press 50mm and 75mm have their own dedicated finders which are much nicer than the ancient 65mm, but again huge (and expensive if you don't get them included with the lens).

    The older silver-front lenses and many early black-front lenses (outside 100mm) are not particularly standardized in terms of rangefinder coupling. IOW, they are usually way off compared to the 100mm. The Press system was unfortunately not designed with the precision and integration of a Leica rangefinder: other than a reasonably successful attempt to ensure all 100mm lenses would accurately focus on all (new) Press bodies, little attempt was made in terms of consistent rangefinder cams. Each focal length uses a different system, with only the 100mm being anywhere near precise/consistent form one to the next. Compounded by the body RF mechanism tendency to drift when banged around, this (fairly or unfairly) earned the Press system a reputation for crappy lenses, esp the earlier silver-front versions.

    The 150mm and 250mm are especially problematic: they have the least margin for error but the worst cam design/consistency. Back in their heyday, pros would have a tech overhaul each new Press lens to specifically couple with each Press body. No second-hand Press lens today can be reasonably expected to focus accurately without cam adjustment: if it does, you're very lucky. I had to use layers of electrical tape over the end of my 150mm "tab" cam, checking the rangefinder against the ground glass back, until they matched at infinity and portrait distance. I chose the DIY tape hack, because I'm not sure how long I'll be keeping the lens/body: I might upgrade either or both to much newer versions later on.

    The old 65mm doesn't have the tab cam of the teles, or the reliable integrated circle cam of the 100mm. Instead, it has a grafted-on half-moon cam. This cam design is very difficult to adjust: it rotates, so tape won't work a(nd filing is irreversible). It must be shimmed, which requires removing fragile epoxied screws and adding/removing Mamiya shims (which are of course unobtanium nowadays). Given how slow the lens is (max aperture f/6.3), I'll likely leave it alone. The rangefinder coupling is off, but not as significant as it is with my 150mm, and at its usual f/8 - f/16 setting DOF will cover the 65mm. The infinity hard stop will be fine for landscapes, which will be my main use of the 65mm anyway.
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2019
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  10. Don't buy a vintage Bessa unless you can try it out first (in a camera shop, or via professional online seller with easy return privileges). The viewfinder is beyond dinky horrible, film flatness is appallingly poor: centuries behind the Mamiya Universal. And prices have escalated in recent years, as they became more collectible.

    Four different lens versions of the Bessa/Bessa II are available: Vaskar, Color Skopar, Heliar and Apo-Lanther. Given the limitations of the mid-century folder configuration, all the lenses are better than average for the period. The Vaskar is a remarkably good triplet, the Color Skopar an excellent four-element Tessar clone. These two are the best options for an "affordable" general-purpose user Bessa.

    The Bessa II with Color-Heliar is now burdened with "cult" status, meaning it costs way more than its actual worth as a camera. The Heliar has a deserved reputation for uniquely smooth tonality and interesting bokeh, but you'll be competing with Heliar fanatics who drive up the prices in any eBay auction. (Fortunately for you, the 105mm DS Sekor you already own for your Mamiya C220f TLR is an excellent modern Heliar derivative! ;))

    Bessa II with Apo-Lanthar is little more than a historical curiosity and bait for wealthy Asian collectors today: very few were made, its barely better than the Heliar, but typically sells for over $8000 (US). Its rather amusing to see the dull snapshots new owners proudly post after shelling out for the Apo Lanthar Bessa: they look no different than any other random 6x9 camera/lens (often much worse). Once again proving a fabulously rare and exotic lens does not instantly make a better photographer.
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2019
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  11. Yes, my instruction book is the later 'Mamiya Universal Black' version. Thanks for the tip about the earlier book.

    Short of having a different body for each lens (imagine carrying that lot around!), I'm looking for ways to ensure I'm getting the best out of my equipment. You mention checking the rangefinder against a ground glass back, and I've seen that there's a focusing hood, right-angle focusing back and magnifying focusing back which all fit the Universal. Can any/all of these be used to standardise focusing for different lenses? At the very least, could they be used to check the accuracy of my rangefinder with different lenses?

    Many thanks, orsetto. This is essential stuff.
  12. Yes, I think I'll pass on this one. There has to come a time when I stop buying new kit and start taking photographs.
  13. Any of the ground glass viewing backs will work to cross-check rangefinder accuracy. The least expensive, most portable version is the one I have, which is simply a folding cover with a loose leather hood over the ground glass focus screen. Looks like this, available in either silver or black finish on eBay:


    A thicker heavier version incorporates a film back mechanism for cut film sheets and a shallower solid hood: this is less interesting today since cut film in this size is long gone. The magnifying and angle hoods are great because they completely block extraneous light, but are rarer and much bulkier.

    The most crucial rangefinder reference point is infinity: this is what most tends to drift in the Press bodies (or be misaligned in the lens cams). Be sure the test subject really is at infinity: at least a city block away with the 100mm and 65mm (utility poles or tall buildings are great for this). In my experience with four lenses, if the rangefinder is accurate for infinity (slowly merging the two images until perfect at the lens infinity stop), its usually good at portrait distance as well. But you should probably also check accuracy at around 2m / 8ft for peace of mind.
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2019
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  14. Yes I was referring to the Mamiya Press Standard, my mistake. The Press Standard has a plain viewfinder with no bright lines. Masks are required for different size frame formats

    This is one of the masks, it's for the 90mm lens with 6x7 back. So another camera for your consideration is the light weight Press Standard, perhaps the one without the bellows tilt back for minimum weight. If you ever get to fit a 50mm lens plus it's viewfinder to your Universal, you'll need a trolley to wheel it around

    Mamiya Press 6x7 mask.jpg
  15. I believe the faults of the Kiev 60 can be kept at bay with proper maintenance Joe. But they've got the brightest viewing screen I've ever seen, and the split image focusing is not bad as well. I think there's new old stock Keiv 60s still around, they're the ones to get
  16. I don't think so. Most of the 'faults' are designed in or due to poor quality control during manufacture.

    For example: No amount of TLC is going to stop the mirror bounce unless you drastically modify the camera. Nor is it going to add a proper frame-spacing mechanism.

    Even the Pentacon 6 it was copied from had a feeler-roller that measured the framing distance.... even if it went wrong quite frequently. And it had a very simple but effective mirror-brake that damped vibration quite well.
  17. Mamiya 7 or 7 II are just the ticket. like using a 35mm except 120 or 220 film
  18. orsetto, do you have a filter attached to your Super 180mm f4.5 C lens? If so, what size is it? I checked the manual for the C220F, which says that the lens takes a 49mm filter. I bought one and it doesn't fit (too big).
  19. It should be 49mm, rexmarriott.

    You're probably hung up by the tricky front ring "gotcha": the lens sets with larger 49mm front diameter (65mm, 135mm, 180mm) have very fragile thin metal barrel around the filter threads. To protect these fragile threads, Mamiya ships these lenses with silver aluminum reinforcement rings installed. You must remove these to put on an actual 49mm filter, which was very confusing even when these cameras were current. Its probably the most-asked question about the C-system TLRs: Mamiya oddly chose to put useless, decorative threads inside these dummy reinforcement rings, so 99 out of 100 photographers naturally assume those are the actual filter threads (and get stumped when filters don't fit).

    The silver protection rings have finely knurled edges: you should be able to unscrew and remove them easily, then replace them with proper 49mm filters. Sometimes they're a little stiff from age or never having been removed: usually grasping them with a latex glove gives enough grip leverage to start them turning. Note any filters must be exactly 49mm flush (no lip or overhang), or you won't be able to fit a matched pair on both viewing and taking lenses. The front cap will still fit if you have a filter on one or both lenses (just a bit askew over the taking lens if you don't have a filter on both lenses).

    Be careful not to lose the silver rings: replacements are hard to find and expensive. Also, the 49mm size lens sets should always have either a silver ring or filter mounted at all times: Mamiya isn't kidding about the filter thread fragility. The barrel is paper-thin at the front, so very easily dinged or even chipped off by any slight impact if unreinforced.
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2019
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  20. orsetto, you are the oracle. The 180mm lens I got is in lovely condition (a rare bargain on eBay). I've found and been able to remove the silver protection rings. The filter I've got (a Hoya) has a lip on it so, as you say, it won't allow me to attach anything to the viewing lens. More shopping required.

    I've got used to the idea that orsetto knows, which may or may not be good news for you. Thank you once more.
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