Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Medium Format Priorities And The Mamiya RZ 67

photographyThis article will fill in a few gaps left by my last entry, plus present an alternative medium format camera system for your consideration. The main point I wish to stress is that there are so many different MF cameras that there is surely one for you. I have come to my conclusions by researching, at length, from the resources available on the internet. (You can do the same, but some of the sources I used are now archived.)

I chose a 645 format camera as a compromise between the resolution available from larger formats and portability. I wanted a camera I could take anywhere I take my DSLR, without it garnering too much unwanted attention. I wanted a camera I could hand-hold when the need arose. This eliminated a lot of options, believe me! But still I wanted to leapfrog 35mm and go straight to something larger. Plus I did not want to give up an SLR for the added stealth of a rangefinder.

Since I have to buy a lot of gear sight-unseen (not a good idea for MF, granted) and since I am a newbie in this area, I wanted to purchase a camera that was not likely to need servicing. Many cheap and decent MF cameras require regular maintenance and might have hard-to-find parts. For example, the reliability of some of the Russian cameras is quite questionable. So long as you can try a few or pay for repairs you can get a bargain. If you are living in a major N. American city you might be fine with this, but that route is not for me.

My third criteria is that I wanted a camera with a good number of conveniences built in. And I think this is a good idea for anyone setting out into film and medium format for the first time. Though I understand exposure and photography from first principles, I am not so proud as to forsake automation if it will help me take better photographs faster.

Fourth, I want good optics. I have been spoiled by the best Pentax K-mount lenses and would not feel comfortable shooting with a toy camera. (More on this in a future article.)

Fifth, I want cheap. By selling off gear I don't use I can find maybe a grand to spend on a complete system. This is plenty for some MF cameras but won't even get you started with others.

OK, so what features and abilities did I not need?

First, flash. I cannot afford a studio setup and will not be taking the MF to weddings. I imagine I will be using it for city and landscape shots mostly.

Second, Polaroid and digital backs. I already have a digital camera that will be perfect for taking comps.

With all this in mind I'd like to suggest a good option besides the Pentax 645N I chose. It has a different set of benefits and compromises.

The Mamiya RZ 67 II is an electronic version of the RB67 and can use lenses from its mechanical sibling. It is completely modular and well-built, with a bright viewing screen, handy LED warning indicators and lots of available accessories and lenses. Unlike the Pentax 645N, but like the 645N II, it has MLU. You can use 645, 6x6 or 6x7 backs. A kit with 120 back and lens will set you back about €600, but it's €250 for the optional 3-way metering prism that supplies functionality that comes with the Pentax. And every additional feature must be added on at extra expense.

All lenses are leaf shutter which means flash sync is available at all speeds to 1/400s. This is definitely a better system choice than the 645N for flash photography.

The Mamiya has two rather cool features. First, the film back revolves so you can switch between landscape and portrait orientation without taking the camera off a tripod. I would love this for landscapes.

Second, the built-in focus bellows allows true macro magnification (1:1 reproduction) with pretty well any lens. Nice. Very nice.

But the camera is not auto-focus and a winder is extra. Not deal-breakers, but worth mentioning.

I was very tempted to get this system but two limitations held me back. First, the fastest shutter speed is 1/400s. I like doing small DOF work, so that is simply not going to cut it. Even the Pentax at 1/1000s is limiting for someone used to 1/4000s.

But the kicker is the size and weight of the camera with associated lenses. There is no way I want to lug this sucker around. If you travel by car that might not be an issue. But really this beast is designed for studio use.

Perhaps it is the perfect medium format system for you?

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have an RZ67. I love it. Picked it for a few hundred euro, and now extending my purchase with a 180mm portrait lens - again for very little cash. Sure it's a bit of a beast, but it takes great pictures, and is easy to use. Don't worry about motor drive - the single arm rewind and shutter cock, is easy and simple. And as for auto-focus - that's for wimps ! The only thing I really miss is in-built metering, but you can add that if you really want.

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