Okay, it's not a new camera. But you know, getting an old toy out of the closet is almost like getting a new one. Hence the little unboxing joke.
In keeping with the "revenge" of analog (the book arrived, too—old-fashioned paper) and my thoughts in passing about film yesterday, I got this out of the storage room and also ordered new batteries and a few rolls of medium-format XP2. I'm a digital photographer but I'm not doctrinaire about it. Not averse to shooting a bit of film now and then.
The Mamiya 7II is a medium-format 6x7-centimeter interchangeable-lens rangefinder camera that takes 120 and 220 rollfilm. Its antecedent was the Mamiya 6 of 1989, which I believe was the first camera I ever reviewed professionally on manufacturer loan. The rumor at the time was that it was the pet project of a Japanese Mamiya executive who was a Leica fanatic, although I don't know chapter and verse on that. The Mamiya 6 was a 6x6 cm square format camera with a collapsible lensmount. The collapsible mount was later deemed overly complicated for its admittedly minor gains in compactness (although it was quite cool). The collapsible section of the 6 was rigid on the 7 (that squarish bulge behind the lens flange in the last picture). The Mamiya 7 only offered framelines for three of its six lenses (the other three needed hot-shoe-mounted optical VFs), but all the lenses got very high marks for their performance.
The Mamiya 7 followed the 6 six years later in 1995, based on persistent calls for a non-square variant. The Mamiya 7 was so popular that it was followed up by a revised version in 1999, ten years after the original Mamiya 6 and four years after the first 7, in what we would now call a "Mark II" variant. The Mamiya 7II had more "rubber armoring" as it was called, an improved viewfinder, and it offered a multi-exposure control. (If you learned on digital and don't know quite what that is, it simply allowed you to expose the same piece of film with two or more separate exposures. Here's an example shot with a Mamiya 7 on Kodak Tri-X.)
Although the Mamiya 6, 7, and 7II used leaf-shutter lenses—which were also very quiet—the cameras had an ingenious built-in fabric darkslide that protected the film while you changed lenses mid-roll. A system of interlocks prevented you from trying to take a picture with the darkslide closed, and from removing a lens with the darkslide open. The interlocks also prevent you from firing the camera with no film in it (if you want to dry-fire the camera, you can do it by cracking the back open a bit first).
The camera has auto-exposure and an AEL mode as well as full manual, and a very nice, easy-to-use exposure compensation dial.
Despite this richness of features it's a very easy camera to use once you familiarize yourself with the limited number of controls, and master the darkslide and the interlock system, which isn't difficult. One tip: the metering window is on the front of the camera and can be thrown off if it's struck by sunlight. To solve this problem, I simply shot with the Mamiya 6 while wearing a billed cap! The brim of the hat shaded the metering window in most situations. At any rate, it was simply something to be aware of.
The lens has an equivalent angle of view of 40mm, a manual aperture ring, focuses manually by helical, uses a reversed, vented lens hood, and has a maximum aperture of ƒ/4 (although for those who believe in the false idea of "equivalent aperture," it's really an ƒ/2!).
...Except it's not ƒ/2, it's ƒ/4. Despite being a rangefinder camera, the slow speed of the lens, the large size of the camera, and the relative preciousness of the 10 exposures per roll of 120 film make it a camera that rewards slow, thoughtful, deliberate work.
All in all, a fun camera to use...especially now that almost everyone would be using one for personal work and enjoyment.
I'm not aware of when the 7II went out of production, but it's no longer available new. They have held their value remarkably well, and appear to still be in demand.
Speaking of unboxing, though, I well remember when that Mamiya 6 arrived via UPS for me to test for Darkroom Photography magazine. I was a churchmouse-poor former art student at the time, living in a tiny walk-up studio apartment in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C., and I had only written a few magazine articles. I could almost have lived for a year on what all that stuff cost at the time. Opening the big shipping box that contained the camera and all the lenses and accessories for it was truly exciting—I opened it at night, and couldn't wait for dawn to come. I got to use it for a month. The first picture in this post was taken with it. (I do have a few more nice ones, but not digitized.) Picture Fuji sending a new GFX and all the associated lenses and goodies right now for you to use for a whole month, and you'll get the picture. Fun stuff from back in the day.
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Featured Comments from:
Ernest Zarate: "I remember your review of the Mamiya 6 in DP. Fun to read the backstory on your life at that time. That review had a huge impact on my photography. After reading your review, I took myself down to the local camera store (now long gone) and held the 6 with the gorgeous 50mm ƒ/4 lens. What a thrill! I'd never held a camera before or since that fit my hands so perfectly. (I had a job a few years earlier where I used a Hassy on assignment—great camera, but no fun to use or hold.) I bought the camera and lens.
"For a few months, I had both the Leica M6 and the Mamiya 6. I sold the Leica as I just wasn't using it and could not rationalize having two expensive cameras (but I tried really hard!). I fell in love with the square MF format, the collapsible lens mount, and the camera and 50mm. And I shot Ilford XP1 (then, XP2) in that camera as well. Sadly I ended up selling the Mamiya 6 and lens when I got my first DSLR (Canon 10D).
"I had a lot of great photo outings with that lovely 6. And still enjoy looking at the work I did with it. Thank you for the fun walk down memory lane!"
Mani (partial comment): "The Mamiya 6 is by far my favorite camera. I sold my digital Leica M, and a new-in-box Mamiya with all three lenses cost me about the same, but was a massive step-up in quality and sheer joy of use. The lenses are super-humanly sharp, and the viewfinder is a Brobdingnagian version of the Leica finder. I truly love it—a day walking with this camera is a zen-like immersion in photography, totally removed from how I use digital cameras."