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Tuesday, 18 March 2014


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I mentioned in my answer to your "favorite digital camera" poll that none of my digital cameras has been nearly as fun as my favorite film cameras. The Mamiya 7 II was always a "dream camera" of mine. It still is, to an extent, but now that I've given in to the convenience of a digital workflow, it would be either a major shift or a fun diversion (in which case it's much too expensive). I don't see much in the digital camera market that approaches these classic cameras - granted, this is an expensive product, and there are medium format digital alternatives (as well as Leicas), but there were plenty of affordable film cameras that had loads of charm. (The venerable Nikon FM2 was another "dream camera" that I never owned). I suppose the Fuji X100s is the closest I can think of to my wonderful compact rangefinders. None of the DSLRs I've owned match my film SLRs (both manual and autofocus) for their ... maturity ? Completeness ? Je ne sais quoi ! (Fuji's 'X' system comes closest to having the appeal of the Mamiya for me).

Anyway, I should just dismiss any and all irrational thoughts about the Mamiya right now. After all, if I really thought I'd go out and shoot 120 film again, I have a perfectly good Rollei TLR sitting in a cupboard.

Quite a pleasurable surprise to see you discussing - sort of - the Mamiya 7 11. And here I've been sitting right next to mine wondering why such a beautifully designed and functional camera which has produced such outstanding images for me during years in Asia is now going for next to nothing on EBay. Then I saw it still being sold new at B&H. Must be the only one left.
Since our return to Europe I've somehow run out of photographic inspiration as well as finding the cost of any film never mind 120 too high and availability very rare. I've even been finally contemplating going digital - something light like a Fuji XPro -but for the cost. However, I just looked at an addmittedly old computer where I've stored most of my scanned images for some years and found most are now contaminated. Red splashes on all highlights. I was reminded of the recent comment of a total tech-head photog I know who just leapt into digital at the first opportunity, but now even he admits digital storage is an absolute nightmare. At least I still have the negs and my Mamiya.

A note in praise of the Mamiya 7:

Given the results that all the system lenses readily produce, there is an understandable tendency to reserve the 7 for use in good light. Having used the 65/4 down to 1/4 s in a pinch, I'll say that camera is a formidable low-light machine for the format.

The Mamiya also shoots 65 x 24 panoramic frames of addictive quality. The 35 mm adapter is often bad-mouthed on the internet -- I don't know what they're complaining about. Mine is in the camera more than half the time.

I even forgot the 43's external viewfinder on a recent trip, and decided to shoot anyway, framing fast and loose -- it was great.

Maybe I should change my vote for favorite camera from the D700 to the Mamiya.

Thanks for the information on the Camera Heritage Museum. The panoramic photo of it is quite nice and looks pretty much as it did when it was a camera store, the last time I was there. That side was a museum in the 1990s (I think that's when I was there last, could have been more recently)

There was a chalkboard over on left with the current "deals" one of which was a Leica 3G last time I was there.

Ahh the Mamiya 7ii. I remember often seeing Mary Ellen Mark in NYC with her Mamiya's. She often had a rather large flash on top which made that monster camera even more impressive.

Baudelaire is also well known for characterising the flâneur, the detached observer of the newly modernised Parisian lifestyle. That lifestyle for many included having their photographic portraits made. Was this photograph staged - is Baudelaire portraying his own invention with the help of Monsieur Arnauldet? That would be delightful!

I've owned and used a Mamiya 7ii since 1999. As a view camera user and b/w film photographer, this was/is my smaller "travel" camera. The outrageously high prices in the US originally resulted from the monopoly of MAC (Mamiya America Corp) who was independent from Mamiya Japan and owned the name rights (they also imported Toyo and Sekonic). When ordered elsewhere, e.g. in the UK, it was less than half of the US prices at the time. I don't remember exactly, but I think I paid about $3000 for the camera with a 50, 80, and 150mm lens set at Robert White in the UK. The present B&H price above seems to indicate that the successor MamiyaLeaf continues that tradition, now worldwide. The optics are as good as everybody says and in addition, the leaf shutters are some of the most quiet ones around, much more quiet than a Leica, and only beat by the Voigtländer Bessa III/IIIW and its Fuji 67 siblings. The latter two also use the 6x7cm format and have similarly good optics. They are the only real competition to the Mamiya 7, but do not have exchangeable lenses.

or maybe a Link-O-Link

I have a Mamiya 6 and the leaf shutter of it and the 7 makes handheld exposures of 1/8 sec normal and with luck 1/4 and 1/2 possible.

I fail to understand the economics of buying the newest great digital camera every year or so, yet finding film shot on a 25 year old camera too expensive.

Also, it's not ICP that's relocating, it's the ICP Museum. For many of us, ICP means the school above all else, and the school is not moving.

Re: the Mamiya 7II not being good in low light. Yes, it's only good to about 1/15 s hand-held under most circumstances. But the camera is so light that a small tripod will do. The leaf shutters have minimal moment; absent wind, one can make the most of the superlative optics with just the flimsiest of tripods. When in the presence of interesting architecture, I often just place the camera on the floor and use the self-timer to photograph ceilings. A picture I took this way in the Alhambra is one of my all-time favorites. Framing is only approximate, but there's so much film real estate that losing 10% by cropping is inconsequential. I always carry a small table-top tripod to brace the camera against a wall or column. Kirk used to make a dedicated Arca-style L-bracket that is very nice. Overall, I think it's a great travel camera, as long as you carry something else for snapshots (an iPhone, in my case).

[Adrian, your comment arrived just AFTER I wrote my response to Peter, above! --Mike]

Hi Mike,
What an unexpected surprise...an article highlighting the virtues of my second-favourite camera, the Mamiya 7ii.

My take is that the Mamiya 7ii offers really first-rate image quality, a nice big clear viewfinder and rangefinder focusing patch, and is portable, simple and reliable enough under taxing conditions for extended treks in the Himalayas. I took two on my most recent trip, a gruelling - and very cold- traverse across three high-altitude mountain passes (to 6,200m) from Makalu to the Everest region. The camera is straightforward to use. And the results have really turned my head: the 16x20" B&W prints (from Fuji Acros negatives) are grainless and exquisitely detailed, they're beautiful.

It seems to me that the image quality is the result of a few factors: truely great lenses (clones and adaptations of classic symmetrical Symmar and near-symmetrical Super-Angulon/Biogon designs) and vibration-free in-lens leaf shutters. Also, the lens mount seems very accurately machined and lenses seat into it in a unusually precise manner.

The 6x7 format shape (actually 56mm x 70mm) is elegant and gives foreground “breathing space” to subjects that the 35mm frame doesn’t. Once advertised as the so-called “ideal format”, it prints onto to standard 16x20” and 20x24” paper sizes without cropping.

But Mike, c’mon! Only a few focal lengths? The equivalent focal lengths for the M7ii are 21mm, 24mm, 32mm, 40mm, 75mm and 105mm, so I reckon the wide end is pretty well catered for. And only in good light? Again, not really so: The leaf shutters, and the fact that you can nestle the camera against your face much more securely than a DSLR, allow most people to shoot handheld a few stops slower than they’re accustomed to. Plus, you can shoot wide open at f4 confident the image will be sharp across the frame, corner to corner. And the vibration-free shutter allows the tripod you have with you to be really small, or to balance the camera on just a little pile of rocks!

[Hi Rod, re the lenses, with no zooms, no macros, and no longer telephotos, I think my limited lenses comment stands up. But I sure won't argue with you about the beautiful results.

Where are you based these days? --Mike]

Mike: You have two Link 'o' Links on your bookshelf as I recall. If you can find them.

As as to Ctein he looked quite comfortable. Mind after this past winter around here anything below minus 30 Celsius would be consdered "cold." And normal. What was the
temperature in Yellowknife?
He could have carried a camera as he slide and bumped his way down the slide, however as he was obviously having too much fun that may well have been expecting too much. Has Ctein
returned to warmer climes?

Dear folks,

Oh, how can I resist jumping into this fray?

I can't. Not after four decades of medium format photography, mostly with a Pentax 67 but using several other models, including the utterly wonderful Fujica GA 645. (How could anyone not love a fully automatic point-and-shoot camera with a superb lens that had full manual overrides on all controls, wasn't particularly larger or heavier than a normal 35mm SLR, and just happened to produce medium format negatives?)

I see where the medium format folks are coming from. One of the things that consistently surprised 35mm photographers was just how good medium format was at low light photography. The combination of more stable cameras, lower in large red magnification (which suppressed the effects of camera shake) and higher quality with fast films (size mattered, oh did it!) made medium format cameras about two stops better than you'd guess, if you were only familiar with 35mm photography.

Anyway, medium format folks are used to getting dissed over this -- not “used to” as in “we're okay with it” but in the eye-rolling, shoulder-shrugging way. I can't begin to count how many times I encountered that misperception.


That still doesn't bring medium format anywhere into the same league as modern digital, when it comes to low light performance. Even with my small-format Olympus OMD E-M5. In all aspects of image quality that are ISO-sensitive, it's fully the equal of 6 x 7 cm film. It might arguably be better, but I won't push the issue; I'll just leave it as equal. Load a film camera with ISO 800 film, set the Olympus for ISO 800, and compare the results, and nobody's going to be picking the film as technically superior. (We're not talking about artistic “look” –– when it comes to that, if you like film, then you like film and no one can argue with you. Ditto if you like digital.)

And at that point, my Olympus starts to pull ahead in low light capability, because my lenses are, typically, 1.5-2 stops faster for equivalent focal lengths. If you turn to the best of the digital cameras in terms of ISO/noise performance (the Olympus is very good, but it's nowhere close to the best), you can add another 1.5-2 stops to that.

There's just no way around this. The logic is unassailable and the visual results are unquestionable.

Image stabilization gives my Olympus even more of an advantage. But I don't think that's a very strong card to play because you still need a subject that holds still long enough to let you use a low shutter speed, and an awful lot of available light work includes animate subjects. Static subjects, we're great, but that excludes a lot of the world. Also, the efficacy (and availability) of image stabilization varies widely from camera to camera and lens to lens. But, still, it's never a negative.

Yes, you can do great available-light work, handheld, with medium format film. I did it for 40 years. But digital wins that contest so easily there shouldn't even be an argument.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Dear Bryce,

Yes, I got back a week ago last Monday. We were only in Yellowknife for four days. Kind of a super-long weekend.

If memory serves, on that day the afternoon high was somewhere in the low-to-mid minus 20s Celsius. That night was when it got down beyond -35 Celsius (when the picture of Vivian was made).

No way I was going to carry my camera bag down that thing! At that temperature, ice and snow blocks are very hard. And the slide is very, very fast! You want to come down pretty narrow and sleek just so you aren't bashing extremities into rockhard surfaces at high-speed. Yeah, I was padded… But not THAT padded.

And, yes, way fun. I went twice. Vivian went three times. (We didn't want to hog the slide.)

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Lowbrow but funny: Ash Warner @AlsBoy tweeted this typo in a camera ad. (Warning, profanity at the link.)

Maybe it's an ad for this Pentax:

Just sayin'...

There is a close-up adapter for the Mamiya 7. It's not as good as a macro lens but still better than nothing.

I meant to add my vote for the Mamiya 7ii as my all-time favorite camera a few days ago, but didn't get to it. So, I was pleased to see it show up in this post.

I won't claim that it is a universal camera, by any stretch, but it is ideal for my purposes, which is black and white landscape photography, usually when hiking. For me, it is "the largest camera I can carry". (comfortably)

Some day, I'll get one of those new-fangled digital cameras. I keep waiting to see what the replacement for the Fuji X-Pro 1 will be.


Purely as an FYI, the Ctein mov doesn't stream on a 1st gen iPad.

Hi Mike
Regarding the Mamiya 7, has anyone mentioned this yet?

I believe it was shot with 7 and the 43mm lens.

Re: "Lowbrow but funny: Ash Warner @AlsBoy tweeted this typo in a camera ad. (Warning, profanity at the link.)" in Around the Web on a Tuesday:

Perhaps that Pentax Optio incorporates a lot of optical fiber?

P.S. Ummm, the kind of "word salad I warn of...

"The combination of more stable cameras, lower in large red magnification..."

That should be lower ENLARGEMENT magnification.

Silly computers.

pax / Ctein

I would like to thank Mike Johnston for tell about the Camera Heritage Museum. The Museum has over 4000 cameras now and growing !!! The picture is only half of the museum.


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