MOPA - My Own Private Assumptions

Affordable Medium Format Film Camera Systems

Fuji GX680, Camera-wiki.org

Fuji GX680, Camera-wiki.org

 

I saw a bunch of articles related to this and said to myself: “I should compile my own list, based on my research when buying some of those cameras!”

So here is a list of affordable medium format film camera systems. I am telling you right away- if you are looking for a TLR, it’s not here. I have never been a fan of that system and do not know much about it. I also did not include rangefinders, because they are a bit of a niche product and not all fit the system requirement, although all of the mentioned camera manufacturers made one- Bronica RF645, Fujifilm 645 and 670 Series and Mamiya 6 and 7 models.

The first one on the list would be Bronica. I have a sentimental feeling towards it and this is the system that made a camera for almost all the medium formats.

Bronica ETR series — usually 6x4,5 with but has an ability to shoot 35mm via special back and Polaroids. Will run you around 300–400$ with belts and whistles. Pick the latest of the series — ETRSi.

 

Image by Süleyman Demir (Image rights)

Bronica S2/S2a, EC, EC-TL, 6x6 system, reminiscent of 500 series Hasselblad. Has awesome Nikkor lenses in a super compact body. Avoid most S2 — has some shutter issues, fixed in S2A. Or go for SQ series for about $400–500. My personal fav is black S2A with 75mm lens.

 

BronicaS2A, Camera-wiki.org

And honorable mention here is Bronica GS-1 which is one of the smallest 6x7 medium format systems but do it exactly fit the budget requirements.

Now for me Bronica is the best option- most versatile and one of the smallest systems.

The next up is Mamiya M645.

There are couple of cheaper and older options like M645, M645J, and M645 1000s. They all feature interchangeable finders and lenses, but no interchangeable backs. For that you have to go a step up and extra $100–200( the older versions are within $200–300) — the Pro, Super and, Pro TL series. On a personal note — M645s look kinda ugly. No offense ;)

 

M645, original model image by Voxphoto

The third option for the big negs and small bucks(all relative, for sure) is Mamiya RB67. It is also a modular system with a selection of lenses, backs and finders, offering a large 6x7 negative in an equally large and heavy body. It is completely manual and super durable. A body, lens, 120 back and WLF will set you back for about $250. That is a tank of a camera and will probably outlast you and your Leica;)

 

Mamiya RB67, 120studio.com

If you are interested in SLR experience — Pentax 645 is a way to go and still relatively cheap. It does not offer interchangeable backs but you are getting AE and maybe even autofocus if you are lucky. They are going up in price now but you can still find one with 80mm 2.8 lens for about $250–300.

 

Pentax 645, kenrockwell.com

The last but not least is an absolute monster. Fuji GX680 is almost twice the size of Mamiya RB67 and almost three time s the Bronica and was created mainly for studio work. Sports stellar Fujinon lenses and can shoot multiple formats, depending on the back. You can find one of the initial model for as little as $250 with the lens, finder and back but you run into the problem of proprietary battery power or get the last version- GX680III- but that go anywhere up and above $500–600. Honestly, a wet dream of mine, just have to find the courage.

 

Fujifilm GX680III, readtiger.com

So that is my take on medium format film camera systems on the budget. I would love if somebody would enlighten me in the TLR realm.

Cheers

 

 

 

Optimus Prime

Here I finally got to say a few words about the little guy that served as my main film camera for over a year. It is not Nikon nor Leica( idk if I even ever own one), but a beautiful, consumer friendly Olympus OM10.

The story begins when I decided to get some vintage lenses for my Sony A7 and got a good deal from KEH.COM, scoring an Olympus Zuiko family for less than $100(28mm F2.8, 50mm F1.8 and 135mm 2.8, although I am still trying to figure out why I need the last one). Shortly after, my friend asked me, what I want for my bday, and I thought — I have some vintage lenses, I need a 35mm camera to match. So again, thanks to KEH.COM, I’ve got an Olympus body for $30.

The camera itself is a beauty. Silver and black, really small, probably even smaller than my A7, works like a charm. I did not pay much attention at that time, but the camera only worked with batteries and in aperture priority mode- which will probably be the only major drawback. The obvious pros would definitely be the size and weight( you can keep it in your pocket pretty much), the aperture priority mode never failed me once, the viewfinder is bright, with a split focusing screen. There is a scale in the viewfinder, that tells you your shutter speed, which is really convenient. The speeds are from 1 second to 1/1000th of a second. You can set both film speed and exposure compensation on a knob on the top. If you shoot high-speed film(over1600), it might be an issue with Olympus, and you will need an adapter to shoot manually — I’ve got mine from the guy on eBay for $18. To use Olympus in manual mode(although it’s a stretch to call it manual, it’s just an aperture priority override) you need to turn the dial on top from Auto to Manual and set the shutter speed on the adapter.There is a bulb setting for those who like to work with very long exposures. It is situated on the same dial as ASA speed, as a little knob. Actually, there is an issue with that damn knob!:) There are 3 positions: Auto at 3 o’clock, B at 1 and manual 5. To switch from one to another, you almost always have to move the lever that cocks the shutter out of your way, and when the shutter is cocked, it is almost impossible( or I am just clumsy).

Both the film winding and rewinding are manual. Over a year I had only one issue when somehow the  film did not wind properly and I ended up with an empty roll of film. When the film is done, turn the R knob in front of the camera from the vertical to horizontal position and rewind the film manually. Unfortunately, there is no multiple exposure option per se, but you can rewind the film back and try experimenting with that.

I am pretty sure that camera used old mercury batteries, although now it takes two SR44. Usually,  it lasts you up to around 20–30 rolls. There is a battery check setting together with on/off dial, which lights up a little indicator on the front of the camera and makes a beeping sound.

Olympus has a pretty good selection of Zuiko lenses, and most of them are cheap. My go to lens was 50mm F1.8 until I acquired an F1.4 version( cheers to folks at Film Photo Gear community on Facebook). There are also a pretty awesome 100mm and 135 mm lenses, both F2.8. You can get a winder too, but personally — it adds weight, and pretty ugly;)

To sum up, it’s a wonderful little camera, beautiful in its chrome glory, very versatile and can easily compete with Nikons and Pentaxes out there, on a budget. I love my Optimus Prime!

P.S. if you are looking for a completely manual option, check out the original OM-1! I am getting one in black and will do a review soon.

I will post some photos taken on this camera down below.

Mamiya, first encounters

About 2 month ago i was browsing eBay and came across a dream listing of mine — Mamiya RZ67.

I badly wanted to shoot with this camera ever since I got hooked on medium format. The listing stated that it was the Pro version ( Mamiya made 3 versions altogether — RZ67Pro, RZ67Pro II and RZ67ProIID). It came with one of the kit lenses, 90mm F3.5, not the sought after 110mm F2.8, but I did not care — the price was too good to pass on( paid $367 including shipping from Japan, and Shinto gods protected me from paying custom duties). To my obvious surprise, the camera arrived 5 days later, shout out to Japan Post, instead of a promised month.

The first impression — it is a heavy beast, it’s a tank, it’s a machine, it’s a beauty! Dark sheen and all- only a gear whore would understand. It took a bit of time and youtube videos ( especially Matt Day)to figure the nuts and bolts and I was on my way.

All and all I shot about 5 or 6 rolls for the last 3 weeks, mostly Ilford HP5 and Kodak Ektar.

Here are the pros and cons aI can think of

Pros:

— amazing bright viewfinder with a grid

— ability to focus really close( due to bellows)

— you can shoot both landscape and portrait mode without flipping the camera

— sharp lens

— negative size. You can capture A LOT OF detail.

— the camera feels great in your hands. Albeit the size and the boxiness, it is a pleasure to shoot with and you burn through film really quick

Cons

— size and weight, both curse and blessing

— flimsy lever that switches the camera to both rotating and multiple exposure modes.

— during the first shoot i had couple of issues when the shutter just wouldn’t fire, have to figure out that one

— i tried to shoot with strobes and had issues with the sync cable and the transceivers— the flash fired 1 time out of 3 or 4 shots ( lots of wastwd film, still working on figuring that out

— negative size. You get only 10 shots per roll, plus when scanning( usually i do it at home) due to the size, you can only scan two at the time.

To sum up, I really enjoy my Mamiya (and she does hold a resale value, just in case). I am planning to get that 110mm or maybe 127mm lens, plus Polaroid back and maybe the AE Finder, probably from KEH.com. Will keep you posted.

Cheers!

Below are some sample images I’ve shot

1-4.jpg

Honest Reasons Why I Really Shoot Film

THE CURVE

The first film camera I've bought was medium format plastic Holga TLR. It did not have the lightmeter, one shutter speed, no focusing and two aperture settings: sunny at F11 and cloudy at F8. And that's it! I never bothered paying attention to the "sunny 16 rule" or shadows/highlights distribution - cause " you can fix it in post", no? So now, without focus peaking, exposure compensation, zebras and autofocus - you learn your craft all over again.

There is also a matter of tactile feeling, that you get from film photography. You have to handle negatives(medium format is amazing), you have to feed and wind film manually and that, for me, makes the whole process so much better.

 THE GEAR

I am a compulsory gear hoarder. I like cameras and gear. I like the look of the certain cameras,I like the feel and the sound of them. I could not shoot Nikon( no offense to Nikon shooters) cause it did not feel good. I almost bought a 4 year old Fujifilm XPRO 1 just because it looked good. 

So film gear stole my heart. Seriously, the chrome goodness of Hasselblad  or Leica, or my Konica is amazing( even though I can only zone focus it, cause the focus patch is missing).

And do not get me started on the modular abilities of my Bronica, or Mamiya RZ67 - you can switch from portrait to landscape mode without flipping the camera or you can attach a polaroid back to it. And not a single flip out screen can match the left/right confusion of a waist level finder. 

Going on the ebay or keh.com com is like a trip to a toy store - half frame, 35mm, medium format, large format, panoramic cameras, polaroids, rangefinders. Seriously!

NUMBER OF SHOTS

I do not like long shoots. Long shoots are tedious, tiring and you have to spend too much time interacting with people you usually do not know. 32GB card on Sony A7 can cram up to 800 RAW files. And I usually carried 2-3 cards - up to 2000 files.That's a lot of room for error for the "spray and pray" technique.  So for me,that turns a shoot into 3 to 4 hour nightmare - my anxiety goes up, my attention wanders off to some distant lands. And usually, I know if i got the shot and I also know that shooting extra hundred frames will not make the shoot any better. So oftentimes I would lie to people that my battery died or there is no more space on my cards - just to get out of the shoot.  

But now I usually limit myself to 2 rolls of film - one color and one BW. That is 70 frames of 35mm film or 24(!) frames of medium format film. Makes you think about every frame, makes you compose better, makes you shoot better.

RETOUCHING

I have a huge(insert Trump's or Bernie's voice here) amount of respect for people,who do awesome retouching( cheers to Bogdana YakovenkoLesya Kostiv, Artur Gataulin) but I always hated PS.Remember those 2k frames per shoot?! I really dreaded that time after the shoot when you have to sift thru images and do your own retouching.  I do not have enough energy to sit for hours of that godawfull process.

When I switched to film, my basic concerns were the darkroom techniques- dust, contrast, shadows and highlights. And I can do it all in the Lightroom.

 

NOSTALGIA

Every time I look at a film photo, it somehow takes me back in time- and everything was better back in the day,right?

And when I shoot/wind/develop film, I kinda imagine myself being somebody waaaaay more talented than I am(insert your favorite photographer here) - Richard Avedon, Paolo Roversi, Herb Ritz, Helmut Newton.

THE LOOK

I always liked black and white photography, but oftentimes I could not get that deep and dark BW look I wanted . And then I've found Kodak TriX. The grain and the shadows are so dope that now I have to convince myself bring a roll or two of color film- this is how much I like it. 

I also struggled with the consistency of tmy photographs. No matter how many presets you've created - there was always something off with that. Now I just have to buy the same film stock over and over again. Granted, there are variations, but they are indeed minimal.  

INSTANT GRATIFICATION DELAYED

You do not see the shot you've taken. Usually it takes up to 2 or 3 weeks. You contemplate,you wait,and sometimes you even forget about some of the frames you shot. And that is a good thing. There is a technique that asks you to "marinate" your shots. It is changing your perception, makes you reevaluate your decisions, gives you an opportunity of a fresh look. And film is perfect for that.

 

I think I've covered most of my reasons. As a conclusion, I wanted to say that I almost quit photography a year ago. But film was that fresh breeze that made me reconsider, and I am grateful. 

DISCLAIMER

Shooting film is expensive and it is a hassle but you might like it!