I recently received one the most luxurious birthday presents I could hope for as a film photographer, a pristine old-new stock Mamiya 7 with an 80mm lens. Technically, with my birthday being close to Christmas, it was a combination present for these two events.
The Mamiya 7 is a camera I have wanted for a very long time. I like Mamiya cameras, the way they are industrially constructed with function over form. I already have a RB67 Pro SD with almost a full range of lenses, a Press Super 23, a selection of 35mm SLRs and rangefinders, through to the Mamiya 16 subminiature camera. Mamiya lens quality is well known with some true classics.
The Mamiya 7 breaks the industrial form. While the other medium format options can be used as a weapon or counterweights in a pinch, the Mamiya 7 does feel like it can be broken much more easily. Don’t get me wrong, it is still quite a sturdy feel to it, but the plastic does feel more fragile than the full metal giants.
This is not a full review, only some initial impressions. For cameras which I use as my main cameras, I prefer to have used them for quite a longer period before I write a review. I will write a full review of the Mamiya 7 in the future, but as this was very exciting I wanted to write something about it quickly.
The Mamiya 7 is medium format rangefinder which shoots 6×7 frames on 120 or 220 film. It uses interchangeable lenses with a selection of lenses available. The camera was introduced in 1995 and superseded with 7II in 1999. It employs a leaf shutter built within the lenses rather focal plane shutter in the camera. It has a dark slide to allow changing of lenses without exposing the loaded film. Being leaf shutter it allows flash sync at all speeds.
The rangefinder has three frame lines for 65mm, 80mm and 150mm lenses. Other wider lenses, 43mm and 50mm, require an external viewfinder. The longer 210mm lens also requires an external viewfinder, but this is actually not available.
My copy is with the brilliant Mamiya N 80mm f/4 lens. This is a standard view lens, roughly at 40-50mm in 35mm terms. The lens has a built in lens-hood, which is something I wish more cameras had. I plan on saving up for the 65mm, but that will have to wait.
The camera can be operated manually or in auto exposure modes. An auto exposure lock option also available. Metering is very centre weighted but extremely accurate. All this in a champagne body (not sure about that design decision), which does mark very easily, but is very easy to hold and carry.
A battery is required to operate the camera, especially as it uses a meter. Film is loaded from the back and is quite straight forward left to right in loading.
I knew I was getting a special photography related present this year for my birthday. Mainly because of the questions, and the fact it was specified that it will be for both my birthday and for Christmas. I usually don’t want much for either of these, so knowing I was getting something special I got quite excited. This was way beyond anything I could have expected though, especially getting such a luxurious camera in fantastic condition and with no mileage on it.
The first time I put it to my eye I knew this was camera was something special. The shape of the camera is perfect for holding a camera designed for street, travel and general photography. While it is not a small camera by any means, it is significantly small against something like the RB67 which shoots the same format.
During the next few days I took the camera out on a few walks around my neighbourhood. The viewfinder is so clear and bright, with a very clear rangefinder patch in the centre, it a pleasure to use. I used it in both manual and auto exposure modes, which is nice to have both these as options.
The metering is the one thing that I think will take a bit of getting used to. It is very centre weighted, to the point where it is almost like a spot meter. I have read this also in other places, so it is a well known quirk. But knowing this, use it to meter off the part of the frame you want to expose properly and you are good to go. It did mean that I have a few blown out highlights in my testing, but this is something myself as a photographer needs to manage.
I am in the process of photographing parts of my neighbourhood, as I live close to central Sydney and the expansion is very quickly transforming the whole area. Smaller and older buildings are being demolished every day and new high-rise apartment buildings are replacing them. The local shops are being knocked down with new shopping centres erected. The landscape of the area is changing very quickly. I suspect within five to ten years the whole area will look very different.
As part of this project, I plan on using the Mamiya 7. It is a great tool to be able to walk around for quite a bit of distance, without being weighed down the same way as with the RB67 or the Press Super 23, though the latter is not as bad due to its shape. I do have a Fuji GSW690IIII could use, but this is limited by the fixed lens and in the long term and the 6×9 frames may become a little too limiting in framing.
As an initial test I used both Kodak Portra 400 and Fujifilm Pro 400H, as I know both these films quite well. The photos in this article aren’t anything special as they are mainly tests, but when I received the film back from the lab, I was truly blown away!
The clarity of the frames and the rendering of the subjects is something really special. This is a very impressive piece of equipment. After scanning the pictures, I can see the why the Mamiya 7 lenses have such a cult following. In 35mm terms I love using my Leica cameras, and I can say this equates to the Mamiya 7 in medium format.
While this has only been a short test for now, I can already see why these cameras command such a high price these days. I usually do question the price of cameras with electronic controls, especially as this is usually a weak point, but I can honestly say that if I get a number of years of good photos from this camera, I will be a happy man.
As to my family for getting me this camera, I will have to do something extraordinary to even come close to reciprocating this gift.