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Mamiya 6 Rangefinder 6x6 Camera & Lenses

by Hamish Reid, 1995


Introduction

This is a new version of my earlier review of the Mamiya 6 that first appeaared in The Medium Format Digest ; this version reflects a year or two's more experience with the camera, and adds a few points here and there....

Summary: Great Camera -- Shame About The Price....

Optical quality is excellent, and the camera itself has proved to be very sturdy and easy to use within the inherent limitations of the rangefinder design (see below). In short, this camera has pretty much replaced my 35mm for everything but pure snapshots; it's also replaced my 6x7 for everything but tripod-mounted stuff and work where the extra image size of the 6x7 is significant (nothing will ever replace my 4x5...).

The only real problem is the price, which is extortionate: it's still somewhat cheaper than a Hasselblad, though (which is not a particularly relevant comparison, but never mind...). It's also cheaper than the new Mamiya 7, at least as far as I can tell.

The 6MF ("Multi Format") body is to all intents and purposes identical to the 6 reviewed here except for the multi-format features (more on these later) and a couple of minor cosmetic changes. Note that Mamiya currently make and sell both the 6 and the 6MF - enough potential customers complained about the 6MF's "features" that the plain old 6 was resurected unchanged.

Background & Motivation for Buying

I thought long and hard about the Fuji 6x7 and 6x9 alternatives, but in the end I wanted one body and the ability to have all three of my most-used lens lengths available in the one package ( the equivalent of the 35mm's 28mm, 50mm, and 80 to 100mm lenses). The Fuji models don't have the longer lens.

What made me decide on the Mamiya 6 was mostly the interchangeable lenses and the positive comments from people who had them or who'd used them.

Technical Details

Equipment reviewed:

  • Mamiya 6 body
  • Mamiya 6MF 50mm/f4 lens
  • Mamiya 6MF 75mm/f3.5 lens

The Mamiya 6 body has a collapsing lens mount to make the body / lens profile slightly narrower (by about 2 or 3 cm) when stowed. The body has an internal darkslide that is conveniently activated from outside with a built-in little turnkey thing; this is essential for changing lenses, but also makes me feel better about possible light leaks through the lens shutters. The body and lenses have a bunch of interlocks that stop you from taking the lens off without the dark slide actuated, or from taking a photo with the slide actuated or the lens mount collapsed, etc. There's also a self-timer with about a ten second fuse, and all the usual flash support (hot shoe and sync sockets).

The lenses have built-in leaf shutters controlled from the body; available speeds range from T and B through 4 seconds to 1/500. The 50 and 75mm lenses have coverage well in excess of the necessary 56x56mm; the 150mm model appears to cover slightly more than needed. The lens mount is a simple and rather sturdy bayonet system.

The exposure metering system has manual, locked, and aperture-priority modes (the locked mode is a simple "remembered" mode). The system includes a +2, +1, -1, and -2 stop compensation switch, and works with film settings from ISO 15 to ISO 3200. The exposure system is not through-the-lens: the meter is next to the viewfinder and has a constant field of view (about 35 degrees).

Useability

This is a really useable camera. The camera feels good and well-balanced when held; it's quiet, it's light, and it's relatively unobtrusive; and it looks and handles like a big 35mm camera (in fact, it's lighter than an F4 and isn't much larger). Changing lenses is a breeze; changing film is similarly foolproof and easy. The various interlocks are useful (but when are they going to invent an interlock to stop you taking a photo with the lens cap on? This is embarrasingly easy to do with a rangefinder).

The light meter is generally fairly accurate if you are aware of its limitations (i.e. its angle of view is the same for all lenses regardless of lens length), and the aperture priority auto exposure mode is simple and straightforward to use (but then I almost never use it).

Reliability & Toughness

This camera has been dragged around in my backpack and truck quite a bit in the years I've had it; it's crossed several deserts, it's been up to the 11,000 foot level in the California Sierras, it's been snowed on, accidentally dropped onto the surface of a frozen lake from about 5 metres up (Black Lake above Big Pine Canyon for those of you who know California's Owens Valley area), it's been in downtown Oakland and Berkeley, it's survived being taken to Australia, etc. etc. Overall, it's survived very well. The body seems to be tough enough for most abuse: the optics, settings, and mechanics have been unaffected by the abuse and use.

Optical Quality

I haven't done any scientific tests on this yet (nor will I, probably), but I've taken many hand-held shots at varying speeds and apertures over the last few months, and I have to say they look sharp even at 20x24. My general impression is that the 50mm and 75mm lenses are truly well-designed and built, the 50mm design not needing the usual SLR retro-focus compromise. Both lenses are of course sharpest at about f8-f11, but they keep good sharpness even at f22 (in my opinion, of course). Film flatness appears to be reasonable (or at least not a problem), but again I haven't really tested this properly.

The lack of mirror shake seems to allow for sharp photos down to at least 1/30 - luckily enough, since this was one of the main reasons for buying the damn thing in the first place. Hand-held landscapes generally look about as sharp and grain-free as those from my 6x7 (or at least they're comparable); action shots on the streets look very good indeed compared to the 35mm.

The Viewfinder, Focusing & Framing, Etc.

Here's where I had most learning to do - unlike the SLRs or the view camera, what you see in the viewfinder is not always quite what you get (understatement!). I kept taking photos of buildings from street level, not quite certain of whether the viewfinder's distortion (when pointed up at large angles) matched the real lens's (it doesn't, of course, and it's difficult to get framing right in these circumstances).

Nothing here, though, is a Mamiya-specific problem - in general, the viewfinder is bright and easy to use, and not the source of any real problems. Be aware, though, that the three lenses use the same basic screen / view, so that with the 150mm lens the real view cropped off for the lens in the screen is quite small.

The 6's view finder has a coupled parallax error reduction system which actually appears to work quite well. The actual framing when pointed at level subjects is pretty accurate; focusing is similarly easy (at least I haven't had any problems yet).

Multi-Format Features

It's unclear quite why Mamiya bothered with this.... The 6x4.5 feature sounds great until you realise that it's a simple cropping scheme, i.e. you still only get 12 horizontally-oriented 645 frames per 120 roll (as opposed to the usual 15 or so shots from true 6x4.5 on 120 film). What's the point? The panoramic 35mm equivalent (ie. 55mm wide horizontal orientation images on 35mm film) sounds more interesting and indeed useful, but it costs extra. This all comes at the cost of a more complex set of lines and markings in the viewfinder, of course.

As noted above, Mamiya has reintroduced the plain old 6 in response to comments very similar to the above, so it's now possible to get a 6 rather than the 6MF.

Limitations

Firstly, the Mamiya 6 is not a system in the same sense that a Hasselblad (or, for that matter, the Pentax 67) is: there's a limited set of lenses available (50/75/150mm), there's no interchangeable back, no motor-driven remote winders, and none of the other gubbins of that sort like mutar shifts or interesting converters. To many of us this is a feature, of course....

Secondly, it's a pure rangefinder, with many of the limitations that implies: what you see in the viewfinder is not necessarily what you get. More subtly, the 6's constant-view viewfinder gives you more than what's going to end up on the film; it's sometimes difficult to ignore the surroundings and to really see or visualize what's going to end up on the film, and how it'll look without the surroundings. This is obviously more of a problem for the 150mm and 75mm lenses.

Also, despite the availability of a truly baroque-looking attachment designed to help with this, you also really shouldn't use this camera for extreme close-up or macro photography.

The camera is not in any sense purely manual - if the battery goes, so does the camera (on the other hand, it's a mechanically-simple camera which doesn't seem to have too many things to break).

Another potential problem is the metering system. While I almost never use it (I either estimate it or use my hand-held meter), it is obviously fairly limited compared to modern TTL systems - there's no matrix metering, no spot metering, etc., and, of course, what it sees is not necessarily anything like what you get....

One limitation that I know of only second-hand is that you can't focus the 150mm lens close enough for full-face portraits. Similarly (and I experienced this first-hand), the 75mm won't focus quite close enough for full-face work. This is a real shame....

[Editor's Note: the Mamiya 6 has been discontinued in favor of the Mamiya 7, a 6x7 camera. I'm personally a big fan of the 6x6 format and I think it is rather a shame. You may be able to buy this camera used from Adorama For additional retailer information, see our recommended retailers page and the user recommendations section.]


Review Copyright © 1994, 1995 Hamish Reid. All Rights Reserved.

Article created 1995

Readers' Comments


Add a comment



Matthew Cole , January 11, 1997; 01:59 P.M.

I have had a Mmaiya 6 (not MF) and the 50 and 75mm lenses for nearly 5 years now and use it for everything I do. Of course, everything I do these days is primarily snapshots, since I have 2 kids and work as an insurance executive, but I find myself hard-pressed to find a reason to keep the Nikon gear I have and hardly ever use except it cost me so little whe nI got it. It took me a while to find a decent processor here in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis/Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA) but I finally did and now get all 5X5 snapshots of wonderful clarity. The few times I've done much enlarging, the pictures have remained extremely sharp. For some reason, normal humans find the 5X5 picture to seem huge compared to the 4X6 standard in 35mm photography, even though it's only 1 square inch larger. The main problem I have is in scenics, where the square image seems somehow limiting. I compromise by taking sequences of 3 to 5 pictures whose prints I carefully trim and mount side-to-side, a cheapskate's way around buying the Fuji 617 which I would otherwise love to own. I do wish Mamiya stuff was cheaper--I do not own the 150mm and it now runs $1,800 or something, and sometimes it seems odd to have this $2,500 unit flung over my shoulder while walking around, but I really like the camera. I did shoot some wildflower pictures in Texas on Fuji Velvia a couple of years ago and they are so sharp it almost makes you wince. I agree with the comment on the close-up device, which looks really Rube Goldberg, offers imprecise framing and costs a fortune. I also agree with the metering comments; the meter is ok for many things, but I generally carry the small and excellent Sekonic L308B and use it in incident mode. I find the Mamiya 7 very intriguing, especially the 43mm lens they make for it, but it doesn't fold and is hideously expensive. The folding Mamiya 6 with the 75mm lens, by the way, fits in my hard-sided briefcase for business trips. The multi-format thing seems a waste of time--it tickles me no end that they flog it as a 645 camera but it still only gets 12 pictures a roll. Mamiya claims in their brochure to make 2 X 2 inch panoramic slide mounts for when you use the panoram ferature of the MF model, but I asked a Mamiya rep at a profession seminar here about it and he looked me like he was nuts. At that seminar, by the way, after 3 years of use, the shutters were dead-on. Anyway, I'd highly recommend the camera for its small size, big negative, sharp lens, flash sync at any shutter speed, ease of operation and loading (compared to an old Rolliecord where it took years of study to successfully load the film)and general obscure coolness. I may be the only person on the face of the planet using it for snapshots and travel pictures, but I'd recommend it to any serious photographer.

Paul Wilson , March 26, 1998; 03:24 P.M.

Not much more can be said since the M6 really is a great camera. I've owned mine for about 7 months and don't think I'll ever sell it except possibly in favor of a Mamiya 7. The M7 does have the 43mm lens, but the jump from 43 to 65(boring) is too great IMO. I love the 50 for the M6 and wouldn't want to give it up.

I think I'm one of the few people who actually prefers the 6MF over the regular 6. I like it for two reasons, the panoramic adaptor as I'd like to run Kodak HIE through it and I actually like the extra lines in the frame. They are useful as a semi-grid to keep the camera level and I didn't find them distracting.

Finally, used Mamiya 6's and lenses are almost becoming a bargain these days since the introduction of the Mamiya 7. Now might be a good time to buy one since the price might rise a year or so down the road after discontinuation. This has happened with various discontinued Nikon stuff like the FE2, 8008s and 50-135/3.5.

Graham Patterson , June 25, 1998; 08:27 A.M.

There is one thing I would have liked to see on the M6, and that is a focal length frame preview control similar to the Leica M6. But it is a minor complaint!

Robert Ian Axford , January 13, 1999; 11:53 P.M.

(please observe -antispam measures if anyone wants to reply to my email address)

I'm a long-time dreamer of - and a recent owner - of a Mamiya 6. I decided long ago that an interchangeable lens 120 rangefinder would be the ideal camera for the type of landscape photography that I do. I have used and still own a great variety of cameras including Leica M2/3, Nikon F/F2, Bronica ECTL, Rolleiflexes, Linhofs and a large variety of old and collectable cameras and lenses. I have struggeled for years to find the right camera and always had a hunch that the Mamiya 6 would be it. Tomorrow I will be receiving the results of 38 rolls of Fuji Astia exposed on a 2.5 week camping tour of the New Zealand South Island. I took both my M6 with the 50/75 and 150mm lenses as well as a Linhof Super Technika IV which until now had been my prime camera for quality landscape work. I always found that I missed far too many shots because the 5x4 would take just a bit too long to set up. On this trip I didn't take a single frame of 5x4 all due to the Mamiya. I agree with the comments about having a frame- preview lever ala Leica M. I also think that such an expensive camera should have far far far better lens-hoods and caps... again, the older Leica clip-on metal hoods are vastly better than the silly plastic ones on the 50 and 75mm (these are already sufficiently worn out that they are difficult to fit and easily spin and fall off.... not very impressive. I have only run a single film thru this camera before taking it on the trip and found the 50 and 75mm to be extremely sharp.... I expect the 150 to perform similarly and I will add further comment here if it does not. Another problem with my M6 is that the film- blind/lens-release interlock is not always reliable and I can remove the lens after releasing the blind if I am careful how I do it. My body is second-hand and I may need to adjust this. Further, I gave the rangefinder a going over and tweaked it to be accurate for the position of my own pupil against the eyepiece. Users will find that the double-image shifts as the viewpoint is changed. This is a normal feature of this type of finder and the Leicas also suffer it. On the whole, I rate the finder "nearly perfect" and better than any I've used in other 120 and 35mm cameras except for the Leica M3. I found the exposures on my test roll were very very good for the type of metering and on my travels I quickly settled into using it in either AE-Lock or full manual modes. The camera handles beautifully for a 120 and for most work lives attached to my Manfrotto (Bogen in US) monopod with a tilt-head. I will be modifying the quick- release base to allow the film-spool to be removed without loosening the plate. Then it will not be nec. to remove the camera from the pod to change films as I have had to do thus far. Further improvements I would like to see are a slightly easier to grip film-cover knob which currently is too shallow and smooth to give positive grip when your fingers are wet/cold/in gloves or simply too fat (heh heh... not referring to me ;) ) Also, it should be possible to extend the near- focus of the 150mm lens to nearer 3 feet and I will be examining the lens helicoid to see if it is possible (I repair cameras by trade so don't worry) The only problems I can see with the body are; the viewfinder would be seriously impaired at close range by the front of the lens. (My 90 F2 Summicron on the Leica does this as well). Also, the parallax compensating system may not be able to cope (probably will be fine if just a bit imprecise) and that the rangefinder my not deliver the accuracy required by Mamiya for the camera specs. I would be prepared to live with these problems however and will report back if I find it is possible.

Finally, the shutter is beautifully quiet to the degree where it can be difficult to assess if it has triggered by cable release without checking it by winding on. I do think a mechanical B release on each lens might be preferable to save batts. A much more minor nit-pick is that the lenses focus in reverse from the Nikkors that I am used to, but then again, it does match the Leicas.

All in all, I think the 6 is marvellous and wouldn't trade it for anything else currently available including the Mamiya 7. From what I can see, the 7 requires a seperate finder for the 150 and I wouldn't want to put up with that.... I'd rather have a seperate finder for the superwide 43mm instead. Trends are for wide rather than tele though so I can accept the reasons to do it this way. I Use longer lenses a lot in landscape and this is also the reason I didn't go for any of the Fuji 6x9 cameras - no telephoto. There was a Fiju 6x9 available years ago with three interchangeable lenses from 65 to 180 which I would have purchased if I ever came across one. I didn't however, so M6 it is. Catch u all. :))

Paul Wilson , January 14, 1999; 05:54 P.M.

Just a few comments on Robert's comments.

The Mamiya 7 does not *require* a seperate finder for the 150. The 7's regular finder does have frame lines for this lens. Mamiya offers the seperate finder as an added convenience.

Secondly, you say that the interlocks are not reliable. I have never had this problem with either of the two Mamiya 6's that I've owned. I suspect yours may need a repair.

Barry Pehlman , February 14, 1999; 11:19 A.M.

A couple notes to add to the interesting assessment of the Mamiya 6. I own two 6s and all their lenses, including the close-up, since 1991. Mechanically it is wonderful, and very quiet. Some people have referred to it as a Texas Leica. After 5 years of fairly hard use on one camera, only a little bit of paint came off near the grip. Recently I had a problem with the 75mm lens because the signal was not allowing the shutter release button to respond. Mamiya fixed this without charge (not under warranty) within a few days. I added a second body to my outfit just recently and it is also performing as expected.

The 150mm lens is very nice, although I do have a problem hand holding it, so it goes on a tripod. I also have a Zeiss Softar 1 for portraits that I bought from Contax. This filter is worth the $130 price, with smooth transition that appears just right for a portrait.

The closeup attachment is a pain, but it does deliver. I have shot critical layouts with it and the results were extremely impressive. This attachment was designed for the 75mm lens only. The price is around $450.

I had hoped that Mamiya would have added a wider angle lens than the 50mm, but from what I hear, that would have been difficult because of the space needed behind the lens. If the Mamiya 6 didn't have the collapsible front, then wider lens like the M7's 43mm could be accomplished according to Mamiya.

Peter Skaer , April 17, 1999; 11:46 A.M.

Just a short note. I use two New Mamiya 6's, one, the original, the other, the MF. After two years of all kinds of photography, all out- doors, with all lenses and the close up attachment, I think they are great cameras, but, clearly, the MF is much better if you need help in visualizing the scene with either the 75 or the 150 lenses--and the finder does this in a very elegant way, automatically highlighting a white line outline of the approximate image area for the given lenses. This alone, for me at least, is worth a great deal, and I am now in the process of trading the original in for another MF (I use one for color, one for B/W). Also, a very small point indeed, but if your brain is not totally intuitive, like mine, then the symbols on the aperature dial (a box and a circle in the box) are sometimes confusing on the original, but replaced with more understandable designations, such as "AE", on the MF--these I do not consider cosmetic changes, but very practical functional ones.

Robert Axford , May 11, 1999; 01:59 A.M.

Hi again, Just wanted to add to my earlier comments on the Mamiya 6 camera now that I have owned and used it for a longer period. I think that most potential buyers of this sort of camera are well aware of the benefits a medium format interchangable-lens rangefinder. Many of the positive aspects have already been mentioned in the other posts on this page and I will therefore focus on the less obvious and also the negatve points of this particular system. Let it be said that I am 100% happy with my purchase and see this M6 remaining permanently in my posession.

My body and three lens outfit was purchased second hand from a non-pro but still keen user. I have spent some time setting the camera up to my satisfaction. This involved the following: Tightening the locking mechanism of the collapsable lens mount. This had enough play in it to make the calibration of the rangefinder impossible (in particular with the 150mm) Luckily the camera has an adjustment for this, though in my case the ideal setting was right in-between two of the indentations used. Not really a problem though and the barrel now pulls out and locks with a satisfying clunk displaying zero play. Next, I spent some time on the rangefinder which (as they always do) would show differing viewsdepending on the exact placement of my eye behind the camera. I set it up to suit my default viewing position and also to keep the accurate part dead centre in the rangefinder spot. (If you're not sure what the H I'm going on about, take your M6 out at night and focus on distant street-lights or even stars. When you shift your eye off-centre, you will see the focused image split up again. This is further compounded when you use an edge of the rangefinder spot to focus rather than the centre.) It can all make little difference to the end-user, but it is part and parcel of setting up a rangefinder accurately.

I then set about making the controls a bit easier to use. On my camera, the shutter speed dial was sufficiently stiff that I was not able to operate it with my index finger with the camera at eye-level. This problem is caused by the overly strong spring (which pushes a ball-bearing into the click-stops) as well as the age old problem of similar materials sticking together rather than sliding as dis-similar items would. In the case of the M6, the combined shutter/exposure-compensation dial rubs internally and the friction os enough to make the inner dial too difficult to move with one finger. A different (weaker) spring and the very slightest bit of nose-grease on the offending dials cured the problem. I also replaced the spring underneath the exposure-compensation dial lock button as that was excessively strong as well. I found these springs to be too strong for the plastic components they were used with. That is perhaps my one major issue with the M6; It contains an odd mixture of high quality components alongside knobs and levers that I normally find on the average Chinon. Here we have an extremely expensive camera, with extremely high quality lenses (I think these must be the best quality lenses Mamiya has ever made)yet the dials are all of 50 cents worth of plastic and the (also very expensive) lens shades and caps are equally crap... for all the nice design. I'm already looking at ordering replacements for these as they are most certainly not going to last the distance. Anyone who uses Leica equipment knows what makes a good lens shade (apart from shielding the lens).... you can pick up and carry the camera by it heheh. (I should point out that the 150mm has a metal screw-in shade which is of good quality. I'm hoping that the replacements I order for the 75 and 50 might be new and improved as well)

I also still think that the knob and the release slider for the internal film blind are both badly designed. I have got used to them now, but would still recommend the designer go back to design school for another year.

As mentioned in my previous post, I was going to investigate the possiblity of extending the close focus of the 150mm lens nearer than the barely adequate 6 feet. Whilst there is enough thread on the helicoid to take it closer, I don't feel that it is worth the work as it is never going to get anywhere near 3 or even 4 feet. It would require some longer stays as well as some minor maching of the focus barrel and the result will be less than a foot gained at the most.

Further to the lenses; I find them to be well matched, but almost too neutral in colour balance. I have switched to using the warmer variety of transparency film after I found my results with 'neutral' films were just too cool for my liking. Currently I am trying out the SW Ektachrome.

I am terribly happy with the overall sharpness and contrast of all three lenses. The 50mm is fantastic. This camera has given me more sharp negatives than any I have ever used before (including Leicas, Nikons, Bronicas, Hasselblads, Rolleiflexes, Mamiya TLRs, Linhof 2x3 and 4x5 and a host of others) It is not so much the quality of the glass, but more the combined use of the rangefinder, a monopod and the flawless shutter that gave me the opportunity to increase the quality of my photography.

And I think that just about says it all. There are not many pieces of equipment that really can improve your photography (though many will try... from little program cards to fifty-point multi-focusing) and the M6 is the only camera I have ever given credit to for improving the quality of mine.

Will it be my only camera? hmm... I've been wishing I had a Pentax 67 as an SLR compliment to it. The Linhofs, my Nikons and my Bronica SLR's mostly stay at home though.

I'll also recommend two items of my kit: The Manfrotto (Bogen) 3-piece monopod rocks... get one with a matching tilting quick release head. A suitable carry case was found in the Lowe Pro Omni Sport. This bag is designed to fit into a Pelikan-style suitcase, but makes a perfect companion for the M6. I even bought a larger model for my Linhof outfit and that is now finally fully portable as well. These cases do not look like SLR bags, but more like small soft suitcases. Check them out.

Man I go on sometimes :)

Regards, Robert Ian Axford Wellington, New Zealand robax@photographic.co.nz-antispam

Kate Rayner , July 11, 1999; 03:52 A.M.

I too have had a 6MF for the past 4yrs, which I bought second hand, along with all 3 lenses. It is a fantastic camera to travel with, because it is so light, robust, and compact for a medium format. It survived a year of backpacking through Mexico,Central America,and Europe. All the shots I took there were incredibly sharp, even when enlarged to 16 x 16 inch, and due to the encased bellows dust was never a major problem. Since returning to Australia and moving into the commercial field I am less inclined to use it for any jobs,as it does not handle studio work at all well, and the changing of films is too slow without interchangeable backs.However, due to my passion for the square format and my general love of the camera I always use it for my own personal artwork, where my obsession with photography was born and no doubt will always remain. Unfortunately I can no longer afford this indulgence and feel it is time to trade it in for a camera that can cope with close up work and portraiture for commercial jobs, yet still has the square format that I am comfortable with. (I have an unnerving repulsion to 645 format!!!) So it is here that my affair with the Mamiya 6MF comes to a sorry end. It is wonderful, however, to hear so many people out there singing its' praise. ENJOY! Kate Rayner

Michael Heath , July 14, 1999; 09:04 P.M.

The Mamiya 6 is indeed a great camera. Probably the best there is for street photography in medium format. But for what it's worth, I have encountered three characteristics that require some adjustment or compensation when compared to my Rolleiflex:

1) The metering seems to lean towards 1/2 to 2/3 stop underexposure. 2) The color balance is much cooler, or bluish. 3) The 50mm viewfinder shows perhaps only 85%-90% of the total area.

I now shoot only Ektachrome 100WS (warm saturated), as one of the above posts suggested. I also set the exposure compensation dial to +2/3 stop. And I assume the negative area will be larger than what is shown in the viewfinder. Since taking these actions, I've had much better results.

David Rees , August 03, 1999; 03:12 P.M.

I've always lusted after a medium format camera. Usually the phase goes, after I've got all the brochures, scanned every ad in Amateur Photographer for weeks looking for bargains, and pondered all the pros and cons of the makes I'm lusting after. One reason the fire dies is that it's HARD to get one's mitts on some of this kit. Not many U.K. shops stock M-F gear; those that do tend to be focused on selling to pros, and don't open on Saturdays! What's a camera junkie to do? Well, exactly a year ago, this desire to blow a hole in my credit card was on me again. This time there was a new resource for info -- the web (not least, this site). So, filled with trepidation, and tempted by a special offer from Mamiya, I eventually scratched the itch: I bought a Mamiya 7 rangefinder (6x7cm) and 3 lenses: 150mm, 65mm, 43mm. I've used it now and then (hey, I'm a busy guy--I can't always find time to use the kit I buy). The results were usually disappointing. Not sharp, in many cases, or out of focus. I put it down to my poor eyesight, lack of experience with rangefinders, and the obvious requirement for a tripod for medium format work. However, after a good few rolls of Velvia, I began to suspect that it might not all be my fault. So I did some tests, to demonstrate to myself once and for all that it was me at fault, not the gear. Surprise! The rangefinder didn't indicate infinity correctly, which explained all the fuzzy horizons I was getting. So off the camera body went to the shop, who duly forwarded it to Mamiya for recalibration under warranty. With the body back, fully certified, I departed for the Outer Hebrides, determined to take advantage at last of the superior optics and larger slide size this wonderful piece of kit gave me. Three weeks later; the slides all came back. Pretty disappointing. Leaving aside my obvious deficiencies as a photographer, many of the photos were still poorly focused, with fuzzy horizons. This I couldn't fathom, since everything should be working OK, I'd used a good tripod, and been very careful with my focusing. So it was time for more test slides--another 10 rolls of Velvia blown, plus developing costs. Lo and behold, the rangefinder was setting the 150mm to focus 10cm behind an object at 2m, and 50cm behind at 5m! The 65mm lens seemed OK, but the 43mm didn't look REALLY sharp anywhere in the planes of focus. Furthermore, the depth of field markings on the Mamiya lenses were wildly optimistic. They were out by TWO stops! So if the aperture is at f16, setting the infinity symbol at the right-hand f8 mark is safe; any further right, and the horizon becomes noticeably blurred. So all the kit has been posted back to Mamiya (last day of warranty--whew!) to be played with again. My thoughts about all this: 1. This is the first time any photo gear has malfunctioned out of the box for me. 2. Mamiya 7 camera rangefinder focus problems seem common. The web contains a lot of references to it (funny I never saw it when I was lusting after the camera -- guess I was reading all the feature lists, and rave reviews). The shop also confirmed that several other Mamiya 7 bodies have had to be adjusted -- approx. 1% or so (but how many other photographers like me are out there, blaming their own poor technique, not the camera?) 3. I've found in the past that buying one of anything normally results in it going wrong. Own two, and both function flawlessly. I'm not joking. 4. I'm not sure I can ever trust the Mamiya 7 and the lenses again. I love the lack of weight, compact form, and relative ease of use, but if I haven't got confidence in it, it will likely stay in the cupboard. Obviously I'll repeat all the tests, to validate the repair work, but how will I tell if/when it goes wrong again? Only poor results will show me. 5. For kit at this price, aimed at serious amateurs and pros, every item should work out of the box. My Canon kit has never let me down (6 bodies, a dozen lenses, flashguns, etc.), and a lot of it is not pro gear. Mamiya have a quality control problem with the 7, and they ought to fix it. 6. Next time, I'm going to read ALL the posts on the web about a system I'm thinking of buying. Before all these problems became obvious, I'd been thinking about another M-F system, to run alongside the Mamiya 7. To get closer (portraits, macro work, etc.). To get on the slide what I wanted (rangefinder work is sometimes guesswork, and it's not easy to crop a slide). To gain access to lenses longer than a rangefinder can reliably focus. My eye had been taken by the Mamiya RB67/RZ67 kit, esp. given the neat feature of rotating backs, to provide vertical format without tilting the camera. However, given the quality control problems I've had with my Mamiya 7, I'm leaning toward the Pentax 67 II. Beautiful bright screen (100% coverage with W.L.F.!); good auto prism if I ever want to point and shoot; easy loading; handles like a big 35mm SLR, rather than a oversized brick (ever handheld an RB/RZ67?). BTW, I'll probably keep the 7. For the odd occasion when I want BIG images, and I've got to walk a ways to get them, the 7 plus my Gitzo G1228 tripod make an unbeatable combination weightwise, and I'm prepared to work around it's deficiencies. As long as the thing focuses OK from now on!

 

Follow-up Feb 2011

 

After 12 years use with the Mamiya 7 system (now expanded to 3 bodies and 5 lenses), I'd like to revise the slant on quality control I gave in 1999.

The rangefinder alignment on Mamiya 7 bodies can drift out; however, after a great deal of use, that's the only issue I have had, and it occurs so infrequently, it's not in my experience a significant flaw in an otherwise excellent system. Over the past 11 years, I've had several QA issues with L Canon lenses, and a brand-new 5DII which was DOA--far worse than the problems I experienced in 1999.

Another benefit of the past 11 years has been the opportunity to try optics for other systems: Leica M, Fuji MF, Schneider and Nikon LF. The M7 lenses are simply the best, IMHO. I'm very glad I stuck with the Mamiya 7 system; they have given me most of my best images.

kirk tuck , August 15, 1999; 03:49 P.M.

I switched from Hassleblad to P67 last year as I had so much $$$ tied up in Zeiss stuff and most of my work either didn't move and could be shot with my Linhof TechniKardan or the subjects move alot and I shot them with my Leica R stuff. I figured I wouldn't use the Pentax that much. Then I got the NPC Polaroid back and now I try to do most stuff with the 67. Especially studio portraits for advertising. 220 Astia, Polaroid PolaPan Pro 100 to test and out comes the 200mm. I really like the look I'm getting----but the Polaroid back is the secret as the camera exposure at close extension can be a stop under what my handheld meters say. To see some of my work please go to : www.kirktuck.com

Benoit Doloreux , August 16, 1999; 11:30 A.M.

Hi,

One aspect that wasn't discussed yet is how the Mamiya 6 is one of, if not the best, ergonomic design in camera world. The square format doesn't require you to throw your elbow up for vertical shots, or get uncmfortable on a tripod for the same reason. You don't have to flip your flash around when bouncing your strobe also. The grip is well made and your pinky helps steadying the camera...and best of all, yo can use it at eye level comfortably!

The meter is not one of the highlights of this camera though (espescially the first version). You have to make a few tests to understand it well and use exposure lock on asphalt or grass.

Dudley Harris , February 14, 2000; 08:29 A.M.

I have three Mamiya 6's and have used them moderately heavily for ten years.

There are two weaknesses.

The winding mechanisms break frequently. I have had to have them replaced a total of four times for three bodies.

And if you shoot Ilford 220 black and white film on a cold dry day you will find little black lines of static electricity on the film. I have had my three bodies modified in Japan, and the problem has been corrected. They put little rubber collars on the film transport rollers. They did this for free. The Mamiya repair people at Mamiya America could not figure out the problem. They told me to just not shoot Ilford 220 film. I thought that was a particularly stupid answer. Now they have the kits in the US for correcting this problem. I have never found anyone else who has noticed this problem, and I would be interested to learn if anyone else has worked on it.

Dudley Harris

slava kasarda , March 28, 2000; 09:30 A.M.

I have owned the Mamiya 6 for many years stepping in and out of amateur photography as my mood changed. I have also owned some of the other highly respected systems... Hasselblad, Leica, Nikon. I prefer medium format to 35mm. Approximately 7 years ago I sold off all my photo equipment (including the full Hasselblad system) except for my Mamiya 6 with the 50 and 150 lenses. I just recently gave away all my processing and printing equipment to a friends children hoping they would make more use of it than I was. I mention this to show the direction I am travelling in as an amateur. This weekend, after several years of inactivity, I took my Mamiya down from the shelf gave it two fresh batteries and proceeded to learn the systems faults and virtues once again. Because of my normally declining vision I found the viewfinder to be awful to use in strong sunlight. Attempting to keep the sun behind my subject for some informal portraits I found the information in the viewfinder to be almost illegible. Too bad... because otherwise the viewfinder is a good size and could work for someone who invests a moderate amount of time into discovering it's peculiarities. When I tried to test the rangefinder focusing system indoors with normal light it worked well. I know from previous experience that it is accurate. This camera accompanied me all over Easern Europe getting strange glances from local amateurs. It functioned flawlessly. The camera also visited the interior of Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia, the coastal islands of Yugoslavia, and a full tour of the USA. It never malfunctioned and always yielded much better photos than this amateur had a right to expect. I noticed the problem then with sunlight bleeding out the rangefinder info but didn't pay as much attention because my eyesight was better. I guess I was invested in making the system work because of the spectacular lenses and convenient carry. One trick I often used before and resorted to again this weekend was to improvise my left hand as a cup around the upper left corner of the camera. I beleive this helped sheild the meter from some indirect light and darkened the viewer enough to show me the border information. Since I use the camera mostly outdoors I find the viewfinder the single largest complaint. Perhaps a rubber eyecup ala binoculers fashioned on the outside of the camera would work to keep out the harsh sunlight. I am considering taping a piece of black construction paper to the upper left hand corner to shield out spurious light. The 50 lens remained mounted to the camera and operated as before. When I changed to the 150 I found I was missing the readings. I could not make it work untill the next day when I rubbed (cleaned) the gold contact points on the lens and remounted it. Voila! If I continue using the Mamiya 6 it will be because I determine to adjust my personal habits. Anyone who has used the leica rangefinder has had practice in adjustment. I have not found a camera yet that fits my hand perfectly. There is always some compromise involved. The Mamiya 6 is the closest I have found yet to what I am looking for in a medium format camera ie, top lenses, dependability and some degree of comfort. Thanks for a wonderful and informative format.

Robert Edwards , May 24, 2000; 10:45 P.M.

After more and more requests for reportage photography on medium format I went searching for a quick, light weight camera. I considered the Hasselblad - still too slow to use, and a Pentax 67 - to clunky and loud. And 645 doesn't sell well for me; that was my first 120 format. Bare in mind my other chosen 120 is the big Mamiya RZ67.

Everything else people have posted here is true. The Mamiya 6 works a treat. I don't have the depth of field problems with 6x7 (that's why I didn't get the Mamiya 7) and there is no vertical vs horizontal decisions. It handles like a Leica and is so quiet. The lenses are a dream. I am nearly always photographing wide open.

Only problem I have is with the 150mm. I can't focus quick enough, perhaps practice will help. And my 150mm won't flash sync wide open at F4.5.

Apart from that it's an amazing camera. I now take more risks with medium format and work a lot faster.

Andrew Wittner , July 20, 2000; 09:27 A.M.

Hi there! I first bought a 6 with the three lenses and found that all three were stunningly sharp. My problem was that the 'double image shifting' that occurs in this body's rf, as you move your eye about behind it, made focussing the 150 impossible unless tripod mounted. (I also think the focal length of this lens is far too long - puts you too far away from the subject - and that it doesn't focus close enough. A 120 or 135 focal length would have been much more useful, could have focused closer, taken smaller filters and would still have retained the 'long lens' effect). Anyway - later I bought a second, 6MF body and found that the 'shifting' focussing problem had been eliminated, and for this reason I find the MF is the body that is completely useful. (The MF viewfinder also seems to be more 'square', more rectilinear.) Viewfinder coverage in both bodies takes a bit of getting used to. The 50mm lens on either body has to be one of the best bits of wide-angle gear ever. Yes, those 50 and 75 lenshoods are ridiculous. Baseplate accessories: If you use a flashgun like a Metz 45, be sure to buy the Mamiya 'stand-off spigot thing' - a little solid cylinder of steel that screws between the body's thread and your flash bracket, so that you can operate the protective blind turnkey without removing the camera from the bracket; this works well and actually stops you from screwing the hell out of the body's thread all the time.

Now I'm chasing a 35mm pano-adaptor kit to fit the MF body; do you have one you'd like to sell to me? I live in Melbourne, Australia. Phone me on (03)9.818.4328 or e-mail me at 'mrblack&white@optusnet.com.au'. - Thanks - Andrew.

tony middleton , September 01, 2000; 02:56 P.M.

It's good to see that the '6 is still in demand and well supported. I use one with the 75mm for nearly all my pro and hobby work, a 'blad is used for closeup work in the studio but compaired to the'6 it's a handfull. Examples are on my site, www.tonymiddphoto.co.uk. I've been experiencing a problem with the shutter release not firing every time, johnsons have replaced the magnet in the release which has improved matters,I'm wondering if it could be a fault in the lens signal, any one any thoughts? I wonder why Mamiya do not make a true pro 6x6 rangefinder, I would love one based on the rigid '7 body with the angled grip but no meter, lenses with mechanical shutters so completely independent of batteries. One can dream.

Will Legge , August 07, 2004; 12:32 A.M.

It is a pitty this camera was discontinued. It is one of the most portable medium formats systems ever made. It was designed as a replacement for Mamiya's TLRs. I think the problems was the overseas pricing. In Japan I bought the body with 75mm lens for about 1,300USD new. This was for both my New 6 and 6MF. I think if Mamiya offered this overseas at the same price as Japan, they probably couldn't make enough.

As a side note, the prices for the Mamiya 7 are about the same worldwide.

ben conover , June 11, 2005; 09:14 A.M.

Hamish said :

'I thought long and hard about the Fuji 6x7 and 6x9 alternatives, but in the end I wanted one body and the ability to have all three of my most-used lens lengths available in the one package (the equivalent of the 35mm's 28mm, 50mm, and 80 to 100mm lenses). The Fuji models don't have the longer lens'.

Well, the Fuji g690bl does have 'the longer lens'. I am a beginner and I use a Fuji g690bl + 100mm lens. There are a choice of lenses available for the old Fuji that are truely stellar, excellent build quality too. I would like to find the very rare 50mm and also the telephotos. Admitedly the old brass Fuji is a heavy 2.2 k.g.'s with the standard 100 3.5 but it is worth every penny, I bought mine for $630. I prefer the 69 format to anything smaller.

Cheers.

thomy keat , November 18, 2006; 09:29 P.M.

Year 2006, after all these past few years and the revolution of digital photography, i am still very happy to use my M6mf, even if it is not as often as before, i always feel happy to handle that "old baby" sometimes, so quiet, so effective, so useable.

6x6 Provia slides can't lie :)

And for that 2006 chritmas, i will continue to search for a 50mm under the tree ;)

Regards, thomy Keat

www.thomykeat.com

Ryuji Suzuki , May 19, 2007; 07:35 A.M.

Hi,

Thanks for a nice review. This review is quite old but the content is still true... there's not much changed since then. I also have my review covering some details that I noticed at Mamiya 6 rangefinder camera review.

Douglas Boyd , September 18, 2009; 11:58 P.M.

Which system for travel: Mamiya-6, Hasselblad H-1, or Sony A900? (I have all 3 plus a lot of other less competitive cameras).

In my testing these three of the give very comparable excellent image quality, and much more than I get with any of my 35mm cameras, either rangefinder (Leica) or SLR or DSLR.

I should mention that I shoot primarily landscapes and people/models.

But this discussion thread points out the disadvantage of the M-6 compared to the other two, namely the problem with the 150mm lens.

When using a telephoto lens for anything except landscape I really prefer an SLR camera and autofocus. Plus in portraits I sometimes want to get in close (not possible with the M-6 150mm lens), and I always want to focus on the near eye (not possible with almost any rangefinder camera).

So since I need AF for telephoto, the M-6 is sort of eliminated unless I want to carry two camera systems, which is another kind of hassle. So in a way the decision comes down to film vs. digital. If I want to shoot film, I should travel with the H-1 and leave the others. If I want to shoot digital, then I can use my H-1 plus Phase digital back or carry the A900 system. But in digital, the A900 wins, except for the poor sync speed of its focal plane shutter (1/250th), which I compensate for by carrying a more powerful flash.

One of the huge advantages of the M-6 for travel is its square format that means I do not need to carry a bulky flip bracket and its cable. On the six you always shoot in one position, so a hot shoe flash is sufficient. I just wish the M-6 had a better solution for telephoto and then it would be an easy choice.

==Doug

jason crank , October 10, 2009; 07:48 A.M.

Apologies for the post, but I am looking for suggestions. I am searching for a M6 in as good condition as possible, and am very wary of ebay. Adorama, KEH, etc. have very little, and near the bottom of condition ratings. I understand the increasing rarity of a camera which stopped production 10 years ago, and am asking for suggestions of other places to keep an eye on for possible sales. Thanks vm for any ideas.

Jonathan Maloney , November 21, 2009; 02:19 A.M.

I would highly recommend buying a Mamiya 6 off KEH, even in BGN condition. I have bought several Hasselblad lenses and one Mamiya lens in BGN and they are comparable to what you'd find listed as EX on the 'Bay.

The 50mm is just exquisite, the 75mm is also excellent but I have yet to try the 150mm.

You won't be disappointed - provided you know of a rangefinder's limitations!

Gary Gnidovic , January 03, 2010; 06:37 P.M.

Jason,

If you are still looking, I have a Mamiya 6MF and a 50 that I'm about to offer for sale but haven't posted anywhere yet. Very good condition. Contact me through www.gnidovic.com if interested.

Ross Fredella , January 10, 2010; 09:10 P.M.

is anyone looking to sell their mamiya 6 or 6 mf? i have been looking for this camera for a while now. thanks!

Arthur Plumpton , July 26, 2010; 09:44 P.M.

The reviewer is appaently happiest with an SLR. What are limitations (seeing outside of the field frames, lack of mirror blackout) are in fact advantages for the RF shooter, such as: 

 

Lack of shutter noise;

Seeing what is going on outside the frame in action photographs, or what might have been forgotten in static images;

Seing expressions of human or animal subjects at the exact ment of exposure (no mirror blackout); verifying flash operation at the same time;

Lightness and compactness;

Lesser vibration (which was mentioned in the review);

Simpler and more easily perfected lens designs;

Cheaper than many SLR systems for equivalent lenses.

 

What a shame that Mamiya chose to abandon this system (Bob Shell spoke in his Mamiya book of a super wideangle, supposedly in the works, just before the somewhat bulkier Mamiya 7 came on the scene).

 

Sorely missed.

 

Alan Green , February 11, 2011; 09:26 A.M.

I sold my Mamiya 6 kit comprising two bodies and all three lenses last year, to finance a Canon 5D MkII.  I missed it so much that I've recently bought a 6MF and the three lenses on ebay!

The 6MF does seem to have a slightly improved rangefinder, and I don't mind the extra lines in the viewfinder.  It's easily the most enjoyable camera system I've ever owned.  Secondhand prices seem to be on the up, as discerning photographers are buying up the limited number out there!

Bruce Fichelson , October 05, 2014; 06:36 P.M.

I just purchased  a full Mamiya 6 outfit and had all of it gone over by Precision Camera Works, an outstanding source for all things rangefinder. Thankfully nothing was required but rangefinder calibration of the lenses. Even though I own a very high end Nikon outfit (D810 with multiple high resolution lenses) and a Sony RX100ii for pocket use, I missed medium format film and I love how solid and compact this system is. My purpose with this is to emphasize that cropping a portrait to full face is easily done on scanned film and given the resolution you can get an outstanding portrait with the 75 or 150 lenses. A flatbed scan at highest res will give you a 65mgb image and a drum scan can get as much as 120mgb out of an image, either of which will allow for cropping to a full face portrait. 

As is often said, no one system will do everything, but unlike most digital bodies which outdate themselves every 2-3 years, this system will never be outdone or improved upon. My one additional gotta have is a Mamiya 7 or 7ii body with the 43mm lens. But that would just be a luxury since my Nikon system has super wide well covered. (Ken Rockwell directed me to this fabulous camera and his article on it is very enlightening.)


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