About to leave for a three week trip to Australia, I scanned the 20 cameras in
my closet. The 20-lens Canon EOS system beckoned. It is flexible, reasonably
small and lightweight, and fast thanks to automated exposure, focus, and film
advance. However, the last few trips I'd taken with the EOS it transpired that
the 50/1.4 lens stayed on the camera 95% of the time. The extra 19 lenses stayed
at home or in the suitcase. If one is going out among the streets with a camera
and wants a normal perspective, the 6x7 cm negative produced by a Mamiya 7 is a
much more satisfying result. Because the rangefinder design does not require a
mirror or prism, the overall weight of the Mamiya and 80/4 lens is similar to
that of an EOS-3 with 50/1.4 lens. Same weight, 4.5X larger negative.
What exactly is a Mamiya 7?
The Mamiya 7 is a lightweight rangefinder 6x7-format camera with
interchangeable lenses. It is probably the only 6x7 camera with interchangeable
lenses that is practical for travel or street photography.
After a few rolls, I fell into a rhythm with this camera such that I had a
higher successful image rate than with the Canon EOS system that I've used
regularly for six years. The key to the Mamiya's photographer-friendliness is
that the camera's engineers must have read About Face
, where Alan Cooper reminds programmers "No matter how cool your
interface, it would be better if there were less of it." There aren't that many
controls on the Mamiya 7 and it is therefore easy to keep in one's mind the fact
that, for example, exposure compensation has been set to +1 f-stop. Because one's
mind isn't occupied with a raft of autofocus settings, it is easy to remember to
remove the lens cap before pushing the shutter release.
The only thing of which you must be careful is that you have the 120/220
pressure plate set properly. One twist sets both the pressure plate and the film
counter appropriately and a small window on the camera back confirms the setting
externally. However, it is best to stick with either 120 (10 exposures per roll)
or 220 film (20 exposures per roll) for an entire trip so that you don't have to
worry about finishing a roll only to find out that the pressure plate was
improperly set (resulting in unsharp images at wide apertures).
ArsDigita was expanding into 100,000 square feet of office space worldwide
during the Year 2000. Even a 20x24 enlargement will tend to get lost in a large
office and it is difficult to make an acceptable quality enlargement from 35mm
even at 20x24 much less the 40x40 and 40x50 sizes that will hold a visitor's
attention in an 8,000 square foot floor office. I'd been printing mostly ancient
my Rollei 6000 system,
Fuji 617 (panoramics do well above cubicle walls), and
Linhof 4x5 field
camera. I'd planned a trip to Guatemala to teach
a short course on Web
application design and wanted to create some wall-covering images while down
there. The only camera on the preceding list that I'd consider taking on a casual
trip is the Fuji 617.
Right before leaving, I borrowed a Mamiya 7 II system including the 43mm
superwide, 80mm normal, and 150mm portrait lenses. The photos that you see
illustrating this article were all taken in Guatemala.
Out of the box
Background: This is not a camera that you can just grab and go. Before you
change lenses you must turn a dial on the bottom of the camera to close a light
curtain. After fitting the new lens and composing your picture, you invariably
will have forgotten to press the little release button to open the light curtain
again. The camera has electronic interlocks to prevent you from wasting a roll
with blank frames but the bottom line is that people who haven't read the manual
won't get very far with this camera.
What comes out of the camera? Images that are sharp, high-contrast, and
As with the Mamiya 6, the rangefinder is a joy to operate. The central area is
big and bright, vastly better than the Fuji rangefinders and even a little better
than the Leica M-series cameras.
With a rangefinder camera, what you see is not what you get. The Mamiya 7's
viewfinder is wide enough to show you roughly what the 65mm lens captures. Bright
lines appear that are calibrated to the lens that you've mounted (up to 150mm)
and that shift down and to the right as you focus closer (automatic parallax
Framing remains a challenge, however. At infinity, the film captures about 20%
more than what is within the bright lines (i.e., you might get a street sign that
will have to be cropped out in the lab). Only when the lens is focussed close do
the bright lines correspond to what is captured on film.
With the 43mm lens, taking a picture requires the following steps:
focus using the standard rangefinder window
set exposure or confirm that the autoexposure system is doing something
sensible, also from the standard rangefinder window
move your eye to an accessory viewfinder mounted in the top-deck hot shoe to
see what the lens will see, sort of (no parallax correction)
Metered-manual use with slide film
This is a difficult camera to use with slide film in metered-manual mode:
the aperture dials on the lenses are not equipped with half-stop detents
an LED readout in the camera's viewfinder gives the meter's recommended
exposure, but only in full-stop increments.
It might be more effective to work with the auto-exposure lock and the
exposure compensation dial. Then the camera will set the shutter speed to within
1/6th of an f-stop. I was able to get consistently good slide exposures working
in this manner on a 7-week trip to Australia (which started out as a 3-week trip;
my decompression illness
story for details).
Let's shift gears now, back to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. This has been the
an earlier photo.net exhibit but a new
house in Chatham and the newly arrived Mamiya created an opportunity to take some
more snapshots. First, let's look at the views from the house and deck: