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645 - Metered prism vs. waist-level finder + spotmeter

Bill Brant , Aug 25, 1999; 11:33 a.m.

I hope to acquire a 645 system soon; one question I am wrestling with is in the choice of finder.

I have not specified which camera I am considering deliberately; I feel that this question is not brand-specific. It is not a Pentax (no waist-level finder), and it is not a 6x6.

First some background: I currently shoot 35mm, and I would categorize myself as an 'advanced amateur', with no interest in going pro. When asked what I photograph, I tell people that I photograph things that don't move; landscapes, macro work, and still life. I do some family portraiture (only family, when asked nicely). I expect that all MF shots will be from a tripod. I currently shoot mostly slide film, and hope to eventually do B&W with the MF. I have a small studio setup with monolights.

Coming from 35mm, I am used to working with a metered finder, so it would be easy for me to stay with a metered finder. However, no prism finder shows 100% of the image, and it seems that MF add-on prisms are a) expensive, b) complicated, mostly because of their add- on nature (compared to 35mm, anyway), and c) relatively primitive compared their 35mm counterparts.

I keep reading about medium format photographers who praise the virtues of waist-level finders. The more deliberate style the waist- level finders are supposed to encourage sounds good to me, but I have no personal experience using waist-level finders, and so I find myself struggling to make the right choice for me.

One problem I have heard about with waist-level viewing is using them when the camera is rotated for vertical shots (remember, this will be a 645), and I find that I take a significant percentage of verticals with my 35mm. Is this so hard? Is it something that takes only a little getting used to?

Also, the waist-level finder would require the use of a hand-held meter; I already have an incident meter, but I suspect that a spotmeter would be called for -- certainly with B&W. The expense is not important - I can get a waist-level finder + a spotmeter for about the cost of a metering prism - but in general metering prisms bring more capabilities to the camera (more shutter speeds, longer shutter speeds than can be selected manually, etc.) Any comments on this?

Could those of you who have worked with both waist-level and metering prisms in MF give me your thoughts on the issues?

Thanks! Bill

Responses

Robin Smith , Aug 25, 1999; 05:52 p.m.

Bill

In my opinion a waist level finder with 645 format is hopeless. If you want 645 then you really need a 90 degree prism. To some extent this is why the 'blad has one (for shooting with the 645 back) as even a 45 degree prism is hopeless if you are shooting verticals. If you want to use a waist level finder (they are nice, but not for the whole time necessarily) then buy a 6 x 6 or a RZ67 with 645 back or perhaps the Rollei 6000 series which also may have a rotating 645 back, I think.

Metering prism are always nice and good for fast action or when you want to be quick and efficient (weddings etc.) but otherwise you can be surprisingly quick with a hand held meter. A separate meter is very good when you have the camera on a tripod (a lot of the time in MF)and probably better as you can continue to meter usefully without having to repoint the camera. This is particularly the case when shooting a landscape and when the lighting is not 'behaving'. They are less good when taking pictures handheld

Dan Brown , Aug 25, 1999; 06:16 p.m.

Bill, I suggest you look carefully at the Contax 645. It has both finders, with a spot meter that is located in the body, and therefore works with the waist level finder.

Erik Janssen , Aug 25, 1999; 10:29 p.m.

The systems with a vertical format 645 back option are the ones that will still work well with a waist level finder. I have both the AE prism and the waist level finder for my Contax 645, but I can't shoot verticals with the waist level finder. With the waist level finder, you also lose the hotshoe, although this isn't too big a deal either, since I don't have a TLA flash at this point, and so I am happy with the synch socket.

These "problems" haven't bothered me as much as I thought they would. The AE prism is so nice, clear, bright, and sharp, that I find myself using it nearly all the time. It is actually easier for me to see, even with my glasses on. I find that the Contax 645 is so much like a 35mm camera in terms of its size and weight, that it is very natural to use it with the AE prism.

I suppose that another nice feature about the Contax is that you can also buy a vertical grip very similar to the EOS VG-10, or the new booster for the EOS 3. They call it a battery holder if you are thinking about ordering it. They don't call it a vertical grip. But it moves all of the functions so that the camera can be held in the vertical format just as naturally as in the horizontal. I have NOT bought one of these myself. I bought a VG-10 back when I had an A2E, and I found that I wasn't sufficiently bothered by holding the body vertically without the grip to make the extra weight of the grip worthwhile. Still, it will be a nice feature for some people. It does provide a tripod socket for vertical format, so that by itself might be a plus for many users.

I doubt that Contax can make a vertical format back, which would also be very nice. The reason is that the focal plane shutter is oriented for the horizontal format, and any back that matches up to the body, is not going to be able to get the full vertical image on the film if the body is horizontal, and the back is vertical, just because of the geometry.

FWIW, I think this would only be an issue for someone who would have a hard time getting used to a prism. I don't think it would be an issue for someone who was moving from a lot of experience with a 35mm camera. I have had medium format cameras with waist level finders before, and that is why I bought the waist level finder for my 645 - but as it has turned out, I've used this camera more in a 35mm style than in a medium format style... just because it is capable of such use. Most medium format cameras are not capable of such use.

Patrick Drennon , Aug 25, 1999; 11:35 p.m.

This is going to sound stupid so forgive me. In the postings I didn't see where anyone told Bill why the waist level is a pain vertically. Just in case it isn't already understood, when you turn the camera on its side the image is upside down. Normal viewing is right side up and laterally reversed which can take some getting used to, the real problem is trying to compose an upside down image in the vertical position. View camera freaks deal with both upside down and laterally reversed images all the time, so it can be done.

triblett Lungre-Thurd , Aug 26, 1999; 10:55 a.m.

Interesting name Bill. only missing a D

David Henderson , Aug 26, 1999; 07:36 p.m.

Consider the possibility that you'll make better photographs with a hand-held spot meter. Many -though not all - MF metered prisms are quite primitive, as you point out yourself. Even if you have a spot capability it's kind of messy to have to move around the spot on a tripod-mounted camera and for those of us that tend to compose before metering (not essential, I know, but I imagine most of us do it) you then have the job of finding your framing again.

I would also say that you don't have to use a WLF to use a hand -held meter. You can get a non-metering prism for most MF systems. This is my own preference. I find WLF's difficult to work with and they pose restrictions if you want to set the camera high to clear fences etc.

With the combination of prism and hand held spotmeter, the contemplation aspect is achieved whilst looking at the total scene whilst metering, and isn't restricted to what you see in a WLF. Again I find this better, as it makes me more aware of the possibilities and problems I will face if I adjust framing. At the trivial level, I always see the boat (or airplane) coming!

Joachim Hein , Aug 27, 1999; 08:51 a.m.

Dear Bill, you got a lot of excellent answers already. From my experience build in meters are hopeless on a tripod, especially spot meters. With a tripod, I compose first (landscape use most of the time) and once I am happy with that, I start metering the exposure. With a build in spot meter I would need to move the camera and destroy the composition.

If you want to stick with 645 I would advise on a prism (non-metered if you are on a budget) and a handheld meter. I perfectly agree, that a waist level finder on 645 is a pain. However since in medium format I prefer the waistlevel finder over the prism, my main advise would be to reconsider your decision against a 6x6. With these you do the vertical/horizontal by croping after exposure and a waist level finder works excellent. For sure you waste 3 frames per roll. Good luck!

Alistair Kerr , Aug 27, 1999; 08:53 a.m.

Bill - I have only just got into medium format recently myself and the Bronica GS1 I purchased came with waist level finder. This is 6x7 but the same problem exists. I too take quite a lot of vertical-format shots and concluded very quickly that to use the WLF for these you would need to be a contortionist. As I couldn't stretch to the cost of a metered prism finder I bought an unmetered one and now use this in conjunction with a cheap lightmeter. There is a huge difference in "usability", although I do miss the WLF's flip-up magnifier which is a very useful focussing aid. It has been suggested elsewhere in the forum that you can use the spotmeter in your 35mm camera (if it has this feature) in place of a separate handheld spotmeter, but I find this very cumbersome and hope to buy a lightmeter with a spot facility sometime. It's also worth bearing in mind that if you are taking street scenes, candids, etc, you can do this less conspicuously when using a WLF than when looking through a viewfinder. Hope this helps...Alistair

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