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Medium Format Autofocus

Terry Bowen , Apr 19, 2003; 02:36 p.m.

Hello. I would like to do MF and autofocus for my travels. I have seen the Mamiya 645AFD, the Hasselblad H1, and the Pentax 645N II (in a catalog). I don't mind paying for quality. Can anyone compare these three? Is the Hasselblad's H1 picture a 6x6? (Also, why is Hasselblad's H1 camera less expensive?--I thought the Hasselblad's were the most expensive.) Do photographers prefer to shoot MF in autofocus or manual? Another option is to get a used MF system, and a new 35mm AF--or vise-versa. Reading reviews has me confused--with the advantages and disadvantages of each system, especially since I am a novice. Thanks

Terry

Responses

Al Kaplan - Miami, FL , Apr 19, 2003; 06:00 p.m.

If you're ready to let the camera decide where in the scene it wants to focus, wouldn't it be even nicer if the camera picked out where the top, bottom, and sides would be for an ideal picture? Or when everything looks just right and everybody has a perfect smile? In truth, autofocus doesn't always focus where you'd prefer, and there is a time delay involved. Maybe we no longer have to coat our own plates anymore but it makes me feel like I'm doing something in the creative process if I have a few decisions to make. I use a seperate meter too.

Steve Levine , Apr 19, 2003; 09:42 p.m.

Auto focus cameras are a solution to a non existant problem,IMHO.If I shot action or high speed subjects,by all means Id get an AF system.The MF AF systems are designed for wedding work mostly.Focusing an 80mm lens in a dark church or reception hall is not easy.For most other applications,why would you want a camera to decide where to focus?

Jonathan Brewer , Apr 19, 2003; 10:31 p.m.

Selective focus is an art in itself, nothing is more frustrating that letting an autofocus camera do its thing on a shot, and then when you get the proofs back you find you framed the shot perfectly, caught the right moment, but the camera focused somewhere else not necessarily ruining the shot, but didn't make the decision you'd make.

None of my MF gear is AF, I have an AF 35mm for when I shoot portraits of kids and my 50+ eyeballs get tired or can't keep up, but even with that camera I like to pick and choose my spots.

I think using a camera on auto everything all the time is a dismal proposition for anybody serious about photography and it's going to rob you of some great shots that the auto-everything camera turned into just some good shots.

Al Kaplan - Miami, FL , Apr 19, 2003; 10:31 p.m.

You don't need autofocus to shoot weddings! You set your focus at 10 ft., your f-stop at f/8 and used the sports finder on your Rollei! For large groups 15 ft. at f/5.6, closer shots 7 ft. at f/11. Don't forget to compensate for parrallax.

Ken Rexach , Apr 19, 2003; 11:09 p.m.

I find AF very useful for portraits, specially street portraits (and kids) where there isnt always time to check focus thoroughly or even focus manually. Focus confirmation capability with a AF body and manual lenses is also a nice feature, sorta like a second opinion. Regarding which system is best well, the Pentax is the best value, unless you really need interchangable backs and viewfinders. The cool thing about the pentax is the low prices on used lenses and the capability to use pentax 67 lenses (a lot can be had for $350 used) , even with tilt , shift capability using a ZORK adapter.

Marc Williams , Apr 20, 2003; 10:59 a.m.

Terry, the Hasselblad H1 is a 645 format camera. It is a collaboration between Fuji and Hasselblad. The lenses are made by Fuji to Hasselblad spec's. It is the most expensive of all the 645 systems. It is, as of now, an unproven system. There are reports of the finish not being to the level one would expect of a Hasselblad ( which I also found true with the Hasselblad X-Pan which is also made together with Fuji.)

One other camera you should add to your list is the Contax 645 AF. A proven system featuring Zeiss lenses. There are some pretty good deals on the Contax right now.

The only one of the bunch that cannot be converted to digital is the Pentax. Perhaps not a consideration for you, but could affect resale.

Contrary to some opinions, AF can and is a useful feature especially when using W/A lenses wide open in darker situations where you need the full speed available from the lens.

Most MF A/F cameras have a central focus point, so you have to place the focus point over the area wanted, lock it in, then recompose. It's actually quite a bit faster technique than it sounds. Even when focusing manually, the camera confirms focus as a failsafe.

Elliot N , Apr 20, 2003; 03:19 p.m.

I must admit that I rarely use the autofocus capabilities of my Mamiya 645AF - maybe 5% of the time, at the end of a shoot, when my eyes are tired.

The main reason that I manually focus is that I nearly always use a tripod (I shoot environmental portraits). I compose the scene and then manually focus my subject on whatever part of the ground glass screen that they appear.

To use autofocus I would have to unlock my tripod, reframe to get my subject's face in the centre of the screen, half-depress the shutter release to lock focus, and then recompose, lock off the tripod and take the shot. Not really practical!

But shooting handheld, the Mamiya's autofocus is fast (well, faster than manual focus) and accurate. (I'm surprised that some posters here seem to expect that these cameras will choose the correct focus point for them - you ALWAYS have to frame your chosen point of focus in the centre of the viewfinder, half-depress the shutter, recompose and shoot.)

Whilst I love my Mamiya 645AF, I would have reservations about using it as a travel camera, as it has film flatness issues when the film is left in the back for a long time (e.g. overnight). This can be a problem with all roll film back cameras. As an alternative you might want to consider a medium format rangefinder (e.g Mamiya 7).

Dave Redmann , Apr 21, 2003; 01:50 a.m.

Not wanting to be too confrontational, but here goes:

"You don't need autofocus to shoot weddings! You set your focus at 10 ft., your f-stop at f/8 and used the sports finder on your Rollei!"

That's why so many wedding pictures look so crappy!

Relying on a powerful flash and a small aperture to get the subject in focus gives awful results, IMHO. I really don't care for a very dark background. Much better to use a wide aperture, get the focus right, and use the minimum necessary flash. I'd much prefer to set the subject out from the background with selective focus than with a flash. Indoors, gimme NPZ, a fast lens, and for moving subjects (like small children or wedding processions) good auto-focus. Or if you're really good or can time it just right, get a Rollei with a Planar or Xenotar, set the aperture at more like f/4, and use NPZ (or even NPH or Portra 400NC).

Now I've never used an auto-focus medium format camera, but shooting my kids is the one time in my use that AF is highly valuable. For everything else, manual focus is fine to even preferable (at least assuming decent focusing aids--just a ground glass ain't always easy). But getting good medium-format shots of the kids with my gear is not easy.

Raymond Petty , Apr 22, 2003; 03:21 a.m.

I have used a Pentax 645N to take pictures of my young children over the past 2-3 years and found the auto-focus quite serviceable. I am comaparing this to my Nikon N90s system. I did quite a bit of research on this prior to purchase and the Pentax AF system is really the most sensitive and responsive as of the time of my purchase. The Hassy is now on the market and I have no idea how this compares (other than bankrupting you). As I am sure you are now well-aware, be prepared to get reams of responses assuming you never manual focus or even know where the aperture and shutter speed controls are located if you let on that you use auto-focus.

I won't go into painful detail regarding the other advantages and disadvantages of the camera but I will say that it is very nice to have that AF availabe for those times when you need it for those quick-moving youngsters. I only shoot my kids a couple times a month at most so I don't pretend to be a pro at "quick" manual focus technniques (although I have improved quite a bit). The Pentax is a wonderful value for what it is. Easily the biggest drawback is no backs but I shoot mainly 120...You're never more than 16 shots from the end of the roll (there is also a technique to remove a roll before finishing by "wasting" 3 shots.

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