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Medium format on the cheap?

Leon B , Oct 27, 2008; 07:00 a.m.


I know this question's been asked several times before, but I wanted to get some opinions in view of the recent price falls for MF film equipment...

I recently started playing around with an Ikonta A I originally picked up as a 'shelf' camera. I got some beautiful results, especially with Provia 100F - sharp enough for my purposes, nice and contrasty (despite everything that's been said about the Novar) and full of character. This was enough to convince me I wanted to shoot more MF slides in the future. However, fun as the Ikonta is, it's a very slow and leisurely way of taking photographs, and I fancied getting something a bit more practical for everyday use...

I was wondering what your latest recommendations would be for second-hand MF equipment for those on a (very) tight budget. Would it still be to go for a TLR, or is it the time to try and pick up a Bronica or something like that?

Cheers for any help!


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Mike Earussi , Oct 27, 2008; 08:14 a.m.

You first have to define "tight." A TLR is always the least expensive way to go. You also have to decide what format you want to shoot. If speed is your most important criteria then a 645 with built-in meter and motor drive is fastest. My favorite is the Pentax 645 as it is the most compact, lightest in weight and most automatic of the 645 systems. If you want interchangable backs then the Mamiya and Bronica would be what you want at the cost of increased bulk and weight. If image quality is more important to you then you have to look at 6x7, the best being the Pentax 67 for handheld and the RB/RZ for studio/tripod work. No MF system is expensive compared to what it was 10 years ago so what you ultimately get depends on your needs or wants.

Leon B , Oct 27, 2008; 08:52 a.m.

Hi, thanks for the response...

I do really like 6x6 and I could just about stretch to a very basic Bronica package for the sort of prices I've been seeing (around 300 UKP, in other words). Having said that, if a TLR is still a viable option for natural-light, outdoor photography, I'd be happy to go with that - assuming that the collectors don't price me out.

Edward Ingold , Oct 27, 2008; 10:36 a.m.

If you're only looking for results which are "good enough", you have plenty to choose from. If you want results significantly better than from 35mm, you will have to get a little fussier with your equipment and (especially) your technique.

I think Hasselblad "V" series and the Mamiya RZ present the best values in terms of price, performance and reliability. Both are still being made and serviced, and there is a wide variety of used equipment at attractive prices.

By the time you add up the cost of equipment, film, processing and the infrastructure of medium format, you will find it costs about three times that of comparable 35mm gear. It takes a lot of effort to make that worth while - and it IS worth while.

Bueh B. , Oct 27, 2008; 11:39 a.m.

First decide on what camera type you want -- rangefinder or SLR. I think SLRs are much more user-friendly, so I would recommend this type (besides, you already have a nice rangefinder). I am not a big TLRs fan, and I think that they are vastly overrated as beginner cameras (and you can easily find rangefinders and single-lens reflex cameras for the same price as a "good" TLRs).

Next settle on a format. 645, 6x6, 6x7 and 6x9 are popular choices, all with advantages and drawbacks. You can find exellent, automated cameras in 645 (i.e., Pentax 645, Mamiya M645...) that are inexpensive, reliable and produce stunning images. 645 is superior to any other format if speed and hand-holding are required. I love the versatility of the M645 system.

I am not that much into 6x6, because cropping for printing is often an issue, resulting in wasted film/paper space and money. But there are some sweet cameras available in this format (and not all are from Sweden).

6x7 is real big, the cameras for this format look huge. But I love this format and the size and weight is no problem for my shooting style. The Mamiya RZ67 is my weapon of choice and I can highly recommend it -- it is a great system with stellar optics for ridiculously little money. I think it offers the most joy if you still shoot film, as the the large negative gives you a lot to work with while the cameras are excellent and reliable.

Any bigger format is unusual and therefore expensive or offers little in regards to system cameras. 6x9 gives you a huge negative, but then again there are only 8 frames per film, and most cameras available here are vintage and less user-friendly/fool-proof than modern offerings with high-end glass.

D Purdy , Oct 27, 2008; 02:10 p.m.

You can get a Rollei T for reasonably cheap. I am a huge TLR fan and I think they are under rated as MF beginner cameras. You will get extremely high quality for little money in a Pentax 67 with 105 or 90 lens and you will also get extremely high quality with a 3.5F or Rollei T and probably get a camera that is not only easy to figure out and use but a camera you will probably love.

Joseph C. Ohlsen , Oct 27, 2008; 05:06 p.m.

Haven't seen anyone promote the Koni-Omega series of cameras which are selling cheap or a Mamiya C330 (or similar C series) TLR. If you need an SLR there is the Kalimar reflex or Six-60 and the Kiev 6. An Omega 200 with interch. lenses and backs is fine. Have one. Same for the Mamiya TLR. Those are all within your budget limits. Top quality as well (except for the Kalimar + Kiev but they can be had for about half your budget).

Kelly Flanigan , Oct 27, 2008; 07:56 p.m.

In the 1950's camera makers gave away new box cameras that took 120 film; so you would buy film.

Jan Fredrik Leversund , Oct 27, 2008; 09:24 p.m.

Well, if you're on a really really tight budget, there's always Holga or Diana. I mean, the mechanical and optical quality might not be on par with the more serious products, but they sure have character... :)

John Wilson , Oct 27, 2008; 10:13 p.m.

A take-everywhere camera? Any TLR. YashicaMat is huge bang for the buck. I have an EM, the light meter is very accurate and the image quality is tremendous. I paid $70 US, or about 35 Euro, or about ten UK pounds, lol.

A 'system' camera is going to be a different ballgame than a TLR. They shine in a studio setting. 645 or 6x6 are not hard to carry around. I prefer 645 for the same reasons Beuh mentioned. With an eye level prism and a speed grip a 645 is like a beefy 35mm and just as easy to use.

There is no replacement for my 645 cameras, but when I'm not sure what I'm taking a camera out for, my TLR fills the bill. I almost never haul out the 645 with nothing in mind.

You can get a YashicaMat, or any quality TLR for that matter, for less than a hundred dollars US. You can get just about any 645 kit for about 350US. (body, film back, normal lens, possibly a finder and grip if you are patient).

They are really two different animals. I foresee you with one of each in the future. Don't fight it!

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