Mamiya autofocus?

Discussion in 'Medium Format Cameras and Accessories' started by Cheryl Jacobs, May 30, 2004.

  1. Cheryl Jacobs

    Cheryl Jacobs Member

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    I'm in a bit of a quandary on where to go from here.

    As you all know, I do lots of candid, on-location portraits, primarily of kids (read: moving targets). My vision has gotten sufficiently awful that I am going to have to give up on MF for these clients soon, because I cannot manage the manual focus. (My vision is estimated at 20/4000 or so, and can't be fully corrected.) I need autofocus, but I hate printing those tiny 35mm negs.

    For those of you who have MF autofocus cameras (particularly Mamiya) what can you tell me about the autofocus? I've heard that it's way too slow and noisy, but have also heard that it's been greatly improved in the past few years. It's a scary decision for me, because I'd have to unload both my Bronica and my Canon 35mm to fund it, and I have to be sure I could do what I need with it.

    I do intend to borrow one from my local camera store in the next week or so, if possible, but it's tough to get a really good feel for the camera in an afternoon.

    Thanks in advance.

    - CJ
     
  2. David R Munson

    David R Munson Member

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    While I haven't been able to use any of the AF 645 cameras extensively, my initial impression with the Mamiya 645 was that it was slow, awkward, and tended to hunt-focus a buch. The Contax 645 wasn't much faster, but seemed to lock on better. The Hasselblad H1 actually seemed fast, but is rather outrageously priced so that takes it down a notch in my mind. Haven't played with the Pentax 645N, so I can't comment on that. Had I to choose between all of them, I thin I'd probably go with the Contax. The AF isn't as fast as on the Hasselblad, but you get an extra stop of lens speed out of the 80mm and that's enough to compensate in my mind.
     
  3. bmac

    bmac Member

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    I have played with it a bit, although I don't own one. My main impression was "It aint my Canon" Autofocus is slower, and it did tend to hunt.
     
  4. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Kind of a useless post, being that I don't own one...
    I played some with the first version. In my short usage I found it was rather slow to focus (slower than the canon or nikons), and didn't hunt too much.

    I felt the weight was good and the ergonomics were excellent. I have used Mamiy's 645s before. I think there lenses are as good or better than any of their peers.

    I know two people who own or owned the newer version. One is a wedding and portrait photographer. She sold hers after the shutter curtin failed twice in the first 18 months. She claimed to love the camera, but couldn't trust it.

    The other person is a 'hobbiest' who also loves his and keeps adding lenses.

    I have had a lot of dealings with MAC (the us dist.) and find them to be very good. I also think the build quality should be good. If you decide on the Mamiya, I would strongly recommend buying from robertwhite.co.uk -- If not the body any accessories. White's prices are hard to beat, even with a weak dollar, you still get a warranty (although you'll have to ship it overseas for warranty work) and they are nice folks to boot.

    There is a good thread on APUG (probably many) about the Hassy 645 AF. My personal take on the Hassy is it comes with the Hassy/Zies price without being a hassy/zies camera.

    jdc
     
  5. fingel

    fingel Member

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  6. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Ellis Vener has made a few good posts on photo.net about the Hasselblad H1, which he's been using for a while. You might do a search over there and see what turns up or dig up his e-mail and contact him directly. If I were in your situation, this is probably the first camera I'd look at.

    Have you tried a focusing screen upgrade for your current system? Sometimes a brighter screen and focusing aids like a split-image circle can make a big difference.
     
  7. kwmullet

    kwmullet Member

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    Sounds like you've got your mind made up about which direction to go Cheryl, but I'll just chime in briefly with my two bits on autofocus.

    I use a Hassleblad 501c for MF and am starting to use the Graflex Crown for LF, but I still do at least half of my stuff in 35mm. One of the reasons is training myself to focus quickly/accurately enough with the MF & LF gear. The fact that I've just got a waist-level finder for the hassey makes it challenging for me to pull a fast focus during a quick-moving session. My uncorrected vision is something like 20/400, and as of a couple of months ago, the eye guy said I need bifocal glasses but am just short of needing bifocal contacts. This is a quandry for me, since glasses steam up sometimes, or get dirty, and contacts lose focus for the first half second or second after blinking. As I'm sure some of the folks on this site know, getting your eyes to cooperate while pulling focus is sometimes a high-wire act.

    Unfortunately, I've found any autofocus to be disappointing. More often than not, it'll focus on the nose rather than the pupils or the iris where I think the focus belongs. As I'm beginning to learn, for anyone who wants a really sharp image, there's only one tiny plane of focus, and anything in the so-called depth of field or hyperfocal distance is just sorta close, but not as good as getting the very best from those blasted circles of confusion.

    About the only thing I've found autofocus really good for is cranking the lens close enough that I can quickly and easily pull a good focus myself without waiting for it to hunt back and forth. My eyes are getting worse faster than autofocus technology is advancing, I suspect.

    What I'd really like to do is rely on a really clean rangefinder in a Crown Graphic, Linhof or some other 4x5 rangefinderable camera, take about 5-10 6-sheet Grafamatic backs on portrait shoots and do nearly everything 4x5. Serious speedbumps to that approach include not enough bellows draw to get close to kids & babies, setup speed for each shot, and having the rangefinder and the paralax-corrected viewfinder be two separate things to look through.

    I'm convinced that quick operation of manual focus is going to remain a preferable solution to any autofocus mechanism for at least the next many years. One of the reasons I found DSLRs to be frustrating was that the reduced frame area (by 1.6x, typically) also meant a smaller, dimmer focusing screen.

    On my own hunt (no pun) for a good autofocus alternative, I suspect I'll either do one or both of a Hassleblad 501cm or better with a retrofitted brighter viewfinder and either a 90- or 45-degree finder or one of the above-mentioned crown/technica/wista cameras perhaps with a 6x9 rollfilm back for smaller subjects and 4x5 for the larger ones.

    If I were to humbly offer up any autofocus suggestions for a MF shooter, I'd urge "don't do it" and ak if there were either a focusing screen upgrade available for their iron or a medium format rangefinder that would be useable for them.

    I know it's sorta obvious, and really expensive, but fast glass helps both manual and autofocus.

    [uh... okay. I guess that wasn't so brief. :smile: ]

    -KwM-
     
  8. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    KwM: I sometimes do portraits with a Tech V, the rangefinder, and Grafmatics, and it is a fairly dynamic way to work in large format. You've got all the bellows draw you need on a Technika, but realize that the rangefinder only works over a relatively limited range. Still, it will get you close enough for most portraits, and the separate finder is not so difficult once you get the hang of it. If you get out of RF range, you can always switch to the groundglass.

    If you are comfortable shooting portraits with large format on the groundglass, having the rangefinder to double check focus makes things that much easier. Tricks that some people use for portraits with groundglass focusing are a string from the tripod to the nose to confirm focus distance or a projector with a slide to project a thin beam of light on the subject's ear not visible to the camera. I usually focus, insert the holder, and watch the shadows on the subjects face carefully, and when they are exactly as they were when I focused, usually the head is in the right position. Now if I'm using the Technika and an interesting expression arises with the filmholder in the back, that's when the rangefinder is invaluable.

    If the subject is very mobile, then the solution is to use more light for more DOF.
     
  9. kwmullet

    kwmullet Member

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    There was a time when my wife Dianna was interested in switching from Hasselblad, maybe getting an AF rig, and we did read a bit about the Rollei. Impressive camera. If memory serves, it's got the same market share in Europe that Hasselblads have in the US.

    The main feature that sticks out in my memory is the really cool feature that you can pre-focus on a given distance, and when your subject gets to that distance, and in focus, the shutter trips. Obviously meant for brides and grooms coming down the aisle.

    That reminds me of a neat trick with Canon autofocus, though I don't know if Nikon does it. I usually run with my autofocus moved to the (*) button on the back of the body. If I mash that down while I manually focus, the "in focus" indicator (at least in our 1N's) will light to indicate when I'm in focus.
     
  10. Cheryl Jacobs

    Cheryl Jacobs Member

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    Thanks to all for the input. Looks like I'm going to have to just try it and see what I think.

    I can't afford to like the Hassey version, so that's out right off the bat. Kevin, I'd love to just get a brighter screen and continue to focus manually focus. The problem is, I could take all day to focus and still not know if I'm focused. And, since I very rarely do "hold still" type portraits, it's even more difficult. With 20/4000-ish vision, correctable only to 20/40 on a good day, it just isn't going to happen. I do just fine with AF on 35mm, but I'm spoiled by 6x6 negs.

    Ugh. I don't like my choices.
     
  11. Tom Duffy

    Tom Duffy Member

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    Cheryl,
    I've used a Contax 645 regularly since it first came out (1999). Medium format autofocus really works and reliably; for a subject that isn't moving or stops momentarily, like a kid, it will accurately and faster than you could manually. If the subject is moving at faster than parade speed, the autofocus won't keep up, simple as that. Additionally, most, if not all medium format cameras only have a central autofocus point, which , in terms of composition, isn't usually where you'd like the sensor placed. So they really won't do what you'd come to expect from 35mm autofocus. That said, I often find it to be helpful, but it isn't the answer to a maiden's prayers.
    Luckily, my vision corrects to 20/20. I bought a microprism screen for my Contax and it's quick to focus manually for faster moving subjects and you do get a focus confirmation light, even when focusing in manual mode. You ought look at the Contax, as well. With the 80mm f2 lens, motordrive at 1.5 fps, very bright viewfinder, it's almost as good handling as 35 camera, with a real medium format size negative. The 140mm f2.8 lens is internal focusing and is a beautiful portrait lens. The Contax might be the perfect "compromise" camera.
    Take care,
    Tom
     
  12. JohnArs

    JohnArs Subscriber

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    Hi Cheryl

    I would go the 35 mm route or how large are you have the most pictures to enlarge for your business?
    Or of course test also the Pentax if I remember correct it is the fastest Autofocus of the 4.5x6!
    Good luck!
     
  13. erickson

    erickson Member

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    Cheryl,

    I'm a Pentax 35mm user. While I haven't used the Pentax 6x4.5 cameras, I understand they use the metering and focusing technology from their 35mm line. My 35mm equipment focuses really fast! The only downfall is the loud focusing motor.

    The 645NII has only one big problem as far as I can tell - I don't think there is a waist-level finder option. On the good side, it has multi-segment, center-weighted, and spot metering, 2 frame/sec motor drive, predictive auto-focus, and mirror lockup. I think it would be worth investigating further.
     
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  15. clogz

    clogz Subscriber

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    I'm the owner of a Pentax 645N and quite happy with it. Have a look at it.

    Hans
     
  16. wiseowl

    wiseowl Member

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    Cheryl, I'm somewhat surprised to hear of your vision problems. All of your work i've seen posted here has been stunningly sharp, esp the eyes. This makes them all the more impressive, knowing your as blind as a bat ;-).

    Have you considered going down the rangefinder route, Fuji, Mamiya and Bronica all offer MF rangefinder models.?

    Cheers

    Martin
     
  17. kwmullet

    kwmullet Member

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    David,

    The first test I did with my grafmatics seem to show some fogging, and I'm wondering if it's because I used the spring-loaded facility to hold it in rather than removing the back entirely and using the two clamps (what're the names of those two machinisms again?) The next set of tests, I'll put the grafmatics on the other way and see if I notice a difference.

    Does anyone have any idea if there's a difference between the amount of travel between the Linhof and the Graflex rangefinders? Obviously, here, more is better.

    If I get more than one reply on this LF RF stuff, I'll suggest we move this part of the thread to either the rangefinder or large format forum and post a pointer here to where I move it.
    Yeah, but I still think there's a subtle and psychologically perceptable difference between something that has attained the smallest circles of confusion with a given lens, and something that just appears to come rather close by virtue of DOF.

    It's like the difference between listening to a speaker that talks nicely about something, and someone that just nails it eloquently right on the head.

    Not that I nail the focus exactly where I want it anywhere near as often as I'd like, but I think there's way too much dependence on autofocus in the trade. More often than not, I'll see a full-page face shot in a magazine and the focus is on the nose, not the pupils.
     
  18. Eric Rose

    Eric Rose Subscriber

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    I wonder if one of the Mamiya rangefinders would work for you? 6x7 neg and sharp lenses too. Just thinking out load.
     
  19. Cheryl Jacobs

    Cheryl Jacobs Member

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    Thanks for all the info and feedback, everyone. I've got lots to look into now.

    In the meantime, motivated by greed, lust, and wine, I bought a Speed Graphic on ebay. I don't know what I was thinking other than "that's cool" but maybe the comparitively huge ground glass will help me with my focusing issues. Not that I'd even attempt to use it for kids' sessions. LOL. That would be fun to watch, no?

    - CJ
     
  20. kwmullet

    kwmullet Member

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    cool.

    I got a crown graphic, but that's because I wanted to eventually use wider-angle lenses. The crowns don't have a focal plane shutter, so you can pull the lens in closer.

    One of the really neat things you can do with the Speed is use very old (100+ years old) portrait lenses without shutters, since you can use the focal-plane shutter.

    Unless the camera's been CLA'd recently, I'd recommend that be first order of business -- especially if you find someone to clean up the rangefinder for you. Do you have a side-mounted rangefinder or a top-mounted one? The side-mounted ones are generally adjusted to one specific lens. You can re-adjust them, but you've generally got to pick which lens you want to use the rangefinder with. The top-mounted rangefinders use dedicated cams for each lens.

    If you find you like the big 4x5 negs but the Speed isn't your cup of tea, you might consider a Littman 45 like blansky has (expensive, and I still can't wrap my conscience around modifying a classic piece of gear) or a 4x5 SLR. Graflex made several models, and there's a guy on the net (I'll dig up his site or someone else will if you're interested) whose really into them and uses them well, or there an outfit that advertises in View Camera magazine which makes contemporary 4x5 SLRs.

    WRT kid shoots with 4x5, that's actually one of my goals, but I'm not quite there yet. I'm continuing to practice with our own 2 1/2 -year old, but it is a different type of shooting. With 35, I can explore a subject and think out loud with the shutter release. With 6x6, I tend to be a little more conservative and hold off if I see any nogos in the frame. With 4x5, a picture's got to WANT to be taken. I've got two grafmatic backs, each of which hold six sheets. Some folks here have close to ten. If you like the speed at all, I'd also recommend getting an eBay grafmatic or two. That'll give you about half the shooting speed and number of frames as a hasselblad w/120.

    I'm probably sticking with my Crown Graphic until such time that I can afford a nice Linhof or two. It'll be a while.
     
  21. glbeas

    glbeas Member

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    If you really want to think cool Gowland made a twin lens 4x5 at one time. That with a Grafmatic could be used to take kid pictures with, he originally designed it to shoot models.
     
  22. kwmullet

    kwmullet Member

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    Hey yeah... I was just reading about that. Didn't he even make six or seven 8x10 TLRs (?!?!?!). (six or seven UNITS not models)

    Man... the mirror slam on those things must be thunderous.


    Oh gosh. Now I'm embarassed. [this is an edit after glbeas' post below]. right. No mirror delay or *thunk* with TLRs.
    Maybe the next version of APUG could have a go-get-a-cup-of-coffee-then-rethink-your-post delay I could turn on for me. :surprised:
     
  23. glbeas

    glbeas Member

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    Um..nice thing about TLRs, no mirror slam. The mirrors are fixed. Now there was a Graphic SLR, I saw one once at a camera store in Little Rock and recently saw one up for bid on Ebay. Think that would be fun to play with? The noise would probably scare the horses.:tongue:
     
  24. John Koehrer

    John Koehrer Subscriber

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    mamiya autofocus

    Hi Cheryl:
    Just another vote for the Mamiya 7, 6x7 neg. tack sharp lenses, light weight etc etc If you have ever used Leica these things are a Leica on steroids.
    RE: Contax AF MF these cameras were very prone to failure at least in their earlier iterations.
    645's with a waist level finder are very challenging to use if your'e making portraits
     
  25. Ka

    Ka Member

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    All I am reading is that AF medium format is too slow. What about the Leaf Valeo? Is that an alternative for speed?
     
  26. bcphoto

    bcphoto Member

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    Hmmmmmmmm ... must be enemy teritory or somethin'!

    I've used a pair of first generation 645AFs since late '99, I previously owned a pair of 645 Supers which were later sold for a 'blad 553 which was replaced in the studio by an RZ c.1992.

    ... neway, before the 645AFs I shot a Nikon F4s system for candids.
    I don't shoot NASCAR, NBA or any other such subjects so "slow" AF on the F4s and slow-er on the 645AF bodies are a non-issue. I don't shoot babies but I don't *think* you'd have a problem with either an AF or an AFD

    I still use the RZ for portraiture though