Overwhelmed with choices for a first MF system.
Hey guys! This will be my first post, so don't haze me too badly. (:
So, I'm looking to get into medium format photography, but I want to do it on my own terms. I'm looking for a camera that: is entirely mechanical (no electronic shutter control), is built like a tank, has a bright viewfinder, has a nice selection of reasonably cheap lenses, and shoots something like a 35mm SLR would. The Kiev 60 and Pentacon Six would fit the bill perfectly if they weren't infamous for breaking. The ARAX branded/modified Kiev 60 seems right up my alley, though. A one year warranty, $36 CLAs after that… is there any reason not to buy these beside camera gear snobbery? I haven't seen many people on forums (and not just this one) have problems with the ARAX-branded Kievs, no more than I've seen people have problems with old Hasselblads. More than anything else, I see people say, "The ARAX didn't get much use, so I sold it."
I've thought about lots and lots of other cameras. The older Bronicas and the Mamiya RB, RZ, and C330s seem awesome too, but I just don't know about box-shaped modular cameras—especially for shooting in a photojournalist style. There's something about the way they fit in the hands, the process, etc., that I'm not sure of. They seem more tripod bound than anything else. If that's silly, tell me and I'll reconsider. I'm looking for simplicity as well, and I don't think I'd want to fool around with multiple backs. The original Pentax 6x7s with MLU seem great, but I hear they don't work without their batteries (or film) and I hate that. I shoot on a Pentax MX, and I learned on a Nikon FM3a—it's nice to be able to shoot with or without a battery. I've even thought about the pocket folders from Jurgen at Certo6.com, but I'd rather have some resemblance of a lens system.
It's all so overwhelming. Any ideas? Am I missing any cameras?
First, I'd stay away from the Kiev and Pentacon stuff. Much better, more reliable stuff available.
If you want something fast-handling and more 35mm-like for PJ-ish shooting, then look at the 645 options, e.g., Mamiya 645(Super/Pro/ProTL bodies--skip the old metal bodies), Pentax 645(N), Bronica ETRS(i). Good glass for all and very affordable system cameras.
Get a Mamiya 645 pro with the wind grip. They're dirt cheap used, and handle much like a 35mm SLR. They use batteries. All the MF systems that are easy to handhold do, you'll just have to accept that. Its not a big deal, the 645 Pro's battery lasts a year or so even with lots of use.
Another good one is Pentax 645. Also needs batteries.
If you don't absolutely need interchangeable lenses, don't dismiss a TLR. They are light and compact by comparison with the other options. A Rolleiflex is smaller than a lot of 35mm SLRs, never mind something like a Pentax 6x7 -- I can carry mine with a hood, a couple of rolls of film, and some filters in the sort of shoulder bag one would use for a smallish interchangeable lens 35mm camera. They don't need batteries. Although I'm with Chris, batteries aren't a big deal. They last a long time and a spare battery for most cameras takes up less space than a roll of 120. I've never quite understood the fetish on some forums for cameras that don't use batteries.
re: folders -- the desirable ones are over-priced, I think. Although, for what it's worth, I get excellent pictures from a (6x.4.5 format) Super Ikonta. Not quite as good as my Rollei, but decent. However, they aren't remotely SLR like in operation, and they tend to feature small squinty dark viewfinders.
The Pentax and Mamiya 645s are definitely the way to go for what you're after. Not only do they handle well and are reasonably portable but many of their lenses are top notch. Get the 80mm f1.9 for the Mamiya if you like shallow depth of field. Less in focus wide open than a 50mm f1.2 lens for 35mm and probably a lot cheaper as well!
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I do love the Pentacon Six system. I think those who claim to forget about it, is either because
a) they want this wonderful system to remain cheap
b) they have never used the system extensively, or if they have, they did it wrong, hence the bad experience.
Buy a trustable camera from a reputed seller, and you won't regret it. Afraid of overlapping? Make sure to load the camera correctly. Need MLU? You can have it installed on your camera. Need a wide angle? The gorgeous CZJ Flektogon 50/4 is available, and there are russian made lenses even wider, with tilt and/or shift... Need a tele and the great Sonnar 180/2.8 is not long enough for you? You can go up to 1000mm, not practical but available. Choice of finders, the system is still easily serviceable, CZJ lenses, bigger neg size... without spending the cash needed for a Pentax 7 or a Mamiya 7II.
Why turn down an excellent system without even giving it a try?
The Bronica ETR/S/i may have electronic shutters but it will handle as you want - you can pretty much configure it to choice. With a prism and speed winder it handles like a large conventional SLR, take those off, put the waist-level finder and winder crank back on, and it's a surprisingly discreet camera (mostly due to the shape and the pose you tend to hold while shooting with it). They're also very cheap for what you get.
Try to find the best condition ETRSi you can lay hands on, these were the final version of the camera and usually come with a PE lens. All ETR-series bodies can use all ETR-series lenses, backs, etc. The only caveat is that the original ETR won't let you use Av mode on the metered prisms - the prism will meter when you press the button on it, but it won't set the speed for you. Not really much of a problem but a reason to buy an ETRS or ETRSi if you want to be able to shoot in a hurry.
Do read the manual and play with the camera before loading film, it's very well thought out but also very easy to end up trying to press the shutter and wondering why it won't shoot. The camera is pretty good at stopping daft mistakes like forgetting to remove the dark slide from the back (it won't fire if you leave it in) or removing the back without fitting the dark slide (it won't unlock).
Rollei TLRs are marvelous photojournalist tools. Many great photographers have proven this! As for the 6x6 and 6x7 SLRs, I have to agree that it is more comfortable to use them on a tripod, though it´s not a must. You should also have a look on rangefinders like Bronica RF645 and Mamiya 6/7.
if someone tries to sell you on a Kiev 88 system run, don't walk, to the nearest exit. If they are willing to give it to you for free, take it and use it as a doorstop.
ditto on Rolleiflex/rolleicord recommendation for a beginner -- wonderful quality, amazing optics, light and versitile. Have it serviced at Essex Camera Repair or somewhere similar and you're set for a decade, at least.
the really nice things about a rolleicord are that they are cheap -- $100 or so -- high quality optics which is all that counts, reliable, and fairly light and portable -- I carry one around in an old swiss gas mask bag. Larger cameras with extra finders and lenses will be a burden to haul around, making you rationalize not taking them and ended up not being used.
so my suggestion: Go light and simple. A rolleicord or even yashica, the Zeiss super ikonta B models are good. If you just want to experiment with the film size without major investment, hell, go for a Holga. You could do worse.
Last edited by summicron1; 09-10-2012 at 10:05 AM. Click to view previous post history.
I think the easiest thing would be to get over your aversion to a battery in the Pentax 67.
If you have lots of money though a Rolleiflex with a prism is a lot like using a SLR but with the luxury of a quiet shutter and no slapping mirror.