Nice work, JB. I work in a private (day) school in Boston. Nice to see a boarding school student this connected to traditional photography.
You might want to try out one of the less expensive TLR cameras before you invest in anything. There are a lot of Yashica, Rolleicord and others like Ricoh and even Zeiss or Voigtlander out there that will give you a feel for the waist level finder and the square format (with a real lens.)
Here is one of the last mentioned. As you can see, not big bucks. And here's a Ricoh. Yashica and Rolliecord are more expensive, but (probably) worth it. I know the Yashica'a I have given students have been used for some great work. I'm partial to Rolleiflex.
Whatever you buy, if it's well used, may need a little CLA. Count on that in pricing before you blow the entire wad on a camera.
You will want to follow the good advice of those who have spoken before me, to be sure. And these cameras should not be considered in any way a match for the Mamiya or the Bronica mentioned there. I just wonder if spending $300 might be put off until you really do decide whether you want eye-level/waist-level, 6x6/6x7, etc. The fun is in the experimentation.
Good luck, and welcome to the endless fascination of photography.
The Yashicamat/Rolleicord/other good TLR would be the way I'd go. Actually, it was the way I went (!). If you can find one that had an overhaul in the last 5 years that would even be better. Having a light weight, small medium format is something you will always appreciate even if you do move into interchangable lens cameras. If you go that way, definitely find a proper hood for it. Unless you get a Yashicamat 124G, you will need to get a lightmeter. A handheld light meter is a great learning experience so I would not shy away from them....you also get more accurate readings since you need to think about what you are actually metering! You will give up interchangable backs, but a 6x6 poloroid is pretty small anyway plus a $300 SQ-A or Hasselblad will have a lot of miles on it and probably require another $300 worth of overhaul.
So, the camera will be $100-150 and the light meter $30-50. This leaves enough money for a reasonable amount of film or an overhaul (about $100) if needed.
Have fun - Mark
I am a big fan of the Mamiya RB67 and 645. The 645 has significantly smaller negatives, but is pretty good for handholding. You should be able to get a 645 Super with a winder (mostly for handholding, it is a perfect grip) back and 80mm lens for less than your $300 budget. (I just checked KEH.com and they have that kit with an AE prism for $278.)
The RB should be around the same price range, and the lenses are really inexpensive, even though they all have leaf shutters in them. It is not as easy to hand hold and is pretty heavy. The rotating back is amazing for working on a tripod and with a waist level finder. I would not bother with a metered prism for the RB. I use my RB almost exclusively now, I love the rotating back and almost always shoot on a tripod. It is not all that bad for hand holding, but certainly not a light and easy to hold camera like the 645.
keep in mind
Remember to ask yourself if portability is important and choose your camera with this in mind. Many MF cameras are available some are more suited to being used in a studio setting rather than wandering about shooting hand held.
What ever it takes...
I second Ted's thoughts here on using a dealer vs. the auction site. In that regard, another possibility is KEH (they advertise here so there is a link). See what each dealer wants, and like Ted advises, mention you're a student. They may give you a discount and/or throw in some rolls of film etc.
Originally Posted by Ted Harris
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I would definitely recommend trying a TLR first. One of the models not yet mentioned is the Flexaret, which has somewhat odd handling comparatively, but pretty good optics in most versions. I would not search too hard for a Yashicamat 124G, because it is so often recommended as a cheap option that it tends to sell for quite a bit more than the Yashica 12, Minolta Autocord, and many other equivalent cameras. TLRs also have other advantages which have been discussed at length in prior threads.
If you think a TLR will work for you look at Yaschia D, much easer to do double exposures than a Mat. You can also find Rollicords in the $300 range. Another option is a Koni Omega or Mamyia Press, rangefinders, 6X7 or 6X9 which very good lens, both have a limited number of interchangable lens. But compared to a TLR, somewhat heavy.
A Mamiya RB would be hard to beat for MF. The Mamiya 645 is also very nice, but as mentioned has a smaller negative. You don't need to get the newer Super or Pro 645 bodies, the older 1000s is a great camera, but might actually cost more to buy. I have a 1000s, 645 Super, and 645 Pro all with prism viewfinders, and waist level finders. The winders are nice, but can be loud. The wider for Super/Pro that is the most quiet is the one that takes the 2cr battery, for the older bodies you will need to service it to reduce the noise with a good application od teflon bearing grease (cut the noise in half for mine that was purchased new). The RB and newer 645 cameras have removable film backs which will let you change film types in mid roll be using a second or third back. They will also let you buy older digital backs to use for your digital needs.
I like the 1000s, but sometimes you need to have the ability to change to a different roll without wasting the remaining exposures, so the film backs can be very handy.
I also have a few TLRs which I like, and slowly getting into pinhole cameras. My pinhole camera is based on the Mamiya 645 film backs, so it only required building the "lens" half. You could build the same thing for the RB backs (or really any film back).
And then some people have had great luck with the Kiev 88 system, so that might be another choice.
Summary, the 645 would be good, the RB would be great, the Kiev might also be good. TLRs would be limited to the single lens that attached (or add on lenses) and I would suggest a Yashica 635 to keep things simple, though the Flexaret looks interesting so I might buy one of those in the future.
i started with a mamiya 645 but then i decided i wanted a 6x7. so i got an RB pro s. best decision i ever made! i love my RB. it was cheap too. like $350 ready to shoot from KEH.com. i have made 24x30 in prints on a regular basis and they are stunning. enjoy.
tlr's are nice, but sometimes looking down, and moving back and forth in the opposite direction from where you are looking can be a pain. a blad is nice too, but lenses and service can cost a small fortune.
if you can do without a polaroid back and only one lens you might consider a medium format rangefinder / folder. the glass is beautiful they often come with a 5-leaf shutter so it sync's at any speed, and it is portable.
you can find refurbished and beautiful cameras here: http://www.certo6.com/