MF for wildlife - Mamiya 645
I've been looking in to getting set up to do some wildlife work and I'm torn a bit. Subjects will be animals, usually in parks and preserves. I tend to gravitate toward bigger birds like hawks, herons, waterfowl, etc.
I've been looking into Nikon glass as I have some limited 35mm and digital but I'd like to go about 400mm and the only way I can do that well is with manual focus and none of my current bodies can meter with manual lenses (and even with AF lenses it'd be slow so I'd wind up using MF anyway most likely.) So I'd be looking at a body and lens or a 300mm AF lens plus a TC.
I've also been looking at getting in to the Mamiya 645 (Pro TL with motordrive) system and I can get the reach I want with the Mamiya 500mm lens and maybe a TC too. Since I'll be focusing manually I might as well get a bigger negative out of the deal. Cost wise it comes out similar to the Nikon solutions above (I buy KEH BGN 99.9% of the time).
So my questions are:
Has anyone shot wildlife with this type of setup before?
What were your experiences?
Any other suggestions about MF and wildlife?
Thanks and take care,
Check around at what wildlife (especially bird) photographers use -- look at Outdoor Photographer magazine, for instance. For birds, you need at the least a 35mm equivalent of a 400mm lens, I think, and as you know, a teleconverter is going to cost in speed and image quality. The Mamiya 500 will be the equivalent of about a 300mm lens, which just isn't enough. Assuming you put a 2x teleconverter on it, that gives you a slow 600mm -- which means a tripod anyway (but you knew that), but more important, most likely too slow an optic to properly isolate the bird from its surroundings. In short, you should think long and hard about whether a 645 setup is going to work for this application.
Those who use medium and large format outdoors tend to be landscape photographers, I find.
I've tried some bird photography with a 500mm lens and Bronica S2a, and even with a Linhof Tech V, 6x7 back, and cammed 360mm lens, and it's very very difficult. The situations in which it is possible to get anything where you don't have to crop out most of the frame are considerably fewer than those with 35mm and a big lens (I use a 600/4.5 and Canon New F-1). In most cases, you won't get a larger image on film than you would have gotten with a lens of the same focal length on a 35mm camera, and the 35mm lens will usually be a faster lens that's easier to focus quickly.
Even if you're in a preserve and shooting waterfowl, you have to be able to get really close to have any benefit from using MF, using a blind, boat, or working in an area where the wildlife is used to foot traffic, like a public park or a pond with a trail close to the water. You won't get many good opportunities with a 500mm lens and medium format shooting hawks and raptors unless they're captive, and I don't usually shoot captive birds.
Unfortunately financially I'm limited to about 400mm in 35mm format. It's sounding like there isn't much advantage to going with MF. I figured bigger focusing screen and bigger lens opening (105mm on the Mamiya) might help but may not be much of an advantage.
The topic of format vs. object size has been discussed on this site before. A 400mm lens in MF will produce the same object size as a 400mm lens in 35mm. The difference is that the object will be sitting in the middle of a bigger frame with MF. If you crop the MF shot to 36mmx24mm, it will be exactly the same as if you shot it with a 35mm camera.
400mm is not near long enough for birds in the wild. 500mm is not near long enough for birds in the wild. After many years of trying to reproduce published photographs with both 400mm and 500mm lenses, I've become convinced that these photos are either taken from a blind by someone who has patiently waited, they are shots of captive animals, or someone got incredibly lucky.
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It's hard enough for me to get close enough for birds and other wildlife with my 35mm gear, I can't imagine trying to do wildlife photography with my MF gear. I'm sure there are some people who do it or have done it, but I'll stick with my 35mm.
I'm sure there are lots of people who get those incredibly lucky shots, but one of the main keys of successful wildlife photography is knowing your subject; where they're likely to be and when they'll be there and having the tools necessary to get close (blinds, the right lenses, etc...) Having worked with a professional wildlife photographer, I can tell you with absolute certainty that any successful wildlife photographer is someone who makes their own luck by studying their potential subjects. And yes, lots of patience is necessary.
Originally Posted by thuggins
Any respectable wildlife photographer will disclose whether or not the animal was photographed in a controlled environment.
Searching my way to perplexion
So, actually I sometimes use the 500/5.6 mamiya 645 lens crossmounted on a Nikon and it's actually quite good, believe it or not!
I also use the 300 apo AF (the slower one) on a 645afd and I like it. Is it suited for sports & wildlife? Well... not really, but it is doable. I think in general you are better off with a current high-end 35mm kit with VR/IS lenses, and make the smaller 35mm frame, the faster lenses, focus tracking, colour metering, and faster fps rates work for you...
P.S. If you wish to discuss other options not necessarily appropriate for apug discussion, then hop over to lightcafe.net, there you will find lots of info without the egos that you find on certain wildlife sites.
If you are going to try a teleconvertor, you may want to think about a 1000mm mirror lens instead. Probably end up a little brighter and the same reach. Crop that down to 24x36 and you should have a decent image to work with. That said I seem to recall that the 500/f5.6 was designed to work with the Mamiya 1.4x and 2.0x TC, but I have never used either TC. Would be better if the 500m/f5.6 was an APO design. I would be tempted to loo into one of the Russian 1000mm lenses in P6 mount to see if they would be usefull.
If you do end up with a Mamiya 500 and the lens mount shifts at the tripod mount, see my post in the camera repair forum about how to find and tighten the screws for the tail section.
If you really want to do MF wildlife it seems like the Pentax 6x7 is the best choice because of the long lens available. The 600m/4 is relatively cheap for the P67 about $2000 used. This article in LL talks about it. Sounds like a real beast but it would be great exercise lugging it around. Get yourself a 1.4x Teleconverter and it would be pretty good for bird photography.
At the end of that article, he says the lens was too big to deal with, so he sold it, but I suspect the real issue is that it wasn't long enough for most bird and wildlife situations. Notice that his test shots are of buildings and ships, not wildlife. If he was getting the stunning MF nature shots he wanted, he'd probably find a way to transport the lens.
My FD 600/4.5 is a lighter weight lens (just under 8.5 lbs.) than the 600/4 for the Pentax 67 (the article says 17 lbs.), and still, I often need a 1.4X extender, and wish I had more (the 2X costs too much in chromatic aberration for my taste). Art Morris used the FD 800/5.6 L before he went autofocus and then digital, and he's a far better birder than I am, so he knows where the birds are and how to get close to them, and has spent many more hours in the field shooting. Now, with better optics, he sometimes uses a 600/4.0 and stacks two 2X extenders on it.
I've got a few good bird photos made with a 300mm lens or even a 200mm lens, and maybe a couple with the 500/5.5 Tele-Xenar that I adapted for my Bronica, and even a few with the 360/5.5 Tele-Xenar and a 6x7 back on my Technika, but the vast majority in the keeper file are with the 400/4.5 and 600/4.5 on 35mm.
Last edited by David A. Goldfarb; 08-27-2008 at 04:57 AM. Click to view previous post history.