Thanks to a digression in a thread about the price of slide film, I went and bought myself a Mamiya 645 outfit, so as to have a metered MF camera that can take on some of the duties of my 35mm cameras. It arrived this morning and the smoke-test roll is currently drying in my darkroom, so I thought I'd report on first impressions.
This thing is a freakin' tank; it handily outweighs my Rolleiflex or my 9x12 plate cameras, and handholding it will take some getting used to. It's sort of like trying to handhold a rhinoceros. The hardy souls who shoot RB/RZ67s handheld now have even more of my respect than they did before!
I got the PD prism, which has a coupled meter but no autoexposure. That's the same thing I'm accustomed to in 35mm. The manual actually promises that this prism guarantees "perfect exposure everytime", which sounds mighty useful, doesn't it? :-) But the roll I shot actually looks like it lived up to it---just based on eyeballing the negatives, I don't see anything that makes me say "oops". It's Tri-X at box speed, so minor exposure errors wouldn't jump out, but it's enough to convince me that the meter is usable. (I'm not sure if it's pure-averaging or has some kind of weighted pattern; I thought it seemed pretty sensitive to bits of bright sky at the top of the frame, which most weighting patterns try to compensate for.) Nice bright image on the focussing screen, and a split-image circle in the middle, which my aging eyes always appreciate in a reflex camera.
Focussing the lens (the standard 80/2.8) is a little fiddly; the ring is further back against the body than my fingers expect it to be. The aperture ring is *minute* and even more crammed against the body. I suppose I'll get used to them. The film insert looks a little strange and crowded, but it's well-designed and easy to load and unload in practice. The film advance feels weird, as if it's slipping a little bit before it stops, but the frame spacing looks perfect and I think it's probably working as designed.
This camera has one of the weirdest warts I've ever seen: If you take the battery out, you can still shoot it (unmetered, obviously), but the mirror doesn't return until you press the battery-check button! My plan is to just accept this eccentricity as one of those inexplicable little aspects of life, like the fact that some people eat blue cheese on purpose...I don't have to understand *why* it's true to accept that it *is* true.
The whole roll was handheld (except for one shot braced on a chair arm), since that's how I expect to use the camera most of the time. I'm curious what people find handholdable speeds to be with this camera; should I expect 1/60 to work decently, for instance?
After shooting this one roll, I'm *very* happy with the camera on the whole. The little physical issues can, I think, be gotten used to; it'll never be *as* physically convenient as a 35mm rangefinder, of course, but I think it's clearly up to coming on vacation as the "family snapshots" camera, going out hiking, chasing the kid around the yard, and so on.