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12-27-2010, 08:39 AM   #1
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Medium Format help?

Iíve decided I want to try out medium format (film) and have no idea where to start. Iím really ignorant about all this, and there are so many options. I know I want accurate viewfinder metering, manual focus, waist-level (I think, anyway....might be nice to have both waist and eye-level options), and I donít want autofocus. As far as what I will be shooting, it could be just about anything, but since Iím a portrait shooter, often even when I shoot for fun, I guess I would tend toward that. Iíd probably want to do some hand-holding, but I would like to be sure I get something that takes an arca-swiss plate. If it comes down to it, Iíd rather start with one good lens than two mediocre ones. I donít even know what normal focal length is for MF, but with a full-frame dSLR I like somewhere between 70mm and 100mm.

Shutter noise might be a minor consideration, but not a huge one. Are any of these things quiet? Iím pretty sure I want SLR as opposed to TLR, but maybe I could be convinced that I shouldn't care too much about parallax.

Can I get a decent setup for $500? I don't necessarily have to have Pentax, but since I have recently forayed into their dSLRs, I thought it would be good to look at what was available from Pentax, in addition to the Mamiya 645 stuff I've been eying? Any thoughts or suggestions on getting started will be appreciated.

12-28-2010, 06:30 AM - 1 Like   #2
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Have you looked at the Pentax 645 and 6x7 gear info? I'm no pro, but the 6x7 has been working great for me... not a high volume shooter, but every shot has been good. The 645 format is twice the area about to the 35mm frame and the normal is 75mm. The normal on a 6x7 is 90mm to 105mm. Start up cost currently seems that you get a little more bang for the buck from the 645 format. 6x7 is a little more and you do have to get used to the quirks (read review). The 6x7 has the eye-level and waist-level where as the 645 is only eye-level. The real thought might be weight and that will put the 6x7 at the disadvantage. TLRs are great and 80mm is about normal and cost seems to vary also given some models with the rarity interchangeable lenses it come close to even to other systems at times. Mamiya RZ and such are well known and many accessories are out there compared to Pentax, but I've spotted arca-swiss for the Pentax over at B&H as well as sometimes used at KEH. I need not talk about Hassey...$$$$. Well, that is my 2 cents.

Last edited by MysteryOnion; 12-28-2010 at 07:30 AM.
12-28-2010, 07:42 AM   #3
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Another alternative is to rent a setup for a weekend and see how you like it...I think Calumet rents Hassy setups, but I'm not sure if there's a store in Iowa...
12-28-2010, 11:00 PM - 2 Likes   #4
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Pentax 645 and 645N systems are regularly being dumped by wedding photographers on your local Craig's listings. Maybe you can get a body and 75mm lens for $300-$500. If you are lucky, you can get a three lens set for under $800. The nicer autofocus lenses have gone way up in price on eBay, and they've pretty much disappeared from KEH. That means the local sellers sometimes don't know the real value, so you can get a good deal on a full system.

Some people seem to like the P645, but I much prefer the button layout on the P645N (the autofocus model). The mechanics of the manual lenses are truly wonderful, so you can't go wrong with a P645N and manual lenses. These handle just like a nice SLR camera, with a solid professional feel that gives you a lot of confidence.

For portraits, you might want to look into a 120mm macro, or better the 150mm f2.8.

Oh, I love the shutter and advance motor that roars like a jet plane taking off. Not quiet as you might desire, but you don't get any mirror slap.

12-29-2010, 11:40 AM - 1 Like   #5
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I'm following your thread on FM forums, but the climate there is "a bit too much" sometimes, so I'll answer here instead.

I've not got very much experience with MF cameras, but perhaps that's a good thing right now. I hope there'll be no bashing for this; but if you want something that really makes a difference from digital, I'd go for 6x6 or larger. The main reason would not be for pure image quality, but for the whole feeling of it. The Łbershort DOF, the laaaarge negatives (or slides) and the very few shots on a roll. Yes, that's a plus for me!

I started out this summer with a 6x7 rangefinder camera without a meter. Earlier this year I learned to develop film and I shot with a Leica M6 and a Nikon FM2. Both were great (got the FM2 still), but it was a bit to much hassle compared to digital, especially when it came to scanning.
I've got an Epson V700, and the film holder for 135 film just sucks. And scanning those 36 frames per roll and editing them, was just too much. Not so with 6x7! The film stays flat and nice, and you don't have to have an expensive scanner. 2400 dpi will do good.

I immediately fell in love with the format itself. The aspect ratio is very different from 2:3, and now I'm having a hard time with my digital camera because of that. 6x6 should be interesting too, but 6x7 just feels "right" to me. A normal lens doesn't act as tight anymore, even if it corresponds to ~50 mm on 24x36.

Now I've just bought a Pentax 67II (which is a bit over your budget I suppose), and I couldn't be more happy. I see you want a waist level finder, but unfortunately that ruins the possibility for inbuilt accurate metering. And I hope you know that the viewfinder image then is mirrored! Makes it quite hard to compose when handheld.

For tripod work, I think any SLR with mirror lockup will be fine. But don't stop there! As soon as the initial wow:s are gone, you'll probably want to play around with handholding too. And then the differences between cameras will suddenly seem much greater.
I had a Mamiya M645 for a while, but I never even loaded it with film. It just felt awkward in my hands and the viewfinder (prism) wasn't a bit better than the FM2. With the P67II everything is in the right place, the lenses (got three already) are fantastic and the build is great.

So, what do you get for ~$500? An old Pentax 6x7 with 105/2.4 perhaps? That's what I would have bought. The interchangable viewfinders makes it versatile with respect to your wants.

Oh, one thing though! 70-100 mm on 24x36 corresponds to like ~150-200 mm on 6x7 or 6x6.
12-29-2010, 01:25 PM - 1 Like   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by Makten Quote
...
I see you want a waist level finder, but unfortunately that ruins the possibility for inbuilt accurate metering. And I hope you know that the viewfinder image then is mirrored! Makes it quite hard to compose when handheld.
...
I find the WLF can improve your composition when the scene is reversed. You don't always need to see it as it is. I find it helps me balance a scene when it now looks different. I see the scene as pieces and shapes. And with a grid focus matte it really works well. After years of using a WLF, I don't even notice it is reversed anymore and most importantly don't even think about it. It is one of those things you adapt to.

And for all but action or needed convenience, a one-degree spot meter will give you better meter information. It will tell you how many stops a scene has and where you are placing your exposure within that range. The WLF and spot meter is a good combo for landscape and a few other types of photography. YMMV.
12-29-2010, 01:55 PM - 1 Like   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by Todd Adamson Quote
Iíve decided I want to try out medium format (film) and have no idea where to start. Iím really ignorant about all this, and there are so many options. I know I want accurate viewfinder metering, manual focus, waist-level (I think, anyway....might be nice to have both waist and eye-level options), and I donít want autofocus. As far as what I will be shooting, it could be just about anything, but since Iím a portrait shooter, often even when I shoot for fun, I guess I would tend toward that. Iíd probably want to do some hand-holding, but I would like to be sure I get something that takes an arca-swiss plate. If it comes down to it, Iíd rather start with one good lens than two mediocre ones. I donít even know what normal focal length is for MF, but with a full-frame dSLR I like somewhere between 70mm and 100mm.

Shutter noise might be a minor consideration, but not a huge one. Are any of these things quiet? Iím pretty sure I want SLR as opposed to TLR, but maybe I could be convinced that I shouldn't care too much about parallax.

Can I get a decent setup for $500? I don't necessarily have to have Pentax, but since I have recently forayed into their dSLRs, I thought it would be good to look at what was available from Pentax, in addition to the Mamiya 645 stuff I've been eying? Any thoughts or suggestions on getting started will be appreciated.
I can address a little of this Todd but likely not all
You will want both Waist Level and Prism. I can't think of any metered waist level finders (they likely exist but don't come to mind) metered prisms are common. Also the move is easy with a prism as it is just like shooting your slr. Waist level is another beast, I use it but struggle constantly as i don't use it enough for it to be second nature to have everything revered (plus is of course i focus more on what i am doing and slow down a little)
You should be able to get a mamiya setup in 645 for that price and phase one backs are available
backs are out of the question with Pentax as they never used film back they were very SLR like.
Though there are Auto focus models out there I don't think any would be in this budget anyway
One other System you may look at if the digital back thing isn't a deal breaker (it's doable but not really ideal) would be the bronicas. I have the ETRsi (645) and it is a great system. through judicious shopping I have outfitted it with a non metered prism, a waist level finder, 3 backs, a 40,50,75 and 150 mm lenses and a good handheld meter that i frequently find better than my built in meters. Total spent on this kit so far is about $750 canadian. Not all of it is pretty but all of it works well. you could likely manage an SQai(6x6 for not a lot more) and a GS system with one lens(6x7) wouldn't be far off either. All these cameras were workhorse for wedding guys and a number of people i know who've used both prefer their Bronicas to their Hassy's.
Mamiya at the same price will be as old a camera or older as they have had support for longer (Tamron canned Bronica in the early 00's though support is still out there)
For my money the best place to look and be sure of decent product is either face to face deals where you can inspect (craigslist is where my kit started 4 years back) or KEH (where a couple of my lenses came from, and likely where the RF645 I'm thinking of will come from
Normal Lens depends on the format
645 normal will be a 75 or 80 mm
6x7 will be 105 or so
6x6 is an 80 usually

645 provides you with close to classic 35mm ratio for images. 6x6 is of course square (but can be cropped to 645 and have the same image quality, just less shots per roll)
6x7 is a huge neg and is frequently referred to as the perfect format (it's an ideal 8x10, 16x20, 24x30...) which of course has more to do with common print sizes in the darkroom

You'll need a good scanner as well (so do i for that matter) or have the lab scan them for you (not always well done though)

have fun, I always wanted MF back in the film days but prices precluded any thought of ownership (retail on my 150 mm was $2699 in the 90's I believe - I paid $50 for a somewhat used model that needed a repair to the focal grip -crazy glue to the rescue and a small ding in the filter mount I've since repaired an excellent plus version would have cost about $400)
For portrait purposes a 150mm is the lens on 645 ( 90mm equivalent)
DOF wise a 150mm on 645 or 6x6 at f4.0 will have the same DOF effect as a 90mm f2 on FF or a 60mm f1.4 or so on apsc
light of course is different
my 150 is a 3.5 which is about as fast as most are
my 75 is a 2.8
12-29-2010, 02:13 PM - 1 Like   #8
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The 645 is the easiest transition from 35mm. Except for a bit more size and weight (and not that much, really), I find the Pentax 645 about as easy to use as any 135 body of its time. It even has TTL flash and long shutter speeds, a bit like the LX. Like Eddie, I'm drinking in the fact that the MF setup I sought (but could not afford) for more than $3k back in the 80s set me back less than $300 a couple of years ago--with lenses (plural). The 645d has changed that last part, though.

12-29-2010, 04:38 PM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by Makten Quote
if you want something that really makes a difference from digital, I'd go for 6x6 or larger. The main reason would not be for pure image quality, but for the whole feeling of it. The Łbershort DOF, the laaaarge negatives (or slides) and the very few shots on a roll.
Martin, thanks, I agree whole-heartedly with this sentiment!

Sorry I posted this thread and left it lie for a while, and I really appreciate all of the replies. I have spent the last few days, when I should have been working on other stuff, agonizing over what to get. Only today did I finally decide that I had to have 6x6, precisely because it deviated the most from what I was used to. Considering this fact along with my budget, the clear choice for me was Bronica, and I just ordered an SQ-Ai body from KEH. Got a 120 back, a 150/3.5 lens (going wider would be tooo much for me with all of the other changes, haha!), and WLF.

I realize the shortcomings with a WLF, but that's all I can afford right now, and getting the Ai body means I can add a metered prism later. I subscribe to Tuco's comments about the reversed image making me more conscious of my composition, and it will be difficult at first, but I think beneficial in the long run.

I'm quite sure I will do my own scanning eventually if I stick with this, and probably even eventually some BW processing. But initially, I am going to leave all that to the lab, while I learn the system.

I want to choose only one film to start with, and explore it for awhile before trying others. I want it to be color. I don't know much at all about film, but have seen some shots in the past that I really liked from Portra, so that's my inclination. I'm open to suggestions, however.

Thanks again!
12-29-2010, 11:22 PM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by eddie1960 Quote
I can't think of any metered waist level finders (they likely exist but don't come to mind) metered prisms are common.
The Rollei 6008 will meter with any (or no) finder, just like the Pentax LX. It's not a nice camera to use though, at least not to me. (The LX is lovely of course, for a small format camera.)
12-30-2010, 05:05 AM   #11
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That's great Todd! 150/3.5 is a fairly "fast" lens for 6x6, so you'll see a huge difference from 24x36.

QuoteOriginally posted by tuco Quote
I find the WLF can improve your composition when the scene is reversed. You don't always need to see it as it is. I find it helps me balance a scene when it now looks different. I see the scene as pieces and shapes. And with a grid focus matte it really works well. After years of using a WLF, I don't even notice it is reversed anymore and most importantly don't even think about it. It is one of those things you adapt to.
That's a good point, I never thought of that. Perhaps I should try some day.

QuoteQuote:
And for all but action or needed convenience, a one-degree spot meter will give you better meter information. It will tell you how many stops a scene has and where you are placing your exposure within that range. The WLF and spot meter is a good combo for landscape and a few other types of photography. YMMV.
I'm using the spot meter in my 67II that way; checking where on the scale different parts of the scene will be placed. Right now it's snowy here, and I'm having a bit of trouble figuring out how to expose and develop to maintain detail in the snow, without losing the shadows.
12-30-2010, 06:18 AM   #12
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Good choice Todd, I've often wished I'd gone after the SQai instead of the ETRsi (both have to be the most compact medium formats in their respective categories) I think If I shot with that camera I would be more inclined to use my Waist Level finder more as it works well for a square format. Fuji Provia is an excellent Chrome film, though I haven't shot the newer F formulation which some people have complained about.
Freestyle Photographic is a great source for affordable Film I buy from them in bulk a couple of times a year and compared to my local prices I save about 20% even after shipping and border hassles.
Another Chrome film to consider is Ektachrome, Kodak places it as the closest to Kodachrome now that that film is no longer.
All chrome films have much less exposure latitude than reversal film, but there is something magic about putting the newly developed roll on a light table and seeing the shots you just nailed it on.
I'd recommend Velvia (my Favorite Chrome film) but you tend towards portraiture and Velvia really isn't the best for this (I don't think there is a better landscape film available though if you get the exposure right)
I haven't tried the new Rollei CR 200 yet, but I'm a big fan of their b/w films
As you stated a preference for Kodak Portra, 160NC is an ideal neutral portrait film Ektar 100 is an excellent film but may be punchier than you want for portrait work but it was/is popular in Fashion work I'd save it for landscape though
Fuji has really cut production on neg focusing on chrome and only have 2 options now both great films, but I now lean towards Kodak for Neg (portra nc comes in 160,400 and 800 speeds with similar colour balance throughout, just increased grain and contrast as the speed increases)
It is also likely less expensive to get negs processed and scanned (i know it is for me locally)
Good luck with the new toy, looking forward to seeing the results
12-30-2010, 08:34 AM - 1 Like   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by Makten Quote

I'm using the spot meter in my 67II that way; checking where on the scale different parts of the scene will be placed. Right now it's snowy here, and I'm having a bit of trouble figuring out how to expose and develop to maintain detail in the snow, without losing the shadows.
With a one-degree, you'll need to find when highlights are lost. With snow, meter it and call that reading zone VII to be conservative for a test. Now set your exposure for two EV less (2 stops) than the snow for a zone V exposure. That should capture snow texture and you can always bump your whites up a stop in the image editor if needed. Scan 16 bit per channel if you can. This ignores anything else in the scene of course and assumes the snow is the dominate feature to expose for.

Last edited by tuco; 12-30-2010 at 09:08 AM.
12-30-2010, 08:50 AM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by tuco Quote
With a one-degree, you'll need to find when highlights are lost. With snow, meter it and call that reading zone VII to be conservative for a test. Now set your exposure for two EV less than the snow for a zone V exposure. That should capture snow texture and you can always bump your whites up a stop in the image editor if needed. Scan 16 bit per channel if you can. This ignores anything else in the scene and assumes the snow is the dominate feature to expose for.
Nice Tuco, the Zone system is definitely the way to go
12-30-2010, 12:28 PM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by MetaD Quote
Pentax 645 and 645N systems are regularly being dumped by wedding photographers on your local Craig's listings. Maybe you can get a body and 75mm lens for $300-$500. If you are lucky, you can get a three lens set for under $800.
Depends a lot on where you are. For example, in Boston, I've never seen a Pentax 645 system go up on craigslist :-P
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