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11-05-2013, 08:43 AM   #1
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Pentax 645, 67, Mamiya RB and 645... My head is spinning.

Hello everyone! I am currently hoping to get some feedback from current users of multiple MF systems here. After accumulating so much 35mm gear over the years, I have always thought I would stick with the format... After a few recent fantastic (IMO) shots, I've been getting a little disappointed with 35mm's enlargement capabilities. I've been happy with 35mm in color and B&W, both developed at home, the color professionally scanned and printed up to 8x10, and my B&W wet printed up to 8x10, and could probably push my best negatives up to 11x14 as long as I didn't stick my nose in it. It seems 80% of my subject material doesn't lead itself to nice looking small prints, and I already have 120 developing reels, a few Nikor tanks, and an Omega enlarger that'll do 6x7 up to 16x20 on the baseboard with 85mm and two 50mm enlarging lenses.

Anyways, the inevitable has come, and I'm about to dive head first into Medium Format! Most people have been telling me that I am insane, and should just sell my extra gear to get a nicer body and sharper 35mm lenses, but I much prefer the analogue process. I sit at a computer all day at work, so that's the last thing I want to do after a nice weekend trip.

My ideal system would be: Light, not necessarily fast, doesn't need to be an SLR system, with super-sharp lens options in the 35-55 equivalent focal length range (most of my shots). Preferably nothing electric, as this would be in the backcountry with me all the time. Great enlargement capability up to 16x20. Something I can afford by selling some of my backup gear ($250-$350 for body, viewfinder, probably 2 120 backs, and ones lens to start with.)

Here is what I'm looking at:
Pentax 645 (batteries necessary, noisy, expensive lenses b/c of the 645D)
Pentax 6x7 w/ Lockup (heavy, tripod necessary, 77mm filters bigger than the set of 72s I have now)
Mamiya 645 1000s (no interchangeable backs)
Bronica ETRSi (leaf shutters on all lenses, interchangeable backs)
Mamiya RB67 (massive and heavy, but definitely pro camera with pro results)
Fuji GS690 90mm rangefinder (could risk damaging negatives with them in a 6x7 holder in my enlarger, but fantastic looking shots)

I also currently have a Baby Graflex with a Graflok back. An option would be to pick up the 120 holder 6x7 back for this (Also, RB backs fit) and slap on a 90mm 4x5 lens (Super Angulon 90mm f/8, Caltar 90mm f/8, or the Graflex 90mm 6.3 will fit on the front and have it close just fine.) The rangefinder is toast, and the viewfinder is full of mold, but the gg is clean and bellows are light tight. It would definitely be composing and focusing on ground glass in all situations. However, this would give me some perspective control, and pave the way for the inevitable switch to 4x5.

Anyways, I've read all the specs. Every system above will be toast my current 35mm gear. I know the general ups and downs of the systems-- everyone online loves to do test shots and quote specs. I'm looking for real world feedback-- preferably from someone who has hiked 10 miles with a camera kit for that special shot. For reference, I don't currently pack light, and a typical kit for an average day out or weekend backpacking trip with one other person is: Pentax K-X DSLR, Pentax MX, Pentax ME Super, Spotmatic II with 18-55mm DA AL, 28mm SMC Takumar, 35mm f/3.5 Super Tak, 50mm f/1.7 SMC-M, 55mm Super Tak, 58mm Helios 44-M (10 blade model) Super Tak 135 f/3.5, Super Tak 200 f/4, 285hv, tripod, and about 10 filters, extension tubes, and reverse rings. All of our best shots end up being with the 35, 50, 55, or 58, so I would not mind.

So, has anyone spent a decent amount of time hiking or backpacking with any of these MF systems that can give me some real world feedback on anything? Thanks!!!

11-05-2013, 09:13 AM   #2
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Initially you can just clean the vf of the baby Crown, and use the scale. Get a RH/10 6 x7 back. The groundglass ,after using it to check the scale,
is not really necessary in the field for photos beyond about 6 metre (18 feet)
That camera has the advantage of being lighter (maybe among the lightest of all MF cameras?) and it folds up small for hiking. Also it has limited rise and tilt.
I am just preparing one with the Graftar f/4.5 103mm. That lens is in the press shutter so you don't have to remember the darkslide or to cock.
11-05-2013, 09:20 AM   #3
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I owned a Bronica ETR with 3 lenses many years ago, and it was a wonderful camera that gave excellent results. I had 2 extra backs, the speed grip (which makes it handle like a 35mm) and the metered prism top. That was before the ETRSi version, but I would imagine the overall experience would be the same as the ETR. Eventually I sold all the equipment to downsize (even with the smaller form factor of the ETR compared to cameras like the RB67, it was a pretty good load of equipment, and I generally took it all with me when traveling.) My wife and I lived in Germany at the time (I was in the Army and we lived there for 6 years) so we did a lot of traveling with that equipment. Never had a bit of problem with it. I also had a Metz potato masher flash setup that I used with it. If I was going to go back to medium format film, I'd probably get one of the variations of the ETR again. It's more compact than many other medium format cameras, I liked the fact that all the lenses have leaf shutters, like the interchangeable backs. I had a friend that had an RB67, which is an impressive-looking camera, but it is much, much heavier. I really wouldn't want to be lugging that around when hiking or backpacking.
11-05-2013, 09:20 AM   #4
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I can't address a lot of this and I have little experience with non-Pentax systems but several years ago I did get into MF initially with an original Pentax 645 and standard 75mm lens. I now have a 645n and an original 6x7. My favorite is the 645n. What I like about the way I did it was to get experience with the original 645 on the cheap. I learned that I liked it and slowly built my system up. I have a friend with a Bronica (don't know what model) and I must say that the ability to change backs out would come in handy but...as the 645 only gets 15/16 frames per roll, it's not that big of a deal. The 645 is a brick and the 6x7 is 3 bricks. I'd hike with the 645 and a lens or two (I generally go with my 45, 75, and 150 or 200) but not the 6x7 which really works better on a tripod.

Hopefully that gives you a bit better picture.

Edit: Oh, image quality...given that the 645 negative is 2.7 times larger than a 35mm negative and a 6x7 neg is 5 times larger than a 35mm, MF photography is MUCH better for enlargement. It's just that simple.

11-05-2013, 09:24 AM   #5
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I've taken the Bronica GS-1 (big brother to the ETRSi, generally the same concept, just bigger) on short hikes, along the lines of 1-2 hours in really miserable weather - blowing snow, rain, cold, etc. Its easy to carry, the 65mm, 100, 110mm and 150mm all have 72mm dia. lenses and its cheap, pictures are fantastic. Downside is the cold definately affects the battery and therefore shutter, so you need to have a spare in your pocket. So far, its been pretty rugged and very easy to use.

The interchangable backs are very handy, I typically take 2 with me and always try to have the other pre-loaded. Alternatively, I use one for slow film and the other for fast film, or one for black and white and another for colour, you get the idea.
I like the 120 backs, 120 film is broadly avialable and 10 exposures is a good unit for a feature of interest and I rarely feel like I need to burn through a roll of film just so I can look at 1 exposure.

I find it easier to pack the camera with the waist level finder attached rather than the view finder, but I will typically take the AE view finder with me as it's easier to focus with in marginal weather.

MF is great fun regardless of the camera you get into.
11-05-2013, 09:50 AM   #6
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Mamiya 6 or 7.

I like squares so I prefer the 6.

Also dont overlook old folders like the Agfa Isolette etc, But then were talking FULL manual
11-05-2013, 10:18 AM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by wombat2go Quote
Initially you can just clean the vf of the baby Crown, and use the scale. Get a RH/10 6 x7 back. The groundglass ,after using it to check the scale,
is not really necessary in the field for photos beyond about 6 metre (18 feet)
That camera has the advantage of being lighter (maybe among the lightest of all MF cameras?) and it folds up small for hiking. Also it has limited rise and tilt.
I am just preparing one with the Graftar f/4.5 103mm. That lens is in the press shutter so you don't have to remember the darkslide or to cock.
I've heard that lens is so-so, but that's the one on the front of mine now. I'll have to do a bit more testing, but I think it should work. I didn't even think about the fact that if I'm shooting landscapes at or near infinity I wouldn't need to really focus on the ground glass. Even if I swap out the lens I can just tape over the distance scale with my own calculations. I also have a hotshoe rangefinder that was paired with an old Olympus camera I could toss in a pocket if I don't take another camera with me. Any tips on cleaning out the viewfinder?


Thanks for the info, everyone. From what it looks like an RB67 would definitely be a bit more burly and heavy than I would be comfortable carrying. I had priced out a setup at KEH for an ETRS the other day, and for $250-$300 could get a 55, 75, 150, 2 120 backs, body, and unmetered prism all in BGN condition. I was hesitant about it being so cheap compared to other formats, but it looks like you guys love it!

Wombat2Go: any other information on using/maintaining a baby graflex? Any other lenses that might fit on it, any ideas on where/how to get the rangefinder fixed and calibrated?
11-05-2013, 10:20 AM   #8
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I should also take a look at the MF rangefinders. Never seen an Agfa folder in person, but a Zeiss Ikon folder would be pretty fun. The Mamiya rangefinders look to be about ideal in the long run, but are a bit out of my $$$ range for just breaking into MF.

11-05-2013, 10:47 AM   #9
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Didn't think about another baby LF type camera until just now. Has anyone had any experience with the Horseman folding 2x3 cameras with the Topcor lenses? Looks like they're all cammed to couple with the rangefinder. With a rollfilm back I would never need to compose on the gg unless I needed movements.
11-05-2013, 11:00 AM   #10
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I agree with the idea of considering large format if you want cheap and light, In addition to the graflex you could also consider a monorail as those are cheap. ... Ideally you be better off in the field going for a Charmonix or a Shen Hao field camera though but that will cost you significantly more.

An older 645 or 6x7 can be picked up reasonably cheap. I would opt for the 67 given the market on lenses. While the 67 would not be considered light, you can make it work just as well as any other setup if you pack light. I've hiked the 67ii and few primes around the badlands a few times. The only bad part was carrying my gitzo 410 before i picked up an induro carbon fiber tripod.
11-05-2013, 11:16 AM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by johnsey Quote
I agree with the idea of considering large format if you want cheap and light, In addition to the graflex you could also consider a monorail as those are cheap.
I missed out on a Calumet CC-400 for $56 a few weeks ago =(/ One thing I had considered was to mount a nicer 90mm lens on the baby Graflex with the rollfilm back-- I could pull it and use it with a 4x5 camera. Maybe snag a longer lens (normal range for 4x5 150-180 maybe?) Not sure a longer lens would fit on the baby Graflex though. Maybe with a reversed recessed lensboard or some other compromise. I could share a couple lenses between 6x7 on the baby graflex and 4x5 for when I really want the best. I doubt I would do a ton of 4x5, as I wouldn't have room for a 4x5 enlarger and scans are pricey, but there's a few shots I wouldn't mind going back and capturing with big film and movements, and taking them time and $$$ to be able to make fantastic large prints.
11-05-2013, 11:25 AM - 3 Likes   #12
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Yep, I'm a hiker and have a Pentax 6x7, Hasselblad 500C/M and Mamiya 7II. I've hiked these cameras to places the new digital generation of shooters would cry for their mommy over how big and heavy they are. Just look how obsessed they are over the small difference in mass between a K-5 and D600, for example. Wimps.

You'll be into 82mm filters on the Pentax 6x7 system if you end up with more lenses. The Mamiya 7II rangefinder I have is no doubt the lightest and easiest to hike with. But it's a rangefinder and has its rangefinder "quirks". You can lighten the load with a the Pentax 6x7 by putting on a waist level finder. Better for landscapes anyway. 100% view and better critical focus, IMHO.

Oddly, the 500C/M gets taken out a lot for one simple reason above the other cameras. All the CF T* lenses I have for it take the same filter size and an elegant lens hood system. And when you shoot BW, stocking and hauling colored filters in 82, 77 and 67mm is a hassle (don't even mention stepper rings to me).
11-05-2013, 11:26 AM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by fretlessdavis Quote
I doubt I would do a ton of 4x5, as I wouldn't have room for a 4x5 enlarger and scans are pricey, but there's a few shots I wouldn't mind going back and capturing with big film and movements, and taking them time and $$$ to be able to make fantastic large prints.
Very true, ideally the getting your own flatbed film scanner would make sense if your shooting film, and if you invest in the likes of the V750 it will not matter if you go medium or large format.
11-05-2013, 11:43 AM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by johnsey Quote
Very true, ideally the getting your own flatbed film scanner would make sense if your shooting film, and if you invest in the likes of the V750 it will not matter if you go medium or large format.
Most of my higher quality stuff is B&W anyway-- I do color for candids and quick snaps on trips with friends. Maybe in a couple years when I have the room I'll fund a 4x5 enlarger.

I'm sure I could work out an OK way to scan with the 4490 with some kind of 4x5 holder and a diy backlight. Anyone here tried anything similar?
11-05-2013, 11:52 AM - 1 Like   #15
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Sorry, I could not help myself......

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