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09-24-2020, 01:45 PM   #1
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MF Camera Purchase Considerations

I'm looking to get a better MF film camera. Currently I've got one working camera, a Seagull 4B. I've owned a number of MF cameras in the past, including a Hasselblad and several Rolleiflex. So I'm looking for something better. My budget is $800 max, but I'd prefer to spend $500-$600. After considering a number of cameras, including a Fuji GW690 and Bronica and Mamiya cameras, I've come down to either a Pentax 645, 645 N, or a Mamiya 645 Super. The latter 2 are at the high end of my budget...more.

I know a Pentax 645 to 645N is a major jump ...aside from AF, there's matrix metering and it's going to be a younger camera. The 645 would be significantly cheaper and metering and autofocus are not important items for me in MF. The Mamiya Super is nice with the interchangeable backs, but really how often do I need to switch film mid roll.. when I had a Hasselblad I'd switch backs to save time reloading and usually the same film in both. So the Mamiya is interesting, but more features I really don't need.
So I'm thinking the Pentax 645 seems the way to go. Am I missing something?




09-24-2020, 02:34 PM   #2
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I would take the 645N over the 645. It works great with manual focus lenses and a pleasure in the hand. I came perilously close to buying one about a decade ago. As for the other options...it depends on what you need.


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09-24-2020, 03:39 PM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by stevebrot Quote
I would take the 645N over the 645. It works great with manual focus lenses and a pleasure in the hand. I came perilously close to buying one about a decade ago. As for the other options...it depends on what you need.


Steve
Just a camera to shoot some scenic shots and portraits. I'll probably shoot B&W 90% of the time. How's reliability compare? I look at it like the 645 is from the Super Program era and the 645N is from the MZ/ZX era....I think my Super Programs were much better made than my ZX-5. But I know that's not a fair comparison...just my worry.

09-24-2020, 04:06 PM   #4
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The 645N is 15 years younger than a 645. That alone would direct my choice. I have a 645N and was always impressed with its performance. Used, on eBay, you can get a good one from Japan for about 600 $.

Regards


Last edited by RICHARD L.; 09-24-2020 at 05:29 PM.
09-25-2020, 12:20 AM   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by tonyzoc Quote
Just a camera to shoot some scenic shots and portraits. I'll probably shoot B&W 90% of the time. How's reliability compare? I look at it like the 645 is from the Super Program era and the 645N is from the MZ/ZX era....I think my Super Programs were much better made than my ZX-5. But I know that's not a fair comparison...just my worry.
If relialibility is important go for Mamiya TLRs, and if they break down a repair is possible. For me MF black and white is a slow process so manual is not a problem. All Mamiya TLR lenses are from good to exellent
09-25-2020, 01:31 AM   #6
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Your budget is not so thight as to buy the first series of Mamiya 645?
That is what I did and my 645J does the job. I freely admit, with some disadvantages compared with the newer cameras in your selection.
09-25-2020, 02:29 AM   #7
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I have Pentax 645 and Super Program. They indeed looks close from the experience point of view apart of the fact that 645 much bigger and heavier. About comparative reliability between 645, 645N and Mamiya. Simple arithmetic tells me that you can buy at least two 645 for the price of one 645N and three for the price of Mamiya.
09-25-2020, 04:53 AM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by Papa_Joe Quote
Your budget is not so thight as to buy the first series of Mamiya 645?
That is what I did and my 645J does the job. I freely admit, with some disadvantages compared with the newer cameras in your selection.
I was looking at these....then I started looking at the 645 1000S, then the Super...as I moved up the line I want each one more . I was concerned with the age of the Mamiya 645 which is why I leaned toward the Super. Same reason I'm looking at the P 645N. I'm not in a city with any kind of camera store so whatever I buy will be mail order based on pictures and description (and seller reputation and return policy). I don't know allot about Mamiya build quality...I've always liked their cameras though and I know the 330 TLRs were a common wedding photography camera back in the day. I looked at Bronica also... They don't look like they hold up over time based on pictures I see. The ETRs and Mamiya 645j are in a similar price range...about $400-$500 with a normal lens. Again, I don't know the reputation of Bronica either.



---------- Post added 09-25-20 at 04:57 AM ----------

QuoteOriginally posted by jumbleview Quote
I have Pentax 645 and Super Program. They indeed looks close from the experience point of view apart of the fact that 645 much bigger and heavier. About comparative reliability between 645, 645N and Mamiya. Simple arithmetic tells me that you can buy at least two 645 for the price of one 645N and three for the price of Mamiya.
Yes...and if I started with a 645 and at some point it dies...I could just add a 645N or NII and still use my lenses. I always like the Super Program. I bought one new in 1983 and still own 2 (one is a Super A) and use them. And I've got 2 280T flash...which goes with the 645 nicely.

---------- Post added 09-25-20 at 05:34 AM ----------

QuoteOriginally posted by jumbleview Quote
I have Pentax 645 and Super Program. They indeed looks close from the experience point of view apart of the fact that 645 much bigger and heavier. About comparative reliability between 645, 645N and Mamiya. Simple arithmetic tells me that you can buy at least two 645 for the price of one 645N and three for the price of Mamiya.
Yes, the Mamiya 645 Super is really like $1000+. I see some auctions in the $700s but they aren't completed. If I could afford that right now I'd probably opt for a Hasselblad 500C. I was even considering a Rolleiflex Automat MX...but they're running in the $400+ range and they're 60+ years old...I don't want to spend that much and have to dish out another $300 for a CLA. Actually I own a Rolleiflex 3.5F. But the shutter needs cleaning and it's in partial disassembly. I got to the point where I remove the locking ring on the back of the lens and I couldn't reach with my span wrench. So I plan to reassemble and ship it off to Oceanside Camera for an overhaul. It's going to cost me $600+ but the camera is in great condition and value keeps going up. I should be sending that out now...but I'll do it after I get another medium format.

09-25-2020, 11:22 AM - 1 Like   #9
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I'd go for a 645N. Lots of great lens values out there. That said, since this is film, I really think you need to reconsider that Fuji690. I had one---was forced to trade it in when I got my 645Z. Still miss it. Let me tell ya---those negs are just fantastic. The difference between the 645 neg and the 6x9 is stark. I was using a 4x5 camera, and then stopped after I saw those negs---basically half of the 4x5, and far more "usable" than the 4x5 negs.
09-25-2020, 11:47 AM   #10
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Tony,

A few comments here for you to consider...

All of the cameras you are considering were made for professional use, and therefore were built to a higher standard than consumer grade 35mm cameras. They are inherently more robust and reliable. That said, I think provenance of an individual camera is probably more important in predicting reliability than model-to-model differences. If a camera was used by, say, a wedding photographer or other pro, it will have high mileage and will likely develop a problem sooner than one used by a hobbyist. The more you can learn about a camera's history the more assured you will be of getting a good one.

Re. Pentax 645, I have heard that they are all very reliable - both original and later N models. The N is more ergonomic with it's dial controls; has finer adjustment of EV compensation; and has a brighter viewfinder.

Mamiya Supers are reported to be prone to light leaks in the backs, so be aware of that when buying. In general, the Pro version is said to be even more robust than the Super. I believe both the Super and Pro have available waist level finders which might be very handy for low level or macro work, whereas the Pentax finders are fixed.

Re. your Rolleiflex, that is a cracker of a camera with an outstandingly sharp lens - either Planar or Xenotar - some of the best in medium format, from any maker (I own the one of each, so speak from experience). Have you considered buying a prism finder and a side grip handle for it? It really transforms the handling to be something close to what you might get with the 645's you're looking at. I have an older Vivitar grip for mine, and it makes it far less awkward and clunky to use. And if your light meter still works, then you'd have basic metering available. Granted, there are no interchangeable lenses here. As you say, they keep appreciating in value, so a CLA is a good investment. Food for thought....

Hope this helps!

Rgds,
Svend
09-25-2020, 12:15 PM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by Viking42 Quote
Tony,



A few comments here for you to consider...



All of the cameras you are considering were made for professional use, and therefore were built to a higher standard than consumer grade 35mm cameras. They are inherently more robust and reliable. That said, I think provenance of an individual camera is probably more important in predicting reliability than model-to-model differences. If a camera was used by, say, a wedding photographer or other pro, it will have high mileage and will likely develop a problem sooner than one used by a hobbyist. The more you can learn about a camera's history the more assured you will be of getting a good one.



Re. Pentax 645, I have heard that they are all very reliable - both original and later N models. The N is more ergonomic with it's dial controls; has finer adjustment of EV compensation; and has a brighter viewfinder.



Mamiya Supers are reported to be prone to light leaks in the backs, so be aware of that when buying. In general, the Pro version is said to be even more robust than the Super. I believe both the Super and Pro have available waist level finders which might be very handy for low level or macro work, whereas the Pentax finders are fixed.



Re. your Rolleiflex, that is a cracker of a camera with an outstandingly sharp lens - either Planar or Xenotar - some of the best in medium format, from any maker (I own the one of each, so speak from experience). Have you considered buying a prism finder and a side grip handle for it? It really transforms the handling to be something close to what you might get with the 645's you're looking at. I have an older Vivitar grip for mine, and it makes it far less awkward and clunky to use. And if your light meter still works, then you'd have basic metering available. Granted, there are no interchangeable lenses here. As you say, they keep appreciating in value, so a CLA is a good investment. Food for thought....



Hope this helps!



Rgds,

Svend
Thanks for your input. It's hard to tell the history of a camera unless you're lucky enough to buy one from the original owner. But, generally pros don't baby their equipment, so if they used it allot, it shows.

I have that Vivitar grip. It has a removable mount and I have both the 35mm base and the square one for medium format. I even recently found the original cable release, which is tapered and has a clear plastic covering to stick into the grip.

The Rolleiflex is an awesome camera, I agree. I have the Xenotar 75/3.5. I used it for a number of years, then the shutter started sticking...just needed a CLA. I've already contacted Oceanside Camera (because of their long history with Rollei) and I'm looking at $600 for a reassembly and CLA, plus additional if any parts are missing (which I don't expect as I've got them all in bags by section). This winter I'm going to send it too them to fix no mater what the final cost. I see 3.5Fs going for $1300-$1500 and the price keeps going up. I never felt to desire for a prism as I like WL finders in general, probably from starting with an Exakta V with a WL when I was young. These days when you're looking down into a WL people around you don't know what you're doing..

I used to have a few Rolleiflex... Mostly Automat MX and MX-EVS. I even had a mint Rolleimagic with case at one point. You see some criticism of 4 element Tessar formula lenses...not sharp enough...soft corners..etc. You stop them down to f/8 and they're as sharp as can be.

09-25-2020, 01:07 PM   #12
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Tony,

It sounds like you know you have a winner in that Rolleiflex of yours. In your original post you said you wanted a "better MF film camera". Could you perhaps elaborate on that? Better in what way? I'm curious, as it's pretty hard to beat that Xenotar lens at any price, so better image quality is unlikely if you're looking at those 645's. I'm guessing it's ergonomics you're after; auto exposure; faster shooting; TTL metering...? TBH, I've been mulling over getting a P645 for those very same reasons.

I actually prefer the Xenotar over the Planar lens I think. They are both incredibly sharp, but the Xenotar has kind of an organic tonality to the images that is hard to describe. Just gorgeous, esp. with PanF or TriX. The Planar is equally sharp I think, but has more harsh contrast. Still excellent though - one of the highest resolving lenses out there. I haven't tried a Rolleiflex Tessar, but had a Tessar clone in an Autocord that I owned -- you are right, terrifically sharp when stopped down. I kind of regret selling that camera actually, but I had four TLRs at the time and hardly used it.

Re. prism and grip for the Rolleiflex -- I tried this with a Mamiya C330 that I owned, and I loved how the camera handled after adding those. Really great for quick shooting, and well worth doing. I might add a prism to my Rolleiflex at some point, but I use it mostly for nature and landscapes so prefer the WLF for that.

Best,
Svend

Last edited by Viking42; 09-25-2020 at 01:26 PM.
09-25-2020, 02:46 PM - 1 Like   #13
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Mine is still waiting for a CLA, but I am already quite fond of my Minolta Autocord (ca1958 w/Seikosha MX).


Steve
09-25-2020, 09:06 PM - 1 Like   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by stevebrot Quote
Mine is still waiting for a CLA, but I am already quite fond of my Minolta Autocord (ca1958 w/Seikosha MX).


Steve
Yeah, they are wonderful cameras. The lenses in the Autocords are quite special and highly sought-after. They have a sort of 3D rendering that is unique. I can confirm that - the half-dozen or so rolls that I shot with it all had great image quality. Of the four TLRs that I've had, my favourite for IQ is the Rolleiflex with Xenotar (which I still use as my main MF camera), followed by the Autocord. Least favourite was the C330 - I just never took to the rendering of those lenses for some reason.

Hope you keep on enjoying that camera Steve!
09-26-2020, 03:06 AM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by tonyzoc Quote
I know a Pentax 645 to 645N is a major jump ...aside from AF, there's matrix metering and it's going to be a younger camera. The 645 would be significantly cheaper and metering and autofocus are not important items for me in MF. The Mamiya Super is nice with the interchangeable backs, but really how often do I need to switch film mid roll.. when I had a Hasselblad I'd switch backs to save time reloading and usually the same film in both. So the Mamiya is interesting, but more features I really don't need.
So I'm thinking the Pentax 645 seems the way to go. Am I missing something?
I own both the 645 and 645N. IMO you're not missing anything in your analysis. If you don't need AF and you find a 645 in excellent condition, you can get at least an extra lens with the money saved on upgrading to the 645N. I've owned my 645 since the 1986 and the only age issue has been the plastic battery holder. I've had friends with Mamiyas and they've had more electromechanical issues than I have had with either Pentax.
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