Mamiya M645 Cameras, 
 Lenses and Photography 
Copyright © 1998 - 2000 John A. Lind

Mamiya History

Rangefinder Roots

Mamiya was founded in May, 1940 by Seichi Mamiya with investment from Tsunejiro Sugawara.  Although there are some small format 35mm Mamiya's, the company is best known for its medium format cameras.  The first camera was the original Mamiya 6, a folding rangefinder.  Just before and during the war there were four models:  the 6-I, 6-IA, 6-II and 6-III.  After W.W.II ended, Mamiya set up manufacturing in Tokyo and took on the Mamiya-Sekor name.  In 1947 the 6-IV was introduced as the first post-war design with an improved shutter.  The IA through the IV are evolutions of the original 6-I.  This evolution continued until the last of the folding rangefinders, the Mamiya 6 Automat 2, was introduced in 1958.  In the meantime, Mamiya was also developing its line of TLR's.

From Rangefinder to TLR and Press Cameras

1948 saw the introduction of the Mamiya Flex-Junior, Mamiya's first of a long line of TLR's.  Early evolution of the TLR line paralleled that of the folding rangefinders.  Entry into the high end TLR market occurred in 1949 with the Mamiya Flex Automat A.  The Automat A continued to be refined with various models until 1957 with the Flex C Professional.  This was the first model with interchangeable lenses, and rack and pinion focus with bellows.  The Flex C Professional resembles the Mamiya TLR line most photographers are familiar with.  These TLR's, especially the latter models, continue to be workhorses for professional photographers: While the original Mamiya 6 folding rangefinder was being phased out, Mamiya introduced its line of press cameras with interchangeable film backs and lenses in 1962.  The line of press cameras continued through the Universal Press model in 1969.

SLR Introduction

The end of the press camera line saw the beginning of the SLR's in 1970 with the 6x7cm format RB67.  It featured a revolving back that allowed switching from "landscape" to "portrait" without having to turn the camera on its side.  In 1975, Mamiya introduced its little brother, the M645 with a 6x4.5cm format.  The high end M645-1000S followed a year later in 1976 and a trimmed down version, the M645 J followed in 1979.  These older SLR's are hardy, reliable and continue to be professional workhorses (albeit heavy).  The one fault with them for professional use is they do not have interchangeable film backs.  The film insert goes directly into the camera back.  This precludes changing film types in mid-roll.  It also precludes using a "Polaroid back."  During the early 1980's the initial SLR line phased out with the TLR's and was replaced with the RZ67, 645 Super, and M645 PRO.  These were the foundation of the current line of Mamiya SLR's.

Rangefinder Resurrection

In 1989, Mamiya began producing rangefinders again with the "New" Mamiya 6.  The new model has interchangeable lenses, parallax compensation in the viewfinder and manual or automatic exposure control.  Since then, Mamiya has introduced a 6x7 format rangefinder with the Mamiya 7 and continues to evolve its Mamiya 6.  The current Mamiya lineup is the new rangefinder line and its line of second generation SLR's.

Current Hardware

Medium format photography is generally perceived as not something those short on cash should pursue.  Almost everything associated with it is very expensive, especially if one chases after the Hasselblad, Rollei (SLR or TLR models), or Contax hardware.  Collectors of Hassleblad and Rollei in particular have driven older used equipment prices very high.
Fortunately, collectors have not pursued the older Mamiya SLR and TLR's as they have others.  These do provide an affordable entry point into medium format photography.  An excellent working SLR or TLR in good cosmetic condition, with a standard lens, can be had for the price of a new medium level SLR body with excellent standard lens, or the price of an older high end SLR body and lens.

The current hardware list comprises my entry into the world of medium format:

  • M645j body
  • PdS metered prism finder (intended for 1000S but works on all three M645's!)
  • 80mm f/2.8 Sekkor standard lens
  • 150mm f/4 Sekkor telephoto lens
  • Deluxe left-hand grip
  • Rotating tripod mount
  • Spare 120 insert and a 220 insert, both with cases
  • Type of Photography

    The first thing one discovers with medium format:  everything is bigger, bulkier and heavier than small format 35mm.  This should not come as any big surprise (DOH)!  What can be surprising is how much it affects one's photography, especially if the subject material and style took advantage of the smaller size and lighter weight of 35mm SLR systems.
    The M645 J is used for more deliberate photography:
  • Scenic
  • Architectural
  • Semi-formal portraiture
  • There is a crossover in this use between the M645 and the Olympus OM 35mm SLR system.  Medium format is the system of first choice with the 35mm SLR system used if the venue, size and weight constraints, or the need to work very quickly preclude using the Mamiya.  The PdS prism finder with TTL meter makes exposure easier, but still requires setting aperture and shutter speed manually.  The M645 J is now clearly the first choice for semi-formal portraiture with one of the 35mm cameras used for candid work.

    Films Used

    The second thing one discovers with medium format:  there is no 120 or 220 consumer film any more.  Compared to the nearly total switch to reversal with the 35mm equipment, there is a use for color negative with medium format.

    Semi-formal portraiture is best done with color or black and white negative as the result is intended to be printed.  Reversals in general have too little latitude and are too contrasty for portraits which need to capture subtleties in skin tones.  Some reversals (such as Fuji's Velvia or Kodak's E100VS) are far too saturated in addition to contrast and latitude problems.  For this type of work the film of choice has settled on Kodak's Portra 160 VC.  I have used some "NC" but it seems too soft; this is my opinion however and some like the NC's softness, especially for pastels.  There is no consumer equivalent to Kodak's ISO 160 and 400 Portra NC and VC; Portra is a unique film for general portraiture including groups of people.  The ISO 160 version still has the very fine grain similar to high end ISO 100 consumer films.  One wouldn't think the additional 2/3 stop speed would matter much, but it does when most 75mm or 80mm MF standard lenses are f/2.8's.

    For scenic and architectural work, Kodak's Portra is too soft for my taste.  Unfortunately, Kodak no longer makes Kodachrome in 120 size which forces a move to one of the E-6 chromes.  As with 35mm for this type of photography, chrome is used almost exclusively.  Some of Kodak's professional E-6 chromes do have a consumer equivalent:
  • E100S = Elitechrome 100
  • E100VS = Elitechrome 100 Extra Color
  • After experimenting with E100VS I have settled on the E100S as the preferred chrome.  E100VS and Elitechrome Extra Color are Kodak's answer to Fuji's Velvia with super saturated color.  Some like how the color leaps out, but it is a bit much for me.  After being accustomed to the color accuracy of Kodachrome, E100VS trades color accuracy for extremely high saturation.  It also does not work that well with skin tones.  The red and pink in flesh tones tend to saturate too much.  However, I may try the E100SW which is a slightly warmer version of E100S (supposedly similar to using a skylight filter) and E100 which has even less saturation than E100S; neither has a consumer equivalent.  120 transparencies do not come back from the processor mounted in slide frames.  They are returned in a sleeve!  This requires cutting and mounting them yourself for projection.  Cardboard just doesn't cut it for slides this size; it is too flimsy and jams projectors easily.  Slides are hand mounted in 3mm plastic frames.  I am undecided whether to continue with glassless or switch to anti-newton glass frames.  The big names in slide frames are Gepe, Wess and HAMA.  Take your pick.  Each has advantages and disadvantages; preferences are up to the end user.


    There is a learning curve to using medium format.  Moving into a 645 system with its rectangular aspect ratio seemed more natural.  Square 6x6 requires another kind of thinking for composition.  Even so, the aspect ratio is not the same.  35mm is 3:2 and 645 is 4:3 making it slightly closer to square.  This does have an advantage.  The 6x4.5cm frame is closer to a 5x7 and 8x10 print aspect ratio.  This requires less cropping and less thinking about leaving enough in the image if one intends to have prints larger than 4x6 (which matches the 35mm aspect ratio exactly).  The larger alternative in 35mm is the custom 8x12 for which standard size frames become an issue.
    Weight and size take getting used to.  Hand holding a medium format beast is quite different from a 35mm SLR or rangefinder.  One of the first accessories added to the camera bag was a hand grip!  Hand holding the heavy square box with a prism finder without one while shooting the first two rolls was cumbersome.  A hand grip is not as much an accessory as it is a necessity with a prism finder.
    The first couple rolls in the 645 were a demonstration of something I already knew, but had not considered much when shooting them.  One's feel for aperture and depth of field it will produce must shift when using MF equipment.  DOF is related more to focal length and not angle of view.  Thus, the 80mm standard lens on a MF box has the same DOF characteristics as an 80mm modest telephoto on a 35mm body.  In other words, for an equivalent angle of view at the same aperture, MF lenses will have shallower DOF's than their 35mm counterparts.  This takes some getting used to also, but can be a great advantage in informal portraiture.  If one has used 35mm for a long time it is easy to use an aperture too wide and slip into a DOF too shallow for the subject material.
    Since I project slides, this was also a learning curve.  One cannot use a 35mm slide projector for 645 (or 6x6) slides in 7x7 frames.  If one thought new medium format camera hardware could be costly, check out prices on projectors.  Sticker shock is an understatement.  The market segment for them is pure commercial and professional.  This required seeking out and finding an older "dual" format projector from the 1960's when there were still significant numbers of consumers and serious amateurs using 120 and 620 roll film, and the consumer world was shifting to 35mm.  Among the best made at that time was the Rollei P11 Dual.  Finding one can be difficult and even they are at least twice the cost of a good used 35mm projector.  Nearly all MF projectors use Euro straight slide trays which will hold 30 frames.  If one is used to Kodak's Carousels, these are a completely different concept. Don't tip a tray upside down.
    The first time the M645 was mounted to my 20 year old tripod realization sank in the tripod was made for 35mm and nothing more.  There was no threat of collapse, but most lightweight consumer grade tripods are no match for the weight of a medium format hulk.  They just are not rigid enough; the additional weight will flex anything that can flex on them which defeats the purpose of using one.  As good as my faithful old tripod was, it has now been replaced with one of the lighter professional grade Bogen 3021 leg sets and a medium weight Bogen 3410 pan head.  They are rated to handle the mass of a large camera.  The Bogen 3021 leg set has proven to be a good choice.  Lightweight by professional standards (relative to professional studio monsters on dollies) it is much taller with the legs extended and heavier.  It is also significantly more rigid.  The head was a toss-up between the 3047, 3057 and the newer 3410.  The new 3410 carries the same ratings as the older 3047, but is shorter and lighter as a result.  The 3057 is made for even heavier large format beasts, not much heavier, and although quite nice it is more costly.  For my needs, the cost/benefit ratio of the 3057 just wasn't there.  The upgraded tripod will also support enough hardware for shooting segmented panoramics with the 35mm SLR.  Having used the 3021 several times now, it is easy to see why it is one of the most popular of Bogen's tripod legs for field use.
    Deliberate shooting is the bulk of MF.  With 15 frames per roll, its slightly higher cost of processing, and the work it takes to mount slides, one does not waste film nearly as much as with 35mm.  It doesn't take too many rolls before one becomes meticulous with everything and begins to enforce self-discipline with every aspect of every frame.  With me it has carried over some into the 35mm shooting.  I'm seeing much more through the viewfinder than I ever did before.  The decision of when to shoot and whether to shoot several frames to get a good one is now more deliberate than it has been in the past.

    With all this about the weight and size, is it worth it?  One look at 5x7 or 8x10 prints and 645 slides in a projector with excellent optics can be convincing.  If you thought seeing a good fine grain E-6 35mm slide was cool, a projected MF slide can knock your socks off.  The improved resolution is readily noticeable!  If you want 11x14 or larger prints, and large screen projections that someone can walk up to and still see minute detail, then a decent medium format camera is just the thing.  It's the reason the format still exists, and the reason professionals use it!

    Links to Mamiya and Medium Format Sites

    Robert Monaghan's Medium Format Articles Page
    [Perhaps the medium format site on the web.  Megasite is an understatement.]

    Why Medium Format?
    [Mamiya America's page explains why many of us use MF hardware.]

    Mamiya User Forum (U.S. site)
    Go to Mamiya User Forum link; third forum down the list.
    [Mamiya user open forum sponsored by Mamiya America.]

    Mamiya UK Forum (U.K. site)
    [Mamiya user open forum sponsored by Mamiya UK.]