8.28.2012

Mamiya 6 Adventures in Rome.


Cruising along the streets with my Mamiya 6 in my right hand just snapping away. As I walked up the Spanish Steps this young woman stood up just in front of me and billowed out her scarf. Being usually prefocused around ten feet I lifted the camera to my eye, framed and pressed the shutter. I kept walking up the stairs. I wound on to the next frame. She sat back down.

The Mamiya 6 rangefinder camera is a medium format rangefinder (a true rangefinder, not just a body that's gussied up to look like one...) and it was available with the holy trinity of medium format square lenses: the 50mm f4, the 75mm f3.6 and the 150mm f4.5.  It is one of the ultimate street shooting/documentarian/reportage cameras ever made.  The rangefinder was nice and bright, the camera was like love in your hands and the ultra quiet snick of the in lens leaf shutter was....ultimately discreet.

I took two Mamiya 6 cameras and the three lenses with me on a trip to Rome, along with several hundred rolls of Kodak T-max CN-400 film. The camera was far better a camera than I was a photographer at the time.  So much so that it contrived to change owners during the bloody purge to digital and its sale stands to this day as one of my all time stupid decisions. I didn't know just how good that camera was until I looked into the rearview mirror of time and dug into the folder of juicy, sharp negatives.  The CN-400 was never my favorite film to print but once you throw it in a scanner it's a revelation.  I only wish I had already been scanning my film back then....

There are really only four cameras I regret selling, the Mamiya 6 is one, my original Leica M6 .85 ttl is another, my Linhof TechniKarden (because it signalled the end of big format film for me) and my Hasselblad 201F (because it worked with the 110 f2 Planar lens).  All the other cameras come and go but those were different. Like a girlfriend you broke over with over something silly and have come to realize just what you lost...and it haunts you from time to time.

If you have a Mamiya 6 don't sell it.  You will regret it. If you had handled some of the premier film cameras of their day you might understand the constant search by digital camera buyers today.  You don't miss what you've never had but you sure miss your water when you well runs dry...

Holding tightly to my Hasselblads and shooting till the film runs out..









15 comments:

PJM said...

I've never had a Mamiya 6, but every time I read about the difference between film and digital I think about my Olympus Stylus Epic. It was small, weatherproof and the pictures were fantastic. I only ever shot Kodak Royal Gold 200, but I have been comparing digital pictures to the ones produced by my Epic ever since and they always come up short. If the whole digital world of digitally taking pictures disappeared tomorrow I would be happy as a clam to load up my Epic and shoot.

Mike said...

In my denseness, I truly don't understand what you mean by this comment:

"I think the difference between people who love digital and people who tolerate it is this: One set has had the opportunity to handle the finest photographic solutions ever produced and one set hasn't."

I've read it a few times and I honestly don't understand it, and I'm hoping you can clarify.

MichaelT said...

Now you can get them all back! link here: http://www.ebay.com/itm/Mamiya-6MF-35mm-Rangefinder-Film-Camera-/330783388825?pt=Film_Cameras&hash=item4d0439f499#ht_500wt_1413

Neal said...

I lust after a Mamiya 6. I love the square format, my rolleiflex will have to do for now, I only fairly recently bought a Mamiya RB67 ProSD and a new 4x5 view camera, so I'll have to wait a little while before I get the 6.

Anonymous said...

Mary Ellen Mark is still using a Mamiya 7 II. The Profoto blog had a nice wright-up and video on Feb 23, 2112.

I dislike cameras that interfer with photography, and that covers most of the Digital cameras. Going into a menu to make an important change, interupts the flow. And flow is very important when photographing people. Some Nikon users have been asking for a Digital FM2n, I'd be happy with a Digital F100 with up-dated metering and focusing.

c.d.embrey

Harlan said...

Since March I've been shooting a Mamiya 6 (this is partly your fault Kirk). I couldn't agree more with your views here.
The 6 offers by far the best hand-held camera shooting experience I've ever had. It's big and bright viewfinder, quiet shutter, simple operation, and just-right size to hold make using it a joy. I believe you said something like "it gets out of your way". One has to use it to get this but I get it now. And, for as big as it is, it acts really small. The entire kit- body and 3 little lenses- fits into the same small bag I use to carry a Leica M3 and it's 3 lenses. A tighter fit, but it works.
Each of these film cameras- Nikon FM, Leica M, medium format twin-lens and SLR, is a great tool for a particular job. Having had the pleasure to use each, the Mamiya 6 is the walk-around winner for me. The biggest problem with the Mamiya 6 is how, by comparison, it makes me feel so disappointed every time I pick up my old digital SLR or new NEX-7 and look through their tiny, dim viewfinders and listen to their loud shutters.

Mel said...

My 6 is my first venture into MF and it does all Kirk says. Now if only I can keep finding slide film for it....

Wolfgang Lonien said...

Wow. Photos and stories like these always make my day. Thanks Kirk!

Anonymous said...

The 6 is the only flawless camera I own. I bought a Fuji 645ZI because i am worried i'll wear out the 6 and it's not easy to replace. The Fuji takes fine pictures but is far from perfect and nowhere as discreet as the 6.

Anonymous said...

The Mamiya 6 was my primary camera for over a decade. At the time, I believed it to be the world's best travel camera--the best available compromise between small size and high quality. All three lenses were outstanding, I loved the square format, the camera was a joy to hold and use. But I sold it and went completely digital in 2007. While I continue to have a very strong sentimental attachment to the 6, I have to say that I don't really miss it any more. I've now assembled what I think of as a modern version of the Mamiya 6 kit: Olympus EM5, Panasonic 14mm, Panasonic 20mm, and Olympus 45mm. The field of view of the three lenses is very close (accounting for aspect ratio differences) to the Mamiya 6's lens trio. The weight and bulk of the digital kit is about 1/3 of the Mamiya's. The lenses are all several stops faster and focus closer. (One big limitation of the Mamiya was that you couldn't get a head-and-shoulders shot without cropping.) Auto focus, high ISOs, IBIS, no film to cart around, no darkroom, etc., etc. And, at the end of the day, at the sizes I print, the image quality of the two cameras is comparable.

I have no temptation to go back, but I doubt I'll ever lose my fondness for the Mamiya 6.

kirk tuck said...

Give it a few years and if you are like most photographers I know you will be gnashing your teeth at your loss...

Jacob said...

I received delivery today of a sparkling 75mm lens—for which I was the sole bidder. I must say, my heart beat increased rapidly as the seconds counted down to the end of the auction. This camera will be my constant companion.

Andrea Costa said...

Just got my hands on a Mamiya C220 and shot my first roll...
I think that I'll enjoy its company very much!

ezpoppy said...

Mamiya 6. 50mm f/4 lens. Best. Camera. Ever!

LD Horricks said...

I love the Mamiya 6...I've worked 30 years as a photographer on film sets and while the bulk of this work has/does involve 35mm film and now digital, I always had/still have my 6 over my shoulder. To this day most of my favorite images have come from the Mamiya 6. I still shoot with my 6 often but over the past decade or so I've fallen in love with composing Waist Level on the Ground Glass. Thus began my love affair with the TLR. There is just something wonderfully organic and exciting about seeing an image form on the GG...its like holding a little secret world in my hands.