Photographs On The Fly

I had some pretty grand plans for this particular shoot that unfortunately didn't quite materialize. I was going to make some photographs down on a stretch of beach where someone had made some interesting rock sculptures just north of town. I recruited a model who was willing to head out to the location right at sunrise and we were going to take advantage of some of the wonderful golden light that we get around these parts in the fall.

Unfortunately when we got to the location there was a guy marching up and down the beach with a six pack of beer (this was 6:00am folks!) and before we even attempted to make some images he started yelling at us and shouting incredibly sexist and inappropriate comments our direction aimed particularly at the model from about twenty feet away. Things like, "oh hey baby, are you sticking around!?" while simultaneously whistling and acting like a fool.

So needless to say we didn't stick around and swiftly exited the scene. As much as I wanted to make a particular image that day I wasn't about to ask anyone to work in that situation. Instead we made our way down a small walking path that wasn't too far away and did some photos amongst the tall trees. Luckily I had brought some black and white film with me as well which worked nicely in the more secluded setting.

Camera Review: Mamiya M645 1000s

Over the decades, Mamiya made several versions of their 6x4.5 camera. The early models were all metal and mostly mechanical, as is the case with the M645 1000s that I am reviewing here. The 1000s is similar to other early Mamiya M645 camera bodies but differs in that it adds a higher max shutter speed and a multiple exposure switch.

Mamiya M645 1000s with Ilford FP4 film

In later years, the 645 cameras started to reflect more modern design and use more plastic based materials. They also began to utilize removable backs, motorized hand grips, more automated exposure prisms, and eventually even auto focus. More than anything, the longevity of the Mamiya 645 speaks to the robust nature of the format. 6x4.5 negatives after all allow for relatively small cameras (by medium format standards) while also allowing for a negative many times larger than 35mm film.

Of all the different film formats available today, medium format is usually the one I gravitate toward most often. Unfortunately, medium format cameras tend to be on the heavy side, making it difficult to carry them on long walks or hikes where space and weight is a major issue. When I am doing a photoshoot with models this doesn’t tend to be a big deal as I am carrying a large backpack with me and sometimes a tri-pod, numerous rolls of film, towels, and a whole lot more. However, when I just want to take some pictures on a leisurely walk, the size and weight of a medium format camera can be a pain.  

There are exceptions to this. My Rolleiflex TLR for example is incredibly light weight, but it is also limiting in that one is stuck with a standard 80mm field of view. The same can be said of medium format folders, which are incredibly compact and light, often smaller than a 35mm SLR, but they also have slow lenses and viewfinders that make careful composition difficult. On the other hand, cameras like my Mamiya RZ67, while having the benefit of interchangeable lenses and backs, it is just far too heavy and cumbersome to bring with me on a casual walk.

This is what initially attracted me to the M645 1000s. My initial hope with the Mamiya M645 was to find something in the middle. A camera light enough to take on an extended walk around town or a very casual photoshoot, but also with the ability to use a variety of lenses. At first I was disappointed with the M645 in this regard. When I purchased my camera, it came with a metered prism finder and a left-handed grip. While this made the camera feel “SLR like” it also made the camera incredibly heavy and bulky. Not at all what I was hoping for. Perhaps some of the later 645 models made of lighter materials work better in this regard, but for me the M645 1000s was just too heavy to be constantly lifting it up to my eye in order to compose a shot.  

Mamiya M645 1000s with expired Ilford HP5 film

So I made it a point to go out and find a waist level finder for the camera (which was surprisingly difficult) and once that was accomplished my opinion of the M645 began to change for the better.  

Unlike most photographers, who seem to prefer the eye level prisms for the M645, for me the ideal setup with the M645 1000s is using the camera with a waist level finder. With a waist level finder attached, the camera is fairly compact and small, about equal to the size and weight of a pro-level SLR. A lot of people will bash the M645 with the waist level finder because they claim it limits a photographer to only shooting in a landscape orientation but I totally disagree. It isn’t difficult to simply turn the camera, and your head, to the side in order to compose and trip the shutter in a portrait orientation. In all honesty though, about 90% of the time I like to compose photographs in the landscape orientation anyway so the debate is moot in my mind.

I feel like I’ve said this a million times but it is worth repeating. Mamiya made some of the nicest lenses of any film format and compared to many medium format systems, they are dirt cheap. Certainly far cheaper than Hasselblad or Contax system lenses and due to the large quantities of them on the used market, even cheaper than Bronica lenses. For my M645 I have the 80mm f/1.9 and the 55mm f/2.8. Both are nice and sharp. As far as I know the 80mm f/1.9 has the fastest 80mm lens ever made for a medium format camera. The bokeh is a bit on the busy side but not so much so that I’m unwilling to use the lens. I’m told the standard 80mm f/2.8 has much smoother bokeh but for me the difference can’t be good enough to trade it in favor of the fast f/1.9 aperture of the lens I own.

The 55mm f/2.8 (I have the C version, not the more modern N version) is about as good of a lens as my eyes could ever want. It’s sharp, has nice bokeh, smooth to operate, and provides a perfect field of view for street photography and image making where I want to show off a bit more information into my frame. Nothing at all to complain about here.

Mamiya M645 1000s with Ilford HP5 film pushed to ISO 1600

Sometimes it’s the little things about a camera that make me fall in love with it. For many people this may not seem like a big deal, but for me this is one of those things that transcends a camera design from simply being good camera into great image making tool. The Mamiya M645 has two shutter buttons. One on the front of the camera body right below the lens where you typically find one on a medium format camera, and another on the top of the body to the right of the viewing screen. This comes in handy a lot when holding the camera at odd angles. It’s such a minor thing really, but makes all the difference in terms of ease of use and overall enjoyment when making photographs.   

I highly recommend the Mamiya M645 1000s, or really any other camera in the Mamiya 645 line. It is cheap to own and easy to customize to your particular shooting style. Do you like using eye level prisms? Awesome! You can do that with an M645. Do you prefer the waist level finder as I do? Great! You can do that too. This is a camera that can be decked out with accessories or used in a minimalist fashion depending on your needs. As I mentioned earlier in this review, Mamiya made a lot of 645 cameras (the Pro, Super, 645e,  etc.) and I think it is worth doing a bit of research to find out which one best suits your particular taste. For me, the M645 1000s is the way to go given its robust construction and its fairly small size.