This roll is the peak moment of my path to purchasing the camera I was dreaming about for a long time – the Mamiya 7. And also my entry to medium format film.

My journey, from deciding to buy this camera, to actually buying the notoriously expensive Mamiya rangefinder, was not easy. I sold both of my kidneys and still didn’t have enough money to buy it. Just kidding, but the whole way was long and difficult.

Though I lacked the experience of shooting medium format cameras, with a lot of obsessive researching, thinking, YouTubing, and making lists and diagrams, I was certain that the Mamiya 7 was the right camera for me. So, after constantly checking ads on the Chinese secondhand marketplace for a year, I finally had the right sum to actually go for it. And soon enough, a nice-looking Mamiya 7 for a fine price had appeared. One bummer though, the seller lived in Shanghai, while I was in Shenzhen, and he didn’t want the trouble of selling the camera over the 750 mi / 1,200 km distance between us.

Oh, and yeah, it was in the middle of the world’s pandemic too.

After convincing the seller that I was serious about purchasing the camera, we sort of settled to make the deal online. I asked him to record a video featuring all the camera’s functions, which he agreed to, though without much enthusiasm. And then he went silent for a few days. The deal almost got canceled until I asked him that, perhaps, he could do a discount for me if I flew over to Shanghai and check the camera in person. Which, to my surprise, he agreed for, and settled for a nice discount.

After a frantic couple of hours of checking whether I, a foreigner in China, would be quarantined upon arrival in Shanghai, it seemed that I was good to go (this was in May, and things were already more or less okay here). So, a couple of days later me and my girlfriend were on the plane to Shanghai.

It was quite a gamble — all or nothing — either getting back with a good camera or coming home empty-handed minus the money for the trip. Many things could go wrong, the seller could be using fake pictures, who knows. But if it was real, I would snatch a good deal.

When I finally met the seller, the camera was the real one after all, like in the photos. And the seller was a nice guy as well. But, there was a gotcha. Which even the seller didn’t know about as it is not exactly easy to check the lens on Mamiya 7 since it has a shutter built-in. There were some spots inside a lens group that looked like fungus. Moreover, there was a weird circular aureole inside the glass too.

Nice. Fungus. The second worst scenario…

So I had to quickly decide: to go for the possibly contaminated lens, or to go back home with nothing. With a further bit of a discount, we agreed that I would do a test roll, and if there is any problem visible on the images, I return the camera. And if they are clear, I keep it. So, I hurried outside, quickly snapped a roll of film, sent it to a lab, and was left with a self-cheated feeling, in doubt whether I made the right decision.

The next day the images arrived, I opened them and was completely blown away by the quality and the look. The resolution and the amount of detail were incredible! Foof! I was finally satisfied with the purchase.

Moreover, I went to a camera repair store after that, and learned that it was not fungus but some kind of coating blemish that does not affect the image quality. Not only that, but I also got that circular fuzziness cleaned off, which turned out to be a solvent that got inside the lens group. So now it meant that I got a fully capable camera and lens, and saved myself a couple of bills too! Score!

Finally, it was time to put the real first roll through and get to know the camera. Even more, the new format of film and the 6×7 aspect ratio. And what could be a better film to shoot in Shanghai than a film called Shanghai? Or, to be exact, Shanghai GP3 100. Plus, it was the cheapest 120 film in the shop 🙂

We still had a little bit of time left to walk around Shanghai, as I tried to get used to the new set. Like it normally goes, first, you get to know the new camera/film for a while. Manual focusing, spot metering, slower shutter speeds, and apertures: the way of shooting with the Mamiya, and medium format cameras in general, is not the same.

…so I tested the limits for handheld shooting (as you can see on frame #2 above left); checked how it worked with flash at night (didn’t nail the focus, frame #3 right); how it can capture fast-moving objects; as well as the new frame size in general. Here are the remaining six frames from the roll.

I can’t say I really like the look of this film, the grain is surprisingly noticeable for 120 film of ISO 100. However, this could be the result of using a random local lab, as I mostly do color and don’t develop B&W myself. And again, it was the cheapest film in the store, so it all makes sense. I enjoyed it anyway, as well as the process. And now looking forward to many future rolls on, now unlocked for me, 120 film.

Thank you for reading my story. May you have good deals on your future purchases too.

~ Vlad

About the author

Avatar - Vlad Timofeev

Vlad Timofeev

I am a China-based documentary photographer from Russia. Had been studying photography for a while, and now out there shooting. Currently living in Shenzhen, working on personal and freelance projects. For me, film photography is a passion and a tool. If...

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    Try, if you want : Kodak TriX, JCH StreetPan, you will get more from this great camera …;-)
    A UV filter, or a green/yellow filter will help.
    Russia, yes, is a great country.

  2. Love your epic journey after the camera you knew was destined to be yours, Vlad! Loved the images, I can’t really see the grain in this format but I do love the tones and the contrast you got.