I had been meaning to get into the medium format 6×7 game for a while and I finally bought the Pentax 67 (the “middle” version before the 67II) at an auction. For a long time, it was my go-to medium format camera. We had a real love-hate relationship. I loved the 105mm lens and hated, well pretty much everything else.
Oh boy, everything you have ever heard about that lens is true. It sculpts absolutely gorgeous 3D portraits out of thin air on a large 6x7cm negative. It is sharp, fast (for medium format) and the bokeh is simply delicious (cringe). I must admit I was enjoying shooting portraits with it wide open almost all the time. Over the years I had built up the kit. Got a metered prism, waist-level finder, an eyepiece magnifier, an original wide strap, and some lenses (mainly the 55mm — a true legend and the 300mm – as if the camera were not bulky enough).
But it was not to last. As you might have guessed from the title, in this article, I talk about my switch from the Pentax 67 to the Mamiya 7ii. It’s a bit light-hearted and not super technical but does cover my reasons, which I hope you find helpful. Here’s what I cover:
Table of contents
The Pentax 67: All a bit too solid
No matter how amazing the images you get with the Pentax 6×7, 67 or 67II, at the end of the day, if you are someone who likes to explore places on foot, then you will end up with a sore neck/back. Even the widest strap was just not enough to balance the behemoth comfortably all day.
Scaling the already proven design of a 35mm SLR sounds good on paper, but in practicality, it is like strapping a wall-clock onto your wrist!
The camera’s lack of a proper right-hand grip is bad. Many people like me use their left hand to focus/support the camera and right hand to grip and release the shutter. Doing this with the 67 forces you to balance the beast in the palm of your left hand while focusing on the same time with your fingers. This leaves your right hand to grip and release the shutter. Unless you have been practising your ‘eagle claw’ move, it is hard to simultaneously do both due to its sheer size and weight.
On the left hand side you have the optional ginormous-yet-ergonomic wooden handle. I believe it is mainly for carrying the camera or to do some bicep curls between shots. Later on, close to when I sold mine, I saw some 3D printed right-hand grips for sale, but it was too late. I had already started thinking about my next camera.
A dim view
I have heard plenty of people moan about the size and weight of the Pentax 67 (see above), but the biggest culprit for me was the focusing screen. It is dim, like wearing sunglasses in a church! After being spoiled by bright, split image focusing screens, the Pentax 67’s original central microprism screen was just not enough for me. I know you can get third party screens, but it they are not user upgradeable and quite hard to come by in the UK.
I also tried the Nikon eyepiece magnifier (the later ones for F3HP, F4 and F5 will fit the Pentax. Older ones made for F, F2, F3 and the FM/FE series will not) and the waist level finder. The former was awkward to use, and the latter did not work well with my portrait shoots. The pop-up magnifier on the waist level finder was great though.
The fatal combination of the love for shooting wide open, a dim focusing screen, and using the camera in places where I could not use a tripod really gave me some blurry/ missed focus shots.
Goodbye Pentax 67
I took my Pentax 67 on a holiday a couple of years back. After carrying it on my neck and shoulders all day and exploring the hilly countryside on foot, I’d had enough. Despite having a wide strap and not having the hefty, metered prism, it gave me a sore neck for a couple of days. I also felt like people were staring at the giant black box hanging awkwardly from my neck which occasionally made thunder-like sounds despite having any rain in sight!
At the end of that trip while nursing my neck back to health, I made the hard decision to let go of the beast. But I was in love with the 6×7 format. So, there was only one other path that I could take – every YouTube photographers’ wet dream — the Mamiya 7ii
Hello, Mamiya 7ii
I was lucky to get a body and 80mm lens at a very good price. It was new old stock, complete with all the accessories. As soon as I got it, I was impressed how great it felt in my hands. The ergonomics was simply perfect with the deep, sculpted, right-hand grip like those found on the modern mirrorless cameras.
In Darryl Philbin’s words, it was ‘so light, like a croissant’ compared to the Pentax 67 which weighed almost as much as the boulangerie that made the croissant (1290 grams vs 2600 grams with a lens). You can comfortably hold the camera with your right hand and press the button simultaneously.
This meant leaving your left hand to focus and change the aperture, although I just left it on f/8 or f/11 and let the aperture priority (A and AEL) mode do the work. The built-in meter is fantastic and with a bit of practise can be used like a spot meter, almost. That said, it is not TTL like a Leica M6.
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Not being super-fast (f/4 being the fastest), the Mamiya 7ii lenses fully make up for it by being razor sharp at all apertures. The wide-angle lenses have no visible distortion, and, as they’re newer designs with newer coatings, they handle light better. They are also lighter and smaller compared to most medium format lenses. After using the camera for a while, I wanted to try out some different lenses so got a 43mm and the 150mm.
The camera also has some cool features like multiple exposure and the ability to use a 35mm panoramic adapter with in- camera film rewind of said 35mm film.
Old vs New
The switch from an SLR to a Rangefinder was significant. Both have their own advantages and disadvantages. The Mamiya 7ii’s body and the lenses are smaller and lighter, and it does not have a giant mirror inside to cause any camera shake. So, you can leave your tripod at home. I can comfortably handhold the camera at slower speeds like 1/15 which is unheard of with a Pentax 67.
Having leaf shutters in the lenses means you get whisper-quiet operation and flash sync at all speeds! But the lens changes take time, as you must close and open the auxiliary curtain every time. This leads to one of the most common faults on these cameras – a broken curtain knob at the bottom. I replaced mine with a brass part.
The Mamiya 7ii’s viewfinder was also perfect for me, especially with the 80mm lens. The viewfinder is bright, the patch is big, contrasty, and with sharp edges for precise focusing.
Being a rangefinder, the Mamiya 7ii has a close focusing distance of about 1m. The widest it goes is f/4, so you can say goodbye those stunning 3d portraits. You just have to accept that Mamiya 7ii is just not a portrait camera (any camera can do environmental portraits). It also has other usual disadvantages of an RF system like parallax errors, the need for external finders for certain lenses, the RF going out of alignment, etc. But I have been lucky and only had to adjust the RF once when I took the camera out of the box (which I did myself).
Oh, and you miss some shots by accidentally leaving the lens cap on (purely user error). There is no ‘lens cap on’ warning like some metered’s Leicas. So, I got some B+W filters on my lenses and leave them uncapped. It does warn you about an uncocked shutter, under and overexposure, aux curtain closed, etc.
It’s no tank but contrary to popular belief, the Mamiya 7ii is not a fragile plastic thing (stop it, Ken). It has a metal skeleton with a plastic outer shell. Being a fairly modern camera, you will get newer electronics too. Oh, and remember, you can also shoot 35mm with a panoramic adapter with in-camera film rewind.
Is the Mamiya 7ii the perfect camera for everybody? Absolutely not, especially with its price driven up by the almost cult status of the camera.
But it is the perfect camera for me.
But what about the portraits I hear you ask? Well, that is the compromise I must make in return for a lightweight, ergonomic, 6×7 travel camera with interchangeable lenses. Personally, I think it is a good compromise. I did try out both Plaubel Makina 670 and Fuji GF670 but ultimately went with the Mamiya 67ii for interchangeable lenses and some other reasons. In short:
For: Lightweight body and lenses, ergonomic, super quiet leaf shutter, aperture priority/AEL, exposure compensation, superb optical quality lenses, all the advantages of a range finder system
Against: PRICE (Mamamiya!), all the drawbacks of a rangefinder system, the price, electronically dependant, the ridiculous price of the camera, the snobbery that comes with owning one, and did I mention the price?
Thank you for reading and now go spend your money on an expensive camera that will almost certainly make you a better photographer… 😅
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