About a year and a half ago I finally bit the bullet and bought my very first medium format camera, a Mamiya 6 MF. I found a screaming deal on the camera and 75mm lens at my local shop, and I just couldn’t pass it up.
After looking for a medium format camera system for a long time, the perfect one fell neatly into my lap. That’s how I became the proud owner of a Mamiya 6 MF, the greatest medium format camera ever made and the mid-1990s successor to the Mamiya 6, which was released in 1989.
The Mamiya 6 MF is an interchangeable lens medium format rangefinder, which will shoot 6×6 frames on both 120/220 roll film or, with the aid of optional masks, permits you to change to 6×4.5 medium format and panoramic format 35mm film.
More on all that a bit later. First, here it is…
Let me be clear before all the Hasselblad purists come after me with pitchforks and torches: I believe that the Mamiya 6 MF is the best medium format camera ever created …for me.
You see I had a specific list of requirements for a medium format camera system, and unfortunately, most other mainstream medium format camera systems did not satisfy them. If you’re interested in what those were and why I chose the Mamiya 6 MF, I’ve put those at the end of this review, but until then, let’s talk about the camera and system itself. Here’s what I cover:
Mamiya 6 MF look and Feel
It is another camera in the long list that may be accurately called a “plastic fantastic”. With a mostly plastic outer shell, plastic buttons and knobs, you may be inclined to shrug it off without a second look. Despite the materials used in its external construction, the camera body is incredibly dense and feels just as well built as the rest of the pack. The camera has most of the traditional “look” of a rangefinder, with a slim body and a lack of prism viewfinder (obviously).
With an all-black body, the design, while understated, is hard to miss, especially given its massive size and square shape. Unlike its big brother, the Mamiya 7 and 7II which were offered in a “champagne gold” color, the Mamiya 6 MF was available in any colour as long as it was black.
Size and Weight
Despite being a medium format 6×6 camera, the Mamiya 6 MF is significantly smaller and lighter than the competition. It weighs just over 40 oz. (1100-ish grams), and is approximately 6 x 4.5 x 4.5” with the 75mm lens extended and 6 x 4.5 x 3.5” (both WxHxD) with it retracted. Compare this to a Mamiya RB67 with a 75mm lens, which weighs in at just under 106 oz. (3000-ish grams), and is approximately 4x 5.5×9.2”. Take one look at these numbers, and you’ll see why, with one of my most important requirements being size and weight, the Mamiya 6 MF won almost instantly.
What’s the “retracted” bit in the paragraph above? The 6 MF also has one of the coolest features I’ve ever seen on a medium format camera system, maybe on a camera system in general: a retractable lens mount.
Yup, you heard that right, the lens mount retracts. With the push of a button, the whole mount and lens slide back into the main body of the camera, which makes it even smaller. Not lighter, because, you know, the conservation of matter and all, but oh boy is it nice when trying to put the camera in a bag.
I’d argue that the Mamiya 6 MF system is one of the smallest and lightest modern 6×6 – and potentially medium format overall – camera systems ever made.
Handling and use in the field
As I have mentioned, the Mamiya 6 MF is a manual focus rangefinder camera but due to its size, heft, and the heavily weighted focus rings on its lenses, don’t expect it to be as quick and easy as, say, a Leica.
Despite this, it remains easy to use in the field and is a well-handling camera. The camera has a built-in light meter with a centre-weighted averaging system that works through the viewfinder. If you’re using filters, you’ll need to know the filter factor in order to accurately expose. With a locking exposure compensation dial, it’s amazingly easy to make this correction, just set it and forget it, no need to worry about bumping the dial randomly. This lies just below the exposure dial.
Although the Mamiya 6 MF is a manual focus camera, it does have an option for aperture priority metering. Aperture is controlled on the lens, as is typical for a rangefinder, with a shutter speed dial on the top of the camera. This dial goes from 1/500s to 4s with a bulb option, and then two markings for A and AEL. These are the aperture priority modes.
You set the ISO/ASA and the aperture on the lens, and the meter, which appears on the left-hand side of the viewfinder, will pick your shutter speed. Honestly, most of the time I use the camera in aperture priority mode, altering the aperture in order to change both settings (aperture and shutter speed). It’s just that much quicker, to let the camera make the second adjustment for me.
Honestly, with the Mamiya 6 and Mamiya 6 MF, you can’t really beat it. Sure, you can nitpick and pixel peep scans all you want, but when it comes to real-world, useful image quality, you won’t find many systems with better lenses and stronger images. Images are sharp, with great micro contrast, and excellent color rendition.
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The Mamiya 6 / Mamiya 6 MF system
I should say, don’t confuse this with the original Mamiya Six 120 folding cameras from the 1940s and 1950s. The Mamiya 6 and Mamiya 6 MF have a limited but robust ecosystem surrounding them. As already mentioned, this Mamiya 6 MF was a revision to the Mamiya 6 and launched in 1994. If you can get your hands on either, do it.
The big difference between the 6 and the 6 MF is the “MF“, which stands for Multi-Format. Essentially, with the Mamiya 6 MF, you can get a 6×4.5 mask to insert into the camera (don’t, it’s really useless). The mask sits horizontally in front of the film plane, meaning you literally get just as many shots as when shooting 6×6, just cropped down to a 6×4.5 aspect ratio. The camera also has a 135 panoramic adapter, which allows you to shoot 54x24mm panoramic images on 35mm film.
I wouldn’t normally get this because you can just crop the images later, but I like the idea of it because you can leave the mask out, and shoot through the sprocket holes. Sounds like fun to me! Still, if you don’t care about things and want a less cluttered viewfinder, just get the normal Mamiya 6.
The Mamiya 6 system includes interchangeable lenses, which is one of the reasons I was drawn to it. Rangefinders like the Fuji G 6×9 series are great, but their size instantly doubles if you have to carry two of them in order to have multiple lenses on hand. The Mamiya 6 system has 50mm f/4, 75mm f/3.5 and 150mm f/4.5 lenses to choose from.
You may think that that’s a pretty limited selection, but I’d challenge you to find a use for more than 3 lenses on a single outing. All three lenses are sharp as a tack with the same amazing quality. I own and use the 75mm (~45mm equivalent on 35mm full frame), as well as the 150mm (~85mm equivalent on 35mm full frame), though honestly I almost never use the 150mm.
There is also a close-up adapter for the 75mm lens, which puts a close-up diopter in front of both the viewfinder and the lens, but honestly, I don’t think it’s worth the $100 you’ll pay for it used.
All of the lenses possess leaf shutters, allowing the camera to sync with most flashes at its maximum shutter speed of 1/500s, another critical feature for me as I shoot frequently with off-camera flash.
Why did I choose the Mamiya 6 MF?
As I mentioned above, I had a few requirements for my medium format camera system and the Mamiya 6 MF checked all the boxes. Here they are:
The camera had to fit in the bags that I already owned and be light enough and small enough for me to actually want to use it. I used a Mamiya RB67 from my school before purchasing my Mamiya 6 MF, and it was just so heavy and clunky, that I didn’t actually ever want to use it. The Mamiya 6 and Mamiya 6 MF are light, small, and easy to use, with a comfortable grip, and a quick to focus viewfinder. Point to the Mamiya 6 MF
The Mamiya 6 MF compared to an old Rebel S that I had sitting on my shelf. The Mamiya 6 MF is not that much bigger, and so much better.
My medium format system needed to have strong image quality. If I wanted a small and light medium format camera, I could always go with a Holga, but then I wouldn’t have the image quality to justify it. Don’t get me wrong, I own a Holga and love it; but it’s just not what I need most of the time. The Mamiya 6 MF has some of the best image quality in the business (see the crop below), so another point goes to the Mamiya 6 MF.
I needed a camera with interchangeable lenses, non-negotiable. I also wanted a leaf shutter for flash sync capability. One more point to the Mamiya 6 MF.
As a student, a full Hasselblad kit was and is just too expensive. But I managed to snag my Mamiya 6 MF with a 75mm lens for just over $1000 in near-mint condition. The 150mm lens was just over $300 on top of that. Yes, I know that you can get an RB67 system for just over $300 if you’re lucky, but as with all cameras, it’s a balancing act. For $1000 you can’t beat the Mamiya 6 in terms of size and image quality. One final point to the Mamiya 6 MF.
I honestly didn’t think that I was going to find the perfect medium format camera (for me). I thought that I was going to need one camera for the field and one camera for the studio. Amazingly, however, I found what for me seems to be a perfect system. A small, lightweight camera, interchangeable lenses with leaf shutters and a cost of just under $2000 for the entire system of a camera and 3 lenses.
This is the Mamiya 6 MF; the greatest medium format camera ever created.
Mamiya 6 MF technical specifications
|Camera name||Mamiya 6 MF|
|Camera type||Interchangeable lens rangefinder|
|Format||120, 220 medium format roll film (12/24 exposures)
135 35mm film (20 exposures with kit)
|Manufacturer||Mamiya Digital Imaging Co., Ltd|
|Manufacture dates||1940-1960: Mamiya 6
1989-1993: "New" Mamiya 6
1993-1995: Mamiya 6 MF
|Lens mount||Mamiya 6|
|Lenses||Mamiya 6 G 50mm f/4 L
Mamiya 6 G 75mm f/3.5 L
Mamiya 6 G 150mm f/4.5L
60mm base length
34.8mm effective base length
|Viewfinder||x0.58 (83%) magnification
Automated frameline selection: 50mm, 75mm, 150mm
Shutter speed and exposure display
Safety interlock warning L.E.D.
|Shutter||#00 electronic leaf shutter; B, 4 to 1/500 second with electromagnetic release and lock
Internal "dark slide" for mid-roll lens change
|Metering||Aperture priority AE
Silicon Photo Diode receptor in viewfinder
ISO range: 25-1600 ISO
Metering range: EV 3.5 to EV 18
Exposure compensation: +2 to - 2 EV (in 1/2 EV increments)
|Flash||X-Sync (synchronized at all speeds)
Hot Shoe and PC-Sync socket
|Wind / Rewind||Single 185° wind-on stroke
Counter resets after black is opene
|Loading||Swing open back load with locking mechanism|
|Power||Two 1.5V batteries (SR44 or LR44)|
|Weight||900 grams (no lens)
1,150 grams (with 75mm lens)
|With 75mm lens retracted:
155 x 109 x 69mm (WxHxD)
6 x 4.5 x 4.5" (WxHxD)
With 75mm lens retracted:
155 x 109 x 106mm (WxHxD)
6 x 4.5 x 3.5" (WxHxD)
|Accessories||135 Panoramic adapter set
6x4.5 frame mask
Auto Close-Up lens (for 75mm lens)
Eye corrections diopters (-3 to +3)
Lens case (soft)
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