First Click

2014-M645-001-005

This is the first shot I took with my latest film camera purchase, a medium format Mamiya M645 Super. This film was in one of the film backs, with 5 exposures left, so I shot it first. The tonal range may be influenced by the film having sat in the camera for many years.

It took me a while to get over inertia and actually take a picture and it did not happen until I was out on a photo walk a couple of weeks ago with Gary of  FilmAdvance. He suggested, probably correctly, that I was reverting to type by making the first shot a detail from a First Nations totem pole. These three versions of the same shot include the full frame and two crops from the negative to illustrate the detail that is found on a medium format negative.

The camera is huge when compared to my go-to pocket camera, the Olympus XA/XA2. The film backs alone are bigger than those cameras, come to that so is the lens, so is the view finder and the you could probably fit two XAs into the body of the Mamiya. It is a very modular camera allowing for changing pretty much everything about it. There is a large selection of lenses still readily available on the second-hand market, several view finders, including a vertical one and one with light metering, a hand crank or a power winder, and backs can be had for 120 and 220 film, as well as Polaroid.

This pole is called Spirit of Lekwammen and this part can be found on Songhees, or Pallastsis, Point on the edge of the Inner Harbour across from the Legislative precinct. It was carved in 1994 by 11 artists as part of the Commonwealth Games and originally was over 180 feet tall – carved from a single cedar log. Later it was cut into shorter segments due to concerns about it being a hazard to the float plane traffic in the harbour, and nearby residents not liking the guy-wires obstructing their views. Some of the pole is erected at this location, the rest is at the Songhees First Nation community to the west. You can find out more about it here. I have added it to a map that I maintain of blog posts I make about First Nations markers and monuments in the Victoria area. You can find the map by clicking on this link and then click on the markers or legend on left to find the different locations which have links back to posts in this blog.

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I have only shot a bit of medium format film, and none of it through a good quality camera, so this is a real treat for me. The camera was being sold locally for a price that I could not pass up on, comes with two film backs, one with a 120 film cartridge and one with a 220 cartridge. The local second hand camera store had a 120 cartridge, which I bought so that there can be both a roll of colour and of black and white in action at one time since the backs can be swapped mid-roll. 220 film is next to impossible to come by now. It comes with an 80mm f2.8 lens which is roughly equivalent to a 50mm lens on a 35mm camera. The camera is manual but this one includes a power winder for advancing the film. My version of viewfinder has no light meter but is very bright and clear and focusing is very easy.

It feels remarkably different to take a picture with this camera. It is a solid weight at all times and feels as if camera shake is going to be much less of an issue as the weight dampens it out. It only shoots 15 frames on a roll of 120 film, so the act of taking a picture seems to require more careful consideration and framing. I find I look through the view finder and then lower the camera without taking a picture far more than I am used to with other cameras. And I feel a strong urge to take portraits when holding this camera. Even though heavy, it is very simple camera to use for someone familiar with SLRs and other smaller manual film cameras. I have shot two other rolls of colour film through it, both long expired, and some of the results are very pleasing. You will be seeing more from this camera, that I can guarantee.

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Mamiya M645 Super, 80mm/f2.8 lens, ISO400,  Ilford HP5+

shot on remainder of film found in camera when purchased, age unknown, ~10 years

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5 thoughts on “First Click

  1. Nice one!
    It is a different world shooting medium format and you seem to have rapidly home in on the ideal camera set up — one that has taken me ages to figure out: a medium format camera for shots that count, and a small, point-and-shoot for quick photos. That’s a great one-two punch.

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    • Thanks Gary! I think I had a little help from your “My Favourite Camera” series – it certainly has pointed me to a couple of cameras that I might have overlooked, and one of the those now resides full time in a coat pocket.
      Medium format was not really on my radar (other than a wistful far off wishing) until I saw this camera listed second hand for a price that I could afford, right when I had received payment for a job. I happened to see it right after it was posted, and responded immediately. There were others interested within a very short time, so I kind of lucked out with the timing too.
      Anyway, it IS a good combination, and a couple of extras (like a strap and possibly eventually a view finder with light meter so I can use filters without a lot of mental math, especially a graduated ND filter which is a bit hit and miss if not metering directly through it). That is another bonus for me – the filter thread size for most of the Mamiya lenses is the same as for most of the Canon lenses I have (58mm), which will save some serious money in terms of filters, and also means that they tend to be commonly available second hand.

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  2. There was a time when I was saving my pennies for a camera just like your Mamiya. My enlarger would take a 6/4.5 negative and I was looking for a larger format for greater detail. They were very expensive and I never did get one to replace my twin lens reflex, which was getting unreliable. Your camera is built like a tank and should give you years of service if the previous owner (s) took reasonable care with it.

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    • Thanks Ken. I spent more on this camera than any other second hand camera, but it cost considerably less than a moderately good digital point and shoot, in fact about half the price. It is kind of sad that such fine machines can be so undervalued now. The previous owner used it for a few weddings a year and bit of portrait work, but it shows no wear and tear other than a bit of a hit taken on the prism housing at some point. No rub marks, not tripod scratching, and so on. So I think lightly used, and not used at all for at least 10 years. It sure is nice to take pictures with it. I find I can talk people into letting me take their photos with it too, which I think is more likely with a large older film camera. People see it as more serious in some way. Makes it easier to ask, which perhaps all that is really going on.

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