Ratical : Analog Photography

Mamiya 645 Super/Pro

For the most part, the Mamiya 645 Pro and 645 Super are functionally identical. The major difference is that the Super allows you to shoot without a battery at a fixed shutter speed of 1/60 and the Pro has a self-timer. The self-timer makes the Pro more versatile, but I never cease to be amused at the ability to run in a purely mechanical mode.

Perhaps most notable is that they did not hold their value so they are inexpensive. This is a feature, because you can buy two of them! (Update: in late 2017 the prices for were very low, as of 2020 the going rates appear to have doubled.)

Comparing 645

The first notable feature of the Mamiya 645 is that it exposes 6x4.5 frames. The area for medium format is not quite 6cm wide—subtract a 2mm from each side to get the actual size.

35mm negatives are famously sized at exactly 36x24mm or a 3:2 aspect. The 645 format is 56x41mm which is very close to 7:5.

While artists such as Michael Kenna make superb use the square 6x6 format, I prefer composing with a rectangle. One of the subtle elements of style that a photographer develops is work in a particular aspect; I happen to like the proportions of a 5x7 print.

Features

At this point I have used this camera system exclusively for three years. Here are it's commendable features:

There are several aspects to the design of the Mamiya 645 which are less than ideal, in my view:

The hand-crank works flawlessly, but with the power winder there is a trap: to start a new role of film press the shutter button; if you move the power on/off switch to "Start" it will sometimes wind through the entire roll of film. (Use Start to calk a leaf-shutter lens if you'd like.)

While I would prefer a camera that is nicely damped like a more modern SLR, those around me never seem to be distracted by the noise.

"C" and "N" Lenses

The two generation of lenses are also nearly identical, but with one important change: the older "C" lenses have a longer focus throw, and the newer "N" lenses are much shorter.

In 2000 Popular Photography tested some Mamiya lenses, and found that they are sharp at wide open and fully stopped down. Depending on the aperture they are able to resolve between 43 to 73 lines/mm. This closely matches the resolving capabilities of Provia 100F, which according to Fujifilm retains 1.6:1 contrast at to 60 lines/mm.

"L" Lenses

The leaf shutter lenses are an interesting feature in the Mamiya 645 system. It nice that these are an option, but the implementation is strange because the lens mount was not designed with them in mind. Here are some of the nice features about them:

To test flash sync, trigger the leaf shutter by flipping the mirror up (M.Up). This is a very handy feature! I wonder how many film cameras force you expose a frame in order to test communication with a flash.

This must be the only camera that employs a cable to communicate with a lens. Finding this cable can be is a problem. There are also some pitfalls:

This is a lot to keep in mind if you're just trying to take pictures! Still these are great lenses, and all shutter speeds (30, 60, 125, 250, 500) are accurate in my testing.

Finder N

The waist-level finder is a delight to use, although there is no AE. The magnifier is mounted on a plate that covers the entire chimney, even bright sunlight does not interfere. Other things I like about it:

For me the major advantage is that it's possible to monitor the distance scale on the lens and the composition is close succession. For me the distance markers are a critical guide for pulling focus.

Unlike some other brands, Mamiya sold a lot of waist-level finders, so you can find one.

AE Prism Finder

The FE401 Prism Finder is compatible with the Pro only—you must use the older AE Prism Finder to use with the Super. When you press the shutter button slightly it will indicate a shutter speed on the left-hand side, or two shutter speeds to indicate that it has slected a ½ stop. AE Lock is easy to use. It's a little heavy, but well designed:

Last updated on January 27, 2021