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.)
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.
At this point I have used this camera system exclusively for three years. Here are it's commendable features:
- Light, compact body
- Ability to use a power winder or swap in a compact hand crank
- Collapsible waist-level finder, which I love using
- Reasonably bright, interchangeable focus screens
- Film back includes a slot for the dark slide
- Large selection of inexpensive lenses
- It's an SLR—accurate field of view
- ISO dial functions as handy reminder
- Interchangeable backs
- Takes alkaline 6V batteries (K28A/4LR44)
- Clear mechanical controls
There are several aspects to the design of the Mamiya 645 which are less than ideal, in my view:
- Shutter release button on body can be awkward to reach
- Loud focal-plane shutter that has a audible ring after releasing
- Adapter (or power winder) is required to use a standard cable release
- Cable release bypasses the self-timer (Pro)
- Power winder is noisy, especially at the end of a roll
- Lenses require a surprising amount of care to attach
- Lenses are not weather sealed
- With age lenses tend to develop stiff focus operation
- No visible or audible indication that the dark slide is still in (it simply won't fire)
- Shutter and aperture set in full-stop increment only
- Focal plane flash sync speed of 1/60
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.
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:
- "N/L" lenses are auto-cocking if connected to a WG401 power winder
- WG401 power winder automatically sets the focal plane shutter to 1/8
- Fully mechanical leaf shutter mechanism
- The focal plane shutter can be selected at any time by moving the shutter ring to "F"
- As with all other M645 lenses, they are forward and backward compatible
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:
- Since the focal plane shutter must be set to 1/8, battery operation is required even for the 645 Super (I have not tested this)
- Without the WG401 power winder and the Pro body (and the cable in between) the camera will not stop you from taking a blank frame if the shutter is not cocked
- AE prism cannot set the shutter speed
- Cable release on lens has no discernible use case
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.
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:
- Folds down and back up easily
- Compact and light weight
- Magnifier flips up and down easily
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:
- Instant on
- Spot or average metering
- Accurate in most conditions
- Overlays a blinking number when setting shutter speed manually
- Exposure compensation dial
- All number flash to indicate that the dark slide is still in