About to leave for a three week trip to Australia, I scanned the 20
cameras in my closet. The 20-lens Canon EOS system beckoned. It is
flexible, reasonably small and lightweight, and fast thanks to
automated exposure, focus, and film advance. However, the last few
trips I'd taken with the EOS it transpired that the 50/1.4 lens stayed
on the camera 95% of the time. The extra 19 lenses stayed at home or
in the suitcase. If one is going out among the streets with a camera
and wants a normal perspective, the 6x7 cm negative produced by a
Mamiya 7 is a much more satisfying result. Because the rangefinder
design does not require a mirror or prism, the overall weight of the
Mamiya and 80/4 lens is similar to that of an EOS-3 with 50/1.4 lens.
Same weight, 4.5X larger negative.
What exactly is a Mamiya 7?
The Mamiya 7 is a lightweight rangefinder 6x7-format camera with
interchangeable lenses. It is probably the only 6x7 camera with
interchangeable lenses that is practical for travel or street
After a few rolls, I fell into a rhythm with this camera such that I had
a higher successful image rate than with the Canon EOS system that I've
used regularly for six years. The key to the Mamiya's
photographer-friendliness is that the camera's engineers must have read
Face, where Alan Cooper reminds programmers "No matter how
cool your interface, it would be better if there were less of it."
There aren't that many controls on the Mamiya 7 and it is therefore easy
to keep in one's mind the fact that, for example, exposure compensation
has been set to +1 f-stop. Because one's mind isn't occupied with a
raft of autofocus settings, it is easy to remember to remove the lens
cap before pushing the shutter release.
The only thing of which you must be careful is that you have the
120/220 pressure plate set properly. One twist sets both the pressure
plate and the film counter appropriately and a small window on the
camera back confirms the setting externally. However, it is best to
stick with either 120 (10 exposures per roll) or 220 film (20
exposures per roll) for an entire trip so that you don't have to worry
about finishing a roll only to find out that the pressure plate was
improperly set (resulting in unsharp images at wide apertures).
ArsDigita was expanding into 100,000 square feet of office space worldwide during
the Year 2000. Even a 20x24 enlargement will tend to get lost in a
large office and it is difficult to make an acceptable quality
enlargement from 35mm even at 20x24 much less the 40x40 and 40x50 sizes
that will hold a visitor's attention in an 8,000 square foot floor
office. I'd been printing mostly ancient images from my Rollei 6000 system, Fuji 617 (panoramics do well above
cubicle walls), and Linhof
4x5 field camera. I'd planned a trip to Guatemala to teach a short course
on Web application
design and wanted to create some wall-covering images while down
there. The only camera on the preceding list that I'd consider taking
on a casual trip is the Fuji 617.
Right before leaving, I borrowed a Mamiya 7 II system including the 43mm
superwide, 80mm normal, and 150mm portrait lenses. The photos that
you see illustrating this article were all taken in Guatemala.
Out of the box
Background: This is not a camera that you can just grab and go.
Before you change lenses you must turn a dial on the bottom of the
camera to close a light curtain. After fitting the new lens and
composing your picture, you invariably will have forgotten to press
the little release button to open the light curtain again. The camera
has electronic interlocks to prevent you from wasting a roll with
blank frames but the bottom line is that people who haven't read the
manual won't get very far with this camera.
What comes out of the camera? Images that are sharp, high-contrast, and
As with the Mamiya 6, the rangefinder is a joy to operate. The central
area is big and bright, vastly better than the Fuji rangefinders and
even a little better than the Leica M-series cameras.
With a rangefinder camera, what you see is not what you get. The Mamiya
7's viewfinder is wide enough to show you roughly what the 65mm lens
captures. Bright lines appear that are calibrated to the lens that
you've mounted (up to 150mm) and that shift down and to the right as you
focus closer (automatic parallax correction).
Framing remains a challenge, however. At infinity, the film captures
about 20% more than what is within the bright lines (i.e., you might get
a street sign that will have to be cropped out in the lab). Only when
the lens is focussed close do the bright lines correspond to what is
captured on film.
With the 43mm lens, taking a picture requires the following steps:
- focus using the standard rangefinder window
- set exposure or confirm that the autoexposure system is doing
something sensible, also from the standard rangefinder window
- move your eye to an accessory viewfinder mounted in the top-deck hot
shoe to see what the lens will see, sort of (no parallax correction)
Metered-manual use with slide film
This is a difficult camera to use with slide film in metered-manual
It might be more effective to work with the auto-exposure lock and the
exposure compensation dial. Then the camera will set the shutter speed
to within 1/6th of an f-stop. I was able to get consistently good slide
exposures working in this manner on a 7-week trip to Australia (which
started out as a 3-week trip; see
illness story for details).
- the aperture dials on the lenses are not equipped with half-stop
- an LED readout in the camera's viewfinder gives the meter's
recommended exposure, but only in full-stop increments.
Right Stuff makes a nice Arca-Swiss style quick-release plate for
the Mamiya 7, which eases tripod mounting. However, when the camera is
at eye level it becomes impossible to read the shutter-speed dial on the
camera's top deck.
The Mamiya 7 is a great camera. If you need higher image quality than
35mm, some flexibility as to lens choice, and portability, the Mamiya
7 is a faithful companion.
You can support photo.net by buying one now at Adorama
With the 150mm lens...
(note the armadillo being grilled above)
With the 43mm lens...
In beautiful Antigua, Guatemala...
The cemetery at "Chichi":
The market at Chichi:
The Maya city of Tikal...
Let's shift gears now, back to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. This has been
the subject of an earlier photo.net
exhibit but a new house in Chatham and the newly arrived Mamiya
created an opportunity to take some more snapshots. First, let's look
at the views from the house and deck:
Now the interior, mostly with the 43mm lens...
Where to Buy
The USA version of this camera is stocked by Adorama, a retailer that pays photo.net a referral fee for each customer, which helps keep this site in operation.
For additional retailer information, see our recommended retailers page and the user recommendations section.
PhotoCD scans by the good
Text and photos copyright 2000