Hi everyone, Azriel Knight here, and on this episode, I'm going to give you my first impressions on the Mamiya M645.
[Days of Knight Groove]
The Mamiya M645 is a medium format camera and there's a lot of variants on it, mine is the 1000S. The 645s are modular, you can switch from a waist level to an eye level, you can add a grip to it, you can change the winder, you can add a power winder, all sorts of stuff. So, before I get to my field test, I should let you know how I kinda got here into searching for a medium format camera. I don't actually have much previous experience other than the Yashica Mat 124, and this probably isn't going to be a popular opinion, but I hated the square format. So when I sought this out, I actually had to make a conscious choice of what kind of medium format camera I wanted, because up until now, I had just shot whatever came my way through garage sales and thrift stores and all that kind of stuff. So, there are a few credentials that I wanted to make sure that I had, and first and foremost, I didn't want the square format. I wanted something semi-compact, so when I was looking at the RB67, it was not only out of my budget, but it was out of my, we'll call it 'weight class', so this was compact enough as far as compact goes in medium format, and the 645 ratio meant no square images. Also, it fit perfectly in my budget. Of course, one of the main reasons that I got this camera was a bump in image quality, not just in the darkroom, but with my scanner as well. Being that I can only scan in at a maximum DPI of 1200, this might sound funny, but I also wanted to take fewer shots. If you watch my old episodes, you notice that I can never finish a roll, and I'm not one of those guys that can go out and shoot multiple rolls on his commute, and I'm not one of those guys that can shoot half a roll and then put the camera away for a couple of weeks. Think of it like fishing: you go and you fish and you catch that fish and you want to bring it home and you want to gut it and clean it and cook it and eat it right away. You don't want to go and fish and then bring it home and stick it in the freezer, I mean, yeah sure if you catch multiple fish, okay this analogy is getting a little out of hand. What I mean is, I want to take the shot, bring it home, process it, and then let it hang dry and then immediately either scan it or go in the darkroom. I like having that whole process, of course that's over a day or two, but it's not over weeks and you know, I guess I wouldn't have this problem if I was one of those people that just shot, shot, shot, but I find myself more methodical these days and pretty selective with what I want to shoot and what I don't, and I think the bump in quality and being able to finish off a roll in 12 rather than 36 or even 24 fits my shooting style a lot more. So for my initial field test, I went to a small town called Irricana, Alberta, let's take a look.
Okay, guys, I made it to Irricana, Alberta without a hitch, it's a small town population approximately 1200 people, today's election day, so things are a little bit more busy than they probably normally are. So, yeah, my plan is a simple one: I'm just going to walk around town, shoot what I find interesting, and also I want to get an overall feel for its weight, its handling, its advancement, how easy it is to change film on the fly; I feel like this is the first time in a long time where I've been intimidated by a camera, so yeah I'm looking forward to seeing what I can come up with.
Okie dokie, almost finished my first roll. I'm on shot number 11, what I'm going to do now is head back to the car and regroup. I'm in someone's way, there we go. I'm sure I'm sticking out like a sore thumb right now, with a big gimbal and beard and hoodie. I kinda look like a short, chubby Jedi. Okay. I'm back in the car, I finished off the roll. I found this fire hydrant of Sylvester from Looney Tunes. I don't know how I missed that at first. So I've now had a chance to kinda relax and have a nibble and recaffeinate myself. Also, I've had a chance to switch out the rolls, so what I did is I put in my Ilford FP4+, because it's honestly my favourite film right now, and moving forward, I'm probably going to be shooting a lot more rolls of that. Okay, so I hit the strip of Irricana pretty well, yeah I spent my entire roll on it, so I'm gonna drive around town a little bit, which won't take long, there's like six streets. See what else I can come up with. If it's a bust, I'm going to move onto another town. Okay, so as expected, I shot all I wanted to shoot here, so I'm going to head off to the next town now.
Okay, so I'm twelve minutes North of Irricana, in a town called Beiseker. I was here last October, not for an episode or anything, but there was a couple really neat things that I photographed here, including this abandoned gas station. Also, as you just saw, while I was driving around, I came across a train, so I got out and snapped some shots there. I don't know, I think I got four or five shots, but at any rate, yeah, I was really happy to have come across that, I've seen a couple trains this morning, but just at the wrong times. I hope those turn out. I mean, I hope they all turn out, but I dragged the shutter a little bit to try and get some motion, and then I also tried to freeze it, so I kinda got the best of both worlds there. Now I've got a classic car in front of me, and I'm going to snap a shot of that I think, and then I'm going to head down to that gas station and probably finish off my roll there.
Okay, that was a lot of fun, I definitely got the shots that I needed. Okay, I'm going to get these rolls home now, get them developed, and then I'm going to tell you all about what I think of the Mamiya 645.
Okay, so when I got back home and I developed the negatives, I immediately noticed some problems, and at first, while I was tackling those problems I thought maybe it was human error. But, spoiler alert, none of it was human error. The first thing that I noticed was that there seemed to be a synchronization issue at higher speeds. 1/500s and 1/1000s did not sync properly, so you'd either get a shot like this where one side seems to be strangely darker than the other, or you get a shot like this one where the image doesn't show up properly at all. It also didn't load properly, so the first two exposures were always missing, so I brought all of these issues up with the seller, and he replied very quickly and told me that he does not offer refunds, but he's very sorry about my experience. Now, the thing that you need to know about eBay and refunds is it only applies if I changed my mind or I said I found a better deal, it does not cover items not as described. And a non-functioning camera when it's described as a functioning camera falls into that category. On top of that, PayPal offers a 180-day money-back guarantee, and like it or hate it, it's a buyer's market. So, knowing that I replied, and I've got some notes here. I clearly stated in my auction that I do not accept returns. When you're dealing with vintage equipment, I do not have any idea how it will be used once it leaves my possession. So I said it's unlikely something happened during shipment because there's no external damage to the camera and there was no damage to the box. He goes on to tell me that the photos took that day of the camera were the same day that he posted it on eBay, and there are no shutter issues, but then he says I have had the camera cheat on me a frame here and there, but never consistently. If you have any experience with analogue camera gear, then you know that most cameras will require a CLA in order to work anywhere close to 100% of their original performance. And while I somewhat agree with this, normally that means that the shutter is off by an f stop and dadadada, I did not advertise this camera as mint or CLA'd, and you never sent me any question inquiring about any imperfections the camera may have. I'm sorry, but lying by omission is still lying, and it's your obligation to write any imperfections that you're aware of, so I said thanks for getting back to me with some more details, I appreciate taking the time to reply so quickly, and dadadadada. Shutter speeds being off is one thing, but misfiring an average for me of two frames every roll is not what I would consider working. The fact that you knew it misfired and didn't mention it makes the ad inaccurate and misleading, whether on purpose or not. After that he offered me a $100US refund, I turned it down, I told him that the cheapest replacement was $126USD, he sent me $130USD and Bob's my uncle, it was over. Let that be a lesson to you for buyers, even if they say no returns, if they say it's working, and it's broken, don't worry about it. Get it anyway, you're going to get your money back, and as a seller, you have to be really confident in selling that camera as a working camera. My replacement body I bought from KEH through eBay, and as I record this, it's at the local distribution facility, it should be here in the next day or two.
Here are some highlights from my day. I still wanted to show you these because even though I had a faulty camera, I can still talk about my experiences. All my issues happened with the development and not with the actual use of the camera itself.
I was going to talk in terms of just pros and cons, but I can't really compare it to other medium format cameras because, you know, my experience is mostly box cameras, so I would say that I have to come at it from a 35mm experience, and obviously I like the bump in quality. I thought it was way easier to load those 120 inserts than I was expecting. Though, I am concerned about dust. When I was in the car, changing the rolls, you know, I had it in my lap and everything, I thought how much dust am I going to suck into this thing in between rolls, so I'm assuming there's probably something out there that'll let me put multiple inserts in a box and then maybe I can preload it with film, and then when I'm out in the field, I can just pull one out and pop the next one in. I'm sure there's something like that out there. Obviously the weight is a serious issue, this camera with this lens is 1.76kg (3.88lbs), and to give you an idea, my 5D Mk II with 24-105mm is 1.6kg (3.53lbs). I've solved this weight and bulk issue by using an R strap, but I find I still have to hold onto it, otherwise, it'll spin around on my hip as I walk. I'm assuming that wouldn't happen with, say, a longer lens. I'm very happy with the eye level finder even though its metering isn't perfect. I wanted to make sure I had a meter, and as far as I know, the waist level finders don't, and I didn't want to be carrying an external meter around with me all the time. The tonal range is fantastic, the lens quality is better than I expected. I would consider changing out the winder to a crank one, I heard you can get crank ones or different kinds of levers. I find this a little on the flimsy side, and it just kinda sticks out. Despite all of those issues, I still had a fantastic experience with this camera. I think if there was anything that I didn't like about it, I probably would've just sent the whole thing back to him and ordered something else. But I didn't, up until the negatives were giving me issues. This was 100% for me, this is going to be my main medium format camera moving forward. I do plan on investing in a wide angle lens because I love shooting wide angle, but for now the 80mm, which I hear is a 50mm equivalent will do just fine.
That's all for now, I really hope you enjoyed this episode. If you did, please consider joining up with me on Patreon, through Patreon, I do things like early releases, postcard giveaways and newsletters. To learn more, go to patreon.com/azriel, and until next time, stay classic!
Transcription by Tim Peters (Gemista)