Me and my Mamiya 7ii

(50mm,(25mm equiv) - I turned to see this girl who was watching what I was doing)

On my crusade to find the perfect medium format camera over recent months, I think I may just have found the holy grail - The Mamiya 7ii.

Until recently, I had only been shooting film on the Leica M6 and a Rolleiflex for medium format.  Now I REALLY love my Rollei, don't get me wrong, but sometimes I struggle with the square format, I just find it difficult to 'see' in 6x6 format, therefore the search started for something a little more traditional format, but as usual I wanted a super lightweight camera (like the M6) that could deliver outstanding image quality...

As I am no expert on film cameras as have been purely digital for many years, I was unaware of all the options available, then I started to learn about the Mamiya 7ii, a rangefinder....lightweight, with 6x7 format....hmmmm....this sounds too good to be true, so I started doing some more research, and it seems this camera is very highly regarded amongst those that use it.

The winner factor for me is size...its half the weight of a hasselblad, but has a bigger negative (6x7 as opposed to 6x6), and for me a more useable format.  The lenses are second to none in optical quality, they make my Leica lenses all look soft in comparison.  Granted, they are only F4 lenses, but this is not an issue with such a big negative size, and you cannot compare an F4 lens for this format to a 35mm format, as depth of field is not comparable.  In effect, your focal lengths of each lens are halved, i.e. an 80mm lens is approx a 40mm lens in 35mm format, therefore an F4 lens can give you a depth of field not too disimilar to F2 (hope this makes sense...)....This is one of the reasons they don't need to make faster lenses, if you had an F1.4 lens on this format, depth of field would be so slight that you would struggle to ever get anything in focus.

The lenses I use on this system are 50mm (25mm equivalent), 80mm (standard lens, 40mm equivalent) and 150mm (75mm equivalent), which I think covers all bases, wide angle and architecture, standard lens and 3/4 portrait/headshot lens.  All of this kit fits easily into a small 'Think Tank Retrospective 5' shoulder bag (the same bag I carry a 4/3 system in), and I am quite sure there is no other interchangeable medium format kit on the planet that can take up so little room and produce such big results.

Also worth noting are that the lenses use leaf shutters, which means near silent operation, and minimal vibration when shooting, hence handheld shots at lower shutter speeds are much more useable than with a DSLR rig.

(My friend Bernhard shooting inside Man Mo Temple - 7ii light meter coped easily with this scene)

I have read on some other blogs whilst researching that the Mamiya 7ii light meter is not the best, and not always accurate.  I can only speak from my own experience and that is the light meter has been spot on for me every time I used it.  I went and bought a separate light meter as I expected to get inconsistent results, however, after shooting a few films in different lighting, I can say that the meter is as good as any camera meter I have used before on any other system and gives me no reason to use an external meter in any situation I have been in thus far.

I shoot a lot on digital as I said before, and I spend a fair bit of time tweaking images with black and white conversions to get just the right look for that particular image in Lightroom 4 and Silver Efex Pro 2.  Thats fine and thats all very necessary with digital RAW files, however, something I love about using different films is they all have a very different aesthetic to them, and all the images you see here on this blog post are unprocessed, just scanned in on my Epson V700 using Vuescan software.  So these are as they appear on the negatives, which is what gets me excited, I strive to get similar looks to this with digital, and the truth is it just isn't posible to replicate it exactly.  For one, the dynamic range of film is far superior, keeping highlight details on film is simple compared to digital, which allows for far greater range in lighting in scenes, something i had forgotten about until my return to film, I really hadn't taken much notice of how much I was losing with digital images.  On a recent trip to Cambodia, a friend of mine shot a very similar image to the one below, he was using 5DIII, and the highlights on the metal roof were blown away if he exposed for the man.....the difference was quite apparent how much more dynamic range the film could handle in this light.

(Highlights were retained on the reflective roof)

(Another example of how highlight and shadow details are easily retained, and how sharp the 50mm lens is...)

I think there is room in all our camera arsenals to shoot both digital and film, digital will always be my standard method these days, for sure, but I like the way film images look, the different characteristics of each film, and perhaps the most important thing for me is the way I actually shoot when I use slows me down, right down.  With 120 film on the Mamiya you only get 10 frames per roll....thats not a you cannot shoot the same way as digital, you have to think much more about each frame, slowing yourself down, and that is always a good thing in my mind.  The other thing I love about shooting this is after I go home or back to the hotel if abroad, I put the camera and films away and relax....I don't then sit down in front of a laptop and start phase 2 of several hours of picking, rejecting, editing, isnt possible until the films are developed and I get some of my own personal time back too....its a win win situation.

(I shoot much slower with the Mamiya....thats a good thing....slowing myself down :-)

I have re-learned to develop my own film at home in the kitchen, which again adds an element of fun to the whole process...I probably trashed 25% of the first films i shot as I had some 'issues' loading films in a change bag, but this all adds to the experience, and just gives a very different feeling to the final images.

I had some prints made a few weeks back from the 6x7 negatives, and the results are nothing short of spectacular, the resolution, detail and sharpness I can see in these images cannot be compared to any digital 35mm system, its far superior in many ways.  Now I haven't used medium format digital so I can't speak for that, but one thing I know for sure is the cost alone of getting into medium format digital is no joke, and out of reach for many (myself included).

Here are some more samples from this amazing camera system, all scanned on the Epson V700 with no other corrections.

I have recently discovered the Contax G2 also.....another amazing little camera, this could be the 35mm rival to the Mamiya in terms of quality.  My thoughts are that if you are a photographer currently shooting digital and what to broaden your horizons, then take a serious look at a small film camera.  You will approach your shooting in a different way, which can only enhance your experience.

Happy shooting!

(Fuji colour it)

(Behind the scenes on recent Cambodia expedition)

(Very slow shutter speed in low light - no problem for leaf shutters)

(The 50mm lens - 25 equivalent, perfect for interiors or close up wide shots)

(The 150mm lens - 75mm equivalent, ideal portrait lens on the Mamiya 7ii)

(Temple complex close to Phnom Penh - Cambodia)

(The Mamiya 7ii - the perfect rangefinder camera?)

Thanks for taking the time to visit our blog, if you like our blog and website, please ‘like’ us on our public Facebook page and share this story with your friends with the Facebook and twitter links below.  You can also subscribe to our blog via the RSS link below.

F8 Photography provides commercial photography and training across Asia, with workshops on Street Photography and other photography and video training courses, more details can be found via the ‘courses and workshops’ link and upcoming events via the front page of our website.

Guest post: Shooting film in Cambodia (Rocco)

Note:  This post is written and all photos by Rocco Paduano who attended both our Street Photography and Cambodia workshop over a period of two weekends.  Rocco is partial to film cameras as well as his digital M9, this trip he took both, this is his story. - Gary Tyson, Director F8 Photography.

(Playful children jump onto our Tuk Tuk, Leica M9, 35mm)

It was with great anticipation that I awaited being able to spend five full days in Phnom Penh along with Gary Tyson from F8 Photography, Ranjit, and Trevor Smith on a travel photography workshop in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

(The author, Rocco Paduano in Phnom Penh)

As a veteran of the Hong Kong Street Photography workshop, which Gary organised with Eric Kim, I could not wait to put some of the knowledge gained to test in and around Phnom Penh.  However, I did not want to just document random images of life in such a colorful city.  I wanted to be able to tell a ‘story’, and somehow begin to build some consistency in the types of pictures I was producing therefore I am hopeful that I am moving in the right direction.

(Taking a break from reading lessons at a local Wat for a photo, Leica M9, 35mm)(Giving back pictures was priceless, Leica M9, 35mm)

Cambodia is a daunting place to say the least.  As one of the poorest South East Asian nations, ravaged for the better part of the 20th century by different conflicts, it was witness to one of the single most brutal acts of genocide humans ever inflicted on each other.  One reads about the rule of the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1978, and one can only imagine what the Cambodian people had to endure in the name of totalitarian ideologies.

(Pictures of genocide victims at Tuol Sleng S-21, Leica M9, 35mm)(Interrogation room at Tuol Sleng S-21, Leica M9, 35mm)(Confinement cells at Tuol Sleng S-21, Leica M9, 35mm)

However, today the country is young (approximately 50% of the population is below 22 years of age), full of hope, and full of smiles.  As photographers seeking to hone our skills and to explore a life beyond our own, we were always welcomed with a smile and a “hello”, mostly by people living on the fringes of society.

(Young child from a poor neighborhood near Phnom Penh train station, Leica M9, 35mm)

I originally envisioned doing most of my shots in black and white, in good old ‘street photography’ style.  However, I soon realized that ‘street photography’ takes on a whole new meaning in Phnom Penh.  People pose for you.  They want their picture taken, thus making the whole notion of ‘street photography’ much harder to define in the usual context.  We migrated towards a photographic style that was more ‘documentation’ (or as Gary would call it, ‘environmental portraiture’), than candid ‘street photography’.

(Street fruit vendor, Leica M9, 35mm)

Amazingly, while shooting in poor neighborhoods, we all realized that we were inundated with color.  From the shadows cast in tight alleyways, to the color of the unpaved roads, and that of the clothing worn by the people, it did not seem as if we would be doing any justice by capturing these images in black and white.  I shot digital with an M9, and film with an FM3a.  Although I took many shots with the M9, I found that the pictures that talked to me the most came from the FM3a.  Color slide and black and white films have characters of their own and add a unique personality to the image (assuming the exposure is correct).

(Making sarongs the old fashioned way, Nikon FM3a, 50mm, Kodak BW400CN)

(Old villlage woman, Nikon FM3a, 50mm, Kodak BW400CN)(Ferry boat hand, Nikon FM3a, 50mm, Kodak BW400CN)

 Our trip started out just right, as we congregated at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club along the Mekong River; a place that has hosted numerous war photographers as they documented Cambodia’s turbulent history.  There was no shortage of inspiration as the walls of the FCC are covered with past and present images of Cambodia and its people, through war and peace.

(The author Rocco (right) with RJ in the Tuk Tuk out looking for photo opportunities)

(Gary and Ranjit taking a break with the Captain whilst crossing the Mekong, Nikon FM3a, 50mm, Fuji Velvia 50)

With that, we embarked over the next five days into outings that would surround us with a reality somewhat foreign to us.  Between poor city neighborhoods, Wats and Buddhist monks, villagers and farmers on the outskirts of the capital, there was no shortage of smiles, new friendships, and plenty of experiences.  There was, however, a shortage of photo paper and photo ink, which was rectified by a quick visit to the local Canon supplier.  Being able to give an instant print of the pictures we were taking allowed us to give something back to the very same people that gave us so much visual inspiration.  It brought them closer to us, and allowed us to establish a connection with them even through our language barriers.

(Young monk, Nikon FM3a, 50mm, Kodak Elite Chrome 200)(Young village siblings, Nikon FM3a, 50mm, Kodak Elite Chrome 200)(Saffron tunics, Nikon FM3a, 50mm, Fuji Velvia 100F)

 Shooting in Phnom Penh was a totally new experience as to what I have been used to lately.  In Hong Kong people are less likely to pose for you, or even take the time to pay any attention.  Thus, ‘street photography’ takes on a different style; furtive and stealthy, candid and more likely to be black and white.  There are a lot less smiles in Hong Kong, and a lot more chances of a ‘confrontation’ with someone that does not want their picture taken.  It is a stark contrast to what we were faced with in Phnom Penh, where people with relatively little smiled and were happy to share a sliver of their lives with us.

(Old village man, Nikon FM3a, 50mm, Fuji Velvia 100F)(Proud father, Nikon FM3a, 50mm, Fuji Velvia 50) (A great way to end the day! Nikon FM3a, 50mm, Fuji Velvia 50)

As we returned to Hong Kong, I am sure all of us contemplated the past five days.  Phnom Penh and its people certainly left a mark, and gave us a different perspective even on our own reality.

Final note from F8:

Gary, the Director of F8 has also written a blog post about his experience, that can be seen by clicking here.

Another of the workshop attendees, Trevor, has also written a blog post about his experience, you can read that here.

Also, Gary's assistant RJ wrote a blog post about the same trip, that can be found here.

Thanks for taking the time to visit our blog, if you like our blog and website, please ‘like’ us on our public Facebook page and share this story with your friends with the Facebook and twitter links below.  You can also subscribe to our blog via the RSS link below.

F8 Photography provides commercial photography and training across Asia, with workshops on Street Photography and other photography and video training courses, more details can be found via the ‘courses and workshops’ link and upcoming events via the front page of our website.