The Mamiya 7II film camera
The Mamiya 7II is a special camera. It shoots film and uses some of the most outstanding lenses ever made… and that’s about all there is to it.
Most camera reviews try and tell (and sell) you all the great features which a camera has. Well this film camera has very few features and yet the Mamiya 7II is one of the best cameras ever made.
In fact for many specific applications, the Mamiya 7II is most likely the best camera in the world. Its exceptional optics and simplicity of use makes it a near perfect camera for ‘walk-about’ landscape and fine art photography.
The Mamiya 7II is a medium format rangefinder film camera. It makes a 6 x 7cm image on 120 or 220 rolls film.
What is a rangefinder camera?
The key characteristic of a rangefinder camera is that you don’t look through the lens, but through a separate window which has a range finding focusing mechanism built-in. This is coupled to the focusing movement on the lens itself. The benefit of this approach is that it allows for a more perfect optical design of the actual lens than has been possible in a ‘through-the-lens’ camera system. The result is the potential for a more technically brilliant lens, a very quiet shutter and a more compact overall camera system. The Mamiya 7II meets these objectives.
What is the benefit of a photographic film camera?
Film photography has some significant benefits. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with digital, film offers some unique advantages. I have written separately here as to Why I shoot film.
Benefits of the Mamiya 7II film camera
For me the perfect camera is no camera at all. The next best camera is the one that most gets out of your way… and the Mamiya 7II does this so well.
The Mamiya 7II is completely counter intuitive; less is more.
It is light, easy to carry, comfortable to hold, simple to use, very quiet and captures a spectacular image. It has no in-built smart software, few if any buttons and no complex menus. All it really offers you are a few simple basic exposure controls and a lens. There is nothing to distract you and the Mamiya 7II makes absolutely no attempt to make the picture for you. This camera is just a ‘dumb’ box with spectacular optics. If you’re a good photographer what more do you need?
I feel free and flexible when shooting with a Mamiya7II … this camera just gets out of the way and lets me be 100% in the environment I am shooting.
Whats more, by not having all the ‘smarts’ that most other cameras have, the Mamiya requires us to be good technical photographers. We are completely empowered and made responsible. What we don’t know we learn as we go. Therefore we become a better photographers over time. What a truly smart camera!!
It is worth noting that the view finder is excellent, very bright and clear. And that the Mamiya 7II is quieter than Leica M cameras. A great feature for street and candid photography. The shutter is vibration free during exposure and film loading and unloading is quick and easy.
The Mamiya 7II does its job perfectly. The rest is up to you.
Mamiya 7II Lenses
The heart of the Mamiya 7II camera system is its truly outstanding lenses. I own and use the 43mm f/4.5, 80mm f/4 and the 150mm f/4.5. There are a few others; the 65mm f/4 and 50mm f/4.5 which I hear are equally brilliant, and the 210mm f/8 which I hear is not worth buying.
These lenses capture images which are sharp and clear with the right amount of contrast. Your images on film will ‘snap’ and ‘pop’. These lenses are as optically perfect as you can get. Point them into the sun, do anything with them you will be very happy.
Built in light Meter
The Mamiya 7II has a built in light meter. I don’t ever use this. For all practical purposes this light meter is only a spot meter no matter what you might read. It works very well as a spot meter once you get used to it. My personal preference is to use a handheld light meter because I find it easier and more flexible. With a Mamiya you need to understand the zone system of determining exposure. This is worth learning. It is easy and it will help make you are better technical photographer. The camera’s spot meter does not read through the lens but through a separate window on the camera body.
The meter works in AEL or A mode. I use neither.
The built-in meter only reads to fullstops. This is not an issue if you shoot negatives, but is a consideration if you shoot positive film.
Other things to consider about the Mamiya 7II film camera
Like with any camera there are a few quarks.
- The viewfinder is polarised, so it hard to see through with some sun glasses.
- For some lenses you will need to use an extra external view finder.
- Parallax errors will occur when shooting up close; what your eyes see through the view finder will be different to what your camera sees. This is common to all rangefinder cameras.
- There is no removable film back so you can’t change film half way through a roll.
- You need to close the film curtain when changing lenses. Adds a few seconds to the lens change experience.
- You will shoot the back of your lens cap sometimes as you can’t see through the lens.
- When using an extra external view finder you will need to focus with the internal view finder then frame your shot with the external view finder. Its a pain but you will get used to it.
- There is a film plate on the back of the camera door. You need to swivel the plate around depending of whether you are shooting 120 or 220 roll film.
- Using external filters such as hard or graduated ND filters is tricky because you can’t see through the lens. I use these filters for all my landscape work and I don’t have any problems. I hold the filter in its filter holder up to the view finder, make the adjustment and clip the holder back onto the lens. It is not a problem for me.
|Mamiya 7II Specifications|
|Camera Type||6 x 7 format rangefinder with interchangeable lenses|
|Format||6 x 7cm (56 x 69.5mm with 120 or 220 roll film)|
|Multi-formats||Optional interchangeable panoramic insert mask yields 65 x 24mm (2.7:1) with 35mm roll film.|
|Lenses||43mm f4.5 w/optical viewfinder & lens hood, 67mm filter
50mm f4.5 w/optical viewfinder & lens hood, 67mm filter
65mm f4 w/lens hood, 58mm filter
80mm f4 w/lens hood, 58mm filter
150mm f4.5 w/lens hood, 67mm filter
210mm f8 w/lens hood, 58mm filter
|Shutter||Electromagnetic full flash synch lens shutter
4 sec. – 1/500 sec.
B X synchronisation at all speeds
Double exposure capability
Self cancelling self timer
SPD sensor in finder range: EV3 (f/ @ 2 sec.) ~ EV18 (f/22
@ 1/500 sec.) with 80mm f/4 lens at ISO 100
Film Settings: ISO 25 ~ 1600
Exposure Corrections: +/- 2EV in 1/3 step via Compensation Dial Aperture Priority AE or manual metering modes
Automatic parallax compensating
Automatic bright line selection (65mm, 80mm, 150mm)
Readout shutter speed LED indicator
Separate ultra-wide optical finder supplied with 43mm and 50mm lenses
|Power||One 6V PX28 alkaline or silver oxide (4SR44, 4LR44) battery|
|Dimensions/Weight||159 x 112 x 123mm (6.2 x 4.4 x 4.8″)
1210 g. (2.6 lbs.) with 80mm lens
Here is a video on the Mamiya 7II:
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Here are some other posts I have written which may be of interest to you here:
- What makes a photograph great?: here
- Interview with photographer Huntington Witherill: Some very good insights on what it is to be a photographer: here
- The importance of light in photography: here
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