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Mamiya 6 & 7 Rangefinders: A Brief Overview

Introduction

The Mamiya 6 and 7 rangefinders are two of the most popular cameras of the past few years, and their popularity will only increase in the years to come. Many have proclaimed the 7 and 7ii to be two of the best cameras ever made.

What is it about these compact 120 rangefinders that makes people so excited? Do they live up to the hype? Nico and Nuno are here to break down the systems and tell you all about them.

We’ll cover the Mamiya 6 and 7 separately, so be sure to watch both videos! Be sure to check out our Medium Format Overview to learn more about the 120 format that these two cameras use!

Mamiya 6

The Mamiya 6 is an interchangeable lens collapsing rangefinder system introduced in 1989. The 6 should not be confused with the line of folding 6×6 cameras produced by Mamiya throughout the 1940s and 50s. 

The 6 was a space age camera in the medium format space. By 1989, 35mm SLRs like the Minolta Dynax 7000 and Canon EOS 1 had made plastic bodies possible and mainstream. The medium format space, however, was a bit more hesitant to utilize plastic so intensively.

The Mamiya 6 sold for around $1,400 US when it was new, which is the equivalent of around 3,000 Euro.

Mamiya introduced the 6 alongside its entire lens lineup, which consists of a 50mm f4, a 75mm f3.5, and a 150mm f4.5. That’s around a 28mm, 43mm, and 85mm equivalent. All three lenses are rangefinder coupled, and bring up appropriate framelines in the viewfinder when attached.

More importantly, all three lenses are capable of collapsing into the body. Instead of a folding design like the older Mamiya Six cameras or the newer Fujifilm GF670, the Mamiya 6 goes for a collapsible design similar in concept to the old collapsible lenses found on Leica rangefinders. 

The difference, however, is that the Mamiya 6’s collapsing mechanism is inside the body rather than the lens. With this technology, the 6 is able to be even more compact than it was before.

It is already one of the most compact 120 cameras ever made, and one of the lightest as well. With the 75mm lens, the camera weighs in at 1150 grams. Compare that to a Pentax 67 with AE prism and no lens, which weighs 1880 grams. It’s clear why the Mamiya is an appealing medium format option.

Additionally, the Mamiya’s lenses all have built-in leaf shutters that fire up to 1/500th of a second. These leaf shutters are electronically-controlled, further lessening any chance of camera shake. It also means flashes can sync at any speed, including 1/500th.

These lenses are regarded as some of the best ever made. They’re sharp corner to corner and are able to be smaller due to the collapsing rangefinder design.

The Mamiya 6 comes with a built-in light meter as well as aperture priority auto-exposure. Simply select the aperture you want and fire away. The light meter will take an average reading of the scene and calculate from there.

The meter is based around the standard lens, so using the wide or tele lens may result in some exposure issues. The wide lens will not be metering the entire scene, and the tele lens will be metering outside of the image you’re trying to capture.

The meter only reads in full stops in manual mode, which may limit its usefulness. In auto mode, it is stepless.

To summarize, the Mamiya 6 is an ideal camera for lightweight 120 photography. It is lighter and smaller than almost any other camera on the market, even ones that shoot the smaller 6×4.5 format.

Mamiya 6 MF

A few years after the release of the original, Mamiya released the 6 MF. This is identical to the Mamiya 6, but with support for a series of adapters allowing for multiple film formats. This includes 6×4.5 and 35mm panoramic.

Unfortunately, the 6×4.5 adapter does not change the advance gearing, so it essentially crops the edges off of the frames to achieve the 6×4.5 format. It’s possible to achieve the same results by cropping, limiting the usefulness of these adapters.

Other than that, the 6 MF is the same camera as the 6. 

Mamiya 7

The Mamiya 7 is, externally at least, almost identical to the 6. It has the same plasticky exterior, although it was available in black and champagne. The 6 was only available in gray. There are a few more significant changes, though.

The first major difference is the format. The Mamiya 7 shoots 6×7 instead of its predecessor’s 6×6. The slightly larger negative makes a big difference for cropping and lens focal length, although it prevents the camera from being collapsible like the 6.

The Mamiya 7 still tops the charts of smallest 120 cameras ever, despite not collapsing. It has no match when it comes to weight and size in the 6×7 space. The Plaubel Makina 67 comes close, but doesn’t offer interchangeable lenses. The Fuji G690 and GM670 come close as well, but are considerably heavier and weigh more due to their metal bodies.

The second big difference is that the Mamiya 7 does not collapse. The part of the body that went in and out on the 6 is now rigid. This doesn’t cause many issues in handling, but the 7 is decidedly less flexible than the 6.

This design choice, however, allowed for a wider variety of lenses. The Mamiya 7 has lenses as wide as 43mm (~24mm equivalent) and even a 210mm f8 (~115mm equivalent). The 43mm lens in particular is very famous for its sharpness. Some believe it’s a copy of the original 10-element Zeiss Biogon design. The Hasselblad SWC uses a slightly simpler version of this same design.

All lenses couple to the rangefinder except the 210mm. The wide angle lenses (43mm and 50mm) require external viewfinders to achieve proper framing.

Also different from the 6 is the metering system. Whereas the 6 used an evaluative average system, the 7 has a spot meter. This requires precise positioning of the meter in the spot you want properly exposed, and then compensating appropriately.

It may also be helpful to meter multiple parts of the scene to decide what settings to use. Just like with the 6, the metering area does not change depending on which lens is attached. 

Mamiya 7 ii

A few years after the 7 released, Mamiya released the upgraded 7ii. The 7ii has built-in multiple-exposure control and a more robust darkslide mechanism for changing lenses mid-roll. Other than that, and some other minor quality of life features, they’re exactly the same camera.

Why?

So why are these cameras so popular? What makes them, especially the 7, so wildly popular today? It comes down to a few things.

The most important thing is performance. These rangefinder cameras simply create stunning images regardless of the lens used. The entire lineup is awesome.

The second reason is size. Medium format cameras can be bulky and heavy, especially ones that shoot the 6×7 negative size. The ones that aren’t huge or bulky are normally fixed-lens folding cameras or shoot a smaller format. There is no other camera that is as light and versatile as the Mamiya 7 with access to interchangeable lenses.

The third reason for the Mamiya’s popularity is simple; people with sway in the community says it’s great. When someone on YouTube or even a reviewer like Ken Rockwell says the Mamiya 7 is the best camera ever, there’s a certain percentage of their audience that will accept that as fact and want the camera for themselves.

After all, why wouldn’t someone want the best camera? Why would you settle for a camera that isn’t the best? It makes sense, even if it’s not true.

The Mamiya 6 and 7 offer functionality that few other cameras can. They occupy a unique point on the price-size-features matrix that make them intensely appealing. To many, this justifies the exceptionally-high price tag. If it still doesn’t feel like a good deal to you, keep reading and we can find an alternative.

Alternatives

There is no camera that can offer exactly the same list of features and benefits as the Mamiya 7. It seems to do everything exceptionally well. Here, we’ll discuss cameras that can compete with the Mamiya in one or two important areas.

Negative Size & Handling: Fujica GM670

I’ll get it out of the way; the GM670 is my personal medium format camera. I’ve had mine for two years now and wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s an incredibly unique camera with many of the features found on the Mamiya

Both are 6×7 rangefinders with a small suite of excellent interchangeable lenses. The Fujica lineup goes as wide as 50mm, which isn’t quite as wide as the 43mm found on the Mamiya. The Fuji (1745g with the normal 100mm lens)  is also considerably heavier and larger than the Mamiya.

Another blow to the Fuji is the lack of light meter. Even if you can attach an external meter like the Doomo Meter D, the Mamiya’s internal system is easier and faster.

To be fair to the Fujica, 6×9 was the intended negative size. Even with this, it’s still quite a bit lighter than many of the 6×7 SLRs out there. It’s worth checking out the newer GSW690 cameras as well, as their plasticky bodies are a bit lighter than the all-metal GM670 or GL690.

The Fujica also makes up for its large size by offering a front shutter button. This shutter rests perfectly underneath the shooter’s middle finger and makes hand-holding the otherwise-large frame quite a lot easier.

Size & Weight: Folding Camera

If you’re looking for the most compact, lightweight medium format options, something like a Zeiss Ikon Nettar or Super Ikonta may be up your alley. Their handling can be a bit archaic compared to more modern cameras, but their folding nature makes them even more compact than the collapsing Mamiya 6.

Even the original Mamiya Six rangefinders would be good options, since they fold completely and feature sharp lenses from the likes of Olympus and Nikon.

The caveats of this choice are the lack of interchangeable lenses, archaic handling, and possible issues with bellows. Over time, bellows may crease, have holes, or be otherwise damaged in a way that’s very difficult to repair.

Another caveat would be the lack of light meter, although this can be easily fixed with an external meter, like the Doomo Meter D. Most options, though, will be quite cheap compared to the Mamiya 7. There are a few special cases, however.

Plaubel Makina 67

The Plaubel is a worthy adversary to the Mamiya 7. Both are plasticky, compact rangefinders with tack-sharp lenses and built-in metering. The Plaubel does not have the AE capabilities of the Mamiya, though, or the interchangeable lenses.

What the Plaubel lacks in flexibility, it makes up for in quality. The 80mm f2.8 Nikkor lens found here is one of the best lenses ever made, and it’s packed into a compact, lightweight frame that feels sturdy without being a burden.

The Plaubel is also in a similar price bracket to the Mamiya 7, making the comparison more understandable.

Fujifilm GF670

The Fujifilm GF670 is a very modern folding 120 camera that can shoot in 6×6 or 6×7 modes without the need for an adapter. This camera can thus be seen as a direct competitor to both the Mamiya 6 and 7.

Unlike the Makina, which is a collapsible design, the Fuji is a complete folding design with a door to protect the lens when folded. This is not only a great safety feature, but also makes the camera quite a bit more compact.

Fujifilm announced the GF670 in 2008, and sold it until 2014, making it more modern than the Mamiya 7 and almost every other medium format camera ever made. Most GF670s are in excellent condition because they were not used extensively.

Fujifilm and Voigtländer collaborated on this camera and sold it outside of Japan as the Voigtländer Bessa III. These cameras offer aperture priority auto-exposure and are light, compact, and simple to use. The only thing the Mamiya has over the GF670 is interchangeable lenses. If you plan to only shoot normal lenses, the Fuji/Voigtländer is an interesting option.

Features: Bronica ETRS

We’ve covered the Bronica series in a previous blog post, but the ETR series is their 6×4.5 option. While it may not be the 6×6 or 6×7 of the Mamiyas, the Bronicas are some of the most compact 120 SLRS out there.

Bronica also made use of plastics to lessen weight, and their cameras offer a lot of the technology that makes the Mamiya stand out from other 120 cameras.

Their leaf shutter lenses can sync with flash at any speed, and their variety of grips, prisms, and accessories make handling an ETRS a wonderful experience. It’s possible to configure the camera exactly how you want it, which isn’t true of the Mamiya.

Of course, the SLR design is also a limiting factor. Despite shooting in a smaller format, the ETRS weighs 1346g with the standard lens, and even more if you add accessories. 

Overall: Bronica RF645

Our final alternative is another 6×4.5 Bronica. The RF645 was the company’s swan song, and takes many cues from the Mamiya 7. It has electronically-controlled leaf shutter lenses, rangefinder focusing, and auto-exposure capabilities. 

The Bronica can even compete with the Mamiya in terms of weight, coming in at 1110g with the normal lens. Overall, the Bronica seems like a great competitor and alternative to the Mamiya.

The main negative for the Bronica is its negatives. The 6×4.5 format just can’t compete with 6×7 in terms of image quality and depth, even though the Bronica is more economical with film.

In many ways, the Bronica take’s the Mamiya’s features a step further. It has programmed auto-exposure, a step up from the Mamiya’s aperture priority. It has an automatic darkslide instead of the Mamiya’s manual system.

As noted by Bellamy of Japan Camera Hunter, the Bronica’s release date was a major part of its commercial failure. Its 2000 release date  was too late to have a significant impact on the film market, and too early to be a unique alternative.

The Mamiya 7, for example, came out in 1995, and the Fujifilm GF670 in 2008. 2000 was the perfect time for digital technology to overshadow an excellent film camera.

Conclusions

While the Mamiya 7 may be one of the most hyped medium format cameras on the market, it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t deserve it. Many other hyped cameras are outclassed by others or are valued for reasons beyond their capabilities, but this isn’t the case with the Mamiya 6 and 7.

There simply are no other cameras that offer the experience of the Mamiya 6 and 7. Only the Bronica RF645 comes close to being as light, compact, and advanced, but it doesn’t have the large negatives of the 7 in particular. 

If you’re looking for a 120 rangefinder, and price is no option, the Mamiya 6 or 7 cannot be beat. No other camera offers the same combination of features, lenses, size, and weight. 

Filmi, Technical/Educational

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