*** This is a gear related post intended for photographers, so it will probably won’t make sense to you if you aren’t acquainted with this equipment. Feel free to skip this one if you just came here to look at pictures. 🙂 ***

Medium Format Film Camera and Lens Comparison

I’ve been wanting to compare medium format film cameras for a while. So when the opportunity came up to rent a Contax for the first time, I decided to round up some gear from some nearby friends and do a little test shoot.

This comparison isn’t perfect my ANY means. Most of these images are 1 shot out of 1 attempt, since the film and developing was coming out of my own pocket. Some aren’t totally in focus, some exposures and color balances aren’t perfect, and some are totally missing because of a shutter issue, but I did the best I could. Oh, and I definitely won’t be using all the correct technical terms.

Important Notes:

– This test is meant to be more a test of depth-of-field, bokeh, and distortion. Color, contrast, sharpness and vignetting are going to be subjective since these scans were edited to try and match each other.

– All of the medium format images were shot wide open @ 1/60th of a second (except for one or two that accidentally got bumped to 1/125). I didn’t plan to keep all the shutter speeds the same, I was just pretty low on light in this location on this day. The images shot with the Canon 50L are all shot at f1.4.

– All of these images were shot on Portra 400 and scanned on Frontier. The 645s and 35mm were developed by Miller’s and self-scanned and edited, and the 67s were scanned as basics by the FIND lab and edited in Lightroom by me.

– I used two different versions of the Pentax 105mm lens. On the Pentax 67 I used the Super-Multi-Coated Takumar version, and on the 645N I had the SMC version with Fotodiox adapter.

– I used the 75/2.8A lens on the Pentax 645N, which is not autofocus (but I’ve heard the optics are the same) and I used the 75/2.8AL on the Pentax 67.

– The Pentax 67 is a 67. Not a 6×7, not a 67ii.

– The Mamiya only had 3 images come out because of a bad shutter, but I’m including the ones I have. If an image taken with a particular lens is missing, it is because of this issue or it was too out of focus or had motion blur, etc.

– This test was my first time ever using a Contax or Mamiya 645.

– I personally have the most experience with the H1.

– Costs are estimated based on what I could find currently on Ebay. Currency is in USD.

– My friends here are a (very patient) real couple. 🙂

– Everything here is my opinion and there are certainly many more experienced film shooters than myself, so definitely do your own research before making any decisions about these cameras and lenses.

Here is the complete gear list:

Medium format film camera comparison | Leanne Vice  www.leannevicephotography.com

Pentax 67 with:

     – ISCO 110/2 modified by The Bokeh Factory

     – Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 105/2.4

     – SMC 75/2.8 AL

Pentax 645N with:

     – SMC 105/2.4 + 67 adapter

     – SMC 75/2.8 A

Hasselblad H1 with:

     – HC 100/2.2

     – HC 80/2.8

Contax 645 with:

     – Zeiss Planar 80/2

Mamiya 645 AFD with:

     – Mamiya 645 80/2.8 with AF

Canon Rebel G (35mm) with:

     – Canon 50/1.2L

Canon 6D (digital) with:

     – Canon 50/1.2L

Cost

The Pentax 645N is the cheapest coming in at around $350 for the body used on ebay (if you go with the non-autofocus 645 version it is even less) and $400 for the late model SMC 105/2.4 lens. The Mamiya 645 AFD is comparable at about $600-900 used, including the 80/2.8 lens. The Pentax 67 varies between approximately $300 – $1500 depending which model you get; the 6×7, 67, or 67ii.

The most expensive systems are the Contax 645 and H1. Right now you can usually find an H1 kit with 80/2.8 lens for about $2000. With the 100/2.2 lens it is at least $3000, and that’s if you can find the lens used for a really REALLY great deal. Hasselblad lenses are leaf shutter and they still work on the medium format cameras Hasselblad has coming out today, so they are extremely pricey. A Contax with Zeiss Planar 80/2 lens and Maxwell bright screen is going for around $3500 right now.

Size and weight

The Pentax 67 is by FAR the heaviest. It is about 5 pounds (2.3 kilograms) with the prism and 105mm lens.

The rest of them feel pretty similar. I’m going to guess they all weigh in between 3-4.5 pounds (1.4 – 2 kg), but it will of course depend on what lens you have on the camera as to how big and heavy it ends up being. These photos are each of the cameras I tested (minus the Canons) placed next to a 13″ Macbook pro and a US quarter.

All of the cameras are pretty comparable in size, but don't let that Pentax 67 fool you! It's a BEAST (though admittedly not as beastly as Mamiya 67s). All of the cameras are pretty comparable in size, but don’t let that Pentax 67 fool you! It’s a BEAST (though admittedly not as beastly as Mamiya 67s).

Loading

I actually timed myself at this (not rushing). The Pentax 67 definitely sucks the most to load. It ended up taking me almost 2 minutes to load it even though I own one. It is So. Freaking. Hard. for me to get the spool on the knob and unloading is not much better. To make things worse there are no removable inserts so you can’t avoid this awkward situation in front of clients unless you have a second body and a skilled loading assistant. I’m sure it gets better with practice but I don’t think I will ever enjoy loading this one. Ever.

The camera that took me the next longest to load was the Mamiya. I actually find the Mamiya/Contax inserts the easiest to load because the tab things pop out very nicely, but the Mamiya didn’t have a start line marking, and this was my first time using it so it threw me. Turns out you don’t have to line it up, it just “knows” where to start frame one so you can throw that roll in there all willy-nilly if you want. Both the Contax and Mamiya inserts have a nice “click” when they’re in place. The Mamiya took me just over a minute and the Contax took me 48 seconds.

The Pentax 645n took me 51 seconds, and I liked loading this one too because the tabs pop out. Though my time was technically the fastest on the H1 at 38 seconds, I currently own it, it is my main camera, and I frequently assist a friend who also has one so I’m the most practiced at it. I don’t love how the tabs don’t pop out on the H1, it’s annoying, but it’s easy enough to get over considering the amazing autofocus and it’s definitely not a deal breaker. The little spool image to remind you where to start is helpful.

Ergonomics

They all handled pretty similarly to me except for the Pentax 67. I’ve heard the ergonomics are much better on the 67ii version, but they aren’t THAT bad on the 67 in my opinion. For me I don’t think ergonomics alone is enough to justify the large price increase. Viewfinder brightness – maybe.

Shutter Sound

This is one thing you don’t think matters until you’ve shot with one of these cameras, and then you realize it does – especially if you are wedding or street photographer and like to be somewhat sneaky.

The Pentax 645N definitely has the loudest, most distinctive/obnoxious sound. There’s no being sneaky with this one. Once, when I was shooting the one I used to own, I clicked the shutter and a passerby who wasn’t looking in my direction literally WHIPPED around to look at me and said, “Is that a Pentax?! I had one of those in the 90s!” Yeah. The best way I can describe it is a loud duck with a cough. Youtube it.

The next worst in my opinion is the Mamiya. It may not bother some people but I really don’t like the sound of this camera. It is hard to describe, but it is just weird. Not pretty sounding at all.

The Pentax 67 sounds basically like a loud smack. I don’t find it that bad.

The Contax sounds nice and it is fairly quiet.

The H1 has a sharp, refined shutter sound, but sometimes it will randomly change and sound a bit like breaking glass (or at least that’s what it sounds like to me). Sometimes that means your back isn’t all the way locked in and the film hasn’t wound to frame 1, and sometimes it may happen for no reason at all. It hasn’t had any effect on photos for me or my friend who owns one, but it HAS happened to both of us. It’s a little disconcerting, but thankfully that is all.

Viewfinder Brightness

The Hasselblad H1 had the brightest viewfinder, followed by the Pentax 645N. Combine that with the fact that both of these cameras have amazing autofocus and it makes these two systems really tough to beat in my opinion.

I found the Mamiya 645AFD and Contax brightness to be comparable (the Contax did NOT have a Maxwell Bright Screen, just the standard one), and the Pentax 67 is definitely the darkest. This is also something that is improved in the 67ii version. These images were taken with my phone and edited to level the lines, but nothing else was edited.

I think these photos are pretty accurate, or as accurate as they can be considering they were taken with an iphone, exposure settings weren’t locked, and light may have changed a little bit. I do think the Pentax 67 is a bit more difficult to see through than these photos suggest. The standard focusing screen has a brighter circle in the middle with a texture to it, and outside of the circle it is quite dim. It takes a bit of getting used to, and I definitely found myself favoring center compositions for a while with this one.

(click image to enlarge)

Overview

Pentax 67

The Pentax 67 definitely has some marks against it. It is super heavy, loading it is NOT easy, the viewfinder is dim, and the focusing screen is difficult to adjust to. I frequently forget if I have advanced the frame (you have to do it manually) and then go to take a shot only to realize I haven’t. Also, you only get 10 frames instead of 16, but it’s worth it in the additional depth of field you gain from having a larger negative. Somehow, this camera still fun to use even considering all the things you could count against it. I feel like I’ve gone back in time when I’m using it – in a good way. Life looks like a movie through this camera.

Also, it is worth noting that in my opinion, the newest SMC 105/2.4 lens is SO much easier to manual focus than the older Takumar versions. I’ve always found the 105 to be an awkward length and it has too much resistance for me to focus in any sort of hurry, but the SMC version glides really well and my keeper rate was way better than I was expecting. Also the Takumars are radioactive. So…there’s that.

Mamiya 645 AFD

I don’t really feel like I can give the Mamiya 645 AFD a fair review. The shutter was bad on the copy I used and only 3 frames came out, BUT they were all in focus so that’s good at least. I don’t love the way it sounds, but I do love how easy the inserts are to load. The autofocus is louder and a bit slower than the Pentax 645N, but it works well. I only had the 80/2.8 and I would have liked to have tried the 80/1.9, but I couldn’t find one anywhere nearby.

Out of all of the images I ended up delivering to this couple, none of the Mamiya images made the cut. They weren’t terrible, but they weren’t wonderful either.

Contax 645

I have heard all kinds of stories about difficulties with this camera. Contact points that gunk up and make the camera stop working, lousy operation in cold or damp weather, film flatness, and poor sharpness stopped down for group shots are the main complaints I have heard. Also, these cameras aren’t made anymore, so when you do have problems your options are limited for repair and spare parts are in low supply and very expensive.

I only had one for 3 days. The weather was in the 70s and 80s Fahrenheit and it was a pristine rental so, of course, I didn’t have any problems. I did shoot it wide-open at f/2.0 and I definitely had less in-focus shots than I would have liked, especially since I’m spoiled and mainly shoot with autofocus. In hindsight, I probably should have shot at f/2.8, but my interests were to test them all wide-open. Especially since a lot of people are considering the modified Zeiss 80/2 for Pentax 645, which has no aperture control and MUST be shot wide open.

I can definitely see that the Zeiss lens has character. But is it noticeable enough, in enough situations, to warrant the price and decreased keeper rate? I don’t know.

Pentax 645N

The Pentax 645N is such a strong system. Reliable, inexpensive, easy to load, great lens choices, a bright viewfinder and the option to get a Zeiss 80/2 modified for use on the Pentax 645N make this camera really hard to beat. If the SMC 105/2.4 was 645N native and it had autofocus, and it was a *little* bit quieter, this would be my favorite system for sure.

Hasselblad H1

I love this camera. It has the brightest viewfinder around, fast and accurate autofocus, BEAUTIFUL (and expensive) lenses, leaf shutter so you can use flash and strobes at even the highest shutter speeds…it’s awesome. Yeah, its expensive, but after you use it you can see why, and I don’t know if I could say that about some other expensive cameras.

Some downsides are that it has a max shutter speed of 1/800th of a second, but thankfully film does very well overexposed, and if you have a problem with it you can get an ND filter. Also, Hasselblads are still being made, so if you have a problem you can just send it to New Jersey and get it taken care of by the people who make them. Another cool thing is that you can use a digital back with the H1 if you want (the Mamiya and Contax both have this capability too, but I’m not super informed on the subject of digital backs and which brands are best, etc).

Finally, the H1 can be a little finicky at times, but it usually isn’t anything major. As I mentioned earlier, sometimes it will make some interesting sounds and sometimes the back doesn’t get all the way locked in and you just have to re-insert it. I think most issues are resolved with a firmware update, but any electrical errors are usually solved by taking off the lens and/or restarting the camera. The only other problem I’ve had is that if you manually change the ISO on the back because it doesn’t register the bar code, sometimes it is hard to get it to go back to reading barcodes again.

Final Verdict

I’m going to be shooting much more 35mm! Seriously why am I not shooting it more?! My Canon Rebel G is a $20 camera …the fact that it can even compete is incredible. It just goes to show that the lenses really do make the difference.

I *think* I may have gotten over my Contax envy?? I don’t know. I really do like the Zeiss, and the ones I was able to get in focus do have that special something. I just don’t know if I could rely on it professionally considering my keeper rate and the Contax issues. But it’s definitely pretty.

I still am deeply in love with my H1 + 100, and I really love how nice and flattering portraits look at that focal length.

The 75mm f2.8 AL lens for Pentax 67 is really sharp, can focus SUPER close, and has VERY noticeable distortion.

Digital: I had to tweak these for so long to get them this close and I still vastly prefer the film. Some are definitely better matches than others, but I highly doubt I would have ended up with these edits if I didn’t have the film images as a baseline.

I need to sell my Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 105/2.4 and get an SMC 105/2.4 STAT.

…and now the part you are really wanting to see.

Example Images

 

I hope you found this post helpful and I am curious to hear which images you prefer from each setup! I am sure it will vary from person-to-person. I know I am a visual learner and this experiment was really helpful for me.

Thanks to Contax Rental, The Bokeh Factory, Jenna Henderson, Kristin Sweeting, Scott Weber, and Jamie Clayton for their efforts and generosity to make this happen and of course my awesome models Erin & Aaron Dendy!