Going Retro


Tim, Bromheads Jacket
Originally uploaded by DigitalHeMan.

Started this week off on a training course in the UK, and whilst using the frequent breaks to do a bit of browsing, realised that the price of medium format camera systems has dropped significantly since the last time I took a look. Of course this is primarily driven by the introduction of digital, not only in the consumer and pro segment, but also in the medium format/studio segment of the market. Although the cost of going digital in combination with brands such as Hasselblad or Mamiya is still way beyond the means of most photographers, it has made for a steady flow of bargain priced analog medium format kits making their way to eBay.

So I bought one.

The package arrived this Saturday, and I was amazed at what I had obtained with my meager outlay of less than 500 Euros. This got me a Mamiya 645 Pro body, an 80mm F/2.8 lens, and a 150mm F/3.5 lens, together with a waist level finder and a prism finder.

The kit can still be bought in the shops today, albeit an updated model, and would cost 6 or 7 times what I paid for it. And in it’s heyday would have cost double that again.

From first inspections it seems an incredibly well made system, totally interchangeable, and pro build quality. But compared to my Nikon Digital SLR system, it requires a completely different way of thinking.

It’s manual. Manual focus, manual film drive, manual exposure. And it doesn’t even have an exposure meter.

It’s big. Although fairly ergonomic (it fits into my left palm, and I can use the left index finger to focus the lens, which occurs oh so smoothly, and use the right hand for the shutter release and film advancement crank), it won’t be winning any prizes for portability.

It’s cumbersome. For example, loading a 120 film (remember that stuff?!) requires taking out the insert, manually winding a film onto the spool, putting it all back together, and then advancing to frame one by turning the crank 4 or 5 times. Then the opposite to unload the film again at the end.

Compare this to the fast focusing, fast shooting, and high picture taking rate of the digital world, and you have yourself a completely different kettle of fish. But although I have no intention of replacing any of my digital gear with this beast, I hope that it will find a place in my photography. I see the larger frame size as being an ideal camera for portraiture, studio, and landscape, and the deliberate slow down in taking pictures, and higher cost per shot, will hopefully teach me to think a lot more before I shoot.

I’ve shot a few test rolls, and it is a joy to use. Keep an eye out here and at Flickr for some of my first shots……

Now there are certain situations where I see no place for the Mamiya…..

The shot accompanying this blog entry was taken at a concert I visited last week by Bromheads Jacket, who were playing at Paradiso, Amsterdam. It was the second time I had seen them at this venue, the previous time being at London Calling, late last year, and this time they played in the ‘small room’, which benefits from, in my opinion, much better lighting than the main hall.

Bromheads are known to incite their crowds into fairly lively behaviour, and this concert was no exception. It was a pretty tough job keeping the camera steady whilst being pushed from side to side by the people in the mosh pit, but I was pleased with the results I achieved, which can be seen in the following section of my Flickr photostream.

At one point the lead singer, Tim, decided to go crowd surfing, and I was able to pop up the built in flash on the D200 (I normally never use flash at concerts, instead relying on available light) and chase him round with the rest of the fans, ending up with a shot that conveyed the mood quite well. Of course I would never have risked my camera in this situation when I only had the one, but now I have my second d200, plus a decent insurance policy, it doesn’t take a second thought 😉

Imagine doing that with a medium format system…….

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