I’ve seen a lot of cameras come and go in the store. Many of them are like mechanical tanks that never die. Several grail cameras that have been on my ‘if only’ list have shown up in the store, only for me to dream about owning one day (I’m looking at you, Hasselblad XPAN). But once these cameras arrive in the store, my initial feelings about them waver, which my wallet thanks me for.
However, there has been a camera sitting at the top of my ‘if only’ list for a while. One that I KNEW would be the only camera I use for a while once I had it.
The Mamiya 7.
As a photographer, I have always leaned toward 120 film over 35mm. The larger negative and more apparent depth of field has always intrigued me. It all started with my first medium format camera, the Bronica ETRS. Being limited to only 15 photos per roll forced me to think about each frame I took, giving more meaning to each image. After selling off my ETRS to invest in digital gear (which I ended up selling for film gear anyway), I went through rolls with countless cameras in search of one that felt right. I tried the Bronica SQ-A, Fujifilm GW690II and GW690III, GA645, Mamiya RB67, Plaubel Makina 67 and W67, and the Pentax 67, but none of them felt right. Even though each of these cameras is excellent and I would recommend them to anyone, I was still yearning for more.
I was greedy.
But if it wasn’t for my greed, then I wouldn’t have been in a position in where my greed would pay off.
After constantly hearing people tell me to not get the Mamiya 7 due to its current price point,
Now, to address my gripes with the camera: the build quality isn’t the best. It doesn’t feel as mechanically strong as a Hasselblad and nowhere near as sturdy as cameras built with titanium. The body is made of plastic, covering the top and bottom. While light, the coverings tend to crack over time. Also, the camera has lugs only on the left side, with none on the right. It was painful to accept at first, as I couldn’t use a Peak Design Cuff alongside the camera.
Now, for the pros. The first feeling I had while shooting was, ‘Damn, I have expensive taste.’ Although pricey, this camera checks off everything I wanted.
1. An accurate meter
2. The option to shoot with auto exposure
3. Solid lens choices
4. A body that doesn’t make my arms hurt after holding it for extended periods of time
Regarding the meter, while I love shooting with fully mechanical cameras that don’t require a battery to work, most of my shooting is done while travelling. I go on quick trips often, and there are moments when I’d much rather have the meter in my viewfinder instead of using sunny 16 or an external light meter. Using the internal meter gives me more time to soak in the views while travelling, instead of solely focusing on the photo. The internal meter displays the currently selected shutter speed and flashes the recommended speed based on the meter’s reading. When shooting manually, I typically use the meter more as a guideline than a precise reading, especially when I want to expose for the shadows, which I typically do.
Adding to the above point, I didn’t think I would use the auto exposure as often as I do, but not using a meter this accurate to its fullest potential would be a crime. The camera has both an auto mode and an auto-exposure lock mode, with the latter I’ve started using quite a bit. This allows me to lock exposure for a frame and recompose on the fly.
Speaking of the dial, the lone dial atop the camera is both tactile and easy to manage. It serves a triple function, overseeing your shutter speed, ISO settings, and exposure compensation all in one.
While the lens selection may seem small to some, it’s amazing. The Mamiya 7 mount has six lenses: 43mm f/4.5, 50mm f/4.5, 65mm f/4, 80mm f/4, 150mm f/4.5, and 210mm f/8. Currently, I have the 80mm, and with the 150mm and the 50mm available for rent, it’s all I need. Each lens is razor-sharp, especially the 80mm.
Another pro of this camera is that Mamiya makes its own 35mm panoramic kit. While I still advocate for the XPAN and its panoramic capabilities, the 35mm adapter was brought up to me multiple times as a great alternative. As much as I was on the ‘there is no good alternative to the XPAN’ hype train, this adapter is a worthy alternative. The adapter is first-party, meaning no need for a dark bag to load and rewind the film from a 3D-printed alternative. The pressure plate on the back rotates nicely, allowing you to switch between shooting in 120 and a 35mm/220 format.
Just don’t forget to bring an extra 120 spool to avoid having to do this:
The Mamiya 7 is expensive. There’s no denying that. But to have a camera that makes me want to go shoot? A camera that is fun to use? A camera that doesn’t make me overthink my photos at all? There’s no replacing that. I’m a firm believer that
If I were to do it all over again, I would personally save a little bit more and splurge on the Mamiya 7II. Although there are only two differences, those differences make a huge impact on the feel of the camera. Not only does the camera have a strap lug on both sides, but the viewfinder is SO MUCH BRIGHTER. It’s one of those viewfinders that, as soon as you look into it, you realize you’re looking through greatness. Although small, I wouldn’t recommend it right away to anyone due to the price jump between the 7 and the 7II, but one can dream to see one in the store.
Oh wait… we do.