Medium Format Cameras

Choosing a medium format camera is usually much more difficult than it needs to be. It seems that everyone has an opinion while almost no-one has sufficient, multi-system experience to back their opinion. To the surprise of most, most every opinion you'll hear is agenda-laden rather than sincerely spoken.

Camera stores are notorious for peddling what's in stock, manufacturers tend toward 'superlative speak', most users are 'married' to their choices (in the sense that they don't have any need for a competiting alternative and oddly, take personal offense at the idea that their camera has any real drawbacks); working professionals tout their particular choice loudly, in pursuit of (truly rare) manufacturer sponsorship/freebies.

The O'views were written in answer to this hole in the available information stream. I've used/owned/own almost every system I've reviewed and I edit the O'views every time I learn something new. I wrote the O'view's from the perspective of a working professional photographer whom has direct experience with as many of the different MF systems as I could afford. I actually use the cameras for extended periods of time while fully feeling the pain of buying it, owning it and sometimes, selling it.

The question that I'm asked most frequently, from people who read my Overviews, is 'I'm confounded and confused and your Overviews aren't helping. Which one of these camera's is going to do what I want?'

While its true that I don't really provide direct answers to the question in the Overviews, I do that on purpose. The choices are as varied as they are because there's no one 'right' camera in medium format.

If I were to start all over again and were buying my first system, I'd pose a few basic questions:

What am I going to use the camera for?

If I were going to be doing macro work mostly and I wanted to make wall sized enlargements that were pinpoint sharp, I'd advise myself to buy a 4x5 or at the very least, a 6x7. If you're going to be using the camera for general photography, it's probably a good idea to familiarize yourself with the relative comfort of all the format choices (in their various forms).

The smaller format cameras are usually much more convenient to carry. 6x6 TLR's and rangefinders (like the Mamiya 6) shoot almost silently. TLR's specifically, with their small profile and waist-level finders are the best choice for shooting unnoticed. 645 SLR's handle quickly and are more suited for general purpose use.

Current 66 SLR systems are being positioned to encompass the traditional 645 market by offering more sophisticated AE/Spot metering options and the handling improvements of available motors and 15/16 frame 645 backs. With the newest superspeed lenses being intro'd on the 66 systems, they're quickly becoming the equal of 645 in terms of convenience and speed (and in some ways, better). In example, Rollei's new revolving 645 backs for the 6000 series SLR's promise to make it the ultimate 645 system (as well as the ultimately automated 66).

Many people argue the merits of 67 over 66 (or vice-versa) and while the image quality debate is interesting, there's no contest when it comes to handling (66 SLR's handle better). 645's, with their smallish size, are the most familiar 'feeling' way for a 35mm user to enjoy medium format. To give short shrift (and to generalize to absolute death) to the above, let's put it this way:

6x7 offers the best readily available, conveniently usable and system competitive medium format image quality.

6x6 offers the best all around modular system cameras with the most advanced/varied lens + accessory options, at a higher price but with true precision build quality unmatched in 645.

645 offers the best dollar value and general convenience for the purpose of getting better than 35mm performance with the least noticeable compromise all around.

Any one of the above is suitable for most professional uses and expectations. What you're gaining over 35mm is consistency; not really quantifiable 'quality'.

I came to the above conclusion after I'd searched to see what real differences ever-larger format makes. What I found is that though it's much harder to achieve creamy tones with 35mm, it is possible and while it's harder to achieve incredible sharpness with 35mm, it is possible. If you're determined (and methodical) enough to achieve incredible quality, you can do it with 35mm, but can you do it every time you shoot? Only with larger formats (even then consistency isn't guaranteed)....

Rangefinder, TLR or SLR?

RF's are smaller, lighter, quicker, stealthier and quieter. SLRs are more reassuringly accurate and (usually) more robust. SLR's are also (usually) more versatile. Faster lens options, motors multispot meters and the like are unique to SLR's and so, may make your choice here a bit tougher. RF's have a unique 'style' of result (as do SLR's) that's hard to define. I suggest you try one before dismissing them from consideration. They're a bit harder to master but may be the only way to achieve the kind of photo you're trying to create.

TLR's are an interesting compromise, offering the best of both the SLR and RF. If cost, high final image quality, small size/weight and silence are important to you, then an inexpensive TLR is a great adjunct to any system you buy.

Do you need a current system? If not, do you trust that you'll be able to easily enough) find the lenses/accessories you want?

In my experience, older systems can compete pretty well in terms of overall quality and performance with modern ones. I should warn you that there are many people who will disagree with that assessment loudly. The only real way to know for yourself is to try some older cameras and see. The surprises I've seen? Most older H'blad lenses perform as well or better than modern versions. This is true for the 50/4, 150/4 and 250 5.6 lenses that I've tried (C vs. CF. All were T*). My Yashicamat 124G beats my Rollei 2.8D Xenotar and my Rolleicord V Xenar regardless of aperture (except 2.8 of course). The chromes I saw from a Graflex XL with a Rodenstock Heliogon (don't remember if it was 90 or 100mm) are the equal of results I see from my Mamiya 7 (Though I haven't done a side by side test). I worked for a photographer who shot beautiful chromes with Bronica's original 'MC' 645 lenses, mostly with an original 150mm 'MC' series lens. I tested a 150mm 'PE' lens recently and can't say that I found it better.

Hopefully, it should suffice to say that the quality you can expect from well made medium format equipment will be very high. Some older systems probably were better made than any available now. The Rollei SL66e comes to mind, as does the Linhof Baby Technika and even the Graflex XL.

Finding what you want might sway you back to more modern stuff. For instance, Polaroid backs for Bronica S2/EC cameras, Rollei SL66's and Kowa's Super 66 are very rough to find. They're out there but, if you expect to be able to find one on demand, you're expectations are running seriously high. If I were to put a realistic amount of time on finding a clean polaback for any of the above at a reasonable price, I'd say give it a year.

How much money do you want to spend?

You can spend $100 on a beat up Yashicamat or $12000 on a H'blad 205FCC.

Try to be realistic about what you need and what you can spend for what you need. If you stick to the $1-2000 range, you'll be able to buy as much camera as you'll probably ever need. Remember to include resale value in your thinking. For the most part, hi-end and lo-end systems hold their value best. In 66, a 500cm/80/A12 will always be worth at least $1100 in good shape. A Bronica S2a or Kowa Super 66 will always hold $350-500 respectively.

Another factor to consider is per-frame costs, especially for color work. Any medium format is is going to cost more than twice that of 35mm. 6x7 is going to cost 33% more per frame than 645. Is it worth it to you?

What do I want my complete system to be and how long from now do I expect to be done building it?

This question goes back to a couple of the others I've just answered. It'll help to be realistic in your expectations and to fix in your mind what you need to begin, and end with. If you absolutely must have the best of the best, you're probably better off not worrying about when you'll finish building your system. Hopefully, you'll be satisfied with the system you have at any given time and will build it according to when you can afford any one piece. Keep in mind that the new stuff goes up in price around 8-14% a year.

Can I rent the stuff I'll need in the mean time?

If you decide on a low end 66 SLR (Like the Bronica S2 or a Kowa 66), you won't need to worry about this. You can only rent stuff for modern systems.

The good news is that (for the most part) a normal daily rental fee on say, a H'blad 150mm, will buy you a used Kowa 150mm on the third day.

Exactly what do I expect from my results?

Probably the hardest thing to do is build a reliable set of expectations for the equipment that's available. While you can expect that a $4000 lens is going to be good, can you expect a 10 fold improvement over a $400 lens from a lesser system? Not exactly! In fact, there are times when the cheaper lens will actually be a better lens.

Probably the least publicized information out there is that the difference between a good lens and a great one is akin to the difference between a battery that lasts 1 hour and another that lasts 58 minutes. Great lenses are usually so subtle in their strengths that the achievement is forever arguable (and can be surprisingly personal).

Figuring out which is which is something that we all try to do and, I'm sorry to say, there's just no other way than listening carefully to what people you respect have to say and then making educated choices for yourself to test. Only the personally done, real life comparison will give the answer.

To answer the question in a more basic sense, don't expect to be able to make consistently sharp 200x300 inch enlargements from medium format. Don't expect 'modern' looking contrast from single coated lenses and don't expect to be able to shoot medium format in conditions to match a Leica with a Noctilux.

Do I shoot in a candid 'grab shot' style or am I a more methodical 'directorial' photographer?

There aren't any steadfast rules, but rangefinder cameras are better suited for candids. On the other hand I find fast moving subjects difficult to photograph with RF's, especially when the light is low (forcing a wide aperture).

Most methodically minded photographers have no problem tripod mounting their 'behemoth' cameras and creating a specific scene to direct meticulously. I don't mean only table-top photographers either: Annie

Liebowitz is famous for her elaborately realised photos. Most of her work is shot with a tripod mounted RZ (in full AE Prismed/motor-driven regalia), at f11 (or so) and lit with about 20,000 watt/sec. of Profoto gear.

Do I plan to shoot in rapid succession?

Though some 67 cameras can be wound quickly, the motor driven response of 645(and some 66) is as close to 35mm as it gets. When I shoot children with any 67, I'm sorely aware of the difference. Sports and a telephoto/67 would probably make me nuts.


If I do use fill flash, do I require the camera to 'automatically' set the correct balance of exposure (btwn. ambient + fill)?

This feature is Godsent to most wedding photographers. The Bronica ETRsi and Pentax 645's, the Rollei 6000's, The Bronica SQai/GS1 and the most current H'blads are the only cameras that can do this. If you need it, you've just cut the field in half. The Bronica GS1 is the only 67 with TTL autoflash. The Rollei 6000's and the H'blad 203/205 cameras are the only cameras with a true, 35mm style, fill-flash mode.

Are you going to be using studio flash and Polaroid proofing?

The Pentax MF's require that you buy very expensive aftermarket fiber-optic Polabacks and that you dedicate a body to them. Bronicas ETR series lacks ISO keying between the backs and the prism's meter, requiring an ISO (or exp. comp) change when changing to the Polaback. To be fair, I don't think I've shot more than 3 automatically metered Polaroids in my life. It isn't really much of an inconvenience because you can cover it via manually computing the difference and setting that to the camera (which you'd probably be doing in any case).

How often do I shoot at the lenses widest aperture?

I shoot almost everything availably lit and wide open. I need fast lenses, which quickly narrowed my 'best' choices. Most people don't need speed the way I do, but if you do, only the Rollei 6000, H'blad F/FE series, Mamiya 645, Pentax 67, Norita 66 or Bronica S2/EC cameras have superspeed lenses (the Pentax 645 has two superspeed tele's and can mount the faster Ptx.67 lenses via an adaptor). Only the Rollei has leaf shutters in superspeed lenses.

What is/are the problem/problems you come up against most often with your current camera system?

If your current 35mm camera is too loud, only TLR's and Mamiya's 6/7 cameras are quieter than the quietest 35 SLR. Every MF SLR is very loud compared to 35 (even loud 35's).

If you find your 35mm photo's not sharp enough, first try the slowest lenses the manufactuer makes for your particular camera. These are almost always the sharpest made (thankfully, they're also the least expensive). If that doesn't fix it, use a tripod. If that's still not enough, buy MF.

Who's work do you most admire?

Fashion photographers who admire the work of Paolo Roversi and want to experience that kind of image would probably do best to pursue that kind of image with the equipment he uses: 8x10 cameras with mildly long lenses and Polacolor film . If PR owns a Deardorff, you'll be fine with a Calumet.

Concentrate on the format not on the 'make' of the camera itself. Usually, one can achieve identical results from different brands, provided they're in the same format size and same design genre. Trying to achieve the effect with a smaller format is possible but its not nearly the same kind of thing. Polaroid 8x10 doesn't have a reasonably reproducable equivalent in a smaller format anyway.

Another important consideration is camera style: rangefinder, TLR and SLR (TLR's vs. eyelevel prismed SLR's that is) all render photo's differently from each other. TLR's render photos differently than prismed SLR's because you usually use them at waist level vs. the SLR's eye level use. It does make a big difference.

Rangefinder ,or RF, cameras usually have a shortened 'backfocus' (lens to film-plane, as compared to an MF SLR, which needs a longer backfocus to clear the mirrorbox), this allows for the inherent (more pronounced than SLR equivalents) RF wideangle lens effect of 'egghead' perspective distortion (at frame peripheries). Don't confuse the 'egghead' effect (of perspective distortion) with the curving line effect (of linear distortion). Most RF wides are better corrected for linear distortion than SLR wides are, yet they're worse in terms of perspective distortion. Its just one of the things that makes the results look different....

If you don't know what kind of equipment your favorite photographer uses, try to familiarize yourself with the resulting differences that each format/camera style makes. Once you've done that, study the varying results different and special materials make; then study formal and effect lighting. Once you've truly done the above, you'll have a more useful education in photography than most professionals have.

Are you any closer to making a realistic choice? If not, try putting together an advantage/disadvantage list. Something like this:


6x7 Format:

Advantage 67:

  • Largest neg size from a reasonably small camera.
  • Consistent 20x24's are do-able.
  • Modular system cameras are plentiful with a good feature selection available.
  • Polaroids are nice and big.
  • Largest sized neg of handholdable SLR's (Though there are some mildly holdable 4x5 inch SLR's around)
  • 10 frames from a roll of 120 is generally livable.
  • Lenses for most systems are surprising less expensive than most competitive 66 systems.
  • All of the available 67 choices are extremely robust

Disadvantage 67:

  • Lenses are generally slower than equivalent 66/645's (Mamiya's 110 2.8, 150
  • 3.5 and 75 3.5 RZ lenses are exceptions as are Pentax's 105 2.4, 165 2.8,
  • 300/4, 400/4 ED, 500 5.6, 600 5.6 and 800 6.7 ED for their 67).
  • Mirror slap becomes a real problem as compared to most 66/645's.
  • SLR systems are bulkier and less convenient for field/street use.
  • The cameras are too big to be unobtrusive and unnoticeable in street shooting.
  • All 67 SLR's are loud.
  • Motorized cameras are 'tripod only' in this format. They make the cameras HUGE.
  • 20% greater per frame cost over 66; 33% over 645.
  • OK, that's a basic format list. How about a competing system list between the major 67's:


Bronica GS1


  • Fairly small.
  • Not too bad mirror slap/shutter noise .
  • Good AE metering options.
  • Well built.
  • Really good handling (especially with the speed grip)
  • Relatively inexpensive used. The film backs and standard lenses are downright cheap used.
  • Completely modular.
  • Leaf shutters in all lenses allow full range TTL auto-fill flash control (only 6x7 with this feature).
  • Loads very quickly.


  • No fast lens options.
  • Close focus limit is farther than any of the other SLR systems.
  • Extension tubes cost around $500 each, long or short.
  • Very expensive new.
  • Hard to find rental equipt.


Pentax 67:


  • Fastest lens selection in 6x7.
  • Least expensive modern (relatively<s>) MF SLR (May be the only system to break my earlier 645 as 'best value' generalization).
  • Lenses are also relatively inexpensive.
  • 45mm is shortest available rectilinear in 67.
  • 800 6.7 ED is longest available in 67.
  • Lenses adapt with AE diaphragm to Pentax's 645 creating only cross camera system compatibility of modern Mf SLR'dom
  • 105 2.4 is fastest 67 lens available.
  • Well built and mostly metal.
  • Beautifully smooth lens helicoids.
  • 1/1000th of a second top speed (fastest 67 SLR)
  • Most rental houses carry the full line.


  • 1/30th of a second flash sync.
  • Heavy mirror/shutter slap.
  • Incredibly loud!
  • Camera is of archaic design.
  • No interchangeable backs.
  • Polaroid back requires dedicated body and costs $800+ without it!
  • You can't pull the prism to look at the waist level view without ceasing meter function (unmount and remount lens after replacing ttl prism to regain metering)
  • No auto or spotmeter options in system.
  • It's a pain to load quickly.


Mamiya RZ/RZ pro II:


  • Revolving back is great fun and very convenient.
  • Best available lens system in 67 for versatility and best overall image
  • quality(in my opinion).
  • Some fast lenses available.
  • Loads quickly and surely.
  • It's possible to build a relatively good value system with older (non W) lenses. (optically identical for the most part)
  • Most rental houses carry the full line.
  • Rack/bellows focus gets very close focus without extension tubes.
  • Full Aperture priority AE prism with spot metering available.
  • Can shoot 7x7cm on Quickloads with Quadra back.
  • Completely modular.
  • Middling noise/mirror slap.
  • Very well built, mostly metal (newer ProII body has more plastic).
  • All lenses have built in leaf shutter allowing good fill flash options
  • (without TTL auto though)
  • Accepts a motor.


  • Camera is huge.
  • Meter prisms are very expensive.
  • Balance is tricky handheld at close distances.
  • Shutter tops out at 1/400th of a second.
  • System is too big. Typical three lens/two back + Polaroid and prism system would weigh 9 pounds +.
  • No 90° eyelevel viewing options.
  • Polaroids need masking kit to effectively preview true film image and they're not the quickest to change.
  • Backs are a pain to mount/unmount.


Mamiya RB67 ProS/ Pro SD


  • Completely Mechanical cameras require no battery for operation.
  • ProS is inexpensive.
  • Lenses are excellent.
  • Pretty much every RZ advantage minus the AE prism and motor
  • Some very modern MLA lenses are made in SD mount that aren't available for the RZ.


  • Two action film advance/shutter cocking is tediously slow.
  • See RZ disadvantage list above.


Mamiya 7:


  • Extraordinarily small and light.
  • Nicely automated.
  • Very well built.
  • Good lenses.
  • Extraordinarily quiet.
  • Easy to load.
  • Rangefinder patch is bright and large.
  • Framelines are unobtrusive
  • Meter is accurate.
  • Handles beautifully.


  • Very expensive.
  • Limited close focusing ability (esp. w/ 43, 65 and 150mm lenses).
  • Lenses aren't fast.
  • System is limited.

Plaubel 67


  • Folds flat
  • Nice LED meter built in
  • Fairly inexpensive.
  • Great lens.
  • Fastest 80 (matches 80 Planar for the Linhof and Graflex XL) at 2.8.
  • Handles beautifully.
  • 670 adds grip ridges and 220 capability.
  • Collectible
  • Focus by thumbwheel (an advantage IMO)


  • Fragile and expensive to fix.
  • Little parts availability because the companies gone belly up.
  • No interchangeable lenses
  • Loud for an RF.
  • System is non existent (then or now)
  • Collectible.
  • Focus by thumbwheel.


Fuji 67/670/wide models:


  • Least expensive 67 available new.
  • 120/220 switchable.
  • Good RF.
  • Lens is reputed to be excellent.


  • Loud.
  • Huge (same size as 69 version)
  • non interchangeable lens
  • Doesn't focus closely.
  • No meter
  • No 'B' setting; must use 'T' w/ shutter dial movement to close


Older 6x7 Options:

Older 67 options are available but aren't as easy for me to list as I haven't used them all.

The Graflex XL takes some truly legendary lenses but the camera has a bad rep for plastic gearing, which when worn, results in rangefinder inaccuracy.The viewfinder is very cluttered with far too many visible framelines. On the plus side, it's inexpensive, takes RB backs and has some interesting back accessories for macro work. The Graflex XLSW is an RF with a permanently mounted 47mm S.Angulon. This is a very nice, interchangeably backed, inexpensive alternative to the Mamiya 7 with its 43mm.

Koni Omega RF cameras have been enjoying some good press lately but I'm too unfamiliar with them to review them at all. The push pull film advance is fun and seems a great way to release some frustration(s). Koni also made a TLR 67 that had interchanging backs and some very good lenses. If anyone would like to review these, I'd be glad to put the review in the 67 Overview (Linhof/Horseman/Graphic press cameras too).

6x6 Format:

Advantage 66:

  • Largest neg size from a consistently small SLR camera.
  • Consistently excellent 20x20's are do-able.
  • Modular system cameras are plentiful with a good feature selection available.
  • Motors and interchangeable backs are available for almost every SLR system.
  • AE modes/prisms are plentiful.
  • Largest selection of lenses and accessories for MF as most professionals use the format. (is this because there are such vast system choices or because most professionals prefer 66? Chicken; egg?)
  • Vast used market availability of most systems.
  • Dual horizontal/vertical croppings are easily perceived/composed.
  • 12 frames from a roll of 120 is generally good enough for quick shooting.
  • Lenses for some systems are surprisingly inexpensive.
  • Rollei and Hasselblad offer the most sophisticated metering options of any format currently available.
  • The largest format to offer generally available lenses faster than 2.4. Mirror slap is average. I'd say that the H'blad 500 c/m is the standard 'average' for comparison in this regard.
  • SLR systems are still small enough for convenient for quick handling field/street use.
  • Motors leave the SLR's still fairly hand-holdable.
  • Square format is perfectly proportioned and the only format that tames the circle.

Disadvantage 66:

  • Lenses are generally slower than equivalent 645's (Rollei's 50 2.8, 80/2, 1802.8 and H'blad's 110/2, 150 2.8 and 250/4, as well as the 120/4 macro CF are the currently marketed exceptions).
  • Long lens options are more limited than 645 and even 67.
  • All 66 SLR's are loud (Rollei's 6008i has a quiet winding mode, but you'll need the control box to set/use it.)
  • The new systems all cost a ton of money (with the exception of the Kiev and Lubitel).
  • The square is an acquired taste that leaves many photographers cold.


Bronica SQ/SQa/SQb/SQai


  • Fairly small and light.
  • Not too bad mirror slap/shutter noise.
  • AE metering options with full, open aperture and Leaf shutter, ttl flash enabled.
  • Good handling (especially with the speed grip)
  • Relatively inexpensive used.
  • Completely modular.
  • Leaf shutters in all lenses allow TTL auto-fill flash control at all speeds.
  • Loads very quickly.
  • Least expensive modular 66 SLR system currently available new (SQb)(other than the Kiev88).
  • Gives good rebate.
  • Machined metal Film/mirror plane mating surfaces
  • Newest Sqai prism is a great improvement over the older AE prism.
  • Obvious price advavantage over similarly automated, competitive systems.
  • Well built. Much plastic but it's not overused



  • No fast lens options.
  • Close focus limit is farther than most other SLR systems.
  • Extension tubes cost around $500 each, long or short.
  • Still very expensive new.
  • Hard to find rental equipt.
  • All models are battery dependent.



Bronica S2/S2a, EC/ECTL


  • Beautifully made Nikkor lenses in cells that fit in a body mount/Helicoid shell.
  • Focuses very closely.
  • Some leaf shutter lens options.
  • Very inexpensive these days ($275-600 for a complete camera)
  • All are fully modular.
  • Backs are 120/220 switchable and available very inexpensively (except rare Polabacks). I've seen functional backs selling for $30!
  • Lenses have very good reputation and most are around for sub-$200 prices.
  • Nicely machined with the feeling of a well made camera.
  • Fairly smooth.
  • ECTL was first automatic MF SLR.
  • Both EC and ECTL have built-in meters.
  • S2a has a reputation for being fairly reliable (S,S2,EC, ECTL do not share this reputation)
  • Some very fast lenses available. (80 2.4, 50 2.8, 135 3.2, 180 2.5. some others I can't remember)



  • S and S2 use brass press fit crank spindle that's pressure forced in to an aluminum gear. The stress is formidable and this part will not survive any abuse. Otherwise, the S2 at least, works fine. The part is fixable and I suspect a good machine shop could make a solid brass version at a not-too-horrific price.
  • Polaroid backs are very rare and most who sell them don't want to part with it cheaply. expect to pay about $350.
  • Loudest SLR ever made.
  • Jarring to boot!
  • Push-in to release back darkslides are apparently, easy to lose as alot of the backs you'll find don't have 'em. Brooklyn camera/Midwest photo both sell replacements.
  • 'Fish line' corded, split mirror in EC/ECTL is generally regarded as the worst mirror design ever manufactured. These (EC series) cameras are notorious for poor mirror to filmplane linearity.


Exacta 66/66mdlII/Pentacon 6:


  • Funky!
  • Smooth feel and very quiet.
  • Shoots 13 frames per 120.
  • Modern Schneider lens designs are same as those made for Rollei 6000 cameras (not nearly all of 'em though) and as good as anything available from anyone.
  • Least expensive way to use the absolute finest optics available.
  • Rare meter prism for Exacta (and original Pentacon meterprism) show reading on top of camera. You can set your exposure from waist level, before bringing camera to your eye.
  • Nicely finished and interestingly pleasing design.
  • Older lenses offer full function and are very inexpensive.
  • 1000th top speed
  • You have to love it to want one. It's either an expensive toy or a cheap 'alternative' camera. Personally, I recommend it!
  • Model 2 camera has shorter lever advance throw (180° vs. 220°)


  • Notoriously bad film advance system gives poor spacing as a matter of course.
  • Frame counter breaks easily.
  • Prism shows 1 and 1/2 inch area of view. Equivalent to a superslide.
  • Waist level shows only 1 and 3/4's of an inch (film is 2.25 inch).
  • Advance lever throw (on Penta and Exa. mdl.#1) over 200 degree's.
  • Don't let that advance lever snap back! (breaks gear teeth, sending frame spacing off to the repairman)
  • Poor film flatness and almost useless 220 capability (220 use is guaranteed to mess up your frame spacing, now and forever).
  • Archaic in every way (but man is it fun).


Hasselblad 501c, 503cxi, 500ELM/X, 553ELX


  • Fairly small, light and smooth.
  • Very distinctive sound and feel.
  • Well finished, nicely machined.
  • Greatest rental availability of any camera, regardless of format.
  • Huge accesory system.
  • Completely mechanical.
  • Completely modular.
  • The standard bearer of 66 SLR's.
  • Used market bargains and used market size abound.
  • Holds its value well because of constant demand.
  • Acutematte screen is great.
  • Impresses clients.
  • H'blad extension tubes cost less than any Bronica (even ETR) extension tubes.
  • Reliable.
  • Lots of viewfinder choices.
  • New, frightfully expensive meter prism, brings sophisticated metering to older bodies.



  • Expensive system. (Though the 501c, or a clean 500cm outfit are not ridiculously priced, any other body choice seriously affects the price.)
  • Every accessory is expensive.
  • Backs are a pain to load.
  • No instant return mirror. (motorized cameras have mirrors that come back in a second)
  • Modern lenses are very expensive.
  • Older focus screens are very, very dark.
  • No fast lens options.
  • Newer 501, 503 and 553 bodies all incorporate plastic parts on the shell and lack the body body cocked indicator dot.

Hasselblad 2000/200 series

(2000 FC/FCM/FCW/3FCW)



  • 1000th/2000th top speed.
  • Fast lens options.
  • Most 500CM accessories fully usable.
  • Really impresses clients.
  • F series lenses focus much more closely.
  • H'blad extension tubes still cost less than any Bronica extension tubes(s).
  • FE/FCC/TCC meter arguably the most advanced in any camera. (FE's to a far)
  • Ability to use the CF lenses as though you were using a 'normal' H'blad.
  • Instant return mirror.
  • 2000/2003 FC/FCM/FCW cameras are realistically priced on the used market.
  • 205TCC(not fcc) has redesigned mirrorbox that is _very_ smooth/quiet.
  • 201F/203FE/205 FCC, though still far smoother/quieter than a 2000, don't have this mirrorbox as their action 'rings' like the older 2000 series cameras.


  • Absolutely overpriced. So expensive, it hurts. (205FCC w/80 and TCC12 $10600)
  • From very loud to slightly louder than, and without the smooth sound of, the 500 cameras.
  • Mirror is much more jarring than 500 cameras (Late model 200 series cameras with their cloth shutters are much quieter/less jarring and far less fragile than the titanium foil 2000 series cameras).
  • Shutters are fragile and easily damaged in the older 2000 series cameras.
  • Electronic.

Mamiya 6/ 6MF


  • Only modern RF 66.
  • Good level of automation with shutter button activated AE lock mode.
  • Small, light and well built
  • Large, bright, accurate RF focus patch.
  • Extraordinarily quiet.
  • Handles beautifully.


  • Very expensive.
  • Limited close focusing ability (esp. w/ 50 and 150mm lenses).
  • Lenses aren't fast.
  • System is limited.
  • Resale values are low.
  • Focus is finicky with the 150mm
  • Metering with earliest 6 models tends towards underexposure because of poor in-finder baffling (improved on later production runs and all 6MF's)


Rollei 6003/6008/6008 Integral:


  • Finest 66 system IMO.
  • With revolutionary, amazing new revolving 645 backs, finest 645 system too.
  • Beautifully integrated motor/metering systems are the worlds fastest/most advanced.
  • Standard bearer of MF ergonomics.
  • Holds, feels and handles like it was designed for universal perfection.
  • Very compact considering what's in there.
  • Built in darkslides.
  • Multispot metering.
  • Every kind of AE metering fully integrated with leaf shutters and fill flash. Name it, it's there.
  • AE lock.
  • Three shutter release buttons.
  • Prisms rotate.
  • Full info LED display regardless of finder.
  • Largest 66 lens system.
  • 1000mm is the longest off the shelf lens available in 66.
  • Fastest lens options in modern MF (they'll have em all if they get H'blad's 110/2, Mamiya's 300/2.8, 500 4.5 and Ptx 67's 400/4)
  • Inserts are cheap.
  • Motor and metering included in purchase price.
  • Fastest motor in MF (1+1/2-2 frames sec.)
  • 6003 outfit is a bargain ($3160 10/96)
  • Excellent film flatness with eight clip pressure points, probably the best
  • currently available and made for photogrammetric requirements.
  • Custom options of the Integral (with control box option) are more varied
  • than any other camera system.



  • Extension tubes are very expensive.
  • Lenses could focus closer.
  • Truly expensive lens system.
  • Must rotate prism to change insert.
  • Fairly loud. Can't shoot without the motor.
  • Battery dependent and you can't use AA's in an emergency.
  • Backs cost as much as a Bronica SQ 80 PS.
  • 6003 comes with insert shell, not a darkslide capable back (it can take real backs though).
  • 6008i is expensive
  • Only inserts and batteries qualify as affordable.
  • Resale values (in USA) generally aren't as high as its most direct competition


Rollei SL66/Sl66e/se/x:


  • Tilting front standard.
  • Very quiet.
  • Nice feel and sound.
  • Completely modular
  • E and SE models have built in meters.
  • Reverse bayonet on each lens.
  • Bellows allows very close focus capability
  • Beautifully made



  • Availability of electronic bus lenses/backs poor and very expensive.
  • Fairly rare. Hard to find wideangle lenses and Polaback


Kowa 66/6mm/Super 66:


  • Reliable.
  • Inexpensive.
  • Good lens selection.
  • Fair availability.
  • Super 66 is completely modular
  • Good frame coverage in finder.
  • Polaback available but rare (super66 only)
  • I know some pro's who actually rely on it everyday.


  • Backs are weird L-shaped things that are hard to load and change.
  • The front of the camera is apparently pretty fragile and won't withstand a fall, lens first.
  • 40mm lens and Polabacks are hard to find.


Mamiya C33/330/22/220:


  • Inexpensive.
  • Bellows allows extremely close focus.
  • Interchangeable lenses (Other than Koni Omega 67 TLR and Gowlandflex/Cambo 4x5 TLR's; the only TLR with the feature)
  • Good lens quality.
  • extremely quiet.
  • Leaf shutters sync at all speeds.


  • Very heavy and large.
  • Parallax and exposure factors make close work frustrating.
  • Balance is funny with longer lenses.
  • C220/C22 has separate film advance/cocking functions.


Rolleiflex TLR's:


  • Very small.
  • Light.
  • Extremely quiet.
  • Beautifully made and very smooth.
  • Reputedly superb lens quality
  • Later models have removable finders and screens.
  • Metered models have good meters. (surprised me).
  • Cool film loading system with auto frame positioning.


  • Best models are collectors items so are overpriced.
  • Non interchangeable lenses.
  • Doesn't focus very closely.
  • Lens accessories are surprisingly good.
  • Meters are Selenium based (except newest GX) and are inaccurate in reddish (indoor) light.


Yashicamat 124G/Minolta Autocords (later):


  • Inexpensive.
  • Good lens.
  • Good meter.
  • 120/220 capable.
  • Very small and very light.
  • Probably the best introduction to MF.
  • Olympus made a six element 75mm 3.5 taking lens for their last TLr.



  • Non interchangeable lenses.
  • Doesn't focus very closely.
  • Lens accessories are of poor quality


Graflex Norita 66


  • Inexpensive
  • 80/2 is a superspeed normal (fastest 66)
  • Much like a Pentax67 or Pentacon in handling.
  • Mirror slap not too bad
  • Designed by same guy who designed the Nikon F2.


  • Someone use this camera? I haven't.



645 cameras have most of the advantages of both 66 and 67 systems, and add a few as well.


Advantage 645:

  • The smallest, lightest MF system SLR's (Pentax the best in this regard).
  • Inexpensive, well integrated motor drives (Pentax's being the best; Bronica's the worst, IMO)
  • Best per frame cost in MF.
  • Interface intuitive to 35mm users (Pentax the worst in this regard).
  • Fast lenses abound (Mamiya the best 645, by far, in this regard)
  • All are very handholdable (with motor and AE prism).
  • Fairly well dampened for noise and vibration (Pentax 645 wins as best MF SLR here.)
  • 30 frames to a 220 roll.
  • AE modes/prisms are available in all models.


Disadvantage 645:

  • Relatively expensive as compared to other MF systems.
  • Lightest castings and much plastic makes for more fragility as compared to other format MF SLR systems.
  • All 645 SLR' are battery dependent.




  • Full metal 35th Anniversary model (packed with Anniv. back) is same price as a normal version (body/back together)
  • Only 645 SLR with full metering capabilities while using leaf lenses. (best 645)
  • Fully modular.
  • Fairly small and light.
  • Best use/implementation of plastics in 645(best 645)
  • Not too bad mirror slap/shutter noise (much improved on latest model ETRsi).
  • Well integrated AE lock/spot metering options (with AEIII finder, on ETRSi) with full, open aperture and Leaf shutter.
  • Excellent viewfinder contrast (best 645)
  • Relatively inexpensive used.
  • Completely modular. (best 645)
  • Leaf shutters in all lenses allow TTL auto-fill flash control at all speeds (ETRSi model only). (best and _only 645 to offer the option)
  • Loads very quickly.
  • Gives good rebate.
  • Speed Finder is unique. (best finder options in 645)
  • Speed grip is excellently realized, quick in use (almost as fast as a motor)
  • 70mm back option on secondary market
  • Machined, solid metal body casting (at both finder and film plane) (only
  • 645 SLR to offer this. Best of 645 Slr's in this regard).
  • Full interlocks.



  • No fast lens options. (worst 645)
  • Some/most lenses are plastic barreled (heavily molded and done well).
  • Close focus limit is farther than most other SLR lenses.(worst 645)
  • Extension tubes cost around $500 each, long or short. (worst 645)
  • Still very expensive new.
  • Hard to find rental equipt.(worst 645)
  • Newer ETRSi's aren't as well built as older ETR's. Plasticky. (except the new, metal covered 35th anniv.)
  • All models are battery dependent.
  • Motor options are configured like the speed grip and aren't as nicely integrated as other 645 SLR's. (worst motor system in 645)
  • Motors are loud (worst 645)
  • Finicky back mounting system (somewhat improved on ETRSi) (worst 645)
  • 1/500th sec. top speed (worst 645)
  • Doesn't hold its value as well as its competition (worst 645)


Mamiya 645 Super/Pro/SV/SVX pack.



  • Aftermarket lens adaptors readily available to mount H'blad and entacon/Exacta lenses (step down only).
  • Well integrated AE lock/spot metering options with AE finders.(best 645 SLR)
  • Fully modular with full interlocks.
  • Fastest available lens series in MF (best 645).
  • largest available lens series in MF and/or 645 (best 645)
  • APO lens series are the finest available in 645(best 645).
  • Fairly small and light.
  • Nicely balanced with most lenses.(best 645)
  • Not too bad mirror slap/shutter noise.
  • 645 Super accessories are fully functional and almost identical to newer
  • 645 Pro ones.(best 645)
  • Three motor options, two of which are current.(best 645)
  • SV and SVx packs are comparatively inexpensive.
  • Holds its value well on the used market.
  • 1/1000th sec. top speed.
  • Best integration of leaf and focal plane shutter systems in 645 (best 645)


  • Requires accessory for mechanical cable release.(worst 645)
  • All models are battery dependent.
  • Very Plasticky (worst of the MF slr systems), with a flash molded plastic
  • plate serving as back-to-body interface (on the critical mating face of the roll backs).(worst 645)
  • Worst film flatness in MF due to lightly sprung insert system.(worst 645)
  • Finicky spring tabs (to interchange backs and inserts).(worst 645)
  • Poor metering capabilities when using the N/L leaf shutter lens series.
  • 1 stop exposure compensation required when using 300mm/longer lenses in
  • averaging meter mode. (switch to spot as it doesn't require compensation).(worst 645)
  • Inserts are fragile and obviously dinky.(worst 645)
  • Motors are comparatively loud.
  • No TTL Autoflash.(worst 645)
  • Expensive.(worst 645).
  • 55mm and 80 2.8 lenses have flimsy plastic barrels.


Pentax 645/Pentax 645N AF.


  • Ability to operate most Ptx 67 lenses with full auto diaphragm operation. (best 645)
  • Most consistently excellent lens series in 645 (IMO).(best 645)
  • Quietest shutter/mirror/motor in any MF SLRs.(best 645)
  • Best dollar value of any 645 camera or lens series.(best 645)
  • 120 macro is the only currently available MF macro that achieves 1:1 without tubes (though Mamiya has announced a new 120 APO macro that does this as well).
  • Supplied with Motor and AE prism standard.(best 645)
  • Best 35mm wide angle in 645.(best 645)
  • Smallest and lightest 645 SLR (best 645)
  • Only 300/4 EDIF in 645 which, along with the beautiful 600 5.6 EDIf are the least expensive APO tele's in 645.(best 645)
  • Insert system is quick to change/load, well sprung and well built.
  • Inexpensive to buy and with good film flatness as well.
  • Only 645 system w shutter preferred and program modes.(best 645)
  • TTL Autoflash.
  • All metal lens barrels have silky smooth action.(best 645)
  • OEM 70mm back option. (best 645)
  • Single mechanical shutter speed.
  • 1/1000th sec. top speed
  • Holds its value well on the used market.(best 645)
  • Pentax 645N AF advantages:
  • include all of the above Ptx 645 advantages.
  • 3 point and spot predictive AF with FA lens series(best 645)
  • Auto bracketing (best 645)
  • matrix metering (best 645)
  • Spot metering
  • 2fps motor (best 645)
  • data imprint on film edge (best 645)
  • Dial contrlled shutter speeds and exposure compensation
  • Focus confirmation light (best 645)
  • finder info below image
  • Memory lock button
  • Manual metering scale



  • No finder or motor interchangeability. (worst 645)
  • No AE lock option. (worst 645) [see note]
  • Kepplerian finder must be dead centered on your eye and is hard to use when wearing glasses.
  • Leaf lenses limited to 75 and 135mm focal lengths and cancel any meter
  • function.(worst 645).
  • Plasticky body panels.
  • Finder eyepiece is vulnerable and fragile.
  • Polaroid back is aftermarket only, requires a dedicated body and costs well
  • over $1100 (worst 645)


Danny Gonzalez



Comments (2)
MF Cameras
2Monday, 21 January 2013 19:34
Thank you Danny for a well thought out and informative article.
I am exploring the possibilities of MF photography and I don't know where to start. I want a light handheld camera, with a fast lens, that is quiet and has TTL metering. I guess I'm asking for the impossible!
What about MF Folding Cameras?
1Wednesday, 05 October 2011 16:08
How about the Mini Crown Graflex or the Horseman 980/ VHR? These are considered press cameras but accept the Graflock back. These cameras are very versatile since backs and lenses are easily interchangeable.

Add your comment

Your name: