Mamiya 7 – The titanium standard
If you don’t have time to read this review of the Mamiya 7, I can read this to you with the Photo Thinking Blogcast! You can find it on most podcast platforms or here.
In the world of luxury items, the camera industry is as guilty as any other of creating brands and items which become either sought after, aspired to, or just wanted. The pinnacle of that for Mamiya in the medium format film world was the Mamiya 7. It is even in a titanium-coloured finish just to add bling!
I love to travel, and I love to travel light. The Mamiya 7 fits the bill for this, with the folding cameras beating it in compactness, but generally give up the ability to change focal lengths. It is also nice to not advertise a camera when travelling, but a titanium-coloured camera is not going to give you that.
I have been known to travel overseas with just the Mamiya 7 and a small compact like the Nikon L35AF for company. Having a small camera bag makes it easy to get around and shoot without much fuss. You could argue that an upmarket camera like the Leica rangefinders also do that, but then you miss out the luxurious 6×7 frames the Mamiya produces. This system has some of the very best lenses technically ever produced.
Some may argue they are too good. They struggle to differentiate the results from a high end digital camera. My argument back is twofold. Firstly, a good image is a good image regardless of medium and that is at least my aim when I shoot. Secondly, the Mamiya 7 lenses have a unique three-dimensional quality to them. While other lenses also have that, the way they are rendered with this camera is very much unique to itself.
This is a camera which also fulfils a second function for me. I wrote about my experiences with the Hasselblad xPan a couple of years ago. The panoramic format it produces is very interesting and allows for beautiful and artful photographs of both landscapes and perspective.
I have the 35mm panoramic kit for the Mamiya 7, which allows you to use it without having to carry a dark bag. Mamiya specifically made it for this camera. With this adapter it produces frames the same dimensions as the xPan. Paired up with the 43mm lens, equalling the xPan 45mm, it even has an advantage in where it does not need the centre weighted neutral density filter to avoid vignettes.
The Mamiya 7, and in fact most of this kit, are gifts from my wonderful wife Noelle and my boys for various birthdays, Christmas, and other occasions. The kit includes a Mamiya 7 bought as old/new stock. Also the 65mm, 80mm, and 43mm lenses with the latter having a specialised viewfinder. As mentioned, I also have the panoramic kit. I even have the very specific Mamiya 7 polariser. It was something I have been wanting to build up for many years, so I count myself as very lucky.
There are concerns with it as well, they include that the camera is electronic and there is a question on its sturdiness. Personally, I do not have an issue with the latter, but also accept the risk of the former. It is worth it to use it as long as I can. After talking with a quite renown Mamiya repairer, he confirmed that this does not happen very often at all, so the risk is quite minimal.
I have had the Mamiya 7 now for about four years, from when it was first gifted to me. Let’s find out a bit more of the camera, including the lenses I have used, and my experience with it to date. Including all the lens details does make the more technical part of this article longer, feel free to use the links below to get to your desired reading section.
- Mamiya 7 – First Impressions
- Mamiya Press Super 23 – Frustratingly good
- Fuji GSW690III Professional – The Texas Leica
- Fuji GS645S – Camera with a Roo Bar
- Hasselblad XPan – Xpand the panoramic
- Konica Pearl II – The queen of gems
- Leica M3 – Double stroke of genius
- Leica M2 – The sibling classic
- Photo Thinking Rangefinder Reviews
- Photo Thinking Medium Format Reviews
Mamiya was founded in 1940 in Tokyo. The names of the founders are Mamiya Seiichi (whom the company was named after) and Sugawara Tsunejirō. There is further information on the early years for Mamiya in some of the other articles in this site, so I won’t repeat everything.
The first camera produced was the Mamiya Six, a 6×6 folding camera, with focusing achieved by moving the film plane. This camera had a long production run, though there were many variations. Apart from using 120 film, this camera has very little to do with the Mamiya 6 and 7 range we are looking at in this article.
In 1989 Mamiya released the Mamiya 6, as distinct to the Mamiya Six from the 1950 and 60s. Like the older model, this is a rangefinder that also produces 6×6 frames using 120 film, but while the older Six is a folding camera, the new 6 is a rigid rangefinder. It does have collapsing lens mechanism with the ability to mount different lenses.
A second version of the Mamiya 6 was also released, but a third in 1993 called the Mamiya 6 MF is where there were considerable changes. MF is likely for multi-format, because this model allows for both 6×6 and 6×4.5 as well as 35mm panoramic with the adapter.
The Mamiya 7 was first released in 1995. The major changes are that the collapsing lenses were no longer part of the construction. Mainly due to the diameter of the lens mount increased from 52.5mm to 67mm. This allowed the newly updated light shield mask to be implemented. The frame size was increased to 6×7 and with the 35mm panoramic kit to 24x65mm.
It gained a lot of interest, especially as the new camera came with an option of a wider lens, the 43mm. Especially as this is such a well designed wide angle for normal shooting, but also very exciting for panoramic shooters.
It became a hit instantly, primarily due to the extraordinary lens performance of the system. Many would consider the Mamiya 7 lenses as the best ever made Japanese lenses even in the current era. Well, I am one of these people.
The second Mamiya 7 was released in 1999, called the 7 II. It came in black and an ungodly (in my opinion) champagne colour. This model improved the viewfinder slightly, provided a third strap lug to allow the camera to hang horizontally and the ability to shoot multiple exposures.
The Mamiya 7 line was discontinued in 2014. Mamiya was more and more involved in digital camera production. Firstly with Leaf and then within Phase 1.
The Mamiya 7 is a 6×7 medium format rangefinder camera with interchangeable lenses. It uses 120 or 220 film producing frames which are 56 x 69.5mm. It also shoots 24x65mm panoramas with the native panorama kit fitted and 35mm film loaded. Exposures are made using a leaf shutter mechanism which sits in the lens.
The camera body is covered in plastic of a colour classified as titanium. Not many people’s first choice, but it does stand out. Underneath is a high-strength Silumin (aluminium alloy). This is a silicon-based alloy mixed in with a high strength aluminium. With this construction, the Mamiya 7 is aimed at being very portable, lightweight, and with some strength. The plastic body may be chipped or damaged, but in theory the camera would remain operational. Currently there are one or two projects to map out the plastic mouldings for 3D printing as replacement since Mamiya does not manufacture the camera any longer. I, for one, would invest in that immediately if it comes to fruition. May even get it in another colour!
The viewfinder utilises a 0.57 magnification, or 83% of the field of view at infinity. It has frame lines for the 65mm, 80mm and 150mm lenses. Frame lines are automatically parallax corrected for closer focusing and only the mounted lens focal length is shown. Notches are also present for when framing for 35mm panoramas. A rangefinder patch, utilising a split image, is in the middle of the viewfinder. Three lenses, the 43mm, 50mm and 210mm focal lengths, require a separate viewfinder for composition with the 150mm using one as an optional accessory.
At the bottom of the viewfinder, it displays the shutter speed with indicators for over exposure and LT for Long Time exposure. When it is blinking it indicates under exposure. The B indicator lights up for when Bulb is selected. The meter reading is taken through a metering cell in a window just above the lens mount. It is a narrow angle silicon photo diode, so that it allows the photographer to calculate almost like a spot meter. Technically it is a centre weighted metering mechanism.
The shutter release button is above the grip, slightly angled to ensure an ergonomic hold of the camera. Surrounding the shutter release button is the on/off switch. On the top plate you will find one dial, the frame counter, and the film advance lever. Film speed options from ISO 25 through to 1600 are available through this dial.
The dial, through combinations of lock buttons and lifting the outside ring, allows for setting of shutter speed, film speed and exposure compensation. Shutter speeds available are four seconds through to 1/500 second as well as Bulb. Aperture Priority (A) is available. A further option is available for an Aperture Priority Lock (AEL). This allows you to meter on the subject by half pressing the shutter release button and then recompose without the camera re-metering. If you change your aperture, it will adjust based on that metered value.
The bottom of the camera is a little busier. As a leaf shutter camera, it means that changing a lens would ensure the film is exposed to a blast of light if not blocked off. To get around this the Mamiya 7 has a light shield curtain which is engaged by the light shield closing lever. This blocks the light from the lens mount, allowing you to change lenses. After changing the lens, you will need to release the light shield with a release lever.
Mamiya designed this function very well. You cannot perform this without the shutter cocked, but it will also not let you shoot a frame with the light shield engaged.
Also under the camera is the film spool stud and the combination stud and film release to be used with the 35mm panoramic kit. The tripod socket and the battery chamber are also under the camera. For powering the camera, a 4SR44 or 4LR44 battery is required.
Loading film, for either 120 or 220 film is through the back, which swings open. The little red buttons need to be pressed to release the film spool studs to allow the film spools to be inserted. Film is threaded from left to right. To ensure the right pressure is set up for the film plane, the pressure plate requires rotation to choose between 120 and 220. It requires the 220 setting for 135 film. There is double exposure protection in advancing the frames, of which the 7 II model gives an option to override.
Flash options are through the hot shoe or PC flash sync plug. With a leaf shutter in the lens, shutter speed is not limited to a maximum shutter speed.
There is also a 35mm panoramic kit and special circular polariser built for the Mamiya 7, but before we look at these accessories, let’s have a look at the lenses.
Lenses available for the Mamiya 7 have focal lengths of 43mm, 50mm, 65mm, 80mm, 150mm, and 210mm. Note, that the 50mm and 210mm are not rangefinder coupled. All Mamiya 7 lenses have leaf shutters, as there is no focal plane shutter in the camera. A proprietary lens bayonet lens mount is used, which allows the back of the lenses to recede into the camera.
The leaf shutter used is a #00 sized electronic shutter, which was also used on the predecessor, the Mamiya 6. All lenses are multicoated and have very little to no ghosting, even directly into the sun.
Mamiya N 80mm f/4 L
The Mamiya N 80mm f/4 L lens is the “standard” lens for the Mamiya 7. It has six elements in four groups. The closest focus is 1 metre (3.2 feet). It is roughly equivalent to 40mm in 35mm terms. It takes 58mm filters. Aperture options are from f/4 to f/22.
This is considered a very sharp lens. There is no light fall off at any aperture. Distortion is non-existent at any distance.
Mamiya N 65mm f/4 L
The Mamiya N 65mm f/4 L lens is a wide lens equivalent to roughly a 32mm lens in 35mm terms. The minimum focus distance is 1m (3.2 feet). It is constructed with eight elements in five groups. It has a 58mm filter ring on the front and aperture options of f/4 through to f/22.
This is a lens which you really need to dig into on the internet to find a bad review, and I have not found it yet. Someone here or there prefers one of the other lenses in the range, but there are no complaints on performance. Like the 80mm it is totally distortion free at all distances and no light fall of at any aperture, which is amazing for a wider lens. Sharpness is from corner to corner.
Mamiya N 43mm f/4.5 L
The Mamiya N 43mm f/4.5 L is a very wide lens which equates to a 20mm lens in 35mm focal lengths. It is reported as a copy of the Zeiss Biogon, but more complex than one used on the Hasselblad version. One report has it compared to the 75mm Biogon for large format. It has ten elements in six groups, which is considered quite a complex construction. Closest focus is 1m (3.2 feet) and stops down to f/22. It deviates in the filter thread size and requires 67mm filters.
The 43mm is rangefinder coupled, but it is not covered by the camera’s viewfinder. This means it requires an external viewfinder which is worth mentioning. Particularly regarding the thought and quality Mamiya put into it. Apart from having dioptre adjustment for use, it is bright, has nicely marked frame lines and a spirit bubble level. Not only is the bubble seen from above, but it is also visible through the viewfinder, so you do not have to remove your eye from the eyepiece during composing.
This lens has become a cult classic and is very much sought out. Reason being it is very sharp, like the other lenses, but even being this wide it is considerably corrected. At this focal length there is almost no distortion. There is a little light fall off, which has been done to ensure the sharpness is kept at the same standard as the other longer focal lengths.
Unique to it, is that it has an amazingly long rear element, which seems to defy physics in fitting into the camera mount. It is also the perfect lens for the 35mm panoramic shooting, for xPan style photos, without requiring a centre filter.
While I have had a chance to borrow a 150mm lens, I did not get much of a chance to use it and I have not had the pleasure of the 50mm and 210mm. As such, I will share some technical details of them for your convenience.
The Mamiya 50mm f/4.5 is like the 43mm in construction in that is has ten elements in six groups. It equates to 28mm in 35mm equivalent. It is not rangefinder coupled and requires an external viewfinder for composing.
The Mamiya N 150mm f/4.5 L is a short telephoto equating to 70mm equivalent in 35mm terms. It has six elements in five groups. The rangefinder is coupled, and has viewfinder frame lines, but can also be used with an external viewfinder for a larger view. It is often lamented that closest focusing length is too far, at 1.8m (just under 6 feet).
The 210mm f/8 is longer telephoto which is not rangefinder coupled and requires an external viewfinder. It’s constructed with seven elements in five groups. It can be equated to 95mm in 35mm terms.
Mamiya 7 35mm Panoramic Kit
The 35mm Panoramic Kit is one of those accessories which you would look at and shake your head and wonder why no one else has done something similar. Designing the camera, not just the accessory, to allow it to use 35mm film natively to produce panoramic photos without requiring a dark bag is just brilliant. Being able to reload in light just makes it very enjoyable to use.
To explain this accessory, it is basically an adapter to shoot 24x65mm panoramic photos. These are the same dimensions as per the xPan, but with an advantage where you do not require a centre weighted neutral density filter for colour film. This is because, unlike the xPan, the lenses for the Mamiya 7 were designed for a considerably larger frame. Further to this point, where apart from the 43mm lens, there is no light fall off on the lenses. Even for the 43mm it is slight and being for a larger frame you are using the middle of the lens anyway.
To use the adapter, firstly the panoramic mask is inserted into the slots on the focal plane. This needs to be done gently and it slightly bends into position. A nice little hint, if you leave it off, you can shoot over the sprocket holes. Do not leave the light shield closed when you do this, to avoid putting your fingers through it.
Next you must adjust the pressure plate to ensure it takes into account that 35mm film does not have any backing paper. Also notice that this is required for 220 film too, as this also does not use backing paper. To do this, it is gently rotated from the 120 settings to the 220/135 setting. The film type indicator at the back also adjusts when this is performed.
Now you grab the film adapter and insert the film into it. It swings out on one side to make it easier to set up to fit into a 120 size camera.
The next step involves putting the film into the camera. First insert the film with the adapter into the left side, then the take up spool for 35mm on the right side. Thread the film across from the left to right and finally bring the chrome cover on the right across to keep the film flat. It has a couple of little rollers under it.
After that, head out and make some photographic art. Just remember to frame inside the panoramic notches on the frame lines.
When you are finished, it is time to take out the film. Unlike other adapted medium format cameras, this can be done in daylight. Like most film manufacturers recommend, do it in subdued light if you can.
First you attach the rewind handle, which screws into the tripod socket. Then you press the black film release button to allow the take up spool to disengage. Finally, you rewind using the handle which is familiar to most 35mm camera users. Once the film is back in the cartridge, take it out and process it.
Mamiya Polarizing Filter ZE702
The Mamiya ZE702 Polarizing Filter is a circular polarising filter specifically designed for the Mamiya 6, 7 and Bronica medium format rangefinder cameras. While most filters you put onto a lens can be worked out using some form of exposure compensation, with a circular polariser it depends on the degree of polarisation that it is adjusted to.
This filter fits onto the lens the same way the lens cap does rather than through the usual filter thread. It is designed for the bigger lenses with 67mm diameter, like the 43mm and 150mm, but comes with an insert which reduces this down to 58mm diameter for the other lenses. You would never know it is an insert, it is that well made.
Once on, when you are ready to set up your shot, the filter swings up. You can now spin it to obtain the polarisation you would like by viewing above your camera. Do not try and view this through the viewfinder. If an accessory viewfinder is attached, you can use that.
As it also comes up in front of the metering window, it will also adjust the metering based on your setting. When you are ready, just swing it back down in front of the lens and shoot.
As I mentioned previously, the Mamiya 7 came to me as a combined birthday and Christmas present from my family. I can’t say it was a surprise as something like that is not just bought without knowing what you want, but it was bought for those occasions. It happens they are close together as I was born in December. It was purchased with the 80mm lens.
The body was bought as new/old stock, something that comes with its own risks, but the seller in Japan was very precise in the description and came with a warranty. It arrived in the original box, which itself looks quite new. On my birthday, I opened it up, and have even posted some initial thoughts on the camera in a previous post.
I am not a big fan of the “titanium” colouring, but can overlook that, as the camera naturally fits into my hand. That is correct, I made a connection with this camera from the moment I picked it up. Maybe that is for my size of hand, the way I like to shoot, or even just that I like rangefinders. Could be all of that and then much, much more. Straight away I could see that this is a precision instrument. An instrument that supports me in what I am trying to achieve with it.
Since that day, the Mamiya 7 has been with me on many trips. It is the perfect travel camera and the addition of the 65mm and 43mm lenses has just complimented that. It fits into a small to medium shoulder bag very easily, weighs almost nothing and is ready to use at a moment’s notice. The only thing that annoys me, and it is a tiny thing, is that the strap lugs are on the side of the camera. Hanging is not an issue, it is when I bring it to my eye, the strap can sometimes be annoying.
But when I do pull the camera to my eye, the viewfinder is very bright, the frame lines are clear, and the metering is very readable in bright red LED lights. It is an experience looking through the viewfinder of this camera. It is so clear and contrasty that framing your picture becomes a pleasure. The aperture setting would have been nice alongside the shutter speed. But that is a very small wish.
Focusing is helped by a very clear and reasonably sized focusing patch in the middle. I have not had an issue focusing in any situation. The Mamiya 7 reportedly does suffer from rangefinder misalignment, but I have never experienced that and even in shallow apertures it has been spot on. Even if it did misalign, that is a regular service item.
Metering is something that takes a bit to get used to with the Mamiya 7. It is a very narrow meter reading. I can understand why it has been called almost a spot meter. This has allowed me to be very precise with my metering, a luxury I have really enjoyed. With this type of metering, you can expose for the differences in the scene. For instance, between the sky and the ground which may have some shadows.
Interestingly, it still does very well in the overall scene once you understand how it performs this function. A good example is at night photography, where you can use the meter reading to capture the subject in the light that is covering them. All this shows how using a camera like this is partnership between you and the brilliant minds in Mamiya that build this machine.
Speaking of brilliant design, cast your mind on the 35mm panoramic kit. That was something I was very keen to get and thought about it long and hard. Have a look online on how much these kits go for now, and it is not a quick decision. In the end, I decided this was something I was going to do often, and really did not want to invest in my own xPan. One of the best decisions I have made regarding camera accessories.
I have had so much fun with this. Both with the mask in and out. I am not much of a sprocket man, but it can be a fun output. Framing for the 35mm panoramic is not as easy as the xPan, with its dedicated viewfinder. This is not a dedicated 35mm panoramic camera though, and the viewfinder is clear enough up to the 65mm lens. On the 80mm it gets a little tougher and I would not even try on the 150mm.
Another fun thing to do with this camera is to shoot infrared. I had not considered doing that, but one day at the lab the owner offered a roll of Rollei Infrared 400 to me. It was expiring and as a good customer he gave it to me. I should really check on how much money I spend there.
I bought an IR720 filter and the following weekend I took it for a spin. Being a rangefinder, it is perfect for this type of photography as you are not looking through the lens. The filter is so dark that you could not be able compose or focus, but with a rangefinder you can do all of that. The challenge is that it brings the exposure down so much that you must be careful with movement or use a tripod.
The results were so fun that one of them is hanging in my house. It has spurred on an interest now to explore this further, though infrared film is less available these days.
All these nice things about the camera are worth absolutely nothing if it did not produce good results. It does not just produce good results; the results are exceptional! When I first got the camera, I expected something special, but the lenses in this system have exceeded my expectations by a huge amount. The negatives and even the low latitude positives have almost always come out spot on. Furthermore, the sharpness, the contrast and the exposure has just been extraordinary.
I mentioned earlier that some people feel the images from the Mamiya 7 are too perfect, but I must disagree. There is no such thing as a too perfect photograph. The tools that have been developed since photography has started have always been pushing the boundaries to increase the quality, and that will never change. Why not use a tool which is considered the top of the range.
In the lens section I mentioned how all the lenses were considered to have edge to edge sharpness. That is totally true, as is the fact they have been corrected to almost remove any distortion completely. And apart from the 43mm all lenses have no vignetting. On that lens it is so minimal where I would never bother correcting it.
The Mamiya 7 has become my favourite camera to use. It fits my way of photography perfectly, whether for travel or otherwise. I don’t expect it would for everyone, but then each person should find “their” camera. I do continue to use other cameras as I still collect, but if I had to reduce my collection to a few cameras, the Mamiya 7 would stay regardless how small the number would be.
While I believe the Mamiya 7 is the perfect camera for me, I would hesitate to recommend to everyone. If cost was not a factor, it would be a slam dunk recommendation. It is one of the most finely made photographic machines ever made. But unfortunately, cost is a major factor in this evaluation. For me, it is still worthwhile. The joy it gives me, the results I get out of it and the convenience it provides makes it that way. For yourself, you would have to consider the same questions and do not make this decision lightly.
At Dusty Grain there is a great write up; Mamiya 7 Review: Is this the best camera ever made?
At Shoot It With Film, Drew Evans writes Mamiya 7 Review: Does this medium format rangefinder live up to the hype?
Stephen Milner has a series of video reviews of the Mamiya 7 in: New Zealand Landscape Photographer Reviews the Mamiya 7 Camera
Ken Rockwell sings praise on the camera in his review of the Mamiya 7.
A great post as always. So much to learn about a camera’s history.
A few years ago, I managed to snap up a Mamiya 6 for a “good price.” For a medium format camera, it’s portable, but not by other standards. 🙂 Need to take out my Mamiya 6 and probably buy a new battery first.
Thank you, for the very kind words. You should get it out and running again. The 6 is also a very wonderful camera with many of the same characteristics. I am sure you will very much enjoy it!
Great review and some wonderful images.
I borrowed a Mamiya 7 with a 65mm lens for 7 months last year while I travelled .. I think I managed to put 3 or 4 rolls through it, and the camera just didn’t ‘work’ for me.
I can understand the appeal in its size and the quality of the images it makes, but I just didn’t like using it – I don’t know exactly why, maybe the ergonomics don’t suit my hands, and the shutter didn’t help (too sensitive).
You can’t love every camera.
But all of that just means there isn’t one in my collection so there can be one in someone else’s collection!
Thank you Nick, I am glad you enjoyed it.
Everyone needs to find “their” camera and it will be different for everyone. Sometimes it’s just the connection to a type of workflow, or certain experiences which also set the connection. Your approach of leaving it to someone else to use is a nice one.