The Mamiya 6: a camera that the internet touts as one of the premier film cameras of all time. I owned the camera for about a year before moving on to some other cameras to try out, and I’ve decided to throw some words and pictures together into an actual review after sharing some thoughts on the camera online.
Whenever I research cameras, I typically find a lot of gear porn reviews that talk more about a camera’s features than the way it actually operates in real life. And while those types of reviews are helpful to know the ins and outs of a camera’s functional abilities, they often don’t provide too much insight on how the camera actually operates in the hands of a photographer.
For background on myself, I’m fortunate enough to shoot full-time for Under Armour and have had the opportunity to own and shoot a handful of “holy grail” analog cameras, including the Mamiya 6, Mamiya 7ii, Hasselblad 500cm, Hasselblad Xpan, Leica M6, Pentax 6x7, as well as a few others. Hopefully some of my experiences with those cameras can help mold this review into something beneficial for photographers interested in owning a Mamiya 6… or maybe they won’t. Either way, here are some of my thoughts on arguably the best medium format rangefinder of all time.
While I don’t want to focus too much on the physical camera features in a review like this, I feel like I have to acknowledge the Mamiya 6’s ability to retract its lens into the body. This has been touched on in plenty of other reviews online, but the camera’s ability to be ultra compact (in terms of medium format film cameras, at least) is awesome and one of the many reasons that I regret selling mine. This feature makes the camera really, really, really simple to use in a ton of different situations. It’s easy to walk around with, easy to travel with, and opens the door to shoot a bunch of situations that you might not be possible with other medium format film cameras. I must admit that I prefer shooting the 6x7 format that the Mamiya 7 and 7ii feature, but I think I’d rather throw the 6 over my shoulder before either of those bodies due to how much smaller it is to move around with.
…And now on to the lenses. Everyone loves to talk about the legendary Mamiya lenses— as they rightfully should. I used the 75mm f/3.5 lens on my kit and I loved it. From all indications, the 50mm is just as awesome (if not more awesome with that wide angle view). I do wish that I had tried out the 50mm when I owned the Mamiya 6, but I’m sure someday I’ll take another go at the camera and I’ll make sure to get my hands on a 50mm when I do. I wouldn’t be too keen to try out the 150mm as I’m not as interested in longer focal lengths, but I’ve seen that lens produce some great results as well.
I occasionally had some soft images come from my Mamiya 6 due to missed focus (I think that the rangefinder calibration on the body I owned might have been a tad bit off)— but when focused properly, the images that came from my kit were amazingly sharp. Again, this isn’t a groundbreaking take on the camera’s abilities since most people have similar praise, but I do think it’s worth reinforcing the fact that the lenses available for this camera are capable of capturing some super, super sharp images.
But as some people would argue, sharpness isn’t everything… which led to my most important learning with the Mamiya 6: having a camera like this will not magically make your photos “better” the same way that some other cameras might.
The Mamiya 6 was my first film camera after having shot entirely on digital in my career, so it took a little bit of adjusting to get used to a rangefinder and to the type of images that the Mamiya 6 makes. A 75mm lens on a 6x6 camera is fairly wide, and you won’t be getting a ton of bokeh even when opened all the way up at f/3.5. Beyond that, the Mamiya lenses aren’t exactly known for extreme bokeh, so don’t expect the same type of depth of field that you might experience with other camera systems. Because of this, shooting with the Mamiya 6 forced me to slow down (a super cliche film phrase, but it’s true) and forced me to start truly paying attention to composition since I didn’t have that shallow depth of field to rely on for beautiful pictures.
In my opinion, rewiring my brain to shoot the Mamiya 6’s rangefinder at f/5.6, f/8, and even f/16 (gasp!) in order to nail focus in different environments really helped me improve my photography skills. I’ve had people reach out to me after they bought a Mamiya 6 looking for tips, and a few of them mentioned that their images felt a bit lifeless and boring with the camera… And I told them the same thing I’m telling you: the Mamiya 6 can make some incredible photos, but the photographer behind the lens will have to learn to work with composition to really make the most out of the camera.
Like all cameras out there, there are pros and cons to the Mamiya 6. And to me, the main tradeoff with the Mamiya 6 system is sharpness for bokeh. Shooting this camera will not give you the same ease of use that a film camera like the Pentax 6x7 + 105mm f/2.4 will. A camera setup like that will make portraits a breeze and can make pretty much anything look semi-interesting with its super dreamy style. If you’re looking for a camera that does some of that legwork for you, then I’d suggest going a different route.
But instead of giving you the ability to make those soft, dream-like photos, the Mamiya 6 has a more classic style. It opens the door to beautifully detailed shots, but it also requires attention to framing from the photographer using it. And make no mistake about it— the camera can produce some great photos.
Once I started getting a better feel for composition with the Mamiya 6, I saw plenty of positive results in my own overall skillset as a photographer. The camera helped me open up new stylistic options while shooting with all different types of cameras, especially when using those composition skills in combination with a more bokeh-friendly kit.
So overall, I think the Mamiya 6 can provide fantastic results… especially if you’re looking for a camera that will force you to rethink how you make photos. You won’t find any significant faults in the body design or with the way that the camera functions— the only drawback to the system is that it might lead to some “boring” photos at first. But once you get used to the style that it takes to shoot the Mamiya 6, the sky is the ceiling for both the camera as well as your skillset.