Good morning you awesome war torn camera geeks! Recently I found this photo and it’s quite timely because this week, the little baby in the photo is turning fourteen! I can hardly believe it!
This image was a self portrait taken in 2007 with a Rolleiflex 2.8F with the 80mm f/2.8 Planar lens. Film unrecorded but I’d bet it’s either Tri-X or T-Max. When it comes to film choices, I’m nothing if predictable 😍
I don’t think I’ve used a self timer before or since on a TLR!! Have you?
Friend, as you know there’s always a healthy dose of nostalgia on my pages and it’s not without reason. This weekend the twentieth anniversary of the September 11th 2001 attacks came to pass. Twenty years in the blink of an eye.
Same here with this photo. 2007 was a year that changed my life and yet every year it is seemingly passing by ever faster, becoming a fading memory. I’m not sure how other people deal with the passage of time but I’m just a sentimental fool I guess. My Dad was like that, I guess it runs in the family!
I cannot stop time but I can record it through photographs. I suggest you do the same because in the end memories are all we’ve got. Have a beautiful week good peeps! And thanks😍🙏🏻👍🏻
Today for your Throwback Thursday we will take a ride on the Time Machine and go back to the 1970s & 1980s to retrieve a mysterious camera from the Forbidden Kingdom Of China 😊
In a world where almost every other camera is “Made In China” it’s still relatively uncommon to find a camera from China here in the States, especially a film camera that was actually manufactured in China and made by a Chinese company, for the Chinese homeland market.
Behind the vast Chinese Empire and behind the Great Wall originated a camera they actually called the “Great Wall” or more officially the Great Wall DF camera! 😊
Today, we will try to unlock the mystery of this intriguing Chinese Medium Format camera.
I feel like Leonard Nimoy on “In Search Of” haha! And even though I’m getting older, I’m not that old! So how come it seems like nobody else remembers “In Search Of?” Did the show even exist? 😀😎👍🏻
The Great Wall DF is a 6×6 medium format film camera produced by the Beijing Camera Factory. Although no information I could find list the exact years, they are stated to have been made during the 1970s and through the 1980s. It was marketed as a low budget camera for the masses.
WHAT IS THE GREAT WALL DF?
What is the Great Wall DF specifically? As mentioned it is a medium format camera that shoots 6x6cm images on 120 roll film. But it was also marketed as being able to shoot 6×4.5 via the insertion of a mask.
The camera is a Single Lens Reflex (SLR) in that it uses a reflex mirror for viewing. The difference between this and most SLR’s is that the mirror is part of the shutter mechanism and thus it uses what is called a guillotine shutter.
This is a similar shutter mechanism to the one used in the German Pilot cameras of which the Great Wall DF is based.
The lens mount is also interesting in that it is said to be a Leica M39 screwmount. Now this sounds good on paper but apparently due to technical issues, you cannot use the lenses the way you might think you could.
First of all those lenses are made for 35mm and this is a 6×6 Medium Format camera. If you could use it as a medium format lens, there would probably be vignetting, an image circle, etc. Secondly you probably won’t get infinity focus.
I can tell you that the few Leica screwmount lenses I have do not actually screw into the threaded mount of the DF. In other words, to use these lenses you’d have to use a technique called “freelensing” in which you hold the lens to the mount and just take the shot while holding the lens.
I have done this, especially in the good old days when adapters were not readily available. But trying this with a pricey lens, I’m not inclined to do! Don’t want to drop the lens or the camera!
I can also attest that with a lens such as the 28mm f/1.9 “freelensed” in front of the camera, it appears I could get some nice macro shots but it would have to be really close!
As part of my attempt to integrate video into your experience, here’s my YouTube video for the Great Wall DF. It is close to 15 minutes which it really shouldn’t be! This is a cheap camera that not many know and my “Mystery Camera” segments are usually five minutes tops. But I’m trying to give you guys my all so this might be my new norm. Sorry I haven’t gotten back to some of you guys like I usually do but the edits and reedits kill me! I just want to make sure all my information is correct.
Besides, as a huge Bruce Lee and Martial Arts fan, I’ve always wanted to star in a “Chop Socky” Kung-Fu flick and the intro to this video shows my MMA skills or lack thereof haha 🙂
MY EXPERIENCES WITH THE GREAT WALL DF
As someone who has stated over and over again that I love all cameras, I’ve always been fascinated with the very few Chinese film cameras that pop up on the used market here in the USA.
My very first China based camera is the Seagull medium format TLR that is much more common on the used market.
It’s strange that even though Communist China has been trading goods with us for decades, especially since President Nixon opened China’s doors in 1972, we still have seen precious little of their photography gear market, or shall I say their film photography market.
The few companies that stand out in my head for film cameras are Seagull, Pearl River, Great Wall and perhaps a couple more that I can’t recall at this time.
Today, we may have a lot more Chinese companies like Yongnuo, 7Artisans, for example, selling digital gear (mostly lenses) but the film stuff from even decades ago, it is harder to come by.
Perhaps it’s because they were intended for the home market? Perhaps the Chinese knew that most of these cameras were not high quality items? Who knows. That’s why it’s a mystery!
IS IT A CULT CAMERA?
It might possibly be, but if it is a cult camera, the “cult” must be very small because there is just so little on this camera. In fact, my YouTube video posted today seems to be the only video I can find on YouTube as of this writing.
There is actually another video of this camera that has been on the internet for a while. It’s a short clip showing how to work the camera, but it is very short and only hosted on the author’s webpage not on YouTube.
The very little that’s on this camera is scattered through blogs and forum postings. But I give credit where credit is due and those guys who have used this camera before me, their information is GREAT! I’ve tried to put all I’ve learned here and on my video.
PRELIMINARY SAMPLE IMAGES
Here are just a few quick and dirty samples from my first roll. They are not intended to be artistic masterpieces. I was just testing the camera and was actually just happy and relieved that the camera was working properly.
“Saturday Morning” 2019. Great Wall DF, 90mm f/3.5, Ilford FP4 in D76.
“Zen Camera” 2019. Great Wall DF, 90mm f/3.5, Ilford FP4 in D76.
“Sunday Star” 2019. Great Wall DF, 90mm f/3.5, Ilford FP4 in D76. This might have been my best shot in the roll had it not been soft and off focus! Note the tiny bit of overlap from the next frame.
Please do not judge the technical merits of this camera based on these photos. There are in fact much sharper samples from this camera on the internet to look at.
This was a test roll from a first time user of the camera. The photos were every day photos taken around the house just to see if the camera was working and I’m happy to report it works!
I made some mistakes and encountered some issues with this camera. First mistake was using Ilford FP4 which is rated at ISO 125. This was disadvantageous when using a camera with a slowish f/3.5 lens but the reason I used the FP4 was because I had a problem getting film into the film chamber of this camera! This is addressed below in the “Issues” section.
Overall, I’m encouraged enough to try another roll in this camera!
From all accounts on the internet, there may be as many as five or six different versions. Here’s my observations, not just from the scattered information I’ve read but from observing photos of the camera and comparing them to my copy. Feel free to correct me if any of this is wrong:
DF: Earliest model. No self timer, flash shoe, or PC socket.
DF2: “DF-2” imprinted on front name plate. No self timer, flash shoe, or PC socket.
DF3: Has self-timer, cable release socket, but no flash shoe, no PC socket.
DF4: Has self timer, cable release socket, flash shoe and PC socket.
Based on what I can tell, my model might be the DF4! In fact, I took the plunge on it because it was advertised as a DF-2 “Parts” camera and upon looking at the photos and the low price I said why not?! 🙂
Now if you can’t find a DF-3 or DF-4 don’t sweat it, they’re all basically the same cameras. Unless you really need to use a cable release or need a flash socket, I wouldn’t worry about it.
This camera has all the FUNK you’d want! It starts with getting a roll of film into the film chamber. The main reason I used the Ilford FP4 in it, despite it being a slower film for indoor use, is the fact that it was the only roll of film I could get to fit in it! Even then, I had to slightly bend the edges to get it in.
From what I’ve read, some films fit in there better, easier, like perhaps Fuji films vs Kodak. But the Fuji roll I tried was also stiff to get in.
Next issue is I could not see any of the frame numbers through the window for the “frame counter” so I had to guesstimate the spacing.
Next issue is sometimes when pressing the shutter release, the mirror flips up but I felt as if the shutter was not coming down. Since they are both a part of that guillotine shutter, I felt the shutter should’ve come down. Hard for me to explain but when you’re holding the camera and shooting it, you can tell when the shutter has come down by the feel and the “clunk” and when it is not coming down.
Next issue was frame overlaps. I had expected some of this based on the reviews I had read and to be honest, it was not too bad for most of the shots but on one shot it seemed like I had three exposures on one frame! Perhaps it was me, but I can’t imagine shooting and not advancing the film three times.
Part of the reason I did not take the camera outside for prolonged shooting was I got the impression that I might be wasting my time, fearing nothing was getting exposed but I’m glad I was wrong!
PRICE & AVAILABILITY
The Great Wall DF is somewhat rare on the used market but that doesn’t not mean it should be pricey.
First of all, not many people are looking for this camera. Only someone “special” or weirdos like me haha 🙂
Secondly, the build quality is not high. It feels solid enough but does not feel like it would take a lot of abuse. The seller even stressed to me it was on the flimsy side.
That said, it feels better in my hands than you would think based on people’s descriptions. Plus it’s one of the smallest and lightest 6×6 SLR’s you could buy.
I got mine for $75 but if you’re seeking one of these, do so carefully. Prices are trending at $60-160 USD. They usually come with the 90mm f/3.5 Great Wall lens. I wouldn’t pay over $150 for one of these.
The shutters have been known to fail so use gently. I’m not trying to scare you. It’s possibly that yours could last years, but it’s also possible it could fail tomorrow. That’s one great thing about cheap cameras. If they fail, you’re not out for much. But if this was a $1000 plus camera, I’d worry about it!
The Great Wall DF may never be a Camera Legend. Perhaps it is in China, I don’t know, but in the overall annals of history I don’t think it is or ever will be.
That said, it’s one of the more interesting cameras I have tried in a long time! There’s something addictive about “Cheap Plus Results” as I say. If it’s a cheap camera that gives me decent results, and it seems like it could do even better than the results I got? I’m in!
In closing, I know there’s just a small group of people fanatic enough about cameras to be interested in this camera but I hope that I have helped to demystify the Great Wall DF a bit for you if you are one of those uncommon people!
Thanks for reading and feel free to drop me a line if you have this camera!
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Hello everyone! Looking back on my writings, it seems we haven’t had one of these “Best Camera I Never Knew” postings in a while! Over a year in fact!
So today we’re back with a camera that may not be well known to the masses, but is quite popular on photo sharing sites like Flickr and elsewhere. And you guys, my dear readers, are NOT the masses! It is a cult favorite, the Super Ricohflex.
THE SUPER RICOHFLEX
The Super Ricohflex was introduced in 1956 by Ricoh of Japan. It is a Medium Format twin lens reflex camera that takes 6×6 images on 120 film.
At its heart is the taking lens which is an 80mm f/3.5 Ricoh Anastigmat. It uses a geared focusing system much like the Kodak Reflex of 1946.
The camera has a shutter speed range of 1/10-1/200 secs plus Bulb in a Riken shutter. I have read of other models with higher shutter speeds, but I have had three of them at different points in my life, from different random sellers and they all had up to 1/200. If you have a model with a higher shutter speed range, I’d love to hear about it!
“Super Ricoh Man” 2009. Super Ricohflex, Ilford HP5 Plus in T-Max Developer. More than a narcissistic selfie, I hope you can see that stopped down a little, the Super Ricohflex is capable of nicely sharp images 🙂
WHAT I LIKE ABOUT THE SUPER RICOHFLEX
When in working condition, the Super Ricohflex is capable of giving images with “character” especially wide open at f/3.5. That is the best way I can describe it.
The 80mm f/3.5 Ricoh Anastigmat is one of those lenses capable of giving you that ever popular on Flickr “swirly bokeh” look.
“Escape To Reality” 2009. Super Ricohflex, Ilford HP5 Plus in T-Max Developer. An example of the swirly “dreamy” image that the Super Ricohflex can make.
In my opinion, this usually comes from a lens that is optically not at its technical best, and the swirly bokeh is somewhat overplayed by bokeh fanatics, but that said, if used judiciously it can produce “dreamy” memorable images.
Stopped down, the images can be very sharp at f/5.6-f/8 as are most decent lenses.
For those of you who prefer to watch a video, here is my first “The Best Camera I Never Knew” episode on YouTube starring the Super Ricohflex! 😎
It may seem like a shameless plug, and it is, but I am trying to expand your experience here and I’ll be tying in videos as I can so get used to it! 🙂
Think of it this way? Why would I want to do double work, blog and video, when I could just do one or the other? If it weren’t for you guys, my fellow Camera Lovers, I’d not bother with the videos!
And because I had received a critical comment from a reader who did not understand what this series is about, I address this in the video too. Plus trying out some new theme songs haha! 🙂
WHY IT DIDN’T JIVE WITH ME?
Simple. I had three of these cameras! I got my first one in 2009. I sold one and I still have two. All three of them ended up having the infamous “Frozen Focus” issue. And what is that?
In the introduction, I mentioned that these cameras use a geared type of focusing mechanism. What that means is the viewing lens and taking lens are geared together and by moving one you move the other.
That in itself shouldn’t be an issue, but whatever grease Ricoh put into these lenses have been known to notoriously seize up with time.
Out of my three copies, only one was working, and even that one was already on the outs when I got it. It was not perfectly smooth. I left it on the shelf for about, I’m gonna guess cause it’s been years, but approximately 3-5 months. The next time I picked up the camera…stiff as a rock!!
So as of today, the two copies I have are pretty much worthless as shooters. Thankfully, they did not cost me much!
A competent camera technician should be able to repair these cameras. From what I have heard, it’s not a simple matter of taking the lenses off and regreasing them yourself. It’s a bit of a delicate process. Therefore it’s better to leave it up to the experts if you have no experience with camera repair.
One person I remember offhand that might do the repair is Mark Hansen out of Wisconsin. He’s a great repairman with a solid reputation for working on Zeiss and Rolleis. I believe he is still in business though I do not know if he’s willing to repair the Super Ricohflex and if he is, how much it will cost. If you contact him, tell him Sam from CameraLegend.com sent you!
PRICES & WHERE TO BUY?
If seeking one of these cult classics, and I’m not sure that’s a good idea, prices are trending at $20-60. Keep in mind, due to the possibility of the camera needing a CLA, the low price you might pay belie the true cost after the camera has received a CLA.
However, once you get a CLA from a good repairman, I can attest that the Super Ricohflex is a good and fun budget shooter.
As I love all cameras, it is not my goal to pick on the Super Ricohflex. Ricoh is a Camera Legend whose cameras I have used and praised often. I do totally understand that a camera this old may need a CLA as most cameras of this vintage would benefit from also.
However, as I mentioned in the video…This is no Rolleiflex. And it was not intended to be. It cost much less than a Rolleiflex or even most Rolleicords, the budget Rollei TLRs.
A Rolleiflex could be sitting there for 30 years and I’d be willing to bet, most would still be functioning. Not so with the Super Ricohflex. If you have one, use it often, keep exercising those gears! Whatever grease Ricoh used in these cameras are infamous for freezing up.
That said, when it worked, this camera gave me some memorable images that left me curious for more. That’s why I ended up with three of them only to find out that the Super Ricohflex is indeed, one of the Best Cameras I Never Knew! 🙂
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“Saturday In The Park” 2016. Mamiya 6, 75mm f/3.5 Mamiya G lens, Kodak T-Max 400 in D76 developer.
In my effort to be more active for you good people, here’s a shot and short article for today. Shot with a Mamiya 6 and 75mm f/3.5 Sekor. I actually shot this a couple of years ago before I sold the camera. It was in Central Park.
Speaking of “Saturday In The Park” I recently saw a CNN documentary which I think is a couple of years old, on one of America’s oldest and greatest pop/rock bands, Chicago. I loved their stuff from the 70s and 80s although admittedly they went into the “soft rock” category with the rise of (then) lead singer Peter Cetera, not that it’s a bad thing mind you.
I always thought the band broke up because of Cetera and his ever growing star in the 80s. But now I’m not so sure it was really a case of someone getting a big head or whether he and the band could just no longer get along.
Just like another great 80s band Journey, I’ll always associate Cetera’s voice with Chicago just as I associate Steve Perry with Journey.
Anyway, I’m drifting off course! Music just happens to be my other passion. I especially like rock and popular music from the 50s through the 90s. Not much for music after that 😀
The Mamiya 6 is a Camera Legend. I had a complete outfit in 2009 including the body, 75mm f/3.5, 50mm f/4, and 150mm f/4.5 telephoto. I started selling off the lenses first, then the camera and 75mm because I wasn’t using it enough and needed funds for other things. You know the deal 😊
I’ve always thought of giving the Mamiya 6 a formal write-up on these pages and I’m sure I’ll get to it one of these days, but I’m not sure I could write enough to do it justice. It’s a fantastic medium format rangefinder. In fact, if I had the funds I could easily talk myself into it again!
If you look at the photo, you’ll notice some blotches, most notably on the bottom right, a result of my imperfect developing. Not making any excuses, but many people actually do not mind, and some even “want” these imperfectons these days! Don’t believe me? You should see what people are liking on Instagram! I guess it’s part of what people today consider a part of that “film look.”
Back in the day, I don’t remember people loving imperfect pictures all that much, but since this shot is imperfect…ok, I’m cool with it! 🙂
I’ve always said and it’s worth repeating that T-Max 400 is a beautiful film that develops best in T-Max Developer. As I did not have any T-Max Developer on hand, I decided to take my chances with D76.
I’ve noticed that when in D76, the T-Max will have a tendency to produce streaks and blotches. Sometimes I get lucky and get a clean set, but T-Max 400 seems more finicky than other films and results with T-Max Developer are consistently smooth.
Well, that’s it for this morning. Oh one more thing, these are not all my kids! 😀
“Sunday” 2017. Baby basking in the Sunday morning light with her YouTube nursery rhymes on her iPad. Rolleiflex 3.5F Planar, Kodak T-Max 400 developed in T-Max RS Developer.
Many of you who read these pages would probably know that I’ve always been a huge fan of Rollei and in particular the Rolleiflex TLR cameras. My favorite of course is the glorious Rolleiflex 2.8C with the Schneider Xenotar lens which I wrote about here.
Even though I’ve shot my many various Rolleiflexes and Rolleicords which were f/3.5 models, I admit I have a peculiar fondness for the 2.8 models.
It may even be some kind of unconscious snobbery, but I (as I’m sure many of you) have a thing for fast lenses and in the world of Rollei TLRs, f/2.8 is IT.
Now this is not something exclusive to the Rolleiflexes or TLRs, it’s everything! I mean, think of how many of you will perceive a 70-200mm f/3.5 zoom lens versus a 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom? Of course, many will gravitate towards the f/2.8 version. That half stop means alot!! At least in the mind 🙂
But the fondness for fast lenses is not just something we want for no reason. For me at least, I prefer shooting in natural or available light, sometimes in less than ideal conditions. A faster lens would allow me to choose a faster shutter speed, minimizing the chances of blurry images. When you’re shooting at f/2.8 and ISO 400 film in dim or available room light, believe me, you’re going to want all the light you can get. There is a method to our madness, a reason after all!
With that in mind, and being that I already have the 2.8C model, I’ve always kept the 3.5F Rolleiflexes out of my mind. The 3.5F just like the 2.8F is also a top-tier model. Both also offer the option of either the Planar or Xenotar lenses.
However the problem for me was that these cameras are also nearly as expensive as the 2.8 models and if I were going to pay that price, I’d just get the 2.8! Now I got the 2.8 fairly cheaply back in 2008. I wouldn’t be able to get one these days with my current finances 😦
So how did I come across the 3.5F? Maybe a little luck and like I said many times before, the cameras come to me! I was looking for something else entirely when I came across an ad for a Rolleiflex 3.5F in what was described as “user” condition. The party said he was selling for his uncle. I asked for detailed pictures and negotiated a price of $200 which was all I could afford at that time.
When I got the camera, I got the sinking feeling that this might be a piece of junk! It looked a little shabby, but I felt I could clean it up. The main thing that troubled me was the shutter didn’t have a reassuring sound. It seemed all the speeds sounded almost the same, and very weak at that. TLR’s generally have soft, quiet shutters anyway, but this one somehow felt different. On top of that the camera didn’t feel as robust as I’ve been used to from my other Rolleiflexes.
“Brother Fro” 2017. Gotta love the hair on Brother Fro! Rolleiflex 3.5F Planar, Kodak T-Max 400 developed in T-Max RS Developer.
I came to the conclusion that the shutter speeds were not accurate, but I decided to pop some film in it and give it a try. Not expecting much, I just shot randomly around the house using my usual “kid test” that I’ve mentioned before. I didn’t think I’d have anything worthy of posting for you good peeps! I said might as well try some film in it before I put it on the shelf while saving up for a CLA.
When I developed the roll, I said…WOW! This lens is SHARP!! It may even be better than my beloved 2.8C.
“Sunday” 100 percent crop of the top image. Unaltered, sorry for the dust! But note the detail on the baby’s shirt and the fabric. It’s probably better seen on a computer versus your smartphone.
It’s not all positive though. I believe I was right about the shutter speeds not being accurate. They all appear to be a little slower than their rated speed. How much I can’t determine. Many of the images that should’ve been good were underexposed.
“Kodak” 2017. Rolleiflex 3.5F Planar, Kodak T-Max 400 developed in T-Max RS Developer. An example shot showing the typical underexposure I experienced testing this camera. Admittedly, this is a bit of a tough lighting scheme and I’m probably to blame for my “guesstimation” exposure. But note the studio light to the right and the spoon on the table to the left. They are sharp. Oh, as a result of my imperfect development, somehow the word “Kodak” from the film strip is etched into this image, and seemingly in the right place for it! 🙂
But the ones that came out sharp, man they were sharp! And contrasty too. This lens made a better impression on me than the 2.8F Planar I tried back in 2004.
I’m going to try another roll in it. Maybe shoot some street with it. I think this lens would be great for that. Will keep you all posted. Till then, Happy Sunday! 🙂
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The Fuji Instax Square might be this year’s “got to have it” photography gift! It combines a digital camera with analog prints. The printer is built into the camera! And at $229.95 and up, it’s affordable! I’m tempted to get this one myself!
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“House On Greenwich Street” 2009. Rolleiflex 2.8C, 80mm f/2.8 Xenotar lens, Kodak T-Max 400 in T-Max Developer in NYC.
About eight years ago I was down in Greenwich Village and just happened to walk by this amazing home that seemed almost completely covered in leaves. It caught my eye and it’s hard to miss. I grabbed my trusty Rolleiflex 2.8C and took a photo of it.
At that time I was posting to photo forums and I titled it “House On Mockingbird Lane” as a tribute to the spooky Munsters television show. That’s the first thing that came to mind since the eery house seemed to be in the process of being “eaten” by the growing leaves. I’m a big fan of these homes covered in leaves and this was one of the best I’ve ever seen.
It was many years later that I discovered the house actually belonged to the famous photographer Annie Leibovitz who was still the owner at that time! She has since sold the place, which I think consisted of three buildings and was called a “compound” by the local papers. As you may or may not know, Annie has photographed Kings and Queens, pro athletes and presidents. She has done it all in photography.
If you want to look at more pictures of the place, search for “755 Greenwich Street.” Quite awesome to see that place in person and then to learn that it belonged to a world famous photographer. That’s why I say…always carry a camera! 🙂
Oh yes my friends, Summer is now officially here! If it sound a little late, it’s because I actually started this draft on June 20th! Almost a week late and seven dollars short 🙂
Anyway, this is the time all kids look forward to. Do you remember your summers as a kid? Parents, while they may not happy having the rowdy kids home full time, they too will enjoy the summertime as an excuse to bring their kids somewhere that they too may have wanted to go to.
I used to love summers as a kid, but now as an adult I much prefer the spring time. I don’t really enjoy hot weather and from a photographic perspective, I also think the spring is prettier.
Anyway, this is a shot from 2010 taken with a Bronica RF645, 65mm f/4 Zenzanon lens on Kodak T-Max 400 film and developed in T-Max developer. The Bronica Rangefinder or RF (as most people call it) was one of those cameras that I did not expect to like, but ended up loving.
Why did I not expect to like it? As some of you may know, I love fast lenses. The fastest lenses for the RF start at f/4. Of course, you can still get shallow DOF and that medium format look, but f/4 is still f/4 as fas as light transmission goes and I’m always shooting in less than ideal light conditions.
On this shot however, it was in the late afternoon sun and it was good enough for the Zenzanon lens to do its thing.
Also there aren’t many lenses for this system. You’re limited to about three lenses, I think. Having used a Fuji GA645 before, I also was not fond of the default “portrait” orientation on these cameras even though I do a lot of portraits. I’ve gotten used to tilting the camera vertically when I want to do a portrait.
The Bronco RF645 was made during the period when Tamron owned the company so I’ve always wondered if Tamron made the lenses since they are also a well renowned lens manufacturer. Tamron has always made great lenses, most of which were sharp with a modern look. I was concerned that if Tamron made these lenses, they would be sharp but perhaps lack character.
The only reason I got this camera was because I got a very good deal as part of a trade with a photo forum member. I also remember being impressed with some portraits from this camera from some talented shooters on Flickr. I wouldn’t have bought this camera as an outright purchase, but buying and selling works if you want to try other stuff!
I ended up loving the camera and Zenzanon lens because they gave me that “look” that few cameras deliver consistently. The camera and lens, especially when shot on Kodak T-Max 400 always delivered for me.
To me, the shot above has a good balance of sharp focus and just the right amount of bokeh to show the environment. In this case, you can see the hotels on the left side of the picture, in the bokeh zone. If you look hard enough, you may also just barely make out the famous Wildwoods roller coaster in the far distance to the right of the baby. See how the Zenzanon lens’ focus “melts” from the foreground to the background without getting too “nervous” like some lenses can get. This was shot on Wildwoods Beach on the Jersey Shore.
While I love super shallow bokeh, it is somewhat overplayed in my opinion. The Bronica RF645 and 65mm f/4 Zenzanon is great for environmental portraits which show your surroundings while still giving a very nice and smooth transition from sharp to soft.
This is one combo that I regret letting go! Well, there are quite a few I regret, but I will say again that this combo gave me very consistent results that I loved. Consistent is the key word here! I have a large print of this image on my wall an it looks just as it does here, maybe even better as details are more apparent.
If funds permit and I can find the right one, I may give it another go in the future. I also plan to do a more in depth review of this camera so keep an eye out if you’re interested in the Bronica RF645.
Thanks for looking and enjoy your Summer weekend everybody!
The almighty Contax 645 and 80mm f/2 Carl Zeiss lens. I took this shot when I had to sell this dream combo. Perhaps one of the greatest camera systems ever made?
Wow, what can I say about this one?
The Contax 645 is a Medium Format autofocus film camera introduced by Kyocera in 1999. It was part of their 645 system, an ambitious foray in the (then) professional portrait and wedding world where medium format was king.
I got the Contax 645 in 2008 and had the pleasure of using it for a few years, but eventually had to sell it. I’d always say that I would only sell this camera if I had to pay the rent. Guess what? I had to pay the rent 🙂
I had actually gotten the camera initially because I had done a couple of weddings, was thinking of going down the weekend weddings path, and was thinking of adding something different and unique to my wedding portraits. Looking back now, it was just another excuse for G.A.S. but man, if you have to have an excuse for another camera, the Contax 645 is IT!!
I apologize for not having more photos of the camera. When I sold it years back, I never thought I’d be writing about it one day on a blog 🙂
This is by no means a complete review of the Contax 645, just my memory and experience with it. I do have photos made with this camera and will be updating this article, once I can rescan and put them together. I couldn’t write enough to do the camera justice.
THE CONTAX 645 BODY
The Contax 645 is a modular system with removable backs, prisms, and lenses. You can even add a nice (but expensive) accessory battery holder/vertical grip (the MP-1).
The body when fitted with AE prism and film back feels very solid and is as beautiful to look at, as it is to shoot. The viewfinder is beautifully bright and contrasty. I believe there was actually a waist-level finder for this camera.
From the shooter’s perspective, the top right of the camera contains the shutter speed (32-1/4000 in AV mode) and exposure compensation dials. The mode (B/X/M/TV/AV) dial and AE lock is also located on the top right.
The left side does not have a top “plate” so to speak, but it contains the dial for drive (single or continuous at 1.6 fps). The camera runs on one 2CR5 battery, but can run on four AA batteries with the optional MP-1 grip.
The Contax 645 is still popular with wedding and portrait photographers today due to its ability to use compatible digital backs and if you’ve got this setup, this would be the ultimate digital portrait system in my view.
Ergonomically, I had no complaints. It’s a Contax and all the controls are well laid out. It’s one of those cameras I could use without a manual and that to me is always a sign of a good camera.
The Contax 645 is an autofocus camera and unlike the Contax AX 35mm camera I wrote about, the AF on the 645 is quite good and definitely usable.
While there were quite a few lenses for the 645 system, I only used the 80mm f/2 Zeiss Planar so I speak only to my experience with the camera and this lens. I do not know how it performed with any other Contax lenses.
It was not an EOS or Nikon speed demon, but I did not remember having issues with it, except in very low light conditions. I think you’d be fine with this for those wonderful outdoor wedding portraits.
The 80mm f/2 Zeiss Planar is one of the fastest lenses available in the 645 format. I believe only the manual focus Mamiya 80mm f/1.9 was faster.
The lens, as expected, made for wonderful portraits. The lens was beautiful wide open for portraits with bokeh that seemed much smoother than other Zeiss lenses I have used. Perhaps it was the extra shallow DOF that you can get with medium format, but the bokeh on this lens was not quite as “nervous” as the Zeiss lenses I have used in the 35mm format.
If you’ve ever read any of my articles on Contax, you will know that while I love Contax cameras, I’ve always blasted their electronics as brittle and unreliable.
I’m happy to report that in the three or four years that I had the Contax 645, I never had that problem. Oh, there was one time when the camera started focusing erratically, but it turned out that it just needed a new battery.
It seemed to me that Kyocera put everything they could into making the Contax 645 the best camera that they could make.
The Contax 645 is a highly desirable camera. With its usable AF system, and an arsenal of superlative Carl Zeiss lenses, it is an incredibly capable image maker. To this day, it is considered one of the premier systems in all of medium format photography. It is a camera that can take film or modern digital backs making it versatile enough for the old school film die-hard or the modern digital artist.
The Contax 645 is without a doubt a Camera Legend and perhaps one of the greatest cameras ever made.
WHERE TO BUY?
If you’re thinking about a Contax 645, I have to burst your bubble a little bit and say that with Kyocera out of the camera business, buying a Contax 645 is a bit of a risky gamble.
The reason for this is that if something goes wrong with the camera, Kyocera’s contact in the USA, Tocad, will no longer repair them. I’m not sure who does.
The good (or somewhat good) news is that there are not many reports of these cameras needing repair, just do a search. However, as these cameras approach twenty years on the market, they are getting older and as with any camera, there’s bound to be many ready for retirement or in need of repair.
I would imagine that since the camera is incredibly popular with pros, there should be someone or some place out there repairing these cameras. But in my research, I haven’t found any. I believe they still repair them in Japan, but I will have to do more research.
When I got the Contax 645 in 2008, I paid $1200 for the whole outfit with 80mm f/2 lens, film back, and AE prism. A complete outfit in the same excellent condition today runs for $3000 or more. I’m glad I sold it when I did and made a little profit from the sale 🙂
A Mamiya 645 AF or AFD system is probably a better alternative if you are looking for a similar medium format system that will still be supported.
Now, if you still have your heart set on the Contax 645 Kit (body, 80mm lens, AE prism, back) is trending at $3000-3500. I have seen the kit on eBay with the 45mm f/2.8 Zeiss lens going for around $2300.
For this camera, with its delicate electronics, I would definitely recommend buying from a place with a good returns policy. For that you may try HERE and HERE.
“I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see” -John Newton. I’m not particularly religious, but I do think Amazing Grace is an amazing song. Shot with a Zenza Bronica S2A, 75mm f/2.8 Nikkor-P, Fuji Neopan 400 developed in T-Max developer.
“Strong Coffee” 2015. Mamiya C330, Mamiya-Sekor 65mm f/3.5, Tri-X 400 developed in Caffenol straight scan, no enhancements. Messy, dusty, but it worked! 🙂
If you’re in the blizzard zone and stuck home this weekend, I hope this will give you extra reading material 🙂
I’ve been developing film for quite a few years and although I don’t consider myself an expert at all, I’m familiar with traditional developers such as Rodinal, D76, T-Max, HC-110, etc, etc.
One developer that I’ve heard about, but never tried till recently was a home brew called “Caffenol.”
This is a process where you use instant coffee, washing soda, and vitamin C powder to concoct a mix that actually develops film.
When I first heard about this years back, I laughed it off thinking it was a big joke. When I investigated further, I was totally shocked that you can develop film with instant coffee!
The photo above is a result of my first Caffenol experiment. Now I know it’s far from an award winning result, probably not the kind of result anyone wants, but to be honest with you, I’m just thrilled that it worked! 🙂
A 100 percent crop of the above image. I am unsure why, but I am not getting the option to show the image full size as I used to have. I am trying to get to the bottom of this and will fix it, if possible. If you could see it, you would see the glitter around the glasses well resolved.
Above is a 100 percent crop of the original scan. I adjusted the contrast levels to better show the details. I was quite amazed that the result, while messy, actually holds a lot of details!
The image was shot in 2015 with a Mamiya C330 and a banged up Mamiya 65mm f/3.5 lens that I got for $23. The film was Kodak Tri-X 400 which is my go-to for an easy to develop, classic film.
If you search the web, you will find many fine examples from Caffenol connoisseurs who have posted results much better than this.
As I said, I’m no expert at this. The hardest part is finding “washing soda” so I made it myself by heating up baking soda, not certain whether I did everything right. Also in the darkroom, I made the mistake of turning on the lights when I didn’t have cover on the tank with film in it, allowing for possible light contamination. Something I’d never done in all the years that I’ve developed film. Because of these issues, I was even more amazed that it actually gave me something at all!
I am now eager to experiment more and to perfect this process. However, that would mean I would have to waste a lot of rolls of precious memories so I have to be sure that each roll I process with Caffenol is really “disposable” to me, so to speak.
If you haven’t tried this process, take a roll of film that you think you could part with and try it out. It’s a lot of fun and could potentially save you money from buying traditional developers. It’s quite a kick to take the instant coffee on your kitchen shelf and turn it into a film developer, it really is! 🙂
Have a blessed day and I hope you stay safe in you’re in the zone of this major blizzard.
Note: I’m not sure if I’m doing something wrong or something changed with WordPress, but people used to be able to click on the photos to see a larger version, but now it doesn’t give me that option. If anyone can tell me why, I would appreciate it!