Mamiya 6 MF camera and 150mm F4.5 lens
5 frames with...

5 Frames with the Mamiya 6, 150mm F4.5 lens, and Fuji Provia – by Simon Foale

August 19, 2020

I acquired my Mamiya 6 MF and all three lenses just under 20 years ago, after deciding against a long-held aspiration of getting a Hasselblad. A decision I haven’t regretted. This compact, travel-friendly camera has produced a big collection of images from around the world that I continue to treasure and share. After a not-too-long period of inactivity due to the predictable move to digital, I have, for various reasons, found myself using this marvel of photographic engineering and design again.

At the same time I have noticed a resurgence in it’s popularity, including among photographers who are new to film, and I have been intrigued by some of the comments about it on various online analogue photography blogs. Among these is quite a noticeable lack of enthusiasm for the 150mm lens by comparison with its much more popular siblings, the 50 and the 75. The 150 sells very cheaply now even in mint condition, while the other two go for well over twice as much each. This surprises me as it’s a lens that has produced some of my best images. And in terms of quality the old Photodo tests substantiate my own observations.

Maybe it’s hard in some situations to nail the focus accurately, wide open and up close, but that’s mostly not been my experience. Whether as a portrait or landscape lens this optic is truly stunning. At 4000dpi my Nikon LS9000 makes a scan around 8700 pixels a side from negatives or transparencies made with the Mamiya 6. The 150mm lens makes images so sharp that I can interpolate them up to 12000 pixels a side, or more, and they still look perfect at 100%. That makes for a pretty decent sized print, especially with today’s commercial printing technology.

The 150mm is also criticised for its insufficiently close minimum focus distance (1.8m), which gives a frame of 56cm (roughly 22 inches) a side, not quite tight enough for a full frame head shot, but that has never bothered me. The head-and-shoulders (or larger) portraits I’ve made with the lens have turned out just fine. It has very smooth bokeh, even when stopped down a bit, especially if you are shooting near minimum focus.

But it’s with landscapes that this lens has really sung for me. Mostly they haven’t been planned, they’ve just happened. The lens suited a particular view in front of me, and the images have more often than not turned out way better than I expected. It’s roughly equivalent to an 82mm lens in 35mm format, which I happen to like as a landscape focal length. The images made with it look very natural but also have something of a ‘3D’ quality. Being a longer lens it’s smart to use it on a tripod wherever possible, focus carefully, and be mindful that it has relatively limited depth of field for a given F-stop, even at infinity. It’s also useful to remember that the Mamiya 6’s in-built meter averages light across a wider view, and can be tricked by a bright sky. So shading the top part of the camera’s viewfinder with your hand in those situations, or using another form of metering, is sometimes a good idea. The leaf shutters of Mamiya 6 lenses will sync with a flash at any speed up to 1/500 (though you don’t get TTL), which makes for a lot of creative flexibility.

Here are five images made in the early 2000s on Provia with the 150mm from the Lihir Island group in New Ireland Province in Papua New Guinea, where I worked for a number of years auditing the social and economic impacts of the gold mine there. They include two shots of the mine and three of other, more beautiful parts of the island group.

Coconut trees in silhouette, ocean, rising sun, clouds.

Sunrise through coconuts at Lihir. Mamiya 6, 150mm F4.5, Fuji Provia.

Ore blasting in gold mine

Blasting in the main pit of the gold mine at Lihir. Mamiya 6, 150mm F4.5, Fuji Provia.

road, people church, mountain wall

People on a road beneath a towering mountain wall at Lihir. Mamiya 6, 150mm F4.5, Fuji Provia.

Mine site on coast of island with plastic-covered ore stockpiles.

View of the gold mine at Lihir in 2003. The ore stockpiles are covered in plastic to reduce loss of yield from rainfall. The site is in a semi-active volcano which explains the steam plumes. Mamiya 6, 150mm F4.5, Fuji Provia.

Tropical island, shallow sea bed and light clouds.

Away from the carnage of the mine, the Lihir island group is stunningly beautiful. Mamiya 6, 150mm F4.5, Fuji Provia.

My Mamiya 6 camera and lenses are still in perfect condition, I have no plans for letting any of this kit go, and hope to share more recent images made with this camera soon.

Link to my Flickr page

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16 Comments

  • Reply
    Julian
    August 19, 2020 at 6:00 pm

    Thanks for sharing Simon. I’m also a huge fan of the Mamiya 6 and have 2 bodies and all 3 lenses and use the 150mm as much as the others, it’s a very well rounded travel kit and pairs very nicely with a Leica kit for when you want something smaller / faster. Very interesting pictures. Understanding the impact of mining on local communities is important work. I’d love to visit PNG one day. Julian

    • Reply
      Simon Foale
      August 31, 2020 at 3:45 pm

      Thanks for this Julian. Sounds like you have a pretty comprehensive travel set-up! I hope you get to PNG eventually. Right now it’s hard to know how many COVID cases they have but it’s definitely in the country and probably under-reported. I hope someone can make an affordable vaccine soon!

  • Reply
    Mike Hinkleman
    August 19, 2020 at 7:10 pm

    Simon I might buy a mamiya 6. Ken Rockwell has always liked his more than the 7. The mf was not good I guess.

    The 6’s are pricey and the lenses like a 50mm not for sale often . The 150 price is low but the Zeiss Hasselblad 150 is ridiculously low. I bought a very decent one for $70 a month ago..

    Mike Hinkleman

    • Reply
      Simon Foale
      August 21, 2020 at 12:47 am

      The Zeiss 150 purchase sounds like a steal. Nothing wrong with Zeiss glass of course, and I’d love to try that particular optic one day. For me the portability of the Mamiya 6, the rangefinder system, together with the fabulous quality of all the lenses, made it a pretty straightforward decision 20 years ago when prices of both systems were on a different scale.

  • Reply
    William Woon
    August 20, 2020 at 1:07 am

    Hi Simon

    Thank you very much for your article. I’m one of those people who did not give enough credit to the 150mm lens as I’m more a 50mm (35mm equiv) lens person. But I’m now encouraged to give the 150mm some love and adopt a different perspective. Thanks mate!

    Cheers
    Will

    • Reply
      Simon Foale
      August 29, 2020 at 5:53 pm

      Thanks for this William. I’m sure you’ll enjoy the results you get with the 150 🙂

  • Reply
    Noel R
    August 20, 2020 at 5:46 am

    Greetings and salutations to my fellow Mamiya 6 shooter. Thank you for your article, photos and appreciation for this camera system. I don’t shoot much with the 150, but I have enjoyed it very much on my last trip to Mono Lake where with this lens, I was able to take a closer shots of the amazing tufas. I’m glad I had it then, and will surely be taking it along on future trips.

    • Reply
      Simon Foale
      August 29, 2020 at 5:51 pm

      Thanks for this Noel. I looked up Lake Mono on the internet – intriguing geology! I hope you enjoy your next trip there.

  • Reply
    Adrian Cullen
    August 20, 2020 at 4:37 pm

    Nice article. I was out earlier this week with my ‘new to me’ Mamiya 6. I shot two rolls of landscape images just with the 150mm lens and really like the results. I’ve only had the camera a few months and so had only limited possibilities to use it due to Covid-19 restrictions. Consequently I’d hardly used the 150 until now. The camera is a joy to use. I think all three lens will be coming with me when I get away soon.

    • Reply
      Simon Foale
      August 29, 2020 at 5:49 pm

      Thanks for this Adrian. I hope you are able to get out for some photography soon!

  • Reply
    Cory B
    August 20, 2020 at 7:11 pm

    Thanks for sharing your images and story! Ive got the 50 and 150 for a 6 and find them equally accessible. A quick note – I would recommend altering some of your verbiage moving forward. I understand ‘trannies’ was short for transparencies, but I cant imagine ever using that verbally and I feel it makes even less sense/lacks any benefit to shorten the word for reading purposes. I know you didnt mean it in a hateful way, but it is a hateful word and we should be conscious of its usage.

    Cheers!

    • Reply
      Simon Foale
      August 21, 2020 at 12:37 am

      Fair point Cory. I have edited the text to address that now.

  • Reply
    Garlo
    August 21, 2020 at 5:07 am

    I sold the 7 a few years ago because of its size against casual travel, and haven’t found a suitable 6 yet. Are there no reports of problem with the collapsible mount, or do you not use that feature to prolong the life of 6? Thanks

    • Reply
      Simon Foale
      August 21, 2020 at 5:29 am

      I’ve not heard of any problems with the collapsible mount. Mine certainly still works just fine. I haven’t had any reason not to keep using it.

  • Reply
    JK Lockwood
    August 24, 2020 at 9:47 pm

    As a working pro, I left the Bronica ETRSi 645 platform in the early 1990s for the svelte and sexy rangefinder known as the Mamiya 6 (pre-MF). Two bodies, all three lenses, two shoe-mounted flash units, and a battery pack were all I needed for social event coverage. It was all easily carried in a Domke F2 shoulder bag. The 6X6 format was a godsend as I no longer had to decide between horizontal and vertical composition at the time of capture. The 150mm lens was my least used however, due to my lack of confidence using such a long lens with a rangefinder system. Certainly, I could see its merits for a travel kit and personal work. You are lucky to have it! Perhaps one day you will own a Hasselblad. That was my next system after the Mamiya 6. For a Wedding and Portrait shooter, it advanced my work greatly!

    • Reply
      Simon Foale
      August 29, 2020 at 5:44 pm

      Thanks for this JK. I am not so sure if one day I will own a Hasselblad, for all the evident merits of that system. The price right now (substantially higher than a few years ago) doesn’t quite make it worth going there for me, especially as I already have a great 6×6 system with the Mamiya. But I’m not a wedding photographer, or a pro. I don’t even shoot a huge amount of film any more, though as I said in my article I have regained some interest in the medium of late, particularly negative film, which I did use a bit in the pre-digital era, but never treated very seriously.

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