Product review: Mamiya RZ67 pro II

Booya ! After the Canon Power Shot S90 / S95 review, time to go back to some hardcore gear an review an ol' classic yet still one of the finest machines around: the Mamiya RZ67, in it's proII version as it is one of the most recent (1995,  the 67D is the same but with less cabling to connect a digital back was introduced in 2004).

Who is this camera aiming at: 
Studio or photo shoot set up enthusiasts, aiming at ultimate picture quality, and I would say mostly portraits. It can do good at landscape but the widest available lens is a 50mm, wich correspond +/- to a 24mm on a 35mm full frame. I know there is a 18mm equivalent lens produced, but I've never seen one on the second hand market. So not the widest. A Mamiya 7 will be a better landscape camera, or a Pentax 67II, or a Fuji 680. An other reason why it's not for landscapes and street / candid shots : it's a tank. I mean, it's 6 pounds or heavy metal, the size of a brick. Once I shot around Brooklyn with it, carrying it on my shoulder...never again. And most people in the street think it's a camcorder !

Long Story short:
For what it's aiming at, studio portraits, I can hardly think of a better camera. It is considered as such by the profession. You can also adapt a digital back if you can afford it.

Image samples far below in the end.

Many use Hasselblads but I prefer the 6x7 format, it gives you a little more flexibility in framing than square, and mostly, you can just crop your 6x7 into a 6x6 if you want square. I also believe the 110mm f2.8 lens that comes with the Mamiya is exceptional.
Rolleiflex cameras are has good but you can't find them for less that $1500, when the Mamiya + the 110mm lens will be around for $900 in mint condition. FYI it's $4500 brand new (67D version, i.e digital back ready)... In line with that Mamiya used lenses are cheap.

Once again if you are talented, any premium MF film camera will satisfy you equally, differences will be a matter of personal taste, regarding ergonomics etc.

Presentation and main accessories:
The camera body itself is a nearly square metal cube of about 12x12 cm. Lens goes front (duh ! winning!), at the back goes a rotatif 120 film back. You can turn it by 90 degree to go from landscape to portrait, which turns out to be of the highest convenience ! Believe me you won't rotate the camera, it' must be on a tripod.

On top goes a classic waist level finder, in which the image is of course flipped horizontaly. It's very clear, superbly convenient for framing. You can replace it by a prismfinder that includes metering, but you loose clarity and brightness, as well as the ability to stand over the camera. I prefer the waist level finder, and I meter with....the superb meter of the Nikon F5 :p

Focusing can be done on the left and right side of the camera by 2 rings, but the right side ring has a scaled secondary ring for precise focusing.

All of this is rock solid, never jams. I took a sand storm with the camera, and it is still very much alive.

Flash hot shoe is on the left side.

Shutter can be adjusted by half EV steps when the RZI could only be adjusted by full EV steps.

Max shutter speed is 1/400sec.

Image quality:
Mostly related to the lens, but still this camera helps you get superb results. Focusing requires a little attention, and moving subjects...well forget about moving subjects.
However, the 6X7 format will give you huge negatives from which you can print very large (I bet it can take a 2X2 meter print easy, the most I did is a2 and it's superb). I tried the 110mm and 50mm lens, they are both superb and cheap is bought used ($300).
This camera does not get in the way of your images, very few things to set up (it's fully manual), if you have the elementary/academic photography skills, it'll be your best friend. Also it impresses models who have only been shot by people using a DX DSLR :p

Ratio performance / price on the second hand market: you won't get better images (unless you go large format), and for a ridiculous price. Your rich showy friend with his 5DmkII who decided to ignore film photography will keep wondering why his shots look so boring next to yours :) For $800/900 dollars, you get a camera that if it was a car, would be an Aston Martin.
Also, cheap lenses.

I forgot ! you can adapt a polaroid back too !

Bulky. If it was a vehicule, it would be an Aston Martin in regards to performance indeed, but it would be an M1 Abrams battle tank in regards to design...

Pulling the RZ67  of your bag in the street would be like taking that out of your garage...

No AF, no built in metering = 0 versatility. It's a studio camera. You can't only have this one. It sucks, but a sports car can't also be a van, and a van can't have the advantages of a sports car. Pick your fights.

6x7 means amazing images, but it also means only 10 shots per roll. 220 films is now a relic of the past and very hard to find.

If you want subtile super high def top quality studio or set up portraits or still life, then get one. This camera is a standard among pros. It delivers brilliantly. If you get one as your first non digital camera, you reach a different world that will make you somehow hate your digital camera (though having both is best).

You might want to also consider the Pentax 67II. I haven't tried it with its main portrait lens, but you wouldn't go wrong either. However if you include price in the equation, the Mamiya wins (notice the Pentax is not more portable, it's an different type of tank, yet it's a tank).

Don't go for it if you're into landscapes, or as a main camera. It's too niche.

For landscapes get the Mamiya 6 or 7 (highly portable), or the Fuji 680 (An other military piece...).

For a more portable system (still no AF and metering) and even bigger negative and a great lens, look at the FUJICA GW 690. But you can't change the lens, it's built in.

Photo samples:

Product review: Canon S90 & Canon S95

Hello fellow photographers !

Today a quite important review for me since I'm testing, and you'll see later, approving, the largely spread Canon high end compacts: Power Shot S90 and S95.

Long story short : I'm getting both, one for my mum, one for my lady as a back up camera for our trip to India (my main will be a Fujica GA645). Considering how demanding I am (I shoot medium format film most of the time), it means they are excellent compact cameras. keep one thing in mind before finishing the review : I only care about photography related features. Automatic editing features and other goofy useless digital function will be ignored because they are just marketing sales point. For digital editing: lightroom or photoshop element.

Now the rational !

- Overal positioning of the product.
These are clearly aiming at the solid amateur or pro who wants to have a pocket size compact, but without giving up on good optic quality and manual control. A beginner within a budget constraint who can't afford a DSLR should also look into those. I can never say it enough, the guy holding the camera makes the picture: this should allow you to do 90% of what an amateur would do with a DSLR. It won't off course compare to a MF camera or a D3X, but it's as good as it gets on a compact.

- Optics, sensor and stuff related to picture quality:
First of all, the S90 and S95 are strictly the same cameras when it comes to images. Same lens, same sensor. This should be the only thing that matters when choosing a camera, ergonomics is a bonus. So why are they such good compacts?
Don't get fooled by big x10 zooms. In optics, the larger the zoom, the lower the quality since it can't be optimized for such large scopes. This camera was built for people who know photography, and it is smartly done. In regard to this, get the S90 VS S95: cheaper, same stuff.

Image quality compares to a DSLR with a basic zoom lens, noise is better than an entry level DSLR in my opinion. It outperforms my Nikon D80 when it comes to noise (a 4 year old mid range DSLR).
If you stop down the lens at f2.8, you can shoot at ISO 1000 and maintain good picture quality.

It offers matrix, zone and spot metering that performs very well.

- Ergonomics and other stuff that are not related to picture quality:
It is small, same as a pack of cigarettes. Very convenient for the candid shooter who hates being without a camera, and for bag pack traveling.
Downside : as it fits my tiny GF's hands, my never ending fingers (easy ladies !) find it a tad small for great handling. I prefer the Nikon F5 for handling, but it's a huge bulky piece of metal. Can't have everything.

Menu is smartly done, intuitive, easy access to many functions etc. The great thing is the ring on the lens: you can use it for whatever you want, you program it the way you like: MF, aperture, ISO, etc. It's great when shooting with one manual parameter and the rest automated (what I use the most).
The screen is as big has the camera allows it, and when shooting full manual, brightness on the screen adjust so you can sort of meter with your eyes.
Access to set up is easy even during shooting, I won't go into details, but I found everything first time without opening the manual.

- Sample shots:
More soon to come, forgot the memory card home this morning :) I had no time to shoot proper pictures since I nearly live at work, but I'll try something more arty / normal light conditions with it during my next photoshoot.

ISO 1000 @ F2.8

ISO 1000 @ F2.8

8% of the image cropped at F2.0 ISO 800: rather extreme awful conditions, it remains fairly acceptable.

- Recommandations:
Get one.
How does it perform compared to the G12, G11 etc.? I don't see the advantages of those over the S90. I've tried the G11 quite a lot and in terms of image quality, nothing worth chasing differences. I prefer the ergonomics of the S90, and mostly the size. Having a good compact to back up a DSLR or film camera on a trip is precisely about sizing. G12 is too big to fullfil that purpose. If you consider a G12, get a DSLR.
So if you are a accomplished photographer looking for a pocket size friend, go for it. Will never bit your Pentax 67II (let's be serious :) ) but it will do the job well.
You're a beginner with a little money willing to get started, or you want to offer a really really nice compact, go for it. This price gap between this and a DSLR that would be significantly better remains quite high. S90 will be a good first camera for digital fans.
Of course if you want to start photography and train yourself, I'll never insist enough that the way to train is to get a Nikon FE, FE, FA etc, a 50mm lens, and some film...but once again, not being snobbish about film being so cool and vintage: I'm sure there is somewhere someone pulling mind-blowing shots out of an S90. A camera is just a pencil or a brush: if you suck, it won't help you :)

Old stuff

Back when I liked my own photography...

Inspiration: Rikki Kasso

Rikki Kasso is a Tokyo based photographer, videographer, painter. Nothing to do with the satanic serial killer though I wonder if he did not pick the same in relation to that. The fact is, I had a hard time finding some sort of biography. I don't think he wants anyone to find one.

Fair enough, it's about images. I'll have to post twice at least since I found so many shots I liked...

What I like about him : spontaneity, leading to true moments captured. He care about the image, nothing technical in his photography, in the nicest of ways. Him being a painter, I can see a much more flexible use of the camera. I love his distance to details, how he gets a tiny part of the image be the subject, yet having it a overwhelming subject. He also has great double exposure shots, a technique I'm usually not found of.

Anyway see for yourselves.

Lens review: Nikon 85mm f1.8D

Booya !

Christmas is getting closer! And since you received your Nikon first DSLR last year, you've been using that kit zoom lens a lot and came to the financially painful conclusion that yes, you do need an other lens.

So you do a quick check on Amazon or else, to realize that stepping up means two possible options:
  1. Spending $1200 in a premium zoom lens. Ouch. 
  2. Spending $300 to $ 600 in a prime lens, but you loose of course, the zoom range. 
Well you already have a zoom lens (do I assume right?) for versatility so here is why you should consider a prime:
  • It excels and outperform zoom lenses at the given focal length because quite logically, it is optimized for it. 
  • By outperform I mean that they are sharper and significantly faster (sample shots following to illustrate. A prime lens should be by default a f1.8, and more expensive version should be f1.4 or f1.2. An expensive zoom lens will be at best f2.8.
It leaves us with one question: since you can only have one fix focal length, which one to pick?

Well I've reviewed the multi purpose one already (35mm), so today we'll see one of the 2 best choices in the Nikon lineup for portrait: the 85mm f1.8.

The second one would be the nikon 105mm f2 but I won't review that since the all point is to get you a cheaper lens than a premium zoom, and this one's not exactly cheap.

Once again, I don't do laboratory like reviews, since picture are to be seen with human eyes, not spectrometers, but I'll still give some insights regarding the technical abilities of the lens.

- Resolution:
It is rock solid as you'd expect from a Nikon prime of this price range. The purpose of such a lens is to get very narrow depth of field and isolate you subject, and it does is fantastically well. It's main strength in this domain is the ability to remain a top performer at or close to f1.8. Unlike the 50mmf1.8 (a cheaper yet good product, to be reviewed soon) that start dropping in performance under f2.8, this baby will give you a premium results wide open. 

- Bokeh:
This is highly subjective, people like there bokeh in different ways. I personaly like a "painters" bokeh, as far as possible from a mechanical feel. I will compare it to the Mamiya Sekor 110mm f2.8, my personal portrait lens reference. It is of course not as soft as the MF format Mamiya (let's not compare apples and oranges) but it clearly is among the top lenses you can find for a DSLR. It doesn't have to be ashamed compared to the medium format lens, which is a true compliment to the Nikon lens. It is a great bokeh, when shooting a feminin portrait where I want softness, it works great (see examples below).

- Built quality:
It corresponds to its price range and to Nikon standards, i.e. it's very good. It's a plastic / metal lens, I've used mine quite extensively, took a sand storm once, and it still works just fine even after taking the extremely brutal motor of the F5 autofocus.

- Other:
Nearly no chromatic aberrations, vignetting is well controlled, no weakness whatsoever, distortion is not noticeable.

If you have Nikon and shoot portraits, and are under a budget constraint, this is the one lens you must have. You'll never need to replace it and it'll probably do the next 15 years easily if you take good care of it.

Sample shots :

Courtesy of

 Nikon F5, bright daylight, f5.6

Nikon F5, bright daylight, f5.6

I needed one taken with a digital camera too, courtesy of

Inspiration: Jonathan Leder

- Jonathan Leder is an American photographer in his mid 30ies from...guess...NYC. For a change.

He has been working for quite a few nice clients (Elle Italia, etc.) On his site it's film only, from MF to Polaroid with of course good Ol' 35mm. His moody pictures have a little something of that 70ies vintage touch with young naked skinny girl as for Ryan McGinley. However,  Ryan's work is more a vision of asexual innocently fucked up but happy kids (males and females), touched by some sort of immortal grace, Leder's work bends a lot toward a fashion aesthetics. A mix of Vogue and happily trashed 70ies America. 
Very strong moods, use of grain and natural light is delightful. I love it, even if it's not very original. I mean naked models in a trash set up has been done a million times, NYC people have to go out a little, but he does it better (and the all drug thing can really piss me off. If you are a junky, you're a piece of shit, nothing cool about it).

Photoshop junkies have everything to learn from him.

I've been noticed :)

Today on !