Mamiya 7 II 6x7 Medium Format Rangefinder
Since people come to this site as much for info about the Mamiya 7 as for large format info, I'll try to keep this info updated as much as possible.
Feb 2012: I've let the Mamiya 7 sit in its bag for about the past 4 or 5 years while I made an earnest (and expensive!) attempt to wrap my head around digital capture and workflow. While I like some aspects of digital (e.g. fairly easy proof printing) I've come to the conclusion it isn't really that satisfying for me. So, I'm going to sell my Nikon D3 and maybe the Leice M8. I'm sending my Mamiya 7ii kit and my 4x5 off to Precision Camera Works for a complete CLA on everything. Once they're back, I'll thaw out some film and start taking photos again. Hopefully, I'll have some new pictures to put up on Flickr before too long.
The Mamiya 7II is a 6x7 medium format (56mm x 69mm image size) rangefinder camera system with 6 available lenses. I've had mine since the fall of 2001 and have exposed a fair number of rolls with it. Hopefully the observations that follow will be helpful to those contemplating a purchase.
I've found it to be just about perfect for all of the hand-held photography I do. It has a set of the best lenses in any format (as far as MTF measurements go, anyway). See http://www.photodo.com/nav/prodindex.html for the test data. Also, it is light enough to carry easily (it's 2.8 lbs w/80mm lens attached).
Using the Camera
The Mamiya 7ii has a very nice, solid feel in your hand. You can tell that everything is put together solidly by just holding the camera in your hand. The controls are laid out well, attesting to the simplicity of its design. It is easy to use, lacking the oversupply of electronic gizmos that detract, in my opinion, from the essential task of taking photographs.
See cool viewfinder pix at the Mamiya UK site. There is much better info on the camera there compared to the US site, even though Mamiya America Corp. apparently makes a much higher profit on its sales.
Shutter speed and film speed are set via the dial at the top of the camera (see photo below). There are two automatic exposure modes. The "AEL" (auto-exposure locking) mode is likely the most often used automatic mode. With that, you aim the metering patch in the viewfinder (it's not marked, but is a bit below the center rangefinder square) at an appropriate spot in the scene being photographed, you half-press the shutter button to lock the meter at that reading, then recompose while keeping the button half-pressed, and trip the shutter when you have everything set. This mode works very well for most handheld photography. Since most of my exposures are tripod mounted, though, I use the manual shutter speed setting along with the appropriate aperture setting derived by using my handheld spot meter.
The camera accepts a standard cable release in the lower front left corner of the body. It's an unusual place for a cable release, but it works well as it is out of the way of the exposure controls. For those time when you can't find your cable release there is an easy to use self-timer.
One thing a lot of people mention as a problem when stepping up to MF from 35mm is that with 120 roll film you only get 10 exposures per roll with a 6x7 camera. While this is true, the Mamiya 7 is also capable of handling 220 roll film with just a twist of the pressure plate. I tend to prefer 120 after having standardized on 220 Tri-X for a while, since the shorter roll usually means unexposed film sits in the camera for shorter periods of time until I can finish it off. I still keep some 220 around for those times I might be shooting in higher volumes.
The lenses for this system are as good as everyone says they are. One thing I'd like to comment on is that with all the hype about the 43mm lens, one should be careful that you'll actually use a lens that wide. The physics are such that while some types of distortion have been minimized, there is still the usual wide-angle distortion of shapes as you get closer to the edges. For example, see my Pillsbury 'A' Mill Elevator. You'll note that the tall structure in the upper left appears a little flattened out and elongated. It's not a big issue if you're aware of it, but is more apparent with circular things (they tend to come out elliptical). Unfortunately it's a characteristic of wide angle lenses and is a problem even in very high-quality large-format lenses. It's physics. Not much you can do but work around it.
I think that people find the fact that the 7II is a rangefinder camera to be the biggest hurdle, or biggest unknown, when deciding whether to commit to it, and for good reason. I had never owned a rangefinder prior to the '7', but took the plunge anyway. There are several things to consider before deciding to buy a rangefinder camera.
No extra long lenses
Those coming from SLR camera systems might find it odd that the longest useful lens for this camera is 150mm, or about the same as a 75mm on a 35mm camera. The 210mm lens is not recommended for general photographic use, as it is not coupled to the rangefinder mechanism, so focusing would be a guess except at infinity. The major issue with long lenses and with rangefinders is that the longer the lens, the harder it is to focus. You can compensate with Leica's by getting a viewfinder magnifier. It would be nice if Mamiya did that, too.
No through-the-lens (TTL) viewing
This can be frustrating if you've never used a rangefinder before. I don't know how many shots of the inside my lens caps I've taken! With this camera, it becomes far more important to follow a habitual procedure for taking photos.
Parallax is an attribute of all rangefinder cameras. Its the result of having the viewfinder—what you look through to compose the photo—and the lens offset by some distance. The result is that what you see and what the lens is seeing are a little different. The offset is more an issue the closer the object being photographed is to you, although be careful to realize that a foreground object's relative position to a distant background object will be offset by this, too. It's just something to bear in mind when using rangefinder cameras. The Mamiya 7 has some parallax compensation in that focusing will cause the bright lines to shift to show you the adjusted composition. That doesn't do a thing for the near-far placement problem, though.
Also, you really can't use gradient filters with a rangefinder, since it's impossible to judge the placement of the filter transition area relative to the scene your shooting without TTL viewing. Also, if you want to use a polarizer, you're pretty much stuck with the Mamiya one. That one flips up so you can judge the effect & meter through it. Otherwise, most filters aren't so much of an issue. The filter threads are either 67mm or 58mm. If you prefer (or already have) glass screw-in filters, you'd probably be best off with a step-up ring. I tend to use 4x4 gels or resin filters with a cheap holder that grips the lens with a big rubber band. It works fine and only costs about $20.
I send in my Mamiya 7ii (and my Arca Swiss 4x5) to Precision Camera Works (PCW) in Chicago for CLA (clean, lube & adjust) periodically. They've done basic CLAs and repairs for me (replaced leaky dark slide curtain). Last time Bob at PCW recommended I send all my lenses in with the camera to get the infinity stops adjusted, since he'd noticed that the 80mm was off a bit. The work was well done and at a reasonable price and it only took a couple of weeks.
Here are some pictures I have taken with the Mamiya 7ii using various lenses. Be aware that it is not possible today to come anywhere close to reproducing the resolution of the images on a computer screen, but people have asked for this, so here it is.
Some Mamiya 7 resources on the 'net:
Camera function, Front (photos from the Mamiya UK site):
Site contents, including photographs, are