Mamiya 645 Pro TL

My Christmas present in 2009 was not a digital camera, but a brand new Mamiya 645 Pro TL.   Someone in Hong-Kong was selling these over the Internet, as well as, some other Mamiya stuff.   'Old new stock' - possibly the last pieces one could buy new from a dealer, as Mamiya already stopped the production of the 645 Pro TL in June 2006.   The set you see here cost 500 US dollars, which seemed to be a good value.

This is a basic set, consisting of the following items:

  • camera body (box not pictured)
  • 120 roll film holder (including insert and dark slide)
  • prism finder (non-metered)
  • power drive grip (the simpler, lighter model)
  • 80mm f/2.8 N lens

First impressions

Being it a gift (from me to myself) I better be happy with it... and I am.   The only thing I was unpleasantly surprised of was the amount of plastic (as opposed to metal) that was used in the camera and its accessories.   This gave me the impression, that if I ever dropped the camera, that'd be the end of it.   Also, I can already see how the still smooth and good looking plastic surfaces will easily become marked with bruises, scars, and ... god forgive ... cracks.   This is not a camera that will age well.

But why worry about what happens in the future?   Let 's see what it can do for us now.   This is an electronic camera, so first it needs to be fed with batteries.   The body takes a 6 volt photo battery, such as the V28PX, 4SR44, 4LR44, 2CR1/3, or 476A.   These are still available, but - as many 'old world' stuff - are now made by the Chinese, not the original manufacturer.   (Please keep up the good habit, we still need them!)   The power drive takes the 2CR5 6 volt lithium battery.   Since the parts of my set came in separate boxes, I also had to put the whole thing together.  This was easy, so I won't go into details.   When separating the various components (roll film back, etc.), the general idea is to press down a button with a white arrow on it to unlock the other, unmarked button, which can then be pressed in and the part detached.   (I love this modular design - thanks again, Victor Hasselblad.)

Thankfully, the camera doesn't have an On-Off switch.   One thing less to worry about.   But, for those who are panicky about accidentally firing the camera and loosing a frame (big deal!), there is a lock position for the release button.   I don't know, if the lack of an On-Off switch has any adverse affects on battery life.   Time will tell.   The manual avoids specifying how long a battery would last.   It makes some vague statements, like "battery life differs, depending on type, age, storage conditions, ambient temperature, frequency of use, etc."   Yeah, not to mention the volcanic activity in Hawaii!   Anyway, there is a battery check button and a red light to see if there is still any life left in the battery.

When the power drive is attached, the camera's release button can be locked, as it is not needed.   With the shutter release on the power drive grip, pictures can be taken as fast as one in every 0.8 seconds.   It makes quite a loud sound, though.   Not your candid camera, unless you are an attention seeker.  Those who are after faster sequence shooting, need to get the bigger, heavier (it uses 6 AA-size batteries) power drive grip - code WG401.   While on this grip, let me mention that the WG401 grip has a conventional screw hole for a cable release.   But, neither the grip I have, nor the camera has such a socket.   So, as I already found out, I need to purchase a special adapter for this purpose.   Ahrrrr...   (In case you are wondering, a special electronic remote control is available for this camera, but it won't suit my purposes as I want to use it with the bellows unit and that setup requires a double cable release.)

The roll film back looks to be well made.   In Mamiya 645 fashion it uses film inserts; a different insert for 120, 220, and 35mm film.   (Oh, yes, there is a 35mm film holder.   It even has a panorama feature.   But, guess what?   The panorama is achieved by a mask that basically cuts off the upper and lower sections of the 4.5 cm tall frame.   Like in the cheap point-and-shoot cameras of the 1980's.   Ouch!)   Mamiya is keen to point out, that you can save money by buying only the 120 and 220 film inserts for the same film holder base, because the bases are identical for the two film types.   And, if you have several inserts, you can pre-load them, and just pop the next one in when you used up your previous roll.   But, you can't change in mid-roll, as the inserts are not light tight.   Well, I think when it'll come to that, I won't bother with inserts, just buy a complete spare back.   One detail, that doesn't concern me now, because I don't have an inbuilt light-meter (that comes with the other prism finders), but mention, nevertheless, is that there is an ASA dial on the roll film holder, which has an electronic contact with the body.   For accurate light meter readings the film speed on the holder must be correctly set.

Some other odds and ends that I liked were:

  • the roll film holder has a storage slot for the dark slide,
  • the camera has a conventional PC flash socket,
  • there is a mirror-lock-up (MLU) feature.   The lever is relatively easy to turn, which is important in macro photography.   (I note in passing, that in some MLU implementations the button (or lever) is so stiff or difficult to operate that you bound to move the camera when you raise the mirror.   For instance, I've had a frustrating experience with my Nikon F4.   In my opinion, the best solution is when the MLU is coupled with the self timer, such as on the Nikon FE2.)

There is a lock on the shutter speed dial, which I don't like.   Ok, I can live with the fact, that I need to unlock, if I'm changing from A to 1000, but it locks again at 60!   Right in the middle of the scale, which I often traverse.   Mamiya says, this is a reminder that 1/60 sec. is the fastest allowable shutter speed for flash.   Is such a reminder really necessary?

This is it for now.   I will add more when I have used the camera for a while.

Further reading:

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