Tom Westbrook

Mamiya 7 vs. Leica M6

I recently bought a used Leica M6 "classic" with 35mm, 50mm & 90mm lenses. What follows are impressions and usage differences between it and the larger, medium format rangefinder, the Mamiya 7ii. The comparison is a sort of apples vs. oranges, so take this with a bit of salt.

Handling

The Leica M6 is about ¾ the size of the Mamiya and 60% of the weight. My Mamiya 7ii is about 1kg, the M6 a little under 570g. The M6 feels heavy for it's size, oddly. The more compact size gives the M6 an entirely different feel than the Mamiya 7. The resulting 6x7 image size of the Mamiya 7ii is about twice the linear size (or 4 times the area) of the 135 format of the Leica M6.

Quality

The film size difference it probably the overriding factor that pushes the Mamiya over the top, if your main criteria is image quality (by that I mean prints of the same size will have better detail with those made from the 6x7 negatives). There are obviously other concerns than mere image detail. Just look at photographs made by Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Gary Winogrand, Joel Meyerowitz (street photo stuff) and a number of others. For these photographers image detail was apparently not the main concern. I'd guess ease of operation (including film loading, processing, etc.), reputation, and the smaller size weigh in favor of the smaller camera.

Feature Differences

  Mamiya 7ii Leica M6
Weight (body) 1060g 567g
Image size 56mm x 69mm 24mm x 36mm
Lenses (current) 43mm, 50mm, 80mm, 150mm, 210mm* 21mm, 24mm, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 75mm, 90mm, 135mm

 

Lenses

Leica lenses are legendary for their quality and expense. People were shocked at the $2500 price tag for the 43mm lens for the Mamiya 7, but that's pretty much par for the course for many lenses in the Leica stable. See list at Badger Graphic Sales for a run-down on the currently available lenses and their new prices in the USA. As far as relative quality goes, check out the test results on Photodo. Those MTF tests indicate that the Leica lenses have a slight edge on the Mamiya's, but it's pretty close. Don't forget that the film size difference will push the Mamiya in front for resolution tests on film. For a real test, you need to compare images made with the two cameras. The Leica lenses produce a different 'look' on film vs. the Mamiya lenses. Your tastes in this area will obviously vary from mine.

Other observations

  • No doubt about it, the Mamiya 7 is quieter than the Leica M6. This is due to the use of leaf shutters in the Mamiya lenses, as opposed to a focal plane shutter in the Leica camera. Focal plane shutters travel a lot more than leaf shutters do and are much larger physically. I don't have any way to measure how much quieter the 7 is, but I'd guess that it makes about half as much noise.
  • The meter in the M6, and presumably later models, is better since it's TTL (through the lens) and the meter patch meters the same area of the viewfinder regardless of lens changes. The Mamiya's metering area shrinks as you put on wider lenses, until with the 43mm, you almost have a spot meter (which has its own advantages). I tend to like the Leica style meter, but you do learn to use either one in time. The Mamiya meters through the little window above the lens. The use of a leaf shutter prevents the use of TTL metering. Another downside for the Mamiya is that there is no way to tell if you left the lens cap on without actually looking at the front of the lens. One gets in the habit of removing the cap when mounting lenses.
  • Lens changes are more difficult with the Mamiya. The use of a leaf shutter in the Mamiya requires a dark slide, or curtain in this case, that needs to be closed before the lens is removed. That involves rotating the curtain control lever on the bottom of the camera, switching the lens and opening the curtain again. It's a bit cumbersome, but not too time consuming.
  • Vibration. I have no hard data on this, but the Mamiya 7 probably is less prone to shutter vibration than the Leica. The leaf shutter will recoil in all directions with respect to the film plane, but a focal plane shutter travels and recoils in one direction, but I gather that most recoil is compensated for in the Leica shutter design.
  • The Leica is smaller and fits in the hand better. It calls less attention to itself for the same reason.
  • The Leica M6 seems to be easier and quicker to focus. Probably due to the better rangefinder on the Leica.
  • The focusing patch on the Mamiya is slightly larger than the Leica, but not by much.
  • The Mamiya has better ergonomics, making it easier to hold in the hand. This is due to the integrated grip and well placed shutter release on the Mamiya. You can upgrade the Leica by adding a RapidGrip--it helps if you are like me and want to hold the camera at your side (i.e. not on a neck strap). I am very pleased with mine. The RapidWinder is a very handy accessory as well. While you're there pick up a couple of Softreleases.
  • The Mamiya has an on-off switch. With the Leica M6, you need to place the shutter speed dial on 'B' to avoid unintentional battery drain if something in your camera bag presses on the shutter release enough to turn on the light meter. The Leica M7 adds an on-off switch, but not the new MP model. How dumb is that? Something to do with tradition, I suppose.
  • The Leica has a manual bright line selection lever. This is a very clever feature that allows you to easily compare compositions at various lens focal lengths. I sure wish the Mamiya had that!

35mm 1:1.4 Summilux-ASPH

After spending a small fortune for this lens used, I was more than a little dismayed to find that I was occasionally getting pictures with considerable light fall-off (natural vignetting). I did some tests on a roll of Tri-X 400 and found that wide open the lens does have quite a lot of fall-off. The following image is representative of several trials. Vignetting is acceptable at f/2.8 for most scenes where you need even exposure across the frame, but f/4 is a little better. Note how at the two smallest apertures, f/11 and f/16,the vignetting seems to get very slightly worse. There is a scratch in the f/8 shot--my fault--but doesn't affect general results.

 

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Page last modified: 16-Feb-2012