Five Best Medium Format Cameras for Beginners in 2019

Five Best Medium Format Cameras for Beginners in 2019

1600 800 Josh Solomon

We published our picks of the five best medium format cameras for beginners way back in 2016, and it didn’t take long for readers to ask for an updated list. A lot has happened since then. Prices have gone up on all of the models we recommended, tastes have changed, and we’ve had the opportunity to try many more cameras. Here are five more medium format film cameras that can get any aspiring shooter up to speed in 2019, and without breaking the bank.


Zeiss Super Ikonta B 532/16 (6 x 6 folder)

All film cameras are anachronistic, but some are more anachronistic than others. Folding cameras belong squarely in the latter camp. Even though some are still capable cameras, their archaic designs and counter-intuitive controls often turn away most casual or beginner shooters. Fortunately for those willing to brave the jungle of ripped bellows, hazy rangefinders, and indecipherable shutter mechanisms, there’s a whole world of surprisingly affordable and usable folding medium format cameras with truly amazing lenses. Our pick from this particular family of medium format cameras is the 6 x 6 Zeiss Super Ikonta B 532/16, though bear in mind that it’s probably only well-suited to a photographer who knows their stuff in 35mm already and is looking to step up to a bigger negative. There will be no metering here, so be prepared.

The Zeiss Super Ikonta B 532/16 hails from the Zeiss Ikonta line of medium format cameras, a premium line of compact folding cameras which dates back to the heyday of the type – 1929. Over time, the Ikonta line evolved, eventually leading to the much-improved Super Ikonta line. 1937’s Zeiss Super Ikonta B 532/16 in particular featured a speedy Carl Zeiss Tessar 8cm (80mm) f/2.8 along with a combined rangefinder/viewfinder, and automatic frame spacing, which is about as much as one can ask from a folder.

The great thing about the Super Ikonta is that, unlike a lot of vintage folders, you can actually use this one without pulling your hair out. There aren’t an inordinate amount of steps needed to take a picture, and the Zeiss Tessar lens, though uncoated in prewar versions, makes the experience worth it. The Super Ikonta is especially suited for shooters looking for a slower, more deliberate shooting style characteristic of medium format.

The kicker? This little experiment won’t cost much. A good example of a Super Ikonta B won’t run over $200 and some of the other Ikontas can be bought for about $75. That’s cheaper than almost any other medium format camera, and you get a genuine prewar Zeiss lens that spits out huge, beautiful 6 x 6cm negatives. Doesn’t get much better than that.


Mamiya M645 First Gen (6 x 4.5 SLR)

For those who are perpetually freaked out by old-world folding cameras and would prefer a more familiar introduction to shooting medium format film, there’s the Mamiya M645. The Mamiya M645 can be considered the little brother to the legendary RB67, but for my money it’s the more practical and useful camera, especially for those looking to dip their toes into the medium format pool.

The Mamiya M645 is a medium format SLR from 1975 that shoots a more compact 6 x 4.5cm negative, which means a couple of things. One, it makes the entire camera smaller, which puts it at a distinct advantage over larger formats. And two, it gives the shooter fifteen exposures instead of the twelve of 6 x 6 camera, or the ten of one that shoots 6 x 7 format. This makes the camera significantly more forgiving compared to most other medium format cameras without much compromise.

It’s also important to note that the M645 is a system camera, which means it offers interchangeable lenses and viewfinders. The Mamiya-Sekor C series of lenses are affordable and have been roundly applauded for decades for their sharpness and resolution, as well as for their gentle color rendition and fine micro-contrast. The interchangeable finders of the M645 also give the shooter a ton of flexibility, with optional eye-level, waist-level, metered, and even aperture priority autoexposure finders.

The Mamiya M645 might not be the least expensive camera on this list, but in terms of cameras that a new shooter can learn and grow with, it certainly beats out the rest. It’s one of the only medium format cameras suited both for the street and the studio, its lenses are some of the best in the genre, and it can be customized to any shooter’s taste. Not many cameras can lay claim to that, past or present.

Check out Mike Eckman’s review here.


Mamiyaflex C2 (6 x 6 TLR)

A more affordable entry to the medium format system camera category is yet another Mamiya, this time with two lenses instead of one. It’s the Mamiyaflex C2, from the well-known and well-loved Mamiya C-series of interchangeable lens TLRs.

In the history of pro-spec medium format cameras, the Mamiya C-series can be seen as a stopgap between the big transition from TLR to SLR. But instead of looking and operating like a weird middle Animorph, the C-series performed incredibly well. The series was well regarded among professionals for their ruggedness, versatility, and no-frills design, and remains a cult favorite among medium format aficionados today. Our pick from this series is one of the elder statesmen of the series, the Mamiyaflex C2 Professional.

The Mamiyaflex C2 Professional was the second in the Mamiya C-series, a refinement of the original Mamiyaflex C. It shared the same features that made the Mamiya C-series special – the interchangeable lenses, viewfinders (including the delightfully angular Porroflex metered viewfinder), and built in macro bellows. A few refinements were made as well; the C2 added focusing knobs on both sides of the camera, a longer, more stable base, and a redesigned lens mounting switch.

Are there technically better Mamiya C-series cameras? Yes, the C220 and C330. But those cameras have gone up in price in the last few years as more folks have fallen for the charm of the C-series. The C2 is, on average, much more affordable, mounts the same family of Mamiya-Sekor lenses, and does pretty much everything those two cameras can do. If you can do without the clout, the Mamiyaflex C2 will do the job.


Bronica SQ-A (6 x 6 SLR)

For aspiring medium format shooters, there’s one name that stands far above the rest – Hasselblad. We get it – it’s a pretty, compact, well-built, and widely revered camera that mounts some of the best lenses ever made for medium format. But for those that want something a little less expensive and a little less old-school, there’s the Bronica SQ-A, a 6 x 6 studio legend in its own right.

The Bronica SQ-A looks and operates mostly along the same lines as a Hasselblad 500C/M. It’s a 6 x 6 medium format SLR system camera featuring interchangeable viewfinders, lenses, and film backs (!). The biggest difference between this and a Hassy is that the Bronica is an electromechanical camera which, with the right finder, supports aperture-priority autoexposure, a welcome feature.

In use, SQ-A is the very definition of a workhorse. Its looks are a bit industrial, but thankfully its operation is too. The camera just goes. Flash-sync is available at all speeds owing to the leaf shutter, the autoexposure works wonderfully for outdoor on-the-go work, and if you need anything extra, the system probably has an accessory for it. It’s a professional’s camera through and through, and (one of the more affordable to boot).


Pentacon Six (6 x 6 SLR)

Last on our list is a camera Jeb reviewed very recently, the East German Pentacon Six. While not a traditional studio workhorse or a shining example of old-world build quality, the Pentacon Six is an example of the hidden pleasures of the cameras produced in the Eastern bloc, as well as an incredibly affordable and interesting system camera.

The Pentacon Six at first glance looks like an oversized 35mm SLR, and that’s pretty much what it is. It’s a medium format 6 x 6 SLR with a built-in waist level finder and a bayonet mount that enables mounting of lenses from manufacturers like Carl Zeiss Jena and even Schneider Kreuznach (if you’re willing to hunt). It’s built well, is simple to operate, and is surprisingly compact and portable for its class.

While the Pentacon Six may lack the modularity of the other cameras on the list, it absolutely makes the most out of what it’s got. For my money it’s got the most interesting story out of any camera on the list, the images it creates are gorgeous, and it’s quite affordable considering the current prices of medium format system cameras. It might not be an out-and-out professional’s camera, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot, and will serve any beginner well.


And those are our recommendations for starter medium format cameras in 2019. If these don’t strike a chord, try one from our original list. And if you know of a perfect low-price/high-quality medium format camera that we’ve not included, let us know in the comments.

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Josh Solomon

Josh Solomon is a freelance writer and touring bassist living in Los Angeles. He has an affinity for all things analog. When not onstage, you can find him roaming around Southern California shooting film and humming a tune.

All stories by:Josh Solomon
37 comments
  • The best : Zeiss Super Ikonta B 532/16
    Easy to carry and there a lot of other camera like that for a good price

  • My first MF camera was a Pentacon Six, and I loved it. Especially the 50mm F4 Distagon wide angle that made flare beautiful. That said, it dies because its film spacing got all weird after however many hundreds or thousand s of rolls went through it. As such, buyer beware when shopping for these.

    I’d also add that the later Super Ikontas (531/16 (Super Ikonta III) and 534/16 (Super Ikonta IV) had simpler rangefinder mechanisms than the 532/16, and are more likely to be aligned even now. Plus, there are tons of 6×9 folders out there, including a Super Ikonta 531/2 with coated Tessars. If you wanna try MF, but don’t like 6×6, the 6×9 format in a folder might be the right step.

  • Cheyenne Morrison October 13, 2019 at 1:17 am

    Some great choices there, to which I would add the Voigtlander Perkeo I & II, get one with the Color Skopar which is capable of stunning results. Even better they are some of the smallest medium format cameras ever made, and literally will fit in the back pocket of a pair of jeans.

    • A retrospective of medium-format folders would be a great read. We see them for sale everywhere and the appeal is as you say: literally pocket-sized medium format. But it’s not straightforward to figure out the Zeisses, Voigtländers, Agfas and dozens of obscure manufacturers spread over several decades.

  • From my personal experience I would avoid the cheaper Mamiya 645J with non-removable back. It uses plastic film inserts, which you can swap over in a changing bag. I bought mine new. It usually comes supplied with a 120 and 220 film insert. My 120 insert did not hold the film plane to the optical axis, tilted at 45º corner to corner, so you got one corner back focused and the opposite one, front focused. I had two warranty replacements that were identical. I would have then thought it was the camera body, except for the fact that the 220 insert working just fine. Of course, it could still have been the camera body but the 220 insert might have have had an error the other way, that cancelled the camera error out. I sold the camera when 220 film became obsolete. For just a little more money, either the Bronica or the Rollei 6000 series are better made cameras and the removable back really adds a lot of function. You can even mount a digital back. The earlier 25MP backs are now quite reasonable.

  • Josh, I quote “Unlike the Hasselblad, it does not feature a focal plane shutter; it instead uses a leaf-shutter….” It seems that you’ve never handled a Hasselblad 500C. It, too, uses leaf shutter lenses. 😊 It’s true that the very first post-war Hasselblads, the 1600 and 1000F did use a focal plane shutter, but these had reliability issues and were replaced by the 500C in 1957.

    Your choice of the Mamiya C2 as the TLR option is somewhat puzzling. It may be a cheaper option for a TLR, but considering its size and weight I wouldn’t recommend it as a first choice for anyone wishing to consider moving to TLR medium format. For anyone for whom the built-in bellows will be a necessity, the C220 or, preferably any model of C330, will be far better. I’ve used a Mamiya C330F since I purchased my first one in 1977, and then a C330S, The bellows close focusing is a boon, but photographers need to put in a lot of work to ensure best performance. Parallax is a major consideration of any TLR in its normal close focusing range, and this is only exacerbated by the extreme close up range of which a Mamiya C camera is capable. The accessory Paramender is a must and many may also find a pentaprism will be as well, especially if a shot makes waist level viewing difficult or impossible where the camera has to any degree to be pointed down.

    The C series also take interchangeable lenses, unique to a TLR, but I don’t know if all later series lenses, brought in with the first C330 model, are fully backwards compatible. But this then raises the point: why buy an antiquated C2 if one is seriously considering acquiring additional lenses?

    Me? For a first timer, I’d suggest a Yashicamat. It has an excellent 4-element lens and is far less to buy than a Rolleiflex or ‘Cord. Then there is the Minolta Autocord, an excellent camera which many say is better than the ‘Mat. But it will cost more. Both are simple to use.

    Well, there it is. My tuppence worth.

    • I agree with Terry B, YashicaMat 124 or 124G

      • Or go with an even less-celebrated TLR, the Yashica D. With the Yaschica D, you take out any possibility of issues with the linked film advance and shutter cocking mechanisms, having separate winding knob and cocking lever. You also can save some money because the Yashica D generally costs less than the 124 or 124G, plus you can still find a late-model D with the 4 element Yashinon lens. I have one and I love it. It’s how I started in medium format. Cost about $65 after new light seal kit.

      • The G is massively overrated. By the time that one came out, they used a bunch of plastic internals. The D and others are better equipped to last you longer. I picked up an EM for $50 and had it CLA’s for another $75. All metal and half the price of an untested G version.

    • Terry, thanks for the correction! I must’ve gotten it mixed up in my head with the Hasselblad 1600 as you mentioned. It’s been a while since I have handled both 500C and 1600, and I do remember the “thwack” of the flapping mirror found in both perhaps more so than the “snick” of the leaf shutter. We’ll get it fixed, thanks!

      Regarding the Mamiyaflex C2, I chose it mainly as a value proposition and as an introduction to another side of medium format that beginners may not know of. The lenses are all backwards compatible; it is forward compatibility with the earliest Mamiyaflex C lenses that present issues. I do acknowledge that the C220 and C330 are both more advanced cameras, but if a shooter is looking to build a system of Mamiya C-series lenses, they may as well cut their teeth on a cheaper, if less fully-featured, machine to start.

      As for your other suggestions, we have the Minolta Autocord and Rolleicord covered in our other article which serves as a companion piece to this one!
      https://www.casualphotophile.com/2016/03/21/five-best-medium-format-cameras-for-beginners/

      The Yashica Mat family has been suggested by many a reader (and by many a blog), but we found those to be rising in price within the last few years, particularly the 124G. The unmetered Yashica Mats are a good shout though, although I would personally shake to the Minolta Autocord or older Rolleicords if I had the choice.

      Thanks again!

      • Josh, I do wonder about the asking prices for Yashica-Mats, especially the 124G model, and how many actually sell at these, IMO, speculative prices? I suspect that they do better when they are auction listings rather than BIN. There is some luck involved, but last June I bid on a Yashica-24 and won it for just £88, inc. case. This is a forerunner of the 124G. Notionally, it is a 220 film only model, but I noticed that it was fitted with the rare 120 interchangeable back. I was absolutely delighted with it when it arrived. It was in near mint condition, as also evidenced by the case. The meter worked, too. Unlike the meter in the 124G models and which are switched by raising the hood, this has a more robust and reliable push button switch on the left side of the body. Also no plastic in sight!

        Whilst I’ve been a ‘Mat fan since I purchased my first in 1963, I’m sure that the Autocord is likely to be the better overall. Although either, in un-metered versions, would be preferable to the 124G, and they don’t look plasticky either. In 1963, my ‘Mat cost me a fraction under £40 new, but checking my old Wallace Heaton catalogue for 1963/4 the Autocord is listed at £10 more, 25%, quite a price difference for an 18-year old.

        • We sell YashicaMat 124Gs in the shop between $300 and $350, depending on what accessories come packed with each example, and they sell in minutes. We could likely price them higher. My only point is that I think the YashicaMats are currently a little too expensive to recommend for a beginner TLR when there are others (like the Mamiyaflex and Ricohflex) which are better priced for someone just starting out.

    • I own two RB’s, two Bronica ETR’s, two Bronica GS-1’s, one Bronica SQAM, one Yashicsmat 124g, one Rollieflex, and three Kowa Super 66 camera s. I took my best photos with the RB’s. I used the ETR’s as my primary whole cameras for 20 years. I think the best quality camera of the bunch is the GS-1.

    • My first real foray into medium format was a Ricohflex TLR. It was an ok camera with decent sharpness. It used red window film advance, geared focusing to synchronize both lenses, and a shutter that was cocked by pressing the lever the opposite direction used to trip it. But I soon got a Minolta Autocord and loved it. It was not a 120/220 model (useless today since nobody makes 220 film anymore) but I loved it. It’s lenses were sharp.

      I’m still using a Bronica GS-1 I purchased in 2004 and that is fantastic! I’d put its results up against Mamiya RB/RZ results any day! Using Kodak Technical Pan on a tripod with the mirror locked up, a cable release, and the lenses at the f8 to f11 range gave a print that looked as good as large format.

      That Bronica GS-1 is highly recommended by me for beginners wishing to go to 6×7. Its not that heavy for 6×7 and is very sturdy. It doesn’t have the rotating back obviously but that keeps the weight down. Also, with an accessory grip, it handles feet vertically if shooting handheld.

      The only problem is that medium format gear of any make is going for a pretty penny these days. 15 years ago, it was dirt cheap and even Hasselblads were affordable. Now lenses and whatnot are at least twice as much for my GS-1 as they weee 10-15 years ago.

      • Technical Pan in 120, wow! I tried a couple of 35mm films and it was incredible shot at 25ASA. The clear base did give me some issues when I first came to print the negs, but after a little trial and error I started to get the hang of it.
        If I remember correctly, using a range of different developers it could be exposed at speeds up to at least 250ASA.

  • On the subject of Zeiss Ikon Super Ikontas: While I agree that the 532/16 is a nice camera, it’s also clunky, and the auto-spacing mechanism, apart from only giving you 11 frames, is prone to failing, rendering the camera basically unrepairable and turning it into a quite expensive paperweight. I would recommend its later sibling, the 531/16 (III), which, in spite of its (reused, infuriatingly – so watch out) model number, is considerably more advanced; all issues with the 532/16 were resolved, it’s smaller, lighter and, crucially, much more reliable. Its 75mm f/3.5 Tessar lens might not look quite as impressive on paper, but it’s sharper and contrastier than the 80mm f/2.8 on the 532/16. The 531/16 (III) is the much more pleasant camera to use and carry, and it doesn’t usually go for a higher price than then 532/16. For my money, the 531/16 (III) is the much more desirable camera (and I should mention here that I own both – a 532/16 that sadly has stopped working (yes, the spacer) and a super-reliable 531/16). Oh, and don’t fall for the 534/16 (IV) – its selenium meter is usually gone or unreliable, so no advantage over the 531/16 (III).

    I also love my Pentacon Six TLs – if image quality is your thing, it’s hard to find a better deal. However, it pays to check the camera before buying (or have it checked): The shutter can be unreliable, the worst offender being the (very useful!) 1/125″. The camera is all mechanical, and the shutter speeds have their own specific quirks, 1/125″ to 1/500″ being the most prone to being off, but the 1/125″ can really hang (in such a case, you’re lucky to get something between 1/15″ or 1/30″ out of it). The thing is, you really want to use that 1/125″ speed (and shorter) because while the camera operates quite nicely overall, mirror slap is considerable (a *lot* less hefty than on a Pentax 6×7, but certainly worse than on something like a Hasselblad 500C/M).

    In that regard, you simply can’t beat the (later) folders with their compact leaf shutters, even though ironically, the most common high-end shutter (the Synchro-Compur) has quite a meaty slap to it over most of its production time. The later one used on the Super Ikonta 531/16 (III) is very nice in operation, though. Funnily enough, the “cheaper” Prontor-SV(S) is much quieter and better behaved – and less prone to sticking, too. Older Compur shutters are also fine (if they’re working) – though the Compur-Rapid literally slams it at 1/300″ (or, on the earlier ones, 1/250″) … Anyway, certainly not a problem on the later models.

    M.

  • The Zeiss recommendation concerns me. The film advance mechanism is keyed to the thickness of the film on the take up spook rather than the number of rotations. So with today’s much thinner films and backing papers, the Ikontas tend to have problems with overlapping frames. There are some goofy hacks to get around this, but not anything I’d wish on a beginner.

  • The Mamiya TLRs are just too heavy (Eduardo Pavez Goye discussed this on YouTube).

    I have a Rolleiflex 3.5f, Minolta Autocord, Ricoflex and Super Ikonta BX 533/16. They are all 6×6. Consider the Ricoflex, Rolleicord or older Rolleiflex TLRs. Leaf shutters allow flash synch at any speed. They all make wonderful images. There are closeup lens for all of them for macro work.

    • Actually, I didn’t find the C330 model overly heavy. The knack was to have it on a short strap and let the weight be taken around the neck. A thick shoulder pad spread the weight nicely, even with the 180mm tele lens. The hands were then only used to operate the controls and the arms were not weight bearing.

  • This is a crazy post how can you not mention the Yashica 124g, which is great beginners camera, built in meter, clear viewfinder and a very sharp lens and In my opinion this would be the only camera I would recommend for a medium format beginner.

    For those who may want more choice there is also the Bronica ETRs range which are a fine piece of kit and can be picked up for under £200. You can if you want the trouble go for a cheap Kiev 88, which is a basic and solid medium format camera and will teach the beginner discipline amongst other things.

    I would not recommend a folder to a beginner as many are not that easy to use as many need a rangefinder as well as a a meter. You need to remember these are for beginners dipping their toes in the water.

  • Koni Omega M/Rapid Omega 200. Ready availability, a large bright rangefinder, sharp interchangeable lenses, interchangeable backs, and 6×7 negatives make these the best deal in vintage medium format.

  • I forget one : the wonderful Olympus TLR, one of the best.
    And the Agfa Super Isolette : a must you can keep in the pocket. See Rockwell review.

  • Lubitel 2 or its successors, cheap, simple, no frills. Teaches the essentials and just does. After a box brownie was my first MF camera, and I’ve bought another recently.

  • Just so other readers don’t get the mistaken idea that Bronica has aperture priority automation, the optional metering finder provides shutter priority automation only.

  • I always recommend the Yashica-D as a first medium format camera, as they have great lenses and can be had for well under $100. They’re fairly easy to use and give good results.

    • This is the same advice that I have been giving to people looking to get a start shooting medium format. I have a lovely Yashica D and it makes beautiful images. It doesn’t have the recently bestowed cache as the Yashica-Mat 124 or 124G and is relatively easy to find for $100 or less.

    • Excellent recommendation! Thanks very much.

  • I’m still using a Bronica S my father bought for me in Japan in 1963. So many accessories and lenses available in Japan via Ebay. 50mm is great for architecture though the prism viewfinder I bought makes it heavy it is still a blast to use and gets many comments from folks who have never seen a 6×6 slr.

  • I am particularly particular to the Moskva/Mockba series of folders. Currently I am using a Mockba 5 which for fun I recovered in white leather to make a White Russian..

    https://flic.kr/p/2fHyaer
    https://flic.kr/p/2fCSbTy

    Another (and frankly better) Russian folder is the Iskra. Excellent lens, excellent specs, a really good camera.
    A more modern but extremely affordable alternative is the original Mamiya 6 folder (not the modern plastic electronic version)

    Cheap fun zone focusing folder fun can be had with the Zeiss Ikon Nettar series. Pretty much the only mf kamera I would avoid is a Lubitel. I had a brand new NOS one that essentially fell apart by roll #3. Even when it worked focusing it was pretty much hit n miss as the screen was so bad. But for the 2 rolls that worked the lens actually gave some really nice images.

  • Right on. I bought an SQ-A about two months ago purely because it seemed like a very good deal, and I wanted to get into medium format beyond my Holga GN. Heavy like a brick, but a pro camera throughout. It will be interesting with the 50mm lens. Super wide!

  • Interesting that you went SQ over ETR series. The ETR seems to be more readily available, both cameras and their accessories.

  • A very interesting and useful article. I agree with those who recommend a TLR as a first medium format camera. I shoot with a Ricoh Diacord, which I purchased in good condition for $44.00. Like the Minolta Autocord, it uses levers to focus the lens. The lens is excellent and the camera is put together very well.

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Josh Solomon

Josh Solomon is a freelance writer and touring bassist living in Los Angeles. He has an affinity for all things analog. When not onstage, you can find him roaming around Southern California shooting film and humming a tune.

All stories by:Josh Solomon