In my last post I wrote about moving away from 35mm. Part of that process, as well as selling off most of my 35mm cameras, was to spend a week on the Isle of Skye with just one medium format camera, my Mamiya RZ67.
Lots of people on the internet describe the RZ67 as being “only for the studio” or perhaps “only for use near the car”. I can see why people think this – the camera weighs 2.65 kg with a waist level finder, one film back, and 110mm lens. Add a 50mm and 65mm lens and an extra film back will take it up about 3.2kg, that’s before you think about a tripod.
However I have used the RZ, together with a Manfrotto 075 tripod and 029 three-way head, for walks of up 5 or 6 miles. I don’t find the weight that outrageous if I’m on a trip where the main purpose is photography. By the way, that’s not because I’m particularly young and fit – I’m a slightly tubby 52-year old with arthritis. Granted, if the trip is a casual outing with family and the slight possibility of taking an image or two, then you might not want to carry that lot around.
So that I can get more use out the RZ, I made a couple of changes; first by adding a lighter tripod to my collection (now standing at four plus one monopod); secondly by choosing to carry the kit in a proper walking rucksack with a metal frame and hip belt, rather than a photo-specific bag.
It does just fit in but there isn’t much room for anything else. The longer the walk (and the more remote the countryside) the more you need to factor in the space to carry waterproofs, food, drink, etc.
Hence the new arrangement pictured below, for longer walks. The Karrimor rucksack has been in my possession since the 1980s, but very little used. I created some extra padding in the base compartment by using an old Camera Case Systems over-the-shoulder bag and cutting bits off. I purchased the bag for £2.49 in a charity shop – it was very dirty hence the low price, and cut off the lid and strap.
I have also used bits of foam to line the compartment; this works OK but the cut-off camera bag stays in place better. The bottom compartment only really has enough room for the camera body, film back, and lens – I could squeeze another item in but I prefer to carry the lenses, extra back and meter in the other rucksack compartments. There is loads of space in the top compartment for maps, guides, food, drink, waterproofs, etc, and the hip belt + metal frame makes it much easier to carry the weight for several hours.
Next we see the “new” tripod side by side with the “old” 075 tripod, first at minimum height and then at max height. The new model is an old Manfrotto 055 aluminium model with a ball head which I purchased for £65 in ebay. I haven’t been able to accurately weight the two ‘pods but the 055 seems about half the weight of the 075.
The difference in minimum height does not seem too significant in the image above, but in many situations such as rocks, you can’t really use the 075 at this height because the struts which make the tripod so strong get in the way of objects on the ground.
I also modified the 055 tripod (using as my guide this youtube video by Mike Sowsun) to remove the centre column. On most tripods I would avoid using the centre column if at all possible, as stability drops dramatically. The 075 is however an exception, as the geared centre column is very strong and can be safely used:
I’ll come back to talk about how the new tripod worked out, after taking a tour around Skye with some of the photos I took during the week. Most of the colour photos were on Kodak Portra 160, plus a couple of rolls of Ektar, and the black and white shots were either TMax 100 or Ilford XP2 Super. In total I used 12 rolls of colour and four rolls of black and white. The Mamiya takes 10 shots per roll so that was 160 images.
Struggled with some very strong side lighting on this day …
Suardal, Boreraig, and Susinish
This day had the longest walk at around 11 miles.
The Quirang hills on the Trotternish Peninsula
The Storr hills
On this quick visit to Portree I just used a Manfrotto monopod, without the head which doesn’t add any value – because the RZ has a revolving film back there is never any need to turn the camera on it’s side, which would be the only reason you might need to use a swivel head on the monopod. I find that the waist level finder is a good combination with the monopod and I have used this combo at shutter speeds down to 1/30s. An eye-level prism would be a less useable option with a monopod however due to the higher centre of gravity.
The Fairy Pools, Glen Brittle
First of all I was quite happy just using one camera all week. The Mamiya RZ67 is very versatile and I didn’t feel the need for anything else. Not having to think about camera choice helped me to concentrate on the images rather than the equipment.
On the whole the Karrimor backpack was a success. With any backpack, taking an image isn’t a casual business because I needed to stop, put the backpack on the ground (which might be an issue in very boggy conditions), get the camera out, etc. But for the type of photoghraphy I do, that’s not too much of an issue. I was surprised by how un-waterproof the pack was, as I hadn’t used it for so long, so I had to dry kit out overnight on a couple of occasions. In future I’ll make sure there are waterproof liners inside the pack.
The 055 tripod was a partial success but I certainly won’t be getting rid of the larger 075B. I took both tripods with me and ended up using the 075B at Neist Point, where it was very windy and I wasn’t walking more than a couple of miles. On a previous day at The Storr, the 055 tripod and camera blew over in the wind. It doesn’t have an obvious way of hanging a pack on it to improve stability, and I also found the ball head difficult to get used to. On the positive side I was able to carry it for about 11 miles without any problems so it has certainly provided an extra option which allows me to take the RZ further away from the car.
By the way I use an Optech tripod strap which really helps to ease the load of carry the tripod over the shoulder.
As well as being a great weeks’ holiday, with fairly good weather and lots of photography opportunities, the kit experiments increased my confidence in using the Mamiya RZ67 as a sole camera.