A Year With the Mamiya 645 Pro-TL: A Comprehensive Review

A Year With the Mamiya 645 Pro-TL: A Comprehensive Review

I’ve shot this camera in a studio, taken it on long hikes, shot it in a blizzard, and taken it out into the dessert. I’ve used and abused it and it’s still going.Medium format film is quite addictive – particularly slide film. There’s nothing quite like holding your 120 slides up to the window on a sunny day or a light table. Black and white and color negative film get a big boost from the larger than full frame format as well. 

Short of shooting a range finder, there are limited options for medium format that are not bulky and heavy. The first medium format camera I used was a Mamiya RB67 and I still have and use the camera to this day. That said, after a couple long hikes, you learn pretty quickly that it isn’t a great camera when your subject and your car are far apart. So in 2018, while prepping for to a trip to Arizona, I decided to pick up a 645 camera. At the time I was sure I wanted a Pentax 645 but with no supply of them in my area and my bad experiences on eBay, I decided to roll with a Mamiya 645 Pro-TL and haven’t looked back since. 

The manual focus Mamiya 645 was offered in several variants dating back to 1975 for the original M645 version to 2006 for the Pro-TL and E variants. The autofocus cousin is still made and sold to this day as a digital camera. 

Build Quality

Relative to some of the other medium format cameras I’ve used and seen/held, it is not the most robust feeling camera. Hands down, my RB67 is an all mechanical anchor and Hasselblad’s feel like they could last a lifetime (and do!). My Pro-TL on the other hand feels much more modern in a way that’s really convenient but doesn’t give me quite as much confidence in the wear and tear that I know I’m putting it through. It is primarily constructed of a hard plastic and has a feeling like the barrel of a nice, modern, plastic lens. 

Accessories

One of the primary reasons why I love this camera is the large number accessories available for it. In particular, I love having the auto-winding handle and having aperture priority mode available with the AE prism. There are 6 different viewfinders ranging from a waist-level finder, a simple prism, and the AE line of prisms that allow for aperture priority mode. There are number of focusing screens that can be used including a simple matte field, grid screen, and the including of a microprism and/or a rangefinder spot. Additionally, there are a number of backs available and a standard 120 back is common enough that they can typically be had for $80 or less. Having the ability to switch backs is paramount when traveling.

Lens Offerings

There are more than 30 lenses offered for the Mamiya 645 system to include the 80mm f/1.9, the fastest medium format lens ever made. The bayonet mount for the Pro-TL is the same for the entire 645 lineup so every manual focus Mamiya 645 lens can be used with 645 model. Focal lengths range from an ultra-wide 24mm f/4 (full frame equivalent: 15mm f/2.5) to a telephoto 500mm f/4.5 (full frame equivalent: 310mm f/2.8). The majority of lenses fall into one of three series depending on when it manufactured: C, S, and N. The C series lenses are the oldest and built like tanks. The N series lenses are the newest lenses so they have updates to the lens coatings and in select cases, changes in the optics. The S series lenses are right down the middle, having the C series body with the N series updates. 

Additional offerings include multiple macro lenses, a lens with shift (i.e., shift lens), several APO options, and leaf shutter lenses. I do not have any experience with these lenses as I’ve not found good copies at a good price at the local shops but I’ve heard great things about all of the more limited run lenses. 

Cost

For the body only with an AE prism, you can get a decent deal on a Mamiya Pro-TL for about $400-$500. Lenses vary in price (as always) depending primarily on focal length and type. For a 80mm f/2.8, 150mm f/4, 210mm f/4, and 300mm f/5.6, you can get a good copy for less than $100. If you’re like me and prefer full frame equivalent of 35mm, then you’ll want a 55mm f/2.8 which run about $100-$200 for the leaf shutter version. The fact of the matter is that you can spend as much or as little you like on all of the accessories for the Mamiya 645 Pro-TL. Between different focusing screens, different prisms, handles, and lenses, you can easily spend as much or as little as you like. 

What I Liked

  • Light enough for backpacking
  • Capable of aperture priority mode
  • Large number of lenses available
  • All mechanical for basic functions
  • Interchangeable backs 
  • Affordable for a simple setup

What I Didn't Like

  • Plastic construction for the body
  • Rarity of some lenses drive up prices
  • Negatives are only 2/3 the size of 6x7 negatives

Conclusion

As I said at the beginning, I’ve used and abused this camera about as much as anyone could and still expect to use it. So far it’s held up quite well and I expect to continue using it for years to come. I cannot see any reason to make a significant shift away from it for anything less than a solid (and more portable than my RB) 6x7 choice. My collection of lenses and accessories has extended to more than I can use on one trip but all of it gets used. I cannot suggest this camera enough. For the money, it’s everything I need and more. 
If you have any experience with a Mamiya 645 – particularly the Pro-TL – I’d love to know. Even if you don’t have any experience with it but experience with other medium format film cameras, I’d love to hear about it. 
 

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41 Comments

Joe Feldman's picture

Had one for a bit. It's a great starter MF camera for sure. Once I saw the 6x7 negative though, I just stopped using it as much and eventually sold it.

James Madison's picture

I suspect that will happen to me at point as well once I get my hands on a 6x7 camera I can travel with as comfortably as I can with the 645. What 6x7 are you shooting?

The RB67 is great, built like a tank and totally mechanical so no electrical issues. You can even get the 6x8 automatic back that works with the Pro S or Pro SD (I don't think it works with the original). It's not as comfortable but looking into the viewer is unbeatable

Robert Montgomery's picture

Lol, I firmly believe that a picture of the last digital camera made will be taken with a RB67 w/ the Mamiya Sekor 180mm lens. Had an RZ when they came out. Sold it. Kept the RB Pro SD.

James Madison's picture

I do love my RB but need to use it more often than I do. I had no idea you could get a 6x8 back for it... I'll have to look into it.

Scott Hussey's picture

I started shooting with a 645 (1974 version) when I started assisting with my father in 1997. I still have it. I still shoot it. I loved it so much, about a decade ago, I bought the 645-Pro-TL. I love the Pro-TL even more, and I shoot it even more.

Yes, it's bulkier than a DSLR, but you can still shoot it handheld (this was not so easy with the original 645-M).

About 90% of the shots from this book were shot on the 645 Pro-TL https://www.amazon.com/Raw-Thoughts-mindful-literary-photographic/dp/195...

James Madison's picture

Was there anything in particular you liked about the Pro-TL over the M645?

Scott Hussey's picture

The ergonomics, swappable backs, and the availability of Aperture-Priority shooting all make it an easy choice in most circumstances. But, if I want to pack light (as light as one can w/ a medium format camera) and I know I'll be shooting from a tripod, the more compact nature of the 645 M makes that body preferable.

Scott Hussey's picture

The motor drive on the Pro-TL is also nice, but there's still something incredibly sexy about manually winding the film between each shot ;)

James Madison's picture

Luckily both are an option! haha. When I'm flying somewhere, I usually have the autowinding handle in my luggage and the camera with the manual winder in my backpack.

Robert Montgomery's picture

Curiously the 645 J don't have the removable backs.

Matt Williams's picture

All the M645's can be used in Aperture Priority with an AE prism. I have one for my 645 1000S.

Robert Montgomery's picture

I agree with the removable backs on the Pro/TL . It accepted 2 different winders. The 401 and 402. The 401 had a selector on/off start switch and the N connector that auto sets N L/S lenses with the N connector attached to the pin port on the lens. It also allows for multi exposures attached to the camera. It also uses 6AA Batteries. Though rechargables will not work with it. The 402 is a striped down version using a 2CR5 battery and does not have the selector switch, N lens connector, and has to be removed for multi exposure. It was bundled with the SV AE meter acton prism originally. It is more compact than the 401
I have both but use the 401 when I don't hand wind. The 401 also has a threaded standard cable release socket in the shutter button big++, where the 402 do not .

James Madison's picture

I have the WG401 as well and love it.

I think I bought the last new one in the US a few years ago from Allen’s Camera, Love the camera and the images it takes. I have two film backs that I love to swap with color and b/w film. I use a phone app for light metering and it works well with the camera.

James Madison's picture

Oh, that's cool! I have 3 backs at the moment, one for color negative, one B&W, and one for high speed B&W or slide.

Robert Montgomery's picture

Any version on the Mamiya 645 is good . You are wrong about the body construction though . The carbon "plastic" on the Super, Pro, Pro TL is just the covering skin below is aircraft aluminum. L/S lens are akin to their respective series focal plan counterparts but allow flash sync at all shutter speeds and can also be used as "normal" shutterless focal plane lenses. All are built like tanks,all leaf shutters are Sieko. For 6X7 portability , I use the Asahi Pentax 6X7. Yes it is big yes it is heavy, yes it is manual. But designed as a 35mm SLR on steroids, it can be handheld on the street quite easily. Especially with the wood grip handle . As for lenses,Takumar, enough said. There are also L/S versions available . You are getting a negative in 6X4,5 that is X3,5 larger than any full frame DSLR/mirrorless and it is over 2X larger than so called Digital medium formats . At 6X7 cm the size goes up by 5X that of a FF DSLR /FF mirrorless. Draw backs other than size, weight. Limit auto PSAM settings, slower top shutter/sync speeds, slower auto film advances, if any winder is available at all. Less availability of advanced meter prisms, though Mamiya has a 3 meter prism for Super, Pro/TL. Most if they have a meter at all is center weighted. I suggest a good handheld meter with spot or a stand alone handheld spot meter. In Mamiya 645 a roll of 120 is 15 frames. In 6X7 Pentax's 6X7,MLU,67(II) and Mamiya RB67& RZ67 120 roll provides 10 frames. Remember that Medium Format refers to a film format size and NOT a look, as current digital camera manufacturers and some “influencers" would like you to believe . If you have not guessed I shoot medium and large format more than 35mm small format. I do not shoot digital at all .

James Madison's picture

I had no idea it was a plastic skin over aluminum. That's awesome.

Robert Montgomery's picture

No problem . On fact it's milled out of a soild piece. I bought mine 2 645Pros new early 1990's other than a CLA every 3-5 both are still on my front line.

Timothy Turner's picture

I have a Mamiya 645 super, the only problem is it has short where the flash fires randomly and does not synchronize with the shutter, otherwise it is in perfect condition, I purchased it in September of 2005.

Robert Montgomery's picture

Might be worth a repair shop trip I actually know a very good repair shop in Atlanta . They get business from around the globe if interested .

Timothy Turner's picture

Thank you, I have the 80mm 1.8 it is the only lens I have, I would like to use this camera more.

Joel Manes's picture

I've used most MF systems. Rangefinders are nice, but are still pricey. I went with the Bronica SQai system due to quality and prices. The PS lenses are fantastic, Hasselblad equivalents, and are about 10% the prices of when they were new in the 90s. Also, I love the square format. Thanks for a really nice article and thoughtful review.

James Madison's picture

I have never shot a Bronica before but they looked quite attractive when I was on the market. As for rangefinders, I found a killer deal once in Montreal on a Mamiya 6 and didn't get it because I didn't realize just how much of a good deal it was at the time. I regret everything!

Robert Montgomery's picture

Older Bronica's were dark horses. When they had Nikkor (Nippon Kogkagku) lenses . Yes Nikon actually made medium format lenses . When Zenia sold to Tamron, lens quality suffered. Tamron was bad in the 1980`s/90`s. They also did not advance or keep the wedding market that was using Bronica's at the time. We actually referred to the pre Tamron Bronica's as the poorman's Hasselblad .

I've got 2, an m645 I got for around $40 in fine condition and a 645 Pro that was around $200. Easy to find bargains on.

I use mostly the 55mm and the 120/4 macro (which is simply fantastic). The camera is easy to use, portable, and the results are great. Most of the lenses are pretty cheap, the 35mm, leaf shutter versions, and the 80/1.9 are the only really expensive ones. For medium format I prefer a TLR usually but for an SLR type it's hard to go wrong with the Mamiya 645s...

James Madison's picture

Man, that's quite a deal! My 55mm lives on my camera most of the time. I don't have the 120 f4 but I've looking at it pretty hard for a while.

Robert Montgomery's picture

If you ever have a chance the Mamiya Sekor 45mm C which has a large 82mm front element or the redesigned smaller N are both shear fantastic on Mamiya 645. If you ever have a chance on a Super Takumar 6X7 1:3,5/55mm for any of the Pentax 6X7 's , 100mm front element stunning wide angle bliss. Just so you know ,some Takumar's have radioactive coatings. Mine are in my room. Haven't grown a 3rd eye yet. Sharp as hell. You have to step up to a Schneider, or older Kodak Ektar in LF to compete .

I've had a 1000s, super and Pro. I only just gave up my 80mm 1.9 despite not having a body to use it with for ages. The one massive flaw that the Mamiya super and Pro suffer from is a tiny plastic part that keeps the mirror level. I've had two break. It can't be replaced and as it holds a tiny screw and is stressed due to the mirror slap, it would be difficult to 3d print. Without the piece, the Mamiya can't focus correctly as the mirror and film plane are out of line.

I have RB67, RZ67 and Pentax 645 & 67 and the RZ67 is the best!

Edit: forgot I'd had a Bronica ETRSi too that I regret not investing more in but I was won over by Mamiya.

James Madison's picture

Believe it or not, I've owned 2 Pro-TLs and the first had the exact issue you describe. I've got my fingers crossed it does not happen to my current one for a while if ever.

I've never owned a Pentax 67 but a buddy of mine has 3 and loves them.

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