|David v Goliath. The difference in weight terms is even bigger.|
My pal Phil and I have been swapping emails on the subject of hand-holdable 6x6 SLRs. Phil's recently picked up a Hasselblad 500CM and I was asking him whether it was OK without a tripod to anchor it. He's just started using it and I think is undecided on the matter.
We've been debating, as photography and camera enthusiasts are wont to do, about whether it would make more sense lightening the load and just sticking with 35mm. Phil seems to be committed to medium format but I'm blowing in the wind on the matter.
The one big drawback of my Rolleiflex SL66E is its size which, I find, makes it too unwieldy for handholding. The SL66E with the standard 80mm f2.8 Planar, 120 back and the 45 degree prism I have for mine weighs in at around 2.5kgs. To put this into some sort of perspective, an Olympus OM2 with standard lens is a bit over 600 gms. Obviously, this is an apples and oranges comparison but it's just to give those readers who've never handled a 6x6 SLR an idea of what we're talking about.
|A 500 CM like Phil's except he has a 60mm Distagon in place of the standard lens.|
So, effectively, lugging an SL66E around all day is like strapping four OM2s to your hand. That's the main reason I always use a tripod with the big Rollei. I find it easier leaving the camera bolted to the tripod with the whole thing resting on a shoulder in between photographs. Much as I love the camera and its Zeiss lenses, its lack of portability is a little off-putting and results in me not using it as much as I should. So I started wondering if there was another 6x6 SLR that might be easier to use handheld in the field.
Phil's Hasselblad CM with standard lens and waist level finder weighs 1.55 kgs. That's a saving of around 2lbs over the SL66E - or a bag of sugar - but it's still a fair weight to schlep around all day. There are various other 6x6 SLRs including the Bronica SQA range, the Kowa Six and 66, the older Bronicas such as the S2A and the Pentacon 6 but they all seem to be around the same sort of weight.
It's at this stage that a 645 camera starts to become appealing if you want to do a lot of handheld shooting. The Pentax 645, for instance, was really designed as a handheld camera. It has a built-in prism for eye-level shooting, motor drive and auto exposure. Best of all, it handles just like a slightly bigger version of a 35mm camera with motor drive attached.
|A 645 pictured on test at Ken Rockwell's site.|
Build quality wise, it's not in the same league as the likes of the SL66E or 500CM, both of which are engineering masterpieces. There are more plasticky feeling parts and I doubt you'd be able to use it to hammer nails the way you could with the other two. It is MUCH cheaper, though, which is important as Pentax no longer supports the 645 from what I can tell and it has some electronics in there that won't last forever. It's much cheaper buying another working body than having a broken one fixed by an independent repairer.
But, ask me which of the three I'd prefer to use off tripod and the Pentax would be an easy winner. The Zeiss lenses for the Rollei and Hasselblad have a great reputation but the Pentax optics are easily good enough for critical work. There are 645 alternatives from Mamiya, Contax and Bronica as well but, although excellent, I don't think any would feel as good in the hand as the Pentax.
Yes, the 645 negative is obviously a bit smaller but that's only an issue if you're intent on shooting squares. Crop a 6x6 neg and you're down to something around 6x4.5 anyway.
|Would I miss big, wide angle views like this from the 40mm Distagon were I to|
give up the Rollei?
The big question, of course, is what's wrong with using a tripod? Shouldn't an SL66E be sitting still to get the best out of those Distagons, Planars and Sonnars? The answer is, yes it should be on a tripod. As I've written before, I find it more and more of a hassle to set up a camera on a tripod as I get older and my "images" aren't as satisfying from a creative point of view.
So if I can't be bothered carting the SL66E around on a tripod, should I really hang onto it? Wouldn't I be better concentrating on 35mm instead? The outfit I have - camera, 120 back, prism, 40mm, 80mm, 150mm and 250mm lenses - is superb and would fetch a good price on Ebay. And just think of the "handholdable" Leica goodies I could buy with that wodge of cash...