Obscura: Sell the Bike, Keep the Camera – A Mamiya 7ii Review

Continuing our Obscura series, where editors and contributors from The Radavist review their favorite cameras, John discusses the one he’ll never let go: his Mamiya 7ii. Read on for a look into this well-loved and well-used camera!

Texas Summer, Portra 400, 2014

One Camera Before Many Bikes

I’ll sell a bike before I’ll sell my beloved Mamiya 7ii. It’s happened—numerous times. Being a small business owner, money gets tight quite often, and I deal in the currency of bicycles. So if I’m coming up short on rent or even just trying to free up funds for a new build project, I’m usually selling something to pay off something else.

I’ve repeatedly thought about selling my Mamiya 7ii but have always resisted, opting to part with a bike instead.

Remember that tall Eddy Merckx track bike? Or my Bishop road bike? What about the Yo Eddy? Even the Urban Racer above? Yep. I could list the bikes I’ve let go in the time I’ve owned this camera but I don’t want to eat up any more space here. In fact, I think I even sold a bike to buy the Mamiya 7ii!

I’ve probably owned and sold more digital and film cameras in the same amount of time. Yet one camera keeps its place in my cabinet like a rent control apartment in New York City. It’s never moving because if it did, I wouldn’t be able to replace it. I look at my “work” cameras—modern digital bayonets—as what they are: tools. A means to an end. But there’s something special about the Mamiya 7ii.

Mamiya 7ii Quick Hits

  • Made in Japan
  • Plastic body, plastic lens; the weight is in the glass, where it matters most
  • 6×7
  • 120/220 Film
  • 0.57 Viewfinder
  • Six, leaf shutter lenses available
  • Not cheap (anymore)

Baja California, Crop, Ektar 100, 2022


Mamiya was founded in Japan in 1940 by two Tokyo-based engineers, Mamiya Seiichi and Sugawara Tsunejirō, whose first lauded achievement was the Mamiya Six. This 6×6 folding camera was quirky and it focused by moving the film plane on the body.

Later, in 1984, the Mamiya 6 was released and, like its Mamiya Six predecessor, it used a 6×6 format but had been updated to use a rangefinder focusing method and leaf shutter. The body was metal and it was a stout camera, but that didn’t keep people from buying it because, compared to other medium format cameras like the Hasselblad 500x series, it was fast to focus and resilient. The Mamiya 6 allowed for various Mamiya lenses to be swapped in.

Mojave, Portra 400, 2012 (left); Baja, Ektar 100, 2022 

In 1995, the Mamiya 7 was produced, ending the Mamiya 6 line with the MF, or “multi-format” model, which allowed for the use of 6×6, 6×4.5, and even 35 mm (with an adapter), 120 or 220 film.

First introduced in 1999—the year I graduated high school—the Mamiya 7ii was released just four years after the Mamiya 7 in 1995. This was an uncommon occurrence in an era of medium-format cameras. As was its production run of fifteen years, running from 1999 all the way until 2014. Up until then, you could still send your Mamiya 7ii into Mamiya for a service and replacement parts were still being made.

Canyonlands, Ektar 100, 2022


The Mamiya 7ii epitomizes the height of the Japanese rangefinder, medium-format technology with a bolstered 67 mm diameter lens mount, scaled up from the Mamiya 6’s 52.5 mm, providing a larger diaphragm for the in-lens leaf shutter and an enhanced light shield. The Mamiya 7ii’s shutter is actually in the lens itself, not the camera body, making the body ultra lightweight.

With the growth in lens mount diameter came a larger frame size, with the 7ii sporting a bang for your buck: a whopping 6×7 120/220 negative. Like the Mamiya 6, you can even run 35 mm film through it with a panoramic kit, resulting in a 24×65 mm negative. To switch between 120 and 220 film, simply rotate the tension plate shown above.

Its shutter speed and flash sync are limited to 1/500th, and its light meter uses a simple center-weighted pattern in the form of an SPD system. Yet, it is not a TTL (or through-the-lens) light meter, meaning you’ve got to remember to take the lens cap off (or just throw it away like all lens caps and use a filter). Before dealing with the lens cap ordeal, I shot many rolls with countless blank exposures. Dowh!

Desert Trip, Ektar 100, 2022

There is the ability to do multiple exposures so if you find that you have shot a blank exposure, you can always shoot over that via the multiple exposure switch. This also offers up a bit of fun like the photo above. Shot with my 150 mm lens, handheld at 1/30th.

The Mamiya 7ii, unlike its bulky siblings, was designed to be used in aperture priority mode and shot handheld. As such, the viewfinder display shows shutter speeds only—you set the aperture manually, and the camera calculates the appropriate shutter speed based on the scene’s metering.

Cari in el Burro, Ektar 100, 2022

I find the light meter to be one of the most accurate out of any film camera I’ve used. Even though center-weighted metering might be considered rudimentary, I’ve never had a negative be over or under-exposed as a result of the in-camera metering; rather, user error is often to blame. Plus, the camera’s 4LR44 battery seemingly lasts for years!

I usually overexpose by default, and I have found the metering accurate enough for high-latitude film like my favorites, Kodak’s Ektar 100 or Ilford HP5. RIP NEOPAN!

Metering aside, it’s hard to name a single crowning achievement of the Mamiya 7ii, but its superior ergonomics are high on the list along with its other thoughtful design features like the three-tether point strap lashing for easy portrait shooting, simple and flawless loading technique, quiet leaf shutter, durability, lightweight, and excellent optics…

Somewhere in time, Ektar 100, 2022

Optical Nervousness (Decidophobia)

The original Mamiya Six from the 1940s and 1950s featured a fixed lens, meaning you could not swap out lenses. Yet the Mamiya 7ii has an entire bayonet available, with one lens reportedly developed specifically for aero photography. A medium-format system’s optic focal lengths will not be the same as those of a 35 mm camera. So don’t be mistaken; the lenses are wider than their labels.

Within the Mamiya 7ii optic lineup are six quality lenses: 43 mm ƒ 4.5, 50 mm ƒ 4.5, 65 mm ƒ 4, 80 mm ƒ 4, 150 mm ƒ 4.5, and 210 mm ƒ 8. These lenses are approximately 21 mm, 25 mm, 32 mm, 40 mm, 75 mm, and 105 mm when compared to the 35 mm film format.

Bert and Sean, Ektar 100, 2022

The 210 mm lens was developed for aerial photography and features a staggering minimum focus distance of seven meters! It also requires the rangefinder system to be adjusted, as such most photographers have a separate body for 210 mm landscape photos, adjusted to the lens.

This creates what I jokingly call “optical nervousness,” or the inability of a photographer to choose a couple of lenses for the Mamiya 7ii.

Canyon Country with Mamiya’s 80 mm focal length (left) compared to the 150 mm (right)

After owning them all, I’ve settled on the 43 mm (with its cute little viewfinder), the 80 mm, and the 150 mm. The latter still suffers some focusing inaccuracies due to the factory rangefinder adjustments on the Mamiya 7ii body. As such, I tend to “back off” the focus a 1/8th of a turn when stopped down to at least ƒ 8 to ensure a sharp focus.

One cute and quirky thing about rangefinders is they often rely on viewfinders that attach to the camera via the hot shoe for accurate framing at short and long focal lengths. This allows for more precise framing at either ends of the bayonet’s focal range.

Nao Tomii, Portra 160, 2019 (left); Seth Rosko, HP5, 2012 (right)

One complaint I’ve read online is how “slow” the lenses are, and how they lack “depth of field.” Again, you can’t compare the focal lengths or aperture of a medium format lens to a 35 mm lens. If, say for example, the 80 mm ƒ 4 aperture lens was a ƒ 1.8, it would be nearly impossible to focus the lens wide open.

Chas, Porta 160, 2014 (left); Dan, Portra 400, 2014 (right)

Rather, “slower” medium-format lenses simply project a larger image circle. So, while you can compare the 80 mm Mamiya 7ii lens to approximately a 40 mm lens, the aperture remains the same, yet the wider image circle on the medium-format lens alters the viewing angle of the lens for the larger exposure area.

Sure, you lose some shutter speed with the slower aperture but you gain the ability to shoot as slow as 1/15th of a second with the wider lenses and 1/25th with the portrait lenses due to the in-lens leaf shutter. And because it’s all plastic, the weight of the camera doesn’t cause you to shake.

Cari in the Mojave, Expired Portra 400NC, 2015

On Framing and Rangefinders

I began my photography journey with a 35 mm Canon AE-1 in high school. I then shot with various medium-format systems in architecture college in the early aughts before coming back to medium-format via the Hasselblad 500cm and finally finding a Mamiya 7ii for cheap ($800 for the body plus the 80 mm lens) in 2012. On various trips to Japan, I picked up all of my lenses for cheap, haggling over dust and lens body wear with the shop owners.

Flora, Ektar 100, 2022-2024

This story matters because I was used to through-the-lens photography when I first got the camera (i.e. what you see in the viewfinder is what you get). On a Hasselblad 500X system, you’re looking through the lens like the Canon AE-1. On a rangefinder, you’re looking through the rangefinder system, a small window that holds the focusing mechanism for the camera. On a Mamiya 7ii, the lens is closed to light by the leaf shutter, so you can’t look through the lens.

Spring Backpacking, Ektar 100, 2022

With a rangefinder, you align two small rectangles over each other to achieve focus. It’s brilliantly quick, even faster than a digital camera’s spot focus, and accurate. You can still set the range on the lens to shoot stopped-down for street photography. For framing, you have to rely on the rangefinder mechanism’s lines.

The Mamiya 7ii uses a 0.57 magnification viewfinder.

However, there is one slight issue with a rangefinder: parallax distortion. This happens because you’re looking out of the camera to the left of the lens, and the lens is what captures the image on the emulsion. In my first few rolls of film, when I shot objects or people up close, they were all right-justified because of this. It took some time and patience to develop a bit of angular projection to compensate for this framing. I began slightly moving the camera left about 5-10º to correct for framing close subjects.

The Mamiya 7ii has parallax compensation built into the rangefinder viewfinder. Focusing will cause the bright lines displayed to shift to show the adjusted composition. The distortion is non-existent for medium-range and landscape photos. Compared to other rangefinders that I’ve used like Contax, Minolta, or even a Leica, the Mamiya 7ii’s compensation is exact.

Canyons, Ektar 100, 2021, 2022

What is nice about a rangefinder is you can open your left eye and see the entire scene, especially at 40 mm – 50 mm, the approximate focal length of the human eye. This is particularly helpful with shooting motion or active subjects to anticipate the proper framing. Especially with the 1/500th shutter speed. It also allows you to anticipate changes within the unfolding moment.

Dune Patrol, Mojave, Ektar 100, 2022

The Church Mouse Click

When you’re ready to shoot, the shutter is but a church mouse compared to a Hasselblad’s THWUMP. It’s more of a click. This makes stealth shooting all the better and allows the subject to continue on uninterrupted by a mechanical cacophony. Once, I was hired to shoot black-and-white portraits of an athlete for a magazine and had already shot a roll of film when they exclaimed, “You already took the photo!?” To which I replied, “I’ve already taken ten!”

We bought the ugliest house on the block, Porta 160, 2020 (left); Mammatus clouds forming, Ektar 100, 2022

The quietness of the leaf shutter is a testament to the incredibly slow shutter speeds you can achieve with a handheld camera like the Mamiya 7ii. In fact, I have only mounted this camera once to a tripod and it was for a portrait of Cari and me in front of our new home in Santa Fe back in 2020.

Presence and Preset, Ektar 100, 2022

Pack and Go

I had the Mamiya 7ii for two years before taking it on a bicycle tour in China, where I rode hundreds of miles with it slung around my shoulders. It weighed half as much as my Canon 5D at the time, pulling a meager 1210 grams (with the 80 mm lens).

What was amazing about the camera in this context was how you could compose scenes, focus in an instant, and shoot at incredibly low shutter speeds. Knowing all I’ve put this camera through, that trip was probably the most intense. Since then, I’ve tossed it into handlebar bags, backpacks, and the back seat of a car. It’s tumbled from my hands on more than one occasion, like Kyle and his Fuji (well, maybe not THAT bad), and it still shoots as it should.

Cameras back then were made for the long haul; technology was based on emulsion and optics, and there were no “pixel peeping” reviews or the race for the highest megapixels with the most frames per second.

Cars, Ektar 100, 2022, 2024, 2022

Optical Purity

There is no hiding it. The Mamiya 7ii is an incredibly sharp unit. It’s worlds apart from a Rollei or Lomography camera. In a lot of ways, it’s one of the reasons people don’t migrate emotionally to the images it produces. They’re sharp, crystal clear, and void of any “soul.” To give my images more “pop” and “prowess,” I often overexpose.

The bokeh the lenses produce is what I would call “acceptable” but worlds apart from faster 35 mm lenses like the kooky Noctilux or Canon Dream Lens. You won’t get those fancy bokeh swirls on a Mamiya 7ii exposure.

Classics and Signs, Ektar 100, Mojave 2023, Nevada 2022

What you will get is optical purity. I’ve yet to be disillusioned with a roll from the Mamiya 7ii. In fact, by peering at the negatives, I am instantly transformed back to the moment in which I pressed the shutter button. Perhaps this is why I see people on Instagram and photo forums slam it all the time for not looking “film enough” when they’re used to grainy 35 mm exposures. For me, it’s all about the tones.

Bury Me in the Mojave, Ektar 100, 2022

People conflate film photography with exception by default. Just because the photo is shot on emulsion doesn’t make it superior in any way to a digital photograph (especially since scans are all digital anyway.) Even saying a scan is “unedited” is disingenuous, as almost all scanners have some built-in preset used to render a proper histogram. Rather, using film photography as a crutch for creating interesting images usually means the photo itself needs a bolster, and that is ok, but it is not why I shoot film.

Cari and Max, Expired Portra 400NC, 2015

I shoot film for the TONES, the simplicity of the documentation process, and the je ne sais quoi of pressing the shutter button and not knowing its outcome for weeks, months, or years until it gets developed. This keeps you active and in the moment rather than chimping at your last shot.

Almost all of these photos are what I consider to exist within the realm of my “life,” not my “work,” and I use the camera as such, a division between the all-consuming, never-ending pursuit of content production for this website. Hence the lack of bicycles in these photos. When Cari and I first met, we both exclaimed how much we loved our Mamiya 7ii cameras. (She bought hers in the mid-aughts.) After first meeting Cari, I reserved the Mamiya 7ii for my personal life; hence, no bikes!

Austin Summer, Expired Kodak 160NC, 2014, SF, Portra 400, 2014

Film photography is everything my work-related photography is not. It is the antithesis of the modern churn-and-burn cycle. It is a special meditative process for me. My most cherished moments in my life are captured on emulsion, places I’ve been to that are so special that I want them documented in a medium that is forever. I might lose some digital files, but I’ll always have the negatives.

The Mamiya 7ii is an honest camera. If your photo isn’t up to the standards we put on ourselves, it will show. Within a split second of viewing a photo from my Mamiya, I know whether it’s worthy of sharing or not. No abstract filters, light leaks, or swirls can hide that.

Self, New Year’s Day, Ektar 100, 2024

Nit Picks and the TL;DR

I’ve adjusted my normal “run and gun” style of digital shooting using my Mamiya 7ii. It causes pause, pushing for composition; I wait for the light to alter the landscape, savor the moment, and relish each shutter’s click. It operates discreetly, capturing moments without the subject knowing many times. It’s a fast-focusing rangefinder with a rudimentary but accurate metering system, that just performs roll after roll. The glass could slice paper; it is so sharp, it’s brutally honest.

Water Sign, Ektar 100, Portra 160, 2022, 2019

My only qualm is with the shutter speed maxing out at 1/500th, so you’ve got to be selective with your ISO speed. Since I’m a desert rat, I usually shoot ISO 100 film exclusively in daylight scenarios, so this isn’t an issue for me, but it’s something to be mindful of if you like grainy negatives and higher-speed film.

At the end of the day, one’s journey with photography is a lot like one’s journey through bikes; trying various platforms before landing on that one “forever” specimen. For me, that was my Mamiya 7ii. I’ll never let it go, and when money gets tight, I’d rather sell a bike.


  • Exceptional camera
  • Fast-focusing
  • Varied lens focal lengths with razor-sharp glass
  • Handheld at very slow speeds due to leaf shutter lenses
  • 6×7 negatives
  • Ergonomically superior to others in its class


  • Every time you bring it around your friends, they have to comment on it.
  • 1/500th shutter speed max
  • If you ever lose or break it, a replacement will cost ya!