Camera Test: Mamiya 645AFD III Camera and the Leaf Aptus DL-28 Digital Back

I recently received a Mamiya 645AFD III medium-format camera to test, accompanied by a Leaf Aptus II DL-28 digital back, and several lenses. 

 

I’m going to report on my experiences with this camera, starting with an overview and first impressions in this post. In subsequent posts, I’ll cover a variety of shooting situations (in studio and on-location), image quality, and the Leaf Capture software and its performance. Note that this is one of the cameras we will be using on the upcoming Focus 09 Fine Art Printing and Art Reproduction Seminar Tour October 2-21.

 

The camera arrived in the original packaging, which is well designed, protecting the camera quite well.

 

Ergonomics are top-notch; the camera is well balanced, and controls are logically placed and fall easily under one’s fingers – in short, it just feels good. 

 

Camera, lens, and digital back build quality is excellent. This is clearly a pro-level camera, robust materials and construction.

 

In the next image, basic features are marked by the numbers. Number 1 is located next to the shutter release, and shutter controls: single, continuous, mirror-up, and lock. Number 2 shows the settings screen, which indicates battery life, aperture/shutter speed, and the like. Number 3 shows the dial which controls shooting mode – Aperture priority, shutter priority, program/auto, manual, X, and custom function. Number 4 indicates the digital back, 5 the stylus used to activate controls on the back.

 

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Controls on the front of the camera include depth of field preview, and a focus mode selector (single, continuous, manual).

 

The camera is powered by AA batteries, which is a plus in terms of cost as compared to camera bodies which require more expensive 123 batteries.

 

IMG_0342edit

 

 

Mamiya lenses have a strong reputation for build and image quality. Focusing rings are well-dampened, and autofocus lenses are quick and quiet.

 

Some specs on the digital back: 28MP, which produces a >150MB file @ 16 bits. The sensor size is 44x33mm, and offers  ISO ratings of 50-800. Pixel pitch is 7.2 microns, which is larger than, for example, the Nikon D3x which features 5.9. Dynamic range is reported to be 12 stops.

 

So far, I’ve used the camera mostly in-studio, with a couple of short sessions outdoors. To this point, the in-camera meter has been accurate, handling high-contrast situations accurately. More to follow on this topic.

 

The camera may be used shooting to a CF card, or tethered to a computer. The days of using an attached hard drive are gone. The battery mounts underneath the camera back, which I find convenient as it helps balance things when using longer lenses.

 

The digital back shoots at 1/fps. It has an excellent, bright viewing screen, 6x7cm, which has very good contrast and color. It can be viewed outdoors, but direct sun is a challenge. In-studio it is, in a word, stunning.

 

A feature of the Aptus digital back is it not only provides a preview and histogram of the image – it is a touch-screen controller for the camera, controlling quite a few functions.

 

In short, one can set up the parameters of the shot, from color space to pre-sharpening to pre-set camera profiles – all with a tap of the included stylus.

 

Now some have criticized this for being “too complex”, or “too fancy”, and I just can’t agree. It is much quicker than push-button driven controls, and the menus are clear and pretty easy to follow.

 

For example, one can set up the camera to provide a simple image preview, image preview with histogram in the corner of the image, or histogram overlaid on the image. Quite flexible and useful.

 

 

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RAW file format is now compatible with Photoshop, Lightroom, and Aperture. I applaud the company’s approach to open architecture – makes it much easier to work in a variety of circumstances and locations. We don’t always have control of the resources available to us in the field!

 

Image quality is excellent. Although the camera provides ISO settings up to 800, as a practical matter image quality begins to suffer at 400, and has significant color and luminance noise at 800, even in bright light. To be fair, this camera was designed for lighting-controlled situations – ie, ISO 50-100.

 

I used the camera in studio to capture some macro shots of an orchid. We used the new Westcott Westcott TD-5 lights with daylight-balanced fluorescent bulbs installed. (a check with a spectrophotometer shows these to be dead-on at 5500k).

 

The macro lens is a 120mm f/4 model, updated with a 16-bit CPU. The focusing ring is smooth, perhaps a little heavy to turn. I’d like to see a little less pressure needed, and a better turn ratio for close focusing – after all, this is a manual focus lens. Having said this, I had no trouble at all focusing the lens. (There is a very accurate focusing indicator in the viewfinder).

 

Image quality is superb. On macro shots, I recommend using a sturdy tripod or studio stand, and mirror-up mode for maximum clarity. 

 

The image below shows an orchid photographed in-studio, with a cutout at 100% to demonstrate sharpness. The white “fuzz” you see isn’t sharpening artifact, it’s part of the flower!

 

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I’ll be photographing a number of subjects this week, including some acrylic paintings for a fine art reproduction project that just came in. More to follow!

 

 

*****

 

We’ll be working live with this camera, among others, at the upcoming Fine Art Printing and Fine Art Reproduction seminars in Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico. These one-day intensive sessions start at the beginning of October 09. For more information, go here.

 

 

 

 

10 thoughts on “Camera Test: Mamiya 645AFD III Camera and the Leaf Aptus DL-28 Digital Back

  1. Pingback: Camera Test: Mamiya 645AFD III Camera and the Leaf Aptus DL-28 Digital Back

    • Leaf makes the digital files open architecture, so one can use a number of software applications. I’m trying out Leaf Capture (has strengths and weaknesses), and of course the Adobe products. Likely I’ll do some side by side stuff too, and make some comparisons. Should be interesting. I also plan to convert some of the files to DNG so I can see if that works in Phase One Capture Pro.

      David

  2. Pingback: Saffir on the Mamiya 645AFD III | Mamiya Blog

  3. A great article, David. I recently started re-looking at the medium format, both for film and for digital, and was shocked at the difference in quality from the larger format. I guess for years I got caught up in the hype and really wanted to be convinced that dslr was the new way to the future of photography. The real turning point was when I re-visited Hasselblad and Mamiya websites and saw the comparison images between pro dslrs and pro medium format digital cams. I just sat there going over the images to believe what I was seeing. I do think its education which is the ultimate tipper, otherwise the masses will continue to march blindly down the path of sub-par image making and the hype in P&S and DSLRs.

    By the way, I am far from a pro, and still learning and refine my vision. I still prefer film. Oh, I am an artist by trade.

    Best wishes for the holidays!

  4. Pingback: Top Photo and Printing Posts of 2010 – and 100,000 visitors! « David Saffir's Photography and Printing Blog

  5. The comment from Mr. Solomon, is maybe old; but, I think it is very interesting. It is a reality that advertising is herding us to the products they want (need??) to sell to survive. In photograpy is very easy to get an small sensor cram on it 18 or 21 MP and say: “Great, now we have more resolution”. En reality, there is a relation between the size of the pixel and the number of them over an specific area. Putting so many of them on an small surface just bring in more information but not a more clean image… So… star to look for a really good noise eliminator. I own to cameras: same manufacturer, same leses, two different resolutions: DX 12 MP and FX 12 MP… It is incredible the difference that a full frame (FX) make on the pictures. This Photos seem taken for a high end camera three or four time costier than the one I am using… Said this, It explain why I am looking for a Mamiya 645 AFD III. A negative for scan or a digital back that are close to three timas the size of a 35 mm has to provide the Photographer with images of superior quality… And, Mr. Solomon, I have a very nice Epson Perfection 4990 Photo Scan and still I prefer FILM too.

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