Vintage Lenses for Video Production - Mamiya
The Mamiya Lens Quest begins….
The search for niche vintage lenses. The rabbit hole pretty much every videographer, cinematographer or director of photography goes down at some point in their life like some sort of perpetual rabbit chasing, money spending
person. There’s a lot of popular vintage lenses about for video production. For most of them, prices have steadily been increasing due to *cough* YouTubers…. Some of the more common ones you’ll hear about:
- Canon FD’s
- Leica R’s
- Contax Zeiss/Zeiss Jena
- The old soviets (Helios 44/Jupiter etc)
- Olympus Zuikos
- Minolta Rokkors
- The list goes on
So why Mamiya for Video Production? Specifically, the Sekor C’s, CS and SX? Because from my research they perform similarly to leica R’s/contax zeiss but they have more interesting flaring in my opinion…. And seem to fly very much under the radar. I also already own a few Sekor C’s including the semi-famous 80 1.9.
“Just How Good are Mamiya CS Lenses?
"I have tested many different lenses for all kinds of 35mm SLR cameras, including many renowned and excellent Zeiss lenses for the Contax SLR system. The Carl Zeiss Planar 50mm f/1.4 lens, for example, is one of the best lenses available for any 35mm camera. The lens tests I have done with Mamiya CS lenses reveal that the Mamiya 50mm standard lenses come very close to the performance of the Planar. There is still a small difference, but that will most likely not be noticeable in daily shooting situations."
- R L Herron - herron.50megs.com
Left: Sekor C 35mm flare video, Source: Nicholaus James on YouTube
The flares are like if the Leica R’s and Cooke Panchros had a baby…. Low contrast but with a touch of eyelash/rainbow flare which I find a really nice sweet spot.
Why Vintage Lenses?
There are several reasons why people use vintage lenses for video production. One is that vintage lenses can have a unique and desirable "look" that is difficult to replicate with modern lenses. This can include characteristics such as a distinct bokeh (the way out-of-focus areas of the image look), vignetting (darkened edges of the frame), or color fringing (chromatic aberrations). These imperfections can give the video a certain "character" or "feel" that can enhance the aesthetic. The designs of many cine lenses used today still retain a lot of the character of lens designs created decades ago due to audiences becoming used to and expecting a particular look.
Mamiya 645 History
The Mamiya 645 is a medium format film camera system that was produced by the Japanese company Mamiya. It is a camera that generally uses 120 film (I've seen some people use polaroid backs and mods though), and it has a leaf shutter with a maximum shutter speed of 1/500th of a second.... so nothing unusual for the era....
From my perspective, the big thing is the lens system. Some of the lenses that are compatible with the Mamiya 645 system includes the notorious 80mm f1.9 used by Chris Nolan on the Dark Knight and rumoured to be in Hoyte van Hoyetema’s kit bag. The reason being they shoot on 65mm film so there are only limited number of lenses which give the necessary coverage. The Mamiya 645 system is still considered to be a reliable and well-built camera, and it is still highly sought after by medium format film shooters. Personally, as I don't currently shoot much film but have used them in the past to create some of my work, I'm more inclined to use these lenses for video production.
The three lens sets I’m looking at:
- Sekor C (Medium format)
- Sekor SX (Full frame 35mm still lenses)
- Sekor CS (Full frame 35mm still lenses)
There are a few sets of cinemodded and speedboosted Sekor C’s floating around in the world rehoused by companies like TLS which gaves them access to wider apertures and field of view on full frame or smaller sensors but makes them unusable as medium format lenses.
Info on the internet seems to suggest the SX line were also produced by Mamiya so stands to reason that they’d have similar design and coatings. The flare's of the SX do seem similar to the Sekor C so I'm assuming their designs are similar. The CS are rumoured to have had mix heritage so maybe wouldn’t match as well with the other two sets, but could be dependant on the serial number. The main reason I include the CS is purely just for the faster 21mm but the CS series seem significantly rarer.
- Sekor SX 28mm 2.8
- Sekor C 45mm 2.8
- Sekor C 80 1.9
- Sekor C 150 f3.5 (which I’ll probably never use)
Just missing a wide angley for a workable set…. Ideally the SX line would have an f2.8 wide but the fastest is f4 unfortunately. The rarity of the CS 21mm 2.8 may mean the 21mm f4 is the only real option currently unfortunately. My set is a work in progress…. I’ve got a lot of searching, buying and testing to do…. Clearly.
Adapting Mamiya SX for Video Production
One of the big reasons these aren’t talked about much is because they’re one of the most awkward vintage lenses to adapt. It’s m42 mount but it’s a proprietary bullshit m42 mount made by Mamiya which has extra little pins and an aperture ring which will hit most adapters, which stops you from screwing it in all the way and resulting in infinity focus being impossible.
Firstly, I was like…. Yeah, so what, I can make it work right? So, I went out and bought a flanged m42 adapter which I intended to file down… well turns out filing it down wasn’t the problem… I’d overtightened the vice so must’ve bent the EF mount side of the adapter very slightly. This meant that yes it fit on the lens but I’d broken the camera side mount of the adapter. It’s definitely doable if you have the right kit and I’ve seen examples of many people achieving good results but I just figured it makes more sense to get one ready-made after my first fail. Sometimes it’s not worth the stress of messing up. The only adapters I’ve found are the Bokkeh Brand m42 adapters which you have to order from China or Taiwan or wherever… who really knows.
To be continued….. with lens tests etc