Hasselblad vs Mamiya 6

Hasselblad 501C vs Mamiya 6

Matthew Osborne Photography / @MrLeicaCom

May 2016


Hasselblad 501C vs Mamiya 6

(Hasselblad 501C + 50mm, 60mm, 80mm, 120mm, 150mm lenses)
(Mamiya 6 + 75mm lens)


Firstly, sorry for the delay on this!  I know a few of you asked me about it weeks ago and I said then I’d share my thoughts soon.  At least waiting til after two trips overseas using the Mamiya 6 I can now give a fair writeup  versus my Hasselblad 501C.  As a quick recap I recently bought the Mamiya 6 to provide a smaller alternative to my 500 series Hasselblad for trips abroad (especially).  Both cameras are 6×6 medium format film cameras taking 120 film.  Both camera are roughly the same price with the Mamiya 6 probably costing slightly more here in the UK due to there being not many Mamiya 6 cameras on the market.  My Hasselblad 501C was my favourite camera before buying the Mamiya 6 so expectation was very high.  Both cameras seem to receive positive reviews from reading prior to my purchase so without further ado lets crack on.

Size Comparison – Hasselblad 501C vs Mamiya 6

I love the modular 500 series Hasselblad cameras but I only use mine with a prism viewfinder which unfortunately adds both size and weight.  I wish I could focus accurately without the prism finder but I really cannot see properly with Acute Matte non-spot screen glass.  It is perhaps my biggest disappointment with the Hasselblad as I love the waist level viewfinder view / experience on my Mamiya RZ67 Pro II camera.  The Hasselblad 80mm kit lens is the most compact followed by the 100mm from those I have owned.  My go to lenses are the 60mm Distagon (second shortest of my Zeiss lenses and gives a very usable field of view) and 120mm Makro-Planar for close up portraits and ultimate image quality (more on that to follow below).  The Hasselblad has the advantage of a removable film back so I can use two film backs and have colour film and black and white film running side by side without having to finish a roll.  My Mamiya 6 has the 75mm lens which is the smallest of the 50mm, 75mm and 150mm lens line up.  The Mamiya 6 design allows the lens to partially retract when not in use making the camera small enough to fit in my Leica M camera bag. The bag I use is a Billingham Hadley Digital and the Mamiya 6 will just fit with lens down into the bag.  The size benefit of the Mamiya 6 is not to be under estimated.

Ease of Use – Hasselblad 501C vs Mamiya 6

Being ‘Mr Leica’ is it perhaps no surprise that I love rangefinder style cameras.  The Mamiya 6 like the Leica M cameras is a rangefinder focus design and I love the fact that I have a definitive focus confirmation regardless of the F stop.  I am a little short sighted and wear prescription glasses for driving but not when using cameras.  As such I enjoy knowing that a subject is in focus with a rangefinder when the subject is further away.  That said my biggest complaint of rangefinder cameras is I cannot focus as close as I would like.  Leica M cameras are my bread and butter so it is just normal for me to not be able to focus at a distance closer than 0.7m.  If I then add a Hasselblad 501C to the mix you can imagine my joy when I can focus in really close, especially with the Zeiss 120mm Makro-Planar lens.  I love nothing more than viewing subject through the big bright Hasselblad viewfinder.  If I could see every day life with the same view the Hasselblad gives I think the world would be a more beautiful place!

The Mamiya 6 rangefinder design lets me work at slower shutter speeds / lower light levels at the same aperture as it has no mirror to flap inside causing vibration.  I have shot the Mamiya 6 at a shutter speed of 1/8-1/15 and got a decent photo handheld.  I tend to use the Hasselblad handheld too for ease and shoot normally at a shutter speed of 1/60-1/125 with the light levels I am in.  That said, if I am honest to myself I think I can get more and sharper photos if go back to using a monopod.  I plan to try using a monopod again to compare results. Sometimes I am not sure if I moved or the model moved when using a very shallow depth of field and the eyes are not as sharp as I want.  I find the Hasselblad tends to pull me in perhaps too close at times resulting in many close up portraits.  The Mamiya 6 on the other hand let me work easily at a distance giving images with a different style and lets me make better use of the location.

Image Sharpness – Hasselblad 501C vs Mamiya 6

The main section of this post and to me what it all boils down to is image quality and more specifically for me image sharpness.  The Hasselblad had set the bench mark very high so the Mamiya 6 had a lot to live up to.  When I read ‘film vs digital’ reviews online the film camera used is often a Mamiya 7 as perhaps the best example camera film can offer in terms of sharpness, say (excluding large format).  To my knowledge the image quality of Mamiya 6 and Mamiya 7 lenses is not noticeably different.  As such I expected very good results from the Mamiya 6.  To explain further and to cover myself, the Mamiya 6 photos / experience / review is based on the 75mm lenses I own.  The Hasselblad has an advantage as I have the Zeiss 50mm Distagon CF, 60mm Distagon CF, 80mm Planar CF, 120mm Makro-Planar CF and 150mm Sonnar CF lenses.  I have also owned the Zeiss 100mm Planar CF lens.  If I have to place these lenses in order of sharpness I would say 120mm first, 50mm/60mm/100mm about equal (without thorough testing), 150mm and lastly  the 80mm.  I am rarely happy with the results from my 80mm lenses.  The 150mm Sonnar gives a completely different look to the other lenses, a less fine more buttery smooth image.  My conclusions of the Hasselblad 501C performance is based on the 60mm/120mm lenses that I use most often.

So how does the  image sharpness compare between the Hasselblad and Mamiya 6.  The Mamiya 6 does produce fine grained (if I can describe it like that, regardless of film stock) sharp images with lots of detail captured, with the lens shot wide open or stopped down.  It is perhaps comparable to a sharp digital image in that the image is flat but sharp.  I find it good for further away subjects especially like full body shots.  The Hasselblad 501C and it’s Zeiss lenses produces a different sharpness.  The next few sentences may make some readers cringe as they have read it a 100 times but I cannot describe it any more accurately.  The Zeiss optics on the Hasselblad camera make an image ‘pop’.  There is a lot written online about the mystically Zeiss 3D pop look but it is just fact in this instance.  The Mamiya 6 photos are very flat and to me lack the wow factor.  They are documentary style photos accurately capturing the detail in the scene but they lack the zing.  I don’t take photos to capture ordinary.  I try to create the extra-ordinary as cheesy as that sounds!

Fluff aside, how do the Hasselblad photos differ and perhaps why?  It seems the Zeiss optics have greater micro-contrast which helps give the apparent additional sharpness.  The Zeiss optics focus closer which gives a shallower depth of field at the same given aperture helping to give the 3D look.  Focusing closer can increase image distortion with wider lenses which can also give a kind of 3D look to an image.  Focusing closer to a face naturally lets me see every eye lash and skin pore using the Hasselblad that I can’t see as closely with the Mamiya 6 as I am too far away.  As such the Hasselblad photos look sharper to my eyes.

With all the excuses aside, I am 99.99% sure that my Hasselblad photos are a bit or a lot sharper than the Mamiya 6 photos.  Some Hasselblad negatives need no additional sharpening after scanning whereas I think I always boost sharpness with the Mamiya 6 film scans.  I tend to process all my film scans to bring out the sharpness in a image regardless of the camera I use.  All the example photos below have been processed but it is worth noting that each photos is probably as sharp as I can get it without introducing additional grain / over doing it (too much)(to my eyes / taste).

Conclusion – Hasselblad 501C vs Mamiya 6

Based on the cameras and lenses I use and the resulting photos I would say the Hasselblad 501C camera images appear sharper that the Mamiya 6. I will also say the Hasselblad Zeiss optics render images in a much more pleasing way, to my eyes and taste.  I prefer the Hasselblad camera for close up portraits and when working within up to say 1.5m distance.  The Mamiya 6 for me is still a keeper due to it’s compact size, rangefinder focus system and being sharp enough for me to use happily.  It is not always possible to carry the Hasselblad with me when working with models overseas so the Mamiya 6 is my next best option.  If carrying gear was no option I would take both cameras to a shoot and use the Hasselblad for <1m photos and the Mamiya 6 for those at a greater distance.  I would perhaps get the Mamiya 6 50mm f4 G lenses for wide shots and have the 120mm Zeiss Makro-Planar on the Hasselblad.  This combination would also suit me well for film wedding photography for my style of working.

I am not interested by a Mamiya 7 as I prefer the 6×6 film format of the Mamiya 6 (versus 6×7) and the retractable lenses of the Mamiya 6.

Below are lots of example images using the Hasselblad and Mamiya 6 with different models, different film, different light so you can make up your own mind on what camera produces the ‘nicer’ images to your taste.  I have also included a sneak peek of a few images to come from my Poland and Ukraine trips as I didn’t have enough examples photos from the Mamiya 6 in the UK.


Hasselblad 501C Portraits

Hasselblad Portrait
Hasselblad Film Portrait
Hasselblad vs Mamiya 6 !!
Hasselblad Fashion
Hasselblad 501C + Delta 100
Hasselblad + Zeiss Sonnar 150
Hasselblad Double Exposure Fashion
Hasselblad 501C
Hasselblad 501C + Sonnar
120 Ilford Pan F 50
Hasselblad + Pan F 50
Haselblad 501C Portrait
Hasselblad + Fomapan 100
Hasselblad Studio Session
Pageant Girl
London Model Shoot
120 Ilford FP4+
Zeiss Planar 80mm

Mamiya 6 Portraits

Mamiya 6 + 75mm Lens
Mamiya 6 Sharpness
Mamiya 6 + 75 + Tri-X
Fomapan 100@800
Mamiya 6 Fashion
Summer Vibe
Mamiya 6 Rangefinder
The view from my hotel, Ukraine

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Author: matthewosbornephotography

Coventry, UK studio based Model and Wedding Photographer offering both Medium Format Film and Digital Images. 1-2-1 Photography and Lighting Tuition also available.

22 thoughts on “Hasselblad vs Mamiya 6”

  1. Excellent review! Your description of the “pop” on the Zeiss lenses vs the flatness of the Mamiya is an exact reflection of my own experience as well. I also shot with both the Mamiya 6 and 7 using several different lenses, and although amazingly sharp, there was something missing in all the images that even an abundance of post processing couldn’t help. The Zeiss lenses, especially the 100, the 150 and the 180 render such clarity and luminosity that you can almost smell the leaves on the wet ground in the fall.

      1. 20 years ago I agreed with both of you – the Zeiss T* lenses have amazing accutance (or edge sharpness, if your prefer) and the Mamiya is accurate but flat.

        But now I think the Mamiya rendition is perfect for the digital era; more of a blank canvas on which you can add as much sizzle as you want. To bad I sold my 7 after a few months because I thought the lenses were “boring.”

  2. After I’ve read your articles, I love your articles so much. I have one question, If you could have only 1 meduim format camera in your life which one you prefer between Haselblad v series and Mamiya 6mf?

    1. Having used the 7 and the 501, I’d take Hasselblad – but the 2000 series with focal plane shutter and lenses (so I can focus close), the metering prism, and a 645 back. And since this is fantasy, we’ll assume they still make lots of 220 film, so 30 shots per roll, like a giant 35mm SLR.

      1. Thanks Stephen, i’ve not tried a 2000 series Hassy yet..

        and if we are in fantasy I would love to bulk load my Kodak Vision3 movie film in 120 format and into a 220 back or the very large special film back magazines (I forget the model number). 🙂

    2. This is actually a reply to you sub-comment re: 2000 series. I’ve never used them (I had a 501c) but had a complete Kiev 88 system – including multiple 220 645 back which, even though it kinda sucked (the importer was close by and would fix while I waited), was a huge improvement in image quality over 35mm. I imagine the focal plane Hassies are the same, except they don’t break. (If that’s wrong, please, don’t burst my bubble). Aalways assumed one day they would clone one of the early CCD digital backs and am still nursing disappointment.

      The gizmo you want for bulk loading movie film (there ARE home ECN2 kits, y’know, and also Cinestill in 120, which I am beta-testing) is called a “70mm magazine.” They were typically used with the 500EL. Never had one – was sure I’d have dust issues and scratches. I gotta say, cinema stock has a wonderful long scale tonal range and is SUPER forgiving … hopefully they’ll let me have some of the 50D/120 now that 800T is officially released)

      1. Thanks Stephen, yes I too enjoyed a Kiev 88 (actually an ARAX-CM) with quite a few lenses and loved it too bits.. moreso that the Contax 645 I bought and sold ha 🙂 A Hassy is another level above it.

        Yes i’ve seen the 70mm backs and had hoped to bulk load 120 ECN-2 film but haven’t got any further yet. Like you I have Alpha 800T and speak to the brothers online about testing 50D etc. I haven’t used the film yet as the light hasn’t been interesting enough 🙂

      2. Cool. I just sent them four from my 1st roll. Will be flattered if they use them. Can I … shamelessly self-promote here? Because I’m featured in the current issue (43) of Inspired Eye magazine, where I’m interviewed and pontificate at length. Son’t really update my website (but need to, as am looking for gallery rep) but use Flickr – I’m “Steve Fretz” (won’t embed the link … that would be vulgar) The 50D looks SUPER interesting. Ektar 100 in 120 can give shots with no visible grain, which I love, but is stern and unforgiving … the cine stuff is designed for low contrast … heck, I still miss Dale Labs. Gotta try a roll of the 800T in my Mamiya Press with the 6×9 back.

        Anyway, it’s been nice (virtually) meeting you and I’ll keep following your blog!

  3. I am with you … I have had the same feeling when I was shotting with a mamiya 7 …. and I have had the confirmation when… showing pictures (BW) from mamiya to my wife ( that is completely out regarding brand and cameras but is sensible to the beauty ! ) said that were not exciting. Before she was used to my leica M pictures !! So I sell the mamiya and bought a rolley sl66E with zeiss lenses …. and .. after she said .. ohhh yeees … these are beautiful again !!
    This is .. the wife test !!

    1. Hi Fabio, Sorry for the slow reply. Ha the wife test is brilliant. I think you should approach the big companies and offer your ‘team testing’ for new camera releases. The SL66E is a dream camera. I have one but the film back is jammed on it. When is did/does work it easily beats a Hassy and RZ. Thanks for confirming! Matt 🙂

  4. Based on your comments and sample photos, I’d say I have to agree with your conclusions. The Mamiya is lenses definitely seem to create a grittier rougher feel (mostly in the OOF areas if you ask me). I’ve found this to be true though with Leica vs Zeiss lenses on 35mm/digital too.

    Was trying to decide between the two and I think I’ve reached my conclusion. Thanks for the review!

    1. Thanks Scott, no problem. I’ve just shot a lot of new stuff with the Hassy so I am excited to get developing to see how the photos compare to the recent Mamiya RZ67 shots I did on Flickr.

      I agree with the Mamiya 6 ‘gritty’ look, cheers!

      1. Are you using K/L lenses on the RZ (am not that familiar with it, but have my eye on the RB)? The old “c” series lenses (use them in 645) are OK, but not super special IMO – but K/L is supposed to be quantum leaps better – and from your Flickr it looks like they are.

        (Just bought a C22 w/65mm to get back into street photography … gotta love the WL finder and quiet shutter)

      2. Yes the newer lenses I think.. have quite a few so lose track! 65mm and 110mm are my favs, 110mm the most but the newerr 65mm is super sharp.

        C22 – nice!

        RB is not too different but both RB and RZ are pretty cheap these days vs Hassy (or Leica!)

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