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Mamiya DM33 review

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With the closure of Franke and Heidecke* the medium format market has been dominated by just two players, namely Hasselblad and Phase One. Hasselblad has since chosen a closed system preventing third-party backs to be fitted, while back-maker Phase One hastily became the majority shareholder of Mamiya. Phase One also deftly acquired the assets of back-maker Leaf from Kodak recently, giving the company a second line.


Leaf's higher end backs are still marketed using their brand-name, but the three so-called 'entry-level' 22/28/33-megapixel Aptus II models are being re-branded as the Mamiya DM22, DM28 and DM33, respectively. Each back is being bundled with a Mamiya 645DF body and sold as kits at much lower sticker prices. It can't of escaped even casual observers that the prices and resolutions challenge current high-resolution Canon and Nikon models, while the 33-megapixel DM33 should at least match or better the new EOS 1Ds Mk IV in resolution when finally announced presumably sometime later this year.


The upper-end of the three, the DM33, reviewed here, uses a large Dalsa made 48x36mm CCD, but is otherwise functionally similar to the other two backs, while the Mamiya 645DF body is identical to the Phase One 645DF. This body in-turn differs from the relatively new Mamiya 645 AFD III, which has been offered in the past married to Leaf Aptus backs, by possessing principally faster autofocus and a dual shutter system. Some minor body and viewfinder information changes have also been made, as well as accepting a still to be released optional battery-pack.


Prior to an extensive briefing from Phase One / Leaf's amiable and extremely knowledgeable product manager, Yair Shahar, I must confess to some confusion between the models on my part, but the marketing material and websites haven’t as yet caught up with the product. Once explained, though, it’s straightforward and logical.


I was particularly interested to see how the Mamiya DM33 would suit my needs, as a few years back I considered the Mamiya 645AFD with the ZD back, but invested in a EOS 1Ds Mk III instead. Things have moved on since then and the difference between 35mm and medium format digital has widened considerably. It’s most noticeable at the high-end, naturally, but it’s not too difficult to see the expansion and upgrade possibilities from one of the DM series cameras.

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In the hands, the DM33 works as well in the studio as out, a fact helped by three superb new Mamiya branded, but Schneider-Kreuznach designed, leaf shuttered lenses (55mm, 80mm and 110mm f/2.8) with a 1/800sec flash sync. This is bolstered to an unprecedented 1/1600the sec flash sync through firmware with the back. The DM33 is compatible with another 13-or-so superb Mamiya Sekor lenses, including an full-frame autofocus 28mm f/4.5 (17mm-equivalent**), a worthy 75-150mm f/4.5 (47-93mm-e) and an APO 300mm f4.5 (186mm-e).


Both the back and body don't feel 'entry-level' in any way; indeed they are very heavily metaled and no doubt could survive extended pro-level use. While it’s a bit of a stretch to call the ergonomics of the 645DF body, ‘SLR-like’, they are, by and large, excellent. The viewfinder is a real highlight and I was pleased to see the troublesome lock on the 645AFD III shooting-mode dial has gone, but you still have to switch between the focal plane shutter and leaf shutter using the fiddly custom-function mode. 

I’m not keen on the additional lithium-ion battery slung camcorder-style under the back, and I can’t understand why power couldn’t come from the camera’s AA battery pack. Or, perhaps at least, why the new DF body couldn’t have been designed to use a high power lithium solution instead of the AA cells. However, the secondary power source does allow the back to be used with technical cameras, away from the usual powered FireWire 800 connection and Mac laptop, though that's still an option.


All the same, AF using the 645DF body seems sprightly enough for most likely encounters though obviously not as fast as 35mm systems. Continuous shooting using the DM33 tops out at roughly 1.1fps, which is excellent, especially when considering the file sizes (67MB uncompressed, 35MB lossless compressed). What’s more, there’s no stalling for 32 frames using the lossless setting, or 13 using the uncompressed option with a high-speed CF card.

 Apart from the image quality, the back has some notable features. For instance, the 3.5-inch monitor doubles as a touch screen for the menu, and it’s very slick in operation. As well as a custom white balance feature there’s an AWB option and a number of presets, which is a big improvement over the old ZD back. The playback image is very grainy though, but at least there’s a 1:1 view with the option to select anywhere within the image is extremely handy. Another nice feature is an excellent histogram option that uses the RAW data rather than displaying the brightness range of an embedded JPEG.

Despite the huge sensels, noise levels while good don’t match the best DSLRs at the higher ISOs. Noise is visible onscreen at 1:1 at ISO400, and the image looks decidedly noisy at the maximum ISO800. But, that doesn’t translate in print. At the base sensitivity of ISO50 and at ISO100 the color depth, gradation and micro-detail is stunning. So would I now choose the DM33 over the EOS1 Ds MKIII? Well, maybe, but my work is still very varied, and there advantages to both systems. However, where I once thought of the Mamiya as being an alternative, I now view the DM33 as being an ideal tool to complement the EOS 1Ds, much like I did in the not too-distant days of medium format film.

Samples

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You can use the excellent Leaf Capture (as above) or choose Phase One Capture One, either will do just fine.

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Bleeding Tooth Fungus, Schneider-Kreuznach 80mm f/2.8 LS (1/45th at f/5.6, ISO200).

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End of summer, Schneider-Kreuznach 80mm f/2.8 LS (1/900th sec at f/2.8, ISO200).

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Woodpecker's favorite, Schneider-Kreuznach 80mm f/2.8 LS (1/22nd sec at f/3.0, ISO200).


Dappled sunlight, Schneider-Kreuznach 80mm f/2.8 LS (1/160th sec at f/3.0, ISO200).

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Pond weed, Schneider-Kreuznach 80mm f/2.8 LS (1/160th sec at f/6.3, ISO400).


Contact

Calumet (UK main dealer), www.calumetphoto.co.uk

Mamiya, www.mamiya-usa.com

Sales

Please note the Schneider 80mm f/2.8 LS lens has been renamed to Mamiya-Sekor 80mm f/2.8 LS.

Buy from Adorama (thanks for buying from this site's links):

Complete kits from here.

Mamiya 645DF body here.

Leaf Aptus II backs here.

Mamiya 645 lenses, here.




*the makers of the Rolleiflex Hy6 camera with partners Leaf and Sinar. The latter two makers marketed their own versions.

**20mm-equivalent using the ZD back (due to the smaller sensor).




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