Mamiya 80mm f/1.9 VERSUS Mamiya 80mm f/2.8 : The Official Mamiya 80mm Lens Test/Comparison!
The Mamiya 645 system is probably one of the most popular medium format camera systems out there. The Mamiya 645 camera has been around for quite some time, in a number of different variations. There is the original Mamiya 645, the 645 1000s, the 645J, Super, Pro, Pro TL…and now the newer autofocus 645AF and 645AFD.
Not only are they common, but quite affordable. You can easily buy an older Mamiya 645 with a 80mm lens for $200 or so. It’s a great way to get into medium format photography!
Besides the cameras themselves, the Mamiya lenses are also quite nice. They are affordable, sharp, well built, and available in a wide range of focal lengths…all the way from super wide to telephoto.
So, lets talk about the “normal” lens for these cameras. A “normal” lens is typically 50mm for a 35mm camera, with a 645 medium format camera it works out to be about 80mm. This is the focal length that most accurately reflects the human eye’s angle of view (yes, we can see really wide…but subtract what is in your peripheral vision and you’ll end up with a “normal” angle of view).
There are a number of variations of the 80mm lens available for the Mamiya 645 system, I’m going to focus on the two that I think are most common - and most relevant:
Mamiya-Sekor C 80mm f/2.8
Mamiya-Sekor C 80mm f/1.9
The 80/2.8 can be had cheap and comes standard on a lot of Mamiya 645 cameras. It’s compact, light, and very well built. The particular lens I used for the test was one I found on eBay for about $20 used. Wait till you see what a $20 lens can get you…
The 80/1.9 is a VERY unique lens. This is the fastest medium format lens commonly available. I hesitate to call it the “fastest medium format lens” because I’m sure there are some uber-rare lenses out there that may beat it by a very tiny margin. The lens I used for the test is the “C” version, which from what I understand is an older model with non-fancy lens coatings…oh, and there was a pretty significant amount of mold growing on the inside. I paid about $200 for this lens, you’ll probably end up spending more but will certainly have one in better condition. This lens has quite a bit more heft than the 80/2.8 and the focus ring seems to be a bit more smooth. Of course that could have everything to do with the fact that both are used lenses (the focus ring stiffness).
Honestly though, a little mold never hurt anybody.
You’d be really surprised how nasty lenses can get - mold, dust, scratches - and still provide excellent results.
So, lets get to the test!
Important info: All test images were shot with a Mamiya 645 Super, light reading from a handheld meter, on Tri-X 400 film processed in Diafine. Exposures were: f/1.9 @ 1/1000th, f/2.8 @ 1/500th, f/4 @ 1/250th, f/5.6 @ 1/125th, f/8 @ 1/60th, f/11 @ 1/30th.
This is obviously not a scientific test, I’m a camera nerd (bigtime) but I strongly believe in “real world” testing over “sitting at home with lens charts” testing. MTF charts don’t mean jack to me really (see, I know nerdy terms). The scans you see here are rough scans, no adjustments at all. They are not spotted, there are some drying streaks, the camera was not on a tripod, etc etc… Also, I did not do a test at f/16 because I never shoot portraits at f/16. I conducted this test relevant to my own needs.
Since the 80/2.8 doesn’t open up to f/1.9, here is an example of the 80/1.9 shot “wide open”. Look at the bokeh. Man, this is probably the single biggest reason I like the 80/1.9 over the 80/2.8. Not only do you get that extra stop, but the bokeh is beautiful. I’d almost call it “painterly”. And, as you can tell, it’s no slouch in sharpness wide open as well. You can see some vignetting around the corners, but who cares - it looks great. Vignetting without Photoshop, who’da thunk it.
And now at f/2.8. Side by side you can tell here that the 80/1.9 is has slightly less contrast than the 80/2.8. You can also see that although the bokeh did tighten up a bit with the 80/1.9 it’s still quite soft and fluffy - not as “sharp” as the 80/2.8.
But, let’s think about this for a second - would I be happy with the 80/2.8? Heck yeah. Sharp where it counts, pleasing bokeh, even when shot wide open. Did I mention I paid $20 for it?
Really like both of these lenses at f/4. This is a more manageable aperture for daylight portraits. There is enough depth of field, sharp where it counts. Keep in mind, with most of the Mamiya cameras (and medium format cameras in general) you are limited to a top shutter speed of 1/500th-1/1000th of a second. Shooting at wide apertures sometimes just isn’t an option during the day… unless you : shoot slower film, pull your film, use a ND filter.
The 80/1.9 seems to be picking up some contrast right around f/5.6. And, take a look at the bokeh again - I actually prefer the 80/2.8 in this comparison.
Almost the same shot by f/8 -f/11 huh?
And…of course, I had to show you a cropped detail. It’s hard to really judge the photos without seeing a smaller portion, where softness/sharpness becomes more obvious.
These are all about the same crop on her left (our right) eye. Keep in mind, it’s not perfect. I’m sure I could have done a better job scanning, and I think I see some motion blur in there (although it does look like f/8 wasn’t all that great on either lens…maybe it’s not motion blur). Remember, I did not use a tripod (mostly out of convenience, but also because I never use a tripod for portraits anyway).
So, there you have it! There is no real “conclusion” here, mostly because I didn’t go at this thinking “which lens is better”, I really just wanted to show what they could do. You can see pretty clearly that the 80/2.8 is a real bargain no matter how you look at it - and there are even newer versions that are reportedly even nicer with very little cost difference. No, it’s not a Hasselblad 80mm, but it’s certainly no slouch either.
The 80/1.9 is a no-brainer if you have the cash for it. If you are just getting started with medium format, or considering buying a Mamiya - I would recommend you start with the 80/2.8 and then upgrade to the 80/1.9 down the road (unless budget is not an issue). Is it worth the $250-400? YES! The 80/1.9 is, to me, a killer portrait and available light lens. It’s fast as hell for a medium format lens, and performs very well. Yes, it’s a little lower contrast and slightly soft wide open, but who cares. This lens is awesome.
I hope this was useful for everyone - please feel free to comment/ask if you have any questions or anything to share!
Also, if you are looking for used gear - eBay can be great, but I HIGHLY recommend KEH.com. They have an incredible inventory, outstanding prices, and the best customer service. I don’t get paid to say that - I mean it.