And we're onto another installment of the Mamiya C System review! Last time we looked at a lens. Now we're looking at a...super lens! It's the Mamiya Super-Sekor 180mm f4.5.
180mm sounds like a long telephoto lens in a 35mm world. In 6x6 it's still a telephoto but a more modest one. It's roughly a 100mm equivalent in 35mm / full-frame.
Previously I reviewed the 80mm f2.8 lens. It was not the latest version of that model. This time I have one of the later ( of not the latest ) versions of the 180mm f4.5 lenses for this system. You can tell that by the "Super-" prefix! Clearly if it says "Super" it must be super right? It's not the only way to tell the later versions apart. Previous versions were a bit more chrome whereas this one is almost pure black.
Although the 80mm blue-dot version seemed to be an improved coating version. The "Super" version in 180mm is actually a different optical design. The "non-Super" had 4 elements in 3 groups whereas "Super" has 5 elements in 4 groups. More elements, more super. The redesign was there to improve the resolving performance. Especially wide open. The rendering would've also become a tad more modern.
I got mine from the faraway land ( for me ) - Japan. It is in almost mint condition ( and it didn't even say "mint" on the listing! ). Came with a case, hood and two filter-like things. I'll write about those in a few paragraphs. They aren't super common on Ebay. I would expect elsewhere as well. When you find them they seem to cost roughly around 200 USD ( at the time of writing ).
Build & Ergonomics
As it's a TLR lens - it's two lenses combined on a single board. Two 180mm lenses in one might sound super heavy. And it is quite heavy. To combat the heaviness the lens uses super thin metal as the shell around the glass lenses. It's all super solid and all - just very thin. This is where the two filter-like things come in.
The filter-like things are screwed in like filters. Glass on the filters doesn't add any effect to the images so you can see them as protective filters. For example many people use UV filters to protect the front element. You can see these as protective filters as well. But it's only purpose isn't to protect the front element. The metal around the filters is quite thick. Can you guess why? These filters served a second purpose. Purpose where they protected the filter thread area from bending. Because the metal in that area is super thin - a tiny bump could add a dent to the metal which would forbid you from using filters ( or worse ). With these filters on that is less likely to happen. As it is with optional things - most of these are now lost so most copies of this lens come without them. Do I use these filters? No.
As I said the build is solid. It feels heavy and it is heavy. Together with the camera it's definitely quite a hefty package. You can still carry the camera around the neck but you will start to feel it after a while. The somewhat long size makes the camera fall away from you when it is strapped around your neck. Typically you would want the camera to be neutral or fall into you.
I wasn't too impressed with the controls on the 80mm lens. They are better on the 180mm. They are still made from plastic but they feel more solid and there is no play in them. Clicks for settings are more definite and aperture is clicked as well. The 180mm lens is younger which likely plays a part in why it feels better. And it's possible that newer versions were also built better.
Shutters speeds go from 1/500 of a second to a full second - all in full stop increments. Changing shutter speeds is easy but not so easy to do it by accident. Clicks are very nice and satisfying.
Aperture goes from f4.5 to a mind bending f45. I'm used to f22. I can even understand f32. f45 seems a bit extreme. I have yet to shoot it at this aperture but surely diffraction would impact the image quality at this stage. At least you would have more in focus so that's the likely reason for the crazy small aperture. Similar to shutter speed control - it's easy to change but not easy enough to do it by accident. Clicks are equally nice.
There's also a flash sync speed setting. Moving onwards...
All in all the build quality is very good. An improvement over the 80mm which lacked in the control quality department. Ergonomics are better on the 80mm. But when you consider that it's a long-ish telephoto lens...one can forgive the ergonomics. It will never be as good as a smaller normal lens would be. Actually using the lens is the same, if not better because of the improved build quality. But the added weight does have a slight negative ergonomic impact. I definitely prefer the build quality to be super - even if it means heavier lens.
I didn't enjoy the 80mm lens at the start and it took me a while to start loving it. With the 180mm - I loved it straight away. It was also one of the reasons why I didn't abandon the C220 camera. Or the whole C System.
The lens is sharp. Even wide open it's very sharp. You might say that f4.5 is not super wide open. But on 6x6 it's plenty wide and will give you the tiniest depth of field. Especially when focusing close.
The sharpness is across the whole frame. Wide open there is slight corner distortion but it's super small. It's only the very, very corners and seem to impact the bottom ones more. Close it even by a stop and it goes away. It's super sharp everywhere.
I don't have much else to say about sharpness. If you're looking for a more vintage sharpness with some glow then this lens might not be for you. Or just get a hazed copy.
Lens is sharp but part of the sharpness definitely comes from contrast. This lens is contrasty. I would even call it a modern contrast. It's not overblown - you can still push HP5+ to EI3200 and not blow highlights to oblivion.
The 80mm was contrasty but in a "natural" manner. This is contrastier.
As I mentioned in the previous section - if you're looking for a more "vintage" rendering, maybe look elsewhere.
As you might expect from the previous two sections - this lens has a modern rendering. This also carries into the flare resistance. It doesn't flare. Strong backlight isn't something that this lens cares about. To the point where I'm not sure why the monstrous lens hood needs to exist.
Not much else to say other than - top scores!
Colors are on the saturated side but not overly so. They still appear natural. Color balance leans more towards the cold side. Not by much. You won't even notice it on most scenes.
Overall the color rendering is pleasing. I prefer a slight lean towards the warm side instead of the cold one but this lens proves that cold lean can work as well. I've never felt like the colors are too cold or metallic as it can sometimes be with more modern lenses.
Background Separation & Bokeh
One can assume that one of the main use cases for this lens are portraits. For portraits you expect a certain background destruction. And this lens delivers. Even when fitting a half human in frame ( from head to belly button ) - the background melts away.
Bokeh is very pleasing. Smooth. I expected a harsher background blur because of the clinical nature of this lens. I was wrong in my expectation. Backgrounds are like butter. Even highlights look pleasing - melted together with the other colors. When closing the lens down bokeh remains pleasing. There's more of it visible but it's still not distracting. Top scores for bokeh.
The one thing that I couldn't see from this lens was the 3D-like subject separation. Where the in-focus area seems to be on a completely different layer than the rest. The 80mm lens did have this effect but I'm struggling to recreate it with the 180mm. Small depth of field definitely separates the subject but it doesn't pop it out of the frame. I will still try to find the setting and distance where this happens. Regardless - you can separate the subject with ease. It just won't climb out of the picture.
This is a super lens. It does not have a vintage rendering but as a person that likes vintage rendering - I still like it a lot. It's almost clinical but doesn't reach the boring nature of clinical rendering. It still has some character within. If you are a "vintage lens till I die" fan - it might be best if you stayed clear. Otherwise I would keep an eye on this lens.
Sometimes lenses can give a special, magical rendering that makes it obvious that a certain lens was used to take a photo. This isn't one of those lenses. And you don't want all the lenses to be like that. There is always a need for a precise tool that gives very predictable results. But still has some uniqueness to it - however small it may be.
Whilst not the easiest to find - this lens is still quite cheap. I don't know of a better deal in this focal length for TLR cameras. And even other medium format cameras.
It's not all perfect. The weight and size of the lens makes the TLR harder to use. You won't be throwing it around your neck and having a brisk walk. Slight weight training will benefit the wearer of a TLR with this lens.
Older versions of this lens are slightly cheaper but the super Super-Sekor version isn't much more expensive so I would try to get the super version. I do think that it's the most super of all the versions although I have not shot older ones.