Camera Stories: Kamil Bialous and his Mamiya 7

Camera Stories is an on-going series where we ask photographers to tell us about their favourite camera, and give us the story behind one meaningful image they captured with it. This instalment features Vancouver-based photographer Kamil Bialous.


You know, all the cliché sayings about what is the best camera are true. I certainly don’t think any particular one is perfect. Over the years, the one I keep going back to is the Mamiya 7, and perhaps that’s cliché in itself. That’s not to say I use it exclusively, I love other film and digi camera bodies: The Pentax 67 shutter is an audible signal of a portrait being made; the joy of the RZ67 waist level finder, ease of focus, the sharpness; how a Leica m6 fits into any bag or pocket to come along with. But the 7 is like sitting down at a pub and grabbing a good pint of Guinness – you know exactly what that old friend is capable of and it feels great!

And it is not perfect. The body is a bit cheaply made, I’ve knocked bits of plastic off here and there, my viewfinder is a bit crooked now, but it’s still sharp. I should caveat the prior by saying that I use the camera bodies for work, but certainly don’t abuse them. They get a lot of mileage, and the Mamiya has certainly fared well for the volume of rolls. But I can’t believe the prices of used bodies these days (sadly, I reckon many of them will simply sit on the shelves of collectors, or cool kids, or cool kids who are collectors).

I think what the Mamiya 7 does best is simply get out of the way. The viewfinder is large, the focus precise, easy manual controls, and a large grip for the hand (why do they keep making cameras smaller?! Sorry, rant.) Battery lasts forever. I can predict the focus range and shoot quickly and silently. Leaf shutter for great flash sync and hand-holding slow speeds. And all you need is that 80mm f4 and you can shoot any picture in the world! Seriously. Portrait, travel, architecture, food, landscape, fashion, weird studio shit, weird flash shit – I even shot a birding story with it once.

Photo of Stephanie Gilmore, 6-time World Surfing Champion, by Kamil Bialous
Photo of Stephanie Gilmore, 6-time World Surfing Champion, by Kamil Bialous

This is a photo of Stephanie Gilmore, 6-time World Surfing Champion. The portrait was made on the North Shore of Oahu, in Hawaii, a couple of years ago—a place I go back to everyone winter or so. It was a commission for a magazine, as she had just won her 6th world title a few weeks prior. She had a very regal glow about her, very nice and confident aura. There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to shoot the portrait on film. The Mamiya 7 is such a perfect camera for a situation like this because you can work quickly in varied locations without having to rely on a tripod, and the breaks in film re-loading are very natural pauses for conversation with your subject, breathing, thinking, looking, analyzing, and simply sets a flow to the portrait sitting that snapping away on a dslr with strobes popping would not achieve.

Another perk is that others can’t glance at a screen for review – it makes the work a lot more interactive as you focus on communication with the talent and crew as opposed to everyone staring at a screen. You are significantly more present for the experience. I think in the end that’s perhaps the best camera, universally speaking, one that makes us more present, and you can define that very personally.

Technical details about the photo: Kodak Portra 160, 1/60th probably, f8 probably. Bit of softbox strobe. It was raining lightly – that silky soft and warm hawaiian rain, so we moved into the palm fronds. There are a couple rain drops on her forehead I didn’t touch out.

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