645 is probably a mysterious code to most people, but to film photographers it represents the smallest of the medium format sizes, 6×4.5 cm.

I’ve always overlooked 6×4.5 in the past, thinking that if you’re going to shoot medium format, you might as well do it “properly” and shoot at least 6×7. To me, 6×4.5 seemed barely larger than 35mm. I did shoot a handful of frames in 6×4.5 using a 6×4.5 back on my Mamiya RB67 but I never really got into the format.

Looking at the diagram below, it’s clear that 6×4.5 is far closer to 6×7 than to 35mm.

Film sizes
Film sizes

While I love shooting 35mm, recently I’ve become more frustrated with handling the tiny negatives in the darkroom. On my last holiday, I took the RB67 as my main camera. I enjoyed using it and I got some great pictures, but it was very big and heavy – and you only get 10 photos per roll.

I wondered about getting a Mamiya M645 as a “travel” camera, with a good balance between size, weight, economy and negative size. In the same week, I also bought a Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta A 531 in 6×4.5 format, which is much smaller again than the M645.

The M645, while not exactly small or light, is much more like a 35mm camera than the RB67. The lenses are much more like 35mm lenses than the RB lenses. It has semi-sane metering. The camera and lenses are modern enough that I trust the metering, mechanism and multicoating to work when I need them to.

My copy is the slightly less expensive M645 J edition. It’s in pretty good condition throughout, with some rub marks on the edges that show it has been used. My only lens so far is the slightly wide angle Sekor C 55mm f/2.8 N.

Mamiya M645 J
Mamiya M645 J

The Super Ikonta A 531 is most definitely a travel camera. It folds up and is barely larger or heavier than a modern digital compact camera. It has no metering, but it does come with a fast lens (Tessar 70mm f/3.5) which is slightly wider than the usual 75mm lens you get on a Super Ikonta A. It also has a rangefinder – which really sets it apart from inexpensive folding cameras such as my Ensign Ranger Special. This is a portable camera I could actually use to get very high-quality results that will print well in the darkroom.

However this is a camera that was designed and built in the 1930s. It seems to work as well as it ever did, but the lens is understandably of an older and more simple design and might not offer such great image quality in demanding situations. It certainly is portable, though – much more so than a 35mm SLR.

My copy of the Super Ikonta 531 is very tatty. The inside is all in fantastic condition where it has been folded up and protected, but the exterior shows corrosion to the metal work and damage to the leatherette. I paid to have the camera serviced and repainted but it is still showing its age. I don’t mind – I bought the camera to use it and I feel less guilty slinging a tatty camera into my rucksack when on holiday.

Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta 531
Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta 531

I’ve taken the Super Ikonta out for a test run to prove that it’s light-tight and that the shutter is OK (it is). There is currently a film in the M645 which has taken up residence on my desk at work, and gets used occasionally. Hopefully soon I’ll finish shooting it and be able to publish some interesting photos.

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