I saw a bunch of articles related to this and said to myself: “I should compile my own list, based on my research when buying some of those cameras!”
So here is a list of affordable medium format film camera systems. I am telling you right away- if you are looking for a TLR, it’s not here. I have never been a fan of that system and do not know much about it. I also did not include rangefinders, because they are a bit of a niche product and not all fit the system requirement, although all of the mentioned camera manufacturers made one- Bronica RF645, Fujifilm 645 and 670 Series and Mamiya 6 and 7 models.
The first one on the list would be Bronica. I have a sentimental feeling towards it and this is the system that made a camera for almost all the medium formats.
Bronica ETR series — usually 6x4,5 with but has an ability to shoot 35mm via special back and Polaroids. Will run you around 300–400$ with belts and whistles. Pick the latest of the series — ETRSi.
Bronica S2/S2a, EC, EC-TL, 6x6 system, reminiscent of 500 series Hasselblad. Has awesome Nikkor lenses in a super compact body. Avoid most S2 — has some shutter issues, fixed in S2A. Or go for SQ series for about $400–500. My personal fav is black S2A with 75mm lens.
And honorable mention here is Bronica GS-1 which is one of the smallest 6x7 medium format systems but do it exactly fit the budget requirements.
Now for me Bronica is the best option- most versatile and one of the smallest systems.
The next up is Mamiya M645.
There are couple of cheaper and older options like M645, M645J, and M645 1000s. They all feature interchangeable finders and lenses, but no interchangeable backs. For that you have to go a step up and extra $100–200( the older versions are within $200–300) — the Pro, Super and, Pro TL series. On a personal note — M645s look kinda ugly. No offense ;)
The third option for the big negs and small bucks(all relative, for sure) is Mamiya RB67. It is also a modular system with a selection of lenses, backs and finders, offering a large 6x7 negative in an equally large and heavy body. It is completely manual and super durable. A body, lens, 120 back and WLF will set you back for about $250. That is a tank of a camera and will probably outlast you and your Leica;)
If you are interested in SLR experience — Pentax 645 is a way to go and still relatively cheap. It does not offer interchangeable backs but you are getting AE and maybe even autofocus if you are lucky. They are going up in price now but you can still find one with 80mm 2.8 lens for about $250–300.
The last but not least is an absolute monster. Fuji GX680 is almost twice the size of Mamiya RB67 and almost three time s the Bronica and was created mainly for studio work. Sports stellar Fujinon lenses and can shoot multiple formats, depending on the back. You can find one of the initial model for as little as $250 with the lens, finder and back but you run into the problem of proprietary battery power or get the last version- GX680III- but that go anywhere up and above $500–600. Honestly, a wet dream of mine, just have to find the courage.
So that is my take on medium format film camera systems on the budget. I would love if somebody would enlighten me in the TLR realm.