This Old Camera: The Mamiya RZ67

Technically my first ever medium format was a Holga I bought a while back that Dennis at Southeastern Camera recommended. Love having it, but for varying reasons ( short attention span… easily distracted and forget I have it… ) I have yet to finish my first roll of film with it. So functionally my first medium format camera was the Hasselblad 501c.

So why did I pick up this Mamiya RZ67 Pro? Glad you asked. Look no further than Southeastern Camera once again. It showed up there under the glass cube and I became obsessed with it on sight. As predicted by Matthew when I first stared through the viewfinder (and may have uttered something unfit for print among polite company) I eventually purchased it though it took many visits to seal the deal. Came with the standard modular set up (waist level viewfinder, normal lens, and 120 film back), but also brought a portrait lens, shiny silver metal trunk, and a prism viewfinder magnifier (psst. Film folks look away. Think old school film focus version of mirrorless focus magnifier. And we’re back.). But did it come with a prism viewfinder to go between the camera and magnifier? Nope, waist level viewfinder only. But keh.com to the rescue once again with a great deal. There was special motivation for acquiring a viewfinder, but more on that below.

28891702936_f5c417ac99_o

Plus it was all for such a great price it was an offer I could not refuse. I am loving the vintage film camera market right about now. They are giving away 35mm cameras and medium format cameras are quite reasonable if you are not aiming for the big dogs.

Before I get to pluses let me get the one and only minus out of the way.

  • This thing is the size and weight of a cinder block. In fact that is what I call it. I thought the Hasselblad was big, but that is a compact camera compared to this. On a warm day I took it for a walk through Duke Gardens and came out with blown pits and a cramped left hand. Having learned my lesson when I ventured in to a trampoline place I came armed with a monopod. Using it takes a bit of commitment since bringing this camera and one additional lens is pretty much all that is getting in to even a camera backpack.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Now that I have gotten that out of my system. On to the pluses.

  • 6×7. While 6×6 is very quaint the 6×7 aspect ratio is an advantage when you want to have a photo printed.
  • Portrait and landscape. The minus of size listed above is tied to one of the RZ67’s biggest pluses. The large size is in part due to the RZ67’s party trick and that is the ability to rotate the film back alone to switch between portrait and landscape. Quite a brilliant bit of engineering.
  • AE. So what is the prism viewfinder bonus I mentioned earlier? Auto exposure my friends. Sweet, beautiful fully automatic exposure. Set the ISO and put the body and viewfinder in to AE mode and off you go no light meter needed. While I do enjoy the back to basics beauty of a light meter it is nice to get the same look as the Hasselblad with some automation. And so far it has proven to be very accurate.
  • A beautiful view. When you do use it the waist level finder is a beautiful thing to behold. Just a beautiful focus screen.
  • Tank. Another benefit of the size minus listed above is that this is one wonderfully solid feeling camera.
  • A looker. I know it has nothing to do with the images produced, but this camera is gorgeous.
  • Image quality. The Hasselblad produces beautiful technical images. It may be more owing to the film used, but the Mamiya seems to produce images that may not be as tack sharp, but they have a certain warmth to them.
  • Colors. Again perhaps owing to film or circumstance, and definitely lenses, but I love the colors this camera produces.
  • Handling and ease of use. Once you learn the controls and what all of the warning lights are for in the viewfinder this is an easy to use camera.
  • Value. For the money this camera is a screaming bargain in my opinion. I was able to get the body, film back, waist level viewfinder, 2 lenses and a silver metal case for about the price of a Hasselblad V series film body alone (no finder, lens, or film back). Plus accessories, like the AE viewfinder, while not as plentiful are reasonably priced.

A few oddities:

  • Bellows focusing. Took a beat for me to grasp, but instead of the lens internals moving forwards and backwards to focus the lens is fixed and the whole front of the camera moves forward and backwards via two knobs on the bottom left and right of the camera. What does this mean?
    • Minuses
      • Not an issue with this copy, but I imagine if you do not find a well kept or maintained copy of this camera the bellows may be cracked causing light leak problems.
      • Not bad with the normal lens, but with the longer heavier tele lens extending the front plate very far forward has a significant effect on the front to back balancing of the camera so take care when either hand holding or on a tripod as I imagine the camera could possibily topple forward if one is not attentive.
      • Exposure is impacted since extending the front impacts the amount of light that makes it to the negative. As a result exposure needs to be corrected when using a light meter per a handy dandy conversion graph affixed to the side of the bellows. Kind of them, but nigh inscrutible to one with a compromised attention span such as myself. But there is a fix…
    • Pluses
      • The fix for bellows focusing exposure compensation is an AE prism finder which automatically does the necessary adjustments for you.
      • Close focusing. Bellows focusing turns nearly any lens in to a near macro lens.
      • It is different. This is exactly the kind of quirkiness that I love.
      • I imagine it simplifies the lens.

20170110_225238

  • I do not know if it is just my copy, but I tend to leave the dark slide in so it locks the film back since this camera will drop the film back like a bad habit if one is not careful. Never happened to me in the wild, but something to consider.
  • Obtain and read the manual. Just trust me on this. Warning lights that keep you from taking a shot are indecipherable hieroglyphs without one.
  • It has a multi exposure mode that will let you shoot as many shots on one frame as you wish.
  • That extra cm of width in 6×7 means you will get 10 shots per roll of 120 instead of 12.
  • Width and height are such because to accommodate the rotating film back hat trick the image circle is effectively sufficient to cover 7×7.
  • Film advance is accomplished by two long swipes forward on the film advance.
  • Carrying this camera on a monopod parts a crowd like nothing I have every seen.

That is it for now. I have a roll in progress and really need to commit to getting it finished, but here is a link to an ongoing album and here are samples below.

-ELW