The Best Portrait Camera Ever - The Mamiya RZ67

Everyone has their baby. You know, that one camera that speaks to them in a way that all other cameras fall short. Of course, saying something like, "best portrait camera ever" is pretty loaded, but I calls it how I sees it! The Mamiya RZ67 is, for a variety of reasons, one of the best cameras ever made. In this article and accompanying video I'll give a birds eye view of the camera and its features, show a little work produced by it, and give you some insight into why this camera is at the top of the heap for me. 

First, the elephant in the room: this is a film camera. I do, of course, have a soft spot for film, but don't let that get in your way of appreciating this beast. Even if you're an all digital shooter there's still a lot to appreciate here! First a touch of history of the camera. This camera is the little brother to the Mamiya RB67. The RB was released in 1970 and is a bonafide tank of a camera. With a normal lens and film back, it clocked in at almost six pounds! Add a prism finder and you're looking at a camera that weighs more than eight pounds. It was made of all metal, had no electronic parts, and was the very definition of workhorse. When it hit the market, it was an instant favorite with portrait photographers for its beautiful viewfinder, massive negative, and decent glass. It's a wonderful way to get into shooting the 6x7 format as a starting kit can be bought used for less than $300.

Shhhh....you'll wake the baby!

Times change, though, and electronics were slowly making their way into the latest and greatest cameras of the age. In 1982, Mamiya released the RZ67, a lighter, leaner, more advanced version of the RB. Gone was the all metal body and purely manual operation, along with about a pound of weight. In its place was a hard plastic shell, simple electronics, and a new set of extremely sharp lenses. The shutter speed could now be controlled from the camera itself, leading to more automated operation. You could now wind the film and cock the shutter in one motion, rather than having to advance the film separate from the body.

Dillon, RZ67, Kodak TMAX 400

In the video, I go through the parts of the camera, but it basically consists of the film back, body, lens, and finder. Its modular design allows for the addition of a prism finder to laterally flip the image and enable eye level viewing, easy switching of the ground glass should you need grid lines, a rangefinder spot, or whatever your tastes, and switching of film backs mid-roll to allow you to shoot different film stocks or take polaroids. All of that is great and all, but the major selling point of this camera for me has always been the viewfinder.

Jasmine, Mamiya RZ67, Kodak Portra 160

Jasmine, RZ67, Ilford FP4+

If you've never looked into a medium format camera, this is the one that will spoil you for all others. The image is bright, super crisp, and has that 3D quality that medium format is known for. It sounds silly, but I remember the day I looked into the camera for the first time and I know that it was the turning point for me abandoning 35mm. It's that amazing. Of course, a pretty viewfinder wouldn't matter if the images it produced were garbage, but thankfully that's not the case. The RZ was the workhorse camera for Annie Leibovitz during much of the 80s and early 90s. If you're familiar with her work from that era (her finest, I think) then you've seen what this camera is capable of.

Jasmine, RZ67, Ilford FP4+

Take a look at the video for more in-depth thoughts about the camera. I think there's an F-bomb in there, so beware, but man I get excited about this camera! What's your favorite camera of all time? Do any speak to you? Do you have any questions or comments about your experience with the RZ? Sound off in the comments!

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71 Comments

Scott Edwards's picture

LOL'd at your opening paragraph and the pose w/ the swaddling babe. Wow!! - what splendid, gorgeous work and images! Thank you for sharing.

Sean Slavin's picture

Never should have sold mine. Need to pick up another. Current film favs right now are my Hasselblad 500 and Mamiya 645 AFD. I cut my teeth with the surf magazines using a 1V so that camera will always feel like home.

As always, beautiful work.

Hans Rosemond's picture

Thank you, sir!I've never used a 1V. I really need to get over my reluctance surrounding 35mm, but I haven't met the camera to do it yet.

Sean Slavin's picture

I've got a few old ones in my collection: Canon F1 1980 Olympics edition, Nikon FM and a Minolta SRT303b. A 50 and a 35 for each. I mainly use the F1 for street shooting downtown but I prefer to use the Hassy for that now as it's more of a conversation starter. We're local to each other so if you want to borrow one, just give a shout. I'll give you a roll of HP5 to start... ;)

Hans Rosemond's picture

Haha, I think I have a few 35mm rolls of HP5 collecting dust!

Tom Lew's picture

To be honest I did end up selling mine but WOW it's an amazing camera. I will say however...... I did prefer the Pentax 67ii over the RZ. BUT... they're both awesome and some of my best stuff was on the RZ.

BTW... Vincent Peters has only ever shot on the RZ and still does. Check him out if you haven't.

Hans Rosemond's picture

I've always been interested in the Pentax, but the slow sync speed and lack of backs always put me off.

Simon Yong's picture

So compare with Pentax 6x7, Mamiya RZ67 will be better?

Hans Rosemond's picture

No idea! I've never shot with one. Pentax people seem to love it, though. Maybe someone will let me borrow one for a shootout.

Kornel Kabaja's picture

The Pentax shines with 1/1000s shutter speed and the ease of use...
But it's main feature for geeks is the ability to adapt tons of large format / exotic lenses, which are impossible to fit the Mamiya since it doesn't have an in-camera shutter.
For people wanting an out-of-the-box great camera, pair the Pentax with the standard 105/2.4 lens and it's hard to not fall in love in most cases :)

Kornel Kabaja's picture

Slow sync speed could be ommited by using leaf shutter lenses :) Pentax had a 90/2.8 and 165/4 options that had sync time up to 1/500s :)

Tony Clark's picture

I went from a Mamiya 645Pro to a Pentax 67II and then an RZ ProII. The RZ was also my favorite and have been thinking about buying another. The rotating back, large Polaroids and bellows made it a great tool. I do miss viewing those large transparencies on the lightbox.

Josh Leavitt's picture

Great post Hans. Amazing portraits. And yes, the RZ67 is one of the best cameras ever made. A scanned 67 exposure at 9600x9600 DPI with 48-bit color depth will hold its own against the most expensive digital Phase One systems in terms of image quality. It truly is a timeless masterpiece of photographic equipment.

Hans Rosemond's picture

YEah, the quality is amazing. Now I just need to save up for a Nikon Coolscan 9000. ugh.

jesus santos's picture

Great Video Hans Rosemond.
Amazing photos...I shot with the Pentax67 I Just love Film..

Deleted Account's picture

I've wanted one of these for some time now. I currently have a Mamiya 645 Super and I love it.

It's fun to shoot as a subject too. I love older cameras.

Tony Clark's picture

Nice, I had the three leaf shutter lenses in my 645Pro kit.

Ron Braithwaite's picture

I shot with an RB67 with the 50, 90, and 150mm for about 20 years, starting in the mid 70's. I considered switching to an RZ, but the cost of replacing the body and the lenses was just too much. In the early-mid 90's, I switched to a Hasselblad 500 CM with the 40mm, 80, and 150mm because of the weight when I started focusing (so to speak) on landscapes. I'm shooting digital these days, but I sometimes fantasize about going back to medium format film and scanning it in.

Hans Rosemond's picture

do iiiiiit

David Stephen Kalonick's picture

Sold mine back in 2004. Ebay has some used from Japan for uber cheap. Also, you look like David Cross in the portrait of you cradling it like a baby. :)

Hans Rosemond's picture

My wife always said I look like a black David Cross. Ok, she never said that.

Bill Foster's picture

I see what you did there. You're gonna make me get on eBay and buy one to add to my film camera collection. I love my Hasselblad 503cw but I've always wanted an RZ67. I have nice little 35mm collection (see Picture), but it's time to add to the medium format collection.

Ralph Hightower's picture

The Mamiya RZ67 is one of my bucket list cameras to get; the Mamiya 645 is another for when I want longer reach. Then there is the big daddy, the 4x5.
My first SLR is the Canon A-1; I bought that in 1980 and I still use it. I bought a New F-1 in 2013 and although the A-1 has sentimental value, the F-1 is my favorite. I haven't mastered speed loading with the F-1 since that loads counter-clockwise while the A-1 loads clockwise. At an air show featuring the Air Force Thunderbirds, I had to reload my A-1 during their performance; fortunately, it was during a lull during their performance where they were regrouping, but I was ready.

Ashok SenGupta's picture

It is amazing, Hans, how you manage to write an entire post and make a video about this camera without ever mentioning the one characteristic that, more than any other, made it what it is: the revolving back. This allows you to flip from portrait to landscape without needing to move the tripod head or the camera.

Hans Rosemond's picture

In the video I do have a section about the revolving back. At about 2:09, I believe. Also, the RB did have a revolving back as well.

Ashok SenGupta's picture

Very sorry, Hans, for not noticing that. My apologies. The dog ate my attention around 2:07, I believe it was.

On another note- your pictures are superb. Maybe you should do an article on how you scan your film.

Hans Rosemond's picture

Thank you! I did make a video a ways back about scanning C-41. It's here: https://fstoppers.com/film/scanning-c-41-film-quick-and-dirty-method-146316

Although now I use Silverfast and my method is a bit different. Maybe it's time for an update!

Ashok SenGupta's picture

Thank you, Hans, that is very helpful. If you do an update I am sure it will be enthusiastically received.

Ed Knuff's picture

I love the RB 67.

Jozef Povazan's picture

6x7 format in general was great to shoot. Sold my Pentax 67II when I moved from Europe to Canada and switched to digital completely in 2004. Still have loads of developed 6x7 slides form travels, my kids will love to see them on projector like vintage source of good times :) Film is great :) digital is too :). Shooting is so rewarding :) cheers

Giovanni Aprea's picture

Why did I watch this damn video today morning???

As if it was not enough how much gear I have (and make little or no use at all) (https://c1.staticflickr.com/2/1665/24894408869_3178c11904_c.jpg) now you put another worm into my head, thanks to the fact I am adding my comment here at the bottom and just a row below there are photo samples of people sharing here on FStoppers probably I will pass this hitch, I will never get anything even close to those pictures but lately I got this mania to go back to film and always been curious about MF, if there only still was somebody developing film...

Nice and interesting video, thank you, I will send you an invoice when I am eventually done shopping for a MF ;-)

Kornel Kabaja's picture

There's a ton of people still developing 4x5" film :) You buy a tank, some chemistry and roll it in your bathroom, simple as that :)

Hans Rosemond's picture

I do it all the time!

Hans Rosemond's picture

Ha!

Kornel Kabaja's picture

I had both the RZ67 and the Pentax 6x7... Actually wasn't really happy with the Pentax and bought an RZ67 to replace it... But then found out about the beautiful world of exotic lenses that you can easily adapt for Pentax mount, or pay someone to do so... And I sold the RZ within a couple of weeks. Still shoot Pentax and with the variety of bokehlicious lenses available for it - wouldn't change it for any other medium format camera.

Ashok SenGupta's picture

How do you deal with the vibrations on the Pentax 67 when hand-holding? You can do it on the Mamiya, but a Pentax. . .it's a different game altogether.

Kornel Kabaja's picture

Never had issues. Had succesful shots with the 105/2.4 (or any standard focal length lens) on the Pentax 6x7 on 1/30s. 1/60s to me is mostly safe for longer lenses as well. Have to learn to hold it and breathe slowly while shooting :) The Mamiya was much worse to handhold unfortunately, at least while using the TTL prism.

Kornel Kabaja's picture

You say you've been shooting 4x5 and love the transcendent feeling of looking into a very goot waist level viewfinder... But have you also shot a 4x5 SLR with a waist level finder? Like the Graflex RB Series D and B e.g.?

Hans Rosemond's picture

I've seen them by never gotten my hands on one. I know there was one at my local shop a couple months ago, but I think it was a display (aka not working).

Kornel Kabaja's picture

They are now extremely old, since most were pre WWII, so it's going to be hard to get a good copy, but I've seen that in Japan they still sell cloth used to make the shutter, so with a bit of DIY you can fix the shutter (which is the most common fault due to hardening of the material) on your own. + a good CLA technician and you're good to go :)

Oleh Brevus's picture

This is amazing ! Always wanted to try medium format....but the price was so high for so I stayed with DSLR... Right now starting to look for one of these)
Mamiya also made a new one RZ camera with an option to attach digital back on it ? Am I right ? Perhaps the price for that one is high.
Thanks for amazing article!!!

Oleh Brevus's picture

I am talking about this one Mamiya RZ67 Pro IID. What is your opinion ? Or is it better to start with just RZ67

Kornel Kabaja's picture

The RZ67 ProIID is very overpriced if you don't really want to use it with digital backs.
Start with the RZ67 or even an RB67, which is cheaper and has most of the functionality / ease of use of the RZ, not all newer RZ lenses will work on an RB, but it's worth considering.

Oleh Brevus's picture

thanks, will try to find RZ67 first) I fully fell in love with it

Hans Rosemond's picture

Yeah, if you're primarily shooting film, the RZ or RZII is plenty. And most digital backs don't come close to being full frame on an RZ, so it's a lot of wasted space. If you want to go digital eventually, you're probably better off looking at something from the 645 AFD line. Hasselblad also has some good options.

Young-Sun Teh's picture

Regarding the mirror slap. i find that the rz67 has very minimal vibration when you release the shutter. Try it yourself its less that the 5D mark1 or 5D mark 2 if i remember correctly. i think shooting at 1/60 is quite easy to get a sharp images. the one thing that might cause camera shake is the camera weight. just my 2 cents. and yes the RZ is an amazing camera the files are just so beautiful . Match with Ektar is my favourite. almost free of grain and totally organic

Hans Rosemond's picture

Actually, more weight will decrease camera shake, not increase it. I can definitely feel the slap in the body when I use it, but it's nothing that can't be compensated for. My worst experience with mirror slap was with the D800, but that's probably just because the resolution was so high and my technique was shoddy.

paul aparycki's picture

I wouldn't call it the best portrait camera . . .

It is superb on a tripod or studio stand, but it is hardly a mobile camera. It is big and clunky.

I used two Mamiya RB's for nearly twenty years, along with a Sinar, to shoot food. Sometimes I would shoot people, but if I were to choose (and I have used both extensively), I would opt for the Pentax 6x7, a great camera and system, or more importantly, the Mamiya G7 . . . a superb handholdable camera with better glass than any other Mamiya.

Hans Rosemond's picture

G7? Are you talking about the 7 rangefinder? The form factor of the Pentax would definitely lend itself to easier handholding, but maybe im less sensitive to tripod use since I shoot 4x5 a lot now. Also, theres very little weight difference between a Pentax 6x7 and Mamiya RZ67.

All this Pentax love makes me want to try one out, though! Thanks for the comment.

Richard Berry's picture

Your images are gorgeous. I got my RB67 in the late 80's when I started shooting weddings. I was advised not to get the RZ because it had electrical components that if they went down in the middle of a wedding you were screwed. I don't know it that is true or not. I still love my RB over any camera I've owned even though I haven't shot it in years. Kim Weston shoots a RZ that once belonged to his uncle Brett.

I am starting to shoot architecture now and I know I need to upgrade from my 35 DSLR. I don't know if there is a digital back for my RB, I don't think there is. I have been wondering if I should shoot with a 4x5 instead of a medium format and if the quality better with film that is scanned or is it better to just shoot digital. Any help from anyone would be appreciated. Thanks.

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