Have you ever wanted to shoot medium format but don’t know where to start? Have you been wanting to try shooting film but 35mm doesn’t seem like it’ll be enough? The RB is here to help.
The Mamiya RB67 sets the standard for an affordable 6x7 medium format film camera. If you’ve never shot 120, it’s an incredible experience. Think of it like an all manual 35mm film camera that has so much more perceived resolution when viewing two photos at the same size, you’ll never want to go back. Coming in at nearly 5 times the frame size as full frame/35mm film, a proper 6x7 camera with a good lens can make anyone a fan.
My experience with this camera has admittedly been somewhat limited by its size and weight. Until I got a smaller medium format camera, the RB67 was my go-to body but has been relegated to photos around the house or not far from a car. Nevertheless, it’s one of my favorite cameras and I won’t ever sell it. Lately, it’s been my camera for studio work and I couldn’t be happier with the results.
The “RB” of the RB67 stands for “Rotating Back.” There are 3 versions of the RB: RB67 Pro, RB67 Pro-S, RB67 Pro-SD. The original model made its debut in 1970 and is probably the least common model as I’ve never seen one before. The Pro-S model came out in 1974 and saw a few improvements to the camera. Namely, they added an indication to the focusing screen that indicates whether the back is rotated into portrait mode or if it is still in landscape. While this may seem like a frivolous or unnecessary addition, it’s quite nice to have. The final model, the Pro-SD, was released in 1990; more than 15 years of the Pro-S started its production.
If you’ve ever picked up or held an RB67, you know the camera is basically a fancy looking anchor. It is built to withstand the worst abuse you could imagine putting a camera through. And given that it’s 100% manual, it’ll work in even the most extreme conditions. The fact of the matter is that build quality is so good, it’s honestly the only thing worth complaining about for the entire camera. Ironic, no? Though I’ve thus far been lucky enough to not have to not have any issues with my camera, I’ve read on online forums that some people can have issues with the bellows. It does seem like the Achilles heel of the camera but I’ve never met anyone who has ever owned this camera and had this issue.
Mamiya made so many accessories for the RB, the list is far too long to mention. There were a number of focusing screens (6 to be exact), waist level finders, prisms, magnifying hoods, grips to hold the camera, etc… Given that the camera itself is pretty inexpensive, you can set it up with just about any accessories you can find and still keep the price under that of what most other 6x7 cameras would cost. Though I’ve not done it before, you can shoot Polaroid film on this camera. It’s my understanding that this was how studios would have quickly checked the lighting setup prior to shooting but I’m not certain how true that is.
Mamiya glass is fantastic. The standard lens that the majority of RBs come with is the 90mm f/3.8 C. This is the same the same lens that I have and I think it’s fantastic. The full frame equivalent would be 45mm f/1.9. This is not a focal length that I am used to on 35mm but have grown to appreciate on the RB. My second lens, purchased for using in the studio, is the 180mm f/4.5 K/L lens. This particular lens is the same optical formula as that of the RZ67 lens. Given the extremely shallow depth of field on this lens, nailing the focus can be a bit more difficult but it’s been wonderful to use.
Aside from the 2 lenses that I own, there are a great deal of them available. The more unusual ones include a fisheye lens, a shift lens, a zoom lens, a soft-focus lens, a few macro lenses, and a few APO options. While this is not true for all focal lengths, many of them came in 3 different models: C, K/L, or neither. Lens not distinguished as C or K/L are the oldest and tend to be the least sought after. The C lenses tended to have improvements to the optical formula as well as coatings. The jump from the C to K/L lenses I’ve read can be a big improvement or no improvement at all – depending on the lens. The lens that I’ve looked for the most is a 75mm f/3.5 K/L which is only available in the K/L series glass.
What I Liked
- Price (At the time of writing it can be had for roughly $300 in good condition)
- Built like a tank
- Lens offerings is great and the quality is superb
- 6x7 format; it’s tough to beat
- Easy to make multiple exposures
- All mechanical
What I Didn’t Like
- Built like a tank = weight of a tank
- Almost too easy to make multiple exposures
- All manual operation (If you’re comfortable with an off camera meter, this may well not bother you at all)
I cannot recommend the Mamiya RB67 Pro-S enough. For a first medium format camera, it’s tough to beat the value. You’d be hard pressed to find another camera of similar quality that produces 6x7 negatives and can be found for the same price as the RB. While I don’t use as mine as much anymore except as a studio camera because of the weight of the camera (and having lightweight alternatives,) I still use this camera a great deal and the photos I’ve taken with it over the years have been some of my favorite pictures I’ve ever taken. Even though I have two 6x4.5 cameras, the 6x4.5 back for the RB produces spectacularly beautiful photographs.
Have you ever shot with a Mamiya RB67 in any of its 3 versions? What was your experience?