Five Times Bigger Than Full Frame at a Fraction of the Cost: The Mamiya RB67

Five Times Bigger Than Full Frame at a Fraction of the Cost: The Mamiya RB67

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. 

Build Quality

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.

Accessories

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.  

Lens Offerings

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)

Conclusion

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?

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152 Comments

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James Madison's picture

Agreed! Thanks for chiming in.

briankaylor's picture

I had an RZ with number of nice lenses and it was enjoyable but I ultimately sold it because it was too much work without a definite advantage. Anyone wanting to get into a medium format camera like this should understand all of the costs involved:

Camera: $300-400
1 Lens: $100-500
Extra Film Backs: $25-40
Heavy Duty Tripod and Large Bag (camera and a few lenses are huge and heavy): $100-300
1 roll of film, 10 shots: $8-10
Processing Fee per roll: $10-15
Scanning Fee per roll: $10-20 (resolution and quality affect price)
or buy your own scanner: $150-500
Shipping Fees per batch of film: $5

I developed my own film and printed in a darkroom at home, and that doesn't save any money after you buy all of the equipment and maintain fresh chemicals.

Just like your experience with the RB, the RZ67 was a real pleasure and a consummate photographer's camera, but ultimately it was expensive and time consuming to use, and the quality was equal to or less than what I could achieve (far more easily) with a current digital camera. I sold it to another person who was experiencing that film nostalgia.

James Madison's picture

Some of those prices seem a little high. Most B&W film isn't $8 or more (although the new Acros is north of that) and processing at home is much cheaper than $10. And a scanner was the best savings of everything I have.

Portra 400 120 is $11 at a local shop in SoCal, so with tax almost $12. Depending on the lab processing is $7-$15. So on my Hasselblad it's a couple bucks per exposure, with a 6x7 it would be a bit more. And with the Fuji GSW 6x9 I am trying not to buy it's even more per frame.

James Madison's picture

Man, that's a lot of money for Portra 400. That's on par with Portra 800 pricing. What's the difference for you in $7 processing compared with $15 processing?

I know! The sales guy had to double check, I think the last time I bought it (same store, last year) it was like $8.50. Local camera shop in house process is $7, the fancy LA pro labs are $10-15. For all I know they use the same machine.

James Madison's picture

I cannot imagine the processing is any better at the more expensive lab but I could understand a higher price if they are including some good-decent scans.

No scans. They'd be extra as would a contact sheet. Maybe they do a different process line, do people still do dip and dunk ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Timothy Gasper's picture

How many exposures do you get on the 6x7? I get 9 on the 6x8. Can you get 10 on it?

James Madison's picture

Yes, you get 10 exposures per roll of 120.

Timothy Gasper's picture

Thank you sir. I thought so but wanted to make sure.

Why wouldn't you include a picture of the camera with article?

James Madison's picture

See the comment above with the same question. I'm trying to sort that out and get one added.

James Madison's picture

Got one added! Thanks for inquiring!

Michael Holst's picture

The Pentax 67 (version 1) is another one that can be found on the affordable side.

James Madison's picture

You're referring to the 6x7 or the 67? I would consider a 67 II if I found one at a good cost but I think the Mamiya 7 is my next 120 camera unless something else comes up I cannot refuse.

Michael Holst's picture

The prices for the 67ii and the Mamiya7 (and 7ii) are going up but you can sometimes find a first generation Pentax 67 (the older 6x7 are also cheap too but not as new) for under $500 if you look in the right places.

James Madison's picture

Sure. I get a message from a buddy that works at one of the camera shops in town every time one of the Pentax 67 (6x7 included) cameras come in. I know one of the older generations can be pretty affordable but unless it was the 67ii, I don't know that I would be tempted to abandon the Mamiya setup. I love having interchangeable backs and only think I could give that up for a Mamiya 6 or 7.

Nope Nope Nope.
If you are buying a first gen Pentax 6x7 buy 2 or 3 because they have a habit of the mirror detaching and the winding mechanism failing. Use one, one in the shop and one for back up.
When I worked at a rental house in LA for every Pentax 6x7 (most pros would rent 3 since they didn't have interchangeable backs) we would include a couple more at no cost because they were so unreliable.
The newer ones are much better, there's a reason the V1 is so cheap.

Michael Holst's picture

The 6x7 and the 67 are not the same. You're saying that this issue is in the first gen Pentax 67?

Asahi Pentax 6x7

Honeywell 6x7

Asahi Pentax 6x7 with MLU (Mirror Lock-Up)

Pentax 67 <-this is the one I'm talking about

Pentax 67ii

Which version was being made around 1996 2000? Whatever that one is, it had the problems....

James Madison's picture

That's not a problem I've ever heard of. I don't think any of the models were made between those years. They started making the 67 in 1990 and the 67ii in 1999.

Might have been with the rental cameras that were used daily, but my personal one lost it's mirror, it was a simple repair... I made a typo I worked there 1999-2000 the cameras were whatever was being made at that time within a couple years...My guess is they were the Pentax 67 made from 1990-99 not the newer 67ii.

James Madison's picture

Hmmm. I've still not ever heard of that happening but I trust you have far more experience with them.

It's not something I made up, rental cameras are like rental cars, they take a beatin'!
As far as MF camera rentals the RZ was by far the most popular, like 70%, with 10% Pentax 67, 10% Hasselblad and 10% Mamiya 645 or 6x8 fuji. When Annie L was in town half the RZ kits and most of the profoto stuff would be gone, it took most of a day to check that order in and out, the printout would be like 18 feet long.

Ed Sanford's picture

I owned one in the late 80s to early 90s. It is one great camera, and yes it is build like a tank. I did a lot of good work with it, and it was great for shooting portraits. I had a small sports portraiture business. I used the RB (I am pretty sure it meant "revolving" back) on a tripod for group shots with a 35mm for individual shots of athletes to make composites. I eventually traded it off for a Hasselblad 500CM with Zeis lenses. Overall, I liked the Hassy better.... A major point it was a lot lighter.

James Madison's picture

The Hasselblad's are wonderful but a good deal more expensive. Some of the lenses I would even argue are prohibitively expensive. The 6x6 format is pretty fun though.

Ed Sanford's picture

Well, when I bought the Hassy, digital was starting to take hold. If you were patient you got good deals. When I decided to go digital, I sold the Hassy and 3 outstanding lenses, 3 backs and 2 finders for $1,500. That was about 6 years ago. I have to imagine that many photographers continue to dump good film gear to go digital like I did. I used the money to buy one digital lens. This is a good time to shoot film for those on a low budget.

James Madison's picture

I cannot possibly imagine walking up to that deal. haha. Hasselblad's have skyrocketed in price over the last few years. I doubt someone could even get the most basic of kits for less than $900-$1k on a good day. I would certainly take someone up on that same deal if it was in front of me but unless that happens, I'm holding out for a Mamiya 7 I think.

I loved my Hasselblads but most of my work is either people or cars so for the most part I was cropping to a 6 x 4.5 so the RZ67 was a big jump in usable film real estate. Ended up selling off the very nice RZ kit at 25 cents on the dollar for the $6000 Canon 1Ds.
Still looking for a Hasselblad SWC at a nice price...

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