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

Previous comments

Great portraits mate

I had one of these for a while in the 1990s and I loved the images I, a rank amateur, was able to produce with it, especially the giant slides. But, alas, I surrendered to the heresy of digital and sold it. I do miss it.

James Madison's picture

Slides are for sure the best part of that camera. In fact, I would say it's not until someone tries shooting slide film in 120 that you can truly appreciate the format. You could always pick up another RB! haha

Jose Cervantes's picture

I have shot digital for the last decade, but recently I got a RB67 proSD and use it with a 6x8 film back. I love the large negative and love the process of working the camera. It may sound like a cliche but I've come to like slowing down when going out shooting. I went from shooting up to 100 digital shots, to planning and shooting 9 frames each outing with the RB. Understanding how to use this camera will get you great results.

James Madison's picture

You're the second person to mention the 6x8 back - I will have to pick one of those up. Cliche or not, it's why many people have started to moved back to shooting film.

Spy Black's picture

If you're not used to using the medium format SLRs, better get ready for mirror shock. The mass of the moving mirror as it flips up out of the way can greatly affect image sharpness. I own a Bronica GS-1 (the "smallest" 6x7 SLR LOL), and the mirror on that sucker freaked me out the first few times I was out and about with that "tiny" terror. That sucker's been relegated to the studio where the strobes can freeze action if I'm handheld!

James Madison's picture

Have you ever used an RB? The mirror "slap" on that camera is by and large the most unique of any camera I've ever used. It sounds more like it's creating a vacuum, pushing air out of the camera than it does a mirror hitting a solid object. It's weird.

All of the lenses for the RB are leaf shutter so, when using strobes, shooting at 1/400th is great.

Spy Black's picture

No I've never used and RB. I also used a Kowa Super 66 and it's mirror also had a helluva slap. Although a bit more limited in scope, the Mamiya 6 and 7 rangefinders are more agile creatures to work with, especially in the field, and they still command premium prices for their comparative ease of use and image quality.

Tony Tumminello's picture

I think my Bronica SQ-Ai has the loudest mirror slap of all of my MF cameras and I thought it was going to jump out of my hands from the mirror shock, my RZ is interesting since it sounds (to me) like someone slapping a wet towel onto the floor.

James Madison's picture

Ahhh. The sound of a wet towel slapping the floor is an oddly accurate description of what it sounds like for the RB and the RZ alike.

Michael Holst's picture

I use a leaf shutter lens on my Mamiya645 that's helped me deal with mirror slap at times.

James Madison's picture

Which lens do you have? How do you like it?

Michael Holst's picture

The 70mm f2.8 sekor c

It took a little while to learn how to use the leaf shutter but the main reason why I love the lens is the FOV is wider than standard.

James Madison's picture

I suspect it doesn't work with aperture priority, does it? I'm used to the leaf shutter lenses with the RB but haven't used any on my 645. If I got one, I think I would use it primarily with studio work. Then again, if I started using my 645 for studio work, what would I do with the RB? haha

I've got the 55mm for my 645 to get the wider FOV and I love that lens.

Mark Wyatt's picture

My Mamiya TLRs (C330f and C220f) produce nice 6x6 images with no mirror shock.

Spy Black's picture

I have a C33 with a 55mm wideangle and a porro prism. Having come from 35mm SLRs, I find the rangefinder and SLR bodies more natural to work with. These below are my medium format cameras.

I also shot with a Rapid Omega 6x7 camera (either 100 or 200 model, don't remember) and Kowa Super 66, both of which were borrowed for a while. I took the Omega along with my 2 Nikons to shoot an Aerosmith concert back around '79. I used the Omega for the wide shots and had a 135 and 300 on my Nikons. I used the Kowa for nighttime street photography back in the '90s with 1600 and 3200 neg stock, as well as the Fuji you see below.

My dad brought me back from Japan probably the first RB67 in the UK in 1972 for my 18th and to start photographic college! Been a MF fan ever since. Also been pro since '84..

I am now the proud owner of its predecessor, a Mamiya Press Super 23 and a Press Universal. Rangefinder (mirrorless!) focussing and superb optics, particularly the 50mm, (biogon copy), 75mm (super angulon copy),100mm f2.8 (biometar/planar copy) and 250mm f5 (sonnar copy). The original S shaped film backs are beyond reproach in having the best film plane flatness of any design...and later released adaptors (hens teeth...), the "g" adapter permit the fitting of the rb67 backs to the Universal. The Super 23 benefited from limited bellows movement of the film back for controllong dof at wide apertures.

In short, both extraordinary cameras with a staggering range of accessories. Its even possible to fit the universal/press backs on the RB series with the right adapter...you even get a "bit extra" if you fit the 6x9 back, the RB covering well with most optics up to at least 6x8...

My other mf kit includes a pair of Mamiya C220's which I prefer to the C330 series finding them lighter and less "fussy". Full range of optics from 55mm to 250mm, a Russian NC2 45 degree prism with an adapter made in Germany to fit and bright screens made in the US make these some of lightest and most enjoyable cameras to use. So much nicer than the 90 degree mamiya prism imo that puts the camera slap against your face!

Its taken me a few years to collect full sets of each, every item in near mint condition, including all the accessorues, hoods, caps, tripod mounts, sports finders, etc.

I was even fortunate enough to find a boxed, never used, complete with original receipt Mamiya Press Universal (1972 I think!) .in fact, its probably so rare now, I'm not going to use it, so I'll keep working with the other two bodies!

It may all sound rather extravagant, and indeed some items, particularly the 100mm f2.8 are not cheap, but sets can be put together over time at reasonable cost with e bay and Japanese/US sellers. Its my belief that clean examples, apart from being eminently useable will also increase in value over time.

The other aspect is serviceability as it will probably be the case, as they are mostly purely mechanical devices, that every lens and body will need a service, either the screen collimated or the seiko shutters cleaned and checked (cla'd)..

Here you need to beware of escalated prices charged by "leading" London "specialists" for instance..But I am happy to recommend, very highly, and with no connection to the company except they have serviced every item I have overtime, rangefinder cleaning, every optic, screen fitting, etc... Cametattiks in Edinborough.

Despite much debate to the contrary, even with companies such as AG labs huge scans creating files similar in size to 100mp digital, film struggles because of grain and older optic design, to compete in terms of detail resolurion, but that is not the point.

Film in all its variants with it natural compression of highlights and shadows, grain structure and its ace in the pack, true limited dof, especially mf, offers a unique look.

And often forgotten by its critics, the whole process of shooting with mf and film is a very different mental process to shooting digital. Every frame counts...8 on with 6x9, and that kinda makes you think a bit more, doesn't it!

James Madison's picture

Sounds like quite a collection! I've seen some Mamiya Press cameras but have never used one.

Spy Black's picture

You seem quite comfortable with the old press cameras, have you ever tried out the Mamiya 6 and 7 cameras? Light, agile, wonderful engineering, and beautiful image quality.

I worked as a fashion and advertising photographer for 10 years using the rb67, during the late 80's to 90s...
I had the auto speed winder (4 AA batteries) which cranked on the film back at just under a second. Great because you then only needed to crank one lever instead of 2 between shots. !
The prism finder was also an essential accessory for me as was the Polaroid back and a hefty Gitzo in safari green.
Image quality was fantastic, sharp yet creamy images. I mostly used cross processing using fujichrome 64t and some b&w.
I must have shot 100 000 rolls of film and it never went wrong. I used a Minolta flashmeter 4 for exposure guidance, usually in incident light mode (That means my assistant would hold the meter in the plane of the subject pointing it towards the camera with the white bulb attached. )
I also had the 1% spot attachment but that never got used very often.

Those were the days, sending off 3 clip tests a day by bike to Joes basement!

I enjoyed your stories :)

James Madison's picture

That's a lot of film! I don't have the auto winder and while it doesn't usually bother or affect me, occasionally (if it's been a while since I last used it) I forget to advance the film on the first couple shots. haha

I've yet to try doing any cross processing but it's on my list of things to do.

Actual frame size of RB67: 56mm x 67mm, less than 4.4 times the size of full frame (24mm x 36mm).

Sorry to nitpick.

James Madison's picture

Nit pick away by all means. I was aware that the actual frame size was not exactly 6cm x 7cm but was not aware that the it fell just shy of 6cm. The more you know!

Flash Back's picture

Had the RZ67 way back. Traded it for a Pentax6x7, since the RZ was diffucult to handle out in the field. But boy did I miss that Mamiya lens. Didn't realise how good it was till it was gone!

James Madison's picture

The Mamiya RZ lenses are amazing but the Pentax 67 lenses are excellent too. A buddy of my mine has the Pentax 67 II and the work he gets with it is absolutely amazing.

Tony Clark's picture

I added the L Grip when I shot handheld, it was a large camera but you've got to adapt to make it work.

James Madison's picture

I've seen the grip for the RB but haven't ever used one. I think at this point I've become almost too accustomed to holding the camera by the base.

Flash Back's picture

Your image of the lady against the car, is a perfect demonstration of that MF 'look'. The tree bokeh in the background just says MF. I love it!

I'm currently using the Sigma ART 105mm F/1.4, this is possibly the closest I can get to emulating MF with my Panasonic S1R FF.

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