We Review the Mamiya RZ67: Medium Format, Modularity, and Fantastic Sharpness

We Review the Mamiya RZ67: Medium Format, Modularity, and Fantastic Sharpness

Coming in at nearly five times larger than a full frame sensor, the RZ has resolution for days and can produce tack-sharp images, making it great for landscape work.

The Mamiya RZ67 is the younger brother of the Mamiya RB67, and though it is very similar in style, it boasts some impressive updates and improved lenses while maintaining the sharpness associated with the lineup and the huge negatives of 6x7 systems. Compared with the RB, which made its debut in 1970, the first version of the RZ debuted in 1982 and saw two updates — each one coming 11 years after the other. The second version of the RZ, known as the RZ67 Pro-II, was released in 1993, and the third version, the RZ67 Pro-IID, was released in 2004. The “RB” part of the RB67 stands for “Rotating Back” and the RZ is also capable of rotating the back to allow for changing from landscape orientation to portrait orientation without having to do anything but rotate the back.

I picked up the RZ67 in 2020 when the only 6x7 back on my RB started giving me trouble with pretty regular light leaks (though now I believe this was actually due to a mistake with the lab processing it, but that’s neither here nor there at this point) and the cost of a back for the RB was actually higher than a back for the RZ. This issue was only compounded by the fact that lenses, waist-level finders, and other accessories for the RB system are generally harder to come by and more expensive when you can find them. So, at the time that I started looking for a replacement back, I decided to just make the switch to the RZ system. In all honesty, I figured that one day I would want to make the switch anyhow since I could build out my RB kit and still make use of it on an RZ, while the converse is not true. 

Build Quality

Already owning and loving a Mamiya RB67 and a Mamiya 645 Pro TL, the RZ67 feels like the perfect blend of these two cameras. It has the style, updated functionality, and format of the RB67 while boasting an exterior aesthetic as the 645 Pro-TL. It’s a little lighter than the RB67, and while it may be just as durable, it doesn’t give off quite the same level of confidence in its build quality. In an improvement in design, the film back does not utilize light seals, meaning that it is not susceptible to the same sort of issues that the RB67 (Pro and Pro-S models) had, although the RB67 Pro-SD had a similar design for the backs. 

Accessories

The Mamiya RB67 had so many accessories offered, but the RZ67 puts it to shame in a few ways. Most notably, the RZ has a tilt-shift adapter to make for some interesting portrait sessions akin to the capabilities of a large-format camera. With that said, however, there were only a couple of lenses made for use with the tilt-shift adapter specifically, while some other lenses could still be used for relatively close focusing, but I’m not sure what would happen in the way of vignetting. Though I don’t have the AE prism yet, it’s on my list to possibly pick up when I find one at a decent price, which would allow for shooting in aperture priority. 

Lens Offerings

All lenses for the Mamiya RZ67 are fantastic. Plain and simple. They are sharp as a tack and quite contrasty. So far, my collection has only included the 65mm f/4 and the legendary 110mm f/2.8. Both lenses are quite lovely and are capable of making fantastic images. In addition, with the RZ, you are free to use RB lenses too, which is possibly the best part of shooting the RZ. As such, I can still use my 90mm f/3.8 C and 180mm f/4.5 K/L lenses on my RZ without a hitch. 

What I Like

  • Slightly smaller and lighter than RB
  • Updated lenses over most of the RB lenses (sans a few K/L lenses)
  • Many of the lenses are considerably cheaper than their RB counterparts
  • Accessories are more common and generally less expensive than the same accessories for the RB
  • Increased functionality over the RB
  • 6x7 format — easily my favorite of medium format
  • Bellows focusing method

What I Don’t Like

  • Price: it’s considerably more expensive than the RB and costs a lot overall
  • Not all mechanical (electronic leaf shutters) 
  • They have a habit of being troublesome in extreme conditions (mine has seized up on two separate occasions now when hiking in temperatures well below freezing)

Mamiya RZ67 Versus RB67

As you may have noticed, it is difficult to talk about the RZ without mentioning its sibling, the RB. Why? They are both made by the same manufacturer, had more than a decade of overlap in their production dates, and are built in a very similar style. Still, though, there are pros and cons for each of the two cameras that make it difficult to suggest one over the other for everyone. Not to be redundant with the above lists, but the RZ is substantially more expensive than the RB and without much to explain why. True, the RZ generally has better lenses, and oftentimes, it's cheaper, and it even has the 110mm f/2.8. I rarely use the 110mm wide open because of the maximum shutter speed, so it doesn’t often matter how tastefully shallow the depth of field is. As such, for the added cost, which I would say is at least double that of the RB, do better and generally lesser expensive lenses make the added cost worth it? That, I cannot answer for you. Personally, I’m not entirely convinced that the RZ system is reliable enough to warrant even building up a kit of lenses, and given that I can’t use them on the RB, I think that if I were to invest anything more into either the RB or RZ systems, it would be a Pro-SD back for my RB67. If you’re in a position to be easily able to afford the additional upfront cost of the RZ67, I would say that it’s great. If that doesn’t describe you, though, I would highly suggest the RB67. 

What about you? Have you used the Mamiya RZ67 before? If so, what were your thoughts? If you’ve also shot with the RB67, how do you think they compare?
 

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19 Comments

Tony Clark's picture

The RZ67ProII was my last film system and I miss it greatly. The rotating film back, Polaroid and those transparencies were beautiful. However, I do not miss the three trips to the lab to drop film off, judge clip tests and then the finished film were time consuming. I don't know if I'd carry it to rainy or snow covered locations but it produced at a high level for my projects.

Mike Ditz's picture

Like Tony, the RZ was my last MF camera. While not as elegant a user experience as a Hasselblad 500c/m, the RZ was a great camera.
I liked the prism finder and the winder motor attachment. I had the 50mm, 110mm and either 150mm or 180mm. All were excellent lenses. It was a heavy beast to carry around for location shoots and spent most of our time together on a tripod. The rotating back was the best feature, and the large polaroids.

Kirk Darling's picture

As others have mentioned, the RZ67 was my last rollfilm camera (actually, my Horseman 4x5 was my last film camera).

I loved the blunderbuss. But this comparison of the Mamiya with my spanking new Canon 5D caused me to retire it. At about the 7:00 position on the iris you can see the imprint on the contact lens. The Mamiya image is still just a bit sharper, gradation is just a bit smoother. But that was the 12 mp Canon 5D.

Eric Woods's picture

Great review. Had an RZ67 and loved it (sample attached). Only reason I do not still have is that there was another medium format camera (2 actually) in my possession that I used more.

Spy Black's picture

In this day an age it's tough to justify any film camera, especially if you're just going to scan them in and work in the digital domain with the images. What's the point? It's just so much easier and practical to shoot digital. If you're working with just B&W and printing your own that's cool, but color gets complicated, especially if you want to print big. My Fuji GS645, Mamiya C33, and Bronica GS1 all sit in the closet next to my Ricoh 500G, Nikon FTN and F2SB.

Mike Ditz's picture

Yes, but it's like saying that it is like a vintage car or "hi-fi", the means justify the end.
I shoot differently when using film. I never liked the darkroom, color or BW but I like to scan the negs and work in photoshop.

Spy Black's picture

Yeah but you won't be driving that car every day, and the scratches and pops on your hi-fi records will get to you after a while. ;-)

Unless you're scanning on a high end scanner you're not really gonna get much out of those negs or chromes either. Film curvature alone will be a problem, and then there's all the noise. A modern digital camera will have much better IQ and be ready to process out of the camera. Once you scan film you're in the digital domain anyway, you've relinquished film's colorspace, and the true film "look". So in the end, what do you have? A digital image, with some film grain.

Mike Ditz's picture

Yes, you use the old car when you want to use the old car, I shoot film when I want to shoot film. IMO hybrid shooting is a different experience, I look at things differently when using the old camera and film. When I had an 8x10 I would go out on a "photo field trip" and often come back with zero to 2 exposures, but I looked for pictures and didn't find any. If I do the same with a digital camera I'll come back with a lot of pics, some good some bad...
I have a pretty good scanner and I know how to get very good results from it for most things, and if I want, I can go to Bowhaus and get a $100 drum scan and have a large digital print made.
Getting a scan locks in the film's color space and then I am free to live with that or adjust it to my liking in PS.
I have used your argument before, going 100% optical to me might be worth it for BW but not color. The last BW lab near me is now a coffeeshop / tea house. And he got tired of me marking up the test print with instructions....
If you are simply chasing the moving target of "IQ" that's fine, but you missed my point of me using the 1985 500c/m. It's the trip not always the destination.

Sam Sims's picture

Agree totally. The experience using a camera can often matter more than the end results. Also I don't get why one person is saying 'what's the point in film cameras?' like that opinion is meant to be de facto. We all value things differently.

Spy Black's picture

It was a question. What's the point?

Mike Ditz's picture

I think I said it twice and Sam said it once. It's the experience of using, in my case 500 c/m. The point is that I enjoy it, and the results are different from shooting with a digital camera.

What do you mean by "better IQ"?

Spy Black's picture

Fair enough, but my question was made to look like mandate when I said it's hard to justify when you're just going to wind up in the digital domain.

As for "better IQ", it is the cumulative product of modern lenses, sensors, and processors with improved optical formulas that remove most if not all the obstacles we had to deal with back in the day like spherical chromatic aberration when shooting wide in low light, excessive barrel or pincushion distortions and chromatic aberrations there were no cures for, improved coatings to increase contrast, optical formulas that allow you detailed images to the edges of your live area, even wide open, all recording on to sensors with higher sensitivities allowing ISO setting unattainable in film with far lesser noise levels and still having shadow and highlight detail, the combination of modern optics and sensors giving levels of detail never before seen clear across your live area, able to be simply adjusted in post within minutes, if not seconds, instead of hours and sometimes days.

In short, better IQ.

I know many today like to romanticize all of these attributes of film, but many of us back in the day had to struggle to get images to look viable for whatever the target objectives may have been. I apologize if my comments appear to be ramming something down you throat, but having shot film for over 50 years, I greatly welcome modern optical and digital imaging technology that has liberated me from a multitude of chores in photo-chemical shooting and post production.

However enjoy working with you film cameras. I wish you all peace.

The Door's picture

Because digital looks like shit?

Spy Black's picture

Sucks when you don't really have an argument, doesn't it?

Bryce Laughlin's picture

I use my RZ pro II almost every shoot with a phase p21+ back. I used a leaf 17wi with it in the past. I love using this camera in studio. I’ve taken out on location for a fashion shoot and used film in it. At the time it was not practical to use the leaf 17wi on location. I built a large kit over 6 years. Now boasting two bodies! And most of the accessories and lenses. I originally went in to my local used shop, Columbus Camera Group, looking for a 500c, but the price was outta my reach and someone had put together a body, pelican, grip, Polaroid back, 120 back, and lens. The price was $400 dollars. At the time no one wanted MF film cameras. I came back the next day and luckily the person never came back for the kit. My interest in MF started by assisting a photographer that used the Fuji GX680 with a digital back. What a beast that one is! Some days I think about how great that camera is! With all the Mamiya love out there, it gets pushed to the way side.

Harold Clark's picture

The RZ was my workhorse for over 20 years; 2 bodies, 4 film backs + polaroid, 6 lenses and winder. I used it for industrial, portraits, products, aerials and some architectural interiors. Exceptional lenses, close focussing, large viewfinder and rotating back, what a wonderful camera.

I even schlepped it round Rome, Malta and the Tunisian Sahara with a fellow RZ photographer ( in his 70s at the time ) on a memorable trip in1993. We each brought our own kit, but shared less used focal lengths ie one 250mm and one 360mm between us. Still a lot of weight to haul around, but that was the way it was in those days if you wanted quality.

Once I bought a Canon 1DS II I never used it for commercial work again.I really should dust it off and shoot some B&W since I still have a fully functioning darkroom.

Kirk Darling's picture

Yeah, if you still have your darkroom, you should use it.

Mike Ditz's picture

I sold off my RZ at the lowest price of MF film cameras to get the 1Ds. Buy high,sell low!!

Timothy Gasper's picture

I always preferred the RB67 for similar reasons which you have pointed out. But it is an excellent camera. Unfortunately, I can't buy anymore cameras. Oh well. It's nice to look....read...drool.........