the road ahead

February 19, 2010

Sometimes when you look at the road ahead, there seems to be a lot of trash on the way and always nasty bumps that try to make you stumble in your tracks. 2009 hasn’t been an easy year and the next one is not going to be better either, I guess.
But then, you never know what lies behind the next hill. That’s sometimes frightening. But at the same time, you know you are alive and life can be full of new opportunities. So I will just push myself over that next hill and see what comes next. I am sure it will be good!


Camera Review: Mamiya C330

February 17, 2010

This is a short review about a camera that I have been using since 2005. i bought it on Ebay for the bargain of a price. I can tell you: Hasselblads are cheap these days. But If you even go for “lesser” brands like Yashika or Mamiya TLR (Twin Lens Reflex) you get the stuff almost for free, as far as value for money is concerned.

As usual, this review is not going to be too technical. I am really most concerned with how a camera handles and how the images look that I produce. If there is a “fault” in the lens quality or whatever, I might even embrace it as something which makes the camera stand out. So I mainly focus on that. A more technical review can be found here!

As mentioned, the Mamiya C330 is a fully mechanical (you need an external light meter!) Twin Lens Reflex Medium Format camera (6×6). That means you focus through one lens while the shutter mechanism is in a second lens below. Thus, even though it is a “through the lens” operating system, you still have no moving mirror, hence no vibration and the camera is super silent.
The C330 is from the 1970s when this kind of system (with Rolleiflex leading the way since the pre war era) was still in use among professionals. What makes the C330 and her little sister C220 to stand apart from the rest are the option of exchangable lenses which is really unique for a twin reflex, and the possibility to get as close as 1-2cm to the object which gives it almost macro qualities (and that on 6×6!).

I am only using a 80mm lens. I never felt the need for a wider lens (I do that with my Hasselblad) and longer focal lengths than the “normal” range are not really my piece of cake either. So 80mm works just fine for me. However, the changing lens mechanism is very different from a SLR camera. The whole front needs to be unlocked by a switch of a wheel on the side. Then the lenses can be removed and exchanged for another focal length.

In earlier reviews I have stated that the brightness of the viewfinder is one of the most important things for me. With a dim and blurry viewfinder, composing and focusing becomes a nightmare. That’s why I love the Hasselblad V system.
The Mamiya viewfinder is not as bright, but considering the (low) price and especially compared to Yashikas, (old) Rolleiflexes, or even new Bronikas, the C330 is still acceptable. The slightly dim (especially in the corners) waist level viewfinder slows you down, though. So this is not a fast camera.

Saying that:
From the ergonomic point of view, the C330 is excellent. With a broad neck strap, the camera feels solid, calm and stable. The shutter speed and aperture are a little bit difficult to adjust but once they are set, you should just forget about them. After all, this is a camera for studio or still portrait, not for action.
The focusing wheel can be locked, just as the exposure button. This prevents you from accidentally pressing it. Actually there are two exposure buttons. One is at the same spot as you would guess for a TLR, on the right side just underneath the lens. The other one is on the right side, slightly higher and is to be pressed vertically down. This means it is exactly where the right thumb is placed and makes it possible to gently press it down with even less vibration. I love that button!

But now to the most important thing: The images!
The Mamiya lenses used on the C330 are not the same league as a Hasselblad or a leica 35mm lens. They are not as sharp, especially in the corners. Actually they soften everything up which makes them not very good for architecture or landscape. But, for Portrait, or even still life, I think they are absolutely marvelous:

These two images where both taken in natural light from the side through windows. The softening of the contrasts and a bokeh soft like butter really contributes to the atmosphere. With my Hasselblad the images would be much more contrasty and sharp which in this case I did not want.

The option of extending the lens horizontally makes it also possible to get really really close, without the need for a macro lens. This doesn’t make it a macro camera but gives the photographer a lot more options in terms of composition and themes.

This is an image from the staircase of our house in Shanghai where we used to live between 2005 and 2007. Again, the soft light and bokeh produced by the Mamiya lens really contributes to the overall atmosphere of the image!

Overall, the Mamiya is a camera that is not a cheap alternative to more expensive options. It is a system on its own with its special character. I think it’s a fantastic portrait and still life camera that can be used indoors on a tripod, but also outside around the neck. It’s easy to use, very solid and reliable, and with its optics it gives you the chance to produce beautiful soft bokeh images. And it’s an absolute bargain!