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!

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Leica Frustration…

December 9, 2009

Today I walked out of my office and on my way to the bus stop I took out my LEICA M3 to take a snapshot along the way. When I pressed the shutter release I noticed that the camera was jammed. No way to press the shutter or move the film transport lever.

When I removed the lens to have a first look inside to see what the possible cause of the problem might be, I saw that the M3 shutter was broken. Just like that, without any apparent reason. This happened to a camera that had been repaired, serviced and certified as “almost like new” by LEICA just two years ago. Back then I paid around EUR 600.- (US$900) for the servicing.
Well the warranty is expired and I will have to send the camera in again. They will open the body, take everything apart, exchange the shutter, clean and grease everything, put it back together, attach new leather, and then charge me another EUR 500-1000.

I find this very very annoying…! ;-(

Camera Review: PENTAX 67

October 8, 2009

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Today it’s about the dinosaur in my dry case: The PENTAX 67!

I bought the camera last year second hand in a camera store in Seoul/Korea, for an incredible low price. The Korean Won had dropped dramatically during the Financial Crisis, so it was a very good time to shop in Korea. The PENTAX 67 is a 6x7cm negative size Medium Format film camera (SLR) from the 1970s. At the time it was a popular option for professionals, not only because of the attractive 6×7 format and the quality of the Pentax optics; it was also the only Medium Format SLR with a prism viewfinder in the market. That meant it was possible to hold and handle it pretty much like a 35mm camera which gave it an advantage compared to the rather clunky Hasselblads or Mamiyas (I do not consider my Hasselblad “clunky” but some people might).

Well, actually, to me the PENTAX 67 is quite a brick. It’s big, heavy, and compared to my Hasselblad, the mirror sends shock waves through the camera, my hand, and the whole environment. The camera is loud, the film transport requires some new thumb muscles, and the frame counter doesn’t tell you exactly when the film is full. Furthermore, the opening mechanism for the film cassettes is sometimes jammed (or I’m stupid) and the whole procedure of changing a film can be quite time consuming.

But isn’t it a beauty?!!

No, seriously, apart from the (few) negative characteristics of this almost forgotten camera, there are some aspects which make me love the PENTAX 67:

1. The 6×7 format is just beautiful. It’s only slightly bigger than 6×6, giving you more space to compose, but at the same time it is more squarish than 6×45 which still gives you the feeling of harmony within the given space. I love it!
2. The optics are superb and the mechanics of the lenses work smooth and easy. The images come out super sharp, with a soft and smooth bokeh which is quite special and different to all my other Medium Format cameras or Leicas.
3. The viewfinder is spectacular: bright, big, and clear which is the perfect for composing. Even better, the prism viewfinder can be exchanged for a waist level viewfinder (see picture). I love that for the tripod.
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The PENTAX 67 is not an easy camera, but it’s a lot of fun and a beauty of a beast! It’s not really a camera that works well without tripod, unless there is a lot of light available and you know how to hold a camera steady. However you decide to use it, it’s a very good tool for portraits because of its format, sharpness, and soft bokeh.
On a daily basis, I still prefer my Hasselblad or the Twin Reflex Mamiya because they are easier to handle; for the special moments, though, the PENTAX 67 is quite something to use. And because nobody seem to want it anymore, it is more than a bargain. Don’t miss it!
Maya 2009
Maya and Puji 2008
Ming 2008

Camera Review: Leicaflex SL

September 20, 2009

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I do not own this camera. My father does. He bought it sometime in the early 70s and after only one servicing in 2007, it is still serving him perfectly!
So why am I writing about the Leicaflex? Isn’t there the fabulous Leica R9 which is an ergonomic dream (or seems to be)? Well I own a Leica R8 which is a nice camera, apart from being a bit clunky. But last month I had to borrow my father’s Leicaflex since my beloved M6 was damaged. And what happened? I was blown away!

The Leicaflex and its second model “SL” was Leica’s attempt to stay in the professional race after losing the market to SLR cameras in the 1960. Leica had been too comfortable with their very successful M2 and M3 and had not realized that the time of the rangefinder was coming to it’s (temporary) end. By the time they saw it, most professionals had already changed to Nikon, Canon, Pentax etc.
The Leicaflex was the attempt to win back some of that market. Unfortunately it was already too late, the camera didn’t meet the market’s demand and Leica almost went bankrupt. The advanced Leica M5 had also been a flop and it really didn’t look good for the German camera manufacturer.
The Leicaflex was too heavy and big for the photojournalist of the 70s. The optics were fantastic, but also heavy and expensive. Not what the market needed. So the Leicaflex drifted into obscurity and was (and is) mainly used by Leica amateurs who stuck to the system. After Leica started using bodies supplied by Minolta (R-Series) the Leicaflex design got almost forgotten. Today it’s basically a collector’s item.

Unjustified, as I think!

When I tested the Leicaflex SL, the first thing I noticed was the wonderful ergonomics. You don’t believe me? Yes! Even though the camera looks like a brick, it feels good in the hand, perfectly balanced. And the transport lever is the very best what I have ever used. It just fits perfectly with my thumb and moves smoothly when pushed around. The feel of this is even better than shutting the door of a Mercedes Benz! The shutter is an old fashioned “sticking out” shutter. It is positioned in the center of the shutter speed dial an just like the transport lever, it feels just right on the finger. Smooth and “klick”! I love it!
Maya 2009
But, and I think this cannot be repeated often enough: What makes a great camera for me is the size and the brightness of the viewfinder! Only a bright viewfinder gives you the right tool to compose a perfect picture. Nobody can bring all the elements of an image properly together while looking at a (DX-) thumbnail. And that what makes the Leicaflex one of the great cameras, next to the Leica M system and the Hasselblad V system. The viewfinder is huge and super sharp, even dwarfing the Leica R9’s finder which is already probably the best SLR finder in the market. What I like most is the prism which has just a big circle in the middle and is perfect for focusing. There is nothing to obstruct the view, nothing gets cut in half, no blinking lights, no stupid green or orange info bars, (almost) just you and the image.
Ming seminude09
On the bottom you will see the shutter speed (no irritating lights) and on the right the Leicaflex still has one of these “line and circle” things which died out in the 80s, even though it’s so easy to use. Bring the line into the circle by turning the aperture ring and you get the right exposure!

The leicaflex SL is a bargain on the second hand market. Get it with the (outstanding) f2/50mm Summicron and you have a wonderful camera that gives you better SLR quality than 90% of what’s new in the market. After getting used to the handling, you will also find that taking images with this icon is not only a lot of fun but also much easier and more stress free thah with a modern camera full of (useless) functions, menus and dials. Check it out!
Drei Dinge 09

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After I wrote a short summary about the Leica M3 some months ago, this time I would like to introduce one more of my favorite cameras, the Hasselblad 500C/M which I have been using for a couple of years.
Again: This is not about technical questions or lens quality. Technical reviews are all over the web and I have to admit that I do not care very much about them. For me a camera is mostly about user friendliness, durability and the “look” of the images, while my favorite look can be quite contrary to the common perception of “quality”.

The Hasselblad is a 6×6 medium format film camara that has been around for many decades. The design of Hasselblad’s V-series cameras hasn’t changed very much since the 1930s. That’s why it doesn’t really matter if I talk about the 500C, the 500C/M, 501 CW or any others. They are all very similar. It’s basically a modular system. The corpus + mirror, the waist level viewfinder, film cassette, and the lens are all separate and can be disassembled very easily. Every part is exchangeable and can be bought seperately. This makes the hasselblad a truly professional camera.
The Hasselblad is mainly designed to be a studio camera. It is clunky and quite heavy, the mirror is loud and it works better with a tripod. Even though compared to today’s professional DSLRs I find that the weight seems to be rather moderate. I use it a lot on the street and during travels because I like the high image resolution and the fact that I don’t need to raise the camera to my eyes when taking pictures of people.
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What makes the Hasselblad special and in my view superior to other Medium Format systems is the quality of its viewfinder. Its waist level finder (especially with the accumate version) is the biggest and brightest that I know. Looking through that viewfinder is almost like a three dimensional experience. Together with the super sharp Zeiss lenses this produces christal clear images. This combination of sharp lenses with a very bright viewfinder makes the “Hassi” perfect for portrait photography, fashion, and (in my view) medium format street photography.
mayamay08-02

Hasselblad cameras are widely available on the second hand market. Older models like the 500CM are not very expensive anymore and are often sold as a package version, together with lens ad film back. This is not necessarily the best option. I advise everybody not to buy an old mechanical camera without personal inspection. There is a lot that can be spoiled, especially in a Hasselblad that has the shutter in its lens and needs all mechanical connections to be perfectly working.
elaine-dec08
Another weak point is the film back. I have struggled quite a lot with light leaks in “cheap” second hand film backs. This is particular annoying when you come back from a trip to Tibet only to find out that 70% of your output is spoiled. So I advise everybody to buy a new film back, even though it’s not cheap (at all!). The same applies for lenses!

The Hasselblad is not only a beautiful classic camera but also quite a bargain compared to a professional digital system. The handling is not easy in the beginning, but the results can be stunning. No wonder it was the medium format system of choice for many famous photographers incl. Ansel Adams, Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon etc etc etc…

HOLGA

November 3, 2008

In September 2008 I bought my first HOLGA camera. For people who do not know what that is: The HOLGA is a “Made in China” plastic camera for medium format roll film. It excels in having lots of flaws like having a flimsy body, the images being out of focus (in fact you can’t focus with a HOLGA), strong vignetting, distortions, light leaks, and whatever might come to your mind. Every HOLGA is different so it’s impossible to tell what you get. More information you can get here!

The HOLGA has been in in fashion for quite a few years so I was always a bit hesitant to jump on that train. However, finally I could not resist. The interesting aspect of the HOLGA is definitely that all the flaws give the images something unreal, almost surrealistic.

Here are my first results. The camera comes with 3m of masking tape so I tried to close all possible light leaks before I even used the cam for the first time. I am not sure if that worked, though…

More examples of great HOLGA imaging you can find here or there!

Camera review: Leica M3

September 17, 2008

This is not a review. It is just a tribute to one of my most loved tools, the Leica M3.

The Leica M3 is a complete manual rangefinder camera which was first introduced in 1954 (mine is from 1956). It is the prototype for all Leica M cameras, such as the M2, M4, M6, M7, MP, and M8 digital. These cameras dominated the market as the prime tool for journalists in the 1950s and 1960s. They were eventually replaced by SLR cameras and have since been filling a small niche for enthusiasts, professionals who still appreciate the handling, and collectors who keep them in their showcases.

Yes, a Leica feels and looks great, but that doesn’t make your pictures any better. What makes the difference, besides your individual skills, in this case is the rangefinder that gives you a different approach towards your photography. In my opinion, the type of viewfinder plays a much larger role in the outcome of your images than any features like brand, optics, functions etc etc etc.
That’s why I divide my tools into SLR, Rangefinder and Meter Prism Viewfinders that you find in medium format cameras like Hasselblad, Rolleiflex etc. Each of these will produce a different perspective, a different speed of photographing, and thus a different result.

The M3 with its 0.91 bright viewfinder with the broad round edged frame for the 50mm focal length lets you focus on the most important aspect besides exposure, i.e. composition. The larger-than-usual magnification makes focusing easier, too, and thus produces very sharp pictures.
The M3 is a solid peace of metal and heavier than it’s size suggests. It feels solid and reliable.
There are no automatic features, no light meters (you need an external meter), no autofocus, and definitely no picture review like on a digital camera. Therefore the M3 is not really a very practical camera. On the other hand, you just don’t get distracted by blinking lights and displays, the sound of winders and shutters, and once you have set the exposure you just keep shooting which really feels liberating. Especially compared to a modern DSLR with all its functions that I find very distracting.

Saying that, after all this gadget praising:
A Leica M is great fun and a joy to use. But it won’t per se improve your photography. Don’t let the gadget get between you and your photography!