Classic Cameras: 6 Photos and 7 Anecdotes from the Mamiya RB67

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The Mamiya RB67 Pro-S is the first camera I bought. While the Canon AE-1 was the first camera I ever owned, that camera was a hand-me-down. The RB67, on the other hand, signaled a change for me and represents the moment I began to take photography more seriously. I saved my money from caddying for an entire summer to purchase my RB67 Pro-S kit with 90mm f/3.8C and 180mm f/4.5C lenses, two 120 film backs, and a waist-level finder. It was certainly a step-up from the hobbyist connotations of the smaller 35mm SLR, but the RB is also a humble camera. When I bought my RB, nearly two decades ago, it was already an old camera and had been succeeded by the much more technologically advanced RZ67 series of cameras, as well as the newer iteration of the RB-series, the RB67 Pro-SD. Despite its age when I picked it up, it worked perfectly. And it still works perfectly to this day.

Compared to other classic cameras articles I’ve worked on, where I’m shooting with a camera I either do not own or do not use frequently, this article is a bit different, since the RB67 is still one of few cameras I use on a very regular basis. In addition to my Mamiya 7 II, the RB67 has become the second most-used camera I own, and my main camera for portraiture, still-life, and tabletop shooting. Recently, however, I’ve also come back around to using the RB67 outdoors for landscape shooting, due to the longer lenses I can use with it, compared to the relatively few lenses and shorter focal lengths available for the 7 II. So after really focusing my attention on this camera once again, and really thinking about why I still love it so much, I’ve come up with seven anecdotes that best describe what keeps me coming back to the RB67.

Versatility and Flexibility

Part of the RB67’s name, the RB part, stands for “rotating back.” For me, this is the most ingenious part of the camera and, to this day, something I do not understand why more camera companies didn’t steal from Mamiya (by way of view cameras that frequently feature some form of a rotating back). Rather than having to turn the entire camera 90° to shoot a vertical photo, you can simply turn the film back 90° with the flick of your wrist. In either horizontal or vertical orientation, pairs of solid lines will show in the viewfinder to indicate the boundaries of the film area for making accurate compositions.

Format

The other part of the RB67’s name, the 67 part this time, stands for 6 x 7 format, which is roughly a 6 x 7cm image area. For me, the 6 x 7 format is the most comfortable in which to work. Where I don’t get along as well with the 3:2 of 35mm and DSLRs, nor the too-tight square format of a Hasselblad or Rollei, the 6 x 7 format fits just right. Not too square, not too long. And as someone who shoots primarily in the vertical orientation, its somewhat squat aspect ratio sits well on a book page and almost perfectly translates to the classic 8 x 10, 16 x 20, and 20 x 24" print sizes.

The Bellows

Maybe it’s the fact that my other camera is a rangefinder, and an extremely poor choice for close-up work, but I really love that the RB67 uses a bellows for focusing. It allows closer-than-expected focusing distances with pretty much all lenses, it feels intuitive to focus with a rack-and-pinion system, especially considering the size and weight of the camera, and it helps to keep the prices of the lenses down, since they have a much simpler design than a lens with a built-in focusing helicoid.

The Lenses

Piggybacking on the bellows, I really like the lenses themselves, too. Like I said before, I appreciate that the lenses are simple designs, since they are not burdened with focusing capabilities and, in my experience, this makes them more durable and reliable. Currently, I have just two lenses, the 90mm f/3.8C I bought with the camera, and the newer 250mm f/4.5 K/L. However, I’ve worked with a number of lenses, ranging from the 50mm f/4.5 to the 360mm f/6 over the years and have rarely run into a lens I genuinely do not like in terms of quality. Another aspect of the lenses I adore is the use of a leaf shutter for the system, and the ability to sync flash at any shutter speed.

Modularity

Even though I keep a simple system, I love that, if I so desired, I could get a magnifying chimney hood viewfinder with a built-in light meter, a 645 film back, and a pistol grip and effectively have an entirely different camera, even though I’m still shooting with an RB67. The variety of obscurity of some of the accessories is exciting to me, even if I stick to solely working with a prism finder model 2 or a waist-level finder and a few 120 film backs.

Durability

Sure, this is a euphemism for the fact this camera is huge, heavy, and made of metal, and annoying to shoot handheld… but, the sum of all those drawbacks is a camera that will never quit. The RB67 is fully mechanical, which, along with its lower price tag, is what originally brought me to the RB instead of the RZ system. There’s no skirting around the issue that the camera is very heavy and cumbersome, but I have shot it handheld with a prism and 250mm f/4.5 lens with great success, albeit during daytime with 1/125-second shutter speeds and higher. Even though that setup weighs roughly 9-10 lb, since it is a compacted and dense weight, it is easier to handhold than, say, a DSLR with a 300mm f/2.8 that is very forward-heavy.

Overall Ease of Use

Certainly not to be underestimated, this camera is incredibly intuitive and straightforward to use. There are so few moving parts or fickle adjustments that pretty much anyone can learn this camera in a matter of minutes. The two main catches, though, are the independent cocking of the shutter/mirror and winding of film, as well as the turning of the shutter speed ring to close the shutter when making Time-setting exposures. Beyond this, the camera system is simple, with its pieces locking into place using latches—shutter speeds and apertures are easily selected via the lens-based ring, and focus is controlled with two synced wheels guiding a rack-and-pinion system. The shutter is released from a single button on the front right of the camera and there are two levers to cock the shutter and wind the film. And the film back can be rotated simply by grabbing and turning it clockwise. That’s about it.

The Mamiya RB67 Pro-S works for me as a practical complement to my Mamiya 7 II, and can do many things that the beloved rangefinder cannot. Being an SLR with a built-in bellows, it’s the perfect camera for shooting close-up subjects, as well as using longer telephoto lenses. Its simplicity and durable design have kept it in action for decades and, still to this day, it has no real direct competitor besides the electronic RZ system. It’s a camera I will continue to use for as long as I shoot film, it’s a camera that cannot be bested for what it does best and, for me, it’s a camera that has immense sentimental value.

Do you have a cherished and well-used medium format film camera that you could not live without? Tell us about it in the Comments section, below.

5 Comments

I still have my RB67 PRO SD even though I can't find film for it in Venezuela. It is a wonderfull camera!!!

Film is the least of your worries over there....

I enjoy reading about these classic cameras. The Mamiya RZ67 is one of my "bucket list" cameras.

The Best around the world

Hi,

i am am about to "take the plunge" and buy a Mamiya 67 but have concerns about shutter accuracy.

Has anyone done a shutter timing test on RB lenses?   How far DO they "drift out" accuracy wise?

I understand that the RZ shutters are consistent and accurate:- any comments?

thanks in anticipation,

Robert, England

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