camera review: mamiya rb67

Today I’m sharing my thoughts about and experiences with the Mamiya RB67. There are three generations of RB67: The RB67 Pro, ProS, and ProSD. To be precise, The copy I purchased consisted of an RB67 ProS body and a 6x7 ProSD back. I paid €450 for the body, 6x7 film back, waist-level viewfinder (WLF), and Mamiya Sekor 127 mm f/3.5 K/L lens.

Table of Contents

introduction

Not too long ago, I dug through some old film cameras my father gifted me when I was younger and never seriously touched. Most are non-functional, but one seemed to work. It was a CMEHA SMENA Symbol, a cheap Soviet point-and-shoot film camera. I put a roll of film through it[1] and while the frame advance was clearly broken, I got some keepers and immediately started to read about film cameras. 

 

I decided that I ultimately want both a medium format camera and a 35 mm camera so I always have the choice between maximum quality and maximum portability. A WLF was desirable as I consider it part of the “experience”, even if I must rely on an external light meter, though this really isn’t as inconvenient as I expected. After much deliberation I settled on the Mamiya RB67 for a number of reasons which I’ll detail below. I also took this opportunity to practice my outdoor product photography with off-camera lighting.[2]

 

The RB67 shoots 6x7 cm negatives, taking 10 shots per roll of 120 film. Film prices vary depending on the specific stock, but I’m paying €6-12 per roll (excluding development) in Dublin, Ireland.

The Mamiya RB67 with 645 back mounted

Fujifilm X-T3 & Fujifilm 50-140 mm f/2.8 WR @ 140 mm, ISO 200, 1/80, f/3.2

Build Quality & Design - Body

This camera is absolutely nothing like anything I’ve ever used before, and that’s a good thing! This camera is purely mechanical, with no electronics whatsoever. Everything is mechanically interlocked, and numerous latches and tabs work to prevent you from screwing things up. The RB67, like many medium format cameras, is a modular “system camera” with most parts being interchangeable. This also makes it really easy to disassemble for cleaning! To use this camera, you need a body, a film back, a rotating back adapter, a viewfinder, and a lens.

My freshly-cleaned kit before a day trip to Dun Laoighre

Fujifilm X-T3 & Fujifilm 16-55 mm f/2.8 WR @ 27 mm, ISO 250, 1/2.5, f/5.6

Size & Handling

The RB67, fully loaded, is heavy. I’d read people mentioning this online and just brushed it off, but no, it really is heavy. At a little over 3.5 kg (~7.8 lb) it’s an absolute monster. My travel tripod, a Hahnel Triad Compact C5, can just about support it if the legs are in one of the “splayed” positions, but at full height, even without the center column extended, it’s not something I’d leave unattended on a windy day. I’d also be very concerned about the stability during long exposures. I definitely recommend a sturdy tripod! Somewhat ironically, my little Gorillapod 5K supports the weight much better than the Hahnel. It’s worth noting that I use the ball head from the Gorillapod 5K on both tripods - the Hahnel’s sucks.

 

Body

The actual body I purchased is a ProS model, which uses the older, foam-based light seals to keep light out. The previous owner told me he had replaced them every five years or so, and last replaced them in early 2018. I expect to have to replace them by early 2023 in that case.

 

The front of the body has just two features: the lens mount, and the shutter release. The lens doesn’t rotate like a typical DSLR lens would. Rather, the lens is inserted in the correct position and a locking ring is tightened to secure it. It’s quite similar to PL-mount cine lenses, actually! The shutter release button is threaded for a standard release, and bears a simple rotating lock. When the orange dot on the shutter release is aligned with the orange dot on the body, the “safety” is on and you cannot take a photograph. Conversely, aligning the release’s dot with the white dot on the body turns the “safety” off and allows you to shoot. The shutter release button takes a standard threaded cable release.

The shutter release lock is unlocked here, indicated by the dial pointing to the white dot

Fujifilm X-T3 & Fujifilm 50-140 mm f/2.8 WR @ 140 mm, ISO 200, 1/80, f/3.2

The left side of the body features one of the two focusing knobs, a pin for the left strap lug, a cold shoe adapter, and a small lever which rotates around the focusing knob. It wasn’t clear to me what this lever did at first, but I eventually discovered that it actually locks your focusing in place. This is incredibly useful as the sheer weight of the lens can cause a (slight) focus shift over the course of minutes if the camera is pointed upwards or downwards by quite a bit. In any case, it’s very useful to ensure your focus is where you need it to be. A small note is that as it’s a gradual lock rather than a “click”, it can be partially engaged to make focusing stiffer, which I prefer.

The focus lock lever is shown here in the forward, i.e. locked, position

Fujifilm X-T3 & Fujifilm 50-140 mm f/2.8 WR @ 140 mm, ISO 200, 1/80, f/3.2

The right side of the body bears the second strap lug and focus knob, the exposure compensation scale (more on that later), and the incredibly satisfying lever to cock the mirror and leaf shutter between shots.

The right side of the body bears the most satisfying part of the camera: the cocking lever

Fujifilm X-T3 & Fujifilm 50-140 mm f/2.8 WR @ 140 mm, ISO 200, 1/80, f/3.2

The rear of the body attaches to the rotating back adapter, from which the RB67 gets its name. As a 6x7 format camera, the photos this camera takes are not square, but slightly rectangular. While most medium format cameras are stuck with one native orientation, some include ways around this. Some Pentax medium format cameras include a second tripod socket on the side of the body, for example. This doesn’t alleviate the issues associated with using a WLF sideways, however. 

 

Given the massive size and weight of this camera, Mamiya opted to make the film back itself rotate 90 degrees, offering a simple way to alternate between landscape and portrait orientations. This allows you to keep using the WLF even in portrait mode, rather than dealing with either a doubly-reversed image or switching to a large, heavy, prism finder. Both the rotating back and the viewfinder indicate your current orientation. The back has simple rectangular markings to show your current orientation. The ground glass in the WLF has dashed lines indicating the framing for portrait mode, and two red plastic bars appear under it when in landscape mode to both show frame lines and clearly indicate which orientation you’re in. 

This rectangle tells you at a glance that the back is in the horizontal orientation

Fujifilm X-T3 & Fujifilm 50-140 mm f/2.8 WR @ 140 mm, ISO 200, 1/80, f/3.2

Since I started shooting back in 2007, I’ve shot a lot in portrait orientation, so I greatly appreciate this feature.

 

Viewfinder

I use this camera with the simple, attractive, waist-level viewfinder (WLF). It doesn’t include a light meter, but I use an app on my phone that allows for spot metering, so that’s not an issue for me. I do concede that a light meter would be useful, but I don’t know of any medium format SLR that includes one in the WLF so I don’t consider it a mark against the RB67 in particular. As with all WLFs the view you see is a mirror image, which takes some getting used to.

 

The WLF is wonderfully bright, and an absolute joy to use. It includes a pop-out magnifier which I’ll discuss below. Note the red bars at the upper and lower extremes of the WLF in the image below - these indicate that the film back is rotated into the horizontal position without you having to check the rotating back adapter itself.

The large and bright ground glass makes focusing a breeze

Fujifilm X-T3 & Fujifilm 50-140 mm f/2.8 WR @ 140 mm, ISO 1600, 1/200, f/2.8

Film Backs

As mentioned, my copy of the camera came with the 6x7 format ProSD film back. The ProSD back is the latest version of the back, and the key difference is that it uses rubber light seals rather than foam seals. These last significantly longer than the foam counterparts and keep the interior of the back nice and dark. Otherwise, it is identical to the earlier versions. A 6x7 format image has a “crop factor” of about 0.5x in 35 mm terms, so the 127 mm lens can be thought of as giving the same field of view as a 63 mm lens would on a 35 mm format camera, i.e. a slightly-longer-than-standard lens.

 

The interchangeable backs is a huge part of the appeal of this camera platform to me, if only because it means I can easily use a 35 mm film adapter for panoramic shots by putting the back(s) in a changing bag. More on this to come!

 

I also purchased a 645 back for this camera to take 6x4.5 cm images. This back can take 15 shots per roll of 120 film, not 16 shots, as many people on the web who don’t own the camera assume. This is also a ProSD back. A 645 back is cheaper than an entire 645 camera, and I do shoot a lot in portrait orientation, so having another aspect ratio was appealing. It also allows me to take more shots per roll (15 vs. 10) which is ideal while I get the hang of manual metering and cycling the camera properly. In this case, the “crop factor” is approximately 0.62x, so the FoV afforded by the 127 mm lens is similar to that of a 78 mm lens on a 35 mm format camera, so it acts like a nice short telephoto lens.

 

Here is a comparison of two shots taken with the 645 and 6x7 backs to demonstrate the difference in FoV. The RB67 was mounted on a tripod for this test. As you can see, the 6x7 format offers a noticeably wider field of view. Please forgive the difference in film stock - I hadn’t planned this comparison in advance.

The 6x7 negative captures a much larger image than the 645 negative

Left: Mamiya RB67 & Sekor 127 mm f/3.5 K/L @ 127 mm, Kodak Portra 160, ISO 100, 1/?, f/11

Right: Mamiya RB67 & Sekor 127 mm f/3.5 K/L @ 127 mm, Lomography Purple XR 100-400, ISO 100, 1/?, f/11

Build Quality & Design - lens

The lens I purchased with the camera is the Mamiya Sekor 127 mm f/3.5 K/L. From what I have read, the K/L is the latest version of the lens with the most modern coatings. I’m unsure how much of a difference it actually makes compared to the older versions such as the C. I won’t go into too much detail about this lens in particular as I have no other medium format lenses to compare it against, but I’ll cover the main details.

Most of the controls are part of the lens due to the leaf shutter

Fujifilm X-T3 & Fujifilm 50-140 mm f/2.8 WR @ 140 mm, ISO 200, 1/80, f/3.2

Depth of Field Scale

The lens has a crude DoF scale near the front for hyperfocal shooting. It rotates freely, and turning it 180° switches it from metric to Imperial or vice versa. I don’t use it, but it’s nice to have.

 

Shutter Speed Ring

The shutter speed ring clicks in full-stop increments, though unlike the aperture ring, I do not recommend shooting “in between” the labelled stops - I haven’t tested with film loaded, but the shutter is open for noticeably less time when set between 1/8 and 1/4 than at either of those two, and not some length of time in between the two which you’d hope and expect. 

 

Aperture Ring

The aperture ring clicks in full-stop increments, but you can definitely move the ring between stops without issue if your exposure needs fine tweaking. The available apertures range from f/3.5 to f/32.

Mirror Lock-Up

The RB67 supports mirror lock-up, which in my experience is mandatory at shutter speeds slower than 1/60 due to vibration caused by the large mirror. To use MLU you thread a cable release into the dedicated MLU socket, shown on the left side of the lens above and marked “MUP”, which connects the cable release to the lens’ leaf shutter and disengages the main shutter release button from the leaf shutter. Pressing the shutter release button on the front of the camera will flip the mirror up, after which you can use the cable release to trigger the shutter without any excess vibration.

 

Flash Sync Port

The lens barrel bears a standard flash sync port (marked “X”) which can be used to trigger an on-camera flash (if using the cold shoe) or an off-camera flash. While I haven’t yet used it in this way due to COVID-19, I plan to eventually use mine with my GODOX X-Pro trigger mounted to the hotshoe. As all RB67 lenses incorporate a leaf shutter, flash sync is available at any shutter speed! This is a huge advantage over one of the RB67’s main competitors, the Pentax 6x7, whose shutter sync speed tops out at 1/30.

A short PC sync to 2.5 mm cable reaches the trigger without annoying dangling wiring

Fujifilm X-T3 & Fujifilm 16-55 mm f/2.8 WR @ 41 mm, ISO 200, 1/125, f/2.8

Focusing

Given the age of the camera platform and its mechanical nature, the RB67 unsprisingly doesn’t offer autofocus, and I’m okay with that! It can focus much closer than some other medium format SLRs like the Pentax 6x7 due to the bellows focusing mechanism.

 

Bellows

Rather than a focusing ring on the lens barrel that many SLR users are familiar with, the RB67 uses bellows-type focusing. This allows the camera to focus much more closely than comparable SLRs using lens-based helicoid focusing, though the minimum focusing distance varies depending on the lens used. The bellows are extremely fragile and I’m always worried about damaging them when I take the camera out.

My RB67 with the bellows extended somewhat - the lens is focused to ~1 m

Fujifilm X-T3 & Fujifilm 50-140 mm f/2.8 WR @ 140 mm, ISO 200, 1/80, f/3.2

Exposure Compensation Scale

As some readers may know, your effective aperture decreases at very short focusing distances. More specifically, the transmission value (T-stop) of your lens decreases. This means that if you have a macro lens capable of focusing to 30 cm, f/4 should yield a darker image at 30 cm than at 60 cm. As not all RB67 viewfinders have a TTL meter, or in case you’re using an external meter, the right side of the body bears an exposure compensation scale to help you adjust your exposure accordingly. The lines on the scale are colour-coded to make it easier to identify which applies to your lens, and the boxes are shaded differently for the +0.5 and +1.0 ranges. To determine if you need to increase your exposure, trace the line corresponding to your lens to the distance scale on the left of the scale. If it ends in a dotted box, add +0.5 stops, and if it ends in a hatched box, add +1.0 stops. It’s very reliable and I’ve used it mindlessly without any messed up exposures.


 

Focus Magnifier

As is common with many WLFs, the RB67’s includes a magnifier that flips out, helping to ensure you achieve critical focus. It’s also really useful in bright environments where the WLF may be difficult to see. There is no diopter adjustment so if you wear glasses you should definitely use them to aid visibility.

Operation - Taking a Photograph

Taking an image with the RB67 is definitely process, which can be broken down to the following steps: 

 

  1. Frame your shot

  2. Meter using your meter of choice

  3. Set the shutter speed and aperture on the lens

  4. Coarsely focus using the WLF

  5. Pop out the magnifier and tweak for critical focus, if needed

  6. Finalise composition

  7. Take the shot!

  8. Advance the film on the film back

  9. Cock the shutter and mirror 

 

It’s a very involved process but that is simply part of what attracts me to it. That, combined with the cost of shooting film, makes me slow down and think more carefully about my composition, which is a stark contrast to my style of shooting certain genres using a digital camera, such as street photography.

Image Quality

The biggest factors here are going to be negative size (the 6x7 back captures more detail than the 645 back), the specific film used (Delta 3200 will resolve less detail than Ektar 100), and the scanning process (I can get scans ranging from unusable to print-worthy on my Epson V600 depending on which software I use, and most of my lab scans of the Lomography Purple shots weren’t usable so I had to scan those myself). My point is that the lens is not the deciding factor in image quality, but it is important to know its limitations to get the best out of it.

 

Sharpness

Image quality generally suffers at very short focusing distances, and some RB67 lenses incorporate an adjustable floating element which can be used to improve image quality at these short distances. My 127 mm lens is not one of these, but at the minimum focus distance one need only stop down to f/5.6 to get a nicely sharp image.

My first self-scan of a colour negative, this came out much better than the lab scan

Mamiya RB67 & Sekor 127 mm f/3.5 K/L @ 127 mm, Lomography Purple XR 100-400, ISO 100, 1/?, f/5.6

I’ve cropped no fewer than five abstracts from this negative - the quality is insane!

Mamiya RB67 & Sekor 127 mm f/3.5 K/L @ 127 mm, Kodak Portra 160, ISO 100, 1/?, f/16

Vignetting

I haven’t spent the money shooting “flat” scenes but haven’t had any issues with vignetting, likely due to the huge diameter of the lens.

 

Chromatic Aberration & Distortion

The lens appears to project very little distortion, and I haven’t noticed any CA whatsoever, though given that I’ve been shooting a lot of Lomography Purple, Lomography Berlin, and Ilford XP2, I can’t be sure that none of those shots wouldn’t have demonstrated any CA if shot with a regular colour film stock.

 

Bokeh

I find the bokeh that this lens produces to be generally smooth and pleasing to the eye, but I admit that these things are subjective. I haven’t yet taken a shot where the bokeh was an issue. As the eight aperture blades are not rounded, out of focus highlights take on an octagonal shape.

I hope to take this shot again now that I have a cable release, but at dusk

Mamiya RB67 & Sekor 127 mm f/3.5 K/L @ 127 mm, Kodak Portra 160, ISO 100, 1/?, f/5.6

This shot shows the extent of the colour-warping you get with Lomography Purple

Mamiya RB67 & Sekor 127 mm f/3.5 K/L @ 127 mm, Lomography Purple XR 100-400, ISO 100, 1/?, ~f/16

Conclusion

In conclusion, the RB67 is exactly what people describe it as: huge, with quality to match. The body is built like a tank, and the lens performs excellently except when shooting wide open at short focusing distances. I find the quality coming from both 6x7 and 645 negatives to be very impressive, depending on film stock and scanning process. I do not regret purchasing it whatsoever and am happy to count myself in the ranks of modern film photographers. Film photography is a unique experience and the RB67 threw me in the deep end, for sure. Using this camera has proven to be a wonderful experience so far and I firmly feel that it has forced me to grow in my approach to photography, which is more than I ever could have asked. With an occasional CLA I believe this camera will last me decades. Its solid construction - apart from the bellows - is generally very reassuring when I think about the longevity of the camera.

Gallery

A selection of additional images taken with this lens/camera combo can be found below.[3] Links to full-resolution files will be added at a later date.

Vespa in red

Mamiya RB67 & Sekor 127 mm f/3.5 K/L @ 127 mm, Kodak Portra 160, ISO 100, 1/?, f/?

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

"Ten"

Mamiya RB67 & Sekor 127 mm f/3.5 K/L @ 127 mm, Ilford XP2 Super 400, ISO 400, 1/?, f/5.6

Social distancing in Dun Laoighre

Mamiya RB67 & Sekor 127 mm f/3.5 K/L @ 127 mm, Lomography Purple XR 100-400, ISO 100, 1/?, ~f/8

"Origin"

Mamiya RB67 & Sekor 127 mm f/3.5 K/L @ 127 mm, Ilford XP2 Super 400, ISO 400, 1/?, f/?

Note: This image is a lab scan as I don’t have the negatives for this roll

Shallow DoF is the order of the day with medium format and wide apertures

Mamiya RB67 & Sekor 127 mm f/3.5 K/L @ 127 mm, Kodak Portra 160, ISO 100, 1/?, f/?

History repeats itself as I once again photograph this ornamental glass jug

Mamiya RB67 & Sekor 127 mm f/3.5 K/L @ 127 mm, Kodak Portra 160, ISO 100, 1/?, f/?

Blades of purple shine against a teal sky

Mamiya RB67 & Sekor 127 mm f/3.5 K/L @ 127 mm, Lomography Purple XR 100-400, ISO 100, 1/?, f/?

As seirbhís

Mamiya RB67 & Sekor 127 mm f/3.5 K/L @ 127 mm, Ilford XP2 Super 400, ISO 400, 1/?, f/11

Notes

[1] It was a roll of Lomography Purple 100-400 speed film, and the photos can be found here if you’re curious! 

 

[2] The images in this review were taken using a Fujifilm X-T3 and Fujifilm XF 50-140 mm f/2.8 WR OIS. A Godox X-ProF was used to trigger a Godox AD200 with an umbrella attached.

 

[3] All but one of the film images in this review were scanned myself using an Epson V600 at 3200 DPI in Epson Easy Photo Scan. I scanned directly on the bed, not using the included holder.

About The Author

My name is Alex and I took up photography at the age of 15 using my Fujifilm Finepix J27 point-and-shoot. I spent many years as a Nikon shooter (D90, D610, D750, various primes and zooms) before moving to the Fujifilm mirrorless ecosystem in early 2019. In early 2020 I dipped my toes into film photography for the first time and was instantly hooked!

 

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