The Mamiya RB67 Overview
A Mamiya RB67 in the field.
Last fall I had the opportunity to have a Mamiya RB67 on a long-term loan. Many thanks to Peter from Foto Art in Owen Sound, who loaned me this camera from his personal collection! As I've mentioned before, I always use Foto Art when buying new digital gear, and they have an expansive film camera collection that you are free to browse in the store. If you are in the Bruce Peninsula area, I highly recommend checking them out!
The Mamiya RB67 is a medium format SLR film camera. As the name suggests, it takes 6x7 negatives using 120 film. The 6x7 negative is often described as and ideal size for enlargement, as it can be perfectly enlarged to an 8x10, and is the same dimensions of most magazine covers. That made the RB67 a popular camera for portrait, fashion and landscape photographers in particular, who were often looking for a larger format than 35mm, but still something more convenient (and less expensive) than large format film.
Mamiya RB67, Mamiya 90mm f/3.8, Ilford XP2, 1/2 @ f/32
The RB67 was released in 1970, and was replaced with the RB67 Pro-S in 1974. The Pro-S was eventually replaced with the Pro-SD in 1990, which continued production into the early 2000s. The RB67 is a modular camera, which means that the lenses, viewfinders, ground glass and film backs are all interchangeable. You can change between waist-level finders and prism finders, and have multiple types of film in different backs, allowing you to swap mid-roll (more on this later).
A fully disassembled RB67, showing the body with ground glass installed, two backs, three lenses, a cable release and a waist-level viewfinder.
The RB in RB67 stands for "Revolving Back", which is one of the RB67's most useful features. It allows you to rotate the film back, letting you change between horizontal and vertical compositions without having to physically turn the camera. The ground glass has masked lines to show where the composition will end depending on what orientation you have the back in at any time. Not having to remove the camera from a tripod to change between vertical and horizontal compositions is very helpful, and the RB67 (and the similar RZ67) are the only medium format cameras that I'm aware of that offer rotating backs.
Looking through the RB67's viewfinder.
The ability to have interchangeable film backs means you can change film mid-roll, allowing you to swap between B&W, colour negative or slide film at any time. This also allows for you to change to a faster or slower film for changing lighting conditions. The backs have a dark slide, which prevents light from hitting the film when the back is removed. The dark slide also prevents the shutter from firing if the slide hasn't been removed, and the back can not be removed* from the camera unless the slide is properly in the back (*it's technically possible to remove the back with the slide removed, in the event that the back gets jammed on the camera you can override the dark slide lock, but this isn't something that you would be able to do by accident).
The RB67 is an SLR camera, so what you see in the viewfinder is what the lens will see. The RB67 is similar to many modular medium format SLRs in that while the mirror is in the camera body, the shutter is in the lens. This is very convenient for taking long exposures. The RB67 is a large camera, and as such, it has a large mirror which makes a fairly noticeable vibration when you take a photo. Using the mirror lock-up feature with a cable release allows you to lock the mirror up before taking the photo. The lens contains a leaf shutter, which is very quiet and shows no noticeable movement when fired, allowing you to easily take long exposures. I experimented with a number of 2-3 minutes exposures with good results!
Mamiya RB67, Mamiya 90mm f/3.8, Ilford XP2, 55s @ f/16
Due to having a much larger negative, 6x7 cameras show much shallower depth of field compared to 35mm cameras at the same aperture. I would guess that it is close to a two stop difference. This means a shot at f/16 like the one above looks like a 35mm photo taken at f/8. This also means that while the lenses have the characteristics of their focal length, they give the look of a shorter lens. A 50mm lens on a 6x7 camera gives a similar look to a 24mm lens on a 35mm camera, and a 90mm lens gives a similar look to a ~40mm lens.
I find that along with the additional detail you get over 35mm with a medium format negative, you also get additional dynamic range. The above photo required no filters, despite there being a difference of around 6-7 stops between the shadows of the rock and the bright sky.
Mamiya RB67, Mamiya 50mm f/4.5, Ilford XP2, 1/8 @ f/25
The shutter speed and aperture controls are both located on the lens. The fastest speed is 1/400, and they go down to 2 seconds, in addition to bulb. The films is advanced separately from the body, with a lever on the film back. There is a lock that prevents the film from accidentally being advanced. Since you can advance the body without advancing the film, this also allows you to easily take multi-exposure images, although this is something that I didn't experiment with.
Mamiya RB67, Mamiya 90mm f/3.8, Ilford XP2, 1/250 @ f/25
When using 120 film with the RB67, you get 10 photos per roll (compared to 12 with 6x6 and 16 with 6x4.5). In the addition to the camera's large size making it best used on a tripod, I found that this really slowed me down when taking photos. I usually spent 10-15 minutes composing and metering every scene, to ensure that everything was as I wanted. Composing with a waist level finder that you can see more than what you will get on the final image was a challenge for me at first, but over time I got used to it, and could appreciate the similarities to my rangefinders in this sense.
Mamiya RB67, Mamiya 90mm f/3.8, Ilford XP2, 1/125 @ f/22
Due to it's popularity and the fact that it was still recently in production, used RB67s are readily available in good condition at reasonable prices. An original RB67 body, waist-level finder, 120 back and a 90mm f/3.8 lens can be had for under $300, providing an excellent way into medium format film photography!
Nice article and lovely images. I just picked up a RB67 and since I'm waiting for new foam to properly lightproof before shooting I thought I would look to see the results other photogs got with the RB67. Your photos are some of the better I've seen on the web and stoking my enthusiasm. Thanks for the article!
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