Mamiya C220 review: exceptional results from a small package

Mamiya C220 Camera 2.jpg

I was yearning for something with more resolution than the 645 format, and the 6x9 cm film format was overkill. What to do? See the world through a square lens, and go 6x6! Now there are many options available in the 6x6cm film format, including the venerable Hasselblad, Bronica SQ series, and many others, however what about something with more portability? Enter the previously untried (by me) TLR.

Now it’s interesting I think, that in all my forays into film, TLR’s have never really been on my radar. I’ve used modular cameras, including the Bronica series, the RB and RZ series, and always thought of the oddball Fujifilm GX680 studio camera as something fun, but never dipped my toe in the waters of the TLR.

I must say I started with a real desire for portability, and being able to document things happening around me, i.e. on the street and at events, so this was the first reason I looked towards having two lenses. Needless to say there are many options, and a dizzying array of brands such as Yashica, Rollei, Mamiya, and Kiowa (I’m sure there are more). However, I couldn’t quite give up my desire to change lenses out from the standard 75 or 80mm fixed lens (approximately 50mm in 35mm talk). As I have a real soft spot for the 35mm focal length, in you guessed it 35mm format, I found the Mamiya C series to be a unique camera type to look at. Initially the C330 seemed like a real contender, however after handling both the 330 I settled on the C220 for its lower size and weight (a bit anyway).

Lenses for the C series Mamiya bodies are very reasonable compared with serious costing glass like Hasselblad for example, with an 80mm 2.8 and 65mm 3.5 costing roughly the same at about $200.00 or so at a reputable site like KEH.  The more recent blue dot versions of these optics are quite well established, and more modern than say the fixed mechanism of a Rolleiflex or similar. In addition, I had heard reports that the viewfinder of the C series was brighter than that of some more historic brands, so I was definitely looking more at these due to my issues wearing glasses and needing to shoot in less than daylight conditions.

So after looking for a good kit setup, I settled on a Mamiya C220, with 65mm 3.5 lens, and waited for it to arrive via UPS. The kit arrived, and was lovingly packed in bubble wrap, and the first thing I noticed was the like new copy of the lens portion I had received. If this has been used before it was lovingly tended indeed, with not a bit of dust or grime anywhere on it.

Smilingly I connected the lens to the body, turned the dial to LOCK, and wondered when I could get some film run through it to see what the results were (and if there were any light leaks on the seals). I was not going to have to wait long however, as the local comic convention was in town, so I bought a few more rolls of Kodak’s magical Portra 400 film, and proceeded to shoot all over the convention hall with available light (pushing that film at least 1 to 2 stops). The verdict – an amazing performer, who my only complaint has been – that I wish I had figured out how best to use the viewfinder magnifier to my advantage (I wasn’t holding it quite close enough to my eye to be useful).

Mamiya C220 Camera 3.jpg

All in all – a great and well-functioning camera, that produces stunningly detailed images that come in at about 4000x40000 pixels wide using my standard desktop scanning system. Now the routine takes some getting used to, as the C220 does not have the auto cocking shutter mechanism, and thus you must wind and arm the camera before taking the shot. This however becomes second nature after just a little work, so I encourage anyone looking at the C330 series to consider the C220 if you want something handy and light that you can take off the tripod now and then. Thankfully I wasn’t using a telephoto lens, or doing any real macro work, so no need to coordinate the scales on the side of the bellows focusing system (yes they are actually bellows!) but I look forward to trying my hand at some macro work when I get a chance.

A great thanks to CSW (Link) for their amazing film developing services, they are one of the last full time developers in the Chicago area, and still do same day C-41 color processing if you need it, with an additional day or two for E-6 slides depending on volume. An amazing crew, and I can’t recommend them enough.

Enjoy the sample galleries below – these are all taken on Kodak Portra 400 pushed to 800, or 1600 in development, yet they hold amazing levels of detail (perhaps due to Kodak’s Vision 3 technology?).