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?).

Kodak Portra 160 - Kyla Cosplay with the Bronica ETRSI


The lovely Kyla Covert - from the archives, shot on Kodak Portra 160 film, with a Bronica ETRSI. She can be found here: Website or on twitter: @Kylacovert

She is an amazingly talented cosplayer, and I hope you enjoy the below photos from our shoot long ago. More to follow Kodak portra wise, but for now, enjoy the lovely & talented Kyla!

Fujifilm XT-20: Sara Hedgren Looking Good in Black

The lovely Sara Hedgren (link) looks amazing in Black, which matches her lovely ink and provides excellent contrast with the whites of the bedding. This combined with her vibrant hair, and superior posing skill, results in an unbeatable combination of fun images, and a smooth shoot. Please enjoy the below shots of Sara, in black – taken with a Fuji XT-20, and its kit lens the lovely 17-55 3.5-5.6 OIS II. The mirror less Fujifilm is amazing at low shutter speed high ISO shots. I can handhold this combination at 1/30 – 1/25 with no fear of blurry images in a low level shooting environment. Feel free to experiment if you have this particular camera, and any Fujifilm XF lens with optical image stabilization, it is tough to beat!



Poison Ivy? No! It’s the Lovely Ivy Lee – with the Fuji XT-20

If you should ever have the occasion make time to create something truly special with the vivacious and talented Ivy Lee (Link). Mrs. Lee truly does it all, since she both models professionally and owns her very own studio in PA, and is also an avid photographer. It is for this reason I cant recommend her enough, and I have to say she does many cool things, but these are two of my favorites:

One: Brings her own awesome strobe

That’s right! Ivy realized long ago that us photographer folk don’t always have (or want) to bring a giant soft light, perfect for boudoir / glamour work. So she came up with the perfect solution – bringing her own digital step moonlight, with softbox & wireless trigger! Pretty cool, and I have to say I was impressed by the light it creates – even though I confess I did not use the strobe, but the modelling lamp instead.

Two: Wardrobe “cards” she sends to photographers beforehand (also available on her site)

Ok, this is such a simple idea that when I saw it the lightbulb clicked & I was like “aha!”. Ivy Lee does something very cool, she has taken the time to go through her traveling suitcase / wardrobe (you know the big model trunk they carry around) and pick out a bunch of outfits, and clothing items. Then, she has gone ahead and had photos taken of her in each piece like a catalog of sorts. These are then divided into sections, i.e. tops, costumes, lingerie sets, shoes etc. and turned to PDF & image sheets. You will then receive or be able to download these wardrobe comp sheets to plan your shoot together! No longer will you have endless trails of messages such as “But do you have wardrobe like this?” – instead you can specify in advance which items (by #) to bring along to the shoot, and there you have it – the awesomeness of wardrobe cards! Needless to say I’m very impressed, and am recommending this to all my model friends.

The images captured here are from the Fujifilm XT-20, with the 17-55 3.5-5.6 OIS II  kit lens, and I hope you enjoy. The camera will be reviewed in full shortly - Until next time!

Quick thoughts on the Fuji GSW680III – “Texas Leica”

I’ve tried a bunch of various film format cameras, and for a time was enchanted by the idea of super large (for medium format) negatives / slides. At the time I was also very concerned with portability and curious how to mate the two together into something usable but satisfying the need for detail. I confess I’ve always had a soft spot for the Mamiya RB67 / RZ67 series, ever since using an original Pentax 6x7 with its lovely 6x7 cm negatives – but very poor flash sync speeds. Nonetheless I started researching rangefinders (aha! Portable) and ended up discovering the Fuji line of rangefinders in the GSW / GW series (GSW690, GW690).

The internet seemed divided though, some people adored the large funky looking rangefinder with huge 6x9 negative, and others didn’t quite get the hype, and ultimately left it to the users “your mileage may vary & not for me”.

One thing that did stick out to me was only 8 exposures per 120 roll, and trying to decide on a fixed lens aspect that suited my particular style. Since the Fuji’s come in two variants , GW, and GSW (wide & Super wide I would guess) the difference was between about 28mm, and 40mm field of view. After reviewing my various shots in my collection, it looked like wider was best, so I settled on finding a GSW variant, however was surprised to find that Fuji also made a series of other frame sizes in 6x8 and 6x7 cm (Fujifilm GSW680, and 670 respectively) and scored a good deal on a GSW680III from KEH camera (link) in excellent condition.

*Keh (link) is amazing by the way – I recommend all of you check them out for amazing quality used equipment (my opinion).

The Fujifilm GSW680 arrived shortly, and it is a huge affair compared to small DSLRs, and say a Leica, but it is very well put together. Everything that I can tell is the same about the actual camera in regards to the 6x9 version, however there has been a frame mask applied to the inside, and viewfinder window, along with I would imagine numbers on the frame counter spool. This camera is entirely mechanical, and focuses via a rangefinder window which is giant and bright (really giant, compared to even professional DSLR’s). My particular variant was the GSW version, with a 65mm F5.6 fixed lens, with an approximate field of view around 28-30mm.

Operation of the camera was a breeze, winding film was simple and straightforward, while the inclusion of a vertical and horizontal shutter release (one on the front of the body like a Miranda Sensorex) was excellent! In my estimation the camera was going to be great!

In practice the GSW680 was at first exceedingly difficult to use, as everything was blurry out of the box! I was concerned at first, until upon closer inspection, I noticed some small writing around the eyepiece (the small circular version on the back of the rangefinder). Closer inspection revealed a screw on diopter adjusted for +2 which is way past usable. Further research showed that a Nikon screw in “zero” adjustment eyepiece was regularly available, and upon receiving mine – it went right on, and problem solved!

Now out to shoot – it took some finagling, but I loaded my 120 roll of Kodak Ektar 100 (it was very sunny that day), and hit the streets looking for images that looked interesting that afternoon. The first thing I noticed, the viewfinder is HUGE, and VERY WIDE compared to even my professional level DSLR’s. Interestingly due to the coupled rangefinder design, the lens will be visible with the GSW variant in the right hand lower frame area. Without a doubt, the field of view is wide, and struck me as good for landscapes. The lens is a joy with easy clicking, and firm setting of leaf shutter timing & F stop (it’s all on the lens). A few winds of the lever, and a loud spring like *Clunk* and the giant rangefinder has taken a snap, and is ready to wind on.

The main problem I had that day was with focus – or the focus patch. It was a tiny (relatively) yellow patch in the center of the viewfinder, however for my eyes the contrast to line up images was lacking, and even more problematic as shady areas became more present. Lower light was really throwing me for a loop, and I resolved to see what could be done to assist. This would continue to be a theme on each shoot I’ve taken this camera to – the tough focus, or feeling of “did I nail it with only 9 shots per roll?”. Based on my portfolio of images you may be able to tell I love shooting in natural lighting, or in the studio, but often close to my subjects, and this created further concern over sharp focus.

Not wanting to use hyper-focal scales all the time, which is exacerbated by the huge F Stop required to achieve said distance (the large film frame size makes depth of field adjust to smaller apertures) I continued to look for ideas. The best method to improve the use of the focus patch was to increase the contrast using either the “dot trick” or in my case a tiny square of tape put on the front of the rangefinder window – providing a solid edge to line up through the focusing mechanics.

After this I find the Fujifilm GSSW680 III a fun to use giant frame camera, and don’t hesitate to recommend it for those who don’t mind racing through film rolls – while totally making GIANT detailed negatives, or slides. You really won’t understand until you are looking through your developed roll, and picking out images which are about the size of small trading cards, in a word awesome! The lens is contrast and top-quality optics wise (Fujifilm can compete with the best), and I have to agree I think that for its size, the GSW680III makes the best large frame medium format to weight argument there is. As long as you don’t mind not looking through the lens, this should be on your pick one out and try it for yourself list. Here are some images from the camera, some on Kodak Ektar 100 ISO, and some on Kodak Portra 400 (an amazing film). Enjoy, and if you end up picking one up, enjoy it!


Shooting report: Kodak Portra 800 Color film Part I

Portra 800 Color film - shot slow and easy on a tripod

I have to say this was my first foray into shooting Portra 800 in low light, with very slow shutter speeds (around 1/15 - 1/2 a second) with the Bronica ETRSI mounted solidly on a tripod. The model is the lovely Kylie Kohl - you can find her here: Kylie Model Mayhem

Please enjoy some of the rough cuts from our shoot together - as captured using the above equipment. More information to follow, but I have to say I really enjoyed shooting this lovely Kodak film at box speed, regardless of horrid hotel light.


The Archives: Connecticon on Film

The Archives: Connecticon on Film

I love color, vivid & bright. Long a digital manipulator of images – enhancing color – I also love the color produced via film. In this case, the Kodak Portra 160, and Portra 400 variety. I cant really say enough good about this film, and should probably add a review in the future, but suffice to say it can be undershot, overshot, and produces good results. These photos are some of the 6x4.5 shots taken many years ago at a medium sized cosplay convention in New England. I’ve recently rescanned & updated them to reflect my current processing workflow, and I adore the negatives for their resilience even after a few years. Please enjoy, and I look forward to posting more film work from the archive soon.