Review: Mamiya C330f & Mamiya TLR-System
Mamiya C330f - Overview
The Mamiya C330f is part of a series of professional twin lens reflex cameras for medium format film (format 6x6) made by the Japanese camera manufacturer from 1956 to 1994. The Mamiya C330f was produced from 1972 to 1982. All cameras from the series are fully manual and need no battery whatsoever. Of course, the cameras lack an exposure meter (although there is an exchangeable prism finder with a meter available). A notable feature of all the C-Series cameras is that it is a TLR-system with interchangeable lenses. The interchangeable lenses offer shutter speeds from 1’ to 1/500 seconds, a bulb mode and feature a leaf shutter which allows X and M flash synchronization via a PC-port.
The camera offers no automation at all, so you have to concentrate at what you do. The fully manual experience the camera grants one big advantage: One cannot run out of batteries and the camera is not very prone to malfunction in very hot or very cold enviroments. In fact, it is a reliable, professional grade camera that never let me down, whether indoors or outdoors. The film is wound by turning a lever on the right hand side of the camera. By turning, the shutter is automatically cocked – a feature which is not available in some older models (e.g. Mamiya C3). Focusing is done by extending the bellows via two turnable knobs. The ground glass is very bright and shows almost 100% frame coverage. The standard folding hood features a fold-out magnifying glass for precise focusing. The Mamiya C330f offers parallax correction via a red needle in the ground glass finder, which comes in handy when doing close-ups. The C330f allows you to get considerably close to your subject, thanks to the wide extension offered by the bellows.
But be careful, you have to compensate for the loss of light due to the extended bellows, which is also indicated by the red needle in the ground glass finder. If you want to change lenses during shooting, you first have to unlock the lens by turning a knob on the left hand side of the camera. The taking lens of the camera is blocked and the lenses can be changed safely without fogging/exposing the film. When changing the lens, ALWAYS check for the position of the shutter cocking lever of the lens, as it has to be aligned with the shutter cocking lever of the camera. If you use too much force, you can bend/damage the lever on the lens or the lens holding mechanism on the camera body. As long as the lens is “unlocked”, the red needle is shown in the ground glass finder so that you do not accidently make blank exposures. You can also lock the shutter release via a small button on the right and override the double exposure – protection by turning a small knob on the right. As you can see, the camera offers a series of very clever features to avoid mistakes and enhance user friendliness. Of course, you cannot expect the convenience of a fully automatic SLR, but the Mamiya C330f offers just enough features to ensure that the camera is usable in stressful situations. That’s why the cameras from the C-Series were very popular with wedding photographers back in the days. What I especially like about the camera is its compactness compared to SLR medium format cameras. It is just small enough to fit easily in a camera bag, even along with a second camera. But be warned, the cameras are built from solid metal and are quite heavy (~1.7kg) - but also very sturdy. Just don’t forget the light meter.
Lenses & Image Quality
The lenses were updated from time to time with improved coating and other minor improvements. The newer lenses are recognisable by all-black finish and sometimes a blue dot on the shutter cocking lever (often called blue dot lenses). Although the newer lenses are superior in terms of lens coating, their aperture-lever is made of plastic. Due to its somehow prominent placement it is prone to breakage when treated improper (don’t worry, it can be repaired easily). From my point of view, there is no significant difference in image quality between newer and older lenses. To conclude, the image quality of all lenses is very good and the colour rendition and contrast is very satisfying. In general, stopping the lenses down to at an aperture of at least f/8 is recommended, as this significantly improves lens sharpness. The 6x6 format combined with the nice lenses offers great enlargement possibilities, whether you crop a desired aspect ratio or you just use the whole square. And don’t get me started about medium format film; it’s just a class of its own!
Be careful though when using older lenses on newer bodies and vice versa! Some of them might not sit well and wobble around a little bit, which might introduce some softness to your image. Another notable thing about the lenses is that they can be easily disassembled for cleaning and adjusting the shutter speeds. A quick overview of the available lenses:
- 55mm f/4.5 wide angle lens
- 65mm f/3.5 wide angle lens
- 80mm f/2.8 standard lens – great standard lens, usually all you need
- 105mm f/3.5 standard lens
- 135 mm f/4.5 telephoto lens
- 180 mm f/4.5 telephoto lens – watch out for the “Super” Version, it is a stellar optic
- 250 mm f/6.3 telephoto lens – perfect sharpness when stopped down, great bokeh, a pleasure to use
The system offers a wide variety of accessories for different applications. Here is a quick overview:
- Various interchangeable focusing screens - all of high quality and durability
- L-Grips – I highly recommend these grips (available with and without shutter release on the grip), which are very useful when using the camera handheld.
- Pistol Grip - The pistol grip is ergonomically formed and made of high quality plastic with a rubber top. The rubber top is not very slip-proof, so you have to tighten the screw properly.
- Prisms – The main advantage of prisms is to gain height for certain applications but darken the view considerably. A metered prism is also available, but is no substitute for a light meter.
- Magnifying Hoods – Useful if you need more magnification than the loupe integrated in the standard folding hood offers.
- Interchangeable back cover for sheet film – very few around these days
- Sportsfinder Mask for 180mm lens
- Lens Hoods
All in all, the camera offers a very pleasant shooting experience and is suitable for almost all fields of photography. A field in which the camera excels is studio photography. High speed flash sync is a breeze due to the leaf shutter which syncs up to 1/500. Using the camera in the streets, the almost inaudible shutter and inconspicuous hip-level focusing via the ground glass are great features. Due to the wide range of lenses available, you can do architectural work and - to certain degree - action photography. Last but not least, the camera and all the major system components are easy to repair by a trained expert for years to come, as there are no electric components at all.
Price and availability
A lot of these cameras sat in cellars which attacked the leatherette and sometimes caused fungus inside the lenses. I owned a total of 4 C-Series bodies, but only two of them were in acceptable condition. It took me almost a year of intense searching to find lenses in good conditions. I highly recommend to buy the cameras from trusted dealers or to at least inspect them personally before buying. For a camera body in good condition, expect to pay about 300 € without a lens. The prices for the lenses are around 180 €, with the 55mm and 250mm being usually more expensive. Also keep in mind that you might have to spend some money on new light seals and adjustment of the lens shutter.
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