The Mamiya C330, a dream camera By Dirk Dom

The Mamiya C330, a dream camera

By Dirk Dom

My first encounter with medium format was about 40 years ago, when I bought a Heco Mar underwater housing.

It held a Yashicamat twin lens reflex. There were troubles with the functioning of this camera, it had been flooded, so I never used it. I bought a replacement Yashicamat, but there were changes to be made to make it work in the housing and that never happened.

A TLR has a viewing lens which projects mirror reversed on a ground glass and a taking lens, which projects on film. Advantages are you have no viewfinder block out and you can screw any filter on the taking lens (including a black infrared filter) and you can see everything perfectly.

I took the Yashicamat on vacation to photograph my small kids, but because of the mirror reversal I didn’t manage to take a decent shot. So, for many years I thought TLR’s were not for me.

Switch to about 2005.

I had a Fuji 6×17 camera and was sort of interested in medium format. One day I want to the little used camera shop in the Jezusstraat, Antwerp, where I visited about once a month for no particular reason, you know? Never had a problem with G.A.S.! The owner, my friend Ivo Michelet, told me: “Now I have something special!”.

I knew that would cost money!

This time it was a Mamiya C330 f professional with all seven lenses. He put on the 55mm, racked out the bellows all the way, and when I saw this camera did a 1:1 reproduction ratio I was sold.

Such started my medium format experience. With the Mamiya I took hundreds of shots on Fuji Velvia.

After a few years I got more interested in rangefinders, bought the Mamiya 7 and gave the C330 system to a friend.

About a year ago I got an itch: I wanted the Mamiya C330 back! I started looking and two months ago I found one, in like new condition and with the 80 and 180mm lens, for 350 Euro’s. Grip and some filters and extra gridded ground glass included. I bought the 55mm for €290, new condition, on the German Ebay, some more filters and I had my system again for €700. I’ve been shooting it continuously since, using Kodak Ektar color negative film.

So, now.

The Mamiya C330 is a TLR, 6×6 format, with interchangeable lenses. They go from 55mm (eq. in Full Frame to 28mm) to 250mm ( FF about 125mm). It has bellows focusing, it racks out 60mm, 2 ½ inch.

I have the 55, 80 and 180mm, equivalent to 28, 50 and about a hundred mm in Full Frame.

These lenses are very good. The legend goes that the first generation of these lenses was too sharp and wedding photographers complained to Mamiya, whereupon the company made them a little softer. The 180 especially is remarkable.

A TLR as said has a viewing lens and a taking lens. When you get close, you have parallax. Because of bellows extension less light reaches the film which you have to correct for. In the viewfinder a bar shows correction factor and where the top of the image is, so you can focus and recompose using your imagination.

To get this reading correct, you have to dial in the lens you use in the body:

With the 55 and the 80, the camera focuses very close to 1:1 reproduction ratio. This is sort of unique in medium format. Then a large part of the image disappears. I have almost no problem with this. 6×6 macro is quite beautiful.

55mm, Minimum Distance

The “Paramender” eliminates all parallax by moving the camera upwards the distance between the lenses. Tripod only. I never used it.

The camera has a few interlocks because it’s professional. Like you can only change lenses by putting a knob at “unlock”, which puts a baffle before the lens opening and unlocks the lens release. If you forget to put it at “Lock” again, nothing works and you get very frustrated. You absolutely need to read the manual for this camera! Don’t worry, it’s nothing like digital.

No light meter, completely mechanical. I bought a tiny Gossen Digisix 2. It’s perfect, does both incident and reflective metering. It’s very sensitive and costs about 220 Euro’s.

Now, if you’ve read all this, you’re entitled to some photographs of course!

Handling the camera came completely natural to me, no problem at all with the mirror reverse, which somehow makes for better, more careful composing. The square format is calm, balanced and beautiful.

The viewfinder image is about ten by ten inches big and looks so smooth and bright and colorful and three dimensional I’d photograph everything!

180mm

I did some Images Straight into the Sun

The 180 alone is worth getting this camera; it’s just marvelous!

80mm

The 80mm is a f/2.8. I don’t use normal lenses much. I can easily hand hold the camera to 1/30. The leaf shutter produces the most tiny “click”.

Sunset with Thunderstorm in the Sky

55mm

The 55mm has a very good reputation. It’s a bit expensive. It’s said it is flare prone, so I checked this out. In fact, it’s not bad at all. They also say it is difficult to focus. Not so. The image on the ground glass gets dark in the edges, but I focus in the middle and recompose.

I wish the C330 had something wider, but I have the Mamiya 7 with 43mm lens.

 

 

A bit of flare bottom right and a tiny dot left.

Ahem. Sorry for that last one, but I liked it!

The camera weighs 5.50 pounds with 180mm, 5.10 pounds with 55mm, 5.80 pounds with 80mm. I do 20 mile, 7 hour walks with it. I bought a 2 ½ inch wide neoprene Optech strap ($30) and have no problem at all. I also sling it across my shoulder on bicycle trips. I always go with just one lens, no camera bag. Against the rain I carry a plastic grocery bag.

I bought two 2 stop ND filters, (two diameters) so I can shoot wide open in the sun, minimum shutter time is 1/500.

The 180 is so big in diameter (f/4.5) it only has a 1/64th inch thick rim with the filter thread; (Two lenses have to fit next to each other); you always need to put in a filter or you’ll dent the rim even with very slight bumps, like when you have the camera on your side and graze a wall. The lenses are so close to each other you can’t screw in two normal 49mm filters. Mamiya made filters with a smaller outer diameter, but you can’t find those. I filed off a bit (a plane of about ½ inch long) of the viewing filter, so I can screw in filters to the taking lens. Originally this lens comes with two chrome rings you could screw in, but you don’t often find it with those still there.

The Mamiya uses 120 film, 12 shots a roll, costs about $1 an image. I only shoot what I ‘d print but experiment a lot. I have about 15% keepers. Usually on a walk I carry three films.

Hope you enjoyed this write up!

Dirk.

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15 Comments

  1. Great story, great images – very moody ones, including the last one. That’s pure nature morte.

    Two years ago I returned to chemical medium format photography, and I was torn between a TLR such as the C330 and a New Mamiya 6. I gave the rangefinder with three lenses a go and didn’t regret it. But the C330 is lingering in my mind, and your post is so mouth watering… Thanks for sharing, I like the advanced, elegant style of your photography.

    • Hi!

      I have a Mamiya 7 with 43, 65 and 150mmlens. it’s a spectacular camera.

      I think the Mamiya C330 is more versatile, because I can get extremely close and make exact focus. An important part of why i bought it is te be able to make close ups.

      It’s also cheap. I spent $700 for the camera and three lenses (55, 80 and 180mm) in like new condition plus filters etc. The 55mm was $300, so if you don’t need it, it’s vastly cheaper.

      I suggest you buy one and use both the Mamiya 6 and the C330.

      Dirk.

  2. Beautiful write up, camera an of course, images! Very inspiring. It is nice to see how it evoqued memories from another users. Thanks a lot!

  3. Really fond memories of this outfit. A bright viewfinder easily viewed.
    I loved the camera, the lenses, the concept, the built in bellows.
    The shutters being mechanical sometimes varied between lenses.
    One tested, one knew.
    Extremely sharp lenses, my 180mm for portraits reqd a piece of see thru tape permanently on.
    I needed to sell my images!
    The only drawback was when it was taken out the studio..
    I needed a strong assistant.. sigh.
    I trade it for a Pentax 6×7 which had many advantages.
    WYIWYG and a electronic single shutter, rectangular format.
    I hated it with a passion..
    I prefer the Mamiya c-330 c33 or even the original.
    our photos are very good.

  4. Brings back memories of my Mamiya TLRs. Started with the 220 and ended with the C330f. Never had all seven lenses; think I maxed out at four. I had and used the paramender as well. Moved on to Mamiya 6 and 7 rangefinders, and then a Rollei 2.8F, Hassleblad, etc. Always liked the ground glass viewing. I remember the viewfinder as being closer to 6X6cm. Thanks for posting

  5. I have two C330S bodies and various lenses. When out walking I use a small(ish) Billingham bag with both bodies, one fitted with a 55mm and the other with a 105mm f3.5 DS, the latter lens being unique in that it has an iris and distance scale in the viewing lens, very useful, and very sharp too. I find this covers 90% of my needs, but agree that the 180 is a superb optic.

    Excellent article and fabulous pictures.

  6. You also mistyped the size of the screen. 10 cm instead 10 inches! So 4 inches is about correct.
    Always like your articles!

    • Hi,

      The screen is 6x6cm, but you look at it through a magnifier. that makes it about ten inches big.

      Without using the magnifier the image is too small to focus etc.

      For action you can prefocus and open up a hole in the front of the chimney above the screen. then you can aim without the mirror reversal.

      there also is a prism finder which produces a straight image.

      Dirk.

  7. Hi!
    I mistyped the weights.
    5.50 pounds with the 180
    4.80 pounds with the 80
    4.10 pounds with the 55

    Sorry,

    Dirk.

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