A few weeks ago I finally decided to try out my Mamiya RB67 medium format film camera for the first time. It's been basically laying in a box since I bought it about a year and a half ago. I suppose one thing that had kept me from trying it out was how cumbersome it is to carry around. This is one heavy camera. And it took me a while to find a shoulder strap to fit the camera. But with autumn here with its yellow, orange and reds it felt like the perfect time to load up the Mamiya with some Kodak Porta 400 film and head out for a walk.
The Mamiya RB67 is not a camera for quickly capturing moments. This is a tool of slow actions. It doesn't have a light meter so you need to find some other method of checking the light (in my case I used an app on my phone that worked surprisingly well), you need to both wind the film AND cock the shutter after each shot, and with only ten shots on one roll of film you really need to take your time to get the focus and everything else right every time so as to not lose a shot.
My little walk with the camera turned into an almost four hour trek. Using a shoulder bag to carry the camera in turned out to be a pretty big misstake, since all that weight fell on just one shoulder, and I was pretty sore afterwards. So that's one thing to keep in mind for my next outing with the Mamiya.
After about an hour I had yet to take a single picture, reluctant to waste a shot with so few available on the roll. But when I finally took my first photo I got into it a bit more and started seeing compositions left to right. The first image I took is the one above.
Focusing with the Mamiya was very precise using the bellows and the built in magnifying glass over the viewfinder. So as long as I kept the camera steady I never really had any problems getting the focus spot on. And looking into that giant medium format viewfinder is almost like being inside the image itself.
Perhaps the best photo I took was one that didn't get captured on film. Before going out to shoot I thought that I had twelve shots on the roll, so I took twelve photos, only to realize later that the RB67 only gets ten shots. Oh well.
I was really exited to get the pictures back from development, since I didn't have any idea whether or not the camera worked. Luckily, and to my great joy, when I opened the package from the developers the film definitely had pictures on it. AND I had pretty much nailed the exposure on all of the photos. Sadly though, a lot of the photos had been somewhat ruined by light leaks in the camera.
The good news is that the light leaks are fixable, and I've ordered a light seal replacement kit from Japan.
There's a lot of things to like about the Mamiya RB67. The wonderful and precise way of focusing, the detail and smooth bokeh you can get, the way it forces you to slow down and think about your subject and composition, and all its clever little features (like not being able to fire the shutter without removing the dark slide). The obvious negatives are its cumbersome build, how few shots you get on a roll of film, and the amount of effort you have to go to for each and every shot. You wouldn't bring this camera along on a vacation or when just walking about town.
But then again, if you did you might just find some pictures you never found before.