Camera Geekery: Plaubel Makina 67

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by Michael Nguyen /

6 min read
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Camera Geekery: Plaubel Makina 67

It was the spring of 2008 and I was aimlessly exploring the grounds of Shinjuku Gardens when I spotted a round sunglasses wearing old man with a moustache and those distinctive tips in his hair. It was the legend himself Nobuyoshi Araki doing the same, albeit with a peculiar hunk of metal and glass around his neck that I had never seen before. That was my introduction to the Plaubel Makina 67.

At each other’s throats in WWI but homies since the sequel, the bromance and collaborative efforts between zee Germans and Japanese can be said to have amounted to less than stellar benefits to humanity.
Until 1975 when Kimio Doi of the Japanese Doi Group purchased the rights to produce the Plaubel Makina from Frankfurt-based German camera maker Plaubel & Co.
I kid of course. However, there’s no denying the resulting feat of engineering is the stuff legends are made of and the story of it’s development has no lack of interesting subplots as well.

Background History

Doi was an avid collector and enthusiast and purchased Plaubel with the hopes of producing his ideal camera. Plaubel had already made a “Makinette 67” prototype to base the new camera off and was already equipped with a Nikkor 80mm 2.8 lens. Doi outsourced the production of the new Makina 67 body to Konica and friend/chief designer Yasuo Uchida led the design team with assistance from Professor Udo M. Geissler of the industrial design department of the Technical University of Munich.

Uchida did his best to persuade Doi to use a Konica lens for the camera however Doi did not relent, having already paid Nikon for the development of the 80mm f2.8 lens specially for the Makina 67. Uchida asked for a copy of the lens for testing, and legend has it that he was blown away by the results.
Aside from the body design, Uchida now considers the Nikkor lens the distinguishing feature of the camera.

Interestingly in a 2017 interview, Uchida stated that he butted heads with Geissler on the exterior design, particularly the size of the lens face. Uchida wanted to keep it as small as possible but Geissler wanted it as large as possible. Geissler refused to budge and Uchida yielded in the end and the rest is history.

Another point of contention was that Doi wanted to equip the Makina 67 with trendy at the time automatic exposure.  Uchida refused, as he wanted to target professionals using slide film, where correct exposure is critical, and AE tech at the time was not accurate enough in this regard. Uchida would win on this front.

The redesign closely resembled the Agfa Optima Sensor Series which is not surprising due to the fact that Professor Geissler and Professor Norbert Schlagheck of the design firm Schlagheck & Schultes were from the same industrial design department of the University of Munich! [1]

The redesigned Makina 67 made its debut at Photokina 1978, and released in March 1979. Little known fact: Actual production was made by an affiliated company of Copal. Makina 67s were equipped with Copal #0 leaf shutters within the Nikkor lens and then in 1981 the manufacturer was changed to another close acquaintance in Mamiya who were able to step up production. [2] An interesting tale and look into the creative process and the compromises necessary.

Tech Specs

  • shutter : Copal No.0 mechanical leaf shutter
  • lens : Nikkor 80mm F2.8, 4 groups / 6 elements (different design from usual Gauss type)
  • film : type 120 film, 6cm x 7cm format, 10 shots
  • minimum focus distance : 1m
  • focusing : coupled rangefinder, baseline length: 65mm (effective baseline length : 42mm)
  • finder : brightline, auto parallax correction
  • light meter : GPD cell, capable range : EV3-18,battery : two SR44 type cells
  • size : height 115mm x width 162mm x depth 56.5mm
  • weight : 1250g

Interesting Features

Well thought out design features with great craftsmanship abound. I love the latches on this camera. From the back door to the film spool latches, they are solid and gives that comforting sense of reassurance.

Aperture and shutter speed are controlled by adjacent rings on the “top” of the lens. Yes, it’s a mind f**k in the beginning and takes some getting used to.

 

ISO/ASA is set by a thin ring on the opposite side/bottom of the lens. It does succumb to movement when adjusting aperture and shutter speeds when you’re not careful.

Focusing is controlled by a dial combined with the film advance lever and shutter release button. The initial impression is insanity but when you are able to focus, shoot and advance with just one hand, it’s a sublime realization.

Impressions

Portability has always been a caveat for medium film shooters which is one of the main reasons the Plaubel Makina 67 and Mamiya 6/7 enjoyed their wild popularity. Here they are, the best portable medium format cameras ever made side by side.

With the lens collapsed it’s not that much thicker than a Leica M body as you can see here.

But what is included with this motility is a stellar lens. The 80mm Nikkor may not be as tack sharp as the Mamiya’s 80mm lens but you you get 2.8 wide open versus 4. You can’t of course change the lens like on the Mamiya but I personally have no desire to. You get a wonderfully subtle balance of sharpness, tonality and depth of field. The following sample shots were taken on Cinestill 800 and JCH Streetpan 400.

There’s a learning curve for focusing as mentioned earlier. Focusing with a dial on the film advance lever is not intuitive for most of us used to SLR ergonomics. Like all habits it takes time to shake, especially in spontaneous moments where the hesitation from thinking is detrimental to timing. After some time practicing with zone focusing you’ll soon discover fine focusing, shooting and advancing the film with one hand is a God send.

The Plaubel Makina 67’s finder is a thing of beauty. Big, clear, and uncluttered it’s arguably one of the best finders ever made, period. Personally though, I preferred the rangefinder patch of the Mamiya 6/7. I found the patch on the Mamiyas more contrasty and easier to see. For me, the orangey tint and soft edges of the Makina patch gets lost in bright daylight sometimes.

As I liked the grip of the Mamiyas, the flatness of the Makina was not too much of an issue ergonomically since the weight is so well balanced. A point of contention though is the design choice to implement bellows. Of course having them allows for the compact collapsible design but the trade off is the slight awkwardness of holding the lens part with your left hand when shooting. Almost 40 year old bellows aren’t exactly the most robust and significant care should be observed.

A little detail I particularly appreciated is that while the Makina has a built in meter, it doesn’t show in the finder unless you hold the meter button to the right of the eye piece. It keeps things simple and uncluttered and oh yeah the spot meter is quite accurate too.

The biggest downfall of the camera for me is the 1/500th max shutter speed. Not ideal for heavy action and you’ll be forced to bring filters for shooting wide open in the day.

Conclusion

After a weekend of finally being able to shoot one for an extended time, I’m satisfied to know for myself that the legends are true. The quality, portability, and design boxes are all checked. A little wise old green alien once said “You must unlearn what you have learned” and if you takes those words to heart when it comes to setting the camera, you’ll enjoy the versatility the Plaubel Makina 67 has to offer. It’s a refreshing experience and can admirably handle a variety of situations short of a lot of quick action. It’s no wonder these beauties are in such high demand, even today. Aside from the rising costs of film and that repairs are limited and expensive, I don’t really know anyone who has regretted owning one and now I know why.

MN

 

6 comments on “Camera Geekery: Plaubel Makina 67”

    tofufuto May 8, 2018 at 7:42 pm / Reply

    Shush! Don’t hype up this awesome camera. It’ll make the price go up before I can buy another one as backup! Jokes aside, completely agree with your views on this camera. It takes some getting used to but I’ve never adored the design of a camera as much as I adore the Makina 67. And agree with your view on the finder as well. Used mine for years with a hazy vf and rf but just got it serviced recently and the camera tech completely replaced the rf and cleaned the vf and its just amazing to use now.

    Its unfortunate that Plaubel in Germany no longer services them but the key issues with this camera can be avoided with careful use (gently advancing the winder / retracting the lens etc).

    Frank Petronio May 8, 2018 at 10:13 pm / Reply

    Of course you’re leaving out the flimsiness of the “X” bars and if you are at all clumsy (like me) a modest bump into a wall will misalign the lens and necessitate an expensive cycle of repair and film checking the focus accuracy. You can probably guess how I know this.

    Wonderful cameras but my all-time champs are the Fuji GW-series with very sharp lenses, great finders, and far more robust construction than either the Makina or Mamiyas.

    The shutter/aperture ring mechanism is little different than Rolleiflex TLRs or older medium format folders (Ikontas, etc.)

    Douglas Despres May 9, 2018 at 2:20 pm / Reply

    Ditto for the love of this camera – spent 2.5 weeks with it on family farms in Western Cuba in February and it was wonderful to use. Many of the images shine to a new level because of this camera.

    Johan May 9, 2018 at 10:53 pm / Reply

    Dude I can’t believe you actually saw Araki in person. Very jealous!

    Ed May 13, 2018 at 1:21 am / Reply

    I’ve had one for years an its my all time favourite camera. Here’s a quick video (not made by me) on how to tune in the rangefinder if it goes out. I found it super useful!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uFFn7DyymJE

    Dan June 11, 2018 at 2:09 am / Reply

    Frank Petronio, I’m with you 100% on the Fuji GW series vs the options mentioned in this article.

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