Sometime around 2012, my brother gave me his Yashica mat when I was doing a lot of traveling and photography. I was eager to try medium format after shooting 35mm and large format for a few years and was enthralled with Vivian Maier. I loved the negatives that came from the Yashica Mat, but it was never the camera I was excited about. Whether it was the form factor, TLR layout, or EV meter style, I never used it but a handful of times. Every time I opened the back to load it, it would flip upside down on my strap and hang wide open, with all its mechanical guts on display.

My interest in landscapes and the necessity of a larger negative drove me to look for an alternative. I have never been the rangefinder type, so fortunately I could avoid the hefty price tag associated with a Mamiya 6 or 7. I looked for a medium format SLR, and Bronica first came to mind. The restrictive square aspect ratio of 6×6 seemed different and interesting, but I felt overwhelmed by options. The interchangeable platform certainly provides a multitude of accessories, and I was hesitant about an older complicated camera that would likely need repair.

Enter the Mamiya RB67 Pro S. It is also an SLR system camera, so the pieces are modular; the viewfinder, body, lens, and back are all interchangeable. While (arguably) more complicated than a TLR, broken parts can be easily replaced, and film stocks are swappable with removable backs. I’ve heard multiple times that when the camera was introduced in 1970, its rotating back system nearly put Hasselblad out of business. Truly, after six months it is something I would not want to do without.

If you have heard anything about an RB or RZ, you have heard of its bulk. Everything about an RB67 is serious. Its heft is significant. The bellows are reminiscent of wooden large format cameras. The lenses are around three inches in diameter. The mirror slap is heavy and oh-so satisfying. The two-step cocking and advance mechanisms constantly reminds you that each frame is important.

I’ll admit this is not a fast camera. It’s lack of metering and independent shutter and film advance require a photographic style that really dignifies each roll of ten frames. I have found it  faster to fire away multiple frames while leaving the darkslide out, but you naturally risk light leaks. Certainly not the thing to do in bright sunlight. Indeed, its weight of nearly six pounds is considerable, I find its general form factor the most imposing feature.

Indeed, the RB67 is in the realm of large format conspicuous. Bystander comments shift from the menial to the realm of confusion and awe. While this does make a terrific tripod-bound studio camera, I highly suggest a heavy padded strap and wearing it over the shoulder. The sheer image quality simply begs for you to carry it, but this is not a camera to be supported just hanging from your neck.

To be clear, any expectation of hand carrying this beast is ludicrous. To do so and complain of its weight is the same as saying the grand canyon is a hole in the ground. This camera was never designed or intended to be used in that fashion.

At first glance some features might seem strange, like the shutter in the lens or the darkslide. But with time, these quirks show their contribution to a fascinating ingenuity. For example, the camera won’t fire the shutter with the darkslide in place, nor is the darkslide removable with the film back separated from the camera body. There must be an elaborate mechanical interlock system that prevents such atrocities, without sacrificing simple disassembly of the camera system.

Taking long exposures seems intuitive at first glance, but therein lies another quirk. A small knob will allow the massive mirror to flip up prior to releasing the shutter, and each lens offers a trigger shutter release. But this trigger setting doesn’t behave like the setting on your typical SLR. Instead of opening and closing when the release is actuated, it just stays open from the first time it is engaged. To close the shutter, the mirror lockup knob can be reset, or the big shutter cocking lever can be actuated just a little amount. I haven’t found either method of closing the shutter to cause a great deal of camera shake, but I would still suggest a gentle touch.

My camera is blessed with a Mamiya Sekor C 140mm f/4.5 macro, which is around 70mm or so in 35mm equivalent. From my experience with this stack of glass, I would trust all RB lenses are grotesquely sharp. Their proprietary lens connection is simple: just line up the red dots, put the lens onto the body, and rotate the knurled bayonet ring clockwise to tighten. Since the leaf shutter is internal to the lens itself, both the aperture and shutter speed are set on the lens body. Though I haven’t tested it myself, flash sync appears to work at all shutter speeds.

These multiple marked rings on these lenses are a bit daunting. Closest to the body of the camera is an exposure compensation ring, followed by shutter speed, aperture, and finally a floating element. A close focus is achievable with any lens of the system due to the bellows, which makes this camera terrific for macro work.

There is a division among photographers as to whether the earlier C type lenses are inferior to the later K/L models. I have not found any shortcomings with my C lens but do be aware of the price and compatibility differences.

I do highly recommend you try an RB, at the very least to experience the delightful sound of the shutter release.


Thank you again Mark for your detailed review.
You can see Mark’s Instagram here. His website is coming soon and hopefully more articles.

– JF