For those of you that don't know, a TLR camera is also known as a twin lens reflex camera. A TLR has two lenses, both of the same focal length and one is used for taking the image while the other is used for composing the image. The composing lens, also known as the TLR's viewfinder system, is typically a waist level viewfinder. According to Wikipedia, TLRs were first introduced sometime around 1870, primarily to reduce the amount of time it took creating an image. The most iconic of the TLRs is the Rolleiflex. It was introduced to mass market around 1929 and many of the TLRs that came after owe their design to that camera. It was the camera of choice for many past photographers as well as photographers of today. In fact, Vivian Maier, whose amazing photos have been popping up in galleries all over the world the past few years, primarily shot with a Rolleiflex. Once I get my hands on one of these, I'll probably write a number of blog posts, but today I'm going to discuss the Mamiyaflex C2.
Mamiya entered into the TLR business in 1948 with the introduction of a fairly straight forward offering, the Mamiyaflex Junior. They continued to make changes to the design and added more features to each camera that came after the Junior; it wasn't until 1956/1957 that Mamiya went for the professional market with their TLRs. They released the professional series, also known as the C series, with the introduction of the Mamiyaflex C. The major design change to this line and any other TLR at the time was the inclusion of bellows for close focusing and a wide variety of interchangeable lenses. The C model didn't last very long and is extremely rare because Mamiya improved the design with one major change and released the C2 in 1958. This major change was the addition of a second focusing knob; allowing for a left-handed or right-handed photographer to easily focus the camera.
The first thing I noticed about the Mamiyaflex C2 (and any medium format camera from the same era) is its' weight. These cameras were built to last; they're solid, heavy and are a far cry from the Lomography cameras (Holga, Diana F+, Fisheye 2) that I also use. This camera was the second professional medium format kit that I've been able to experiment with. Like my Hasselblad 500 cm, the Mamiyaflex C2 takes 120 film, has a waist level viewfinder, interchangeable lenses and produces a beautiful square image. In addition to the camera, I was given two lenses, an 80mm and a 180mm, to work with. I chose the 180mm because the shutter speeds weren't firing correctly on the 80mm. This was okay in my book because I'm used to shooting with a 150mm on my Hasselblad. After getting my hands on an old manual, it was time to load the camera and create some images. I decided I would start with one of my favorite films, Adox CHS 50; however, the film loading/winding didn't go as I planned and I ended up winding through the entire roll. Without a dark bag or darkroom to rewind the film, I had to switch to another roll. The film loading process isn't particularly hard, it was just a bit different from what I was used to. I popped in a roll of Kodak Tri-X 400 without any issues and I was off.
I split my shooting of this camera in three different locations, spread out over a number of weeks. I shot on an overcast day in a cemetery, a sunny day with some abandoned structures and a day in a low light barn. The camera and film choice performed quite well in all three scenarios. Outside of my Lomography cameras and my 35mm, I typically don't like to hand hold my cameras. I prefer to mount them on a tripod and since I didn't have a camera strap for the Mamiyaflex C2, I opted to stick with that practice. It worked well on a tripod and I'm sure it works just as well for any individual wanting to hand hold or street shoot with it. Overall, I really liked how this camera performed in the field. It was rugged and solid, performed in all situations I tested it in and was easy to use. Below are some of my observations:
- Pay attention to the exposure correction scale on the camera- On the side of the camera, when you extend the bellows for focusing, you'll find an exposure compensation scale etched into the metal. Due to the lens being moved away from the film plane, exposures may need to be altered slightly from the metered scene to compensate for the additional distance. The exposure compensation scale lists the lens size and will give you a corresponding exposure compensation to factor based on the length of the extension. It's very easy to use and in my case I didn't have to refer to it often based on the length of the lens I was using.
- Parallax correction in the viewfinder- In the viewfinder, there are two horizontal lines that run across the top of the screen. These are guidelines for where the top of your image will be. These correspond to the exposure correction scale. The line that will be the top of your image moves lower the higher the exposure correction.
- The viewfinder- The viewfinder on the Mamiyaflex C2 is not as bright as the viewfinder on my Hasselblad. This is my biggest complaint with this camera. My Hasselblad viewfinder is very bright and it's very easy for me to achieve sharp focus; it took more time and multiple looks before I felt the image was focused just as I wanted.
- Provides beautiful bokeh- The Mamiyaflex C2 had wonderful range; Fine details were present with the larger depth of field and the shallow depth of field lent itself to separating the subject from the background and providing Hasselblad quality bokeh.
- The film back can be removed- There were a number of accessories made for the Mamiyaflex C2. In fact, the film back can be removed and replaced with a single exposure plate. I've yet to find one of these lurking around on the net or eBay, but I'm very intrigued as to what size single exposures this camera can take. If I find one, I would love to give it a go.
Overall, I was very impressed with the Mamiyaflex C2. It's a quality medium format camera with a few unique features that has the capability of producing fine images. If you've never shot a TLR before, it takes some getting used to. Once you get the hang of them, they're great cameras. I would recommend the Mamiyaflex C2 to anyone looking to shoot a TLR. It's a sturdy medium format kit that will provide a quality shooting experience. In addition to various accessories, the range of lenses is quite nice and provides you with many shooting options. While it's not a Rolleiflex, it is the perfect camera to get acquainted shooting TLR before you drop the money on a Rollei. Below are a few images from the Mamiyaflex C2:
F22 @ 1/8 second
F5.6 @ 1/125 second
F22 @ 1/125 second
F16 @ 1 second