Sunday, April 16, 2017

Mamiyaflex II

There is not a lot of information on line about the early Mamiya twin lens reflex cameras and not many examples of pictures made with the cameras.  I think the reason for that is that the Mamiya line of cameras underwent very rapid development during the early post-war years and the beginning of the line like my Mamiyaflex II got left behind as photographers discovered the later C-line of tlr cameras with their many innovations and capabilities.

I have not made many pictures with my Mamiyaflex II either, but I hope to remedy that over time.  I was initially not very impressed with the camera's performance when I first acquired it at a local garage sale a couple years ago.  Since then, though, I've decided that my dissatisfaction with the images from the Mamiyaflex was due more to poor technique on my part rather than any deficiency in the camera.  In fact, the camera's feature set is quite competitive with others of the period; it has auto frame spacing and shutter cocking coupled to the film advance and a pretty nice pair of coated lenses.  I took a walk around Old Town Albuquerque recently with the camera loaded with Kodak Tri-X which I processed in HC-110, semi-stand.

bicycle shop
Grey Dog Trading
sculpture garden
The Mamiyaflex represented an odd detour for the Japanese camera industry. Before and after WWII, Mamiya mostly followed the industry trend of producing some very nice copies of German medium-format cameras. In 1951, however, Mamiya produced a close copy of an American tlr, the Kodak Reflex. It seems likely the presence of great numbers of U.S. military personell in the country had an important bearing on the source of Mamiya's design decision, and it must also have raised some eyebrows at Kodak. Mamiya also followed Kodak's lead by introducing an upgraded second model in 1952, the Mamiyaflex II, which incorporated auto-shutter cocking and and an auto-film advance counter.

Photographers today looking to shoot a medium-format tlr will particularly appreciate the Mamiya's capacity to accept standard 120 film, as opposed to the now-obsolete 620 Kodak. While shutter operation and focusing smoothness compare very favorably with Kodak's tlr, the optics of the Mamiya seem to me to be a little less sharp.

It is not surprising that the Mamiya Sekor lens could not achieve quite the sharpness of the four-element Kodak Anastar, which was one of the great lenses of the era. It is a little hard to fathom, though, why Mamiya did not choose to brighten the screen image of its reflex with the addition of a Fresnel intensifier as was the case in the Kodak Reflex II. It may just be that Mamiya saw that the design strategy embodied in the Reflex II tradition was a dead-end, and that the path to success was much more likely to point in the direction of new ideas which would be incorporated in their innovative press cameras and the extraordinary C-line of twin-lens cameras.

The Mamiyaflex II Manual is at the Butkus site. 


JR Smith said...

Love the bicycle shop shot. This film/developer combination seems to hit the sweet spot for me. And I don't know...this old Mamiya lens looks pretty darn sharp to me.

Mike said...

I thought these turned out pretty well with the semi-stand processing. I actually preferred the tones I got with the Arista Edu Ultra 400 over the Tri-X, but it is hard to make meaningful comparisons unless you are shooting the same subject with the same lighting conditions. My only real complaint with the camera is the rather dull viewing screen. Mamiya offered a large hood accessory which could be placed on top of the view screen, but it looks like it would be kind of awkward in use. Might be worth rigging up something like that, however, just to see how effective it might be. I could also stop procrastinating about cataract surgery, which would likely make all my old cameras work better.

JR Smith said...

Well, I can recommend the surgery. I had it in November. Prior that, there were cameras that I could no longer use. Worse than that, driving at night was almost impossible. is clear...better than 20/20...night driving is just fine...and I put all of my diopter correction lenses away. Amazing to be able to see again and enjoy all of my old photographic relics.

Jim Grey said...

I always love to see your light/shadow work, like Grey Dog Trading. But Bicycle Shop in particular has an almost 3D effect to it; I believe I can touch the wall and feel its texture.