The Mamyia Six is a little known WWII hero that can produce a powerful image that Mamiya's are known for and an image that is much like the legendary Holga.
As I sat in a warm cozy antique filled coffee shop in Newmarket New Hampshire, I was completely content eating my bagel and drinking a cup of tea. The coffee shop/bookstore was completely filled to the brim of old CDs, books, cameras, 8-track players, movie cameras, turntables, reel to reel recorders, Polaroids; you name it, they have it. But then a menacing looking camera that sat upon one of the filled bookshelves caught my eye. It was true love at first sight. I asked the clerk how much for the old camera that’s been sitting there for years that no body’s going to use. I was expecting the standard New England antique owner’s response where the owner quotes a ridiculous price because you know that you want to buy the item as much as they want to keep it and look at it. After the response “How much do you want to pay” was uttered, I happily emptied my light “student’s wallet” and walked away with a full stomach and a new medium format toy.
Mamyia released this camera’s first model during World War II and continued to release newer and newer versions, totaling to 12 different models, until producing the last version in 1955. All of these models featured a folding lens, used the rangefinder focusing system, and took 120 film. I happened to grab the 1st version also known as the Mamyia Six I. I’m guessing it was probably a semi professional camera at the time.
The front of the camera is equipped with a nice Roico III lens with a lens ratio of 1:3:5. Its shutter speeds range from 1/200 to 1 second to bulb and it even features the ever useful (said with dripping sarcasm) “T” setting. You will also find right above the lens the eyes for the different kind of viewfinders and rangefinders. The shutter and aperture controls are attached to the lens which is very common on folding cameras. On the top plate you have the focusing distance, the button to open the folding lens, and the film advance. If you find one of the first three models, Mamiya Six I, II, and III, you will also find a handy dandy waist lever viewfinder.
So I learned all about this camera, how to use it, what it’s parts are, all the essentials. So I load up my first roll and head out to go take some pictures with it. When I began to use this camera I assumed it would be a feeling similar to a TLR or a Hassleblad type camera. But something was all wrong. It felt… different. First of all mine was pretty beat up. The rangefinder and waist level viewfinder were broken forcing me to shoot from the hip and focus by estimation. The aperture blades got stuck frequently and I was forced to use high apertures. I aimed and fired my first picture of the town hall. Not having my light meter I snapped another one at an even higher aperture just for fun. Then another mistake hit me. I just took two shots over each other. A double exposure. No internal restraint from the camera warned me not to do so. Then it clicked. This was no professional medium format camera feeling at all. This reminded me of my Holga.
So I did a bit more research and poking and prodding at the camera and found out these things. The winder didn’t have to be exact movement between frame to frame. The winding knob and the shutter were completely unrelated to each other. Multiple exposures are encouraged by this disconnect between the winding and the taking. With this rangefinder broken, which I have heard breaks somewhat easily, it’s like focusing on a Diana, LC-A, or Holga. They give you the numbers and it’s your guess from there. When you use the camera without the pressure plate you get rough edges and no straight borders. And did I forget to mention the fact that the camera takes 120 film!? Light leaks abound my friend!
All around this camera was totally not what I expected and it has been a great pleasant surprise. The imperfections are amazingly ironic at times and this camera can give you some crazy results. So if you find yourself in some odd place and a camera like this grabs your eye, make sure you pick it up as your new friend!
Thanks to the folks at Camerapedia.org for some handy information!