The Mamiya C220: Best Bang for the Buck

My Mamiya C2 is balky at best.  The lens is good, the shutter strong, but it is unreliable in its film advance.  I’m not sure if it’s something I can fix, so rather than send it in and have it repaired, I bid on a C220 on eBay.  I have used the C220 before; it’s a big thing, much larger than other twin-lens reflexes, but it has advantages that make it preferable over other cameras.

First, the film transports straight across the film plane rather than rolling from the bottom of the camera, making loading easier and reducing the possibility that something will get onto the rollers and scratch the film.

Second, the camera has a metered advance and double-exposure protection, so although you have to manually cock the shutter after winding the film, you know that if it lets you shoot you’re not going to double expose.  (Yes, I know that double-exposure is POSSIBLE, but in general use it’s not.)  The C220’s big sister, the C330 — which I do not own — cocks the shutter with the winder as well, but it’s considerably heavier than the C220.  Considering that the lenses are exactly the same, it’s a bit of a no-brainer to get the C220 over the C330.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, the lenses are interchangeable.  This, to me, is important as I like to do many different kinds of shooting and while being stuck with one focal length can be a challenge, sometimes I like having a wide-angle or a telephoto available for more versatility.   Couple that with the fact that the C220 can take any of the wide range of Mamiya TLR lenses (even the very early ones), the bulletproof Seikosha shutters and the beautiful glass, and you have a real winner.

A while back, I took the C220 downtown to play with it.  I don’t shoot it as much as perhaps I should, but here are some images.

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I Quit. Really.

I can’t believe it’s been over a year since I last posted to the blog. I must correct that. It’s been a whirlwind of activity, but not all of it on the photography front. A workplace promotion, more responsibility, more work, and that’s been really refreshing. I like being busy; my ADD brain doesn’t do well with idleness. That’s why I always have something to do with me, whether it be my laptop, a camera, a book to read, or the tablet.

The thing is that I’d grown tired of the same old thing. My 7D is so comfortable in my hand, with the 70-200 2.8L and other lenses, that I was bored. Shooting a wedding is never boring, nor is shooting an event, or a portrait session, but there began to be a certain “sameness” to the images that didn’t float my boat much anymore. I was in a rut. A LARGE rut. Like the rut one of those Tonka-toy quarry trucks would make after a week’s rain. That big a rut.

So… I quit.

No, I didn’t quit photography. I hung up the digitals, and went back to film. I already had a bulk loader, and I bought another one. Filled one with 100 ASA black and white and the other with 400. Rolled a bunch of 35mm cassettes. To give myself a little bit of a push and to get my feet wet in a darkroom again, I signed up for a Photo I class at Estrella Mountain Community College. Even though the poor kid who was playing the part of instructor was so far out of his depth that I ended up doing most of the explaining to other students, it was cathartic to be doing something different to what I had been doing.

My film camera collection is growing, as people find out I collect cameras and offload Dad’s Olympus or Grandpa’s old Kodak onto my blue piano (the primary storage space for display of interesting cameras). I now have probably a hundred or more cameras, most of which can make some semblance of a clicky noise. I am currently shooting mostly black and white and in many different formats, both roll film and sheet film. My primary film of choice is Arista.edu Ultra 100 speed, though I do occasionally shoot 400. I like this stuff — which seems to be private-labelled Fomapan — for a couple reasons. First, it’s inexpensive. Second, the tonal range is beautiful. And last, I can get it in all the formats I shoot: 135, 120, 2.25×3.25, and 4×5. This means I can pretty well predict what the image will look like, and I can develop all formats at the same time in the same chemicals and not have to adjust much. That’s pretty convenient for a relative beginner.

So from here on out I will be writing about my successes and failures, frustrations and encouragements, loves and hates, experiments with different cameras… and sharing negative and print scans as I can. I’m not quite sure how this will end up being organized, but I’m sure as I go along, it’ll come together. So here goes:

The Cameras

As I’ve said, I have probably over a hundred cameras, most of which I have never used. Some of these cameras — the 616s and the 116s and the postcard camera — film is no longer manufactured for, so those cameras will mostly have to sit on the shelf and watch the others have all the fun. The logical place to start, though, was with what I know so well: my Canons. My digital gear is all Canon, so I have two film bodies that are also Canon so I can shoot film using my L-series lenses (the L apparently stands for “luxury,” and they live up to that) and Canon flashes and stuff. The Elan 7e bodies are SOOOOO much lighter than the digitals that it’s almost comical how unbalanced they feel at first, and the 7e is not a high-level body so their performance is somewhat less than the digitals. They do, however, sport one really nifty feature that i wish they had ported over to the megapixel line — the eye-controlled focus. Essentially there’s a small bit of magic in the eyepiece that wathces where your eye is pointing and focuses on that part of the viewfinder. Once it’s calibrated, it’s almost creepy how accurate it is, and I wonder why they didn’t keep that feature around.

So I found some batteries for the cameras and loaded them up and went somewhere to shoot with them. The 2014 Veteran’s Day Parade in downtown Phoenix seemed a pretty good place to start.

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I believe these were shot on Kentmere 100, which is made by Ilford and is a very nice film, and developed in probably Ilford DD-X developer. Good tonal range, good grain. I love the look of schoolmarm disapproval on the face of the woman on camera right.

So overall, it was a success as I now knew the Canons still worked, after many years of sitting idle. It was time to find something else to do with them. But that’ll be for the next installment, so you’ll have to come back and read more.

Fun with Film

I’ve been a camera collector for years. I love the feel of an old camera: the weight and precision of its metal body and lens barrel, the satisfying CHUNK of a mechanical shutter moving, the buzzing of a mechanical self-timer… they just feel right.

People keep giving me cameras because they will never use the old film ones again (if they ever did in the first place).  They multiply like rabbits in my living room, garage, photo equipment closet…  There are cameras everywhere. Most of them work, as far as I know, and so I decided to start actually using them.  I signed up for a film photography class so I could get used to a wet darkroom again, bought some film, and cleaned some very dusty lenses.

So here goes.  I’ll try to give as much information about the individual camera, film, processing, and so on as I can as I go through this.

First to the film.  Since this is more of an experiment than anything, I dug out my old bulk loaders and purchased some Kentmere 35mm bulk film.  For those who do not know Kentmere, it’s produced by Ilford, I believe, and it’s really quite inexpensive. This is perfect for me right now, because I do not want to be worrying about the dollars when running film through a camera that may or may not work.  For the medium format stuff (the 120/220) cameras, I use Kodak Tmax 100.  Tmax has been around forever and it’s always reliable.  Large format, well, I got some Ilford Delta 100 sheet film.

Chemistry is more than a little bewildering, and so initially I went with what we are using in the classroom darkroom: Sprint.  The Sprint stuff seems to work well enough, but I ended up getting a bottle of Ilford fixer (for reasons I’ll explain later) and I just last week got a packet of Ilford Microphen developer, which I’ve used before and I believe will give a little finer grain in the images during processing. If I think about it later, maybe I’ll run a side-by-side test of the two developers using films shot in the same conditions and developed with the different developers. We’ll see.

So, without further ado, on to the cameras!