We left the office on a beautiful summer day in Tampere, Finland. Monday isn't so bad on days like this, especially if you get to spend some time outside.
Nico, in his full gear for filming, lamented the heat and the long walk we had planned, but I wasn’t stressing too much about it even though I had a 6x7 camera.
“How is that possible,” you may ask, “I thought 6x7 cameras were huge, expensive, or both!”.
Most of the time, you'd be right. But not today.
Today I was blessed with arguably the most compact modern 6x7 camera, the Plaubel Makina 670. This ribbed, plastic, collapsible bellows camera commands a premium price on the used market for many reasons, including its low weight and small size.
Basically, I felt comfortable carrying it all day. If I had, say, a Pentax 67 (1810g without a lens) or Mamiya RB67 (2690g), I’d be rethinking our walk through the forest or switching to a bigger camera bag. But in terms of size and weight, the Makina (1417g) is more like a professional 35mm camera than other 6x7 cameras.
Even with the low weight, though, I was still worried. Not only was this a new camera to me, but I was expected to talk about it on camera as we walked and shot. Even with my semi-exhaustive note-taking, it felt like a daunting task. Like many photographers, I’m behind the camera at least partly out of fear of being in front of it.
I rehearsed my lines as we walked the lakeside paths of Lapinniemi, a small & peaceful residential neighborhood.
But the idea of making camera knowledge accessible to the public excites me, so when the red light on Nico’s BlackMagic flickered on, I started reciting the history of the Plaubel Makina.
Plaubel made press cameras called Makinas as early as 1912, and the company developed a reputation for quality and innovation. These cameras were leagues ahead of the competition.
Fast forward to 1975, when Japanese company Doi purchased Plaubel with the intention of making a new medium format camera. They wanted to revive the Makina name with a collapsing rangefinder for the modern age.
Their first prototype, the Makinette 67, had a pop-up viewfinder and a number of other quirky features that wouldn’t make it to production. The Nikon 80mm f2.8 lens used in the prototype, though, would go on to be part of the final design.
It’s a sleek, plastic, rounded 70s design with a huge front lens plate, large fonts, and other design features that give it quite a timeless aesthetic, in my opinion.
An interesting side story is the relationship between the Plaubel Makina 67 and the Agfa Optima Sensor. These two cameras share more than a few design cues despite being completely different sizes. They look like a big and little brother. So how did this happen?
Basically, the German designer of the Plaubel worked at the same school as the designer of the Agfa. So at the very least, the two designers were cut from a similar cloth and surrounded by similar influences.
The similarities in design, however, may have caused Plaubel to switch things up. In 1981, the Makina W67 updated the aesthetics and added a wide-angle, 55mm f4.5 Nikkor lens. The changes include a ribbed camera body, a slightly less round body, and a square rangefinder patch.
These aesthetic changes, as well as some internal improvements, made their way to the main camera in 1984 with the release of the Plaubel Makina 670 that now hung around my neck.
Rauhaniemi (Using the Camera)
As we reached the sauna at Rauhaniemi, Nico was starting to sweat. His rig included a heavy backpack, and the heat was not being kind to him. Luckily, Rauhaniemi is lakeside, so we had a nice breeze and cool water nearby if he needed to jump into the lake.
It’s also the perfect place to test cameras. No matter the season, this area offers beautiful views and peaceful trails. I used it for my review of the Yashica Electro 35 in the fall. It’s much, much, much greener now than it was in November.
So there I was, loading up the Makina 670 with Portra 800. I was shooting it at 400 ISO because I tend to get nicer results a bit overexposed, and to open up my creative possibilities a bit. 800 ISO doesn't mix well with a sunny day.
We overlooked Rauhaniemi's marina from the forest, which provided very nice options for framing the boats and the lake. It's also quite a difficult scene to meter, with intense shadows and bright highlights.
I was very impressed with the photos from the Makina. The lens is incredibly sharp and delivers punchy contrast. Normally I'd add a bit of sharpening in post-processing, but the Plaubel's lens is so sharp that it's unnecessary.
The light meter also handled this scene quite well, although I did bring the highlights down a little. Assumedly the meter is a pretty standard center-weighted affair.
Extending and collapsing the lens felt fragile at first, though. The camera has some weight to it, but I didn't trust the plastic outer shell. Even if the Plaubel is a metal camera in a plastic shell, I had trust issues from previous plastic cameras.
Add to that the fact that you have to slightly pull the lens out before you collapse it, and an inexperienced shooter may feel like they’re about to break the camera.
I’ve used folding cameras before, though, so I got used to it quite quickly. And it's hard to argue with the results from the Makina. They just look great.
As we walked by people swimming at the beach and the boats sitting in the marina, it felt comfortable. My hands learned the appropriate amount of force to apply. After that, the mechanism was pretty smooth.
After the marina we entered the forest proper. The paths here are well-maintained, and it’s nowhere near “wilderness”, but having access to nature only 15 minutes from the city center is a blessing. I’ve lived here almost a year, and I’m still not used to it.
I’m also not used to the mosquitos. I did grow up with them, but the Finnish ones attack me even more than the US ones. As soon as I stand still, they buzz around my legs. Awful things. Luckily, the Plaubel Makina 670 is a pretty quick camera to use.
The rangefinder patch is quite big and bright, which made it a breeze to lock focus on the closer post in this shot.
I set the shutter speed beforehand and adjusted the aperture to suit the needs of the scene. At 1/500s, the max shutter speed of the camera, I was mostly using apertures between f5.6 and f16. With a camera this big, no matter how light it is, I probably wouldn’t drop the shutter speed below 1/125s without bracing the camera on something.
Even though this was a new camera to me, pretty soon I was operating it so quickly that Nico had to tell me to slow down so that he could get footage of me using it. It mostly became second nature.
One feature that I appreciate about the Makina is the back-mounted meter button. A lot of cameras activate the meter when the shutter button is half-pressed, or when the shutter is cocked, but the Plaubel goes with a different approach. There’s a small button on the back of the camera (right under where your thumb sits!) that activates the light meter.
I’m a fan of this design choice, even though it’s technically an extra step. The meter itself, though, is less impressive.
It’s a pretty basic 3 LED setup, with a red “+” for overexposure, a red “-” for underexposure, and a green “•” for correct exposure. It’s nice to have the correct exposure LED be a different color, but I had more trouble reading these LEDs than some other cameras with similar systems. The LEDs seemed to disappear when I wasn’t looking at the exact correct angle.
That being said, though, the meter was accurate in almost every situation. Even in bright light, it did a good job. I just wish it were a bit easier to read.
Another polarizing feature of this camera is the advance mechanism. It’s dual stroke. The original Makina 67 was single stroke, but the Plaubel Makina 670 requires two turns of the advance lever between each shot.
The Fujica GM670 I've been using is also dual-stroke, so I'm used to it. It's still not as fast, though. Assumedly, the single stroke design had issues with reliability and the dual stroke system does not.
I stood on a rock overlooking the lake, with two thin pine trees in front of me. A boat was driving by in the distance, so I held the camera to my eye to capture it alongside the tops of the trees. Framing the Plaubel Makina 670 is a breeze for me, as the viewfinder is large, pretty bright, and built for the 40mm equivalent Nikon lens. An ideal focal length for me.
The shutter snapped just as the boat reached the spot in frame where I wanted it, and I felt satisfied.
Looking back, I'm quite happy with the shot. You may notice some vignetting on the shots with a lot of sky, but that's present with almost any camera/lens combination. The corner-to-corner sharpness and color rendition is what sets this lens apart.
Nico told me again to slow down so he could film me shooting, but this was a timed shot! I needed to get it done before the boat left the scene. I acquiesced, though, and went through the motions of taking another shot to placate my filming partner. That’s when I realized that I had forgotten to focus on the previous shot.
This is my least favorite thing about the Plaubel Makina 670. The focus ring is attached to the advance lever. I just never really meshed with this system. Perhaps over time it would become easier, but in my one day with the Makina I had to remind myself to focus with every shot.
It bothers me even more because I know it wasn’t necessary. Other 6x7 cameras, like the Fujica GM670 I’ve used for the past two years, have traditional lenses with rotating barrels. Other folding cameras, like the Fujica GS645, have a small focusing tab on the end of the lens.
Even though the Plaubel is small for a 6x7 camera, it is still quite large. I had to slide my hand up, down, and around to adjust focus and then fire the camera. The top-mounted shutter button doesn’t help this. I’ve been spoiled by the ingenious front-mounted shutter of the Fujica GM670. The Plaubel (and every other camera) could benefit from a front-mounted shutter.
Aside from its slightly uncomfortable position, the focus wheel is quite small and the throw is short, making it harder to achieve critical focus. Combine this with a relatively short rangefinder base and it can be hard to nail focus at f2.8, when depth of field is razor-thin.
But we walked onwards, towards Kauppi.
Kauppi (Thoughts & Things to Remember)
Kauppi has a small public beach, a sauna, and an equipment rental building. Visitors can rent kayaks and paddleboards in the summer and ice skates in the winter. It’s a favorite local spot, and we even ran into a friend about to kayak in the lake!
Nico was easy to spot with his humongous camera rig. I guess it’s pretty rare to see people like that wandering the Finnish woods. I had to snap a portrait for fun as as well as to showcase the depth of field at f2.8. Nico's ears are in focus, but his eyes aren't. That's shallow!
We sat at the sauna for a bit, watching kayaks and swimmers enjoy a perfect Finnish summer day. There are far worse places to be on a Monday morning!
Here I thought about the camera I had been using. It felt solid and reliable despite the folding mechanism, and the rangefinder patch was big and bright. The patch was actually what reminded me that I needed to turn the focus knob.
Speaking of the focusing knob, remember to set it to infinity before closing the camera. If you don’t, you risk breaking the cable that controls the light meter. It isn’t a death sentence, though, since the shutter itself is mechanical. It is, though, quite a bummer to break something that you invested a lot of money into. Just something to keep in mind!
Other than the focusing knob, I did enjoy the Plaubel Makina 670. It’s a truly impressive camera, fitting a massive, fast Nikon lens into a truly compact body. Assuming that was the goal, the Makina is a wild success and a camera worth its price tag.
It certainly did a good job capturing the beauty of Finnish summer! If I wasn't working, I bet I would have joined these people in the lake. Maybe next time.
While it doesn’t offer the versatility of an SLR system, or even an interchangeable lens rangefinder, the Makina offers a unique blend of image quality and size that almost no other camera can compete with.
So that’s that. If you’re looking for a compact 6x7 rangefinder with uncompromising image quality and have some cash to spend, the Plaubel Makina 670 is the camera for you.