This Mamiya RZ67 guide is slightly different from our “Brief Overview” series. Here, we’ll be focusing more on the actual use of the camera and provide some tips and hints about buying your own. There will be a more technical, detailed, and historical article on the RB/RZ system coming soon, but if you’re looking to buy your own RZ67, this article is for you!
What is a Mamiya RZ67?
In case you aren’t familiar with the Mamiya RZ67, here is a brief summary. The RZ67 system is a small line of modular SLR-style medium format film cameras. This means they have interchangeable film backs, lenses, prisms, and other accessories! Depending on the setup, the RZ67 can shoot multiple film formats as well.
The RZ67 was a followup to the ever-popular RB67, which debuted in the early 1970s. The main appeal of the RZ67 is that its 6×7 format (56×69.5mm) is nearly 5 times larger than normal 35mm film, and its customizable nature means it can be configured to suit almost any photographic need.
Mamiya RZ67 Series Overview
Before we get into the different models of the RZ67 and what sets them apart from one another, it’s important to get a sense of the series as a whole. The cameras are much more similar than they are different, and an untrained eye might not even be able to spot the differences!
First off, the RZ67 is an electronically-controlled camera. This is a significant difference from the earlier RB67, which was fully mechanical. This means that the RZ67 is dependent on a battery to function, and will not work without one.
Why does this matter? Well, electronics are normally where things go wrong in unfixable ways. Even with the exceptional, professional-grade build quality of the Mamiya RZ67 , the film community retains its strong anti-electronics sentiment. Some of it is for good reason, as many popular cameras (especially compacts) have developed a reputation for “spontaneous failure”.
The issue with electronic failure is that it’s much more difficult to repair. With an RB67, our mechanics can replace, adjust, & clean the mechanical connection as necessary. With the electronic RZ, however, an issue may require replacing a circuit board or doing electrical work. Mamiya doesn’t make these boards anymore. Eventually we’ll run out of these spare parts, and they’re much harder to replicate than simple mechanical ones.
That said, the RZ67 has the unique advantage of being a modular camera. An electronic failure will only require replacing one part of the camera, usually the body itself. It’s not much solace for people who are mourning the loss of a precious camera, but it’s much cheaper and easier to replace just one part than it would be to replace everything.
If your RZ67 stops working, you can reuse your film backs, lenses, prisms, and other accessories! Let’s talk about those accessories a bit!
Just like it’s predecessor, the RB67, the RZ67 has interchangeable, rotating film backs that allow for customizable formats and orientations without moving the camera, as well as mid-roll back switching. This allows the photographer to switch film stocks mid-roll, something that’s quite useful if you intend to capture the same scene on black and white and color film.
The RZ67 system has seven different film backs, including some Polaroid backs and 220 backs, both of which are no longer produced. The important ones are the 120 backs, of which there are options for 6×7, 6×6, and 6×4.5.
The 6×7 (HA703) is the standard 6×7 back, and comes in two versions. The main difference is that the second version has a more visible frame counter and does not rely on foam light seals to remain light tight. Earlier film backs relied on foam, which decomposes over time.
The 6×4.5 and 6×6 backs will come with plastic masks to put in the viewfinder, allowing for more precise framing.
Using RB Film Backs
While you can use RB67 film backs on an RZ67, it comes with extra steps. Mamiya sold a G adapter that will allow you to mount the RB backs, but the gearing does not work properly. With a normal RZ back, winding the camera will ready the shutter, lower the mirror, and advance the film. With an RB back, though, the film won’t move, so you’ll have to manually wind the film back after each shot. It’s more of an inconvenience than anything else.
If you do choose to use an RB back on your RZ, remember to set the camera’s RM lever to M! Otherwise, the camera won’t fire.
Mamiya’s lens system for the RZ covers any focal length you may need, from a 37mm fisheye to a 500mm ultra-telephoto. In total, there are 27 different lenses available for the system.
All the lenses communicate electronically with the body to achieve proper exposure. Even though the lenses contain leaf shutters, the shutter control is on the body. Only aperture control and a depth-of-field scale are on the lens itself.
All RZ67 lenses can adjust aperture in half-stop increments, but newer lenses have more space between clicks, which makes it easier to select exactly what you want to. You can tell these newer lenses apart by a “W” on the front ring of the lens.
The “normal” lenses commonly found on RZ67 bodies are the 110mm f2.8, the 90mm f3.5, and the 127mm f3.5/f3.8. These cover the equivalent of 55mm, 45mm, and 63mm on a full frame sensor, respectively.
From a buyer’s perspective, generally speaking the telephoto lenses are cheaper than normal or wide angle lenses. This is true across many systems, but is quite clear in the RZ’s case.
Like with all medium format systems, the RZ’s lenses were designed exclusively for professionals and are exceptional in quality. Later RZ lenses take advantage of modern technology like floating lens elements and apochromatic dispersion elements as well, only adding to the already-excellent performance of the system.
Using RB Lenses
Just like with the film backs, it’s possible to use RB67 lenses on an RZ67. Also like the film backs, though, it requires a bit of work. The RB and RZ have a 7mm difference in flange distance (the distance between the lens and the film plane) so when pairing an RB lens with an RZ body, it’s possible to focus “past infinity”. It’s not too much extra effort, though, because focusing through the viewfinder works normally.
Just remember to set your RZ body to “RBL” on the shutter speed dial, and then use the RB lens’ shutter speed dial to select your speeds.
Like other modular SLRs, the RZ67 can accept multiple finders to assist in critical focusing and composition. There are a few prism models with light meters, and the standard waist level finder.
The WLF is unmetered and very light, providing a classic experience as long as you don’t mind looking down into the camera to focus and compose. Some people find this disorienting, but it’s an easy thing to get used to. It also comes with a magnifier to make critical focus a bit easier.
The FE701 is the standard metered prism, and even has autoexposure capabilities. The photographer sets the aperture on the lens and the camera selects an appropriate shutter speed. The FE701 also allows for +/- 3 stops of exposure compensation. The shooting experience is more like a 35mm SLR, since you hold the camera at eye level and look horizontally rather than vertically with the waist level finder.
There are some other prisms, like the AE Magnifying Hood, but the WLF and FE701 are the most common.
Mamiya RZ67 Models
There are three versions of the RZ67 out there. Two of them are film cameras, and the third is a digital camera. For our purposes, we’ll only consider the two film models, the RZ67 Professional and the RZ67 Professional II.
While the RZ67 Pro II adds a few features that are clever and helpful, the original RZ67 offers much of the same features and shooting experience. Without comparing the two, you may not even be able to tell the difference! Let’s take a look at the differences between the two, and show you what to look out for when buying a Mamiya RZ67.
Mamiya RZ67 vs RZ67 Pro II
There are two significant differences between the original Mamiya RZ67 and the Pro II, being the focusing system and the shutter speed selection.
Shutter Speed Differences
Mamiya RZ67 Shutter Speeds
The Mamiya RZ67 has shutter speeds from 8 seconds up to 1/400th of a second. The shutter speed dial clicks assuredly into place from one speed to the next. Unlike the RB67’s lens-based system, the RZ has a dedicated shutter dial on the camera body itself that it uses for all lenses.
Mamiya RZ67 Pro II Shutter Speed
The Pro II changes things up by adding half-stop increments. This effectively doubles the amount of shutter speeds available to the photographer, and allows for far more precise exposure. Very rarely does real life fit neatly into a rigid EV system, so adding more options in between each static shutter speed allows the camera to be more specific! There are small dots between each named shutter speed on the RZ67 Pro II’s shutter speed dial.
Aside from allowing for more precise exposure, this system allows for more creative control. A more flexible shutter speed system allows the photographer to leave the aperture ring alone when shooting. Since aperture determines depth of field, it has a quite tangible impact on every shot! By changing it, you may not capture the scene as you intended to, with changes in bokeh and depth of field that you didn’t expect.
Even if this system is quite helpful, it’s not necessary for getting great images.
Mamiya RZ67 Focusing
The Mamiya RZ67 focus operates via a bellows system. The lenses do not have helicoidal focusing (glass elements moving forward and back by twisting the lens barrel), but rather the entire lens itself moves forward and back on a set of sliding rails.
Mamiya chose bellows because the size of the RZ67 makes it more difficult to reach any lens-based focusing ring. Small focusing knobs on the sides of the camera control the focusing, making it easy to handhold the camera and achieve perfect focus.
Using bellows focusing also improve close focus ability. Mamiya RZ67 models are capable of 1:1 macro without adapters, extension tubes, or extra equipment, something their competitors cannot match.
Mamiya RZ67 Pro II Focusing
The Mamiya RZ67 Pro II includes all of the same focusing features and abilities as the RZ67, but adds one very specific feature; a micro-focus knob. Mamiya refers to this as a Pinion focus system, with pinion meaning the smaller of two gears
When you use the fine focus knob, your focus adjusts much more slowly than the standard focusing knob. Combine this with the 1:1 macro ability and large viewfinder of the RZ67 Pro II and it becomes easy to achieve perfect, precise focus no matter what the photographic situation.
Buying a Mamiya RZ67
When buying an RZ67, there are a few things you should know.
Most of the time, previous owners used these cameras quite heavily, even though their relatively new compared to the competition. Cameras like the RZ67, Hasselblad, or RB67, these cameras were designed for life in intensive studio environments. In these use cases, the cameras may look quite clean and appear to function normally, even if they aren’t.
The vast majority of Mamiya 120 SLRs we receive here at Kamerastore require moderate to serious maintenance to match our quality standards. Whether that’s adjusting shutter speeds, repairing film backs, correcting focus issues, or any other issue, these cameras do require maintenance to work properly.
It’s worth talking to the seller and seeing if they’ve performed any repairs on the camera, or how they’ve tested it. The only way to be sure the camera is actually working correctly is to test it on professional equipment, rather than a film test or the dreaded “sound test”.
If you have the chance to examine the RZ before buying, you should do so. Check that the bellows have no holes and are in good condition, and make sure the shutter fires. To get an RZ67 to fire without film, you must remove the back and set the camera’s “RM” lever to M.
We at Kamerastore know that it’s impossible to bring a testing machine around with you, and we’re working hard to make testing more accessible around the world. For now, buyers must be exceptionally careful when investing so much money into a system. Be absolutely sure that your seller tested the camera properly. Even if the camera seems to work now, in 5 or 10 years you may experience serious failure if a previous owner maintained the camera poorly.
Is it Worth It? / Conclusions
If you’re looking to buy a Mamiya RZ67, clearly the Pro II is the superior option. It has all the features of the older model, with some awesome quality-of-life improvements. Plus, it’s around 10 years newer. That said, there is a difference in price that some may not find worth it. When considering the two models, it’s important to ask yourself..
- Do I really need half-stop shutter speed increments for the type of shooting I do?
- Will the addition of a fine-focus help me get better pictures?
If the answer is yes to either of these, the Pro II will probably be the better camera for you. You just have to find yourself a little extra money, buy a Pro II body, wait anxiously at the door for the postman, and enjoy.Filmi, Technical/Educational