The Magic Of MaMiya

With the MAMIYA name now all but dis­ap­peared as a sep­a­rate brand, paul bur­rows charts the Mar­que’s il­lus­tri­ous his­tory, in­clud­ing the glory years When it ap­peared on a Wide va­ri­ety of Cam­eras From 35MM com­pacts to 6x7cM pro­fes­sional slrs and 6x9cM press c

Camera - - CLASSICS -

When I first started writ­ing about cam­eras in the early 1980s, Mamiya was one of the pow­er­house brands. It had taken on the es­tab­lished Euro­pean mar­ques in the medium for­mat cam­era cat­e­gory and quickly be­come the mar­ket leader; now it was flex­ing its mus­cles in 35mm SLRs. In 1983 you could buy a Mamiya 6x4.5cm SLR, 6x6cm TLR, 6x7cm SLR, 35mm SLR or 35mm com­pact. It had been first with in­ter­change­able lenses on a twin lens re­flex cam­era, first with a 6x4.5cm sin­gle lens re­flex cam­era, first with a ro­tat­ing film back on a 6x7cm sin­gle lens re­flex cam­era, and first with an in­no­va­tive ‘cross­over’ auto ex­po­sure con­trol sys­tem on a 35mm sin­gle lens re­flex cam­era… de­signed to over­ride out-of-range user­ap­plied set­tings.

How­ever, the fol­low­ing year dis­as­ter struck when the com­pany which looked af­ter all of Mamiya’s over­seas dis­tri­bu­tion – in­clud­ing in Aus­tralia – de­clared bank­ruptcy. The demise of J Osawa & Com­pany was Ja­pan’s third-largest cor­po­rate bank­ruptcy since the end of WW2, and Mamiya had lit­tle op­tion but to fol­low suit a few days later. Forced to re-or­gan­ise its busi­ness, Mamiya de­cided to cease the pro­duc­tion of 35mm cam­eras – even though it was rea­son­ably well ad­vanced with an aut­o­fo­cus SLR sys­tem – and con­cen­trate on its medium for­mat cam­era ac­tiv­i­ties. By 1990, when it cel­e­brated its 50th an­niver­sary, Mamiya had re­cov­ered suf­fi­ciently to launch the world’s first 6x6cm rangefinder cam­era sys­tem with in­ter­change­able lenses which would be fol­lowed by a 6x7cm for­mat model in 1995, but by then an­other ma­jor chal­lenge was loom­ing on the hori­zon… dig­i­tal imag­ing. With so many Mamiya medium for­mat cam­era sys­tems be­ing used by pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phers around the world, the early pi­o­neers of dig­i­tal cap­ture backs – which is re­ally where it all started – made prod­ucts to fit these SLR bod­ies, but the mar­ket was mov­ing to­wards higher lev­els of in­te­gra­tion and in­creased au­to­ma­tion, in­clud­ing aut­o­fo­cus­ing. The lev­els of in­vest­ment re­quired here are as­tro­nom­i­cal and saw the de­par­ture of Bron­ica, Fu­ji­film and Pen­tax (the lat­ter two, of course, hav­ing since re­turned) while oth­ers have strug­gled fi­nan­cially, in­clud­ing Has­sel­blad and Mamiya. Per­haps sens­ing what lay ahead in medium for­mat pho­tog­ra­phy, Mamiya di­ver­si­fied into sport­ing goods and other ar­eas, even­tu­ally hiv­ing off its cam­era busi­ness into a sep­a­rate en­tity called Mamiya

Dig­i­tal Imag­ing. This is now wholly owned by Phase One and the orig­i­nal Mamiya cam­era fac­tory now builds its cur­rent ZF plat­form. Phase One sub­se­quently com­bined Mamiya with an­other of its sub­sidiaries, Leaf, to cre­ate the MamiyaLeaf brand which, for a while, had its own line of high-end dig­i­tal cap­ture prod­ucts (orig­i­nat­ing from Leaf-de­signed backs). How­ever, the lat­est MamiyaLeaf dig­i­tal backs are re­badged Phase One mod­els and the all-new ZF cam­era body pro­vides much more in­te­gra­tion than the last of the Mamiya 645AF plat­forms which essen­tially dates back to the late 1990s (al­though it’s still avail­able cur­rently). As the dig­i­tal medium for­mat cam­era mar­ket con­tin­ues to evolve – es­pe­cially with the ar­rival of the mir­ror­less sys­tems from Fu­ji­film and Has­sel­blad – it’s hard to see Phase One main­tain­ing two prod­uct lines which are essen­tially the same. Con­se­quently, it’s hard to see a fu­ture for Mamiya be­cause it sim­ply makes more sense for Phase One to use its own brand­ing on what­ever it has planned for the fu­ture.

As time goes on, the re­mark­able achieve­ments of Mamiya – es­pe­cially in medium for­mat cam­eras – will start to be for­got­ten which is a great pity be­cause, as you’ll now read, it’s a distin­guished his­tory. in The Be­gin­ning Mamiya Cam­era Com­pany Lim­ited was es­tab­lished in Tokyo in May 1940 by Sei­ichi Mamiya who was a cam­era de­signer and Tsune­jiroSu­gawara who funded the new busi­ness. The fledg­ling com­pany’s first prod­uct was the orig­i­nal Mamiya Six, a 6x6cm fold­ing­type rangefinder cam­era which in­cor­po­rated the world’s first back- fo­cus­ing ar­range­ment. Right from the start, Mamiya was in­no­va­tive.

Back-fo­cus­ing is achieved by ad­just­ing the fo­cal plane – and hence the film frame – for­wards or back­wards with the ad­van­tages that it’s quicker and al­lows for bet­ter close-up ca­pa­bil­i­ties. The Mamiya Six stayed in pro­duc­tion for nearly 20 years – with var­i­ous re­vi­sions along the way, in­clud­ing chang­ing to the nu­mer­i­cal 6 model num­ber in 1947 – achiev­ing a vol­ume of nearly 400,000 units. It funded Mamiya’s di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion into its first 6x6cm twin lens re­flex (TLR) de­sign, its first 35mm RF

cam­era – which also em­ployed back-fo­cus­ing – and a 16mm for­mat sub-minia­ture model, all of which were in­tro­duced in 1949. Dur­ing the early 1950s the com­pany ex­panded its man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ties and be­gan set­ting up sub­sidiaries around the world to han­dle dis­tri­bu­tion, in­clud­ing in the USA, as ex­port vol­umes con­tin­ued to grow. The com­pany made its Pho­tok­ina de­but at the 1956 show. The fol­low­ing year it launched the Mag­a­zine 35, a 35mm rangefinder cam­era with in­ter­change­able film backs so the film type could be changed mid-roll. It was a clever idea, but largely a fail­ure com­mer­cially due to its high cost and pos­si­bly over­es­ti­mat­ing how much pho­tog­ra­phers who bought a 35mm RF cam­era ac­tu­ally wanted to change film type mid-roll.

There was more suc­cess else­where as Mamiya con­tin­ued to de­velop the 35mm lens-shut­ter cam­era, in­tro­duc­ing the ELCA later in 1957, the first Ja­pane­se­made model to have match­nee­dle me­ter­ing.

The me­ter was a se­le­nium cell type – so there was no need for a bat­tery – and the ELCA also pro­vided the con­ve­nience of au­to­matic shut­ter re­cock­ing when the film was ad­vanced.

Mamiya stayed right at the fore­front of 35mm com­pact cam­era de­sign right up to the Osawa col­lapse; hav­ing em­braced fea­tures such as auto ex­po­sure, the built-in flash and aut­o­fo­cus­ing along the way.

In­evitably, in the mid-1960s there was a half-frame 35mm cam­era – the for­mat was hugely pop­u­lar in Ja­pan – and one of the very last mod­els was the pocket-sized U, sim­i­lar in styling to Olym­pus’s XA.

Twin Peaks

The twin lens re­flex was at the height of its pop­u­lar­ity through­out the 1950s and 1960s, and a great many cam­era mak­ers of­fered a wide se­lec­tion of mod­els. In early 1957 Mamiya turned this mar­ket up­side down by in­tro­duc­ing the first model with in­ter­change­able lenses… well, to be more pre­cise, in­ter­change­able lens pairs.

The Flex C Pro­fes­sional was the be­gin­ning of a long line of Mamiya in­ter­change­able lens TLRs which re­mained in pro­duc­tion un­til 1995. There was ini­tially a choice of three lenses – an 80mm f2.8, 105mm

C330 (1969, lighter weight ver­sion of the C33 with in­ter­change­able fo­cus­ing screens), C330f (1982, sin­gle-ac­tion fo­cus­ing hood), C220f (1982, sin­gle-ac­tion fo­cus­ing hood) and C330S (1983, last of the line, larger fo­cus­ing knobs and more rugged film trans­port). Pro­duc­tion of the C330S ended in 1994 while the C220f sol­diered on for an­other year, fin­ish­ing in1995 and end­ing 47 years of Mamiya TLRs.

From 1962 to the early 1990s, Mamiya also of­fered a series of 6x9cm for­mat press cam­eras, with the Press Su­per 23 model from 1967 hav­ing tilt/swing ad­just­ments via rear bel­lows, pro­vi­sions for fit­ting a wide se­lec­tion of in­ter­change­able film backs and, of course, in­ter­change­able leaf­shut­ter lenses fo­cused via a rangefinder and with au­to­matic par­al­lax cor­rec­tion.

The last-of-the-line Univer­sal model dropped the rear bel­lows, but could be fit­ted with roll­film mag­a­zines for 6x7cm or 6x9cm frames, a sheet film holder or a Po­laroid in­stant print pack back (in­ci­den­tally, it was also mar­keted as the Po­laroid 600SE). The Univer­sal was launched in 1969, but stayed in pro­duc­tion un­til 1991. In 1961 Mamiya launched its first 35mm SLR model, the Pris­mat NP, which was avail­able with ei­ther a Canon 50mm f1.9 stan­dard lens or a Mamiya-Sekor 58mm f1.7. By now, J Osawa was dis­tribut­ing Mamiya’s cam­eras in Ja­pan and also Canon’s, so the co-op­er­a­tion likely came about this way. In­ci­den­tally, Mamiya sub­se­quently built a ver­sion of the NP for Nikon – with an F mount fit­ting – which be­came the Nikko­rex F, launched in 1962.

Later in 1961 Mamiya in­tro­duced the Pris­mat PH which,

un­usu­ally, had a leaf-type shut­ter in the cam­era body plus a built-in se­le­nium cell light me­ter (so it didn’t need a bat­tery). The Pris­mat CP fol­lowed in 1964, re­plac­ing the se­le­nium cell with a CdS-type me­ter, al­though again non-TTL, and pro­vid­ing fully-au­to­matic aper­ture con­trol (i.e. elim­i­nat­ing stop-down me­ter­ing). TTL me­ter­ing was adopted in 1966 with the 500TL and 1000TL mod­els – the model des­ig­na­tions in­di­cat­ing the top shut­ter speed – and with the choice of spot or av­er­age mea­sure­ments. Auto ex­po­sure con­trol in­evitably fol­lowed, but with the Auto XTL from 1972, Mamiya didn’t do any­thing by halves. Apart from of­fer­ing shut­ter­pri­or­ity auto ex­po­sure con­trol – well ahead of the likes of Canon, Nikon or Pen­tax – it had TTL me­ter­ing which was mea­sured at the film plane (with ei­ther spot or av­er­age modes), and an ad­vanced viewfinder dis­play which showed both aper­tures and shut­ter speeds and was il­lu­mi­nated via semisil­vered pel­li­cle mir­ror. The shut­ter­pri­or­ity auto con­trol re­quired a new lens mount as pre­vi­ously Mamiya had used the M42 Pen­tax screwthread fit­ting. The Auto XTL in­tro­duced the ES bay­o­net mount, but it was then only used on one other model – the X-1000 from 1975 –and was then re­placed with the CS bay­o­net in 1978.

Mean­while, the more con­ven­tional MSX and DSX mod­els (both in­tro­duced dur­ing 1974) re­turned to the 42mm screwthread lens mount. Both were of­fered in ver­sions with a top shut­ter speed of ei­ther 1/500 sec­ond or 1/1000 sec­ond, and both had CdS-based TTL me­ter­ing, but the MSX mod­els had only a spot mea­sure­ment while the MSX cam­eras of­fered the choice of spot or av­er­age.

By the late 1970s the 35mm SLR mar­ket was re­ally hot­ting up and Mamiya needed to get back in the game. De­spite be­ing so ad­vanced when it was launched, the Auto XTL hadn’t been the suc­cess that was ex­pected so, in 1978, Mamiya started afresh with the NC1000 which fol­lowed the trend to­wards lighter and more com­pact de­signs. It also had an elec­tron­i­cally-con­trolled shut­ter, cen­tre-weighted av­er­age me­ter­ing and shut­ter-pri­or­ity auto ex­po­sure con­trol, but with the new CS bay­o­net lens mount. Along with the NC1000 came a to­tal of 14 CS

mount lenses, span­ning 14mm to 300mm. An­other ver­sion of the cam­era, called the NC 1000s, was in­tro­duced at the end of 1978 and pri­mar­ily al­lowed for the in­ter­chang­ing of fo­cus­ing screens, al­though it also fea­tured a holder on the film back to ac­com­mo­date a box top.

Mamiya’s 35mm SLR pro­gram again changed course in 1980 with the in­tro­duc­tion of the ZE which pi­o­neered the con­cept of us­ing elec­tronic con­tacts as the in­ter­face be­tween cam­era body and lens. This again ne­ces­si­tated a change of lens mount de­sign – to the E/ EF bay­o­net fit­ting – but Mamiya made this de­ci­sion early with a con­fig­u­ra­tion which would have com­fort­ably taken its 35mm SLR sys­tem into the aut­o­fo­cus era had the Osawa col­lapse not hap­pened. The ZE in­cor­po­rated a CPU to man­age its auto ex­po­sure con­trol op­er­a­tions, in­clud­ing quartz-timed au­to­matic shut­ter speeds for aper­ture-pri­or­ity con­trol (the only mode avail­able) with an SPD-based cen­tre-weighted av­er­age me­ter­ing sys­tem. The ZE-2 ar­rived just six months later, ad­ding man­ual shut­ter speed se­lec­tion and, again ahead of its time, a cam­era shake preven­tion sys­tem. As the cam­era could read the fo­cal length of the at­tached lens – via the elec­tronic con­tacts – it was able to avoid set­ting an au­to­mat­i­cally-se­lected shut­ter speed that would re­sult in cam­era shake.

Mamiya took all this a step fur­ther with the ZE-X which was in­tro­duced in late 1981 and of­fered the choice of ei­ther aper­ture- or shut­ter-pri­or­ity auto ex­po­sure con­trol with a ‘cross­over sys­tem’ – hence the ‘X’ in the model des­ig­na­tion – over­ride which au­to­mat­i­cally in­ter­vened to change set­tings if the man­u­ally- se­lected aper­ture or speed was likely to re­sult in un­der- or over­ex­po­sure. It also of­fered pro­grammed ex­po­sure con­trol with a choice of eight pro­gram lines to suit par­tic­u­larly sub­jects (i.e. favour­ing faster shut­ter speeds when shoot­ing mov­ing sub­jects). Cam­era shake preven­tion was again pro­vided and, when a ded­i­cated flash was fit­ted, the cross­over sys­tem blocked it from fir­ing when there was suf­fi­cient avail­able light, but ac­ti­vated it au­to­mat­i­cally if the re­quired shut­ter speed would likely re­sult in cam­era shake. The cross­over

A press pic­ture from the early 1980s show­ing the ex­tent of Mamiya’s medium for­mat cam­era sys­tems – M645 mod­els at front left, Univer­sal 6x9cm press cam­era be­hind, TLRs at top cen­tre, RZ67 at top right and the RB67 in front.

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