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
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.
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.