I absolutely love my Mamiya C220 medium format film camera. This camera was made between 1968 and 1982 and still takes professional quality images almost a half century later. Now that is amazing! The fact that the camera is still relevant is a testament to the survivability and pervasiveness of medium format film and film cameras in general. The Mamiya C220 is a twin lens reflex (TLR) type of camera that takes interchangeable lenses. The C220f is the next generation of this camera and was manufactured from 1982 to 1995. I bought my C220 with a 55mm lens because of quality of the optics and it is suited for my type of wide angle photography. I also love this lens because I can focus as close as 9″ which affords me some incredible angles and perspectives not normally possible. If you want to try medium format film then this is an inexpensive way to explore this medium. On a side note the black lenses are newer than the chrome ones in case you are interested.
Top 3 Reasons Why I Love the Mamiya C220 TLR
- The C220 may be from the 1960′s, but it still produces professional quality prints nearly 50 years later making it timeless and a great investment.
- The C220 is fully mechanical and does not require a battery.
- The C220 is a medium format camera that produces those big 6×6 negatives.
There is something magical and beautiful about the 6×6 format to me. I just love that square look. A standard roll of medium format 120 allows 12 exposures. My RZ67 Pro II and Mamiya 7 Rangefinder are both 6×7 formats so I get 10 exposures per roll.
The C220 is known as the simplified version of the C330. One is not “better” than the other, just a few minor differences. The C220 requires you to cock the shutter separately. In regards to the shutter cocking, I actually prefer this method. It is probably because of my large format experience. The C220 is solid built and I use it with the traditional waist level viewfinder. As you might of guessed there is no meter in the camera and it is fully manual and no batteries are required! I also love being able to flash sync at all shutter speeds (through 1/500th). I prefer the lighter weight of the C220 over the C330 in most cases because I do a lot of hiking and climbing. I think the difference is a little less than a pound. The C330 (f/s) cocks the shutter when the film is advanced and it has a larger crank for advancing the film. Besides the auto shutter cocking and the parallax/exposure compensation arm in the finder, that is about it for feature differences. They both take the same lenses so you could have one of each if you prefer and share your lenses between them. For more detailed information on all of the various models go here.
If you are not familiar with TLR cameras, they are actually very simple to operate. You look through the waist level viewfinder (in my case) at the ground glass. There is a pop-up magnifier for critical focus. There are other viewfinders available for the C220 and C330, I just prefer the standard waist level viewfinder. You look through the top lens and you are taking your photo with the bottom one. The aperture and shutter are part of the bottom lens too. TLR’s eliminate the need for a big mirror which is a source of vibration and poor image quality in some cases.
You will find the C220 to be extremely quiet to operate and you can hand-hold slow shutter speeds (e.g., 1/8th, 1/15th, etc) otherwise not possible with a SLR type camera. Plus this camera is fully mechanical. Did I mention there are no batteries!
You may have to deal with the parallax issue from time to time, but this is not an issue for me typically. You will notice this in your closeup/macro photos the most. Basically, what you are looking at through your top lens does not exactly match what you are photographing with the bottom lens. To help address this issue you can simply look at the scale on the left side of the camera to determine your degree of error (e.g. 1, 1.5. 2) then refer to the lines in the top of your viewfinder to ensure you have all of the critical information in your scene. It sounds more difficult than it is in reality. There are accessories like the Parallax Paramender that you can find on eBay to address this but I don’t personally use this because I am not always shooting on a tripod with this camera. In regards to exposure compensation you can refer to this same scale for a range of correction from .25 stops to 2 full stops. For more detailed information on exposure compensation, go here.
I love to use this camera for street photography too. Be sure to read the tips I have below for using the C220 for street photography without a light meter. Depending on the exact C220 you have it could be over 40 years old and it is as relevant today as it was in 1968. A great place to view over 20,000 photographs made with the Mamiya TLR cameras is on the Flickr TLR photostream and their is an active discussion group here too. If you want to narrow in on just the C220 then there is a a Flickr photostream for this too.
The square 6×6 format of the Mamiya C220 is part of the reason why I love making prints with this camera. Plus I get a lot of enjoyment using film and developing it myself. Shooting black and white film in this special camera is not only a lot of fun but don’t forget it still produces professional quality prints that will compete with almost any camera made today. For these photos I used Tri-X rated at EI1250 and developed in Diafine. Keep in mind this is a fully manual camera so there is no need to set the ASA (ISO) and you will probably need a light meter for most shots. I used a light meter for all of these photos but you can estimate your exposure on a normal sunny day using the Sunny 16 Rule and F/8 technique discussed below.
Fallen Trees – f/5.6 at 1/30th EI 1250
Woods Ave Trees – f/8 at 1/60th EI 1250
Tree Roots – f/8 at 1/30th EI 1250
Lime Kiln – f/8 at 1/30th EI 1250
Big Trees – f/8 at 1/30th EI 1250
Sunny 16 & F/8 Rules for Street Photography
When using a fully manual camera like the C220 or RZ67 Pro II there might be times when you don’t have the time to use a light meter. Street photography is a good example of a situation when you won’t likely have time to meter your scene because things happen too quickly. You can employ some old school rules to help you get the shot. If you haven’t tried these techniques go out around your city or town and have some fun with it. Leave your light meter at home!
The Sunny 16 Rule is an old fashioned method used to estimate exposures for daylight photography without a light meter. On a sunny day when your subject is in the sunlight you can set your aperture to f/16. Then you would set your shutter to the reciprocal of your film speed. For example if you were using Tri-X 400 your shutter speed would be 1/400 or the closest setting you have for your manual camera.
If you don’t want f/16 as your aperture for creative reasons then you can simply use the basic relationship rule between ISO, aperture and shutter speed to make changes. In general if you use a larger aperture (smaller number) you would increase your shutter speed. This is known an inverse relationship between the aperture and shutter. If you want to step down your aperture by two stops from f/16 to f/8 then you would increase your shutter speed by two stops in order to keep the exposure the same. If you think about it, it is logical. If you make the aperture opening smaller (bigger f/stop number) you have more depth of field and require more light for your exposure. On the other hand if you make your aperture open bigger (smaller f/stop) then you need less light for your exposure.
Photojournalists “back in the day” used a neat little trick that you can still use today. By setting your aperture to f/8 and pre-focusing they would typically get the shot. Use the Sunny 16 rule that I described above and you should be able to get a high percentage of keepers that should grab everything from about 6 feet to infinity.
Resources for TLR
Graham Patterson has compiled a lot of very useful information on the C220 that you may want to check out if you are interested.
Mike Rosenlof posted a review on Mamiya TLR on photo.net that is worth reviewing if you are interested in getting one of these cameras. You’ll learn more from the readers comments than you will via the article, but I would suggest reading both.
The TLR forum at photo.net is a good place to ask questions and learn.
Be sure to leave your comments or suggestions at the bottom of this article. If you like my articles be sure to use the “Like” or “Share” buttons located at the bottom of each article so we can get more feedback from other photographers.
You can view more of my large and medium format images on my Flickr stream.