More than a little while ago as a young photographer, I aspired to turn professional, even starting a sort of apprenticeship with a wedding photographer. I had graduated onto a Bronica SQA with all this in mind. Large format was no good for showing slides at the local photographic society, but I loved the results. There was something appealing about a waist level finder and that slightly seasick sensation when you instinctively move the camera one way and the image does the opposite. Forward to 2023; like so many I had recently rediscovered the joy of film. The excitement of waiting for results with 35mm was once more quite special. Sure enough, before long that thrill wasn’t quite enough. I craved for a return to larger formats. There was an itch that had to be scratched. I had never owned or used a Twin Lens Reflex. After very much deliberation over months, I clicked the buy now option on the bay. The package arrived a few days later, but I had to wait a couple of weeks until the day of a big birthday. The Mamiya C220 I now own had been described as good condition, with its original box, user manual and recently serviced. It wasn’t a disappointment. Everything seemed very clean and smooth functioning, with its 80mm lenses looking spotless. There had been temptation to go for a C330, but they were fetching more money and I decided the lighter weight that stems from the 220s simplicity, was the right thing. Hindsight is wonderful isn’t it?
Young man with good eyesight
Ilford HP5 was selected as the first roll, really as a test. The need was for an inexpensive, good all rounder. I had a big concern with this purchase. The last time I had used a waist level finder, I was a young man with good eyesight. Whilst I now try to manage without for everything else, for driving I have to use glasses. Using the dioptre on a digital camera is easy, I knew the C220 was going to be problematic, so messing with something like HP5 seemed preferable to doing it with the likes of Kodak Portra. My eyesight means at close range everything looks okay, put my glasses on I can barely find the finder, never mind use it to focus. I had to quickly give up focusing with the aid of what is supposed to be my vision correction and it was all going to be a bit experimental.
Everything slows down with the Mamiya, it just has to. Nothing automated at all, not even a battery to power a meter. A Weston Master ii accompanying the Mamiya everywhere. At first it wasn’t even easy to work out where to hold a TLR. Without the optional grip, it is a little devoid of obvious hand holds and if you need even a cold shoe for a flash, that’s also only on the optional grip. So to the first few shots. Set the aperture, set the speed, line everything up, turn the focus knob and press… nothing. Okay, remember to cock the shutter with the little lever on the lens, without disturbing the aperture or speed rings and try again. A quiet click, that wouldn’t alert people or creatures to the presence of a camera. Open out the film wind lever on the knob at the top right and drive it smoothly round with the fingers. This is mechanical pleasure. It just feels good and sounds nice, but at some point you’ll forget to wind on for the next shot. Aperture, shutter speed, cock the shutter… nothing. Wind on and try again. Eventually a rhythm develops and it all starts to make sense as well as feeling rather satisfying.
Are any in focus?
The roll of HP5 went by quite quickly. As I have no home developing kit yet and I would be very rusty with those skills; the film went to a lab. Opening the files from the download link, the first concern was always going to be are any in focus? Well, some were, some not quite, at least not quite my chosen focus point.
A little further away seems more problematic.
The search for dioptres began but initially drew a blank as it became clear this was far less achievable with the C220 than other cameras Mamiya produced. On the C220, the waist level finder has a magnifier, but the lens mount is riveted into place and doesn’t unscrew like other models. So, I took it to an opticians and asked for advice. That was inconclusive. Currently there is an notion taking shape in my mind. How about I get a suitable dioptre lens for one of the other Mamiyas and fashion a metal plate? Hooked at the sides it might be able to drop into place over open finder and sit about the same height from the screen that the magnifier lens would be. I hope to write again about this at some point. In the meantime, even if I miss some, the C220 is still a lovely camera to use.
Gold and more
Some things about the first HP5 images impressed me. I remembered taking them. Not so difficult with 12, but I remembered each fairly clearly. The camera had made me work and think and take time. No looking at the camera back to see if the shot looks okay. Next came a roll of Kodak Gold and with it a growing, though possibly misplaced confidence. Again focus missed in one or too, but some nice results and a nice kind of clarity.
Emboldened, I set about more monochrome with Ilford Delta 100 and Ilford Ortho in quick succession. This served as a reminder that a camera like this takes time to get to know and so do the films. One or two nice ones on the Delta, but with the Ortho I produced little of note. Depth of field still showing as a problem and contributing to focus problems. I like shooting wide, but remembering to think of higher numbers than for 35mm and digital is taking some adaptation on my part.
The Mamiya C220 isn’t gorgeously attractive, though it has the look of an old fashioned, well made precision instrument. People look at it, but then not everyone notices. I found myself crouching for a picture with the camera resting on my thigh and someone walked right in front of the subject, not out of rudeness, but simply not knowing a picture was being taken. Just a guy on the floor staring down into an odd looking box. This of course can be one of the strengths of a TLR even though it lacks the speed of use to be ideal for street photography. The parallax though, well that can be the subject of another article.
Mixed results with the Mamiya C220 so far, but mostly down to my eyesight I think. Time to start the hunt for a suitable minus 2 (I think) Mamiya dioptre. This camera is so pleasing to use I shouldn’t give up over a vision correction problem should I?
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