Mamiya DSX 1000B

Mamiya DSX 1000B Review – by Nathalie Porter

In the modern day, the Mamiya name is pretty much synonymous with medium format cameras. Some film photography enthusiasts might not even know that the company also produced many 35mm cameras back in the day. From what I read the Mamiya 35mm SLRs sold quite well, yet they seem largely forgotten today. Our community likes to focus on certain brands and models and still keeps them in the spotlight many decades after they were made, while other cameras are not so fortunate. Sometimes for a good reason, sometimes not so much.

Admittedly I’m a bit of a hipster, always looking for something outside the trend, and these M42 Mamiyas interested me for a good while. Partially because of the famous brand, but also because some models feature a spot meter – not something you see in just any old SLR. I kept an eye out for them and when I noticed this lovely black Mamiya DSX 1000B – they usually come in silver and I’m of the opinion that every camera looks much better in black, you see – it was finally time to get one. Even a “fires and winds, untested further“ description didn’t scare me off but it seems other bidders weren’t so determined – I ended up paying less than 20 euro for the body with a standard 55/1.8 lens. Even if that was a particularly good deal, in general these cameras seem to be rather undervalued today.

My first impression was dominated by the surprise of just how big and heavy the camera is. It was introduced in 1974, and by that the trend for small SLRs was already underway on the market. But as Mamiya SX cameras were largely based on their previous TL series they still presented a bulky, a bit old-fashioned kind of design. These TL cameras were quite simple SLRs – fully manual and mechanical with a spot meter and M42 lens mount, not many bells and whistles. Later DTL models added a second meter for average reading, which was kind of a big deal – no other company offered two metering patterns in one camera before.

The SX series followed, at first with MSX models featuring only a spot meter and then DSX adding an average meter. The most notable advancement in the SX series was the introduction of open-aperture metering – although only with dedicated Mamiya SX lenses. These still featured a 42mm thread, but like other manufacturers still using the M42 mount at the time Mamiya modified it so that the lenses could transmit a selected aperture value to the camera body. Unfortunately what this means is that these lenses are pretty much impossible to attach to any other M42 cameras or adapters without some permanent modifications. Not only is there a solid pin sticking out on the bottom of the lens, the aperture ring protrudes past it as well. At least there are no such problems the other way around and SX Mamiyas will gladly accept any standard M42 lens. My particular model is called DSX 1000B – we already explained the DSX part, 1000 stands for the fastest available shutter speed, and B for black colour. The only other difference from a standard, silver DSX 1000 is the addition of a shutter release lock. I’m not sure why it called for a separate model designation but nevertheless here we are.

the magical metering mode switch
does it get any simpler than this?

As mentioned before – the Mamiya DSX 1000B is big and heavy. But in my subjective experience the camera more than makes up for it with being very comfortable in use. The back of the body is slightly curved and there’s a small rubber “grip” on the front. It’s not much, but it helps – the camera fits the hand well and I find it noticeably easier to get a solid hold on it than on most similar cameras I’ve had experience with. When it comes to controls it’s a simple, conventional design and it just works – the essentials are right where you expect and nothing gets in the way. It instantly felt “right” to me, like I’ve been using it for years already. While I wouldn’t say it gives the impression of a premium build quality, it comes with a reassuring sturdiness. Even if poking at some of the body panels returns a hollow sound the camera as a whole feels very solid. It evokes the feel of some heavy-duty piece of equipment, not particularly refined but built to last and endure. In a bit of a contrast, the shutter and mirror work is very light. I’m not sure if the mechanism is so well dampened or it’s just down to the thick metal body (or both), but you can barely feel any vibration when taking a photo. Even though my hands are not particularly steady I was able to take a perfectly useable 1/15s hand-held shot with a 55mm lens.

Apart from the spot meter, the most unique feature of the DSX 1000B is hidden in the advance lever. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it’s a neat and practical piece of design worth a mention. The lever has more function than just advancing the film – for one, pulling it away from the body activates the light meter. Yes, that in itself is not very uncommon, but Mamiya engineers went a step further. Once the lever is in the “out” position, pushing it back towards the body doesn’t turn the meter off like in those other cameras – there’s a button cleverly hidden on top of the lever for that – instead it stops down the lens and adjusts the light meter readout accordingly. And it’s not just a pointless quirk, but is actually pretty comfortable in use. No need to fumble for the stop-down button all over the camera since it’s right under your thumb already. While with SX lenses it only functions as a depth of field preview, it’s necessary for stop-down metering with other M42 glass – but makes it a bit less awkward than it usually is with other cameras.

Helios 44-2 / Rossmann 200
Mir-1B / Kodak ColorPlus 200

The light meter in my Mamiya DSX 1000B wasn’t tested by the seller and I had no idea what to expect. Since the shutter itself is entirely mechanical I wouldn’t have a problem using the camera if the meter was dead. But after installing a new battery (unlike a lot of other cameras from its era it takes a SR44 1.5v cell, no need for any weird mercury battery replacements here) the meter needle sprung to life and a quick check revealed that it’s matching the readouts of my trusty Minolta X-700 pretty well on both modes. Since then I’ve shot multiple rolls relying solely on this meter and it has never let me down. Granted, this was only with negative film and for the ultimate test I should probably try it with some slides one day – but hey, I’m already very happy with it.

All it takes to go from average to spot metering is a simple switch next to the lens mount. The average mode is obviously very common and self-explanatory, nothing to write about here. And as for the spot meter… Well, it’s not very “spotty” – the area it reads the light from is relatively large and also awkwardly placed at the bottom of the viewfinder. But in the end it works well and is definitely more than just a cool feature that you’ll rarely use in practice. It’s seamlessly integrated into that familiar experience of shooting an old, simple SLR which (at least for me) is a significant part of the appeal in using a camera of this kind. It doesn’t really change that feeling or the way you use it, but simply offers a bit of extra help in a very natural and non-intrusive way.

Mamiya/Sekor SX 55/1.8 / Rossmann 200
Mir-1B / Kodak ColorPlus 200
Mamiya/Sekor SX 55/1.8 / Kentmere 400

The biggest disappointment with the Mamiya DSX 1000B would probably have to be the viewfinder. It’s not very big or bright and only features a standard microprism patch in its center to help with focusing. Which wouldn’t be a big problem in itself but somehow that microprism doesn’t seem to work as well as in other cameras I’ve used. Overall it’s not the worst but definitely takes some effort to be precise and exact with your focus. And there’s no shutter speed or aperture displayed here, only an indicator of the selected metering mode and the simple light meter needle which you need to place in an indicated zone for correct exposure.

In the end when you look at the rational arguments, there’s nothing particularly special about the Mamiya DSX 1000B. It’s more or less just another SLR of its era with only minor points of interest. The spot meter is nice, but it’s hardly a game-changer. The M42 lens mount means a whole lot of excellent glass is available but you have to stop them down for metering and the dedicated SX lenses are pretty scarce. For the most part it’s comfortable but the weight and size might be a big detriment in some situations. From what I read they’re not the most reliable cameras and I feel lucky that mine works so well. Would I recommend the Mamiya DSX 1000B to everyone? Probably not. I’d say it’s something more for camera geeks rather than your average photographer. Of course you can take great pictures with it, there’s nothing wrong with it, but is there a rational reason to choose it over any of the more popular and established options? I don’t think so.

Mamiya/Sekor SX 55/1.8 / Kodak ColorPlus 200
Mamiya/Sekor SX 55/1.8 / Kodak ColorPlus 200
Mamiya/Sekor SX 55/1.8 / Kentmere 400

But… I love it. There’s something about the Mamiya DSX 1000B that makes me want to pick it up again and again. It’s just… so cool. It’s not a camera I’d use every day but whenever I do, it feels great. I can’t explain it with words of reason, it’s just some weird emotional connection I have with it. After all, choosing a camera is more than just looking at specs. Sometimes, things simply click and the good feeling is more important than any number of features and rational arguments.

Thank you for reading! If by any chance you’d like to see more of my pictures, you can find some on my flickr or twitter.
My other posts on 35mmc can be found here

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16 thoughts on “Mamiya DSX 1000B Review – by Nathalie Porter”

  1. Interesting, a blast from the past. In the USA market, the 35mm Mamiya cameras never seemed to sell well. In the mid-1970s, Pentax, Minolta, Canon and Nikon were the big sellers. Miranda and Topcon faded away. Leica was the more expensive brand and almost failed after the M5 rangefinder. Yashica, Mamiya, Pentagon, and some others were there but did not gain much traction. I have likely forgotten some brands. It may have been different in Europe.

  2. Interesting! How do you know where the spot meter is metering? Is there an indication in the viewfinder?

  3. Great cameras. My first 35mm SLR was the DSX1000 in silver. Gifted to me by a relative when I was just starting 35mm photography (There was no ebay then, this was around 1978-79). I received it with a 35mm f2,8 and 135mm f2.8 lens along with the standard 55mm f1.8. The std was a full aperture metering lens, the 35 and 135 required me to use stop-down metering. (Easily done as described in your review). I purchased Sirius 28-70 and 70-210 zooms for it. and used it for a number of years getting some nice shots and discovering the joy of 35mm SLR photography. Sadly I sold the whole outfit to a friend to fund my battery dependant Canon A1 purchase. C’est la vie. However I still shoot 35mm and I am very grateful to the Mamiya DSX 1000 for sparking my life-long love of analogue photography.

  4. Thanks for an interesting read. The good thing about everyone else focussing on traditional Japanese brands is there are plenty of Mamiyas, Chinons, Mirandas (original Miranda that is), Kowas, Petris even Ricohs going cheap. And as you point out they tend to be more interesting and cool, especially if in black! I have heard numerous occasions of digital users hacking the mount on these SX lenses by filing down the overhang they have and removing the pin to convert them into a conventional stopdown M42, so they must be reasonable quality. Nice cats as well. How well does your mir1b perform, by the way?

    1. Oh yeah, there are definitely some great bargains to be found once you look past the more “fashionable” brands. Even if they’re not trendy, they’re not lacking anything in functionality. I also heard about those modifications to SX lenses, and in general I’m under impression that Mamiya M42 lenses are a bit of a hidden gem – not very popular but highly appreciated by those who know them. As for the Mir it was good in terms of results, but I’ve sold it since – I just couldn’t deal with it when it comes to ergonomics, that thin focusing ring close to the body is awful.

  5. Thanks a lot for your emotional review of a camera, I have never heard of. I did not know that Mamiya also produced 35mm cameras. And I agree with you. Sometimes you have a camera which seems to be nothing special at first glance, but for yourself it has a special charmingness no matter of the shortcomings

  6. The un-love that the Mamiya 35mms receive comes from thee perception of reliability and accuracy, or rather the lack of it, in the shutter. Mamiya made their own shutters, a horizontal cloth shutter. When most manufacturers went to electronically controlled vertical metal fan shutters, Mamiya stuck with the old design. Maybe they just had too much invested in their own shutter production. Fully mechanical shutters require periodic cleaning and adjustment and they can be more fragile than metal shutters. That is the perception. I don’t know what the reality is. I have often considered getting some of these cameras but am mostly put off by the weight. I have an Alpa si 2000 (nea Chinon CEii) and it is also very heavy and quite uncomfortable to carry around.

  7. I picked up a a Mamiya MSX500 last year in junk shop , it’s in pristine condition sans a battery cover ho hum I have a couple of Mamiya TLRs and 645 so I’m used to doing my own metering. I didn’t expect much out of this and packed it along with some other DSLR kit for a shoot in Hokkaido , I loaded a Fujifilm C200 film in it . It has an SX f2 50mm lens that’s nice and clean …and wow was impressed with this glass the photos came out as sharp as tack , the camera performed brilliantly I took some stunning low light shots at sunset on beach littered with ice crystals and honestly they look better than my DSLR which is no slouch ! Great review !

  8. Jerrold Billmyer

    Just as I could relax, this happens. I have a Mamiya-Sekor 500DTL with 50mm 2.0. It too is heavy, much like my Canon FT. This was on a free table and I wanted an M42 lens. But I have been fortunate, a nearly complete manual, the lens is good and the case is not badly worn. When free-range photography is permitted this will get some attention. Thanks for re-kindling my interest is these cameras. Jerry

  9. I bought my Mamiya DSX 1000B in 1977, and used it for many years. That Christmas, my dad and stepmom bought me an Asanuma 100-300 f5 lens that required the lens stop down feature to use. Not the speediest of camera systems, but I loved it. I also picked up a nice Tamron 28-80. Currently, it is “mothballed”, as I can’t part with it. Reading your article has renewed my nostalgia for my camera. I think it is time to dust it off, and take it out to play. Thank you.

  10. I just gave away my silver DSX1000 today, to a friend of my daughter. I included the Mamiya/Sekor 1.8/55mm lens, another 2.8/135mm, a 2x teleconverter, and five rolls of film. She’s just starting out with film photography, and I wanted to give her a proper launch. After reading your fine review, I wish I’d shot a roll with it first! Oh well, I’m not short on cameras, and I’d rather see one enjoyed than collecting dust!

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