Born in 1989 I probably belong to the last ones taking their first photos on film. I clearly remember taking holiday pictures on my mother’s Olympus Superzoom 120. Sending in the exposed films for development and printing and receiving them along with a cheap fresh roll of color film. Waiting for the prints and once received then re-experiencing the holiday by watching all those pictures. It’s not the same with digital, is it?
At that time, I also had my first camera which I don’t even remember anymore. With the advent of affordable digital cameras, I forgot about it and moved on to some 3 megapixel digital point and shoot. I stayed with digital and became one of the many Sony mirrorless users. However, during the pandemic I felt like giving film a try again, but I wanted to go for medium format after seeing my father playing around with a PraktiSix. I quickly knew it shall be 6×9 and affordable. The Mamiya Super 23 seemed to somehow stick to lower prices and therefore caught my attention. Part of the reason was that it seemed to be rather unknown. In fact, I only found few reviews but all of them seemed to be very excited about this camera. It also offers some minimal movements of the film plane, a bright and large rangefinder with framelines for 3 focal lengths (100, 150, 250 mm) and parallax compensation. And it was affordable. Sounded too good to be true. Not thinking too much about it, I ordered one of the cheaper Super 23’s with the standard 100mm f3.5 from Japan. One week later and I had it in my hands here in Germany. You can see it above standing on my light table.
I was eager to play with it, so I picked up a roll of Ilford FP4+ and a film development starter pack. Looking back, there were quite a lot “firsts” involved in that – first time Medium format, first time film for a long time (and first time BW film at all), first time self-development. Luckily it did work out right away. The last shot of that first roll was another “first” – a double exposure. It shows my wife with my smaller son within an inflatable water ball that I shot just sitting on the grass in front of a hedge at a sunny afternoon. It happened to be my favorite from this roll of first times.
Naturally, encouraged by the results, I took it everywhere I could justify the weight and size – like for example for a hike with my big boy. Here he was resting on a rock within the Elbe sandstone highlands. I thought it was the perfect situation to try out Portra. This picture came out quite muted and that can definitely be tuned in that regard but I really happen to like that look very much.
Living in Dresden, the Elbe sandstone highlands are not far away and always very tempting for a hike. On another trip there with my son we stopped next to the street. It was a late October morning, and the mist was still hanging low in the valleys the Elbe is flowing through. Above the mist the Lilienstein, a quite characteristic isolated mountain, arises. This was also the first time I played around with Velvia 50 to capture the autumn colors. This very shot obviously demanded more dynamic range then Veliva offers and also lacks the wide color palette of autumn but still it has something to it that makes it my favorite shot from that roll.
Another chance of using this beautifully different-to-normal camera involved my sister, my basement and my improvised drill press. She was drilling holes into some beech wood as preparation for her wedding giveaways. (3 test tubes with flower seeds, herbal salt and mixed spices standing in that beech pieces with the guest’s names printed on it). I couldn’t withstand but try out a roll of Delta 3200 and capture that contrasty scene. Another first here – first time high-ISO film here. The whole roll turned out to be a bit underexposed but it suited this picture quite well.
The last picture of that story is a picture of my grandfather at our yearly summer family party. At that time, he just became 84 and I just loved how he was looking for his great-grandchildren playing around at a swimming pool. It was shot on T-Max 400 during short before dusk, wide open. No special first time for this shot. Just a portrait of my grandfather.
What’s the outcome of all this? Well, I think first and foremost, this Mamiya Press Super 23 was the starting point to several other film cameras, medium format as well as 35mm. It was also the starting point to me repairing old cameras but that’s another story, I guess. Sadly, it hasn’t been used much lately and I decided I must change that. So, I gave myself the task to decide between this one and my RB67. It wasn’t that hard of a decision, though. Rangefinder stays, SLR leaves.
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