5 Frames with a Mamiya Press Super 23 – or how I got (back) into film photography.

By Kai Lietz

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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About The Author

By Kai Lietz
Living in Dresden, Germany, I am trying to make use of the result of different GAS-phases but realizing that with 2 not-so-old children, a full-time job and a live centered around family and friends, time is never enough. ;)
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Kai Lietz on 5 Frames with a Mamiya Press Super 23 – or how I got (back) into film photography.

Comment posted: 16/01/2024

Thank you Alexander!
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Alexander Seidler on 5 Frames with a Mamiya Press Super 23 – or how I got (back) into film photography.

Comment posted: 16/01/2024

Congratulations for your very well done first times !
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Art Meripol on 5 Frames with a Mamiya Press Super 23 – or how I got (back) into film photography.

Comment posted: 15/01/2024

Great story and great images Kai. thanks for posting this.
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Kai Lietz replied:

Comment posted: 15/01/2024

Thank you Art!

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Peter Goodison on 5 Frames with a Mamiya Press Super 23 – or how I got (back) into film photography.

Comment posted: 15/01/2024

I have the Polaroid version of this camera with a 127mm lens. Just started using it again after a few years of digital. Have three film backs for it including a Polaroid back. Have never used it yet but still working well with the other backs with mono film
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Kai Lietz replied:

Comment posted: 15/01/2024

Yeah, I was considering it, as well but then went for the Super 23 because of the movement options on the back. And because I don't feel ready to pay instant film.

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Peter Goodison replied:

Comment posted: 15/01/2024

The camera came with two other backs for 120 film too so no need to go looking for Polaroid Kai

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CHRISTOF RAMPITSCH on 5 Frames with a Mamiya Press Super 23 – or how I got (back) into film photography.

Comment posted: 14/01/2024

The Mamiya Press is easily one of the best ways to get into MF. It's a superb camera with great lenses, and it's extreme ugliness ensures it will remain cheap!
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Kai Lietz replied:

Comment posted: 14/01/2024

Just what I found, as well! I really enjoy using it.

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James Evidon on 5 Frames with a Mamiya Press Super 23 – or how I got (back) into film photography.

Comment posted: 14/01/2024

Your images are wonderful and the article was entertaining. I, like the author, turned back to film during the pandemic because…there was nothing much else a photo hobbiest could do with digital. You couldn't go out and shoot, so why not rediscover the mysteries of film photography and processing? I suspect that the pandemic was the driver for the recent upsurge in film photography for most ofr us. I started by buying a beautiful mahogany 4x5 view camera which, while an object of veneration was too large and heavy to lug around. Following that was a seige of GAS ( gear aquistation syndrome to the unlettered). I now have a collection of rare and not so rare relics, all of which perform their functions very well. I am now invested in a B's Film Processor, and to those who have never heard of it, hit your search engine. It's relatively cheap, well made and relieves the developer from boring manual tank rotations and possible hand cramps. Hooking that up to an old EBay sourced Graylab timer has made the whole operation close to automated. Rediscovering Rodiinal developer was a real find. Digital was not forgotten as I can scan the negs on my Epson V600 and Vue Scan software for rollfilm and use a Plustek scanner and Silverfast software for 35mm with excellent results. My latest gear is a beautiful Horseman Convertible 612 6x9 format that takes 120 film. It is small and light weight and no more bulky than the typical 35mm SLR and the negatives are spectacular. That investment from EBay Japan was under $600 including the film back to which I added two cold shoes with optical viewfinder and a Doomo mini light meter. Critical focusing is done with a cheap small laser rangefinder. All in all, my return to film has brought back an enthusiasm for photography that, for me was lost with the convenience of digital photography. And in case you are wondering, I still have my 64 megapixel FF Panasonic S1-R and small 24megapixel Leica CL digital cameras which also take spectacular images when I'm in the mood or traveling. I'm having fun again. .
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Kai Lietz replied:

Comment posted: 14/01/2024

Very interesting hints, thank you, James. Not good in terms of GAS, though ;) I'll have a look on the fil processor. Are you developing color yourself or only black and white?

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Art Meripol replied:

Comment posted: 14/01/2024

James, that Horseman 612 is a great looking camera. I need to dive into that one and see what it's like. I have the Horseman 842, a very different camera. I have the 6X9 back for it and it's probably one of the smallest 6X9 cameras you could find. But a bit of work to use. I also have a Horseman 980 6X9 Technical Camera and a variety of lenses for it. But that 612 really intrigues me.

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James Evidon replied:

Comment posted: 14/01/2024

Only B&W. Years ago I invested in Cibachrome with mixed results. Now I rely on the labs for negs. and transparencies and satisfy myself with digital scanning and occasional printing. Jim

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James Evidon replied:

Comment posted: 14/01/2024

Whoops! My bad. It is the Horseman 842 that i own. I believe the 612 is the newer model and very very expensive. Here is a picture of my set up.: /Users/jamesevidon/Desktop/HORSEMAN 6X9 CATLABS 320 B&W/Horseman.doc copy.png /Users/jamesevidon/Desktop/HORSEMAN 6X9 CATLABS 320 B&W/Horseman.doc.jpg

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James Evidon replied:

Comment posted: 14/01/2024

I guess I can't paste images here. You'll just have to accept my verbal description of my set up. Cheers.

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Louis A. Sousa on 5 Frames with a Mamiya Press Super 23 – or how I got (back) into film photography.

Comment posted: 14/01/2024

Great images. The portrait of your grandpa captures his peace. Louis.
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Kai Lietz replied:

Comment posted: 14/01/2024

Thank you Louis!

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Murray Leshner on 5 Frames with a Mamiya Press Super 23 – or how I got (back) into film photography.

Comment posted: 14/01/2024

I really like the beach ball double-exposure! Your grandfather doesn't look 84...more like some 64-year-olds.
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Kai Lietz replied:

Comment posted: 14/01/2024

Thank you Murray!

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Paul Quellin on 5 Frames with a Mamiya Press Super 23 – or how I got (back) into film photography.

Comment posted: 14/01/2024

Great article Kai and that double exposure is brilliant. Never owned one of the Mamiya or indeed other press type cameras, though I keep wondering. Choosing to sacrifice your RB67 can't have been easy, I would have wanted to keep both, but then my GAS is probably terminal now. Enjoyable read, thank you.
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Kai Lietz replied:

Comment posted: 14/01/2024

Thank you Paul! Actually sacrificing the RB was quite easy for me. I had them in parallel and I had my tries with the RB but the Press suits my photographic needs better. First, the huge rangefinder, which is way faster and easier to use (to me). Second, the Press feels better in my hand and feels more compact (even though none of them are actually compact or even close to that). And third, the thing with inbuild Tilt and Shift on the film plane. That's just an Option the RB will never offer. Only thing I really miss is the possibility to change orientation of the picture without moving the camera. But that's design inherent, so I guess I just have to live with it. In a studio however, I definitely would have kept the RB. No doubt about it. By the way: Convincing my GAS to sell something was only possible by dedicating the income to more GAS satisfaction. ;)

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Jeff Titon on 5 Frames with a Mamiya Press Super 23 – or how I got (back) into film photography.

Comment posted: 14/01/2024

I used a Mamiya 23 (and later a Super 23) back in the 1980s with the 2x3 back and all the lenses. The outfit, used, was comparatively inexpensive then as well. Photographers mainly used them for portraits and weddings, not for available light stage photography or street photography. I used mine chiefly for portraits and landscapes and was always happy with the results. Of course, the lenses weren't quite as good as those on many other medium format cameras, but in real life those differences weren't visible unless the print was enlarged to 20x24 or larger. Oddly, I still have my outfit but haven't taken it out of its case in more than 20 years. Your post makes me want to grab it and go take some pics.
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Kai Lietz replied:

Comment posted: 14/01/2024

Thank you Jeff for that insight! I agree, at least the lens I have is absolutely good enough for usual enlargement. However, I want to buy a bit more into that system. The 50 f6.3 and 100 f2.8 are said to be great performers. Also, I am quite interested in the 250 f5. Glad, if I was able to motivate you to use that camera again. Hope, it is still working well!

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Joe Finocchi replied:

Comment posted: 14/01/2024

Hello Kai. I owned both the 50mm f6.3 and the 100mm f2.8. They were incredibly sharp. I used the 100mm to photograph large groups of up to 300 students, and both the centers and edges were equally sharp. I had run comparisons between the 100 f3.5 and the 100 2.8, and found the f3.5 to have a sharper center stopped down, but the edge sharpness was closer to the center on the 2.8. That was important with the student groups.

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Paul Brooks on 5 Frames with a Mamiya Press Super 23 – or how I got (back) into film photography.

Comment posted: 14/01/2024

Terrific results. Great camera with a lot of shooting options
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Kai Lietz replied:

Comment posted: 14/01/2024

Thank you Paul! Indeed, this camera deserves every bit of attention for it's versatility.

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Alasdair Mackintosh replied:

Comment posted: 14/01/2024

It sounds like an amazing camera. I have an RB67 that I'm pretty happy with, but it's definitely not for handholding ;-)

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