Mamiya 6 Automat Mini-Review – A small, cheap 6×6 with a good lens!

By Simon Foale

The Mamiya 6 Automat, a 1955 folding 6×6 folder has been reviewed most engagingly on Youtube by a bloke called Martin Henson, who has a great accent and a great photographic eye, in addition to an unpretentious and accessible way of explaining things. It’s a camera that is actually superfluous to my ‘needs’ as a photographer, since I have been using, for over twenty years, its 1990s relative, the Mamiya 6MF, which is superior to it in pretty much every respect, except size (the Automat is significantly lighter, and smaller when folded up). Oh, and price! The Automat was about a tenth of the current price of its snazzy modern cousin. And to come clean with you, I just wanted to own a cool and functional folding camera with a good lens, that I didn’t have to pay a fortune for, and this one fits the bill.

The two Mamiya 6 cameras (both in folded state) to show relative size.
The two Mamiya 6 cameras (both in folded state) to show relative size.
The two Mamiya 6 cameras with lenses extended
The two Mamiya 6 cameras with lenses extended. Note that the bigger, modern version here is smaller than a Hasselblad or a TLR.

The most distinctive feature of the 1940s and ‘50s Mamiya 6 series (they were made between 1940 and 1958) is that they focus by moving the film plane, not the lens. The film is very firmly held against the film gate with a removable pressure plate (which you absolutely don’t want to lose), and you focus using a thumb wheel to the right of the viewfinder, which is also a pretty neat design feature. Some say that because of the unique film plane focusing system, the rangefinder rarely needs adjusting. I checked mine and it’s smack on. Another interesting feature of my model is that its 75mm F3.5 lens is a ‘D Zuiko’ made by Olympus. It’s a typical tessar – super sharp in the centre, straight from wide open, and the far corners aren’t really reliably sharp till F11. They are generally OK at F8.

There are many models of Mamiya 6 cameras, and some have a Mamiya-Sekor lens. Unlike older Mamiya 6 models, the Automat automat-ically cocks the Seikosha shutter when you wind the film on (hence the name). You can also cock it manually with a lever on the top of the shutter housing if necessary. For example, if you wind the film on with the front door closed, the lever that does the automatic shutter cocking doesn’t engage. Two versions of the ‘Automat’ were made. Mine is the earlier one. The second, called the ‘Automat II’, is apparently rarer, has ‘Mamiya’ in white text on the front of the camera body, and sports a Mamiya-Sekor lens. Other more subtle differences are explained in this excellent technical review. As with many of these older cameras, if you want to use the top speed of 1/500th, you need to set it before cocking the shutter.

I had to do some minor repairs to the Mamiya 6 Automat before I could use it – the easy stuff was painting over the few small holes in the bellows, and lubricating the arms that open the front door. The really scary bit was the winder – it’s part of a complicated maze of clockwork and features a large-diameter fine spring inside the winder housing, which resets the internal film counter wheel when you open the back door. The whole apparatus needed cleaning and lubrication – not an easy job for someone with my repair skill level. And you really need to watch that goddam spring, which isn’t all that easy to pop back into place when you are putting everything back together. In any case I got it working in the end and it has mostly behaved well ever since. But sometimes the internal film counter wheel still doesn’t rewind all the way back and I’ve found that I can give it a prod with a toothpick through the little window in the winder housing to coax it into place. If the counter wheel doesn’t reset all the way the camera won’t count the next roll correctly. The back door also has a closable red window for viewing the numbers on the film backing paper but it’s effectively redundant on this model, so I have taped over it for good measure. Mercifully the lens is clean (not a common thing with these cameras) and the shutter works well at all speeds.

I found a slip-on hood for it, and I can slip filters over the front of the hood using a step-up ring.

An unfortunate design omission of the Mamiya 6 Automat is that there is nowhere to attach a strap, so it’s a good idea to find a well-fitting pouch or case for it, assuming it doesn’t come with one of the original leather cases.

Let’s have a look at what this little camera can do. All the images are on colour negative film, which I processed at home with a 1 litre C41 kit, and scanned on a Nikon Coolscan LS-9000. I hope you enjoy them.

1 Butterflier at the Queensland Masters Swimming championships in Mackay, March 2023. Portra 400, F11, 1/500.
1 Butterflier at the Queensland Masters Swimming championships in Mackay, March 2023. Portra 400, F11, 1/500.
2 The start of a race at the Queensland Masters Swimming championships in Mackay, March 2023. Portra 400, F11, 1/500. I like that you can see both the shadows and the reflections of the divers in this shot.
2 The start of a race at the Queensland Masters Swimming championships in Mackay, March 2023. Portra 400, F11, 1/500. I like that you can see both the shadows and the reflections of the divers in this shot.
3 Suburban Poinciana in full bloom. Fuji Pro NS 160 with polarising filter. F11.
3 Suburban Poinciana in full bloom. Fuji Pro NS 160 with polarising filter. F11.
4 Cassia in full bloom. Fuji Pro NS 160 with polarising filter. F11.
4 Cassia in full bloom. Fuji Pro NS 160 with polarising filter. F11.
5 Back yard pineapple in soft afternoon light. Fuji Pro NS 160. F5.6.
5 Back yard pineapple in soft afternoon light. Fuji Pro NS 160. F5.6.
6 Helicopter refuelling, Greenvale, North Queensland. Portra 160, F8. I was helping the North Queensland Conservation Council by filming the upper reaches of the Burdekin River from the air as part of a campaign to prevent a proposed dam construction.
6 Helicopter refuelling, Greenvale, North Queensland. Portra 160, F8. I was helping the North Queensland Conservation Council by filming the upper reaches of the Burdekin River from the air as part of a campaign to prevent a proposed dam construction.
7 Catherine. Portra 400. F4.5.
7 Catherine. Portra 400. F4.5.
8 The view south across the pond at the Townsville Palmetum. Fuji Pro NS 160 with polariser. F11.5.
8 The view south across the pond at the Townsville Palmetum. Fuji Pro NS 160 with polariser. F11.5.
9 The mailboxes of the Trebonne Post Office, west of Ingham, North Queensland. Portra 400, F8. This is a working rural post office.
9 The mailboxes of the Trebonne Post Office, west of Ingham, North Queensland. Portra 400, F8. This is a working rural post office.
10 Cane crusher from an old sugar mill. Tyto Wetlands, Ingham, North Queensland. Portra 400, F11.
10 Cane crusher from an old sugar mill. Tyto Wetlands, Ingham, North Queensland. Portra 400, F11.

The Mamiya 6 Automat is very compact little folder that has been an absolute pleasure to use and I can recommend it if you are looking for a 6×6 that is small, cheap and has a good lens. Finding one in good condition may not be easy, but I dare say with some patience and caution, and perhaps some basic repair skills, you could get one that is usable.

Thanks for reading. My flickr page is here

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About The Author

By Simon Foale
Repairing and trying out my late grandfather's 1914 No.1 Autographic Kodak Junior initially led me down the film rabbit hole but now that I'm here I might stay for a bit. I am currently based in North Queensland, Australia. I used film for over 20 years before digital but these days I'm keen to indulge my curiosity about some film types I never tried back in the day, including some of the so-called 'document' films. I also like sharing stuff from my film archive.
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Comments

trailblazer2017 on Mamiya 6 Automat Mini-Review – A small, cheap 6×6 with a good lens!

Comment posted: 30/09/2023

I have a mint looking Mamiya 6 Automat which I really wish to work for me. However even after three times to a repair person I still have focus issues issues in that I find the rangefinder unreliable! When it works it's wonderful, much better than dragging round my Mamiya 645 around. Any suggestions for an improvement in image quality welcome! Could it be that the long stroke of the Mamiya shutter release results in bad images? TB
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Simon Foale replied:

Comment posted: 30/09/2023

Sorry to hear about this issue, which I can't really offer any useful advice on, I'm afraid. Seems like an unusual problem for this camera.

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Alexander Seidler on Mamiya 6 Automat Mini-Review – A small, cheap 6×6 with a good lens!

Comment posted: 17/08/2023

Very fine results !
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Gillian on Mamiya 6 Automat Mini-Review – A small, cheap 6×6 with a good lens!

Comment posted: 15/08/2023

I have a non-automat Mamiya Six and absolutely love it. I had the bellows replaced by a nice guy called Sandeha Lynch, and the camera was in really rough cosmetic shape when I got it, so I recovered it in red leather to match the new red bellows. I recently tried shooting slide film with it, which may turn out to be a disaster, but everything on negative looks fantastic.
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Simon Foale replied:

Comment posted: 15/08/2023

Good luck with the slides Gillian! Sandeha Lynch's site looks very impressive.

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brian m cox on Mamiya 6 Automat Mini-Review – A small, cheap 6×6 with a good lens!

Comment posted: 14/08/2023

Thanks for the write up! I have been considering buying a 6x6 folder for sometime and the Mamiya 6 is at the top of the list. My hesitation in not buying one has been lens performance. I don't expect perfection in terms of sharpness. I see a lot of online photos taken with this camera that exhibit a lot of flare in highlight areas in medium to high contrast scenes (unusable in my opinion). Have you (or anyone else) noticed this? Your examples look really clean in terms of lens flare in comparison to what I've seen elsewhere. I imagine this could varry depending on the condition of the lens, version of the lens, what lens coatings where applied and if a hood was used. Any idea about the lens coatings on your example?
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Simon Foale replied:

Comment posted: 14/08/2023

Hi Brian, I am not sure how best to answer this but I have seen some results posted online from the Zuiko lenses on Mamiya-6 cameras that suggest a bit of veiling flare. I think the 'F.C.' initials on my version stand for 'fully coated' but I am not sure about that. Using a hood definitely can't hurt, especially shooting into the light. A lot of the old Mamiya-6 cameras being sold at the moment have some haze and/or fungus in the lenses, which probably doesn't help. You definitely need to be careful to find an example with a clean lens, and I think it's important to get a look at the rear element if you are serious about buying one. I suppose if you can get one in your hand you can check the colour of the reflections off the glass to make sure the coatings haven't been cleaned off in an over-zealous disassemle and clean job (I'm totally conjecturing here). Good luck anyway.

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brian m cox replied:

Comment posted: 14/08/2023

Thanks so much for the advice! I'll definitely be in the lookout for an FC example. I suppose it's always a gamble with these older camera's. I really love my Mamiya C2 TLR but it's a bit much to lug around sometimes. Seems like one of these would a be a great walkabout camera that doesn't require a second mortgage on the house.

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Simon Foale replied:

Comment posted: 14/08/2023

Good luck with it, there seem to be a few reasonably decent looking examples around at the moment.

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Scott Edwards on Mamiya 6 Automat Mini-Review – A small, cheap 6×6 with a good lens!

Comment posted: 14/08/2023

wow... final results (and your shooting) are impressive!
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Simon Foale replied:

Comment posted: 14/08/2023

Thank you Scott and all the best with your photography.

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Lance on Mamiya 6 Automat Mini-Review – A small, cheap 6×6 with a good lens!

Comment posted: 14/08/2023

I’ve been looking at these cameras on eBay for about a year now but I think this article finally put me over the edge. Beautiful photos by the way!
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Simon Foale replied:

Comment posted: 14/08/2023

Thanks Lance and good luck. Do proceed with caution when buying and make sure the winder works properly and shutter speeds are good!

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Mike on Mamiya 6 Automat Mini-Review – A small, cheap 6×6 with a good lens!

Comment posted: 14/08/2023

I've really taken a shine to these folding cameras as a travel companion. Medium format goodness that folds up and fits in just about any small bag. Thanks for the write up. I've avoided the Mamiya just because the moving film plate seemed so....weird!
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Simon Foale replied:

Comment posted: 14/08/2023

I was also initially skeptical of the film plane focussing system, but all I can say is that it works fine and I haven't had any issues that even hint of a problem with film flatness. It would be a disaster to lose that removable pressure plate though! Some reviewers have commented that the fact that the lens doesn't have to move for focussing means that the maintenance of lens board alignment with the film plane is more assured with these cameras than with other folders.

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Tyler Montgomery on Mamiya 6 Automat Mini-Review – A small, cheap 6×6 with a good lens!

Comment posted: 14/08/2023

These are great cameras. I too shoot a modern Mamiya 6 and picked up an Automat partially to play around with, but also to treat as my 'beater' 6x6 when I don't want to risk bringing its bigger brother. It took alot of searching to find one with a decent lens; the price was relatively good but I also had to replace the beamsplitter and bellows (found on Ebay), which both took a fair bit of tinkering. In testing, I kept severely overexposing and found my shutter speeds above 1/50 were slow by about 2/3 to 1/2 stops (1/500 was more like 1/250); I compensate by closing down the stepless aperture ring as needed. The camera is clean but maybe a CLA by Certo6 or Mark Hansen is in order. Overall, these are surprisingly good cameras that once overhauled, should last another 70 years. However, they require someone willing to tinker and/or service because I have found few people who are willing to touch these and even the 'mint' copies on Ebay likely need a new bellows.
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Simon Foale replied:

Comment posted: 14/08/2023

Hi Tyler. Yes I think you are right, the maintenance issues can clearly be daunting on some of these old cameras. We shouldn't be surprised given their age. I think I was lucky that mine turned out to be as clean and as functional as it is. But the winder on mine is still a bit iffy. Once up and running they really are fun to use, and can produce very good quality images.

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Giuseppe Papale on Mamiya 6 Automat Mini-Review – A small, cheap 6×6 with a good lens!

Comment posted: 14/08/2023

nice review thank you; interesting to know the differences between the 'old' and the new in terms of optical performance. I own the new Mamyia6 and given the little use I make of it but above all the modest cost of the 'old' I could think of a replacement. Thank you Joseph
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Simon Foale replied:

Comment posted: 14/08/2023

Thanks Giuseppe. I would recommend holding on to your new Mamiya 6, as I think they are phenomenal cameras in so many ways. I really got the old Automat out of curiosity, and because it wasn't costly, so was thrilled that it turned out to be so usable, and to deliver great images. But it certainly doesn't replace my new Mamiya 6!

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Giuseppe Papale replied:

Comment posted: 14/08/2023

I thank you for the answer

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Martin on Mamiya 6 Automat Mini-Review – A small, cheap 6×6 with a good lens!

Comment posted: 14/08/2023

I love that camera, it's one of my favorite 6x6 folders. Thank you for an extensive review with some excellent photos!
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Simon Foale replied:

Comment posted: 14/08/2023

Thanks Martin, nice to meet another fan of the Mamiya-6 Automat! All the best with your photography.

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Martin replied:

Comment posted: 14/08/2023

Thanks, Simon. I was introduced to it by Martin Henson's YouTube Channel. This is a dangerous place to go (at least for the wallet). Cheers, Martin in Austria

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Simon Foale replied:

Comment posted: 14/08/2023

:)

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