Mamiya Press Super 23

5 Frames, 2 Rolls of Film, and 1 Mamiya Press Super 23 – By Floyd K. Takeuchi

At the westernmost point of Oahu, the Hawaiian Island that is home to Honolulu and Waikiki Beach, is an area of desolate beauty called Kaena Point. Now a state protected nature reserve, it is sacred ground to indigenous Hawaiians. This is where the spirits of the dead are believed to gather and then leap into the next world. It makes for photographic landscapes that are unlike the usual beach and palm tree vistas one usually associates with Hawaii.  It also makes for film photography well-suited for medium format and larger cameras.

Getting there requires one to drive about an hour from Honolulu, which is on Oahu’s south shore. At the northern side of the reserve, not far from the Mokuleia polo grounds, you park near a locked gate, and then hike 2.5 dusty, windswept miles to the point. That’s long enough for a photographer to appreciate the virtues of a small and light kit. Neither of which is how I would describe my Mamiya Press Super 23, a medium format modular camera system.

The Mamiya Press Super 23, which uses 120 film, is a photographic oddity – introduced in the late 1960s, too late to really be a true “press camera;” too unwieldy to be a pro’s usual “go to” medium format kit; and, while it was photography’s Veg-O-Matic camera that could slice and dice just about any assignment with a host of lenses, film backs and accessories, it has neither the Hasselblad’s classic lines nor Asahi Pentax 6×7 beefy manliness to make it a star.

However, what the Mamiya Press Super 23 does have is impressive value for photographers who want to use excellent Mamiya Sekor optics to shoot massive 6×9 negatives (as well as 6×7 and 645), and avoid the premium pricing for medium format film stars such as the Mamiya 7II or an RZ67. A search of listings on eBay for Mamiya Press Super 23 kits (body, 6×9 or 6×7 roll film back, 100mm F3.5 lens) found gear in good order going for US$250-US$350 plus shipping.

On a recent outing to Kaena Point, I took my Mamiya Press Super 23 body with the kit Mamiya Sekor 100 mm F3.5 lens mounted, and two 6×9 film backs. Using the Mamiya Press Super 23 reminded me that it has the ergonomics of a cinder block with a lens tacked on. But boy, am I happy with the two lenses I own: the already mentioned 100mm F3.5 and the Mamiya Sekor 150mm F5.6, which with the 6×9 film back has the equivalent 35mm full frame focal length of 65mm.

On the hike to Kaena Point, I had a 6×9 roll film back loaded with expired (2002) Fujichrome Astia, given to me by a friend who is my printer as well as the owner of Honolulu’s  remaining family-owned photo store, Kaimuki Camera. At least I thought it was loaded with Astia. When we reached Kaena Point, I quickly converted the hard, early afternoon light into an exposure of 1/125 of a second at F16.

Eight shots later, I rewound the film holder land and discovered to my horror that I had just shot Kodak Tri-X at two stops off. I went ahead and loaded Fujichrome Astia, figuring I might as well get shots with the film I had planned to use.

I dropped off the Astia at a Honolulu processing lab and souped the Tri-X in Cinestill DF96 monobath. I took a guess and kept the roll in developer for nearly 9 minutes with minimal agitation, followed by a 5-minute fresh water bath.

The Tri-X turned out fine, if contrasty with noticeable grain. The Astia came out flat and dense, with no hint of its usual bright colors. But a couple of minutes work with Photoshop and the chrome turned bright and punchy.

The five photos with this article are from those two rolls. I was happy that I got anything usable out of either roll. And as a result of the outing at Kaena Point, I’ve started a personal project to photograph places in Hawaii that are considered sacred. As part of that work, I’m going back to Kaena Point but this time with the 4×5.

The rock considered the jumping off point for souls into the next world.

Floyd K. Takeuchi is a documentary and fine arts photographer based in Honolulu, Hawaii.

IG: @fktakeuchi


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23 thoughts on “5 Frames, 2 Rolls of Film, and 1 Mamiya Press Super 23 – By Floyd K. Takeuchi”

  1. It is so much fun to go out and shoot BW in my old film cameras. I use a Minolta Autocord TLR, a Bronica S and a Leica IIIF, for which I’m always getting questions about what size sensor it has.. That gets even more confusing when I take out my Sekonic light meter.

  2. Well done!
    I’ve found that ergonomics are often improved by familiarity.
    I’ve adapted myself to some pretty awkward cameras and barely notioced thir foibles after 1,000 hours or so!

  3. It’s an awesome camera! Hand held, bright rangefinder and optical viewfinders. I have all 3, Universal and 600se. Lenses are superb, especially the 50, 75 and 100 f2.8…yet to really test the 250 f5 And getting great results from the Tessars..100 f3.5 and 150 f5.6.

    Shot with Linhof, Rollei, Blad, Bronica, rb67…for me, for value , flexibility and IQ, the Mamiya Press range are undervalued gems!

    Ask Don McCullum!!

  4. Enjoyed the Hawaiian lore as much as the photos you returned with. Always interest me about different cultural belief systems and their traditions. Thankfully modern society just leaves them well enough alone. Not out of respect for them, as should be the case, but as a complete disinterest in anything that they can’t benefit monetarily from. Thank you for sharing both the legendary and and litmus test, our moments captured. Be well.

    1. Thanks to all who responded. DM, I just had a young man check out a Graflex Crown Graphic I was setting up and ask it if was a digital camera! I showed him a film holder, definitely a learning moment. Kodachrome Guy, thank you. Kurt, you’re right about frequent use making even the most cumbersome camera more usable. I do need to use the Mamiya Press Super 23 kit more often — but the weight always makes me think twice. David, I’d be interested in your take on the 50mm lens. Perhaps we can have an offline discussion? Murray, thank you. And Eric, thanks for your generous assessment.

  5. I am a fan of the Mamiya-Press system and lenses. I have an old Mamiya-Press G, which has a Graflok back, allowing me to use Graflok roll film backs that fit many of my other cameras. I convinced a friend to make me a 3D printed Mamiya Press body which is much lighter and handier than the original cinder block. Ethan Moses of “Cameradactyl” named this new camera the “Homunculus” . It lacks a rangefinder, but is easily scale focused with wide lenses and the 2×3 Graflok back allows ground-glass focusing with longer or faster lenses. My favorite lenses are the 100mm/3.5 and the 50mm/5.6. The 100mm/2.8 is also very good. I am now working on making adapters for other lenses, based on the Mamiya-Press extension tubes and a helical.

    1. Thanks, Nick. I have the Mamiya right angle viewfinder and cut film mount. It allows for composing right side up. The Mamiya cut film holders for this system only load a single negative. And as best as I can tell, the only emulsions I’ve found in this size are Ilford HP5 and FP4 and Arista Ultra Edu in 100 and 400.

  6. I nearly bought a similar one a year or so ago and just missed out on it for well under $100. This is the first write up I have seen of someone using one; seems like they and the photographer do a good job. I was in Oahu last year; can’t wait to get back when travel opens up.

    Thanks for sharing

  7. Maybe I’m weird but I think this camera is better-looking than a Hasselblad, I’d go so far as to say it’s one of the best-looking medium-format cameras I have ever seen. I’d love to try it someday.

    1. Sroyon, the Mamiya Press line (they went through about four variations, I think) have their followers. I like the kits for the glass, not so much the bulky body. But then I also love my Rolleiflex 2.8F, which is the camera that goes to the grave with me.

  8. I bought an earlier model of the Mamiya Press new around about 1962. It may have been the first model, as I purchased a demo camera from the New Zealand wholesaler. It had a lower profile top with a smaller viewfinder, and I often had a problem with parallax sometimes cutting heads off on close ups. It was fine on infinity and I loved being able to stop down to f32 on occasions. I sold quite a few 6X9 transparencies for publication in magazines.
    Then your model with a much improved viewfinder, and I think parallax correction, was released. I tried it out and it was a great improvement, but I did not buy one. I later bought a new RB67 which was also a great camera. All the Mamiya lenses I have used are excellent, and I have always regretted selling my RB67. That was before we had computers and the ability to scan negatives and transparencies.
    Nice photos of Hawaii bringing back memories of several visits to all the main islands.
    In New Zealand, we have a Spirits Bay in the north where Maori spirits also return to the sea, because of course much early Polynesian migration to New Zealand / Aotearoa originated from Hawaii. We also have the same Legend of Maui as displayed on the summit of Haleakala, Maui Island. But our climate can be much cooler.

    1. Graham: Thank you for your post. I’ve only seen photos of the early incarnations of the Mamiya Press. They look a bit more ergonomic than the later models. I agree with you about Mamiya glass—it’s usually exceptional. I’ve been fortunate to have traveled to your beautiful country a number of times over the past 44 years. Stunning scenery and you Kiwis are welcoming hosts.

  9. Castelli Daniel

    I think Polaroid marketed a version of this camera. I don’t use medium format, but I always thought Mamyia made a innovative line of medium format gear.
    Imagine doing some street work with this rig? You’d have so many people coming up to you…like shooting fish in a barrel!

    1. You are indeed correct.There was a Polaroid version. And it is possible today to buy third party Fuji Instax Wide backs for the Mamiya Press Universal, which has a different back.It is possible to shoot this handheld but I can tell you that you’ll develop some serious biceps carrying this kit for street photography!

  10. An update for anyone looking for information about this quirky system camera. I recently picked up a clean copy of the Mamiya Sekor 65mm lens with the viewfinder It’s a 28mm equivalent lens. The lens turned out to need a serious overhaul. Fortunately, Bob Watkins at Precision Camera Works (now in Texas) still provides servicing of the Mamiya Press and Mamiya Universal kits. My whole camera bag … body, and three lenses … is now on Mr. Watkins’ bench. He does fantastic work.

    1. One thing that really helps with carrying and hand held shooting with these bulky cameras is to use an OpTech figure 8 chest harness instead of a neck strap. These figure 8 harnesses are much more comfortable than a neck strap, and are also more stable, reducing the tendency for the heavy camera to swing and sway. With extra pairs of quick-clip connectors you can wear one harness and swop cameras easily.

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