A very capable medium format camera in a small package
Having used the Pentacon Six TL camera for a while, I still craved for a better shooting experience in a 6x6 format. While the Pentacon is perfectly usable and sturdy, I felt that it wasn't the most reliable of cameras to use. I eventually came across the Mamiya C220. For being the poor man's Rolleiflex, it seemed like a decent kit: interchangeable lenses, small package, and easy multiple exposures. $350 USD later, I had camera in hand...
C220 vs C330
There really isn't much difference between the two models. I've listed a quick summary of the differences that I'd find impactful on day to day usage of the camera.
At the end of the day, I could live with no parallax compensation and manual shutter cocking. Sometimes I do forget to cock the shutter, but so far it hasn't caused me to miss a shot. Shooting with this camera is still a rather slow experience. I did appreciate the lighter weight, however insignificant. Probably the last consideration that pushed me towards the C220 was the potential of failure and repair. With the C220, it's all manual and I figured that as such there is less that could go wrong and if something did go wrong, it'd be easier to fix.
My Usage Experience
While not comprehensive, I have been using the camera when I could for the past 6 months. I appreciate that it's basically a small box and fits nicely in my backpack.
The Mamiya doesn't disappoint in this field. The whole package is solidly build and polished. The film advance is accurate, and will stop advancing when it's the next frame. Loading film is easy as the entire back swings open to reveal the loading chamber.
The camera itself has a good heft to it. As a comparison, the C220 is slightly larger in volume than the Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM lens. As far as perceived weight goes, it doesn't feel much heavier than the 24-70mm lens even though by the numbers it is a little over 1lb heavier than the lens.
Overall, I have no complaints about the build quality.
The camera is surprisingly ergonomic despite being a box. That being said, a neck strap is a must. While I have free handed the camera, the neck strap does provide additional stability especially when trying to achieve critical focus.
All of the controls are in intuitive and easy to reach places. The focusing knobs are on both sides. The shutter cock is on the left side and within reach of the left thumb. The shutter release is on the right side and within reach of the right thumb.
The aperture ring has a small nub that can be operated with the right index finger, but for the most part I usually have to look at it in order to adjust. The same goes for the shutter speed. This makes changing settings cumbersome. It's not the end of the world, but it is a trade off since the lenses are leaf shutters.
Ease of Focus
Focusing is performed by turning the knobs and extending the bellows. As the bellows extend, you'll notice markings on the left side that gradually reveal. The marking indicate approximately how much exposure compensation is needed and which etched grid line to use as a reference to the top of the image.
On the bellows, there is an approximate focus distance scale with the 80mm lens in black, 65mm lens in red, and 55mm lens in blue. I will admit that I don't find these markings terribly useful. The bottom portion is the most important part. How much of the bellows is revealed indicates either an x1, x1.5, or x2 bar, which correspond to roughly EV 0, EV +0.5, and EV +1. So at x2, you will need roughly an extra stop of light to maintain proper exposure due to extended bellows.
The focus screen is clear and easy to discern if the image is in focus or not. On the screen there is also two etched lines that provide framing compensation due to parallax. The top etched line denotes the top of the image when the bellows are extended to the x1.5 position. The bottom etched line similarly denotes the top of the image when at x2.
In practical use, they are close enough. It's not perfect, but I'm used to imperfect framing since I main shoot with Leica rangefinders. There is also a pop out magnifier which is handy to achieve critical focus. My only complaint about the magnifier is that I have on one occasion gotten the back flap stuck after popping out the magnifier. Something to watch out for.
Naturally some shots just can't be had due to the waist level finder such as top-down shots. However, for the majority of the shots I've taken, focus has been quick and easy to obtain.
My impressions about the image quality are for the Sekor 80mm f/2.8 lens that came with the camera. Although the camera has interchangeable lenses, I have yet to buy additional lenses. I have been thinking of picking up the 180mm f/4.5 telephoto lens in the future, but that's the future!
The 80mm lens is roughly equivalent to a 50mm lens in the full frame format. Here's a nice table that shows the 6x6 focal length equivalents in 35mm format (source):
I found the Sekor 80mm lens to be very versatile. Even though it's only an f/2.8 aperture lens, the depth of field is still shallow enough to produce bokeh. The bokeh tends to be creamy and so far I've not encountered a situation where the bokeh is so busy that it's distracting.
Since the depth of field is much shallower, nailing critical focus at f/2.8 at close focus distances (less than 1 meter) tend to be tough if my shooting discipline is lacking. All it takes is for an unsteady hand for a sway forward or backward to take it out of the critical focus zone.
As far as sharpness is concerned, the lens is sharp but not bitingly so.
Stopping down the lens produces even cleaner results. I haven't stopped down beyond f/8 since I've been using medium speed films in available light, so I can't really comment on how it'd look at f/32. Maybe next time I should take it out with a tripod and cable release and give it a go.
To sum it up, the stock Sekor 80mm lens performs very well and compares favorably to my larger Fuji 6x8 lenses.
To be honest this was another reason that I picked up the camera. It's also extremely unfortunate that I've yet to take a single multiple exposure picture! However, I can vouch that it exists and is extremely easy to engage!
This camera has been a solid performer for me in multiple available light fashion shoots, and easily one of my favorite medium format film cameras so far. Being capable of producing beautiful images in such a small package is a definite advantage over my much larger and heavier Fuji GX680IIIS!
I can wholeheartedly recommend this camera to anyone looking for TLR camera! Thank you for reading!