Camera Review: Mamiya Universal


Today I’m reviewing the Mamiya Universal Press. I have only had this camera a short time, but it is becoming one of my favorite cameras to shoot pack film with. It’s worth noting that the Polaroid 600se is very similar to the Mamiya Universal. In fact, it was made by Mamiya for Polaroid, but the lenses and back are not interchangeable between the two. From reviews I have read of the Polaroid model, it appears to be a better system if you plan to only shoot instant film since that was what it was designed for. The Mamiya is a medium format film camera first, but is a very capable instant system too. My reason for choosing the Mamiya over the Polaroid is simple. A friend had one at a good price, complete with the polaroid and 6×7 backs.

Mamiya Universal / Fuji FP-100c

Now, a little history. The Mamiya Press system was introduced in 1962 and went through a few model changes over the years. The Universal came out in 1969 and remained in production until 1991. Of all Press cameras, the Universal was the only one built to accept a Polaroid back. Out of the box, the Universal is a rangefinder focused 6×9 camera. Most, like mine, came with a 100 mm f/3.5 lens.

Film Used

Like I said before, the Universal is a medium format film camera. It uses 120 or 220 film, and shoots 6×9, 6×7, 6×6 and 6×4.5 formats by swapping out the various film backs. A G adapter was offered that would allow the use of  Garaflex accessories. This opens up the option for Type 55 film. For instant film, current off the shelf offerings are going to be FP-3000B for black and white photography and FP-100C for color photography. There are several expired Polaroid 3.25 x 4.25″ that will also work with the camera. Keep an eye on future blog post, as we will be reviewing these films and the many things that can be done with them after the shot is taken.

Mamiya Universal / Fuji FP-3000B

Mamiya Universal / Fuji FP-3000B / Negative

Form and Function

I honestly do not think the fine people at Mamiya care about weight. Just like the Mamiya RZ, the Universal is big and heavy. For the most part, these cameras are all metal and they are built like tanks. The Universal outshines many of the automatic land cameras because of it’s manual controls, but honestly is an awkward camera to use at first. It does take some getting used to and is not built for speed. It has a left hand grip with shutter release on it that I like, but to cock the shutter you have to set it on the lens. And Like any manual exposure camera, there is no internal light meter. You need a handheld meter to base your exposures.

There are 7 lenses available for the Universal. From a 50mm wide to a 250mm tele. I have the 100 mm f/3.5 lens on mine (a 2.8 version is available), and for general shooting it’s perfect. The camera has a switch that you set to match the lens on the body that will change the grid inside the viewfinder. This is great for shooting roll film, but pointless for shooting polaroids. Because pack film is larger in size than even the 6×9 size the camera was designed for, what you see is not what you get. You will get a little more in the frame then what you see, so you have to keep that in mind. This also produces some vignette. I dont mind it, but you may.

Sometimes I wish the glass was faster, but because the camera is a rangefinder and the lens is a leaf shutter, you can hand hold this camera at crazy low shutter speeds. A deep breath at 1/8th of a second, still produces tack sharp images. Shutter speed and aperture are controlled on the lens. In low light situations, the FP-3000B will be your film of choice if not using flash and during the day, the FP-100C works great for color photography. Speaking of flash, there is not a hot shoe on the camera. There is a cold shoe on both the body and the grip and a sync port on the lens with x-sync. I used a Vivitar 285 for some test shots and was pleased with the results. I like that the Vivitar is Automatic, and as long as it’s set correctly, you dont really have to worry about it.

Mamiya Universal / Fuji FP-100C / Vivitar 285 HV Auto Mode

Mamiya Universal / Fuji FP-100C / Vivitar 285 HV Auto Mode

I have used the camera at a wedding reception and for some studio shots. I recently took it over to a friends house and did some lifestyle shots while hanging out. I would say that thats where I had the most fun with this camera. Not having to rush and just being able to snap when I got the urge was great. I want to take it back to a wedding and shoot portraits of key players with it. As far as shooting in a studio goes, like any camera when shooting with strobes, just meter and forget it. The Universal preformed well and the colors looked great.

Mamiya Universal / Fuji FP-100C / Strobe in Beauty Dish

Mamiya Universal / Fuji FP-100C / Strobe in Beauty Dish

Pros

  • Uses the full frame of the pack film
  • Solid build
  • Multiple lenses available
  • Multiple backs and accessories available
  • Can be used for shooting medium format film
  • Manual controls
  • Leaf shutter

Cons

  • Heavy
  • Focusing can be awkward
  • Viewfinder not 100% when shooting polaroids
  • Cost (expect to pay between 500 and 700 USD for a system in good shape)
  • Lack of a hot shoe

 

Wrap Up

I have enjoyed using this camera. I look forward to many more shoots with it and have no plans of letting it go in the foreseeable future. I’m finding out where it fits in my workflow and so far I’m pleased with the results. Here are a few shots taken at my friends house. These are shot on Fuji FP-3000B at f/4 and between 1/8th and 1/15th of a second shutter speeds.

If you are looking for an instant camera that uses the entire frame of the film, with manual controls, multiple lenses and the ability to shoot medium format film, the Mamiya Universal will fit the bill. If you are just wanting something with manual controls that fills the frame, my suggestion would be something along the lines of a Polaroid 195 or having a model 250 Landcamera converted by Nate at Polaroid Conversions. If you dont care about filling the frame but want full control of your exposure, for the price I would suggest a Mamiya RZ.

Comments

  1. Hi there! I noticed you tadpole a lot about the Polaroid side of the camera. What do you think of shooting it in Medium Format?

    • I have only run 1 roll through it with the 6×7 back on. It was fun to use, but not fast going. Optics were great and focus was fast. It is a nice feature to have but for quicker shooting of MF, I’ll stick to my RZ.

  2. Hi Thank you for this descriptive review. what is the Polaroid back that fits this camera?

  3. Hi Do you have the film back for the camera. I have the older Press version and I’m trying to figure out how to use 3200 film. The ASA only rates to 400. n Any thoughts on how I’d get around this one?

    • The back is not actually “talking” to the camera. The ASA setting is more of a “so you know”, not the camera since there is not a meter on board. If you want to shoot at 3200, just use your handheld meter for that and set your aperture and shutter speed on the lens.

  4. Hi,

    How did you manage to put the hand grip on the right side?

    Thanks

  5. Hi Chris, congrats for your review.
    I am just a new owner of this great camera.
    I ask myself questions about the technique of flash fires.
    Could you explain how you proceed to synchronize the flash and the camera?

    Thank you in advance,

    Jean-Philippe

    • Basically I just use a Nikon SB80 in Auto mode. I set the f stop I’m shooting with on the flash and watch the distance it is giving me. Then just run my sync cable to the lens. I have found the Nokon flash to be very accurate and easy to adjust if needed.

  6. Where can I find a Polaroid back?

  7. So upon re-reading this I found an error. The G adapter uses Graflex accessories like the RH-10 or RH-8, or more modern RB67 backs, so still 120 film not 4×5. I’ve seen a Polaroid 545 adapted to fit the MUP but it requires irreversible mod of the camera body itself. You have to dremel out the inner baffles and even then you need one of the lenses with the P notation on the front (75, 127, 150) to get close to full 4×5 coverage. Even then it is a slightly cropped image and doesn’t seem to have much of an advantage over a 4×5 press camera with a rangefinder.

  8. Hi, Chris. Great review. Currently i own a polaroid land camera, but i find it very hard for the focusing. So im thinking of mamiya press. I saw that you commented that “Focusing can be awkward”, how awkward you referred to?

    • If you have used a rangefinder camera before, focusing should be easy. For people who are not used to rangefinder style focusing, this can take some getting used to.

      • Thanks Chris for the replied. I have a polaroid land Camera, i love it, and wanted a full control of the setting, so i’m planning to get a mamiya press. Did you use it to shoot film beside polaroid? can share the experience and result?

        • I had the roll film back for it, but never ran a roll through it. Having the RZ67 for 6×7 work just always seemed to be the more logical choice. However, you can see examples in the Mamiya Flickr group.

  9. Hi, Chris. Thanks for your review.
    I just bought the Polaroid 600se which I think almost same as Mamiya universal press, so there are lot things I have to learn.
    Regarding the flash:
    – Could you let me know if I can use the “new” flash like Canon 430ex with a sync cable?
    – Since this camera is complete manual, so with flash how can I control the aperture and shutter speed? Do I have to fire flash (in the manual mode) and use the handheld meter to decide the aperture and shutter speed and then take a “real” shot?

    Many thanks

    Dennis

    • Hey Dennis. You have a couple options when it comes to flash with these cameras. You can of course connect any flash or strobe that has manual controls and take a meter reading to make adjustments. This is how I use the camera with my Alien Bees. When using a flash, you have a couple options. You can go manual or use the auto mode in most flashes to get a good exposure. Personally, I hate using Canon flashes this way, because the auto mode is in their custom menu and a chore to find and remember without the manual. I prefer Nikon or Vivitar flashes because of their ease of use. With either of them, I put in auto mode and tell the flash my settings and it gives me a working distance. Wham bam thank you ma’am. You can get the Vivitar 285’s cheap and the same goes for the Nikon SB80.

  10. love the pics. just a question:
    1. Viewfinder not 100% when shooting polaroids

    so how you make sure the composition is what u wanted it to be?

    • I’ve just learned what to expect as I get in closer with the camera. At distance, it’s not that big of a deal. after a few frames, you pretty much know what will be in the shot.

  11. Jason King says:

    Hi Chris,
    I have recently purchased a Mamiya Universal. It comes with a G adapter and Polaroid back. It seems that instant film will be harder to come by and I also would like to shoot 120 film. Am i right in understanding that having the G adapter means I can use RB67 film backs? Would I need to do anything regarding the plane of focus? Also if I wanted to use a 6×9 Mamiya film roll back I would need an M adapter?

    • Hey Jason. It sounds like you are set to use the Polaroid back. You are correct in that to use the 6×9 back, you will need the M adaptor. Spacing should be fine, just remember that with the Polaroid back, you are capturing more in the frame than what you are seeing. Pack film is still easy to find, but the price has jumped. However,this really is a great setup for roll film and will serve you well.

      Good luck!

Trackbacks

  1. […] instant film and shared some pretty rad images with us. Those images were shot on FP-100C using her Mamiya RZ. If you missed that post, you can read it […]

Speak Your Mind

*