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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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
- 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
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.