Mamiya model C220 rollfilm camera – Ray Goulter

The Mamiya model C220 Professional takes both 120 and 220 rollfilm. There’s a sister model titled C330 that has some advancements but at double the price when film ruled.

It’s interesting to note that most late film-era 120 rollfilm cameras were called “Professional”. This was probably the result of most amateurs, like me, using 35mm cameras, whereas professional and commercial photographers appreciated the extra detail that the 120 rollfilm format gave and the additional cost of the camera, accessories and film was recoverable from their clients.

The C220 is a twin-lens reflex camera (TLR) that was popular with many wedding photographers. I’ve recently come by one and I’ve run a film through it and now have another loaded and under way.

Due to its relatively less expensive price when it first came on the market, it was considered to be an entry-level medium-format camera for professionals, who might subsequently move on to the Hasselblad when their income improved following successful establishment of their photographic business. The C220 and C330 were referred to by some as “Ugly Ducklings” but another good reason they were used by professionals was that Mamiya successfully engineered interchangeable lenses for their TLRs at a far less expensive cost than Hasselblad lenses. Make no mistake, however; this camera was a professionals’ and serious amateurs’ camera. Its lenses are sharp, durable and well made.

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The format is straight 6cm x 6cm (image size actually 56mm x 56mm) giving 12 frames to each 120 rollfilm, or, if using 220 rollfilm, 24 frames.

It’s also a fully mechanical camera so exposure has to be firstly determined then the shutter and aperture set.

The twin lens setup makes shooting images at waist level quite easy and I can see why it was a camera favoured by many wedding photographers. The Fresnel focussing screen provides a bright image and small “barn doors” gives some shade to the focussing screen in bright sunshine, but it is still preferable to use the flip-up magnifier for critical focus. This is done by pressing a hinged flap at the front of the focussing hood in its raised position until the magnifier pops up into position. Once focus is set the magnifier can be pressed back down and final composition determined.

The standard collapsible focussing hood also has a “sports finder”. Pressing the front flap all the way down enables the camera to be used at eye level and the subject viewed through a square aperture in the rear flap of the focussing hood. This allows easier panning for action photos or for following a moving subject.

There were several finders made for this camera including an eye-level CdS “Porrofinder” (who came up with that name!) that incorporated a built-in exposure meter. This would be handy if the lens is extended, as the f-stop changes with lens extension and underexposure would occur if the f-stop or shutter speed wasn’t changed to compensate for the amount of extension.

An eye-level prism finder was also made. This has the advantage of allowing the image on the focussing screen to be seen exactly as the subject is viewed whereas the waist-level finder has the subject reversed horizontally.

This image shows the excellent brightness of the focussing screen.

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The square format means no need to turn the camera on its side for portraiture, as there is no “landscape” or “portrait” mode. Square is square, so a movie camera tripod with no swing is suitable for this camera, or indeed for any square-format camera.

The design of the C220 also allows interchangeable lenses to be fitted, and these can be changed at any time during a shoot. A knob on the left side of the camera, when turned to “Lock”, prevents the spring-steel wire holding the lens in place from being released.  Turning the knob to “Unlock” then allows the lens to be removed (obviously!) but it also serves another purpose, which is to drop into place a baffle inside the body, behind the lower object lens, that prevents light from reaching the film whilst changing lenses. Flicking the knob to “Lock” with the lens removed will lift the baffle and fog the film frame. I did just that – that’s why I know! Suffice to say the C220 is not entirely idiot-proof!

A film pressure plate inside the hinged rear cover allows rotation to “120” or “220” prior to closing the back. The film choice is indicated by the red dot, as can be seen in the following image:

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This also changes the display in the rear cover window to indicate the chosen film, as can be seen in the following images.

Set for 120 rollfilm:

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And 220 rollfilm:

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It’s also worth noting that there’s excellent lens extension, as the lens plate is extended on a rack-and-pinion by using a knob on either side of the camera body. A compendium allows extension from the camera body of just over 5 ½ centimetres. That means the effective aperture of a 55mm lens would be doubled (f/8 becomes f/16) and that of other lenses would have to be calculated (take your electronic calculator with you in the field!). e.g. the diameter of the aperture set at f/11 on an 80mm lens is 80 divided by 11 = 7.27mm. Extending the lens plate by, say, 36mm means adding 36mm to 80mm = 116mm. Divide 116 by 7.27 and you get 16, therefore the effective aperture at 36mm extension for the 80mm lens is f/16 when the aperture ring is set at f/11. If a light meter gives a reading of f/11 @ 1/125th sec for Ilford FP4 (125 ISO), then the correct exposure at lens extension of 36mm would be the reading for f/16, which would be 1/60th sec, or 1 stop. Alternatively, leave the shutter at 1/125th sec and set the aperture to f/8. A scale at the lower section of the compendium provides data to aid exposure adjustment.

The lens fully extended. Note the position of the cable release.

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When the lens is extended it’s not possible to change lenses as the rod that unlocks the sprung steel wire is located in the camera body on the left-hand side. As the lens plate is moved forward it loses contact with the pivot on the lens plate so turning the knob to “unlock” has no effect and the lens can’t be released. It is possible to press the pivot with a small object, even a finger, but much easier to retract the lens plate back to the body then change the lens as desired.

There are a number of drawbacks with the Mamiya C220 that are consistent with TLRs:

  • Two lenses for each mount: one for focussing and the other for taking the image. This added to the manufacturing cost of lenses and hence the price (but still cheaper than Hasselblad lenses).
  • Parallax error, which occurs because the viewing lens is on a different plane to the object lens. This is especially so if shooting close-up, where it’s necessary to tilt the camera backwards to ensure the image composition is what you want, or lift the camera up to compensate. There are two finely etched lines in the viewing screen facilitating parallax correction. There is negligible parallax error if shooting landscapes. I did see a very handy tripod head, specifically for TLRs, on the internet. The camera is mounted on a plate that slides up and down a cylindrical shaft. The length of up-and-down movement is dictated by the distance between the centre axes of the two lenses. In the case of the C220 that’s 50mm. Once the composition is determined through the viewing lens the camera is simply raised on the shaft by 50mm, thus moving the plane of the object lens to that which was the plane of the viewing lens. Simple and effective!
  • Filters; more particularly a polarising filter. The effect can’t be seen in the viewfinder unless the polarising filter is unscrewed from the object lens and screwed onto the viewing lens. Once the setting has been determined, screw the filter back onto the object lens and set in the same position as previously determined on the viewing lens. Alternatively, a second polarising filter can be mounted on the viewing lens (extra cost) and the position replicated on the object lens. Filter size for the standard 80mm lens is 46mm. Normal filters are not so much of a problem. The filter factor needs to be allowed for when determining exposure.
  • Depth of field preview. This can’t be seen. The viewing lens has no aperture mechanism, so it’s impossible to pre-check the depth-of-field. Nor is there a depth-of-field scale on the object lens. Taking a landscape using the hyperfocal distance is therefore problematic, as the horizon may be slightly out of the focal range. There is no DoF scale for a very good reason: The lens is mounted on a front plate that has a compendium attached and the other end of the compendium is attached to the camera body. Winding the lens forward would alter the DoF so that any scale etched onto the lens rings would become meaningless.

Loading film:

The hinged back cover is opened by turning a locking button at the top in a clockwise direction then pressing it to the right. It’s a reasonably stiff movement that prevents accidental opening of the back. The film is advanced vertically from the bottom film chamber to the top take-up spool chamber. The film spool that held the previously exposed film has to be removed from the bottom to the top so that it becomes the take-up spool.

Loading the fresh film is a simple process. The new spool of film is placed in the film chamber at the bottom of the carriage. There are two spring-loaded buttons on the left-hand side of the camera that are pulled out for removing and inserting spools, so pulling the bottom one out allows the film spool to be inserted into the bottom chamber, then the button is released to secure the spool. The take-up spool is then inserted by pulling out the spring-loaded top button. This can be done before or after the film spool has been loaded into the film chamber; it makes little difference to the operation.

A roll of film being loaded:

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The film backing paper tongue is then led into the central slot of the take-up spool, which in turn is rotated until the tongue is secure and held firmly in place. The wind-on crank handle is then rotated until the arrow printed on the backing paper is aligned with two small red dots on the film carriage. The hinged back cover is then closed and the button at the top of the back cover is rotated anti-clockwise to lock the back cover.

This image shows the film backing paper in the correct position ready for the rear cover to be closed.  The film is then cranked to frame 1 after the rear cover is closed and locked.

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Shooting:

A number of actions are required:

  1. Load the film (see previous)
  2. Wind the film on so that frame 1 is ready. The winding-on crank has a positive stop so there’s no danger of accidentally winding the film too far.
  3. Cock the shutter by pressing downwards the knurled button on the lens body.
  4. Set both the shutter speed and the aperture according to the determined exposure reading.
  5. Check focus, most likely using the magnification lens.
  6. Press the shutter bar downwards to expose the film. Alternatively, screw a cable release into the threaded hole at the top right hand corner of the front plate, especially if using a tripod to avoid camera shake. A small lever extending from the lens is pressed downwards when the shutter-release button is pressed. (See next image). The shutter-activating bar extends the full length of the front plate to allow either the finger button at the lower level, or the cable-release at the top, to activate the lens shutter.
  7. Wind the film on ready for the next exposure.

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What happens if I press the shutter again straight after taking an exposure? Will I double-expose? The simple answer is no. The reason is that the shutter must be cocked before it can be activated. Not only that, but the winding-on crank must advance the film before the shutter release bar can move, but only if the setting near the manual shutter button isn’t set to “Multi”. So, there are several mechanisms in place that prevent accidental multiple exposures. If multiple exposures are desired, changing from “Single” to “Multi” allows the shutter to be repeatedly set and triggered until such time as “Single” is again selected.

The shutter mechanism and aperture ring is shown in the next image. The object lens is very much like those for rail cameras, with the exception that it lacks the shutter-opening button of view camera lenses that allows the subject to be viewed on a ground-glass screen. The C220 lenses, provided a suitable adaptor plate could be made (which should not be too difficult), could be used on view cameras provided the circle of illumination was of sufficient diameter to cover a 4” x 5” area without too much light fall-off at the corners. Viewing the image on the ground glass screen of the view camera would be achieved by setting the lens shutter to “B” and holding the shutter open sufficiently long enough to check focus and DoF, then returning the shutter to the desired speed before placing the 4” x 5” film holder to the rear plate.

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One thing that is very clear with the 80mm standard lens for the C220, and that is the shutter/aperture scale clearly indicates the reciprocal exposures. The image above shows the shutter speed/aperture combination f/11 @ 125th sec. If a shallower DoF was desired, then f/5.6 @ 1/500th sec would provide the same exposure, and extending the DoF would be achieved by selecting f/32 @ 1/15th sec. All the shutter speed/aperture combinations indicated give exactly the same light exposure to the film not taking into account reciprocity failure. It’s exactly the same for digital cameras.

Using 220 rollfilm:

No major scientific knowledge is required here. Firstly the film pressure plate is to be rotated so that the red dot aligns with “220”. The 220 roll is then loaded and the paper leader wound on to align the printed arrow with the alignment dots, then the rear cover closed and locked. The button at the top of the right-hand side of the camera is then pushed forward to reveal the number “220” instead of “120”. This ensures the extra frames on the 220 roll will be “counted” to 24 before the film wind-on crank allows the roll of film to be fully wound onto the take-up spool. I intend putting a roll of 220 through this camera to appreciate its functioning for the extra length of film.

Unlike any cameras using dark slides/film plates (i.e. 4” x 5”, 5” x 7”, 8” x 10” etc.) or those using interchangeable film backs like the Mamiya RB67, the film in the C220 can’t be changed for another mid-roll, so a full roll has to be exposed before a different type of film can be loaded. If a photographer wished to use several types of film in one shoot he/she would need to use more camera bodies.

CONCLUSION:

The Mamiya C220 is simple in construction and use but sophisticated in its operation. All images I took on the first roll didn’t require lens plate extension therefore exposure was in accordance with the readings from the Weston Master V light meter, and all exposures were good and the images sharp. Would I always use the C220 in preference to the RB67 or the Rollieflex 6006? No I wouldn’t even though it weighs about half that of the RB, but I would use it for a portraiture shoot just for the experience, and to use around town maybe if carrying a tripod became an issue, as it is of lighter weight. The lenses are also much lighter than the RB67 and 6006 so carrying around extra lenses, say 55mm, 135mm and 250mm means less effort.

 

Ray.