This Mamiya Universal was for a long while the most expensive film camera I’d ever bought, around £120, but not the most expensive camera as that title is still held by my GF1 at around £400 plus an extra lens for £250. I’m still sore about that but I must let it go.
Anyway, the reason I wanted this camera was because I saw William Eggleston use one in a documentary. I know that’s a bit sad and fanboy-ish but there you go.
I knew it was a medium format camera but didn’t know much about the Mamiya brand quality at the time.
I remember staying up to around 3am watching the eBay auction, incrementing my maximum bid to around £300K. It was described as used but they forgot to prefix that description with ‘ab’.
Unbeknownst to me the shutter was twitchy and could open at anytime AND the roll film back had no seals left. On top of this I didn’t read the manual, something I still don’t do.
I like to discover how a camera works (unless it’s a digital camera).
Not Reading the Manual
It clearly states in the manual that you need to extend the lens barrel and lock it in place to use, if you don’t you’re images look like this …
Shutter-Bug and the Light Leaks
It was probably only late 2011 or early 2012 that I realised the shutter was partly to blame for lost frames but for a long time it was primarily the light seals. I now use a lens cap.
Even now the roll film back is still covered in duct tape. Of course I could get some seals and fit them but things is busy round here.
Mamiya Universal as a System
A wee while after I bought the camera I bought a Polaroid back (£85!) so I could use the Fuji FP-100C pack film. I had delved into Polaroid pack cameras with a 104 Land Camera and a Mini Portrait inspired by the Film Photography Project‘s Podcast.
The Back actually pokes you in the face when you use the viewfinder.
It was great being able to use FP-100C but I wasn’t using the film that much due to the cost but Amazon.co.uk have recently been selling it for under £10 so I’ve been buying more.
I even then went through a phase of not knowing if it should be rated 100 due to forgetting to only peel if it was kept warm.
It uses a sharp 100mm Sekor/Mamiya lens with all the shutter stuff on the barrel, very similar to the Mamiya C330. A dial that changes the shutter speed is sandwiched between the focus and aperture rings.
You cock the shutter like a large format camera (the big silver lever above right of the word normal) and it has a cable release socket hooked up to a handle with a trigger and an additional shutter release at the opposite end.
There’s also a switch to jump between M and X flash options, a shutter lock and a PC cord socket.
The rangefinder is quite dull even though the VF is very large and fairly bright.
Here’s where the abused part comes in. The frame line piece for the lenses/backs rocks back and forth like a nursery rhyme in the viewfinder.
Every frame is guess work and when you include the Polaroid back it’s even more a guess because the coverage area is much larger than the viewfinder.
When using the 120 roll back I have to imagine the crop, much like I do with the Kodak Kodamatic the enormous No.3A and Premo cameras.
Although it really isn’t the best a camera for street photography, as it’s huge and heavy, I have given it a go.
… but with very mixed results
It’s a better for more controlled environments because I’m hesitant about getting the focus accurate.
I’ve been most forgiving of this camera when it’s screwed me because it can make photos I like.
I’ve enjoyed using it for ‘Urban’ photos especially with the Polaroid back.
I just have to remember the coverage can be way more than what’s in the viewfinder.
All in all, I believe this camera is best for studio work or for anything where the pace is slow. It’s a ‘beater cam’ for sure but has lots of charm and a great lens.
It can do 120, Polaroid and with nothing in the Polaroid back it should be able to do 4×5 as well. In fact, I nearly started to bid on a ground glass back for it but managed to resist. I might just stuff a sheet in the Polaroid back like I did with a Polaroid 80 camera.
I love it very very much.