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Mamiya C33 TLR Medium Format 120 Film Camera Review Video

(If you can't see the video, please click here.)

Mama Mamiya!

So there I was, wandering around the indoor car boot sale at the Mountbatten Centre in Portsmouth, when I spied what looked like an old camera bag. I unzipped it and saw "Mamiya" on the top of a big aluminium Twin Lens Reflex camera.

When the seller said they only wanted a tenner, I passed over the cash and grabbed my prize without really having a good look. I knew that Mamiya made expensive profesional cameras, and this was a TLR, just what I've been looking for, for a long time.

TLR's are rather unique - you compose your image by looking down into the top of the camera. With a Twin Lens Reflex the lower lens is the one that actually takes the photo, and the upper the lens you're looking through to compose your image. 

Millenium Bridge

This camera is heavy. I know you can hand-hold it, and it does have lugs for a neck strap, but I had to put it on a tripod. It's difficult to describe how different it is to look at your composition through the view-finder. The viewfinder almost creates a three dimensional image - this is probably because of the small depth of field that can be achieved with these large cameras - and it looks magical.

At The Lotty

 Taking 120 Roll Film, my Mamiya C33 produces beautifully large negatives. It's a little worn around the edges - the lever that protects the film from light during a lens change doesn't work, and the hinge on the film back looks like its on its last legs, but as you can see from these images this camera can still deliver the goods.

The exposures in some cases were a little off, so more testing will have to show whether it was a lazy (slow) shutter or me using my light-meter wrongly....

Millenium Bridge

 The film I used for these shots was Ilford FP4 Plus, and I developed the negatives myself in Paterson Tanks using PQ Universal Developer, Ilfostop and Ilford Rapid Fixer. I scanned the negatives with an Epson V500 scanner.

As you probably already know, I'm a big fan of film cameras, not just as an end in themselves but also as a tool for photographers to improve their digital images. By having to take all the extra time to set up a shot with a Mamiya C33, or any TLR Camera, you are teaching yourself to be much more careful with all your photo's in general. You will find yourself really looking around your dSLR (or digital compacts) viewfinder for distractions and elements that take away from your subject - surely a good thing.

Old Warehouse

 So keep an eye out for a cheap TLR. I love mine, even though using it is a reall effort. There's a real satisfaction from lugging my Mamiya C33 to a location and getting some half-decent shots - it's all very deliberate, and incredible relaxing, strangely enough!

Thanks, Rob.

Reader Comments (5)

Hiya Rob,

Still can't believe you got all this for a tenner! Bargain of the century even with the minor niggles.

You could live with the minor niggles but one advantage of the Mamiya TLR's is the lens changing, (and you got two for your bargain to boot!), so might be worth a go at fixing it yourself.
A sharp blade, (scalpel, exacto), will help you peel off the metal cover from the top of the lock/unlock knob. Patience is a virtue if you want to prevent damage. Under that should be either one or two screws, (never personally pulled apart a C22 only the C330), and then you can remove the knob completely. The accessory shoe can also be unscrewed at this time, (don't lose those screws!), leaving the leatherette clear for the next step.
I usually use a hot hair dryer to then blast at the leatherette hopefully freeing the glue so that it can be carefully peeled off, (although I've seen botch jobs where super-glue has been used to re-affix this!!) Once clear there should be a plate with about 5 or 6 screws holding it in place to the camera body. Remove these and you should now have a clear view of the internal mechanism. Any adjustment or fix should be relatively easy from here on.

To affix the leatherette back on I usually use double sided sticky tape, (the good stuff not the cheap bargain shop rubbish), which fixes it back well and allows future removal to be easily performed. Some people suggest rubber cement, the original stuff used was 'pliobond' but I haven't seen this for some time.

For light seals, (which tend to go a black gunky mess or fall apart), you can get seal kits from ebay for the Mamiya TLR's. The last kit I bought unfortunately fell apart far quicker than the originals. In the end I bought a roll of self adhesive velcro and cut suitable sized strips from the 'furry' ends and used them. Still working today! :-)

With the hinges I found that simply bending them back to shape carefully more than made for an adequate fix. (Mine wouldn't close properly when I purchased it but this 'tweaking' has had it working ever since).

As far as shutter speeds being off they usually are, (even from new let alone after a number of years), but not usually that far. I've seen people measure the 1/500th setting and then complain it runs at 1/420th which as you know full well is neither here or there! Usually if it's half a stop out, (sometimes on the lower speeds), you can live with it and get to know the camera and adjust accordingly. Half the fun of owning older cameras! ;-)
However a guy on flickr stripped a lens assembly and luckily provided images as he went along :-

The usual fixes are to blow out this mechanism with a bulb blower, (carefully!), and sometimes even a quick clean with small amounts of lighter fluid on a cotton bud. Not for the faint hearted but certainly worth knowing.

As you say they are great cameras, (I would never be rid of mine!), and a joy to use. Not having a 'delete' button means you take more care with your photography and not snap for the numbers ;-)

Oh, I purchased the neoprene neck strap from work and it makes the Mamiya far more comfortable to wear around the neck. Usually much better for getting those candid views with the unobtrusive look down your neck, (watch that double chin!), and a quiet click of that shutter. Far more successful than a dirty big L series lens on a Canon with the mirror clacking away for all it's worth!

Whatever you do just simply enjoy this old beast, it was far more capable than many people made out and do have a go at the lens aperture opened much more as well as some close up shots. 'Dreamy Creamy' bokeh awaits! :-)

Great stuff again Rob.

All the best,


April 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVictor

Hi Victor,

You're so right - these old TLR's are brilliant pieces of kit and a joy to use. It's such a different experience to digital that I think everyone should shoot at least one roll with a Twin Lens Reflex, it changes the way you think about composition and framing.

I don't think I'll be taking my C33 apart anytime soon, but when I do I'll have your number on speed-dial for when I get stuck!

Cheers, Rob.

April 29, 2011 | Registered CommenterRob_Nunn

I have the same camera but no idea what kind of film I need! Please help! Thanks - ava

January 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAva Marie


Fear not, just get yourself some 120 film, colour or black and white, and that will work.

Make sure you've got a light-meter handy, and have read the instructions on compensating for focal lengths, then you'll be ready to go!

Thanks, Rob.

January 4, 2013 | Registered CommenterRob_Nunn

How do you determine the depth of field on this? Just purchased a C33.

April 28, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBruce Grainger

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