8 Great Vintage Medium Format Cameras for Retro Analog Shooters

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If you want the past to be part of your future, there’s no better way than shooting modern vintage-look pictures with an old film camera—or a brand-new one that’s managed to survive the digital onslaught. Sure, there’s truth in the cliché that the person behind the camera is the most important thing, but photography is a technologically based art form. That’s why the photographic medium (film or digital) and the camera you use to take the picture have a much greater influence on the result than, say, an artist’s brush, or a writer’s pen. Digital images have a subjectively different look than images shot on film—even when you put them through one of those ingenious film-emulation apps. And portraits shot with, say, a medium-format twin-lens reflex have a qualitatively different look and feel from those shot with a full-frame SLR or DSLR. That’s because the shooting characteristics of the camera and the photographer/camera interface are quite different. Also, vintage lenses render the subject in a noticeably different way than modern lenses, even if both are equally sharp, due to variations in contrast, gradation, and bokeh. The bottom line: If you want to capture nostalgic images that consistently look like they might have been shot 50 years ago, using a vintage medium format film camera is a great way to go.

“Vintage” Analog Cameras You Can Buy Brand New

Type “Film Cameras” into the search bar on the B&H Photo Video homepage, select “35mm cameras,” and six new rangefinder cameras and one new SLR come up—four Leica M, two Voigtländer Bessa, and the redoubtable Nikon F6 35mm pro SLR cameras. Select “medium- format cameras” and you’ll see new Horseman view cameras and exotic special-purpose Linhofs, all premium priced. New Holga and Diana medium format cameras have their own tab. They’re a cheap, cool way to capture soft, dreamy images. All the vintage cameras listed below are readily available used, so check the B&H Used Department and B&H’s eBay listings.

Four Vintage Medium Format 2-1/4 Square Twin-Lens Reflexes

Rolleiflex Automat MX EVS: Any post-WWII Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex is a great choice for retro analog shooters, but the classic MX EVS of the mid-’50s, with 75mm f/3.5 Zeiss Tessar or Schneider Xenar lens, is probably the most affordable. It has parallax compensation over the entire focusing range down to three feet, a commendably bright reflex viewfinder, a quiet, low vibration, high-grade Synchro-Compur leaf shutter with timed speeds of 1 to 1/500 of a second, single-stroke crank wind, ergonomic controls, and a compact form factor. Like all Rollei TLRs, it takes 120-size roll film, and captures twelve 2-1/4 x 2-1/4 images per roll. Later Rolleiflex models have 75mm f/3.5 and 80mm f/2.8 Zeiss Planar and Schneider Xenotar lenses that are slightly sharper at the widest apertures, but they’re pricier and not really any better at capturing that retro look. Twin-lens Rolleis don’t have interchangeable lenses, show a laterally reversed viewing/focusing image (unless you fit a bulky prism) and only focus down to three feet (unless you add Rolleinar close-up lenses that provide automatic parallax compensation.) Despite these endearing quirks, they’re among the best cameras for shooting retro portraits.

Rolleiflex MX EVS with 75mm f/3.5 lens

Mamiyaflex C330/C330f: These late-model 120/220 Mamiyaflexes are the best ones for serious shooters because they have interchangeable lenses (the defining feature of the breed) along with single-stroke, fully automatic film-wind cranks (no separate shutter cocking, so no double exposures) and moving parallax-compensation lines in their bright Fresnel viewfinders—not as convenient as auto-parallax-compensation, but great to have in a TLR that focuses down to 18 inches. The 80mm f/2.8 Mamiya-Sekor standard lens, a 5-element, 3-group Heliar design, delivers superb definition even wide open, along with gorgeous bokeh, and the inter-lens Seiko leaf shutters are very reliable. The excellent Mamiyaflex lens sets range from 55mm wide-angle to 250mm telephoto and include viewing and taking lenses on each interchangeable lens board. Compared to the elegant Rolleiflex, the Mamiyaflex system is ponderous, but its high imaging performance, optical flexibility, and inherent close-focusing ability make it a great choice for retro shooters.

Mamiya C330f Professional with 80mm f/2.8 lens

Minolta Autocord: Considered by many to be the second-best roll film twin-lens reflex ever in terms of overall optical performance and mechanical quality, the crank-wind Autocord features a unique helicoid focusing mechanism controlled by a bottom-mounted, laterally moving lever, and sports a fine-quality 75mm f/3.5 Rokkor taking lens (a 4-element Tessar type), 75mm f/3.2 viewing lens, and an Optiper or Seikosha MX 1 to 1/500-second shutter. Shutter speed and apertures are set Rolleicord style, with little levers running in arc-shaped slots, and readout in a little window atop the viewing lens. Minolta Autocords have no built-in parallax compensation, but they do accept Rolleinar Bayonet 1 close-up lenses. These excellent and reliable picture-takers were produced in various metered versions, culminating in the last—the Minolta Autocord CdS III of 1965. All of them are great for retro-style picture taking, delivering images comparable to the coated Zeiss Tessar and Schneider Xenar lenses on vintage Rolleiflexes.

Minolta Autocord with 75mm f/3.5 lens

Yashica-Mat: An unabashed Japanese knockoff of the German Rolleiflex (albeit with no built-in parallax compensation or automatic first frame positioning) all models are very competent, serviceable, and affordable TLR classics, featuring crank wind, Rollei-style shutter- and aperture-control wheels in between the lenses, and a left-hand focusing knob. The Tessar-formula 80mmm f/3.5 Yashinon lens and Copal MXV 1 to 1/500-second shutter are both of very good quality and, not surprisingly, the lens renders retro-look images that look like a Tessar’s. The original Yashica-Mat of 1957 sired generations of Yashica-Mats, some with built-in selenium or CdS meters, 120/220 film capability, etc. All of them are fine choices for vintage retro shooters.

Yashica-Mat with 80mm f/3.5 lens

Other great retro TLRs: Rolleicord Va and Vb. Both feature automatic parallax compensation, knob advance, and semi-auto film loading.

Four Vintage Medium Format SLRs

Hasselblad 500C, 500C/M, 500 CW: The 500C of 1957 (the C stands for Compur) was the first 6x6 cm (2-1/4 square) Hasselblad SLR to incorporate a leaf shutter in each interchangeable lens instead of an in-body metal focal-plane shutter. This enabled full flash sync at all shutter speeds and, so, the Hasselblad system became the mainstay of studio, portrait, and wedding photographers. The original 500C remained in production until 1971, and later versions, such as the 500C/M, added interchangeable screens and other refinements. Masterpieces of modular design and mechanical precision, all 500C-series models feature interchangeable film backs and finders (the 500CW is compatible with digital capture), accept a full line of brilliant Carl Zeiss lenses ranging from a 30 to 500mm, have a Synchro-Compur 1 to 1/500-second plus B and T leaf shutter in each lens, and work with an array of accessories including waist-level, plain prism, and uncoupled meter prism finders. All of them perform extraordinarily well at capturing retro-look images when fitted with the standard 80mm f/2.8 Carl Zeiss Planar lens. However, any of the Hasselblad’s Zeiss lenses will deliver exquisite sharpness at the plane of focus, along with gorgeous bokeh.

Hasselblad 500 C M with 80mm f/2.8 lens

Bronica S2A and EC: These high-quality 2-1/4 x 2-1/4 square SLRs are often referred to as “Japanese Hasselblads” for obvious reasons. The all-mechanical S2A and the EC (the first of its kind with electronic shutter control) feature vertical-travel cloth focal-plane shutters with speeds up to 1/1000 of a second, instant-return mirrors, modular construction, interchangeable Nikon-Nikkor and/or Zenzanon lenses, snap-on film magazines, and top-mounted viewing accessories. Their Fresnel viewing screens are very bright and the standard five-element 75mm f/2.8 Nikkor-P and Nikkor-P.C., and six-element Nikkor-H.C lenses are all extremely sharp and provide beautiful rendition, along with gorgeous bokeh. The multicoated Nikkor-P.C. lens provides superior flare control, and the Nikkor-H.C is the sharpest of the three. The Bronica S2A has a more reliable film-advance mechanism than earlier S2 and S models, and the slightly larger Bronica EC has an ingenious two-piece mirror said to be less prone to camera shake at slow shutter speeds. Bronicas emit a rather loud “ker-chunk” when you press the shutter release, and getting them repaired isn’t always easy, but they sure can take great retro-look pictures.

Bronica S2A with 75mm f/2.8 lens

Mamiya RB67 Pro-S/RZ67 Pro/Pro II: These robust medium-format SLRs provide 6x7 cm images on 120/220 film. They’re fairly large all-mechanical, modular, waist-level-viewing cameras with interchangeable revolving film backs, breech-lock, bayonet-mount, leaf-shutter lenses, and a dual-track, rack-and-pinion focusing system employing a bellows. The later RZ67 (with electronically controlled interlens leaf shutters, a wider-diameter bayonet mount and other improvements) is lighter and handier. The RB67 and RZ67 evolved into extensive systems, including excellent lens lines ranging from fisheyes to a 500mm f/8 telephoto, meterized and non-meter prisms, winders, etc. In spite of their size and heft, the RB and RZ are versatile high-performace machines prized for their reliability and close focusing, and equally at home in the field or studio. Recommended lenses for retro-look images: 90mm f/3.8 Mamiya-Sekor K/L, 127mmm f/3.5 Mamiya-Sekor K/L, Mamiya-Sekor 110mm f/2.8 Z,140mm f/4.5 Mamiya-Sekor C Macro.

Mamiya RB67 ProS with 127mm lens
Mamiya RZ67 Pro II with 110mm f/2.8 Mamiya-Sekor Z lens
Mamiya RZ67 with 127mm f/3.5 Mamiya-Sekor lens

The Pentax 6×7/ 67/67II: This classic by Asahi Pentax is configured like a giant 35mm SLR—with the standard prism and 105 mm lens, it measures 7.5 × 5.75 × 6.5 inches and weighs more than five pounds! Unlike its 35mm cousins, its shutter-speed-setting knob is located on the left-hand side of the top, and the lens release is on the left side of the mirror housing. The standard pentaprism shows an impressive 90% of the actual image area. All models have horizontal-travel cloth focal-plane shutters with speeds of 1 to 1/000 of a second, plus B (X-sync at 1/30 of a second) and provide a 6x7 cm format (actual 56mm X 70mm) on 120 or 220 rolls, yielding 10 or 20 images per roll, respectively (21 on 220 for the 1969 version). The film pressure plate inside has positions for either film type and it maintains film flatness during exposure, ensuring extreme sharpness across the entire field. The big Pentax fires with a loud “thwack,” but is very well balanced and easy to handhold. All Pentax lenses for these cameras deliver outstanding performance and both the normal 105mm f/2.4 Super Takumar and the later Super-Multi-Coated version capture beautiful retro-look images with smooth transitions and gorgeous bokeh.

Pentax-6x7 with 105mm f/2.4 lens
Pentax-67II with 105mm f/2.4 lens

Do you take photographs with a retro look, with medium format film cameras? Tell us about your preferences in the Comments section, just below.

7 Comments

My late wife was responsible for my lusting after medium format camera systems. Start out with a yashica A, thence to a D, to a 12 that I had Mark Hama restore to brand new condition then on to my 124G.  I also frequently shoot with her Pentax 645N and 6x7. Recently picked up a baby graflex in 6x9... Rarely shoot digital any more and since I built 35mm to 120 adapters, I'm rediscovering my retro medium formats !

I concur completely with Art M.  Several years ago I sold my Mamiya 7 II and regret it.  It has to be one of the best, if not the best, medium format or any other format, camera ever.  I had the 65mm lens and it was a joy to use and produced superb images.  Sigh.  

Some years back after not using them for some time I sold off my Mamiya 7 system. I regret it every day. What a superb medium format system, especially for street and travel. 

I'm very happy with my Fujica GW690. It has a fixed lens but I find that it's perfect for most of my landscape work.

You can see my work at Photo.net on my single photos gallery.

I used Mamiya at first and then saved up for my Hasselblad system. The sharpest glass in the world. The difference of film VS digital is the fact that film is transmission of light through layers of emulsions. Not a electronic image. When I scan 2 1/4 chromes the quality is superior to any Digital image I have ever seen. Admittedly I do not own the current Hasselblad Digital camera so can't compare.

I bought a Pentax 645 a few years ago, and wish I had done so when they were new. The A series lenses are quite sharp, and combined with Portra film makes for excellent pictures, either portrait or landscape. I simply love the medium format.

The Mamiya RZ67 is one of my bucket list cameras to buy, as well as a Mamiya 645. I've been shooting 35mm film since 1980 and want to shoot with larger film.

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