Marek recently wrote reviews on Phase One medium format digital system, therefore I thought I should add short review or rather to say my opinion about fully analog Mamiya RB 67 medium format camera. Analog photography has become very marginal over the years and a lot of cameras and lenses had been discontinued, but I can say that new wave of interest in film photography has been emerging recently. If you are thinking about experimenting with film or moving one step higher from 35 mm camera system, this might help you.
There are three models of Mamiya RB 67 camera Pro, Pro S and Pro SD. There are not big differences among them, but one important thing you have to consider is that the latest Pro SD model needs adapter ring for older Sekor C type lenses and in case you will use newer K/L lenses on non SD models you have to take the adapter ring out. The other difference is that the SD version has better designed and manufactured film backs. They do not use the foam sealing like the older models anymore, and therefore they are light tight. But actually I did have my older Pro S film backs refitted and they are as good as the SD and it did not cost much.
First thing you will notice about any of these Mamiya cameras, they are very big and can be quite heavy, especially if you add viewfinder and longer lenses. But I have been traveling with this camera to quite few places and I have survived. I did some serious hikes in the Alps this year and the weight was not a problem at all.
The biggest advantage of these cameras is the fact that they are fully mechanical and there is no battery needed, so it is great during winter time. I did photograph the northern lights with this camera and it was more than -20 degrees Celsius and everything was working smoothly and I did not have to worry about battery life. The only difficulty you will have in these extreme cold conditions is to change film after 10 exposures (unfortunately they do not make any 220 films). That is why I have three loaded film backs with me during winter months.
I think that these cameras were intentionally designed for studio photography rather than for outdoor photographers, but I took it with me to very different weather conditions and camera survived without any problems. I did use it in during heavy rain, wind, snow, and once it got totally splashed by the sea and it is still working. I am very impressed how well build these cameras are. Of course one cannot expect that it will survive everything and of course with age the risk that something get broken is increasing. Fortunately, there are still some places where they can fix your broken camera or lens, or you can go on ebay and buy new one for very little money and fix it yourself.
There is also huge selection of accessories available on ebay or second hand stores. For my landscape photography I have three lenses, Sekor C 50, Sekor K/L 90 and Sekor K/L 180. I have one optical viewfinder (simple one without exposimeter), there film backs (two SD and one S) and double cable release for long exposures.
Talking about long exposures, there is one thing which makes it bit more inconvenient for long exposure photographers. The older lenses C-type they just allow you to start the exposure with cable release, but not end it, for that you have to manually rotate the exposure time ring on the lens to close the shutter. I do not know why that is, but the newer K/L lenses already have bulb switch and long exposure with them is very simple. Unfortunately, there is no wider that 65 mm lens in K/L version. So if you like wide lenses like me you have to stay with Sekor C 50, and get used to close the shutter with the ring on the lens. It is important to get some practice before you go out for serious photo shoot, especially when it is dark outside. But believe me if you do it carefully you do not have to be worried about camera shake and image quality. My long exposure images are quite sharp!
All there lenses I have are reasonable sharp, the Sekor 50 is very sharp and if you focus it properly you get very acceptable corner to corner sharpness from aperture 8 to 16. The Sekor 90 is also quite sharp, but in certain situations it has very bad barrel distortion, but I believe it will vary from lens to lens and I might have just bad sample. But honestly it is not a big problem for me. I have not been using the Sekor 180 that much, but from what I have seen the results are also very acceptable from sharpness perspective. One thing you have to be aware of, some of these lenses have flouting elements system to improve sharpness. You should not forget to adjust it correctly when focusing your camera. Last thing to remember, if you want to get sharp photographs, you have to put this camera on solid tripod; they are not easy to use handheld.
Focusing the camera is actually very simple, and I consider it as another advantage of this system. There are two knobs one on each side, and you just move the lens forward and back to reach your focusing distance. You do not even have to look into the viewfinder, while doing that. There is distance scale on the right side of the camera and you can just set it for desired distance. After that you set the distance and aperture on the lens. It is very simple and very practical, especially for night photography, when you do not see much in viewfinder.
The last thing you will need is some exposimetr to help you to determine the correct exposure. You do not have a huge selection of exposure times, but at the end I got use to it and it does not represent any limits for my type of photography.
So if you are considering experimenting with film and medium format cameras, Mamiya RB 67 might be camera of your consideration. They are not ridiculously expensive and there are plenty of them available on ebay. It will take some time to get use it and remember all the setting you have to do prior pressing shutter button, but the result will be worthy of extra effort. Just wait to see the big negatives on light table and the amazing details on the print. If you are black and white photographer, there will be also significant improvement in gray tones in you prints. Bigger is better in this case:)
I can only recommend this camera system, and if you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me and I will be very happy to help you.