Mamiya Super 23: Love at First Light

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by lou_meluso, May 31, 2010.

  1. Original 1967 ad for the Mamiya Super 23
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  2. This is a 1967 Mamiya Super 23. I wanted a 6x9cm camera for landscape work so I could make big prints. I had a 6x9cm roll back for my view camera but I always felt if I was going to carry a view camera, I may as well shoot 4”x5”. I was hoping to get a camera that handled quickly, had good optics and had a rangefinder that wasn’t “squinty”. After researching, I settled on the Mamiya system. The Super 23, and its cousin, the Universal, were the last of the Mamiya “Press” camera line. However by 1967, most press photographers had moved to 35mm camera. The Press cameras did find a niche in the professional photography markets for portrait/ wedding, architectural and studio photography. The Super 23 is a true all-mechanical, classic manual camera with no batteries, no meter and no automation.
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  3. The camera looks boxy, and it is, but the inclusion of the detachable grip makes handling the camera quite easy. It’s a modular system where the lenses, backs, focusing screens, extension tubes and optical finders can all be changed to suit the assignment. One of the features that attracted me to this camera was the rangefinder. It’s HUGE and bright. You could drive a bus through that viewfinder. Even with glasses, seeing everything and focusing is a breeze. A selector switch on the rear of the finder provides framing lines for the 100mm, 150mm and 250mm lenses. The wide lenses have separate optical finders that mount on top. You can also focus via an accessory ground glass that attaches to the back when the film holder is removed.
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  4. The Mamiya-Sekor 100mm f/2.8 is an excellent multi-coated, planar-type that is one of the sharpest and fastest lenses available for the 6x9 format.
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  5. There is also a 100mm f/3.5 lens available which is the standard normal lens for this system. This is a tessar-type design that has a collapsible feature so the lens can focus to infinity when the rear bellows are employed. The lenses are mounted in Seikosha shutters.
  6. Here is my system which consists of the body with grip, type 3 6x9 back, ground glass with magnifier, 75mm f/5.6 w/finder, 50mm f/6.3 w/finder, extension tube set, 150mm f/5.6, 100mm f/3.5 collapsible and the sports finder mounted on top of the body.
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  7. Just a word about the120 film backs. The Mamiya S-shaped film backs are renown for their film flatness. One can obtain backs in various formats, 6x4.5, 6x7, or 6x9. There is a multi-format back, the K back, as well. Also there are several styles. The older style is good but have no interlocks and it is possible to double expose a frame.
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  8. The newer style (type 3), developed for the Universal but works fine on the Super 23, has a unique feature where you can disconnect the handle grip and use a special cable attached to the bottom of the back. In this configuration you can actually hold and fire the camera like a standard rangefinder and, in addition to providing interlocks, it removes a lot of the bulk and a fair amount of weight from the camera.
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  9. I would be remiss if I did not mention the rear bellows. The bellow can be extended in any direction to help carry focus, assist in perspective control, and close up photography when fully extended. When combined with extension tubes, significant magnifications can be obtained. Attaching the ground glass with the hooded magnifier helps with pinpoint focusing. There is a slot on the ground glass adapter that allows the insertion of cut film holders that are available as an accessory. Here are a few shots made on various films as noted.
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  10. Farm Scene with Pond
    50mm lens, orange filter, Tmax 400
  11. After the Harvest
    50mm lens. orange filter, Tmax 400
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  12. Shawnee Storm Clouds
    75mm lens, yellow filter, Tmax 400
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  13. Leaves in a Log
    150mm lens, yellow filter, Tmax 400
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  14. Tall Prairie Grass
    100mm f/3.5, no filter, Tri-X
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  15. Daises
    100mm f/2.8, bellows fully extended, Fuji Pro 400H
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  16. Flash Dance
    100mm f/2.8, Kodak Ektar
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  17. Block Building after a Late Spring Snow
    75mm lens, Fuji Pro 400
    The Mamiya 23 represents one of the most versatile cameras I’ve ever used and makes a great system. On the downside, this is no pocket camera and not meant for the frail of back or weak of wrist. While not suitable for every situation, the camera is fast handling and offers great lenses, superb film flatness, a giant viewfinder and a big, juicy 6x9cm negative that’s sharp corner-to-corner.
  18. Wow on the kit; double wow on the pictures.
    I ended up with a Koni Omega; but now I am jealous and want a set up like that.
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  19. What a wonderful post.
    "It must be a really swell camera since you take such nice photographs with it." :)
    Thank you very much.
  20. Excellent shots (as usual), Louis. Very inspiring.
  21. Lovely kit, Louis, and photographs that do it justice. I used to have the Linhof Press 70, a similiar camera, but always hankered after the Mamiya. However, I could never really justify buying one, having cast my vote for the RB/RZ 67 format. That's an immaculate outfit, and I know you'll love using it.
  22. Louis
    How can you get a system like this !!! ?
  23. My Mamiya!
    Even ABBA had a song about Mamiya :)
    ,,My Mamiya, here I go again
    My my, how can I resist you?
    My Mamiya, does it show again?
    My my, just how much I've missed you
    Yes, I've been brokenhearted
    Blue since the day we parted
    Why, why did I ever let you go?
    My Mamiya, now I really know,
    My my, I could never let you go".
    And then Swedish Hasselblad asked the band to change the lyrics... :)
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  24. Brings back memories. When I was in college I made extra money photographing weddings. My dad let me use his Mamiya Super 23 with a side mount Honeywell Strobonar flash. We only had one lens, though.
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  25. Beautiful shots and equipment; thanks for the post. sp.
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  26. Louis,
    Why do you post such photos? The complete set is only making me want to look for one here in Japan. It is not like I cannot come across one. Jeez! I have not even complete my Pentax 67 kit and you got me thinking `Oh, a Mamiya Super 23 looks good too!`
    Lovely photos as usual. Farm Scene with a Pond is stunning to say the least!
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  27. Super system and photos Louis, always look forward to your posts. Was your system a one shot deal or did you painstakingly put it together over time?
    I just acquired a Koni Omega 100 and was very pleased with the results(6x7 Rangefinder). The accessories for it are hard to come by but worth it in my book.
    Again thanks for a fine post.
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  28. Absolutely spectacular photos Louis.
    I particularly like the look of the block buildings and Farm scene with pond.
    Nice informative view on the Super 23. Looks like a very versatile camera. a bit too modern for my tastes, but still.. ;)
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  29. All I can say is: Waouw!
    Ok, that's not a constructive comment ;-)
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  30. I bought one of these on impulse a couple of years ago just to have the 50mm lens. I must get out with it again. Too many cameras and too little time!
    Very nice work Louis. You seem to always squeeze the best out whatever kit you happen to be using.
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  31. Louis, great camera and all, but the proof is in the pudding, or a picture is worth a thousand words, or whatever idiom you prefer :) Great photos!
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  32. Thanks for the posts and the photos Louis -- it was really interesting to read about this camera and see your work with it! I have the
    you'll pry it from my cold dead hands" feeling about my Mamiya 7II, it's cool to see what kind of systems they were using in the decades previous.
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  33. Yes Indeed .. Great Photos.. I have sen this model and lusted after it.. I also felt this was the way to go..just never came across one! Two similar models that did cross my path.. are the Koni Omega 100 and the Graflex XL. It is amazing that you'Ve managed the whole kit or at least most every useful item. Your photos are stunning and your kit too!!
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  34. Thanks Louis, for both the photos and the very detailed post.
    Here's a thought - there have been several excellent posts on this site providing details on some fantastic and rare cameras. Perhaps we should start creating an index of such posts?
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  35. Oh, the GAS! It's killing me...
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  36. stp


    What a beautiful system, and I love the format / aspect ratio. If I can have one more camera in life, let it be this one.
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  37. Louis, is the extra "grip" (w/cable release provision) for the 2X3 back available separately - or was this an integral part of a "special version" of this back? I have the chrome version of this back (just as in your photo), and it would be great if I could add this grip so I could hold and activate the shutter with my right hand.
    I'm also looking for a lens mount off of a Mamiya Press camera, and if you or anyone else you know may have this, or perhaps a non working body from which I could salvage this, I'd truly appreciate knowing about this.
    Thanks again - and as always, its truly a pleasure to see your work!
  38. Louis -
    Zowee, beautiful gear and outstanding photos. I would love to see the print of "Daisies," I'll bet the colors and dimension really display well. Thanks for a great post and photos.
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  39. Louis, senasational results on the farms and landscapes. The belows that allow perspective correction is the best you can get on MF. What a great post, thank you.
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  40. I miss the tilts and swings on the back of the Press 23 I once owned -- and loved the the 2:3 aspect ratio of the 6x9 rollfilm back. Sure was easy to get perfect 8x10s with those large negatives. Traded mine in because it wasn't very well sealed against the dust I encountered backpcking with Press 23 & Tiltall tripod (too heavy a combo for long treks).
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  41. Thank you all, good forum members, for your kind feedback.

    Minh and Ralf - It is very hard to find this camera and parts here in the US. I don't know why. I assembled my kit over a four month period using mostly several reliable eBay vendors based in Japan. Not a single used camera outlet in the USA, including KEH, had anything outside an odd bit or two. You do see some private parties selling items on ebay from time to time. The basic kit is not too expensive but the good glass, in good condition, can be pricey. The Universal is a very similar camera, sans the bellows, and seems to be easier to find. It also accepts a Polaroid back where the super 23 does not. The film backs, lenses and other accessories are otherwise mostly interchangeable. Sometimes you'll see a "flat top" conversion of the Super 23 where a dedicated landscape shooter will cut the top rangefinder off to save weight and bulk. Also you may find one with an adapted Graflex back and a reverse curl film holder (Horseman, etc) is used. I've not tried these but the scuttlebutt is, while less bulky, they don't hold the film as flat as the Mamiya "S" backs on the Super 23.

    John - Yes, the "grip" with the trigger cable release on the type 3 back is an integral part of the back. The back fits very securely to the body and you simply hold the back, with the rt. hand, and cradle the body and focus with the left hand from underneath. You'll pay about 30%-50% more for a type 3 back depending on condition. As you noted, I have both kinds and keep different films in each. Also an nice feature is that both styles of back accept both 120 and 220 film. Just a twist of the pressure plate is all that is needed.
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  42. Very nice photos.
    It's amazing a camera that is 40 years old is in such good shape, too.
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  43. Louis, Louis, Louis...your posts always amaze and inspire me, but this is a really cool camera system that looks like it would be a lot of fun to use. The farm with pond shot is beautiful, but I really like the shot of the daisies and the "Leaves in a log" equally as much. Thanks for another wonderful post with great information and outstanding pictures. Oh, and a pretty cool camera too!
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  44. Absolutely first class post as always. That is a lovely system you have there, makes us all jealous!
    I used a Super 23 way back in the seventies, it had the 100mm 3.5 lens and a wide...65mm if my memory serves me correctly...and I remember the pictures being critically sharp. Don't recall why I sold it, don't know why I sell anything!
  45. To quote Martin. "WOW!!!" The camera kit is outstanding as are the photographs. Where did you ever fin a kit like that in such pristene condition. I have always been a fan of the Sekor lenses, as I have a pretty good RB kit. I also went with a Koni-Omega rapid mainly for the great deal I got.
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  46. To quote Martin. "WOW!!!" The camera kit is outstanding as are the photographs. Where did you ever fin a kit like that in such pristene condition. I have always been a fan of the Sekor lenses, as I have a pretty good RB kit. I also went with a Koni-Omega rapid mainly for the great deal I got.
  47. Jeez Louis....why are u doing this to us...i'm betting the number of ebay searches for this camers has spiked since u
    posted this!
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  48. Thanks for all the comments and contributions to the thread.

    Ed - The whole kit came from eBay. I waited till I found a clean one that fit into my budget. I saw quite a few nice chrome ones but I wanted a black one. I brought the entire outfit to Clarence Gass, in Mission, Kansas for a full CLA of the body, backs, lenses and shutters. I got back a completely dialed in system. There is a large wedding/ school portrait company here in Kansas that used only Super 23's and Universal's for it's staff for many years (they've gone digital now). Clarence was their primary repair person. He has years of experience working with these cameras and still has some of parts.
  49. Louis, thanks for this great posting and the inspiring images. Congratulations on the terrific kit.
    I'll add a bit for others interested in the Mamiya Press system.
    I second the recommendation for the two excellent Japan-based sellers of Mamiya Press, camera.japan (*BiG PiX*), and ginotokojapanusa. Both are completely reliable. When you are ready for something exotic, ask them to find it for you and they can usually do so.
    I started with the graflok adapter on a Universal and I do not recommend the graflok approach. It will take modern Horseman backs, but they don't fit quite right. You have to cut some material off the adapter to make the Horseman fit, the back gets in the way of the finder eyepiece, and the Mamiya Press backs are great.
    Specifics on the graflok back problem are here:
    The "Type-3" back and related grip/release cable are very hard to find. I did find one, but the double exposure prevention interlock on mine is unreliable. I've returned to the standard back/grip thinking "simpler is better," and this is working for me.
    All the Mamiya lenses are very good, and the top glass (100mm f/2.8, 75mm, 50mm) are really great. The large negative is nice for scanning. The large camera is quite a bit to carry. I'm enjoying mine.
  50. I keep going back and looking at 'farm scene with pond'. What a fantastic image!
  51. Louis, I just got a reasonable Super 23 from Cameta Camera and the viewfinder is quite cloudy and I really want to have this baby get a good CLA before I play with it. I am wondering what's up with mine because it has a 90mm f3.5 lens on it (is this not a normal lens?) and I haven't figured out how to operate the Mamiya back that you slide a metal button to change from 6 x 4.5 to 6 x6. Where are you supposed to store the darkside once you take it out? My Mamiya 645 Pro seems like light years away from this simple basic machine.
    If I can find a phone number for Clarence Gass, in Mission, Kansas, I will call him. If not, since I am in a suburb of Oklahoma City, a trip is not out of the question and probably would be best since that way Clarence can teach me a few things about this wonderful camera.
    Bob E.
  52. Sorry to resurrect an old thread but I just took possession of the same camera a few days ago and I am about to run my first roll of film through it. I received mine as a gift and it is in very good condition!!
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