I really liked my Flexaret. I didn't particularly like my SR-T. Conclusion: I like TLRs and must acquire more?
There were a couple things I found attractive about the Mamiya C-series. Number one, and the most obvious characteristic of them, is that they have interchangeable lenses. Only one other TLR does, for good reason: it's pretty awkward having two lenses in one big piece that couples into a camera body. But interchangeable lenses are a great way to provide options to the photographer, and especially since all other TLRs tend to hover around the normal lens range, which is, well, normal, I was interested in having something different.
Secondly, the C-series TLRs have a bellows. This isn't anything like a view camera, since there aren't movements (there is no tilt or shift). Really, it's more like built-in macro extension tubes. This allows the camera to focus in much closer. When the Flexaret and most other TLRs can only focus to a minimum of about three feet, that's a compelling feature.
|And bellows out|
Mamiya's TLRs come in two classes. The C3 set are the more "professional" ones, with wind cranks, automatic shutter cocking, and interchangeable focus screens. The C2 set were the cheaper ones without those things. Less expensive then, and less expensive now, which is normally my jam, but I really wanted to try a camera with a crank - it seemed fun (and spoiler, it is). As is common, the latest model (in this case, the C330, or C330S in particular) is the most sought-after and thus most expensive, and so I was looking for a C33 - the main change is that the parallax selector doesn't support as many lenses in the older camera.
Through some means I don't remember, I stumbled upon a listing on Photrio where a user was selling two C330s. The price was good compared to eBay listings, even for the C33, and buying a camera from someone who has used it is always a better way to know what shape it's actually in. Since I already had a normal lens on my Flexaret, I was thinking this would be my portrait camera (I was learning about studio lighting techniques at the time), and so I convinced the guy to sell me one of the cameras with just a 180mm lens. Even with this good pricing, I was upping my camera budget significantly from the $117 I spent on the Flexaret, but I was convinced this would be everything I wanted.
As is probably not surprising, the camera is not everything I wanted. There are two main problems I have using it, both of which relate to the extra features of the C series.
The first problem was immediately obvious upon the camera's arrival, which is that it is heavy. It's also notably bigger than the Flexaret, even not counting the longer lens. It certainly feels more professional in terms of build quality, but mentally it's "a camera" rather than just a camera I can grab and carry with me.
One of the few shots I've managed to make of my daughter, before she started running. This was probably braced against a piece of furniture.
Ilford Delta 3200, 1/60 @ f4.5
Secondly, the camera does not appear to have been designed to be used hand-held without the optional side grip. The problem is really the bellows. With a camera like this, you need to hold it on the bottom, since it's heavy and has no grip and your second hand will be busy fiddling with settings that you can't reach if you're holding it by the sides. However, the center of balance is not under the camera body, but much further forward, under the bellows. You have to be extremely careful where you hold it so that you don't punch a finger through the bellows and ruin them, and as you focus, the lens (which as you recall has two sets of glass and a shutter mechanism) moves further out from the camera, further throwing off the center of balance. Even if I had the side grip, this would be an unpleasant experience with so much weight on one side.
Lomochrome Purple, 1/500 @ f11
These things start to show why the unique characteristics of the C series were not copied widely despite seeming so appealing. When you look at roughly equivalent SLRs with this knowledge, you can see how they avoid these issues: half as much glass reduces balance issues, no bellows means less careful handling, and controls on the grip mean you can use both hands to stabilize the camera.
The C330 was apparently popular with wedding photographers, but I don't know how they did it. And more to the point, there are better options available for us today.
The only posed photo I've taken with the camera, to finish off a roll.
Lomochrome Purple, 1/250 @ f4.5
The things that lead people to recommend TLRs are that they're light and cheap. The Mamiya C330 is not either of these things. That's ok as long as you know what you're getting into.
I had not yet in my photography found the need for a tripod when I bought the C330. Between it and film scanning I finally picked up one, and that is definitely the right way to use this camera. There, my concerns are irrelevant, and it makes fine images. And yes, the crank advance is fun.
Fujifilm Pro 400H, 1/30 @ f4.5
Funnily enough, I haven't done any portrait sessions on it yet, despite that being one of the main things I was interested in doing with it. For reasons previously mentioned it's not a good choice for quick outdoor portraits, and I just haven't gotten to the longer sort of time necessary for pulling out the tripod (my daughter does not stay still enough for this kind of photography, and my wife is generally very easily exhausted due to complicated medical reasons). This is honestly the only reason I'm still holding onto the camera - I feel like I haven't given it a completely fair chance yet and I need to do that before passing it on to someone else.
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