The Mamiya Press Super 23 was released in 1967 and, except for the Universal, would be the the last of their “press” cameras. Why it was called a press camera is beyond explanation, as most photojournalists were using various 35mm cameras by then. However, the camera was awesome, if mislabeled, especially among the wedding, portrait, architectural, and studio photography crowd. For most photographers involved in the “bread and butter” work of the day, this camera was the boss. Both the 23 and the later released Universal would actually dominate the market at that time. Even more so than the Hasselblads and Rolleiflexes.
The Sekor Lens
Actually, their main competitors at the time were Graflex XL, the Koni-Omegas and the medium format Linhofs. But the sheer versatility, quality, choice of lenses and competitive pricing pretty much placed them as runner ups in every category. Super 23s basically are rangefinder focusing medium format cameras that offered interchangeable lenses and backs. They combined the most useful features wanted by photographers, and Mamiya’s Sekor lenses were gaining a reputation of being able to compete on the exalted ‘German’ level of build and design.
The viewfinder is very big and very bright, and framelines for the 100mm, 150mm, and 250mm lenses were covered with no add on accessories. The coverage of these lenses showed in both the 6×7 and 6×9 formats. Plus, ALL of the Sekor lenses produced for the camera provide coupled rangefinder focusing! Quite a feat for the time. While the camera body is pretty big, the Super 23’s and Universals actually handle closer to a 35mm camera thanks to the standard handgrip that make both vertical or horizontal shots a breeze.
Lenses,…and More Lenses
Lenses available included the 50mm f6.3, 65mm f/6.3, 75mm f/5.6, 90mm F/3.5, 100mm F/2.8, 100 mm f/3.5, 105mm f/5.6, 127mm F4.7, 150mm F/5.6 and 250mm f/5 lens! 10 in all. (plus the 250mm f/8…see below) Quite an extensive range for a medium format camera of that era. These lenses used the very reliable Seikosha #0 shutter, which meant it had flash sync at all speeds. Aditionally, every lens was rangefinder coupled. The wide angle lenses, 50mm, 65mm and 75mm were supplied with their own parallax-corrected viewfinder that would attach to the accessory shoe on top of the camera body.
Rollfilm holders and other back attachments were attached and removed with revolving keys on the body. But a feature that is unique to the Mamiya Press Super 23 are the knobs on the side of the camera. They allow you to extend a bellows and implement a small amount of swing and tilt! Almost making it a view camera. Plus the back extension provides a 1/2 life size macro ability.
From ‘Normal’ to ‘Telephoto’
While most consider the 90mm f/3.5 and 100mm f/3.5 as the standard lenses, the excellent high-speed 100mm f/2.8 is very sought after, and the present day pricing reflects that. Mamiya’s telephoto lenses come in two flavors. The 150mm f/5.6 for mostly portraiture use and the massive 250mm f/5.0. The 250mm f/8.0 was also offered, but I’ve never seen one. I would guess it was for daylight sports or something similar. 250mm is about as long a lens as was probably useable on a rangefinder camera. The 127mm lens was really intended for use as a normal lens on a Universal equipped with a Polaroid back.
Amazingly, you can still get lots of lens accessories, including lens hoods, screw-in filters and an extension tube set for extreme close-up work, allowing up to 1.5 times life size with a normal lens. But the real beauty of this camera are the backs. A standard back for the Super 23 are lever-advanced rollfilm holders for either the 6×7 or 6×9 format. By adjusting the pressure plate in the holders, users could set the back to handle either 120 or 220 film. Which I guess is moot until they start making 220 again. Advancing the film requires two strokes of this lever. Mamiya also offered a ground-glass focusing back that would attach in the same manner as a rollfilm holder. It’s called a Focus Screen Holder and provides very accurate viewing of the subject through the lens. The holder also permits insertion of a Mamiya’s plate or cut film holder for a single 6×9 exposure. A very rare accessory to find is the Reflex Viewer that provides a right-side-up, waist-level viewfinder when used with the ground-glass back. They also have something called a “K” back. It can be set to one of three formats–6×4.5, 6×6, and 6×9–in a single unit! Unfortunately, it was not popular since the camera’s viewfinder can not provide references for anything but the 6×9 format. Remember,…this is a “rangefinder” camera.
The Mamiya Press Super 23
For all things Mamiya “pro”, the book “Mamiya Professional Systems Handbook“, released in the 70’s, is still the Mamiya bible. Although medium format rangefinders lost favor for quite some time, in the late nineties there seemed to be a revival of sorts. From Mamiya, Fuji and even Bronica. Dollar for dollar and feature for feature I doubt you could find a better medium format rangefinder deal today than the Mamiya Press Super 23 .(or Mamiya Press Universal) The Mamiya 7’s have gone through the roof, and Plaubel Makina and Fuji are quickly following. So, both the Super 23’s and Universals are virtually indestructible bargains. But for how long?