During the sixties, I observed and read about medium format press cameras. Although I never felt that it was a good choice for me during those early days, primarily due to fairly hefty prices, I was well aware of them, and would have liked to have had one. Larger format press cameras had been around for a long time, I even used a Crown Graphic 4x5 camera at some point. Graflex was one of the big names in photography; they made a 6x7 Press camera too.
I am not sure if I owned that 4x5 press camera, or if it belonged to the local newspaper or some employee there. Maybe I did own it. It was a long time ago and I am often amazed at how much detail I can pull out of these old crevices between my ears. But the details are definitely getting a bit foggy now.
Two Camera Company's offering very similar camera designs particularly caught my attention back then. I wasn't too far along in my career before I did find justification for both models of these cameras. I don't think I realized the close relationship that Mamiya and Simon-Omega cameras shared. They looked and functioned a lot alike, but that's really where their early offering split.
Koni-Omega Rapid Press Camera Vs. Mamiya Super 23
The year I was born, one of these early camera designs was born. It was the Omega Press Camera. The company behind it was Simon Brothers, an American Company known for their line of Omega photographic products. They had had an exclusive supply arrangement with the military during
WWII, for their simple, reliable design for combat cameras. It was called the Omega Combat Camera. The company also produced an excellent line of photographic enlargers during those days. All of these products used excellent Wollensak lenses, produced in New york.
That first Omega Press Camera was derived from the Combat Camera Simon Brothers company was so famous for, as used by all of the US Armed forces. The basic design of the Press cameras was not much different. It was a rangefinder camera which used 120 film to image 6x7 cm negatives. It was a pretty serious two-hands full, but actually, a fairly manageble camera.
Eight years later Simon Omega company had been bought-out by Konica, a very old and successful Japanese Camera Company, known early for their excellent Lieca-like 35 mm rangefinder cameras, and their very fine Hexanon lenses. I still have a Konica II which is in remarkably good shape. It takes great pictures. I've several Konica 35 mm cameras of later vintage since then. In fact, Konica has been one of the main-stay graphics company that has seemed to shadow my career.
Most recently, Konica, having merged with another great vintage camera company, offered some of the first digital cameras under the name of Konica-Minolta. But finally the company bailed out of the camera business in 2005, or thereabouts
Under the label of Konica-Minolta,this company is still among the very most aggressive surviving graphics and business copier builders, and their connected laser printers are second to none. It's odd how things go full-circle sometimes. My second son, was voted employee-of-the-year for his superior sales achievement during Konica-Minolta's 2007-2008 fiscal year.
The 6x7 press cameras of this vintage that I know best are the various Koni-Omega Rapidcameras. I had already started selling off pieces of my camera collection when I had the idea, bright or otherwise, to document here all the cameras I had ever owned and used. But I do still have one complete functional Koni-Omega Rapid press camera left.
At this time an d even during the fifties, German Camera Companies were pairing with Japanese companies to produce a variety of cooperative products. In the case of Koni-Omega, it was a cooperative effort between an American Company and Japanese company that perpetuated the original Simon Brothers design.
Read more about this phenomenon at my post at this link:
I grew to love these cameras for what they can do best--make big 6x7 negatives using extremely good optics--with a minimum of expense and difficulty, now. Because, there is a fairly high demand for these cult cameras. They have their admirers, and I have long been one of them. The early design is really quite remarkable and I like these better than the early Mamiya competitor--the Standard 23 Press camera.
The design of the Koni-Omega Rapid Press Camera had already gone through an evolution, ever since WWII, when they came out in fifty-seven. The product was well thought out and remarkably easy to use, with changeable backs and lenses of superb optical qualities--whether bearing the label Omega or Hexenon (Konica). The lenses could be changed faster than most SLR's. The ingenious rapid-wind mechanism, which oddly, has never been employed in cameras before or since (that I am aware of), allowed quick sequences even for the big format camera.
I recently read from one of the popular vintage camera review webs, the pros and cons of the Koni-Omega Rapid. A subjective user observation was the the reviewer on the web site regarding the seeming lack of anything to hold ontoon the users right hand side of the Koni-Omega Rapid. I just happened to note that the user/reviewer was a Japanese female. I am intending nothing either racist nor sexist, but I also considered that these factors may have affected her analysis; I am merely supposing that her frame and hands may be somewhat slighter than American male hands, for which the original camera upon which it was based was intended.
I also would like to point out for those with similar feelings regarding the lack of convenient handles on the Rapid--that it was almost always paired with a large flash-bracket. The default flash that we used during those vintage years was the G, mounted by way of a Graflex quick-release mechanism onto the flash handle;these flash units or strobes, as we incorrectly called them, were known for their large chrome tubular handles. Some models used four D-size batteries inside the tubular handle.
My point for mentioning this is that the flash tube served as the right-hand handle by design. I recommend for users of these vintage cameras today, acquiring one of the old flash units, keeping the quick-release clamps, after discarding the flash head, to serve as a handle for the Konica-Omega Rapid Press Camera. BTW, the camera, by the time the Rapid original model came out, was not really a press camera per se. This is what they were originally used for, but news photographers had long since opted for the smaller 120 TLR or SLR and even 35 mm designs.
The Koni-Omega Rapid Press Cameraquickly evolved through a series of additional fast and liberating changes. Each models that came out at the rate of every year or two offered useful new features.The camera became a system, with interchangeable backs, and with backs, even formats could be changed, 6x7, 6x6, 6x9, cut film, Polaroid film. Shutter-release-weilding handles for easier . . . well . . . handling.
A contingent of fine lenses for various fields of view and focus, and close up rings, greatly increased the appeal far beyond what the camera was first intended for. The camera now appealed to everyone from magazine and advertising photographers--owing to its superb lenses and sufficiently large format for such purposes.
When the evolution had almost ripened, starting with the Konica-Omega 200, my old friend Mamiya, whose line of competing cameras had been paralleling the Konica-Omega for some time, began producing the lenses for this line. Mamiya was already a major player in this medium format, so-called Press Camera market.
Mamiya Press Cameras
As mentioned earlier, the Mamiya Press Camera, and its evolving models had been on my mind and awareness from the earliest days of serious involvement in photography--beginning in the late sixties. It wasn't until much later that I owned any of these Mamiya version of the press camera models. I do feel that early-on the Konica-Omega Rapidmodels were clearly more manageable than were the Mamiya equivalents. But this changed.
Mamiya had two mainstay models of the Press camera from the sixties, the Mamiya Standard 23, and the Mamiya Universal 23 Cameras. Although much the same as the Standard, the sister Universal 23 camera was designed to not only change backs, but allowed an adapter to accept many other competitive backs, and other accessories including a ground glass. A short bellows, moving uniquely toward the back, also enabled tilts to adjust the film plane to straighten lines of perspective. This was great for architectural and advertising applications. It works something like a mini-view camera. The moving back belows also enabled macro photography because the unique back bellows feature would shrink the subject by half. If you are familiar with Mamiya's first camera design, the Mamiya Six (of old) used a similar bellows concept.
The Mamiya Super 23 Camera was an Apex in Full-use Camera Design
The following excerpt is from the following link. You can read the entire post by jumping here: https://shutterbug.com/equipmentreviews/classic_historical/0504sb_classic/
Two revolving keys on the back of the body allow for the attachment or removal of roll-film holders and other attachments. The four knobs on the sides of the camera are what make the Super 23 so unique. Loosening these knobs allows you to extend the bellows back mount 13/16” and then apply up to 15Þ of swing or tilt for perspective correction or depth of field control making the Super 23 something of a mini-view camera. The additional back extension was also useful when shooting close-ups as it provided an ability to get just under 1/2 life size with the standard 100mm lens.
Mamiya offered a wider range of lenses for the Super 23 than any of the competitive systems. Ten different lenses in eight different focal lengths were available to Mamiya users, all rangefinder coupled in helical focusing mounts. The lenses used the reliable Seikosha #0 shutter and provided for flash sync at all speeds.
Among the functioning cameras in my collection, I have both a Mamiya 23 Standard, and a Koni-Omega Rapid--which I will soon show pictures of and taken by, within this post. I will now make a recommendation for what I consider one of the best uses for these old classic cameras is today, aside from merely indulging in the wanderlust of going vintage. And there certainly IS that.
Because of the exceptional acuteness of these lenses--especially the wide-angle lenses, paired with the capapability to take 6x7 and 6x9 backs imaging on roll film--these cameras make very good landscape and scenic cameras. They are more portable view cameras--which are considered the ultimate in image quality for scenics for use in magazines, displays, wall-hangings owing mainly to the 4x5 and larger film that can be used. But photographers who desire to access the best scenery in the world, may need to backpack out among the birds and the bears and the trapping of wilderness. While these just-discussed cameras are not the smallest cameras, they are smaller that 4x5 view cameras.
Note: Although we are not going to review the newer vintage Mamiya medium-format rangefinder cameras, I will say that one of these models--namely, the Mamiya 6, Mamiya 7, and Mamiya 7II cameras are known to be the very best cameras for Landscape Photography.
I own an early Mamiya Standard 23. Had I not been initially used to the Omega Rapid model, I would have little to want for in this model. I retained one of this basic model because I found that someone had done the thinking that I had not yet gotten around to, of using the Standard 23to make a 6x12 camera for scenics. I bought the plans for ten bucks from eBay.
I even have a design for converting one of these bodies to accept a homemade 6x12 film back, using 120 roll-film and the wide 75 mm lens on the one hand, or the 58/60mm wide lens on the otherhand. BTW, as alluded to earlier, my understanding is, that the Omegon-labeled 58mm lens and the Konica Hexanon 60 mm lens, are in fact, the exact same lens. These are highly sought after lenses.
Oddly, on eBay they often bring a higher price when told singularly than as an entire kit containing the lens and a whole camera system. I guess you just have to know what to look for. Some people may be looking for the lens for another camera, or project camera they are building or modifying--never realizing what camera the lenses were made in the first place.
(Continue to the next post to learn more about the Mamiya RB 67 Camera System.)