Introduction: The Mamiya RZ33

Editor’s Note: I’m grateful to several people for our Mamiya demo equipment: to Ray Olson of Mac Group for the RZ33 body and digital back as well as our demo 110mm f2.8 lens; to Pro Camera Rental & Supply for our demo 50mm f 4.5 and AE prism finder.  Mac Group is Mamiya’s exclusive U.S. distributor and Pro Camera is San Francisco’s finest rental shop for professional cameras and lighting gear.  Also, thank you to San Francisco photographer, Larry Amer, for loaning us an RB67 50mm f4.5 C.

Introduction

The Mamiya RZ is a camera system with a proud tradition, long a beefier, lesser-known big brother to Hasselblad.  Now, several years after the digital shakeup – a cruel transition for the medium format market – the RZ receives a high tech makeover.  Interestingly, the camera is unchanged from its historic form.  Refinement has gone towards smooth, cable-free integration between a detachable digital back and a classic film camera front.  All the parts are familiar.  The digital back is a Mamiya DM33, originally designed for 645 duty, the camera body is a RZ67 Pro IID, still capable of accepting film backs, RZ67 lenses, and Mamiya’s wide range of accessories.

The assembled Mamiya RZ33 is a classic all-manual camera, hefty and capable, with the most modern of 33MP digital output.  Over the coming weeks, we’ll dive in to its full capabilities and come out with stories to tell!

The RZ33′s Mamiya RZ67 Pro IID Camera Body

The Mamiya RZ33 is a large camera, easily making other modular medium format systems, like the H4D series from Hasselblad, seem compact.  By comparison, the Hasselblad, as well as Phase One/Mamiya’s 645DF camera, are high-tech compromises between this and the likes of Canon, Nikon, and Pentax.  Indeed, the RZ does no compromising (there isn’t even a handle!)

In the hands, it is a heavy box with wonderfully direct and mechanical controls.  They are simple and few: a spring-loaded, thumb-sized, metal  arm to set the mirror and wind the shutter (and advance film with an optional film back in place); beefy ribbed, rubberized, and locking focus knobs on either side of the body (and a separate inner ring on the right for focus fine tuning); a wheel, on the left, to set shutter speed; an “M-R” switch to allow the back to rotate between portrait and landscape orientation, and a shutter release button, surrounded with an on/off/”emergency!-no-battery-but-still-on-anyway” ring.

In the hands, it is a heavy box with wonderfully direct and mechanical controls.  They are simple and few…

Using RZ67 lenses, shutter speed is controlled from the body and, aside from Bulb mode, ranges from only 8 seconds to 1/400 second.  Like the Hasselblad H-series, though, the RZ uses lens-based leaf shutters, allowing strobes to sync at every speed.  With older all-mechanical RB67 lenses in place, shutter speed is controlled on the lens (using the “RBL” setting on the camera’s control wheel).  It’s worth noting that, at the time of this writing, there is no way to control the DM33 digital back from an RB67 lens, and RB67 lenses are therefore not compatible.  Future compatibility between the RZ33 and RB67 lenses will depend on the eventual availability of a proprietary control cable between lens and back (RB lenses lack the electrical communication with the camera body of RZ lenses).

On both RZ and RB lines (assuming an eventual cable-equipped compatibility for RB glass) aperture is controlled via a ring on the lens barrel.  On our Mamiya-Sekor Z 110mm f2.8 W, the aperture ring is a smooth-turning, hefty metal control.  Uniquely, on both the ring aperture control and camera shutter speed dial, photographers can choose settings anywhere, not just at the detentes for whole stops.  Though, for example, this lens has no click stop between f2.8 and f4, the ring can be set anywhere between, allowing very fine adjustments to exposure – and you need a ring this huge to actually have space for fine tuning between f2.8 and f4.  Other controls on our RZ lens include a setting for T-mode (different from the camera body’s B mode, in that once opened, the shutter says open until the T-mode switch is deactivated), a mount for a cable release (using a cable release attached to the lens automatically engages mirror lockup mode, which can’t be used otherwise), and a depth of field scale ring, which can be set and referred to as a guide (though it doesn’t control anything).

On the RZ33, the camera body is an RZ67 Pro IID Focus is achieved by turning one of two knobs on either side of the body.  A third knob, the inner of the two focusing knobs on the camera’s right side, provides focus fine tuning.  Instead of moving a lens element or two, the whole front of the camera extends with built-in bellows and rails.  This feature gives the camera its unique ability to focus relatively closely with any lens and has helped to make its film-era predecessors standard equipment in studios around the globe.  Ergonomically, it’s an adjustment to hold and operate the RZ; I’m completely accustomed to cradling a camera by its lens.  The wheels, however, and especially on a tripod, lend a sense of precision to focusing, which is crucial given the merciless detail rendering of the mighty DM33 digital back…

The RZ33′s Mamiya DM33 Digital Back

Given the mechanical, uncomplicated utility of the camera, the techy sophistication of the DM33 digital back is especially striking.  Unlike the Imacon-designed digital backs of H3DII and H4D Hasselblads, which contain only basic menus are are relatively simple, the LEAF-designed DM33 (aka, the LEAF Aptus-II 7) has amazing depth to its menus and options.  It offers, as one example, twelve options for color space, certainly more than the sRGB or AdobeRGB choice we’re used to seeing!  And it has a stylus.

The back captures 33 MP using a 48 x 36mm CCD sensor.  It offers an ISO range of 50-800, a 3.5″ touch screen (which works by finger or stylus), and records .MOS files in either uncompressed or a lossless compressed form.  The files are compatible with Capture One or Leaf Capture.  When uncompressed, they are compatible with Adobe Lightroom.

The DM33 digital back operates from its own battery (the RZ67 Pro IID camera body takes its own little 6V alkaline).  A quiet cooling fan runs when needed (and will blow directly in a photographer’s eye in portrait orientation).  Aside from the touchscreen, there are only two other controls, an on/off button and a small button/control rocker on the top right corner.  The DM33 has a PC sync socket for strobe control, a headphone jack, and the proprietary control port mentioned above.  CF cards are inserted on the left side.  The door is a sturdy metal design.

True to its studio roots, the back has nothing in the way of weather sealing.  Photographers looking for a rainy-day medium format camera would be advised to look elsewhere.  Unlike certain uni-body and weather-sealed competitors, though, the RZ33′s back is very easy to remove (too easy, I’m inclined to say) making a quick dust check on the sensor very easy.  Also, the back is completely compatible with the Phase One/Mamiya 645DF camera (the 645DF and DM33 sell together as a kit for about $20,000).  It’s interesting to have options

The New Mamiya RZ33 in Today’s Medium Format Market

The Mamiya RZ33 has an interesting place in today’s photography market.  There are several digital medium format cameras in very roughly the same price neighborhood, including:

Mamiya DM-28 (28 MP, with 80mm lens) – $15,000

Mamiya RZ33 (33mm, body only) – $18,000

Hasselblad H4D-40 (40 MP, body only) – $18,000

Mamiya DM-33 (33 MP, body only) – $20,000

Phase One P40+ (with 80mm lens) – $21,000

Phase One’s Upcoming IQ140 (scheduled to ship in May) – $22,000?

In this lineup, the RZ33 certainly has character.  The Mamiya/Phase One 645DF and Hasselblad H4D camera bodies are significantly less exotic.  The smaller 645-format cameras have more modern, sophisticated lenses (hello autofocus) not to mention more modern electronic user interfaces.  The traditional appeal of the 6×7 camera were the 6×7 film images.  Now that everyone’s shooting the same size digital file, the added weight is a hard sell.

The RZ33 is not, however, without its selling points.  It is the only camera on the above list that can accept a film back.  Only it and the Hasselblad H4D can accept both a waist-level and prism viewfinder and, unlike the Hasselblad H4D, the RZ can make use of a rich history of lenses.  The RZ’s back rotates between portrait and landscape to allow quick switching without adjusting a tripod.  And, having experience with all the cameras on the above list except the last, I can say the RZ33 gets top marks for beefy build quality.  In fact, it might be the only one that feels worthy of its price tag.

All that aside, what’s likely to give the Mamiya RZ33 2011 appeal, I think, is the inevitably thoughtful way of working that comes with it.  It’s a tool for the precise photographer who wants to spend time crafting each capture.  The RZ’s enormous and beautiful viewfinder offers a very real experience before capture (in that strange 3-D way of the ground glass) and the full cycle of cranking and firing lends a certain finality to a creative thought.  In my line of photography, portraiture, the camera’s waist-level finder allows continuous interaction with subject.  In a studio setting, where the camera’s size is much less a concern, it offers a wonderful precision and solidity, as well as a great deal of customization via a wide range of accessories.

What’s likely to give the Mamiya RZ33 2011 appeal is the inevitably thoughtful way of working that comes with it.

Summary

The classic Mamiya RZ67 line lives on in the RZ33, a big, mechanical camera with both the RZ’s classic, straight-forward machinery and a highly sophisticated 33 MP digital capture system.  The camera has a few unique features: a rotating back for landscape or portrait orientation, an all leaf-shutter and widely available line of highly-regarded lenses, a digital back that can also operate on a Mamiya 645DF camera, and the ability to accept a film back (available here as a $4,250 film back kit).  Though more modernized and compact digital medium format cameras are available in roughly the same price neighborhood (notably, the Hasselblad H4D-40) the Mamiya RZ33 is a unique creative tool, with undeniable character.  It is certain to find a place in contemporary photography.

Part Two: On Location with the Mamiya RZ33

Mamiya RZ33 Slideshow
Join the Discussion

In upcoming articles, we’ll take to the field for some serious RZ shooting and take a close look at the results.  Check back soon!   Comments are welcome on our new Facebook page.  Enjoy the Photo Arts Monthly experience?  Be sure to share the link and support us by patronizing our sponsors, listed at the bottom of the page.  Thanks!


Comments
One Response to “Introduction: The Mamiya RZ33”
Trackbacks
Check out what others are saying...
  1. [...] Beardsley recently posted a review of the Mamiya RZ33 on Photoarts Monthly. In this informative article, Beardsley covers all the [...]