Most Affordable Medium Format Out C’here: Mamiya C33

My Mamiya C33 is my first and only medium format camera, and it’s served me well. I’ll put it this way—I never find myself wanting for another camera. One day I’d like to have more options, of course, but like many others I have limited funds to expend on my photography; this is actually what led me to the C33 in the first place. I knew I wanted to break into medium format after strictly working with 35mm for a while, but I’d put off buying a new camera because the price tags of most intimidated me. I had often spent fruitless hours searching eBay, eventually closing out of all my tabs because I felt I couldn’t justify an investment in something I had very little knowledge of at the time. However, when I checked the new listings one morning I saw an incredibly affordable listing for this Mamiya. I bought it right away, and it has yet to let me down. 

The C33 is a TLR medium format camera that makes 6x6cm pictures. It was originally manufactured in the 1960s and set itself apart from other TLRs because its lenses are interchangeable, an uncommon feature for these types of cameras. 

Because it’s relatively portable, especially compared to some other medium format cameras, I’m rarely reluctant to take it with me anywhere. It gets a bit heavy at times, but is easy enough to put in my bag and carry around. Overall, it’s a very sturdy and versatile camera.

Photo By Dominick Lewis

The waist-level viewfinder is often a plus, and the separate viewing and taking lenses are helpful. I can usually tell when someone blinked, for example, because the release of the shutter doesn’t affect what I see in the viewfinder. The one downside to this is that there is always a slight disparity between what the viewing lens shows and what the taking lens actually registers, although this is negligible at greater distances. 

Possibly Thundercat’s Mom Photo By Dominick Lewis

Bellows focusing also makes closer shots possible. However, the disparity between the taking and viewing lenses grows more prominent the closer the subject is. In addition to this, parallax corrections have to be made. In short, as the bellows is extended and the lens gets farther away from the body of the camera, aperture or shutter speed have to be adjusted to account for the extra distance the light must travel to reach the film. The camera has a built-in meter to help calculate this, but it is an extra step to remember. Another thing to note is that there’s no built-in light meter with this camera, so an external one is needed.

Photo By Dominick Lewis

Lastly, a point I didn’t think much about before a friend brought it up in conversation recently; square dimensions can be more difficult to work with compositionally. Although this is, of course, a matter of opinion, it often rings true for me. I don’t see it as a bad thing, but rather as an engaging challenge to make the square composition work with any subject. 

Photo By Dominick Lewis

More to note:
Aperture range: f3.5 to f32

Shutter speeds: 1/500 to 1 s,

BFlash: Cold shoe, M and X flash sync

Weight: About 4 pounds

Everything considered, the Mamiya C33 is great. It’s light and compact enough to carry around and provides all the benefits of a TLR while being more adaptable than most because of its interchangeable lens system. There are drawbacks, such as the absence of a built-in light meter and a gap between what’s seen by the viewing versus the taking lens at close distances, but these are minor when considering the overall quality and versatility the camera offers. Plus, the square images are fun to work with and encourage me to think about composition in different ways. Especially with its affordable price-point, the C33 is a solid option for anyone looking for a reliable medium format camera. 

Photo By Dominick Lewis

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