Love, Hate, and the Mamiya C330

“Theres a difference between like and love. Because, I like my Skechers, but I love my Prada backpack,” Bianca says while walking with her friend Chastity in the movie Ten Things I Hate About You. “But I love my Skechers,” Chastity responds. “That’s because you don’t have a Prada backpack,” says Bianca. And so I love my Mamiya C330, but as Bianca would likely point out I do so because I don’t have a Hasselblad or Rolleiflex. 

When I want to shoot squares, that timeless format, the Mamiya C330 is my go to camera. And while it’s not a Hasselblad, and at times I’ve hated it a little bit for that, I do now love the C330. 

Some history on my C330: it was labeled as junk when I purchased it, smelled heavily of cigarette smoke, and cost me the equivalent of $150. It’s lens was overhauled in Tokyo, it’s seals were replaced by me, and since moving to California it’s the camera found most frequently in my bag.

At the time of purchase a 105mm DS lens was affixed to the camera. During my initial inspection I could see that the lens had some issues, but figured I’d gamble on it. If the lens was shot, I thought, I could get a new one and have a good body. I documented the experience of having the lens serviced in Japan on our blog back in 2013, but never took the time to write about the experience of usingthe camera. Because, to be honest, it wasn’t until recently that I started using this camera. 

After the lens was overhauled and the seals were replaced this camera largely sat. My wife isn’t a photographer per say, but she does enjoy taking pictures, and this camera was to be hers; something that we took out on special occasions when we had nothing else to do. But, burning through 120 film just for the sake of burning through 120 film, it turns out, isn’t something we did often and so it sat. The camera did however go on some trips, once to Mt. Nokogiri, and once to Cambodia. In Cambodia, while climbing the stairs of Angkor Wat, we learned about the weight the C330 brings with it, and it became clear that our choice to bring the camera was a poor one. 

After the sale of my Hasselblad I largely let go of shooting square and so the camera sat. It wasn’t until we moved to California that this camera found it’s way into my bag in a full-time manner. There’s a couple of reasons the camera sat, but the foremost reason the C330 didn’t see regular use is it’s weight. The C330 is in fact a portly camera with the ergonomics of a brick. I say this not as an insult but as fact. If you don’t believe me I recommend you go to Home Depot and balance two bricks, vertically in your hand, and I think you’ll agree. A padded neck strap for this camera, I feel, is mandatory. 

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When I came back to the camera this past Fall I started to really love it. The attachment isn’t the same as the one I had with my Hasselblad, but is instead more of a working relationship as opposed to a love affair. I don’t wax poetic about the camera, am generally pretty humble when asked about it, and don’t fret while using it. The C330 functions much more as a tool in my relationship with it, a tool which I guide, as opposed to the Hasselblad which at times seemed to guide me. We’re getting mystic here, I know. 

While the C330 doesn’t have the sexiness of the Rolliflex or the Hasselblad it does have some exceptional functionality. The ability to use interchangeable lenses on a TLR is the first thing that comes to mind. And the lenses, it should be mentioned, are largely excellent. Next, there’s a wide range of accessories to suit your shooting style. If you need a prism, they have one. Sports finder, they have one. Flash bracket grip thingy, they have one. I know that all manufacturers make a wide range of accessories for their cameras, but the Mamiya’s is excellent and I think worthy of note. 

It’s worth mentioning that while the C330 does have interchangeable lenses, and it is a very notable feature, it’s also something of a burden at times. I hesitate to say that changing lenses on the C330 is difficult, but I do think that it’s consuming and something best done at a table or a park bench. The body itself has a lock and a bailing wire, both of which must be manipulated to change the lens. First, I unlock the lens which shields the film from light. Then, I undo the bail which releases the lens from the body. At this point the lens is free and I can put the caps back on it and place it on the body. 

If you’re the kind of person who would like to put another lens on before capping the first one this becomes a problematic juggle. You have to put the lens on the front of the body, then reaffix the bail, and then lock the lens. Futzing with the bail with a lens in hand is an accident waiting to happen and thus, I prefer to change lenses in the car or when I am stopped. Again, this is something that I do, and not indicative of an issue with the camera. 

Like many leaf shuttered cameras the speeds on my lenses max out at 1/500th of a second and all three of my lenses feature speeds down to 1 second, plus Bulb mode. Though we didn’t use the camera often while in Japan on occasion we’d see a lens for a fair price and grab it. We accumulated a set of three in this way. In our collection is a 65mm lens, a 180mm Super, and the 105mm DS which was affixed to the camera at the time of purchase. 

My favorite lens by far on the C330 is the one that came with it, the 105mm DS. In terms of focal length it’s on the long side of normal and matches very well my mind’s eye when I am using this camera. Though I have a wider lens and a longer lens I like using the wide/tele adapters on which I stand and simplifying my workflow. While the C330 does have interchangeable lenses to do so on the fly is at times a hassle and the weight of the extra lenses, while not overwhelming, does add up in a camera bag, so I typically leave the house with only one and find it ample. 

For a medium format system on a budget I think that the Mamiya TLR lineup presents an exceptional value for anyone looking to make the jump. I’ve invested right around $700 at the time of writing for a body, three lenses (one with overhaul), and two lens hoods. It makes images which are as good as it’s competition but adds some versatility in exchange for some of the sexiness and lore.