The Mamiya TLR system is a great way into medium-format film photography. Inexpensive, robust and plentiful on eBay, you can get yourself a working camera and lens for less than two hundred pounds if you look hard enough.
The camera I bought is a 330 Professional. I paid £225 for mine, complete with 65mm lens. It’s in mint condition — I think I was lucky to get it at that price.
There’s not much to go wrong with the camera bodies — they’re all-mechanical. Things to watch out for with the body might include light-leaks in the bellows but I haven’t seen many reports of even that.
The lenses are another story. As with all older lenses, you have to be very careful when buying:
The TLR lenses are prone to sticky shutters. The shutters are the leaf type and the slow speeds in particular can slow down or stop working altogether. If your lens has this problem, you can sometimes free it off by firing it at several times at the problem speed. If this doesn’t work, repair shops like Newton Ellis can service the shutter for reasonable amounts of money.
Older lenses (Some of these Mamiya ones might be 40 years old or more) are prone to various problems. Most of these problems are pretty obvious but there’s one that’s not: Haze.
Haze can be hard to spot. I purchased a 55mm lens a few months ago. The description said it was free of all problems. I inspected it when it got here and saw nothing untoward. However, the first set of negatives I got back from it (Yesterday) were foggy.
Closer inspection of the lens revealed quite bad haze on one of the internal elements. To spot it, you have to hold the lens at an angle to a bright light shining through it. It’s quite easy to miss. For this reason, it’s a good idea to put some film through the camera with your new lens as soon as possible.
I emailed the seller to request a return but he declined, saying that I was outside the eBay returns window.
I’ll see how much Newton Ellis want to fix it — if it’s economical I’ll do it, as the lens is otherwise good. If not, it goes back on eBay with an honest description and I’ll just eat the loss. Caveat emptor.
The cost of cleaning it was going to be £90 + VAT (And not guaranteed to be successful), so I put it back on eBay.