Mamiya Universal Press Camera Review by Andrew Welsh

Mamiya Universal Press Camera Review by Andrew Welsh on Shoot It With Film
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Written by Andrew Welsh

If you love instant film photography, you may just own an Instax camera or have gone as far as a custom skinned SX-70.

However, you may not know the best system, hands down, for manual control instant photography is the Mamiya Universal Press.

(Find the Mamiya Universal Press at KEH Camera or on eBay.)

Mamiya Universal Press Medium Format Film Camera Review
Mamiya Universal Press Medium Format Film Camera Review
Mamiya Universal Press Camera Review by Andrew Welsh on Shoot It With Film

Benefits of the Mamiya Universal Press

If you’ve ever shot an instant film camera, you’ve had to compromise on one or more of these features:

  • 100% frame coverage
  • Centered on the lens
  • Faster than f/4 lens
  • Calibrated rangefinder (or autofocus)
  • Interchangeable lenses
  • Manual exposure control
  • External flash control (strobes on triggers etc)
  • Ability to carry by hand

The only camera that meets all of these needs is the Mamiya Universal Press.

The coveted Polaroid Land 180 has a fairly slow f/4.5 lens. The 195 is a bit better with a f/3.8 lens and pc port for flash, but neither have interchangeable lenses.

The inexpensive and ubiquitous Land Cameras (250, 350 etc) are 100% automatic with f/8.8 lenses, requiring a direct flash, long exposures, fast ISO 3000 film and/or bright direct sunlight, and a battery compartment modification to use AAAs.

All other medium format systems besides the Mamiya Universal Press (Hasselblad, Contax, Pentax, Bronica etc) cover only a fraction of the frame.

The next nearest “good choice,” a Mamiya RB/RZ, has a good portion of the frame permanently blacked out, and it weighs at minimum 5.5 lbs/2.5 kg, difficult for most people to carry around.

The only medium-format camera with full coverage of the 4.25″x3.25″ frame is the Mamiya Universal Press. Plus, it can be carried by hand.

While 4×5 cameras also have 100% frame coverage, they have their own limitations. The ones with easy focus- SLRs – are very large and heavy. The lighter and manageable ones have more difficult focus (ground glass or rangefinders paired with slow lenses).

Because the 4.x25x3.25 format is only a portion of the 4×5 frame, making composition is challenging or time consuming, because the Polaroid backs are off-center.

For landscapes or slow, carefully posed portraits of still subjects, a 4×5 system is okay, but less than ideal for instant film shooting in regular portrait situations.

Mamiya Universal Press Camera Review by Andrew Welsh on Shoot It With Film

Shooting Kids, Weddings, & Portraits with the Mamiya Universal Press

I love documenting my children using instant photos. This gives us real prints to hold onto over the years. I’m also impatient and don’t want to wait for developing and scanning of a roll of film…

I get the quality of film in mere minutes! Before I store or display the prints, I scan them with my Epson v700, for sharing and backup.

Here are some of my most favorite photos of my kids using the Mamiya Universal Press.

In here, I show the range of lighting abilities the camera has, with an example of bounce flash, direct flash, remotely triggered strobe in a softbox, interior lighting in the evening, and natural daylight.

Mamiya Universal Press Camera Review by Andrew Welsh on Shoot It With Film
Mamiya Universal Press Camera Review by Andrew Welsh on Shoot It With Film

Outside of my family, the Mamiya Universal Press is perfect for client work.

Besides being a conversation piece at a wedding, shooting instant film allows you to hand your clients a beautiful print in just a few minutes. Everyone appreciates the specialness of having a real print in their hands, despite the digital age’s proliferation of photos.

Mamiya Universal Press Camera Review by Andrew Welsh on Shoot It With Film
Mamiya Universal Press Camera Review by Andrew Welsh on Shoot It With Film

About the Mamiya Universal Press

First made in 1969 through the 70s, the Mamiya Universal Press is a 100% manual camera with multiple interchangeable lenses and a universe of options for film backs, living up to its name.

And, like anything Mamiya, it is built like a tank, and weighs like one too. Fortunately, there are still many cameras going around, and professional repair shops are still able to fix them.

Mamiya Universal Press Camera Review by Andrew Welsh on Shoot It With Film

Lenses

If you want to pick one up, most kits available on eBay include the ubiquitous and easily obtainable Sekor 100/3.5. Other lenses that are occasionally available are 75, 90, 127, 150, and 250mm.

The viewfinder has built in frame lines for 100, 150 and 250mm, and all lenses are focus-calibrated. A wide 50mm lens exists, but is rare.

The lens you really want with this system is the 100mm f/2.8. It’s worth every penny for the extra bokeh you get in your images, as well as faster shutter speeds.

Mamiya Universal Press Camera Review by Andrew Welsh on Shoot It With Film

Film Formats

Now, you may be interested in buying this camera, but maybe are concerned about future-proofing it. The beauty of the Mamiya Universal Press is you’re not just limited to just one type of film.

The Mamiya Universal Press has backs available to shoot:

There are also special backs with modifications that allow you to shoot:

  • Impossible Project / Polaroid Originals (IP/PO) Type 600 or SX-70 film
    • Nate at Instant Options mods a CB-70, 71 or 72 back
    • Rezivot mods an Impossible Project Instant Lab to fit the Mamiya Universal Press
  • Instax Wide film
    • Nate at Instant Options can mod a Belair Instax Wide back (if you can source one!)
  • 4×5 sheet film (with some vignetting)
Mamiya Universal Press Camera Review by Andrew Welsh on Shoot It With Film

Some modders have even hacked a whole Instax Wide camera onto the back of the Mamiya Universal Press to obtain automatic ejection and a centered frame.

Available Instant Films

Currently (spring 2019), the only freshly manufactured instant films of any kind are:

  • Fujifilm Instax (mini, square and wide sizes) (Find on Amazon)
  • Polaroid Originals (aka Impossible Project) (600 and Spectra sizes). (Find on Amazon)

The 600 type film, Instax wide, and peel-apart FP100c/3000b/Polaroid etc are all the same size – 4.25’x3.25”. Instax Mini and Square are smaller.

Fuji will make Instax in the foreseeable future, and it’s relatively inexpensive at about $0.75 USD per photo.

Polaroid Originals/Impossible Project film is here to stay, and has its own charm, at about $3 USD per photo.

The last peel apart film made, FP-100c (also Fujifilm), ceased new production in early 2016. Thankfully, there was a recent successful Kickstarter, by the same people who made the Impossible Project film, to manufacture new peel apart film sometime in mid-2019, and initially will run close to $10 USD per photo.

There are still sources online for other peel apart films, such as the ISO 3000 B&W FP-3000b, as well as rarer, older, and riskier (funky colors, dried out pods etc) films made by Fuji and Polaroid like FP-100b, 667, 669, etc.

Mamiya Universal Press Camera Review by Andrew Welsh on Shoot It With Film

Overall, the Mamiya Universal Press photographic system by far is the most versatile, flexible and future-proof system, even as available film formats change rapidly.

Paired with FP100c or FP3000b peel-apart film (still easy to find as of spring 2019), you can make large format quality images in combination with the 100/2.8 lens, and quickly switch to your favorite medium format stocks to shoot 120/220 film.

Nothing beats the look of excitement on people’s faces when you hand them a beautiful instant print right there.


Thank you so much, Andrew! You can check out more of Andrew’s work on his website, Facebook, and Instagram.

Leave your questions about the Mamiya Universal Press below in the comments, and you can pick one up for yourself at KEH Camera or on eBay.

Click here to check out all of our film camera reviews!

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Blog Comments

Hey Andrew,

Thanks so much for writing and posting up the article. It answers so many questions. While learning and looking for which polaroid film back to consider, I found this on ebay.
https://www.ebay.com/itm/the-Converted-Instax-Wide-for-Polaroid-600E-Mamiya-Universal-/174029501195?_trksid=p2385738.m4383.l4275.c10
Have you seen that before and what do you think?
At the moment, I think I’ll go with the Revizot back but then, the Instax film is the less expensive option than the Impossible/Polaroid 600

Hi Robin!
That is the same back I mentioned in my article, and even around the same price I paid for mine- it is a modified Belair back. It does let you shoot Instax wide film– but be aware that it is off-center from the lens. that means the composition in the viewfinder needs adjustment (I forget offhand if you tilt the camera away from the lens or towards it). It also means you lose a little speed, due to the natural vignette of the various lenses outside the center of the image circle– you adjust by exposing ~1/3 stop more (slower shutter speed/wider aperture).

Hi Andrew, in a nightly guerilla action, I offered to pay 350€ for a Universal Press with Polaroid back and the 100 3.5 and am now wondering whether this will be suitable to shoot Polaroid portraits? Which affordable instant films would you recommend – or would I need to buy another back? Thank you in advance, Saskia xx

Hi Saskia,

Your setup will absolutely be great for shooting polaroids! You can find FP-100c and FP-3000b film on eBay and occasionally Facebook sales groups. There was also a recent-ish kickstarter to bring back peel apart film, and they are almost ready to mail the rewards to backers this month. I think by Summer 2020 (per their prediction), they can start taking orders for new film.

If you wish to shoot Impossible Project film, you’ll need to find a CB-70 / CB-71 / CB-72 back modded to fit the Mamiya Universal. Sometimes these come up on ebay pre-modded.. most often, just the back is available and you’d have to have it modded by someone (the article above explains this in detail).

Instax wide backs are also available, detailed in the article above.

Enjoy and happy shooting!
Andrew

Great write up! The Universal is an awesome monster that I love. It makes you slow down, has tons more image quality, etc. And the lenses and backs, beyond polaroid, have many other great uses. The versatility is truly incredible. Three minor things though as the owner of Polaroid 195, 250, manual option 250, and Mamiya Universal…
1- the 195 has f3.8
2- 195 has a pc port for flash and works great
3- the max aperture on the 250/350/450 etc is f8.8, still slow but not f13 slow!

Thank you so much for your comment and this info! We’ve added it in!

Hey!

I recently purchased a Universal Press with the 50mm and 100mm F3.5 lenses plus a 6×7 back and some other accessories. I’m really intrigued by the mutli format (645, 6×6 and 6×9) backs as a way of shooting every medium format aspect ratio on one camera. There’s quite a few on eBay from Japan but was wondering if you knew much about the masking for these backs? Struggling to find any information on them anywhere.

Hi Matthew,
I’m not familiar with any masking on those backs… they are dedicated to a particular format, i.e. the 6×9 back shoots only 6×9. The “multi-format” idea is that there different aspect ratio backs being available, but a given roll of film you’re shooting on that day would be committed to that one particular aspect ratio of the back it’s loaded in. Of course, you can swap backs out, since they have dark slides… you can shoot something 6×7, then swap it out for a 6×4.5 back, then go back to 6×7.
Hope that helps,
Andrew

An update for the readers:
The article does mention the kickstarter for new peel-apart instant film… well, it is now available for purchase from https://supersense.com/oneinstant/ – it’s color ISO 100 film, and you have one photo per pack. Each box you buy has 3 packs included (i.e. 3 photos). It does not make a negative that you can scan… just the positive print. Enjoy!

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