Written by Peter Stout
Let’s face it – this is a serious camera. And around the beginning of 2017, I was in the market for a more serious medium format camera. Since then, I’ve put 200+ rolls through the Pentax 6×7 while canvasing the United States and even down to Costa Rica. It was in the delivery room for my daughter’s birth, it waited in the rain with me as my son got off the bus on his first day of school, and it’s shot first kisses of newlyweds on gorgeous September days. It is serious. (Find the Pentax 67 at KEH Camera or on eBay.)
The Pentax 67 System
As it says in its name, the Pentax 6×7 creates a massive 6×7 negative. That equates to a mere 10 shots per roll of 120, and 21 on a roll of 220. In total, there are 4 iterations of this camera:
- Pentax 6×7 (released in 1969)
- Pentax 6×7 w/ mirror lock-up (MLU) – pictured above (released 1976)
- Pentax 67 (released 1990)
- Pentax 67ii (released 1999)
When it comes to price and function, the best value is found with the Pentax 6×7 MLU and the Pentax 67. Functionally, they are identical, but the Pentax 67 will be much newer. As of this writing, these models will go for $300-500 for the body only, depending on condition and prism (metered vs. non-metered). The Pentax 67ii featured many upgrades in functionality, ergonomics, and focus screens that it costs significantly more ($1500-2000) for just the body. I’m here to focus on the best bang-for-your-buck model: The Pentax 6×7 w/ MLU.
The Elephant in the Room – The Size of the Pentax 67
This camera is huge. HUGE. Yuuuuuuuuge. It is a solid hunk of metal, glass, and optional wood accessories that’ll push up to 8(!) pounds depending on how you dress it. Unless you’re rocking some Jnco jeans from 1996, this thing isn’t fitting in your pocket. This is why I find the left-hand grip essential as it gives you a perfect carrying handle. While the grip is useful to hold your flash trigger, it really provides no other useful purpose.
With the Pentax 6×7 MLU or Pentax 67, your extremely limited when it comes to functions. There are no auto-exposure options with these models. No A for Awesome, no P for Professional. This camera is fully manual 100% of the time. Grab that light meter, set that aperture and shutter speed.
Another creativity-limiting deficiency is the lacking ability to perform double exposures. There’s no option, nor is there a trick. You can scour the world for the rare-as-hens-teeth models that were modified by Pentax with a double exposure button, or spend the big bucks on the Pentax 67ii.
If there is a “feature” it is the benefit of a 1/1000 shutter speed. With some fast, amazing portrait lenses in its line-up, that extra stop in shutter speed can really be beneficial to take advantage of the multiple f/2.8 or greater lenses.
Lenses for the Pentax 67
Pentax 6×7 lenses are impressively sharp, fast, well-designed pieces of glass. It has an extensive selection, and for anyone looking for specifics on the entire line up, there is no better source than the Antique & Classic Cameras List.
But, there are must-haves. And, in my opinion, that list starts and ends with a single lens: The SMC Pentax 67 105mm SMC f/2.4 (find at KEH Camera or on eBay). This is the normal lens for this system, giving you about a 55mm field-of-view for a 35mm system. There are three versions of this lens, with the newest being the latest and greatest (and most expensive – it’ll cost you $500-700). For further info on how to distinguish between the different models, check out my friend Jeffrey Armstrong’s review of this lens: The Pentax 67 105mm
The 105mm is amazingly sharp, even shot wide-open, and at f/2.4 really gives that medium format look that people enjoy. On top of it, this lens has a very unique flare, as it produces a red orb that can be a lot of fun to use as a compositional tool.
Now, for every Batman there has got to be a Robin. Two excellent wide-angle lenses are the 45mm f/4 (find at KEH Camera or on eBay) and 55mm f/4 (find at KEH Camera or on eBay) (24mm and 28mm field-of-view, respectively, on a 35mm system). And for portraits, the 165mm f/2.8 (find at KEH Camera or on eBay) is fantastic. More so, these lenses are all extremely affordable (approximately $300), especially considering their excellent quality.
If a standard 35mm field-of-view suits your style, there are a few options for the 75mm focal length (find at KEH Camera or on eBay). The affordable option ($100) is the 75mm f/4.5. Many iterations of this guy, but all known for being extremely sharp. If you seem to have an extra $1500 lying around that could use a new home, the 75mm AL will clean that out without a penny to spare. An f/2.8 lens, this little guy has skyrocketed in price in recent years.
Downsides to the Pentax 67
Do I have complaints? Of course I do! Double exposures – can’t do it.
The stock screen is not bright. In fact, shooting with the 105 or longer lens wide open is more of a game of Russian Roulette to hit focus. I highly recommend an upgraded screen, specifically a Bill Maxwell Hi-Lux. It’ll cost you ($300 + $200 for professional installation), but you’ll never miss again.
This thing needs a battery. Which means you need to be carrying another spare battery at all times.
Loading – getting that fresh roll in can be maddening. A single tip to ease in loading is to not remove the paper strip holding it together until after you have it locked in place. No backs on this guy, so no easy switching of pre-loaded backs.
The flash sync speed is only 1/30 of a second. This can make ambient-balanced portraits a bit tricky, though still very functional.
Two prisms can be had – metered or non-metered. Personally, I use an external meter for every shot, as even after calibration I have found the metered prism to not be very accurate.
Mirror Lock-up is a must for anyone considering this for landscape photography.
Final Thoughts and Why I Love the Pentax 67
As an SLR on steroids, this camera is easy to compose and quick to focus. When it comes to the 6×7 systems available, the Pentax 6×7 is about as portable as they come with the versatility of an SLR. From landscape to portrait photographers, If you’re in the market for a serious medium format camera that is portable, the Pentax 6×7 begs for your consideration.