Originally introduced in 1969 as the Pentax 6x7, this medium format camera (the whole family through the 67ii line, actually) has worked its way into the hearts of many professional and enthusiast photographers over the years; culminating in its current cult status. Or as some would say, it's FAD status. (I'm looking at you, Matthew). I do have to agree, that in the last few months this thing is popping up all over the place on my Twitter feed.

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The camera went through several upgrades over the years: the Pentax 6x7 MU in 1979 which offered mirror lock-up, the Pentax 67 in 1989 and finally the Pentax 67ii in 1998. This body was something on my long-watch list, though I didn't think I'd ever own one. But as my eyes began to have a little trouble with the rangefinder patch on the Plaubel Makina 670, I decided this might be a good time to give something else a try.

So, I picked up a 1989(ish - if you know how to date these serials, let me know) Pentax 67 that looked to be hardly breathed on in 27 years, never mind used. It came with and nice wooden grip / cold-shoe, the TTL Pentaprism as well as the stellar Pentax f/2.8 90mm lens which I'll also get into below. But first, let get the nerdy out of the way.

Pentax 67 Tech Specs

For the model I am reviewing, these are the specs as stated by Pentax in 1989 for the 67 (not the 6x7 nor the 67ii). Judging from some old 1990 magazine ads, this body ($609) with the grip ($152) and TTL Pentaprism ($282) in 1990 dollars was roughly $1,043.00 US. With this lens, $1,442 - roughly half the price of the equivalent Hasselblad 500CM with Zeiss 80 outfit back then. Depending on condition, you can expect to pay about $250-$500 for a P67 body on the 'bay today - give or take. Mine was on the higher end as it was virtually unused.

  • Type: SLR
  • Shutter Speed: 1 to 1/1000 plus Bulb
  • Weight: 2.84 pounds / 1290g (3.99 pounds / 1810g with TTL Pentaprism)
  • Dimensions: 7" x 4" x 3.6" / 177 x 101 x 91mm
  • Dimensions with TTL Pentaprism: 7" x 5.9" x 3.6" / 177 x 150 x 91mm
  • Film: 120 or 220 (6x7, so 10 or 20 frames is it)
  • Picture Size: 55mm x 70mm
  • Lens Mount: Pentax 67 Double Bayonet 
  • Shutter: Electric focal plane
  • Mirror Lock-up
  • Viewfinder: Interchangeable - Folding Waist-level with 3.8x mag, Chimney 3x mag Eyecup, Pentaprism, TTL Pentaprism (the one I have)
  • Focusing Screen: Interchangeable Microprism

SMC Pentax 67 90mm f2/8 Tech Specs

As I acquire new lenses, I will add them here. For now, this is the only one I have been using. For a complete list of lenses and specs, see here. According to an ad from a 1989 Popular Photography, the cost was $399 then. About $150-$300 on the 'bay today.

  • Lens Elements: 7
  • Aperture: f/2.8-22
  • Focus: 65cm - infinity 
  • Weight: 1.07 pounds / 485g
  • Length: 45mm
  • Filter: 67mm
  • Field of View: 42º

Pentax 67 Performance

It'd been ages since I used a proper SLR camera. I can't help but put my eye to the top left corner when I raise it to take a shot (thanks to being only on rangefinders for several years now). But it's dead on top center like other D/SLR cameras and this puts you squarely behind the camera, obscuring your face.  The viewfinder through the pentaprism is very bright and 90% (no frame lines). The viewfinder when using waist-level is at 100% and also quite bright, edge to edge (much brighter than either stock Rollei and stock Hasselblad screens I have owned). The pentaprism I am using also has light metering which is looking fairly accurate. Metering is displayed with an analog indicator through the pentaprism. Film speed for metering is set on the shutter dial (lift and rotate). Aperture is set on the lens.

First thing I notice when lifting it is that I'll need to visit the gym a little more often to strengthen those forearms.  It's a chunky beast and a little lopsided in weight with the grip attached. I didn't want a neck strap for this (obvious reasons) and went with a Black Rapid Cross Shot Sling. This keeps the weight of the body on my shoulders and makes it pretty easy to maneuver. 

Gripping it isn't bad, especially with the wooden handle attached. Though, I admit I am fumbling a little with it as it's a new style of holding to compensate for size and weight. I sometime focus with the left hand, sometimes with the right. I am thinking focusing with the left hand is easier to balance.  The right side (while holding it to your eye) isn't overly "grippy" for me and takes finger strength to keep it still. The right side is just the thickness of the body - no bump out for an easier grip. I like the body shape much more than the box cameras like the Rollei and Hasselblad to be honest. I was never a fan of the holding of those other two.

Taking the lens off (which you need to do to switch from pentaprism to waist-level due to linkage) is easy. Facing the camera, the release is on the right side. There are two mounts built into this camera to handle various sizes of the 67 lenses. Smaller ones use the inner bayonet, larger the outer one. Like the body, lenses are beefy. 

Shooting with the Pentax 67 is really nice. Bulk aside, it is a great performing and really smooth camera. The action in the shutter, lens focus, crank and so on are beautiful. I don't really like the placement of the shutter release, but feel I will get used to that. Just seems further in than it should be.

Loading film wasn't as smooth as I liked - though it may have been my own problem. Snapping in the roll is a piece of cake thanks to the nice turns on the bottom of the camera, much more smooth than the Makina. These metal rings (film spool retainers) on the Pentax 67 lock and unlock with ease and make inserting the spool very easy. But when I thread the lead paper it into the empty spool, it didn't seem to want to grab. (This is verified as a headache with a quick Google search.) It's almost as if it was too tight on the roll side and the lead kept slipping out of the spool side. Damn thing didn't want to grab. Once I released some extra film from the roll, thereby giving slack, it grabbed fine and loaded up fine. Winding to frame one was fast and easy. Seemed almost too easy after that. (The Makina is a bit more of an effort to line up the spools and advance to frame one). Removing spent rolls is excellent as they eject from the body really well.

To talk a little more on its functional use, I am going to switch gears to compare it to the Plaubel-Makina 670 in the field - as that's where I have most of my experience.

Pentax 67 vs Plaubel Makina 670

If you remember back to last winter, I pitted the Rolleiflex 2.8 against the Plaubel Makina 670. My biggest drawback to the Rollei was that damned 6x6 format. I just can't do it. But now, we're going head to head with 6x7 formats - which happens to be my absolute favorite.

These are very different beasts on many levels. First off, I am pitting a SLR (Pentax 67) against a rangefinder (Plaubel Makina 670). So these are very different when it comes to build, focus and shooting mechanics.

Focus

With the Pentax 67, this is focused in the standard SLR TTL style. There are various ways to achieve this based on which viewfinder you're using. With my TTL Pentaprism, you get the microprism style focus center. (The center circle has a diamond pattern when out of focus). This is very easy for my eye to pick up sharp focus and is my preferred focusing design (maybe because I grew up using a Minolta with a similar focus design?). Also, you get the depth of field preview lever at the base of the lens which is nice, though not necessary. The Pentax does not have frame lines - rather it's the entire area of the 90% viewfinder. There are various opinions on this and I am really not in either camp. There's also the option to switch to 100% waist-level focusing - again, piece of cake with the very bright matte screen. Gets even easier with the 3.8x magnifier attachment - something I am contemplating adding to this setup.

Focus with the Pentax 67 is on the lens - smooth and graceful, so not much to write home about. Aperture clicks nicely into place.

With the Plaubel Makina 670, this is rangefinder focusing with the small patch in the middle of the finder. This is one of my current struggle points with many rangefinder bodies. My eyes have trouble seeing the patch at times, and if your eyeball isn't dead on balls center, the patch shifts a tad and you botch the focus. Part of the issue is I need the rangefinder on my copy re-adjusted - but a good CLA costs a fortune (more than I paid for the Pentax 67). For near focusing, I can't get the patch to perfectly line up focus, but I know where "close enough" is on this. As a rangefinder, there is no depth of field preview. Again, that's not a game changer for me. The Plaubel Makina 670 has a very wide viewfinder with bright frame lines so I can very easily visualize the final image.

Focus on the Plaubel Makina 670 is on top of the body. It's a stiff wheel that surrounds the shutter release and operated the scissor mechanism to lengthen and shorten the bellows. It's designed for one-handed operation, but a little clunky at times. If there was one negative thing I had to say about the Makina, it's this. I can't stand that focus.

Shooting

Shooting with the Pentax 67 isn't stealthy. That mirror slap will rattle your bones. The shutter release is a good distance from the edge - I'd prefer it right over the winder. But it's a nice smooth fire.  The crank is very silky smooth and throws an average distance in my book.  Oh, and it's single stroke. 

The Plaubel Makina 670 is a little more stealthy as there is no mirror, but there's still a healthy noise from the shutter. The shutter release position is a nice - and huge - plastic button. It's not quite as sensitive as the Pentax 67 (as far as feedback). The crank is fair if not a little tight, and as always, remember it's a double crank. It has a very long swing that sometimes gets hung up on my camera strap.

Build

No doubt, the Pentax 67 is a freaking all metal and brass tank. Heavy to walk with all day and not as easy as the Makina to keep near your side. With the wooden grip, it's huge and I suggest a shoulder strap (see above). If you hung it around your neck, I think you'd be risking neck strain. If you are attacked by a mugger, this is a formidable weapon.

The Plaubel Makina 670 is absolutely compact for medium format. It folds down fairly flat and just keeps out of the way. About as good as it gets. The weight is insignificant when carrying it around all day. But given it's light weight, don't be fooled - it's really durable.

Image Quality

I haven't performed any real tests, just a few head to head snaps to see what's what. These images are from a single roll shot through the Pentax 67 and another from the Plaubel Makina 670. The film I used was Fuji Pro 400H and had them developed and scanned by Richard Photo Lab. Camera setups (aside from focal lengths) are identical in the compares. I have to say, the Pentax is a bit sharper and more contrasty - and I like that.

Ignore that I grossly over-exposed the portrait shot please - as well as the light leak in the Plaubel in that one. I will be re-shooting portrait compares soon and I will update this post with them.

Pentax 67 left, Plaubel Makina 670 right:

Conclusions

Well, honestly, it's too early to draw conclusions. Having only shot a roll at this point, I won't really know until I can get out in the field with the camera (this weekend, hiking with it).  Initial thoughts are very positive.  It's a really nice camera and does medium format very well. For the cost, you can't go wrong (just compare prices to a Contax 645 which seems to be big film wedding gun these days - or compare with the going prices of the Plaubel Makina 67/0). IQ is right up with any of these. I think for the average Joe (like me) it'll come down to weight and shape. Is this a design I like? Is the weight something I can deal with? Right now, I am thinking yes. But we'll see. As you know, cameras come and go pretty quickly in my house.

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