Plaubel-Makina 670 Review

So, after telling you all that I was "done buying cameras forever" with the purchase of the Leica M-A, what did I do but go and buy a medium format camera. This time the 1982 Plaubel-Makina 670. To test this out, I grabbed a dozen rolls of film and headed down to New York City. I know, a little crazy of a gamble taking an untested camera (that I had no working knowledge of), and only this camera, to the city to shoot through $100 of film.

But I was feeling lucky.

And lucky I was not. You see, in my quest to quickly test out the Plaubel-Makina 670 I knew little about, I failed to notice that this bad boy is a DOUBLE-STROKE camera. Without that knowledge, I blew 6 rolls of Fuji Pro 400H.

Before I get into the review, let me explain what that means. With a double-stroke camera, you need to crank the lever twice to fully advance the film to the next frame.  If you treat it like a single-stroke (as I did) you are only doing a partial advance each time.  As you can see above and below, you end up with (6) rolls of double and triple exposed images.  All of em.

This means that my entire test-bed of results from the Plaubel-Makina 670 was botched - at least regarding full-size usable images.  But with some clever cropping, I can make (at least a handful) of usable images for this review and I can still talk about using this camera. With the images you can see (non-double exposure parts) I feel the Plaubel-Makina 670 can become a powerful workhorse for me. I am absolutely in love with the these bits. For example, the usable part of the below image - wicked.

decided for this review I'd use most of the images untouched. I think cropping them all would be a disservice to the actual review - and down the road, I can update with CLEAN images. I'm far from perfect, so I have no issue sharing my mistakes with you. I did crop just a few as the edges were way too distracting. But, like I said, the majority are untouched.

Review

The Plaubel cameras were first introduced in Germany in 1902 by Hugo Schrader. The first Makina was introduced in 1912 - known for it's awesome scissor control of the bellows. In the 70's, the company was sold to the Japanese Kimio Doi Group which eventually brought back the Makina series with the 67 (80mm lens), W67 (55mm lens) and the 670 (80mm lens, but accepts 120 as well as 220 film).

 

For a medium format camera, the Plaubel-Makina 670 is one compact piece of equipment. I've owned a Rolleiflex and Hasselblad in the past, and I sold both because I just didn't enjoy carrying them around and wasn't a fan of the waist-level viewfinders. Though I admit, it was always dreamy to look into those viewfinders - I just didn't like them in the field. But with the Plaubel-Makina 670, I get to use my beloved rangefinder viewfinder.

I had this slung over my should for three solid days and never once did it feel like an anchor. Here are some stats on the build of this metal tank:

  • Type: Rangefinder
  • Weight: 1345g
  • Lens: Nikkor f/2.8-22 (stepless) 80mm
  • Angle of View: 58°
  • Shutter: Leaf B, 1-500
  • Film: 120 or 220 (6x7, so 10 or 20 frames is it)

Caveats:

  • Set focus to infinity to expand / collapse bellows
  • Press release button FIRM to get bellows to collapse
  • This is a DOUBLE-STROKE camera, unlike the 67 or w67
  • Double lock on film bay door to prevent accidental opening

Plaubel-Makina 670 Performance

To enable one-handed performance, Plaubel decided to wrap the focus knob around the shutter release, rather than on the lens.  You focus by moving the bellows in and out through the unique scissor design. The knob is weird to get used to, and as you get close to minimum focus distance, it gets more difficult to rotate. Could be that the scissors need oil - or maybe they all do this?

The body is quite comfortable to hold, albeit large compared to a Leica. The 670 is ribbed for easier grip. I've held a 67 and do prefer the ribbed design. The shutter release gives quite the satisfying CLUNK when depressed, leaving no question that you snapped a photo.  If you want to be stealthy, the Plaubel-Makina 670 isn't the camera for you. Once depressed, double-stroke the advance lever. ;)

Again, if you want to collapse the lens, rotate the focus to infinity first.

You can load with either 120 or 220 film.  Just be sure to set the dial on top to the right one (so your counter is accurate), and also make sure you set the pressure plate inside to either 120 or 220. It adjusts the tension for the roll. You load the film by hitting the little release buttons on the bottom to lower the bottom film holders. Once the film is in, just click the buttons back into place.

Lens Performance on the Plaubel-Makina 670

Are you kidding me?  Just look at some of these images and the dynamic range! This is one of the things I miss about shooting medium format. For example, the top image of the Brooklyn Bridge...er...on the left. The highlights and shadows shot at 1/500 f/5.6 (exposed for ISO 200) look dead on to me. And absolutely no CA where the white cloud meets the bridge - where I'd expect it. I was pretty worried about using a Nikkor lens after being spoiled by Zeiss and Leica glass the past few years. But I have to admit, this 33 year old Japanese lens on the Plaubel-Makina 670 does just fine.

Looking at the dog (above) it's perhaps just a little soft at f/2.8 but recovers quickly by f/4 to razor sharp images.  The bokeh is insane - as good (if not better) as anything I've pulled off my Hasselblad or Leica's (though I much prefer the ease of use of the Zeiss / Leica glass).

The lens is quirky as hell. F-stop and shutter speeds are set on thin, stiff dials.  No clicks, so unlimited range from 2.8-22. If you choose to use the built-in light meter, you need to set your film speed on the bottom of the lens, using a near-impossible to rotate wheel to select the speed. I don't bother with it though.

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UPDATE: See my post on why I switched from 35mm to 120 because of the Makina on 35mmc.com.

Photos taken with Plaubel-Makina 670 using Fuji Pro 400H with all development by Richard Photo Lab.