The Compact Giant: My Experience with the Plaubel Makina 67

The Compact Giant: My Experience with the Plaubel Makina 67

Camera Review

The Compact Giant: My Experience with the Plaubel Makina 67

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Plaubel Makina 67 with Nikkor 80mm f2.8 lens
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Plaubel Makina 67 (top with bellow extended)

At first glance, the price of this Plaubel Makina 67 rangefinder camera may seem off-putting. As a novice photographer, I initially gravitated towards more budget-friendly options, gradually upgrading to higher-priced models to assess their value. However, my experience with medium format cameras has been somewhat challenging. My primary issue was focusing, as I require rangefinder focus and find Hasselblad’s long focus throw cumbersome. Additionally, the horizontally flipped composition in twin-lens reflex (TLR) cameras proved difficult, and the GF670’s images seemed too clean and modern for my taste. To date, the Makina 67 remains my favourite medium format camera.

I purchased my camera from Chapterlux, a local camera shop in Hong Kong. Although I hadn’t initially planned on buying this particular model, the shop owner kindly shared his own images taken with the camera and detailed the advantages and drawbacks. The stunning transparency film shots he showed me, viewed through a loupe, convinced me to give it a try. Throughout the pandemic, I’ve had many memorable experiences with this camera, even using it as my primary device during a trip to New Zealand where I captured numerous cherished images. It’s 58mm filter size makes it easy to adapt different filters, such as when I used a red filter to shoot black and white film in Hooker Valley, New Zealand.

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Makina 67, Kodak Portra 160, New Zealand

The only downside I’ve encountered is the light metre. I’ve never used it because I’ve heard many are either inaccurate or completely nonfunctional. The metre’s connection to a single, flimsy wire also leaves much to be desired. As a workaround, I use a Voigtlander VCII metre mounted on the hot shoe. However, one aspect of the Makina 67 that I absolutely adore is its shutter sound; it’s crisp and clean, reminiscent of a finely tuned instrument.

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The Plaubel Makina Legacy

Founded in 1902, Frankfurt-based lens manufacturer and distributor Plaubel & Co ventured into camera production, launching the first Plaubel Makina camera in 1912. These early models were groundbreaking, featuring rangefinder-coupled press cameras with interchangeable lenses and built-in leaf shutters.

Over the years, the Makina series continued to evolve, culminating in the 1979 release of the Plaubel Makina 67. Designed in Germany and produced in Japan, this medium format rangefinder camera boasted a distinctive design with a fixed Nikkor 80mm f/2.8 lens. The Makina 67 also incorporated a collapsible bellows system, allowing the lens to fold compactly and making the camera more portable than its medium format counterparts.

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Makina 67
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Plaubel Makina 67 lease release button

With a 6×7 negative size far surpassing those of its contemporaries, the Makina 67 yielded highly detailed, top-quality images. The camera’s fixed Nikkor 80mm lens further contributed to its exceptional performance, capturing stunning photos with an f/2.8 aperture.

While the Makina 67’s design and features were undeniably impressive, the camera was susceptible to mechanical failures, which often led to expensive repairs. Nevertheless, its clear and uncluttered viewfinder, reliable rangefinder patch, and built-in spot metre made it a popular choice among photographers.

Intriguingly, the Makina 67’s design can be traced back to the original Makina series, which employed a unique ‘lazy tongs’ system to enable the bellows to collapse into the camera body. This iconic design element was carried over to the Makina 67, preserving the camera’s legacy until the series eventually faded from prominence in the 1960s.

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Makina 67, Kodak Ektar 100, Hong Kong

The Makina Legacy Continues in Japan

The Plaubel Makina 67 is a remarkable camera that represents the integration of German and Japanese camera-making expertise. Originally a German family business in the early 1900s, Plaubel was acquired by Japanese businessman Kimio Doi in 1975. With a clear vision for the company’s future, Doi aimed to create a camera that embodied the company’s values and differentiated it from its competitors.

Although it’s uncertain whether Doi requested that the camera be entirely metal with no plastic parts, one thing is clear: the Makina 67 is a robust and substantial rangefinder camera. Its weight and heft give it a reassuring and substantial feel, and it’s all-metal construction exudes a sense of longevity and durability. Despite its solid build, the Makina 67 is surprisingly portable and compact, making it an excellent camera for on-the-go photography. The camera’s rangefinder system is also exceptional, providing precise and clear focusing even in low-light conditions.

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Plaubel Makina 67 extended

What sets the Makina 67 apart from other cameras is its unique blend of German and Japanese camera-making expertise. For example, the camera’s lens is a Nikkor lens created by Nikon, a Japanese company renowned for its high-quality optics. In contrast, the camera’s body and mechanics are products of Plaubel’s German engineering heritage.

The Makina 67 was designed in Germany with the assistance of Udo M. Geissler, a professor at the Technical University of Munich who contributed significantly to the camera’s design concept. The result was a highly regarded, compact, and portable camera featuring a fixed Nikkor 80mm f/2.8 lens and a collapsible medium format rangefinder design.

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Plaubel Makina 67 film compartment
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Backdoor release button

Interestingly, the Makina 67 was initially manufactured by Minolta, but production was later moved to Mamiya due to quality control issues. While Mamiya produced the updated models, the Makina 670 and the wide-angle Makina W67, at their plant until 1986, the company’s financial struggles eventually led to the end of Makina production. However, the Makina 67’s impact on camera design has endured. Mamiya’s experience with the Makina may have influenced the design and manufacture of its subsequent camera lines. The New Mamiya 6, a medium format rangefinder with collapsible internal bellows similar to the Makina, was the first new camera released by Mamiya after its bankruptcy in 1989.

The Makina 67’s distinctive design and exceptional quality have made it a favourite among photographers. Its legacy continues to inspire and influence contemporary camera design, reflecting the convergence of German and Japanese camera-making expertise that created it. Despite production ending, the Makina 67 remains a sought-after camera and a testament to the collaborative efforts of German and Japanese engineers.

A Compact Yet Chunky Camera

The Makina 67 is a medium format camera that seamlessly combines high-quality image capturing with remarkable portability. While it may appear bulky at first, weighing in at 1.3 kg, its innovative “lazy tongs” mechanism enables the camera to be compressed into a compact and easily transportable size.

This ingenious mechanism secures the lens unit and bellows, allowing them to fold neatly into the camera body, protecting the delicate components and significantly enhancing the camera’s portability. In its collapsed state, the Makina 67 is slimmer than most other medium format cameras, including well-known brands like Hasselblad and Rolleiflex.

Some photographers might opt to add an external grip for improved handling, but this will also increase the camera’s overall weight. Regardless, each aspect of the Makina 67 contributes to its unique narrative, crafting an immersive and singular camera experience. If you’re searching for a medium format camera that balances power and portability, the Makina 67 is a strong contender.

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Plaubel Makina 67 tongs
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Plaubel Makina 67 with original grip

The camera’s distinctive design not only boosts portability but also simplifies transportation compared to other cameras with protruding lenses. As a Makina 67 user, I can personally vouch for its convenient size, which makes carrying it a breeze, even when travelling with multiple cameras or additional equipment.

This contrasts sharply with extended-lens cameras, which often necessitate larger bags or cases. While this may seem trivial, it can prove to be a notable inconvenience for photographers who require mobility and flexibility. The Makina 67’s compact form allows it to fit effortlessly into various bags and cases, rendering it a versatile and practical tool for on-the-go photographers.

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Makina 67, Kodak Tri-X, Hong Kong

A Mechanical and Tactile Shooter’s Experience

The Plaubel Makina 67 is a noteworthy rangefinder camera that offers a unique photographic journey. It features a mechanical shutter that operates without batteries, and a button on the front that unfolds the bellows for shooting. Focusing is managed through a knob around the shutter, while the lens controls the aperture and shutter speed. The camera includes a spot metre activated by a button on the back, displaying a straightforward LED +, -, or circle for exposure. The viewfinder exhibits a bright rangefinder patch and vivid frame lines, accounting for parallax. It’s essential to pay attention to the framelines when using this device. The camera features two sets of framelines—one for closer distances and another for standard distances—accompanied by parallax-correcting bright lines that adjust according to distance changes. For a distance of 1 metre, short lines indicate the margins beforehand. Additionally, a bright square spot marks the double image, and the diodes for exposure metering appear in the black area on the right.

Despite its appearance, the camera is heavier than it looks, and its slippery body can be challenging to hold and balance initially. However, once users familiarise themselves with the bellows and control placement, the Makina 67 becomes an incredibly serene camera to use. With its distinctly mechanical clicks and clacks, the camera rewards well-prepared users with a tactile, unobstructed experience. The Makina has no automation, offering a one-of-a-kind combination of controls not found in other cameras.

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Plaubel Makina 67 Viewfinder
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Makina 67 framelines

The Makina’s control dial on the top right of the camera handles film advancement, shutter release, and focusing. The focusing wheel, which encircles an oversized shutter release button, requires a relatively short 200-degree turn from infinity to the minimum focusing distance of one metre. This design is necessitated by the bellows unit, and while it may seem unconventional at first, it works effectively in practice and is easy to adapt to.

Unlike other rangefinder cameras like the Mamiya 7 or Fujifilm GF670, the Makina’s Nikkor lens lacks a barrel for handling and focusing. This design choice has two drawbacks: the focusing wheel on some Makina cameras is one of its weakest design aspects, with the hard plastic material not providing enough grip, especially when precise focus is essential for an f2.8 lens with a large 6×7 negative. Additionally, zone focusing is challenging with the camera, as the depth of field scale on the focusing wheel only indicates hyperfocal distances for f/8 and f/22. However, the Makina features a large focusing patch that simplifies identifying the focus point.

The Makina 67 is equipped with a Nikkor 80mm f/2.8 lens, consisting of four groups and six multi-coated elements, and includes a 58mm filter thread. It achieves a minimum focus distance of 1 metre, and the shutter is controlled by a Copal shutter. The wide-angle version, the Makina W67, sports a Nikkor 55mm f/4.5 lens, making it more compact and less common. The lens folds into the body using a mechanical and bellows system, which houses most of the camera’s customizable options, such as aperture, speed, and ISO/ASA selector as well as the ISO memo/reminder compartment.

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Makina 67, Ilford FP4 125 (Red filter), Wanaka New Zealand
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Makina 67, Ilford HP5+ (Yellow Green filter), Wanaka New Zealand

In reality, cameras like the Makina have quite shallow depth of field. However, for those who don’t require these features, rangefinders like the Makina 67 offer a uniquely satisfying photographic experience. The camera’s operation is truly unparalleled, with no other camera featuring similar controls. The Makina 67 is an exceptionally calming camera to shoot with, allowing users to focus on capturing stunning images.

The updated version of the original camera, released in 1984 and known as the Makina 670, adopted the body features introduced in the Makina 6W67. However, the Makina 670 maintained the iconic front lens face while changing the red front face button to a “neutral” black one. It’s easy to distinguish between the original and later versions of the Makina 67 and 670 based on their appearances. The 670 showcases more masculine lines on the body, providing users with an improved grip.

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Makina 67, Kodak Ektar 100, Tongariro New Zealand
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Makina 67, Kodak Ektar 100, Hooker Valley New Zealand

A Capable Spot Metre

On the back of the Makina 67, a single button activates its spot metre, which uses a gallium photodiode metering cell and provides LED indications of over, under, or proper exposure. The metre corresponds precisely with the rangefinder patch located in the centre of the viewfinder, providing a fundamental spot metre. The metre is quite accurate for a camera from the 1970s and allows for precise control of exposure, especially crucial when using slide film. Unfortunately, the metre mechanism in the Makina 67 is quite delicate, and as a result, many units no longer have a functioning metre. However, I personally never use the metre anyway. Instead, I typically use an external handheld metre or place a Voigtlander VCII on top.

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Makina 67, Kodak Gold 200, Hong Kong
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Makina 67, Kodak Ektachrome E100, Sandy Bay Hong Kong

The Magic of 6x7

The Makina 67 captures images on 6x7cm medium format film, delivering a negative size at least 2 times larger than 135 film. This substantial negative size enables exceptional resolution, fine grain, and image quality. The nearly square film format and 80mm normal lens provide a slightly wide perspective, making it perfect for environmental portraiture, street scenes, and travel photography. With its fast f/2.8 maximum aperture, the Makina 67 allows for shallow depth of field and subject separation, roughly equivalent to a 40mm to 45mm f/1.4 lens on 35mm film. During my trip to New Zealand, I brought along my Makina 67 and was impressed by its portability and excellent picture quality. The camera captures marvellous details and beautifully depicts the environment on 120 films. I enjoy experimenting with different formats, as I’m always pleasantly surprised by the results.

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Makina 67, Kodak Portra 160, Hobbiton New Zealand
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Makina 67, Kodak Ektar 100, Tongariro New Zealand

A Legendary Nikkor Lens

The Plaubel Makina 67 is a rangefinder camera that distinguishes itself from many other popular rangefinder cameras and medium format systems with its fixed lens, a beautiful 80mm f/2.8 Nikkor. Interestingly, the lead designer of the project, Yasuo Uchida, initially intended for the camera to have a Konica lens. However, the new owner of Plaubel, Kimio Doi, had already commissioned Nikon to create a custom optic for the camera, and tests with a prototype unit ended the debate.

The Nikkor lens on the Makina is truly exceptional, capturing scenes with remarkable clarity and beauty. This lens represents Nikon’s final venture into the medium format domain, showcasing the company’s ability to apply their 35mm and large format expertise to this format. The image format and focal length offer a slightly wider-than-normal perspective, making it ideal for narrative-driven photography and environmental portraiture. The camera’s compact size also contributes to its appeal as a walk-around and travel companion.

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Makina 67, Kodak Gold 200, Hong Kong
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Makina 67, Kodak Gold 200, Queenstown New Zealand

In terms of 35mm equivalence (though it’s not a direct comparison due to the aspect ratio), the 80mm f/2.8 lens is roughly comparable to a 40m to 45mm f/1.4 in both focal length and depth of field. Meanwhile, the fastest 6×7 lens is likely the Pentax SMC 105mm f/2.4, which equates to a 52mm f/1.2 equivalent. When shooting with the Makina’s lens wide open, the effective focal length is akin to a 40mm f/1.4, which is more than enough to create a significant blur for your subject at short and medium distances. Even when using narrower apertures like f/4 or f/8, the lens allows for considerable subject separation.

The Fragility of Mechanics

The Plaubel Makina 67 may be a well-made and solid camera, but it is not without its mechanical frailties. In fact, there are many photography forums that allude to these issues. While the Makina can provide years of service with careful use and maintenance, a single mishap could easily result in an expensive repair bill.

One of the main concerns with the Makina is its delicate bellows. As any large format photographer will tell you, bellows are fragile and can easily develop pin holes that lead to light leaks across your negatives. This is especially frustrating given the cost of 120 films. Therefore, it’s crucial to handle the camera with care to avoid damaging the bellows and ruining your shots.

In addition to the bellows, the light metre mechanism is also known to fail over time. However, this is more of an annoyance than a major issue since the camera is fully manual and can be used without a working light metre.

Another concern with the Makina is the fragility of its film winder. Even when operated slowly and gently, the winder can be unreliable and nerve-wracking, especially when nearing the end of a roll of film. This can result in wasted shots and missed opportunities if not handled with care.

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Makina 67, Kodak Tri-X, Hong Kong
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Makina 67, Kodak Tri-X (red filter), Hong Kong

Repairing the Makina is also a complex and expensive process that requires significant disassembly and expertise. Even routine operations such as replacing the light seals can be tricky and costly. As a result, some repairmen may not even want to work on the Makina due to its complexity. Therefore, it’s crucial to treat the camera with reverence and care, like any other 40-year-old mechanical tool, to avoid costly repairs.

It’s essential to set the focus to infinity before retracting the bellows into the camera, as this helps prevent stress on the internal lens wiring. One notable downside is that the camera’s solid body is heavier than it appears. Initially, finding the right way to hold and balance the camera can be challenging due to the fragile bellows and the absence of a lens body for support. Additionally, the camera’s slippery exterior raises concerns when shooting in precarious locations, such as mountains, where dropping it could lead to significant damage.

However, once you become accustomed to the intricacies of the bellows and control placement, the Makina 67 provides an incredibly “zen” shooting experience. With no distractions, all that’s left for photographers to do is set the focus, shutter speed, and aperture. The light metre is even optional, further simplifying the process and allowing for a truly immersive photography session.

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Makina 67, Kodak Ektar 100, Lake Tekapo New Zealand

Embracing Its Imperfections

The Makina 67 delivers a unique shooting experience that blends mechanical ingenuity with exceptional optical performance. For photographers in search of a high-quality, purpose-built travel camera, the Plaubel Makina 67 is truly unparalleled. However, its delicate nature and idiosyncrasies may be less suitable for critical or professional work. The Makina 67 rewards patient and meticulous shooters while posing challenges for those who are hasty or inattentive. This camera can be an excellent choice for your first medium format camera, as the 6×7 format is generally easier to use than 6×6, while still producing vivid and memorable images. Despite being a pricey option, the Makina 67 remains an extraordinary investment for dedicated enthusiasts.

In a nutshell, the Makina 67 stands alone as the most compact 6×7 camera featuring a mechanical shutter. For those who prioritise travel, desire large negatives, and prefer to avoid electronic components in cameras, the Makina 67 is truly unmatched. Moreover, it boasts the most compact 6×7 format with an f/2.8 lens.

Ideal for hiking, travelling, or casual city strolls, the Makina 67’s compact design makes it a perfect companion. Its spot metre, activated by pressing a button on the back, allows for precise metering. The shutter operates smoothly, and since it’s a rangefinder, there’s no mirror-shake. This enables comfortable hand-holding at around 1/60 of a second, which is a stop faster than most medium format SLRs. Combined with the fast lens, a tripod becomes optional, aligning with many photographers’ preferred shooting styles.

The Makina 67 isn’t designed for rapid shooting. Extending the bellows can be somewhat finicky, but with only 10 shots per roll, there’s no need to rush through the film. This camera encourages a more thoughtful and deliberate approach to photography.

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Makina 67, Kodak Portra 160, Wellington New Zealand
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4 Comments

  1. Thanks for a very informative read. I’ve always liked these cameras. I used to have a Mamiya 6 but sold it about 20 years ago.

    As you say the results from these cameras is very impressive, especially if you shoot slide film.

    Looking at the current prices for these I wish I’d kept it!!

    • Thank you for visiting! I was impressed by the stunning landscape photos on your website and was wondering if you still have any medium format film cameras in your collection.

    • Hi Stefan,

      Thank you for your question! I’d love to share insights on the 55mm W version lens, but unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to try it out yet. It’s definitely on my list to explore in the future. Once I’ve had a chance to use it, I’ll be sure to share my thoughts and experiences. Stay tuned!

      Anson

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