Review: Pentax 67 6x7 SLR Camera And Lenses
An informal review by Hamish Reid.
Review Copyright © 1994, 1995 Hamish Reid. All Rights Reserved.
I've been a Pentax 67 user for many years now, and in response to the inevitable "what's it like?" queries, here's a long-promised review (as first published in the Medium Format Digest).
The Pentax was my first non-35mm camera. After several years of 35mm
photography, I was dissatisfied with the grain and overall quality of 35mm when used for streetscapes, landscapes, buildings, and
portraits (35mm's grain can, however, be quite a plus for portraits
and street scenes). I wanted a camera with interchangeable lenses that
I could lug around the place but still use hand-held if I had to. After
renting several medium format cameras from Gasser's in San Francisco
I decided I prefered the 6x7 format to 6x4.5 or 6x6 (6x7 seemed to
fit my standard print sizes with less cropping than 6x6, and 6x4.5
always seems a smidgeon too much like 35mm for me...).
I decided on the Pentax mostly because 1) the price was right (much
cheaper than its competitors at the time, the Mamiya RB and RZ
systems, or the Bronica SQA); and 2), it felt easier to use hand-held
than the Mamiyas or the Bronica (but more on this later...).
If you want a relatively cheap 6x7 SLR with a wide range of good-to-
excellent quality lenses, and you do the sort of work where motor
drives, fast flash sync, interchangeable backs, and / or hand-held work
are all unimportant, then this is a great camera. For things like
landscapes, "natural" portraits, streetscapes, etc., this is an
excellent camera when used properly.
If, on the other hand, you want a versatile studio camera that can also
be used outdoors, I believe you'd be better off with the Mamiya,
Hasselblad, or Bronica systems. Similarly, if you want a medium format
camera for mostly hand-held work, you're probably better off with a
good rangefinder - the Pentax is surprisingly bad at hand-held shots,
despite its looking like the proverbial 35mm on steroids.
- Pentax 67 6x7 body with mirror lockup (MLU)
- Pentax 55mm/f4 lens
- Pentax 90mm/f2.8 lens
- Pentax 165mm/f4 lens
- Pentax non-metered prism finder
Overall Feature Review
The P67 body looks, of course, like a large 35mm SLR, and comes with
mirror lock up (MLU), focal plane shutter with electronic shutter
timing (1/1000 to 1 second, B, T with fiddling...), and flash sync
outlet. Both metered and non-metered prisms are available, as is a
waist-level finder. The body takes 120 and 220 film - there's a
backplate switch for this which also affects the winder and frame
counter. Several different viewing screens are available, including
split, plain, and grid.
A large variety of lenses is available for this camera, including the
usual fisheye, shift (75mm), long lenses (the longest is 1 metre,
corresponding roughly to a 500mm lens for a 35mm camera), and at least one lens with a leaf shutter (one of the 165mm lenses).
Mechanics & Mechanical Quality
The overall mechanical quality of this camera and the lenses I've used
is excellent -- they're reliable, tough, and the body is surprisingly
light (compared to, say, an RZ67...). The camera and lenses fit
together well, every part has always worked exactly as advertised, and
nothing about this camera is hard to use. Changing film is
straightforward and relatively easy.
The Pentax has now survived the usual treatment, having been dragged
around and through the mountains and deserts of California, Nevada,
Arizona, the streets of Berkeley, Oakland, Emeryville and San Francisco, and
nothing has ever broken or gone wrong.
I haven't done any scientific tests (and never will), but assuming a system
mounted on a good tripod (I use a Bogen 3036) and the use of MLU and a
cable release, optical quality with the 55mm and 90mm lenses is
excellent on prints of 16x20 or 20x24. Several of these prints come
close to 4x5 quality; all of them are much better (in terms of tonal
range and lack of grain) than corresponding 35mm cameras. Side-by-side
comparisons with the same shot using similar Hasselblad gear shows no
detectable difference for the sort of work I do (however, this means
little about the results with things like close-ups or long-exposure
photography that I don't do, so take this with a pinch of salt).
Both lenses work best at about f/11, of course, but shots taken at f/16
do not show any easily-detectable distortion or lack of sharpness.
Contrast appears to be high on both lenses.
I'm less sure about the 165mm lens. Results seem to indicate that this
lens (or at least my version of it) has a softer contrast and overall
sharpness than the other two. I'm still fairly happy with it - it's
produced a few great-looking shots in the mountains - but I have to
admit that I often end up using my 4x5 with the 300mm lens for
landscape shots I would otherwise have used the 165mm P67 lens on.
Having said this, it's a great lens for portraits and people shots.
Film flatness has never been a problem for me with this camera; I have
yet to hear of it being a problem for any P67 user. I suspect the
design makes it harder for the film to bow than for other cameras, but
this is only a suspicion....
Several people on Usenet have complained about shutter (as opposed to
mirror) shake with this camera with shutter speeds between about 1/30 and
1/2 second, but I haven't found this to be a
problem with the shots I do (I usually work in full daylight with speeds above 1/30). The shutter is certainly large, and I can
well believe it can cause problems, but with a good tripod I suspect
it's not a big problem.
This was where the Pentax turned out to be a bit of a disappointment:
despite its looks, this is not an easy camera to use for hand-held
shots - but it can be done.
The most obvious problem is the mirror. The mirror is huge, and
without a tripod, if you don't use MLU the camera has a tremendous and
very obvious turning moment with shutter speeds slower than about
1/250. Of course, "hand-held" means you aren't using a tripod, and
MLU is tricky at best hand-held (see below).
There are two ways around this problem:
1) Use faster film; or,
2) Learn to use MLU hand-held where possible.
Faster film certainly helps - if you can get the shutter speed up to
1/250 or 1/500, the mirror's effects are usually not a problem (but
still noticeable if you really look); this is fine for certain shots. In any case,
ISO 400 shots at 6x7 certainly look as good as ISO 100 shots at 35mm.
Using MLU hand-held is tricky, but doable. The obvious approach is to
frame the shot, fire the MLU, hold the camera as steady as possible
for the next few seconds, then fire the shutter. If you can do this
reliably, good luck to you - the rest of us probably get the desired
shot about 25 - 50% of the time, the most usual problem being camera
"wander" rather than any shake. Over the years I've sort of got this
down rote, but it's still hardly an exact science.
Another potential problem with the Pentax for hand-held work is that
it's not exactly a small camera. The body and a full complement of
(say) three lenses take up a lot of room, and this is not the best or
most compact camera for things like backpacking, or, indeed, trying to
walk through a city looking inconspicuous.
The obvious alternative is to buy a range finder... (the Mamiya 6
comes to mind for some reason).
Some of these are obvious, but they probably still need to be said:
Always use a tripod with this camera. This is obvious, but
modulo the comments earlier about hand-held shots, this camera,
like most medium format cameras, cries out for a tripod. And
not just any tripod - a heavy, steady tripod, with a good head
on it. Don't skimp on the tripod - you'll pay for it later in
overall picture quality.
Use mirror lock up whenever possible (the P67 makes this
easy). Again, this might strike oldtimers as obvious, but MLU
(with tripod) is essential to coaxing technically good shots
from this camera.
It's cheap! Even with the latest price increases, the
Pentax 67 is still one of the cheapest medium format SLRs
around. It's still true that the body can be bought for the
price of a single 120 Hasselblad film holder, and that lenses
cost considerably less than their Mamiya, Bronica, or
Hasselblad equivalent. You can also find good gear second hand
at swap meets or reputable shops for pretty good prices.
High quality. This is a pretty basic system, but what's there
is usually high quality. Sure, it looks kinda clunky and
doesn't have Zeiss glass, but the results I've seen speak for
It's a system. Apart from lacking a few things like motor
winders, this is a complete system - there's a full range of
lenses and accesories available for this camera.
It's widely used. This is not an obscure camera, and it's
possible to buy lenses and bodies on the used market at
reasonable prices. People are pretty familiar with it.