This camera is not to be confused with the much later New Mamiya 6, which is a rangefinder with exchangeable lenses and metering, released in 1999. The camera featured here was part of a long line of folding cameras released by Mamiya in the 1940s and 1950s. It’s a rangefinder with a lens and shutter mounted on collapsible bellows. Focusing is achieved by moving the film plane via a dial operated by the right thumb. Everything is manual, but the winding mechanism does take care of frame spacing and there is a clever function that prevents (or lessens the chance of) double exposures by dropping a red flag into the viewfinder after the shutter is released.
There are multiple versions of the Mamiya 6 and this particular one is the IVB (early version). It was released in the spring of 1955, just a few months before my parents arrived in Japan. I picked it up at a local store in 2012 for about $35 and the only problem was some clouding and a few spots of mold in the lens. The lens is an Olympus D. Zuiko F.C. 7.5cm f/3.5 and the shutter is a Seikosha Rapid.
This camera was considered a compact model in its day and when the lens and bellows are collapsed it actually does become relatively portable. I shot a few rolls with it and the initial results were not all that great. The images tended to be lacking in contrast and there was uneven exposure in the corners where things tended to get washed out. Take a look for yourself.
I bought another camera like this one from the junk bin. It was broken but the lens looked to be a little better. I ended up combining one element from this lens and the rest from the newly acquired junker. It seemed cleaner and after redoing the light seals and the results looked better. Then I finally found a hood that fits this lens as you can see from the shots above. The hood helped increase contrast and reduce the washed out edges. I think I’ve done as much as I can with this camera short of getting a completely different lens for it in better shape. In the mean time the current results are definitely much better than when I first got it.
So why even bother with a folder from the 1950s? I guess it’s just because folders are cool! Lens bellows were a foundational component of all large format cameras, making accurate focus possible by moving the entire lens and lens board forward and back. It wasn’t until many years later that engineers designed in-lens focusing, which is much more complicated with all the moving elements incorporated into the lens itself. So when the comparatively compact medium format became popular almost all of them initially incorporated some sort of bellows for focusing. For example, twin lens reflex cameras move the entire front plate of the camera to achieve focus, and it is connected to the rest of the body via bellows. But another advantage of bellows is compactness, because they are collapsible. So when the camera isn’t in use it can be closed up into a much smaller unit for transport. And that’s the primary selling feature of folders like this one. When closed it becomes very compact and can even fit in a large coat pocket. In the ensuing years cameras have shrunk considerably, but in the 1940s and 1950s the notion of a “pocket camera” was pretty amazing. Just compare it to any other medium format TLR or SLR and you’ll see what I mean. And as mentioned above, the designers of this particular model didn’t even bother using the bellows for focusing. Instead they came up with the ingenious idea of moving the entire film plane back and forth to achieve focus, and incorporated the bellows for one and only one purpose; compactness. There’s something fascinating about old technology when you know that in it’s day it was cutting edge, new technology. And that’s why I say that folders are cool!