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Finally! A Pentax 6×7

Thirty-three years ago, I was standing in front of the main entrance to the Alcázar of Segovia, a medieval castle in Spain.  I was startled by what sounded like the bolt slamming closed on an AK-47.  Should I surrender, duck, or run for cover?  I chose a fourth option and spun around, only to find myself staring into the lens of a giant Pentax 6×7 medium format SLR.  That was the first time I saw (and heard) one in the wild. 

Fast-forward to a few weeks ago when I received a text from a friend who works in a non-profit thrift shop. One of his duties is to evaluate and price the electronics that are donated.  Also a photography aficionado, he has had a lot of cameras come through his hands.  Although he is not a collector, he understands my passion.  Sometimes he texts me when an interesting camera gets donated to the thrift shop.  

From Roll #1

He sent me a photo of a Pentax 6×7 MLU, with a 200mm f4 lens attached.  The text below the photo read, “This camera is here, huge and heavy!!”  He laughed when I walked through the door minutes later, apparently signaling my keen interest in it.  Other than a small wrinkle in the pentaprism and some minor brassing, there was little evidence of damage or neglect.  I was frankly surprised to see such a camera donated to a thrift shop.  So was he.  

I paid a fair price for it, and took it home.  My friend said he thought there might be more to the kit, and would look around.  Meanwhile, I fondled my new addition.  It clearly needed a little attention, but it came to life again with a fresh battery, new light seals, and a good cleaning.  The shutter needed a little exercise, as did the film advance.  Fortunately, I didn’t need to send it off or tear into it.  Inside the film compartment there is a sticker from a shop that had serviced it in the 90s.  While I was very happy with just the body and the 200mm, I quietly hoped more lenses would materialize.  

From Roll #4

A week or so later he mentioned that he thought he had found more lenses for it.  I stopped by the store and he had a duffel bag full of mixed photographic “stuff”. Among the various bits were a 55mm f3.5 and the popular 105mm f2.4.  Both had caps and filters attached, and the glass was pristine.  We agreed on a price for the whole bag, and the kit was finally complete.  I spent hours trying to fit the body and three lenses into one of my camera bags, and finally settled on a large Crumpler brand messenger-style bag.  It simply didn’t fit in anything else I had.  

Since that day in Segovia, I had become acutely aware of this camera’s reputation through studying the works of famous photographers who used the system.  Household names such as Steven Meisel, Terrence Donovan, Patrick Demarchelier, Peter Lindberg, Helmut Newton, and Arthur Elgort are all associated with the Pentax 67 system.  My career path put me behind other cameras, and I never really got a chance to dance with a Pentax until this one showed up to the party.  I now understand the attraction.  Others do too, as I have noticed a recent surge in their popularity.

From Roll #2

Agreed, it is heavy and loud, but those are only problematic in certain situations.  It would not be my first choice for a wedding camera.  However, in the studio those cons are not as significant.  Whether on a tripod or hand-held, this camera shines in the studio.  Despite the hundreds of hours spent behind Mamiya’s RB67 and RZ67, I find the Pentax more maneuverable and handy in certain shooting positions.  Having the familiar form factor of a 35mm SLR when shooting hand-held is a plus for me. 

From Roll #3

The 6x7cm image has a ratio so close to typical print sizes, I don’t have to think about what I am going to have to crop for a final print.  This has always been an advantage to any 6×7 system.  Don’t get me wrong; I love my 6×6 cameras, but those are for shooting square photos.  It just seems wrong to crop them, as if I am not allowing them to do what they do best.  It just makes sense to use the full image as often as I can.  

At this point I have only shot four rolls through the camera, so we’re still in the honeymoon phase.  I plan to write up a more complete review in the future, once I feel like I know the camera well enough.  Hopefully this is the beginning of a long-term relationship.  While the three lenses (55mm, 105mm and 200mm) comprise a relatively complete kit, I have already begun looking for more. That will require a new bag…and probably a gym membership.