Nostalgia (3) The medium format camera
A long long time ago when many of you guys were still children or perhaps not even born, amazing camera’s were taken underwater by serious underwater photographers. I am referring to the medium format cameras using roll films for 12 or 24 exposures. Actually, there were two medium formats, the 6X6 and the 6X4.5 format, the latter allowing to take 15 or 30 exposures. You had no idea of the success of your shots until you had brought your Kodak ExtachromeX 64 ASA films to the photo shop and had them developed after your return home*
A legendary camera in those days (the late 70 ties) was a twin lenses reflex. the Rolleiflex 3.5 F with a fixed Planar lense. Its Rolleimarin housing designed by Hans Hass was a marvel of engineering. The Rolleimarin was the ideal camera for fish close-ups. Later models had the possibility to use Rolleinars, close up lenses that could be switched in front of the camera's lens with a lever on top of the housing. And it had a prism viewfinder. The original housing had an arm with a flashbulb, but later owners preferred a modern electronic strobe attached with cable to a bulkhead on the housing, and a trigger circuitry (thyristor) inside the housing. Some years later Rolleiflex produced a single lens reflex the Rollei SL 66, a camera with bellows fitted in an Aquamarin underwater housing. Unlike its predecessor, this expensive camera permitted to switch lenses.
A popular and less expensive camera in the 6X4.5 format was the Mamya 645 that also had interchangeable lenses, like a Secor wide-angle lens. René Hugenschmidt had designed a nice housing for this camera that he named the Hugymarin. It aso had a prism viewfinder. I bought it from René for the reasonable price of 900 guilders at a diving exposition held in Amsterdam, somewhere in the 80 ties.
Now, in the digital era a medium format sensor like 6x6 almost doubles the size of the sensor of a full frame dSLR. It would provide a higher resolution than a full-frame camera, resulting in excellent image quality with superb details. But the market for these expensive cameras and their lenses is small and shrinking. Medium format cameras also tend to be slower and larger. So it won’t replace a regular dSLR as an everyday camera and is probably better suited for portraitures in a photo studio. To my knowledge there is no firm selling underwater housings for current medium format cameras, like for example the Pentax 6X4.5. A return of the medium format in the underwater photography world therefore seems unlikely.
*I must also mention here another immensely popular underwater camera the Nikonos V amphibious camera , that dominated the (in particular American) market in the late 20th century. I believe that Jim Church was then one of the UW celebrities using this camera. Nikonos is the name of a series of 35mm format cameras specifically made for underwater photography and originally launched by Nikon as ‘Calypso’ in 1963. It was designed by Cousteau and Jean de Wouters a Belgian engineer in1963. Also famous for the T shirt with ‘Nikonos flooders club’