21. Jan, 2016

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.

Further  reading: 






*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’