Vintage Camera Review: Pentax 67 (67 Format)

The Pentax 67 has to be one of the most drooled over medium format SLR cameras ever made. For great reasons too! The Pentax 67 is a film SLR that is more or less designed to be portable and shot handheld by fashion photographers and portrait photographers. For many years it was well regarded and even today, there is some fantastic work that is often done with the camera. Between this, the Pentax 67 II and the Mamiya RB67/RZ67, lots of photographers really have a tough choice figuring out what they want.

The truth is that it really depends on your style and it also really depends on how good you are at being able to create photos.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Fairly portable vs the Mamiya system
  • Heavy
  • Good lineup of lenses
  • Good selection of diopters that can help
  • Various finders
  • Great feel in the hand
  • Depth of field preview with the lenses
  • Leaf shutter lenses available for a fast flash sync.

Cons

  • Changing the focusing screen to get a brighter one could be difficult
  • 1/30th flash sync
  • Reloading can be a major pain and sometimes needs to be done carefully

Gear Used

We tested the Pentax 67 with the Interfit Honey Badger/softbox, Kodak Portra 160, Lomography Color Negative 400, Lomography Earl Grey 100, Pentax 45mm f4, Pentax 105mm f2.4, and Fujifilm Superia 100 that was expired for years.

A big thanks to Lomography who developed and scanned the film for us. 

Tech Specs

Just head over to Camerapedia. You’re much better off getting the details about this camera there.

Ergonomics

The Pentax 67 is a big, burly film SLR camera. It may appear small in these images, but it only is comparatively so to a Mamiya system. This camera is pretty much Fujifilm GFX 50S sized. So when a lens isn’t attached, the massive mirror is exposed.

On the side of the Pentax 67 is how you detach the lenses using the little sliding button under the two PC sync ports. When you’re using these ports, be sure to hold the cord in.

Up top we can spot the Pentaprism in addition to the controls. The shutter speeds are on the left (it goes up to 1/1,000) and on the right is the film advance and the shutter release.

The bottom of the Pentax 67 has these two little buttons, sort of. If you push them in and turn one way they’ll loosen and let you change the film spool. When twisted the other way, they’ll tighten.

The back of the Pentax 67 has a film door, obviously. Plus there’s a big viewfinder. This one has a -2 diopter attached because, well, I’m still pretty blind. Opening the back of the camera requires you to pull a lever and then physically try to open the back of the camera vs the back simply just popping open. Perhaps that was designed to prevent mistakes from happening.

Build Quality

This configuration of the Pentax 67 has no electronics. So I didn’t mind taking it out into the rain at all. In fact, I had fun with it in the rain. The Pentax 67 is made of a whole lot of metal and absolutely nothing about this camera feels cheap. Instead, it feels like a serious camera meant to do work.

Ease of Use

Shooting, advancing the film and changing the settings are all pretty simple. If you have the metered prism you can use that but otherwise you should rely on a handheld light meter. My only problem with this camera came with loading the film. Sometimes you need to carefully feel the advance spool lest the little pressure plate that holds the film together presses too hard.

When film isn’t in the camera, you need to find a way to trick the camera into thinking that there is film inside so that you can fire the shutter. To do this you’ll need to open the back, press down on the film counter, twist it to advance it and then close the film door back. It’s a pain but it works out for the best in the end.

Focusing

Focusing with the Pentax 67 is pretty standard and done manually. There are different finders and focusing screens for the Pentax 67 but changing the screens is difficult vs the Pentax 67 II. Additionally, there are a number of different diopters for the Pentax 67. If you’re using a slower lens, then the viewfinder will be dark even if the depth of field preview isn’t on. So go for the faster lenses for better and brighter viewing. Of course, the 45mm f2 is a 35mm equivalent and is absolutely beautiful.

Image Quality

The quality from the Pentax 67 comes with the lenses, the lighting and the film that you’re using. It’s all very beautiful and in my eyes it holds its own with Mamiya. I’ll let you be the judge. However, these are some of Pentax’s best lenses.

Fujifilm Superia 100 (expired for over 10 years)

Lomography 400 Color Negative

Kodak Portra 160

Lomography 100 Earl Grey

Conclusions

The Pentax 67 is honestly a fantastic medium format SLR camera. It has found a way into the heart of so many photographers. With a plethora of fantastic lenses, it is surely best used when shooting with natural light outdoors. It’s not the best for studio work and location work with a flash due to the long flash duration of 1/30th. You’ll also want to use wider lenses for something like that.

If you want a 67 format camera, one of the only ways to go smaller is to go for a Plaubel rangefinder, Mamiya 7 II or perhaps lighter with a Fujifilm 67 rangefinder. Essentially, you’re going for a rangefinder camera either way. The 67 format is great for portraiture and it more or less was designed for headshots. At the moment of writing this review I’m still pretty torn between this and the Mamiya system partially because the Mamiya system allows me to use different format backs and have better diopter adjustment. I have a -4 diopter on my Mamiya RB67 Pro S prism and a Polaroid back, 645 back and a 67 back for the camera. Plus I own the grip and the hood finder. There’s simply just a level of customization there that the Pentax 67 can’t afford me and the Pentax 67 II could barely do without a lot of work. But at the end of the day, it’s also infinitely heavier to handhold and work with. But they’re both heavy to work with handheld. If you really want to go handheld then go for a rangefinder like the Mamiya 7 II or the Fujifilm options.

Either way, the Pentax 67 is a fantastic SLR camera that absolutely deserves to be tried. Personally, a part of me is still smitten with my first love: the Bronica system. The Fujifilm GW690 III hasn’t even fully dragged me away from that. But maybe that will change.