The Pentax 67 is a camera I had been looking forward to shooting for the better of a decade. I had heard first hand accounts of how prolific it was, one of the best medium format cameras ever made. After years of waiting, a close friend (thanks Jonah!) got one and was kind enough to let me give it a try. Seeing and holding it for the first time I was less than impressed.
A Brief History of the Pentax 67
Before we dig into my thoughts on it, let’s cover some of the basic history. The Pentax 67 is a medium format SLR that was originally released in 1969 and was one of the first successful cameras to use the 6×7 format. The camera design is largely based off 35mm SLRs of the time, just supersized to accommodate the larger film and lenses. At the time the design was quite unique. The medium format market was largely occupied by TLRs (Twin Lens Reflex), with just a few manufacturers using SLR designs. The choice of a 6×7 negative also set it apart from the rest of the market. While the larger negative meant sacrificing a couple shots from each roll, 10 vs 12 compared to 6×6, it gave more detail, especially when printing in the native 4:5 aspect ratio. The Pentax 67 also had a healthy selection of lenses right out of the gate. The original lineup was 10 lenses ranging from 55mm all the way up to an 800mm. Put in 35mm terms, that’s as wide as a 28mm and as long as 400mm. The Pentax 67 had a range of viewfinder and focusing screen options, including a few metered prisms.
Since the original, Pentax created a total of four variations of the 6×7. The original 6×7, the 6×7 MU, the 67, and the 67II. The original 6×7 was released in 1969. In 1976 there was a small update adding mirror lockup, as the ‘MU’ implies. In 1989 the 67 was largely a manufacturing and branding update, but also transitioned to a fully electronic shutter. The final model, the 67II, came in 1998. This was a pretty significant refresh. While the essence of the body stayed the same, it was refreshed to match the modern standards of the 90s. The biggest change was the addition of a built-in grip on the right side of the camera. This grip was similar to what had become standard for 35mm SLRs, but for long time users the optional left hand grip could still be attached. The shutter speed range was expanded slightly, adding 2s and 4s. A top panel LCD was also added, displaying frame count, ISO, and if film was loaded. With the refresh came a new metered prism. In my opinion, this was the most meaningful update. The new update brought selectable metering modes, exposure compensation, and aperture priority.
While the Pentax 67II is certainly the best model, it comes at a cost. In December 2019 the Pentax 67II (body only) is going for close to $2,000 on eBay— more than quadruple that of the original 6×7.
That’s enough history lessons for this post. Now onto the review.
Pentax 67 Review
We talked about the history of the Pentax 6×7, including the 6×7 MU, the 67, and the 67II. This review will focus only on the 67 model, because that is what I used. I loaded up a roll of Ilford FP4 and started shooting. I knew right away that I hated it. This is the third 6×7 camera I’ve used, and it seems to be the most unbalanced and heavy of the bunch. The Bronica GS-1 and the Mamiya RB67 were both big and heavy, but the Pentax is different. I think it’s because the camera is designed like a 35mm, just bigger. This design makes the camera wider and it seems heavier and unbalanced. This instability paired with the jarring mirror slap doesn’t exactly exude confidence when shooting handheld.
All that aside, the Pentax 67 does handle very much like its 35mm brother, the K1000. This makes the camera more approachable to 35mm shooters than most medium format cameras. What it lacks in weight and comfort it makes up for with familiarity. Creature comforts like single stroke advance, top deck shutter control, and not having to worry about film backs. The thing just works. Unlike other medium format cameras, there’s less to learn to get started. If you’re comfortable with 35mm the only thing to learn is how to load the film. I think it’s worth noting that loading the film is a bit tougher than most of the medium format cameras that I have used. It’s not hard per-say, just a bit touchy. I wouldn’t want to be reloading this in the field without getting some practice in first. On the positive side, the camera can use either 120 or 220 without any extra parts. You shift the pressure plate and flick a switch— that simple.
I might not like the Pentax 67, but there’s a lot of photographers out there that love this thing. There is a lot to like, the end results are simply fantastic. The combination of Pentax optics and the larger 6×7 negative is a winning formula. This camera has a lot to offer, but medium format has many options. Is the Pentax 67 the best option for the way you shoot? If you want to get into medium format with a minimal learning curve, superb image quality, and don’t need to shoot fast, this could be a good option for you. My best advice is to remember there is no perfect camera. Focus on the type of shooting that you will be doing, and ask yourself if you can work around these limitations.
Here are some shots from the roll of film I ran through this borrowed Pentax 67.
The Bottom Line
My time with the Pentax 67 showed me that this isn’t the camera for me. Overall, I have found that the 6×7 format isn’t suited for the way I shoot. Too much speed is compromised. I’m happy giving up a bit of image quality and shooting a 645 (6×4.5 negative), like the Bronica ETRSi. It’s well balanced and relatively fast. If I need more resolution, I can shoot large format. To me, 6×7 is a half step. Not as light and fast as 645, nor does it have the resolution of large format. All cameras are a comprise, the trick is to find the compromise that works for you. If your main goal is resolution and you want something that’s more portable than a large format, the Pentax 67 may be the camera for you.
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