The RB67 – The Beast

The RB67 is truly a beast of a camera – it’s heavy, tough, big, difficult to handhold and is capable of phenomenal images in the right hands.  It’s a medium format camera with a rotating back to maximize either horizontal or vertical shots.  The negatives are 6 cm x 7 cm or 2 1/4 in by 2 3/4 in.  And, it’s completely manual…no autofocusing, no internal metering, no bells and whistles…it’s a camera as my oldest son put it “it’s a gotta know your …. camera”!

Everything is big and heavy about this camera, particularly the lens.  They’re monsters in themselves but what incredible images can be produced with them.  The camera body is basically a box with three openings for the lens, back, and viewfinder ( go to this link for an excellent exploded view by R. Borges); the shutters are in the lens, not in the body; and there are a number of viewfinders you can use.

When I went to the AAFES store for the second Nikon body I had no idea that I would walk out with the RB67 as well.  Once I decided which Nikon body to purchase, I looked around and saw The Beast on a shelf behind the counter with sign that it was the last RB67 and was available at a significant discount.  I made the mistake of asking to see it.  Once I had The Beast in my hands I was hooked.  Not quite convinced yet as, even at a discount, it still had significant sticker shock, I felt that more information was needed before I vaporized my wallet.  I asked why it was discounted and the salesman told me that this was the last RB67 left in the inventory as they were now only selling the RB67 Pro S, which was much more expensive.   At this point, I made the decision and left the store with the Nikon FM and the RB67 kit.

The decision to buy the RB67 wasn’t out of the blue.  I had the opportunity to see prints made from medium format film at the Andrews Kaserne photo center and was very impressed at both the size that could be printed and the quality of the image.  So, when I decided to buy the discounted RB67, it was with some knowledge of the camera’s capabilities.

Shooting with the RB67 was a completely different experience and required a different approach to my subject matter.  As I mentioned earlier it wasn’t the easiest camera to handhold, the faster shutter speed was 1/400 of a second, you had to look down into an “open” viewfinder where the image was both “upside down” and “reversed”, what was on your right with your eye was on the left upside down; completely different from a 35 mm SLR when the image in the viewfinder was “normal”, e.g., as your eye saw it.  Once composed, you metered the subject, set the correct aperture opening and shutter speed, removed the dark slide (a metal plate between the body and film holder), and pressed the shutter.  Afterwards, you inserted the dark slide and had to remember to manually advance the film or the next image would be double exposed.

My original light meter was the LunaSix Pro, a good, general all around meter that produced acceptable images once I got the hang of it.  It wasn’t until I bought a used Pentax 1 degree spot meter to meter the scenes much more accurately that I began to fully appreciate what the camera was capable of.

As you can imagine Berlin in the mid 70s was full of photo opportuities no matter what time of the year, late fall and winter being my most favorite times of the year.  In December, 1977, we went to the Kurfürstendamm, known locally as the “Ku’damm”, one of the most famous avenues in Berlin, to take photos of the area by the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial church.  The Kaiser Wilhelm Church was heavily damaged in WWII with only a small portion of the original structure left. In front of the remaining structure is the “New Church”.  I metered at the base of the New Church, and we went to a nearby overpass to for the shot.  I don’t remember the meter reading but I factored in reciprocity failure, bracketed for a number of images and the results were stunning.

The second image I would like to share with you was taken in later January 1978.  We were working swing shift (2nd shift) at the Teufelsberg (aka T-Berg) Field Station and when we left we were surprised by heavy snow that had been falling after we arrived earlier in the afternoon.  As we rode home on the “trick” (shift) bus, there was heavy snow everywhere and when we arrived home around midnight I wanted to go out and shoot an iron wrought fence not too far from us.  Cyn was eight months pregnant at the time, the snow was coming down in heavy, wet flakes and sticking to everything.  We grabbed the tripod, the Pentax meter, camera, and umbrella and trudged thru the snow to the fence that I KNEW would be absolutely beautiful in black and white.  We found the right vantage spot, set the camera up and I metered against the light pole across the street. The snowfall on the fence was spectacular and I couldn’t wait to begin the shoot.  I took a number of shots over the next hour and the one that worked was a 15 minute exposure after we developed the film in Microdol-X at 1:3 for 21 minutes.

In an earlier post I mentioned that every photograph has a story behind it and it’s certainly true for this one beyond what I described above.

The house with the ornate wrought iron fence was just down the street from the corner Gasthaus.  As we were standing there waiting for the exposure to finished, we heard someone behind us and when we turned around, here was this very tipsy German coming out of the Gasthaus…by now it was around 1:00 am.  We watched him stumble along and all of a sudden he looked up, saw us, stopped and stared as if we were ghosts.  He stood there for a few seconds, shook his head and began to walk towards us, stopping every few seconds, shaking his head.  As he approached us, I stopped the exposure, we both said “Guten Morgan” as he stopped and stared at us.  He looked at the camera, looked for a long time at Cyn, pregnant and holding the umbrella in a snow storm, looked at me, muttered under his breath that we were “verrückten amerikanischen” (crazy americans), turned and wobbled down the street, stopping every few seconds to turn around and look at us.  Once he turned the corner, I finished the exposure, we packed up and went home to sleep under cozy feather comforters.

Oh, the star effect around the street lights…those were caused by the shutter being inside the lens, not in the body.

I still use the RB to this day.  Now, however, I have the RB67 Pro S instead of the original RB67.

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3 Responses to The RB67 – The Beast

  1. syrbal says:

    That fence shot will always be a favorite of mine. I only wish we had also taken a spring shot of the magnificent magnolias in bloom!

  2. kain batik says:

    Hi, always i used to check blog posts here in the early hours in the morning, as i enjoy to learn more and more.

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