So there was this guy offering a 1960 Mamiya Prismat 35mm SLR camera for sale on Kijiji, asking for offers while claiming that the item usually went for $200-$600 in online auctions. Since I knew next to nothing about Mamiya, I jumped into Google but couldn't find any of those auctions. Similar Mamiya cameras were going for $55-$100, so I offered this guy something along those lines and – after a brief negotiation – we agreed to meet up. In my mind, it was obvious that he had been bluffing about the going prices.
A brief inspection showed that the camera was in pretty good cosmetic condition (as advertised) and looked really cool. Included in the package was also the original protective leather case! So I took the camera home, feeling good about the purchase. I had some questions about it, so I tried to contact the seller by email, a few times, but to my surprise he never replied... Suddenly, I wasn't sure if the price I had paid was right or if there was anything wrong with the camera.
As it turned out, there was nothing wrong with the camera... and I got a bargain.
The camera was interesting, I thought, still clueless. The design lines were absolutely beautiful, the top section in particular. The curved faceplate looked nice and different – I had never seen the Mamiya logo rounded like that. Neat.
So I went online again to try and find more information on the new acquisition. The seller had said that this was a Mamiya Prismat, but the word "Prismat" was nowhere to be found on the body. None of the many photos of Prismats that Google was showing seemed to match my new camera... until I finally found a matching photo that led me to Ron Herron's excellent Collecting Mamiya 35mm site. From the site's Prismat page:
"The Mamiya Prismat NP, released in February 1961, was Mamiya's first production single-lens reflex (SLR) 35mm. The very first Prismat is readily identifiable by its distinctive curved nameplate on the front of the prism housing. It was soon updated to the more familiar rectangular Mamiya nameplate".
It seems that Mamiya had been developing what would be its first 35mm SLR since 1952, designing prototypes of different cameras that never made it into the market. My camera, known simply as the "Mamiya Prismat" or "early Mamiya Prismat", hit the market in 1960 and was Mamiya's first official 35mm SLR. Ron Herron says that records of the number of units of this camera produced are not available, not even from Mamiya. By early 1961 it had been replaced by the more well-known version – the Mamiya Prismat NP mentioned above.
Made in Japan, it looks like "the Mamiya Prismat was not officially imported into the USA except for at least one mail-order house", per this write-up (which also includes other interesting information about re-badged versions of the Prismat NP in different markets).
The early Mamiya Prismat was a rare camera back then, and it's even more rare these days – so much that there are more photos of it on this page than Google can find on the rest of the internet (and I'm not kidding). I got my mitts on one of them thinking it was just another well-designed machine. The amazing thing is, it cost me much less than market value – prices out there, as far as I've been able to find, range from $250 to $700.
More about the camera on Ron Herron's Collecting Mamiya 35mm site's Prismat page:
"It has no meter, and its available lenses featured a semi-automatic aperture with an external Exakta-type linkage (actually introduced by Ihagee) for aperture function. The known Mamiya-Sekor F.C. lenses include a 35mm f/2.8; a 48mm f/2.8; a 58mm f/1.7; and a 135mm f/2.8. There was also a 50mm f/1.9 available, made by Canon."
[Quick pause for a fun tidbit found here: "At the same time that Canon was making this lens for the Mamiya Prismat (something not ever mentioned in the Canon official history that I can find), Mamiya was also collaborating with Nikon to make a "consumer grade" camera called the Nikkorex. This is the "lost camera" also for Nikon, since it does not exist, really, in their official histories."]
My camera came with the fastest of the available lenses – the Mamiya-Sekor 58mm f/1.7. The lens rim has a few scratches. Other than that, and apart from some resilient dust particles on both the front and back elements, the lens looks OK. It's a bayonet-mount lens, with apertures ranging from f/1.7 to f/22.
Regarding the "external Exakta-type linkage" of this lens: there is an "outrigger" to the left of the barrel (visible on the very first two photos of this blog entry, above). When the camera's shutter is depressed, a "shaft" protrudes from the body to this outrigger, causing the lens to stop down to the set aperture.
The shutter speeds range from 1 second to 1/500 of a second. There are also two long-exposure settings: "B" for shorter long exposures and "T" for longer long exposures. In addition, there's a built-in self-timer.
Regarding the lever found at the top of the lens (see it on the second image below), this website explains:
"There is a lever on the lens that must be turned to open the aperture for viewing. The aperture then closes down to take the photo. It remains at that aperture until you turn the lever on the lens again to view it at full aperture. It is hence not an "automatic" lens."
My camera also included a flash shoe. None of the (few) images of the Prismat that I found online showed this flash shoe, so it's possible that this was an accessory... But was it a genuine Mamiya accessory? Its brushed-metal finish is basically identical to the finish of the camera. I removed it to find out more but, other than the word "Japan", there was nothing on either side of the shoe.
Without the eyepiece (which looks much more weathered than the rest of the camera), the viewfinder is still good but the flash shoe cannot stay in place. So was the eyepiece part of the camera? Or was it a a component of the flash shoe? Uninformed conclusion: the eyepiece came with the camera, and the shoe was a genuine Mamiya accessory. (If you have any information on this, please share it in the comments or contact me directly.)
The design of the top of the camera, like I mentioned above, is pure beauty. This Prismat was released in 1960, possibly designed the previous year. More than 50 years later, the design looks timeless to me. I'll let the image below speak for itself.
The film-record dial (above, the one on the left, around the rewind crank) allows you to set the ISO rating of the film that's inside the camera. In addition, a dial on the back lets you select the number of exposures of the film cartridge, colour-coded depending on the type of film (colour, black and white, infrared), plus two other settings ("sp." and "EMP.", for empty). The exposure-counter dial appears within the stylish film-wind lever, and the shutter release within the shutter-speed dial.
To open the camera back and access the film compartment, you have to follow three steps: first, unlock it using the lock found at the bottom (see the second photo after this paragraph); then, pull out the rewind crank; and finally, open the compartment by pressing the back latches on the side of the camera. Note the cloth focal-plane shutter below.
There's a small lever (seen under the lens, to the right in the image above) that needs to be depressed in order to unlock the lens and allow for it to be removed.
The leatherette has started to show signs of aging and is getting loose – see detail below. I was told that this is easily fixable, but for now I'll leave things as is. [March 2013 update: The leatherette has now been fixed, as part of a complete CLA performed by Computech Camera Repair in Winnipeg.]
The serial number on my camera is 3346509. I've been able to find only four other serial numbers of this model on the internet, and two more through emails sent to me by readers of this blog: 3345939, 3346018, 3346101, 3360242, 3360324, and 3360497. This could be just a coincidence, but it might also mean that there were only three series of 1,000 cameras made (3345xxx, 3346xxx and 3360xxx), which would be an indication of just how limited the production of this early Mamiya Prismat really was (and would also explain why so few of them are showing up on the internet today). If you have one of these and want to share the serial number, please contact me.
Everything in the camera seems to work well, and I might even try it out with a roll of film. The question I need to answer is, should I keep or should I sell? For now, it's not going anywhere.
That's all for today, folks. It took me more than two months to publish a new blog entry, but I hope it was worth it. My blog posts have not received many comments yet, but Google Analytics tells me that you've been reading so thanks for that.