Friday, October 10, 2008

Please to welcome...the Kowa Six!

If I ever have a band, I'm naming it The Kowa Six. Even if it's just me.
Anyway, I've been wanting some kind of nice 120 camera...a "real" camera. No real hurry, just waited for something to jump out at me and say "must have"! I'm not really interested in super high-end stuff like Hasselblads, though they are certainly nice cameras and you can do some awesome work with them. It's just way above me, I think. Too hi-falootin'. But I still wanted something decent. My Great Wall is an alright camera, very cool, of course...but it's still in the realm of funky. So I found the Kowa Six. The price range was acceptable, I like what I've seen from it, and it fulfills my "really cool looking camera" requirements. Picked up a nice one on eBay, complete with a grip.

The Kowa Six was introduced in 1968, and I think it was out of production by 1975 or or so. There are two successors, the Kowa 6MM and the Kowa 66. The 6MM added the ability to do multiple exposures and a mirror lockup, and the 66 had a removable back. I liked the look of the original, and that was a good enough reason for me to get the Six. Sweet looking camera, for sure. The grip was an accessory, and a welcome attachment for my camera.

The camera is not light. I'd estimate it weighs at least 8 pounds with the grip. It's very solid and just...heavy. But look at the size of that lens! For comparison, here is my Great Wall next to the Kowa.

Obviously similar in concept, if not in style. SLRs, with the mirror acting as the shutter. The Great Wall was good practice for using my Kowa Six. It felt very comfortable. And the grip has a shutter release as well, which makes it easier to handle and stabilize while shooting.
It came with the original strap and lens cap, as well.

On this side you can see the film advance winder and the counter/film set. I've been told that using the crank can strip the advance gear, so I don't use it. The knob is plenty big...easy to turn.

When you advance the winder, it cocks the shutter as the film locks into the next frame. Then you just fire the shutter and advance again. It doesn't allow for multiple exposures, as the film must advance to the next frame to cock the shutter.
Another nice feature is the ability to use 220 as well as 120.

Because of this, it doesn't have a counter has a film counter like a 35mm camera. It is important to pay attention to your 120/220 setting, as you could end up with a counter continuing or stopping late or early. And just to show you that I mostly don't ever know what I'm doing, I screwed up two rolls of film. Well, not the entire rolls, just the first couple shots on each roll. Without a window, you have to have the film advanced to a certain point, or you will be shooting on paper for a couple shots. So one time, yeah, I could see screwing this up. But even after I read the instructions, I screwed up the second roll. You have to advance the film to the arrow on the paper before you close the back.

So the second time I managed to just advance it to the dotted line. There was one shot I was really looking forward to, and it was the first shot on the roll, of course, so it does not exist. It was a ghost shot. Oh well.
Opens from the bottom...

Let's check out that lens.

The shutter has to be cocked to remove the lens.

It has flash sync and a self-timer. No bulb setting, though.

Focus from 2.5 feet to infinity, with apertures of 2.8 to 22.

The viewfinder flipped up...

And looking down through it. Nice and sharp. I've read that it shows about 96% of what will appear on film, while the 66 shows more like 98%. Has a flip down magnifier for fine focusing, as well.

And a shot of me holding it. Again, the grip is a lifesaver. Much easier to handle. My arms are not quite that gorilla in real life.

So, the final does it shoot? I wasn't sure what to expect. I mean, I knew it would expose the film, but I figured it would just be 'okay'. I took it to Palm Springs and Salton Sea last week and shot a roll of Fuji Acros 120 black and white, and a roll of Kodak Ektachrome 64 220, expired in 1985. After developing the Fuji, color me impressed (in black and white).

Super sharp! And then the roll of Ektachrome, self-developed in a Unicolor C-41 home developing kit. This cross-processes the film. Again, sweet results. Some are very blown out as I opened the aperture up, but I like the effect.

Not sure where the leak is coming from in the color shots. Will have to investigate further. But it really is a great camera, easy to use with nice results! A keeper, for sure! You can grab a pdf of the instructions here.
Who's this popping up to say hello?

Why, it's our new friend, Blackbird, Fly! I'll be taking this one out on the weekend, with a review to follow. Just because it's so cool, these aren't all that difficult to find outside of Japan. They are already appearing at some museum stores and online for about $120. More to come on that, though.
And my homemade panoramic camera was a success. I developed a roll of black and white, and have almost finished a color roll...more on that later, as well.
Until then!


  1. Anonymous4:44 AM

    Congratulations on your Kowa Six! I’ll be looking forward for your BBF review also.

    I don’t know if it’s the credit crunch or what but used gear seems to be getting a little bit cheaper. I just found a great deal on a Mamiya M645 1000S. It’s an excellent camera and I can recommend it to anyone. It has 80mm F/1.9 which is pretty fast for a medium format.

  2. Thanks, moominsean. Thats a great review with lots of very useable info.

  3. Anonymous2:41 PM

    I owned the Kowa 6 described, with the hand grip way back in 1973. I had the standard lens and a 200mm which was a huge chunk of glass. I shot many weddings, social events, etc. with the '6' and a Bronica. My all time favorite was the '6'.

    With 120/220 film, you could frame an image and have plenty of room to crop what you wanted out of it w/o ever worrying about grain. Even by todays standards, this was an exceptional, but highly under rated camera. The very best Nikon of the day (and I had several) didn't produce the quality image the Kowa would. Just hard to beat the large format. I also shot a LOT of 70mm square slides with this camera. I also owned a 70mm slide projector. People that had never seen a large format slide being projected with a great photo would fall off their chairs when you showed them the difference to 35mm slides.

    Thanks for this post. It brings back many fond memories.

  4. Do you happen to know if the lens mount is the same for the Kowa Six as it is for the Super 66?

  5. Yes, all lenses are inerchangeable for the Kowa Six, Six MM and Super 66.. They are basically the same camera except for the removable back on the Super 66.

    1. Anonymous7:00 AM

      ... and the focusing screens which are slightly different between Six + MM models and the Super 66.

  6. Well I justy realized that I have a gem on my hands, its been in a box for 3 years, a friend gave it me and I just took it out and came across your blog. Now to get some film and go have some fun. I have the Kowa/six perfect shape no grib but I got a tripod. woot woot