Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Mamiya Universal VS Polaroid 600SE

I originally chose my Polaroid 600SE over the Mamiya Press cameras because it was "easier". The system has fewer options, and, thanks to Skorj, there is ample information on the Web about the 600SE. So...a year later I have a Mamiya Universal. Why? What are the differences? Is one really better than the other? Is it worth having both? There is some good info on the Mamiya Universal on the Web, but there isn't really a comparison of the two...an explanation of the specific differences. That part is up to me, I guess!
Overall, I will be focusing on the use of Polaroid film in both, though I make mention of film here and there. Also, I will be comparing the Polaroid 600SE and what is sometimes referred to as the Mamiya Press Black, because the original Mamiya Universal was silver and black. I have both and will show you the original in a bit, but let's start with the Black.
Side by side, they look pretty much alike...

Some superficial difference include the name, of course, and the skin, which is mottled on the Universal and smooth on the 600SE.

When we break down the camera, we begin to see the differences.
The button on the grip is green on the 600SE...not sure if this is the norm for all 600SEs. As I go along, I keep the 600SE on the left and Universal on the right.

The grip on the 600SE is attached to the body. It may be removable by taking out some screws, but it's not an "easy" job. The Universal grip, on the other hand, is removable. You just unscrew the mount. Also note the small button at the bottom right on the 600SE. This is the release for the lens mount...you press the button and twist the lens off. The universal doesn't have a lock. You can just twist the mount to remove the lens, which has a fixed position.
Take off the lenses and we see different lens mounts....big difference here and an indication that parts are not interchangeable between the two.

And this is true and one reason you have to choose between the two...the lenses cannot be swapped and there are different options for both. Looking at the viewfinder settings, we see two options for the 600SE, and three for the Universal.

The differences give you some clue that maybe there are different lenses available for both...more on that later.
Looking at the back of the camera, and we see the other main difference between the two...the mounting mechanism for the film backs.

To make up for the front, the Universal has release buttons for the back mount and the 600SE does not. Notice the Universal back prongs feature a single, unbroken bar, while the 600SE has a split in the prong. The size is different as well, so they are not interchangeable at all. One doesn't even fit on the other camera body, let alone let you slide the mount clasp over the prongs. This can be a huge variable when deciding which camera to buy...depending on what you plan to do with it. If you want to shoot primarily Polaroid, the 600SE is an okay choice. If you want to get a film back for the 600SE, prepare to shell out quite a bit of money -- upwards of $300 for just the mount. The Universal film backs are readily available for around $50, and a Polaroid back can be bought for around the same. So if you are primarily shooting film, the Universal is the better choice.
Here are some of the film backs available. The gray back is actually from a Mamiya 23, but they are interchangeable.

Those are the differences between the two. One of the advantages to using either system is the use of interchangeable backs.

Both the Polaroid and film backs come with dark slides, allowing you to swap backs mid-roll or pack. So You can even shoot film and instant in the same outing with one camera.
And, on a side note, here is the original Universal body...

The choice between the two Universal bodies is purely aesthetic. They are the same in every way except for the color. One possible advantage the silver has over black is that there isn't any paint to chip off on the silver, so if it is in nice shape, and you use it a lot, chances are it will look less dinged up after frequent use. But it's just a personal choice. I think the silver looks a bit more vintage, while the black looks a bit classier. From what I've seen, the black usually costs more.
So which do you want...the 600SE or the Universal? Both are obviously made by Mamiya. Why does the 600SE even exist? The way I understand it, Polaroid commissioned Mamiya to make a proprietary system for whatever reason, I don't really know. Probably to make money! Anyway, Let's start with the 600SE, because there is less to talk about.
Probably one of the main reasons to choose the 600SE over the Universal is that it was made to use Polaroid film. Everything is designed to work with instant film. But, because of this, there is a much smaller selection of lenses. Three, to be exact. Each is linked to an example on Flickr.

127mm 4.7 -- This is the standard lens.
75mm 5.6 -- A wide angle that uses an external viewfinder.
150mm 5.6 -- A portrait lens.

If you look above at the viewfinder switch, you see settings for 127 and 150. So the 75mm uses the attachment...

It, of course, features a wider view, as well as parallax correction via a dial. The only issue I've ever had with it is the difficulty in keeping horizons straight.
But that is it for lenses...though they are all designed to be used with Polaroid film, and provide complete coverage for Type 100 films. Something that can't be said for all Universal lenses...but more on that soon.
I only have the 75mm lens for my system. It came with a broken 127mm lens, and I haven't really had any desire to get another since the 190/195 cameras sport the 114mm 3.8 lens. The portrait lens is probably nice, but not my thing either.
There are other accessories for the 600SE...but Skorj covers that quite well in his article and I don't want to steal his thunder (and why repeat what has already been said by a 600SE expert). But...suffice to say the Polaroid 600SE is designed specifically for use with instant film, and so everything works as it should for instant film...lens coverage, viewfinder, etc. On a short aside, when I say instant film, I mean Type 100 peel-apart for the most part, though you can modify to fit Type 50s, and I once saw an SX-70 back on eBay for use with the system...though it may have been meant to be used with the Universal given the age of Time Zero. I don't remember.
Anyway, on to the Universal. The most obvious advantage the Universal has over the 600SE is the lens selection. This comes with a caveat, though...most of these lenses were designed for 120 film. The area of Polaroid film is larger than the largest 120 back available (6x9). This means that some of these lenses have falloff beyond the normal area for 120. That's vignette to you and me. Now I, personally, don't take this as a negative. But, depending in the lens, it's kind of like having an expensive, super-sharp toy camera! Here is an illustration of the different exposure sizes with the 100mm lens for the Mamiya Universal.

Also, when looking through the viewfinder...it isn't accurate for Polaroid film. Looking above, we saw that the Universal has a switch for 100, 150 and 250. The framing visible in the viewfinder is smaller than what you see on the Polaroid print. So it does take some adjustment on the user's part. I've found that for the 100mm lens I have, the actual edge of the viewfinder is pretty close to accurate.
There is an option for some of the available lenses...an external finder. This is the same thing as the 75mm finder for the 600SE, except this one is for the Universal and covers three lenses - 75mm, 100mm and 127mm. With this finder you get relatively accurate frame edges, as well as parallax compensation via a distance dial.

I think what this also means that each lens is actually wider than what it is labeled as. So the 100mm is probably closer to 80mm. That's just my guess, but you get a much wider angle of view with these lenses using Polaroid. There is one lens made for the Universal that was meant to be used with Polaroid film...and some of the lenses work as is without vignette. So here is the list of available lenses for the Universal that I know of. Some of these lenses were designed for the Super 23 (which has rear bellows) but can all be used with the Universal. Conversely, some of these lenses can only be used by the Universal and not the Super 23. If I could find examples with Polaroid film, I provided links.

50mm 6.3 Mamiya-Sekor (with viewfinder)
65mm 6.3 Mamiya-Sekor (with viewfinder)
75mm 5.6 Mamiya-Sekor (with viewfinder)
90mm 3.5 Mamiya-Sekor
90mm 3.5 Mamiya-Sekor (collapsible)
100mm 3.5 Mamiya-Sekor
100mm 3.5 Mamiya-Sekor E
100mm 2.8 Mamiya-Sekor
127mm 4.7 Mamiya-Sekor
127mm 4.7 Mamiya-Sekor P (Designed for use with Polaroid film)
150mm 5.6 Mamiya-Sekor
250mm 8.0 Mamiya-Sekor (not rangfinder coupled)
250mm 5.0 Mamiya-Sekor

That's all that I know of. A couple of these lenses have different versions that probably don't really make a difference to you and me. You wouldn't be able to tell except by using the serial number. Prices vary, but typically the wider the lens, the more expensive. I'm not going to explain how to use the Universal or all of the other acessories and features. That is very handily provided by Mamiya here. And here is the system map provided by Mamiya, which actually features fewer lenses that what is available.

So, back to the question...which is better? I still can't really answer that. They are similar, yet very different tools. There is a decent set of accessories available for the 600SE...but be prepared to pay a price. Some of these items, such as macro spacers, aren't cheap for the Universal, and cost even more for the 600SE. Generally, the 600SE will sell for about the same as a Universal "Black", while the silver universal body will be much cheaper. You do have more lens options with the Universal, but you have to deal with a system that isn't designed to be used with Polaroid film. Fewer options with the 600SE, but you know what you are getting and that it will work "as advertised" with Polaroid film.
If you want the ability to use 120 roll film, you can so so with either, but the cost will be much higher for the 600SE. I do see people selling adapters for the Universal for the price of an entire camera with lens, adapter and back. But the adapter for the 600SE is a separate item, and it usually sells for no less than $300. And you can only use the three available lenses with your 120.
One isn't really better than the other. Which you want is really up to you.
I hope this is useful! Sorry, lots of text and not many pictures at the end. A couple group shots to end this...

I will have a follow-up to this article. I want to shoot a couple rolls of film and more Polaroid, and grab a few more lenses for comparison...then I will go into some more specific details about output and use of the Mamiya Universal! As mentioned previously, check out Skorj's 600SE article for more info on that camera!
One last shot...Mamiya Universal 100mm 2.8 and ND5 filter. I can't end this without one of my own!

Like I said...expensive, super-sharp toy camera!
Seeya next time.


  1. This is very very nice to know. Thanks for your hard work!

  2. What about prices of both systems in good and excellent? What do they both usually go for with/without lenses? What is a reference focal length/price for lenses? Any ideas?

  3. It really depends on what is included. Body and Polaroid back with no lens, maybe $150 for both the Universal (Black) and 600SE. A total 600SE system with the 127mm lens usually goes for around $300-$350. The 75mm lens alone usually sells for $350-$400. A complete Universal system usually includes a lens and one or two film backs. With a 127mm lens, the price is about the same as the 600SE. With the 100mm 2.8, it's around $600-$700l. And wider lenses (65mm and 50mm) can sell from $300 to $400. The 127mm lens alone for the Universal is about $100. I'm just going by what I've seen on eBay. A store will always charge more! But it's obviously all about the lens. A Polaroid back for the Universal usually sells for around $45. So depending on the lens, it's cheaper to get the Universal system with film backs and buy a Polaroid back than it is to buy a 600SE, and purchase the adapter and roll film backs.
    These are US prices...I think 600SEs sell for less in Japan and the Universal sells for about the same as here.

  4. Great work! Thanks for sharing.

  5. How about close-focusing on these systems? That is one thing I miss with the 600SE+127mm.

    And great article by the way. That 100mm f2.8 looks sweet!

  6. Anonymous8:08 AM

    Great article, seems I'll be selling my 600SE to buy a Universal with the money...

  7. Archetypo6:56 AM

    Hey Sean,

    Nice to see a new post! And what a great one at that, fab comparisons, thanks! I had been trawling the intehwebs for more info, been wanting to bite the bullet and splurge for one or the other, guess you made it easier.

    Keep it coming! I love reading your blog and oogling your pics!

  8. Hey!
    I love your photos!
    I have a polaroid 850 "electric eye" and a colorpack II. Do you know if these are convertible? Have you converted either of these before?
    Hypothetically speaking, how much would you charge me if I wanted to send you these cameras to convert?
    Have I asked enough questions?

  9. the 850 would be pretty similar to the 110 mod i've shown on this blog previously. no need to convert a colorpack II, it already takes pack film! and i don't do outside work, just stuff for myself...sorry!

  10. Anonymous5:54 AM

    I have Polaroid 600SE with polaroid film back,
    but I don't know how to put film in this back.
    Could you give me some informaton about that?

  11. it's the same as every pack film camera...the answers are in this blog somewhere, or google!

  12. Anonymous11:36 PM

    I opted for the Universal because of the shallow DOF with the 100mm f/2.8. It doesn't disappoint. The wider variety and availability of lenses and accessories also tipped the scale.

  13. Anonymous11:22 PM

    Just bought thePolaroid 600 SE with the 127mm f4.7 and I'm having a hard time finding a viewfinder for this thing. Thank for the best review on this camera.

  14. you don't need an external viewfinder with the 600se unless you are using 75mm...there is a switch on the back of the camera from 127 & 150.

  15. Wow, great, detailed comparison! I think I want a Universal now. :) Excerpted and linked on my site.

  16. Vince1:10 PM

    Great article, thanks! I haven't seen a side-by-side comparison of these cameras anywhere else.

    It's important to note that both these cameras are built like freakin' tanks. You could easily crack someone's skull with one, which may come in handy if you're in a dodgy situation and out of film.

  17. wow amazing camera's dude
    a very comprehensive side by side comparison ,
    definatly now a follower



  18. I have the universal, have been using it more lately and just bought another with more film backs. as a back up camera fyi. the Fuji instant film back will not take 665, the gate is to narrow. Pulls the Polaroid apart..may have to get a separate" Polaroid ' brand for that..also going to try using a 4x5 Polaroid back..do you get a separate adapter?

  19. the 4x5 back is a mod, so you either have to get one someone made, or make one yourself.

  20. The 75mm lens for the Mamiya is the same for the Polaroid 600SE correct? meaning it would fully cover Polaroid on the Mamiya press???

  21. it certainly looks that way from the example. it's comparatively rare, but doesn't seem to cost as much as the 50mm.

  22. Do you know the difference between the 127 and the 127 p?

  23. P stands for polaroid, so it's specifically designed to provide full coverage for polaroid film.

  24. Very informative. Just what I have been looking for. Thank you.

  25. Anonymous11:24 AM

    Hi really nice write up.

    I just got given a 600 SE with some film today.
    Been trying to find a manual for it online.
    Wondered if you got any idea where to look because i am coming up with nothing.


  26. http://www.polaroid-passion.com/manuel/manual-polaroid-600SE.pdf

  27. Anonymous12:30 PM

    Thank you so much man.
    Take it easy

  28. As the 600 se and Universal using the 75mm is concerned. you need to use the aux finder for both cameras. Are they both pretty much the same. not quite sure what you're getting. or is the 75mm viewer for the 600se spot on for polaroids? does that make sense?


  29. 75mm finder isn't designed for polaroid film for the universal, so the framing isn't accurate. all of the stuff for the 600SE is specifically designed for polaroid film so the finders are theoretically spot on for the instant film size.

  30. first of all: thank you for all the information. it seems as if the universal is the better choice. there are a few questions left. I tried on 2 different medium format forums without success.
    apart from a polariod 600se with all 3 lenses (75mm, 127mm and 150mm) I own some universal and press bodies and a whole bunch of accessories. I'm mainly interested in polaroids (or it's successor fuji fp). the 600se lenses are fine of course, the cover the whole format, which may not be the case with the lenses for the universal.
    I have a 65mm which shows quite some vignetting with the polaroid back.
    all 3 100mm 3.5 collapsible lenses I have are fine, no dark corners.
    my 127mm with mamiya lens mount is fine, as expected.
    the 75mm and the newer 150mm should be covering the whole format as well.
    how about the 50mm, the 100mm 2.8, the older 150mm and the two 250mm lenses? has anybody tried them on a polaroid back?
    I would like to have some more information before I try to buy one theses lenses. thanks in advance

  31. you can see the vignette with the 100mm 2.8 above in the post. and there is a link to the 50mm above as well...no vignette!

  32. I have seen the photos above in the post, but for the 50mm I wasn't sure whether there isn't a very slight vignette in the corners (seen the price of this lens it should be perfect). for the 100mm 2.8 I have seen the vignette. but there is the same vignette for the 100mm 3.5 as well. as I said I have 3 of these and there is no vignetting at all and there are several posts who claim the same. so I was just wondering.
    anyway, thank you again for this wonderful post.

  33. Anonymous6:57 PM

    Thanks for the info om the Mamiya Universal.I just got ahold of a Mamiya duophoto adapter (beamsplitter) for stereographic pictures. How cool is that? Now I'm on the hunt for a camera with 127mm lens with polariod and 120/220 backs.Wish me luck it's a jungle out there. Get back as sonn as I get one and have pics to post . Obie

  34. The Universal is my primary camera. I mostly use the 50mm, 65mm, or 100mm lenses. They work great for night photography since the viewers are so bright. In general, I get great negatives for making silver prints.

  35. How do i know which polaroid backs i can use with mamiya universal? A lot of the ones i find have p adapters (are these removable?) Is there a more specific name to search for mamiya universal polaroid back?

  36. the back is specific to the universal. if you search for mamiya universal polaroid back you will see the correct back. they are usually cheaper than the 600se backs, and you can see the difference between the two above (no split on the mounting feet for the universal). there are no other polaroid backs for the universal besides the one type (though there is probably a type 40 back that you wouldn't need).

  37. Anonymous1:13 PM

    Much thanks for the info. Saved me a ton of time searching for the differences between these two.

  38. I was worried when I first started using the non "P" lenses with the 100 film but since I tend to shoot in shadows the vignette isn't as noticeable. I have also noticed that 100mm is much wider on 100 than 120/220. Depending on your style I would think you could get away with great polaroid shots from all Mamiya Universal lenses. Most of the time my subject isn't in the corners anyways!! :)

    I must say however that I am not in love with the 127mm. I know it's a "P" lens but I'm not impressed with it at all. My 100/3.5 impressed me more even with the slight vignette. I haven't quite figured out the framing for 100mm on polaroid film. I supposed it's because I shoot & move without studying the actual image against my viewfinder.

    Have you attempted the CB70 hack for using integral film? I would like to see something more comprehensive on this... As of now it's just conflicting information with occasional images posted on Flickr. :)

  39. Informative and helpful. Thank you for your work!

  40. kamera man joe6:56 AM

    will i be able to put a 4x5 film back from the 600se to the mamiya universal.

  41. they have different mounts, so no.

  42. kamera man joe5:28 AM

    will i be able to put a polaroid instant film back on the mamiya super 23 ??

  43. i don't have a 23, but i've read that the universal back fits...same mount.

  44. no, it doesn't fit, no way. the 23 types can only be used with the mamiya roll film backs. the roll film mount is directly fixed to the camera. however they have bellows between the camera and the mount which allows tilting. with the collapsible 100 lens in collapsed position you can even focus to infinity with the back tilted.

    there was a rare version of the 23 with graflex mount. in theory you could fix a horseman vh 6x9 polaroid back (rare and expensive) to this. it needs some modification to the sliders to fit. I did so, but as the horseman back has different focussing plane (it adds some 10 mm), you either can't focus properly or you have to use the 100 mm lens in collapsed position (which subtracts the 10mm). so you loose the possibility to use the other lenses and with the 100 mm you can't tilt. so there is very little interest in this.

  45. quote: "Have you attempted the CB70 hack for using integral film? I would like to see something more comprehensive on this... As of now it's just conflicting information with occasional images posted on Flickr. :)"

    the polaroid integral film has to be exposed via a mirror, if not, the image is inversed. so all polaroid integral film cameras have a built-in mirror, whereas the mamiya universal hasn't one. but yes, you can adapt a cb70 or cb72 to a universal. if you have a close look at the pictures on flickr you will see that they are inversed. at the moment you can only buy "impossible" film for these backs which is very expensive and not as good as the polaroid film was or use expired polaroid film which becomes even more expensive.

    it would be more interesting if someone could make an instax wide back. as instax film is exposed via it's back side there is no inversion. the instax film has good colours and is inexpensive.

  46. I haven't been able to get a working cb70 back yet, I've had two that didn't work. And now teh prices are super high because of IP film, used to be able to pick one up for $30.

  47. Anonymous7:46 PM


    Do I need any adapter to attach film back to MUP ?

  48. Anonymous5:20 PM

    Wonderful article on these two fine cameras. I have a Mamiya 23 Super with a Graflex back. I was figuring that someday I would find a Polaroid back for the 2x3 press camera. Is the Horseman 6x9 the only Polaroid back that fits the Mamiya 23 Super with the Graflex back?

  49. anonymous second above: yes, you need an adapter plate which is quite expensive.

    anonymous above: yes, it's the only one. it's expensive and of little interest for this camera, while it's wonderful on a horseman. see my response further above.

    I'm coming back to the 50mm lens and polaroid, as I bought one of these lenses. there is some vignetting with my lens at least.

  50. After browsing for an hour to find useful information on the MUP/600SE topic, finding your article is one of these pure satisfaction moments.

    Can't thank you enough for sharing, and for the quality of your feedback.

  51. Anonymous7:53 PM

    Great post. Very informative.

  52. Anonymous10:14 AM

    Hey ! Great article . Thank you . One question , could a Polaroid 600se Polaroid back fit the mamiya 23 ?

  53. this question has asked by camera man joe and been answered further above.

    I come back for the cb70 back. I did the conversion. http://www.polaroid-passion.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=16042 it's in french but there are plenty of pictures. meanwhile I resolved the light leak problems (new foam).

  54. hotshoe6:25 PM

    I too have the rarer Super 23 with Graflex back. Does the Graflex XL polaroid back not fit in my case?

  55. A quick noobie question mate. Does the universal press with 100mm 3.5 vignette using 100 type film such as Fuji 3000b, or 100 fp c??

  56. Can any of these bodies use lenses form the Mamiya RB67?