I have to start this article with a confession… I had never planned for film photography to be a part of my life. I was never interested in film and wanted a digital camera so I could take as many shots as I wanted, while also being able to instantly judge what I was doing.

It all began in 2017; I was in my junior year of high school and eager to have photography as a subject. In our first class, the teacher told us it was best if each of us had a camera to progress at the same rate.

I finally had an excuse to ask my parents to buy me a shiny new digital camera; I had been drooling for a Nikon D7200 for a while at that time.

After I asked my dad for it, and without skipping a beat, he went into the garage and handed me a brown box with a label that read “CAMERA”.I was dumbfounded. I thought that maybe he knew I was taking photography this year and bought me a camera.

Oh, how naive of me.

I opened the box and found myself looking into the lens of a Pentax K1000, complete with its original case, a tripod, and as many filters and accessories as you could ever need. It turns out he was into photography, like 30 years ago or so.

Dad looked at me with an expression that could only mean “tough luck” and left me all alone, with an antiquated apparatus that I had no idea how to use.

After powering through a year of steep learning curves and a few late assignments, I had fallen in love with film photography and my new-old camera. Digital photography was in the rear-view mirror.

One mid-2018 evening, while perambulating eBay for a 35mm lens for the Pentax, I came across a mint Mamiya RB67 for the “measly” price of 400 dollars. At the time, medium format was a sort of myth for me, having only seen it on videos by very talented and successful individuals.

I knew I had no business in owning such a camera, especially when there was no way that I could justify its price tag. But after watching a couple of videos about the camera and the format, the wheels were set in motion.

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I spent the next two weeks looking at listings for medium format cameras. I was about to give up when I found a Mamiya RB67 Pro S body with a 120 back for… 40 dollars? Clearly, there must’ve been something wrong with it; It was listed as “As Is” and sold by someone from Japan. There were no clear signs of misuse or anything being broken, so I decided to take the plunge and bought it after careful consideration.

It took nearly three months to arrive to Argentina, but it did in regular Japanese fashion: in an oversized box and covered in bubble wrap. I tested the body and everything seemed to work as intended, same with the back. The only problem was that it came without the rotating adaptor that mounts the two parts together, so I bought one from the same guy (weird, right?) for another 40 dollars.

This is where the story went through a bit of a plateau, It was early 2019 and I was only missing a lens. I thought that I could just wait a few months, get some money and buy a cheap 90mm or 127mm; it turns out the market had different plans for me.
Around that time, film photography’s “comeback” was in full swing, and its effects started seeping into medium format film photography prices; 90mm lenses were well above 100 dollars. My only option was to try and find a scuffed 127mm.

Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months. I had a working medium format camera ready to be shot and the only thing keeping it from doing so was the fact that I had no money. Keep in mind that coming up with 100 dollars is nearly impossible for a jobless 18-year-old living in Argentina, a country where over 40% of the population lives in poverty.

2020 rolled around and so did the pandemic. Coincidentally, the country had the longest lockdown in the entire world, which meant that there was no chance of me buying a lens.

I had high hopes for 2021. With restrictions lifting and people starting to sell anything they could to get a few extra bucks, I turned my search for a lens onto the domestic market.

A couple of weeks went by and I struck gold. I found a mint 90mm f/3.8 with its original caps and aluminum lens hood for 130 dollars, with the added benefit of it being just 30 minutes away from my house. I bought it in an instant and it arrived the day later.

After almost three years, I did it. I’d assembled the cheapest (probably) Mamiya RB67 Pro S ever. Well, I grabbed a roll of Fuji Pro400H and took it for a spin that same weekend.

It made all the wait worth it.

~ Santiago

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About the author

Avatar - Sach Alvarez

Santiago Alvarez

I'm Santiago, graphic designer and photographer. My two hobbies are shooting film and getting money to buy more film.

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9 Comments

 

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  1. Hey Santiago – great story and I like your eye and composition, good start and keep it up!

  2. A couple of years ago I bought an RZ67 and some lenses from an estate. There was an RB67 in the box as well that I hadn’t noticed. New light seals, and a service for some of the lenses and it is back in action!

  3. Thanks for sharing your experience. I have had similar ones, being Peruvian there are not many places to repair so old cameras always have issues, in the end I have chosen to prefer cameras made in the 90’s or 2000’s, and to scan myself. That you fixed your lens shows perseverance from your part.

  4. 120 film never bad like this, try to improve yourself and find a better film dev and scan provider.

  5. Hi Santiago, I like your story. And I admire your patience and perseverance. It seems that the wait was worth it and you made a very good deal. Greetings from Germany

  6. Thanks for sharing your story. Made me laugh to hear what your dad did. I did the exact same thing to my teenage son (in about 2018!) when he wanted a digital slr. I presented him with my old K1000 kit and made him lug that tank around for a bit, first, so he know what he was getting into with an SLR. He put several rolls of film through it before a friend gifted us an early Pentax DSLR. Now my son shoots mostly digital, but he can still get good pix out of the K1000 if necessary. On a recent trip, he forgot some necessary part of his digital kit, so I loaned him my K1000 and he rolled with it just fine.

    Sounds like you’ve learned early some good lessons about the value of patience. Many of us don’t learn that till much later in life. Good luck and I hope you’ll post more!

  7. What is going on here with sharpness. I’ve shot thousands of photos with this combo and they are tack sharp. These shots are blurry and soft.

    1. Yeah so one of the elements in the lens was backwards which made everything thay wasn’t in the center look blurry and out of focus. I’ve fixed it tho.