KOWA Six/ 6MM /Super 66 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Kowa Six


  1. 1 KOWA Six/ 6MM /Super 66 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
    1. 1.1 Which camera models are considered to be classic Kowa medium format cameras?
    2. 1.2 Why are these Kowa cameras considered to be classic medium format cameras?
    3. 1.3 Why are these Kowa medium format cameras called system cameras?
    4. 1.4 Why are these Kowa medium format cameras called the "poor man's Hasselblad"?
    5. 1.5 What lenses are available for these Kowa medium format cameras?
    6. 1.6 Special checks when buying
    7. 1.7 How do Kowa 6/66 Lens Tests Look?
    8. 1.8 What are the advantages of leaf shutter lenses as on the Kowa 6/66?
    9. 1.9 What are the disadvantages of leaf shutter lenses?
    10. 1.10 What is the V, X, and M markings on my Kowa Lenses?
    11. 1.11 Are Kowa lenses multi-coated? single coated? uncoated?
    12. 1.12 Why do you strongly recommend a lens hood?
    13. 1.13 Are black lenses better than chrome lenses?
    14. 1.14 Where can I put or find ads for Kowa 6/66 related items I want to sell or buy?
    15. 1.15 What is my Kowa 6/66 camera or lens worth?
    16. 1.16 What should I look out for in buying a used Kowa 6/66 medium format camera?
    17. 1.17 What is the rarest Kowa item?
    18. 1.18 How long has the parent Kowa Optical company been out of business?
    19. 1.19 Why is the Kowa 6/66 so useful in macrophotography?
    20. 1.20 Why is the M/X/V flash synch at any speed such a big deal?
    21. 1.21 How can I decide between square (6x6cm) or rectangular (6x4.5cm) formats?
    22. 1.22 What about Polaroid backs for the Super 66? Kowa 6/6MM?
    23. 1.23 Kowa 6 / 66 stuck or jammed or hung - winder busted, etc - Solution
    24. 1.24 What focusing screens are available?
    25. 1.25 Why is the Kowa flash bracket mount so sturdy and handy?
    26. 1.26 What is the trick with Kowa 66 and Tripods?
    27. 1.27 What is the 80% solution in Medium Format Photography?
    28. 1.28 Can I use my Kowa medium format SLR camera for infra-red photography?
    29. 1.29 Can I use my Kowa medium format SLR camera for ultraviolet light photography?
    30. 1.30 Why does medium format depth of field seem to be less than 35mm?
    31. 1.31 How can the close focusing distance of medium format lenses be improved?
    32. 1.32 Are there any books about Kowa medium format SLR Cameras?
    33. 1.33 How can I locate Kowa 6/66 related manuals, brochures? product information?

Which camera models are considered to be classic Kowa medium format cameras?

The Kowa medium format cameras included the Kowa 6, the Kowa 6 MM, and the Kowa Super 66 models. These models share lenses and many accessories such as screens, viewfinders, filters, and accessories.

  • Kowa/SIX(1968)
  • Kowa SIX MM(1972)
  • Kowa SIX II(1973)
  • Kowa Super 66(1974)

The key difference between the original Kowa 6 and later Kowa 6MM model is the provision of a mirror-lockup and double exposure options on the 6MM models. The Kowa Super 66 model featured L-shaped interchangeable backs (16/32, 12/24, and Polaroid) which are unique to that model only. The Kowa Super 66 also had a different L-shaped grip and some minor changes in screens per email from users. Kowa Super 66 was the fourth and the last model among Kowa Six series, and it was developed based on Kowa Six II which employed the interchangeable film back system for the first time among the series.

On Kowa Super 66, the film back locking lever and the mirror-up mechanism were ojammmitted to make film back changing procedures much easier. And also, the 4.5x6cm format film back and Polaroid film back were provided with it. As mentioned, this was the last model of Kowa Six series as well as the last camera manufactured by Kowa. From then on, Kowa withdrew from the camera industry. Well then, let's take a look at it.
  • Camera type : 6x6cm leaf-shutter SLR camera
  • Standard lens : Kowa S f2.8/85mm (four-group, five-elements), breech-lock mount
  • Shutter : Seiko SLV #0 (built in M, X sync contac and self-timer)
  • Shutter speed : T, 1-1/500sec.
  • Viewfinder : waist-level finder
  • Focusing : straight helicoid
  • Film back : interchangeable
  • Film winding : ratcheted winding, double-exposure prevention, multiple exposure enabled
  • Body dimensions : 126 x 137 x 158mm
  • Body weight : 1900 grams

Why are these Kowa cameras considered to be classic medium format cameras?

The Kowa medium format cameras were produced in the 1970s, making them eligible for classic camera status after a quarter century of distinguished photographic service!

The Kowa camera lenses featured a Seiko leaf shutter in each lens, thereby providing full flash synchronization at any speed. 

The available Kowa lenses were exceptional in both quality and range of choices. The Kowa parent optical company was a reknowned optical designer and lens manufacturer. 

Some Kowa lenses such as the 19mm f/4.5 fisheye are still unique (and rare) optics in any medium format system.

A surprising variety of waist level viewfinders, chimney magnifiers, 45 and 90 degree glass prisms, 45 and 90 degree TTL metering prism/finders, and even open-frame sportfinders are available for special needs. Six focusing screens also provide many professionally useful options.

In short, the Kowa lineage of medium format SLRs offer a number of unique optical and quality design features that well justify calling them "classics".

Why are these Kowa medium format cameras called system cameras?

The Kowa medium format cameras featured interchangeable:

  • lenses, bellows, and extension tubes,
  • viewfinders, magnifying viewers, sportsfinders, prisms (45/90 deg), and TTL prisms,
  • backs (16/32, 12/24, Polaroid) on model Super 66 only,
  • accessories such as finder screens

The Kowa 6 and 6MM medium format SLR cameras were semi-system cameras, featuring interchangeable lenses, viewfinders, and viewing screens, but lacking easy interchangeable film backs or magazines. 

The later Kowa Super 66 model was a full system camera, thanks to its unique, L-shaped interchangeable back design with 12/24, 16/32, and Polaroid back options.

Except for these interchangeable backs and a few related accessories, the Kowa 6, 6MM, and Super 66 cameras can share a wide range of interchangeable lenses, bellows, extension tubes, 2X teleconverter, viewing screens, and a surprising number of interchangeable viewfinders. 

NOTE: The Kowa 6/6MM can remove their hinged backs to use a Polaroid back for those cameras (not the same as for the Super 66!), but such backs are very rare.

Why are these Kowa medium format cameras called the "poor man's Hasselblad"?

These Kowa medium format cameras provided high quality optics with leaf shutter lenses with a rugged and reliable camera body. The costs are significantly less than for a similar Hasselblad system, especially if multiple lenses are purchased. 

Today, you can buy a high quality Kowa medium format camera with leaf shutter for a small fraction of the cost of a similarly aged and used Hasselblad system. Many Kowa 6 systems with 85mm leaf shutter lens sell for $400 US and under. Some used Kowa lenses are still selling for 10-20% of the price of similar new leaf shutter Zeiss lenses for Hasselblad or Rolleiflex systems. 

What lenses are available for these Kowa medium format cameras?

Kowa prime lenses include:

  1. 19mm f/4.5 ($2,700)
  2. 35mm f/4.5 ($918)
  3. 40mm f/4.0 ($801)
  4. 55mm f/3.5 ($462)
  5. 85mm f/2.8 ($194)
  6. 110mm f/5.6 macro ($499)
  7. 150mm f/3.5 ($462)
  8. 200mm f/4.5 ($473)
  9. 250mm f/5.6 ($499)
  10. 500mm f/8.0 ($999)
  11. 2X teleconverter ($465)

Prices in parentheses above are list prices for lenses in mid-1974, but as noted below, these price points also serve as a good estimator for current prices for these lenses on the used market too!

Problems with the Kowas

1) There is no B setting. This is due to the shutter release coupling between body and lens. Instead they provide a "T" which is not a true T as the shutter release opens the shutter which must then be closed using the shutter speed ring. In use I cover the lens front with a dark cloth and then turn the speed ring to stop vibration spoiling the image. 

2) The Super66 backs cannot be changed easily while on a standard tripod QR plate. Kowa made a special spacer, or a small tripod head will clear the back. 

3) Make sure and backs have the plastic dust cover. This not only stops dust getting in but stops the gears being accidentally turned (so stopping back swapping problems / film advance problems). 

4) There is a clutch with disengages the "shutter cock / mirror drive". With rough handling this can become damaged. Check for this before buying. Always advance the film sedately. The clutch is damaged when forcing the advance or when winding too quickly (it does not have time to fully disengage before the gears turn another tooth). 

Good points

1) Leaf shutters. Nice and vibration free. If you are super critical about sharpness then either get a SixMM with the mirror lock-up or use the self timer which trips the mirror immediately then fires the shutter after the delay. This was one of my main reasons to go with Kowa. 

2) Excellent mirror dampening. Shooting handheld or without mirror lockup showed far less vibration than other old 6x6 SLRs I tried. 

3) Low cost. I have a Six and SixMM body, 55mm, 85mm, 110mm macro, 150mm, 250mm, closeup tubes, 90degree prism. All in well used but fully functional condition. Total cost less than a Rolleiflex 2,8F.

Special checks when buying

Apart from the usual camera checks also look at: 

1) Operate the camera with lens on. Preferably run a test film. Look for two problems here. One is any "gear grinding noises " when advancing the film, especially just as the mirror hits the stop. The second is any mis-operation of the mirror. If someone tried to force the lens off with the shutter not cocked the mirror can be forced past the end of the cam. This will be very obvious when you try to advanvce the film as the knob will either not turn far enough or will be really hard to get to the end. 

2) Fire the shutter with the lens off (and no film). Make sure the film shutter flap has gone fully up (it should be above the lens hole). This is unlikely to occur, but if an amateur repairer has been inside they could have got the sequencing out. When firing the shutter without lens be sure to keep you fingers out of the camera, and away from the shutter cocking ring. 

3) Film does not stop advancing. Yes you do need film to test this. 

How do Kowa 6/66 Lens Tests Look?

Thanks to a post by Chauncey L. Walden at Medium Format Forum Kowa Thread, we have the following tests from Modern Photography:

aperturecentercenter lpmedgeedge lpm
f/5.6very good80acceptable35
f/8very good80acceptable35
f/11excellent85very good40+
f/16excellent85very good40+
f/22very good65+acceptable35

The obvious point is that these lenses are very good overall, and virtually diffraction limited by f/5.6 through f/16. Since individual lenses may vary, I strongly recommend that you test your lenses to learn their optimal performance points.

Why are Kowa 6/66 owners relatively content with this limited Kowa lens lineup?

The key reason that there doesn't seem to be a lot more "lens hacking" for Kowa 6/66, besides the need to provide an integral leaf shutter mechanism, is the relatively low cost and clever design of the available Kowa lens line.

The wide angle lenses include not just a 55mm and 40mm, but also a superwide 35mm and unique (and rare) 19mm fisheye! Besides a relatively fast 85mm f/2.8 normal lens, there is also a 110mm macro lens. The macro lens can also be used on a bellows in full automatic mode, as well as with the 2X teleconverter and three automatic extension tubes.

The telephoto lineup is equally dense as the wide angle lineup, with a fast 150mm f/3.5 portrait lens and both 200mm and 250mm lenses and super-long 500mm lenses. A pricey 2X teleconverter provides high quality, hole-filling 300mm (using 150mm and 2X), 400mm (using 200mm and 2X) and 1,000mm (using 500mm and 2X) options. The 2X teleconverter is optimized for 1,000 mm use with the 500mm lens.

Except for Bronica and Hasselblad, most classic medium format SLRs did not feature or offer such an extensive leaf shutter lens lineup as the Kowa 6/66 SLRs, so Kowa 6/66 owners have a lot of lenses to choose from.

What are the advantages of leaf shutter lenses as on the Kowa 6/66?

A leaf shutter lens can synchronize with an electronic flash at any speed, from 1/500th second on down. By comparison, most focal plane shutter cameras in medium format have maximum flash synch (X-synch) speeds in the 1/30th to 1/60th of a second range. 

Thanks to this range, the photographer can select shutter speeds and flash settings that will balance ambient light with some flash lighting (typically a stop below ambient), producing a pleasing flash fill lighting effect.

With a focal plane shutter that flash synchs at 1/30th or 1/60th of a second, you can't use the full range of fast shutter speeds (above 1/30th or 1/60th through 1/500th of a second). Yet when you expose a flash shot at 1/30th in bright ambient lighting, you may get two exposures - one from the flash and the other from ambient lighting (daylight). The ambient light image will often be blurry due to subject movement during the 1/30th second exposure in bright lighting conditions. 

Most focal plane shutter cameras such as the Bronica S2a have at least one leaf shutter lens in their lens lineup to provide such capabilities to their owners. There are lots of areas of photography where the slow flash synch speed is not important. But leaf shutter lenses do offer this extra flexibility which makes them very useful for some types of photography such as outdoor portraiture.

What are the disadvantages of leaf shutter lenses?

Kowa lenses have their own leaf shutter in each lens. That design means shutter speeds may vary somewhat between lenses. On a focal plane shutter camera, you have only one shutter in the camera body, not in each lens, so speeds don't vary if you change lenses. 

So on a leaf shutter lens camera, one leaf shutter may run slow at the 1 second setting, while another might run quite a bit faster. Such differences may be important in some situations, such as working with slide film of limited latitude.

Finally, the most obvious disadvantage is cost. Each lens has to have its own shutter, so you pay for a leaf shutter with each lens. That shutter adds hundreds of dollars to the original and subsequently used lens costs. Moreover, these leaf shutters in each lens need periodic servicing, adding to your long-term ownership and repair and maintenance costs.

What is the V, X, and M markings on my Kowa Lenses?

This lever on the lens should be set on X for flash (strobe) synchronization. The V setting is the self-timer, providing a delay (from a few on up to 10 and even 14 or so seconds) which lets you get into the picture. When you use the self-timer option, the mirror moves out of the way, the timer runs for the time set (up to 10-14 seconds), and then the exposure is taken. The Kowa 6 model lacks a mirror lockup lever found on the later Kowa 6mm cameras. So this self-timer trick lets you have the benefit of mirror lockup with macro and other shots when using the Kowa 6 (and Kowa 66) models. This time delay between the mirror going up and the shutter being tripped helps the camera minimize the vibration from the large moving mirror during some exposures (e.g., on microscope or bellows macro-shots, long telephoto lenses). 

Finally, the M setting is for flash bulbs of type M (hence the "M" setting). If your flash shots turn out under-exposed, this lever being mis-set to M is the likely culprit! Many folks jam something like a bit of matchstick (ahem) in the MVX slot so the camera stays on the X setting to prevent flash photo disasters.

How loud is the Kowa shutter? What does it sound like?

One of my Kowa 6 bodies sounds like this (.wav file). Compare to the loud Bronica S2a sounds. While the Kowa 6 is a lot quieter, the large moving mirror is still moderately noisy. If quiet operation is a must, either use a mirror lockup operation on your Kowa 6MM or switch to a mamiya TLR or similar quieter design camera (e.g., Fuji rangefinder).

What is a non-instant return mirror? blackout?

Like the Hasselblad 500C, the Kowa cameras used a non-instant return mirror. When you make your exposure, the mirror pops up and the leaf shutter makes the exposure. That's it. To see the scene again, you have to turn the film advance crank that moves the mirror into place and recocks the shutter and opens the lens up automatically. Since you can't see anything while the mirror is up, you have a black-outsituation.

Instant return mirror designs (such as the contemporary Bronica S2A) made the point that you could see the scene again quickly without blackouts. They claimed you could see if somebody grimaced or otherwise ruined a shot during an exposure, thanks to the instant return mirror. Maybe some users can do this reliably, but I am one Bronica/Kowa/Hassy owner who can't. Shooting more film is more reliable and cheap insurance for such rapidly changing situations.

The real black-out champs are twin lens reflex cameras such as my Rolleiflex 3.5f TLR. TLRs don't have any blackouts, obviously, as they don't have any swinging mirrors. You can also use sport finder accessories with the regular SLRs, such as Kowa's sport finder, to permit reasonably accurate framing without blackout. 

How can I achieve Mirror Lockup benefits on my Kowa 6? (vs. Kowa 6MM)

The Kowa 6MM had a manual mirror lockup control added to that later model, making it ideal for macrophotography and telephotography where mirror lockup is most useful. But what if you have the earlier Kowa 6 model (or Kowa 66)? You may be able to achieve the same benefits of mirror lockup by simply using the self-timer in each Kowa lens (the V in MVX setting). Up to a ten+ second delay can be enabled, but the lens synch is still X-synch (for strobe electronic flash). Since most mirror lockup uses in macro and long lens use is on a tripod or macro-stage, the slight delay lets vibrations die down with the mirror up, then the exposure is tripped. 

What size filters do I need for Kowa lenses?

The majority of Kowa lenses use 67mm filter threads. Note that 67mm threads correspond to Series VIII filter accessories such as fisheye adapters and so on. Some of the earlier 55mm and 150mm lenses may not have 67mm filter threads (early 55 mm lens used 86mm filters, 150mm lens used 77mm filters). Besides this standard size, the 500mm lens uses a 95mm filter size. The 35mm and 40mm lenses have rear gelatin filter holders of 33mm size, while the rare 19mm fisheye lens uses 37.5 mm rear filter mounts.

Are Kowa lenses multi-coated? single coated? uncoated?

Kowa lenses are single coated optics. As older lenses from the mid-70s, they do not feature the same degree of multi-coating that we take for granted today. This feature won't be a problem for most users and most situations, unless you are shooting into the sun or other bright light source. However, most single coated lenses will benefit from use of a lens hood to control off-axis flare.

Kowa prime lenses have relatively fewer elements and groups (5-8 typically) than the usual 35mm zoom lens, where multi-coating is mandatory. An uncoated normal lens might pass 65% of incident light, a single coated lens might pass 95%, while a multi-coated lens might reach 97-98%. So the biggest benefit is from coated versus uncoated lenses. In fact, Nikon's new Series E lenses feature single coating as an economy measure with minimal impact on flare results or sharpness.

Older single coated optics have a major advantage over multi-coated optics. Many uncoated and single coated lenses can be used for ultraviolet photography, unlike their multi-coated brethren (see UV Q/A herein).

Why do you strongly recommend a lens hood?

Simply stated, a lens hood is a doubly great investment. First, it will help protect your lens from flare which can reduce contrast and color saturation in your photographs. Second, when (not if) you drop a lens, the lens hood will often absorb the blow and protect the lens and lens threads much better than a filter. 

I like the compendium lens hoods (such as Ambico+ low cost model), which act like an accordion and expand or reduce to match different lenses optimally. You can use various masks and standard resin or gel filters. The professional series filters by Cokin/Minolta, Ambico, Lee, and others also have filter holders which can stack mount lens hood modules as needed.

Are black lenses better than chrome lenses?

The original Kowa 6 lenses were chrome finish, while the later Kowa Super 66 lenses were black satin finish. Some buyers make a big deal over which is better. The observed price differences slightly favor the black satin finish lenses over the chrome versions. Obviously, the later black lenses won't color coordinate with your chrome Kowa 6 body, but they will fit and work fine, and vice versa.

Reportedly, only the early chrome 55mm and 150mm lenses were different optically. They can be identified by having a larger filter size than the standard 67mm filter size seen in the later chrome and black finish lenses. The early 55mm lenses had 86mm filter sizes, while the 150mm lens had 77mm filter threads. The rest of the Kowa prime lenses are identical formulas and designs, with just the outer barrel finish being different. 

Keep this in mind when you see the large price differences between the chrome and black finish lenses which are optically identical and mount on all Kowa cameras too. The chrome lenses are often an excellent bargain, being functionally identical to their more sought after black finish brethren.

While later designs are usually better, the big benefit from the later formula 55/150mm lenses would seem to be in the use of the standard 67mm filter size. The earlier 55/150mm chrome lenses may have had fewer optical design trade-offs, being larger, compared to the later redesign to reduce the optic sizes. However, hard comparative test data is lacking. You probably will be happy with either new or old 55mm and 150mm lens designs. However, if you use a lot of filters, it may be economical to look into standardizing on a single (largest) size and using step-up rings for the smaller sized lenses [e.g., 67mm to 77mm step-up ring and 77mm filters]. 

Where can I find current Kowa 6/66 price information? Online?

See our Kowa Price Guide for some recent price points from dealers and EBAY auctions. You can also check the dealer links if looking for a particular Kowa item. Some items like 19mm lens are so rarely sold that there isn't really a set market price.

You can also check recent sales prices for online auctions by using the search engine at EBAY online auction (http://www.ebay.com).

What does a startup Kowa 6/66 classic camera system cost? Accessories? Lenses?

You can usually find a Kowa 6/66 camera with waist level finder and standard 85mm f/2.8 lens for $375-450 US, depending on condition. At this price, the Kowa 6/66 is the lowest price medium format 6x6 SLR with leaf shutter lens system and such high quality optics.

Other Kowa 6/66 system items are similarly inexpensive by modern medium format standards. While a standard Kowa Super 66 12/24 back might be $125 (8+), the Polaroid back is a more hefty $350 (9). A Kowa prism is only $175, while a later black 150mm f/3.5 lens (9) runs circa $325 US [prices 8/98 Midwest Photo]. A Kowa 55mm lens is only $250, a chrome 150mm only $275, and so on [prices 8/98 KEH].

In short, you can build a nice three leaf shutter lens Kowa 6/66 outfit, with 55mm f/3.5, 85mm f/2.8, and 150mm f/3.5 lenses, and both waist level and an eye level prism finder, for roughly $1,100 US.

Why do you claim Kowa 6/66 prices are caught in a time-warp from the 1970s?

Today's used Kowa prices are similar to the Kowa list prices from the mid-1970s. But you are paying in today's dollarettes, which are worth less than a third as much in constant dollar terms. In other words, a 150mm f/3.5 Kowa lens listed for $462 in the mid-1970s, sold at discount for $350 (1976 Pop. Photo Ad), but can be bought today for about the same $350, albeit used! A similar new lens today would cost over three times as much in inflation adjusted dollars, or well over $1,000 US.

By contrast, Hasselblad used lenses have gone way up in dollar terms to match the huge, much faster than inflation rise in Zeiss lens costs. In the 1970s, Hasselblad lenses used to cost 50% or so more than equivalent Kowa lenses. To match that same ratio today, Hasselblad used lenses would need to cost under $500, while they are usually more like 3 to 5+ times the Kowa lenses prices depending on focal lengths. Taken together, Kowa prime lenses seem like huge bargains featuring prices from the 1970s compared to new or used Hasselblad, Bronica, and other lenses which sell for three to ten times as much or more!
More important is the system cost of your final setup. I found that while I could afford a Hasselblad body with zeiss lens, the cost of more lenses (at average prices over $1K US and up used) was prohibitive. With a Kowa system, you can build a typical 3 lens (55/85/150) system with a Kowa Super 66 body and metering prism for less than the price of a single older Hasselblad lens used! Similar arguments would apply, if less steeply, with other leaf shutter cameras such as the Bronica ETR/SQ/GS or Mamiya RB/RZ. 

Where can I put or find ads for Kowa 6/66 related items I want to sell or buy?

Many folks advertise for free on rec.photo.marketplace, one of the USENET groups. You will find Kowa 6/66 items sold here periodically, usually averaging about an ad or two every week or so. Another source of Kowa 6/66 items is the online EBAY auction (http://www.ebay.com). While it costs a nominal sum to list items for sale here, you can set a minimum price and hope for higher bids in the last-minute feeding frenzies!

What is my Kowa 6/66 camera or lens worth?

Most dealers will only offer a fraction (circa 35-50%) of the expected selling price to you if you sell to them. They have to pay ad costs, overhead, salaries and so on, after all. Don't expect to get the same price as a dealer for your item, since you aren't offering credit (MC/Visa) or guarantees to the buyers like a dealer would.

Usually, most individual to individual sales split the difference, with the buyer paying 75-80% of the expected cost for a similar condition item. The seller gains not the 50% or so the dealer would have offered, but the 75% from splitting the difference. Still, I have seen some items fetch more than dealer prices on EBAY, so this may vary with condition, market demand, and timing.

What should I look out for in buying a used Kowa 6/66 medium format camera?

Some vintage cameras get reputations for problems, both deserved and not. While only a small fraction of users may experience these ''common'' problems, you don't want to be one of them. If your camera does not have these problems when you buy it, you may experience years of trouble-free happy ownership with minimal camera care.

The Kowa 6/6MM cameras have a modest reputation for having soft gears in the film advance mechanism (similar to problems with the Bronica S/C series cameras). Look for wear in this area in particular. Some folks have removed the fold-out rapid winding crank to reduce gear wear and abuse. Another suggested check is to have a roll of film processed and returned in sleeves, so you can check for overlap or uneven spacing between frames.

I have seen reports of problems with the replaceable backs on the Super 66 models. Here again, close inspection for heavy professional use or abuse could save future problems.

For other camera and lens checks, see our camera and lens testing page!

What is the main disadvantage of buying a Kowa 6/66 system?

The key issue is the availability of quality repair work and service. After all, Kowa 6/66 systems are classic cameras in the sense of being a quarter century old. Parts have to come from defunct donor cameras, which not all repair facilities will have available. Not all repair persons will be able to repair a classic mechanical medium format SLR like these Kowa 6/66 cameras.

A related disadvantage is that some of the accessories and lenses are relatively rare. As you might expect, the higher cost items like the 19mm fisheye lens, the 35mm, 40mm, and 500mm lenses are also rare and hard to find. A few accessories such as the Kowa Super 66 Polaroid backs and microscope adapter are not quite rare, but still take a bit of searching.

Is there a source for shutter repair parts?

Yes, the same Copal #0 shutters used in the Kowa 6/66 lenses are also still being used by Mamiya in some of their current medium format camera lenses (TLR series..). So chances are good that if your repairperson needs shutter parts to repair a lens, they will be available for some time to come. Since lenses are a major investment cost, that's good news. And since leaf shutter lenses need periodic maintenance, that's also good news since lots of repairpersons have experience with the more recent Mamiya medium format leaf shutter camera lenses. So they will be equipped and have access to shutter parts to work on this critical element of your Kowa 6/66 system.

What is the best solution to these Kowa 6/66 disadvantages?

Backups are the easy answer to improving reliability and availability of any system. Consider buying extra bodies and backs (for Kowa Super 66 users).

Ideally, you should have at least 3 camera bodies for professional work. One body can be in repair (possibly waiting for parts) while you still have a working camera and backup. Fortunately, the cost of Kowa bodies is quite reasonable, often from $250 US and up. A spare 85mm f/2.8 lens may only cost $100 US.

Amateur photographers may prefer to retain or purchase a low-cost leaf-shutter Twin Lens Reflex camera such as the Rolleicord, Minoltacords, Ricohflexes, or Yashicamats.

What is the rarest Kowa item?

This photo of the Kowa 19mm f/4.5 lens is probably the rarest Kowa item, understandable given its $2,700 price when that sum (in 1970s) would have bought a nice new car.

Photo Courtesy of Dave Mewhinney (captvdeo@starnetinc.com)

How long has the parent Kowa Optical company been out of business?

Surprise! Kowa Optical Industries continues in business today, but mainly as a specialty optical house rather than as a mass-market camera or lens manufacturer. Unfortunately, they don't fix or support these older Kowa medium format cameras, nor the 35mm and other consumer cameras they made.

Why didn't these Kowa medium format cameras succeed in the marketplace?

Let me offer my own opinion here. The Kowa 6 was less than a full-system camera, due to the lack of interchangeable backs. The Kowa leaf shutter lenses cost more than focal plane camera lenses from competitors such as Bronica at the low cost end. At the high end, the Hasselblad cameras of the 1970s were fully developed and flexible system cameras well liked and trusted by many pro photographers. The Zeiss lenses were superb too.

Hasselblad initially started with a focal plane camera series, the 1600f and later 1000f models. These models were copied by the classic Bronica 6x6 cameras such as the Z, D, S, S2, C, S2A, and EC models, as well as the Kiev-88 models.

The Hasselblad 500C model marked a switch to a leaf shutter lens camera, with the prime optics being provided by Zeiss, albeit at a high price. The Hasselblad 500C was the only leaf-shutter lensed SLR medium format system camera of the 1960s. The Hasselblad 500C's flash synch at any speed simply clobbered its focal plane camera competitors with their slow (1/30th typical) flash synch speeds. The Hasselblad system also offered many interchangeable backs, including 120, 220, 16/32, superslide, and several Polaroid backs among others. By the 1970s, Hasselblad was established as the pre-eminent professional photographer's medium format 6x6 camera of choice.

The Kowa 6 camera was designed to compete against the Hasselblad 500C and 500C/M cameras and Zeiss optics by providing the finest Japanese optics on a lower cost medium format system camera design. But knocking off an established competitor with a near monopoly is hard to pull off!

Some early problems with film advance gearing soured some professional users spoiled by the high reliability achieved by Hasselblad cameras (after decades of development efforts and fine tuning under the hood). Another important issue was the relatively high cost of Kowa lenses with their leaf shutters versus lower cost rivals such as Bronica.

Unfortunately, the original Kowa 6 camera did not feature easy interchangeability of film backs as with the Hasselblad 500C and C/M models. This oversight was not made up until the later Kowa Super 66 model cameras, but by then it was too late. Professional photographers had decided to stick with their investments in Hasselblad cameras, lenses, and accessories rather than switch to the new Kowa camera models and leaf shutter lenses.

Can other manufacturer's lenses be used or mounted on the Kowa 6 series cameras?

Generally, you will find most Kowa SLR users stick with the original Kowa prime lenses. Since the Kowa medium format cameras used leaf shutter lenses, a similar leaf shutter mechanism would have had to be provided for using other manufacturer's lenses. 

Kowa 6 and Super 66 lenses use a breech lock mechanism with film registration distance of 79.00 mm. The Hasselblad leaf shutter mount is less, only 74.90mm, so you could not use these lenses on the Kowa 6/66 mount without an optical adapter.

In any case, the Kowa 6/66 lenses are generally the lowest cost leaf shutter lenses for 6x6 medium format cameras. The low cost Kiev-88 optics (82.10mm) and Bronica S2a optics (101.70mm) have the needed longer lens registration distances to make adaptation easier, but don't have the integral leaf shutters we need.

However, there is a Kowa Microscope adapter with integral leaf shutter (Cat. No. 663-359 - $199 in 1974). Such an adapter could be used to mount certain optics to the Kowa 6/66 lens mount, with full shutter features and automation. While aimed at mounting telescopes and microscopes, many optics might be candidates if the price is right. Lacking such a microscope adapter (rare), an experienced optical technician might be able to remove the glass from an existing Kowa 85mm or other lens with required leaf shutter elements and create a mount adapter.

Why is the Kowa 6/66 so useful in macrophotography?

The Kowa 6/66 SLR users have a choice of:

  • close-up Kowa lenses (67mm No.+1, No.+2, and No.+3 diopter)
  • close-up automatic tubes T1 (75mm), T2 (32mm) and T3 (16mm)
  • macro 110mm lens (for flatfield and closeup work)
  • Kowa bellows, with adjustable tilt/shifts for Scheimpflug operations

The Kowa automatic bellows fits all Kowa models (Kowa 6, 6MM, Super 66). Being automatic, these bellows make it easy to do macro-work. A dual cable release provides several operating modes, including one in which the mirror is locked up prior to exposure. 

Independent front and rear focusing controls make it easy to work closeup. The bellows has various magnification ratios and other information for four Kowa lenses engraved on the railings. Used with TTL meter/finders, you can read and set exposure directly.

An interesting feature of the Kowa bellows is a tilt/shift option that proves 20 degrees of front/back vertical tilt, with a 15mm rise or fall capability. This makes it easier to control the plane of the depth of focus on the macro-object, similar to using the bellows as a mini-view camera with perspective controls. The Kowa bellows does not provide infinity focusing, so these tilts and shifts are limited to closeup photography perspective controls.

The 85mm lens provides life-size (1X) to 3X continuously variable magnification on the bellows. For more information, see Kowa 66 Bellows technical information bulletin.

Why is the M/X/V flash synch at any speed such a big deal?

On most focal plane medium format cameras, you are limited to a top flash synch speed of 1/30th or 1/45th second. With a leaf shutter Kowa lens, you can have flash synch at any speed, from 1 second to 1/500th. This trick makes it possible to control fill-in flash over a more flexible range, as one often-cited benefit of leaf shutter lenses.

You can also use a variety of flash bulb types with your Kowa camera. Flashbulbs provide a lot of light in a compact package, sometimes an ideal solution for really big lighting jobs.

How can I decide between square (6x6cm) or rectangular (6x4.5cm) formats?

With the Kowa Super 66, you don't have too. Just buy a 16/32 back and you can have 16 (on 120 film) or 32 (on 220 film) exposures in a 6x4.5cm format.

On the Kowa 6/6MM, you can simply compose a 6x4.5cm vertical or horizontal rectangle on your regular 6x6 viewscreen. I find a thin clear plastic sheet, inscribed with these markings (and 1 5/8x1 5/8 superslide square) is a handy and cheap aid to composing these shots. Later, I can simply cut out the desired composition using a low cost film cutter ($29 at KEH) and mount the superslide.

You can also add rule of thirds or other composition aids on a similar plastic sheet, and place under your waist level finder or prism.

Can I shoot superslides with the 6x6 backs? 6x4.5 backs?

You can shoot 4x4cm super-slides using any film back. Superslides big advantage is that they fit into regular 35mm projectors. The superslide mounts are also 2'' x 2'' in size (as are 35mm slides), so you have to compose and crop your images with this purpose in mind (or dupe 6x6 slides down to this format). The superslide is intermediate between the full 6x6 slide and 35mm slides. Superslides have about twice the useful film area and impact of 35mm slides. Since you are just cropping the larger negative, you can get this extra ''free'' format from either the regular Kowa 6 6x6 image or Super 66 16/32 back using 6x4.5cm format.

What about making double or multiple exposures?

Double exposure capability was one of the features missing in the original Kowa 6, but added along with mirror lockup on the Kowa 6MM model. The Kowa Super 66 also has easy double and multiple exposure.

What about mirror lockup on my Kowa camera?

The Kowa 6MM added a mirror lockup control to the Kowa 6 (retained in the Kowa Super 66 too). The Kowa 6 would lock up the mirror when the integral ten second self-timer was used to make the exposure. The Kowa Super 66 also has a mirror lockup feature.

How can I switch from 120 to 220 film on my Kowa 6/6MM? Kowa Super 66?

The Kowa 6/66 feature easy provisions to accept either 120 or 220 film for 12 or 24 exposures respectively. You move a pressure plate to either the #12 or #24 position, and set the film counter knob to match.

Why won't this Kowa lens go back on the camera?

The camera may have been triggered with the lens off the camera, so the mirror is out of position, or the lens shutter may have been triggered off the camera. They need to match states to line up and remount the lens. See Kowa 6 or your manual for more information.

Why is the L-shaped back of the Kowa Super 66 an advantage?

The L-shaped back of the Kowa Super 66 provides a non-curling film path. Film left in conventional backs (such as Hasselblad, Bronica) tend to curl or buckle, providing less than optimal flatness. The Kowa Super 66 addressed this issue with a unique L-shaped back and straight film path that eliminated this buckling tendency. Kowa Super 66 cameras therefore have one of the flattest film holder designs in medium format photography, which helps improve image sharpness.

Another feature worth noting is the unique design of these Kowa Super 66 interchangeable backs with regard to dark slides. They don't have any! An integral light shield slides out of place to take the exposure, but snaps back to ensure the light tightness integrity of the back when removed and off camera. No more losing those hard to find dark slides!

What about Polaroid backs for the Super 66? Kowa 6/6MM?

A Polaroid back is available for the Super 66. The Polaroid magazine accepts standard Polaroid type 105 (black and white print/negative) or 108 (color print) film packs, each yielding 8 2 1/4'' x 2 1/4'' exposures. Each Polaroid film type is rated at ASA 75.

There is also a (very rare) Polaroid back for Kowa 6/6MM mounting. The Kowa 6/6MM camera's hinged back is removed by opening and pushing on the serrated button on the top left hand side of the back hinge, allowing the back to lift off and away. The Polaroid back is then swung into place and used, then the film back is remounted. But my main interest in this Kowa factoid is more in line with the idea of building a home-brew 70mm film back.

If you need a Polaroid back, select a Kowa Super 66 model and expect to pay $350 US or so for a used Polaroid back.

Kowa 6 / 66 stuck or jammed or hung - winder busted, etc - Solution

A lot of frustrated Kowa owners out there - HELP!, they cry out, My Kowa is jammed! The mirror is down, the winder is jammed, the shutter release operates but no shutter activity! I broke the damned handle off the winder trying to force it around! WHAT DO I DO!? The problem seems to be lost tension in the cocking device. An engineering flaw. Weak materials. Whatever. Read on:

In order to view your scene you must have the camera cocked. Cocking the unit lowers the mirror into place. No problem as long as you remember to release the shutter before stowing the camera in the event you have it cocked and determine that your shooting is complete for the day. This will cost you a frame in the worst case scenario. I have learned to NOT cock the camera until I have visualized my shot and am ready to compose and fire. What seems to happen is this:

If left cocked for a prolonged duration - say twelve hours or so, maybe less, still investigating to determine minimum time before this will occur - if you leave it cocked for a long period, something in the mechanism seems to lose tension. Now, trouble comes when you finally get around to firing the camera. The mechanism, having lost some of the "charge" will not rotate completely. When you next try to cock it by advancing the film, the advancing can not be completed entirely. You are now, effectively, jammed.

Here is where people get screwed. They might have their little lever down on the winder, and when they hit this jam they probably, instinctively, try to force it around - SNAP! - the lever breaks off. No problem, the lever isn't needed to wind on, cosmetic issue only. Still, the camera is jammed.

If you have a changing bag, you can remedy the problem without losing a frame to exposure. If not, will cost you a frame.

To fix this, remove the lens from the camera. Take a small phillips-head screwdriver and insert it in the upper hole on the mechanism that the pins on the shutter go into (this mechanism operates the release on the leaf shutter) and pull gently but firmly until the mechanism comes into top position. Jam is now fixed. Re-mount the lens. If you did this in the light, advance and shoot. Don't leave it cocked overnight in the future. Lesson learned. If you did this in the changing bag, you may compose and take your shot.

There. I had to learn this hard way. But it was relatively intuitive to figure out once I managed to jam the camera. Have fun. Shoot yer Kowa til the Kowas come home. Etc.

FOR COMPLETED JAMS ONLY - meaning the lens wont come off either, lens ring won't rotate past the stop pin. To Un-jam is pretty easy:

Take the left side of the camera off (the one without the winder. Manually pull back the stop pin for the lens ring. It's somewhere near the release button. Remove the lens and wind through until cocked and you have un-jammed the camera.

Where can I get my Kowa repaired? Buy a Kowa Repair Manual?

One name that comes up repeatedly is Ross Yerkes Camera Repair (342 Kirby Street, Los Angeles, CA 90042-2108), tel. (323) 256-1018 or yerkescamera@aol.com. Mike Jenkins also solicits Kowa repairs (NEDSNAKE@msn.com).

Roughly 98% of all camera repairs do not require replacement parts, simply a clean-lube-adjust. You should seek out repair-persons who have experience with vintage cameras, and Kowa medium format in particular.

Are Diopter lenses available for prisms? Waist Level Finder?

Yes, Kowa diopter lenses in strengths from -4 to +3 are available, and fit both prisms and waist level viewfinder's pop-up magnifier.

What focusing screens are available?

Focusing screens which fit both Kowa 6/6MM and Super 66 include:

  • plain matte (A)
  • horizontal split-image (B)
  • diagonal split-image (C)
  • microprism (D)
  • plain matte with clear center spot and engraved lines (at 11mm intervals) (E)
  • horizontal split image rangefinder (F)

Why is the Kowa flash bracket mount so sturdy and handy?

The Kowa flash bracket is a two point system, using both the tripod socket and accessory side shoe mount to provide a really rigid mounting. The Kowa flash terminal also uses a locking PC terminal, so fewer glitches will be experienced from loose cords falling out. There is also an old style Graflex twin blade (power-cord style) plug option.

What is the trick with Kowa 66 and Tripods?

As an aside, I have noticed in several places on the web a mention of the fact that the Kowa 66 needs a tripod "spacer" to allow changing backs (or opening the back) while mounted on a tripod (or even when a tripod "quick change" adapter plate is mounted on the body). I have never seen one of the original Kowa adapters for sale (although I have seen a custom made adapter for sale). It may be worth a mention in your discussion of the Super66 that the Kowa side grip (not the pistol grip) incorporates a tripod spacer and an offset tripod mount which allows the film back to opened or changed while mounted on the grip and while mounted on a tripod. Thanks to Art Curths acurths@fcc.gov for this tip!

What is the 80% solution in Medium Format Photography?

Most contest winning photographs were taken with the normal lens (circa 80%). In short, you can probably get 80% of those contest winning style photographs simply by using your camera's normal lens (and maybe a bit of walking). 

That's good news, because there aren't any Kowa medium format zoom lenses. Most photographers add a wide angle (55mm) and portrait telephoto (150mm) to the Kowa 85mm lens for their standard kit. Closeup lenses are also relatively cheap. An enlarger or zoom slide duplicator can provide some zoom-like telephoto effects in many applications, but wide angle or fisheye shots are harder to fake in the darkroom. 

Using a variety of low cost front of the normal lens adapters can provide fisheye, superwide, and even telephoto effects at low cost. So please don't despair that you can't take fisheye or superwide photos with your Kowa 6/66 without spending a fortune. You can, at low cost, as we'll show below.

How can I get low-cost fisheye effects using my Kowa medium format SLR camera?

Some 180 degree fisheye adapters can be mounted on the front of the Kowa normal 85mm lens, using the 67mm filter ring, to provide fisheye effects at relatively low cost ($50US-$100US+). Prime Kowa fisheye lenses would have better contrast, light falloff, and flare resistance than these adapters. Few such prime lenses are available and they are quite expensive when found. You can have a lot of fun with fisheye and ultra-wide effects by using these adapters for very little money.

The Kowa 67mm filter ring thread also fits most Series VII fisheye adapters by using a Series VII-->VIII adapter ring.

How can I get moderate telephoto or wide angle effects while I am looking and saving for prime lenses?

Again, some wide angle and telephoto adapters are available that mount on the 67mm (Series VIII) filter ring of your Kowa normal 85mm lens to provide wide angle and telephoto effects. All such converters are lower quality and more flare-prone than prime lenses, but the costs for these adapters are much less (e.g., $25US-$50US+).

One advantage of these adapters is that they don't reduce the speed of the prime lens (e.g., Kowa 85mm f/2.8) they are used on. Unfortunately, you will probably have to stop down to f/11 or f1/16 to get optimal sharpness from most low cost lens adapters. 

The .75X wide angle adapter is the more useful, since it provides an intermediate step (around 65mm) between the available Kowa 85mm and 55mm prime lenses. The mild 1.25X telephoto adapter converts the 85mm to circa 115mm (i.e., similar to the Kowa 110mm macro lens, but lower quality and softer images). However, some photographers really like the softer telephoto adapter images for short telephoto portrait work, using it nearly wide open.

There are also super-wide angle adapters (called .42X ''Mutars'') which convert your Kowa 85mm lens to a 35mm superwide semi-fisheye lens. Cost is low ($35-75 US), although you will probably need a series VII-->VIII adapter ring too ($10 US). The corners of your photos may slightly vignette (mine does). Finally, remember that the pricey Kowa 2x Telephoto converter can provide additional telephoto factors for your prime lenses with some losses in light (e.g., 2 stops) and contrast. As noted elsewhere, this teleconverter can fill in some holes in the Kowa lens lineup.

How can I use my Kowa SLR camera for astrophotography? photomicrography?

Kowa medium format SLR cameras can be used with both telescopes and microscopes. A standard microscope adapter accessory (list $199 in 1974) provides an integral Seiko leaf shutter.

Lacking this accessory, you may be able to use eyepiece projection, in which the image is formed using the Kowa camera lens and body in place of the lens of the eye and retina. Set your lens on infinity, and adjust lens position and telescope focusing so you get the sharpest and largest image.

Can I use my Kowa medium format SLR camera for infra-red photography?

The Kowa 6/6MM and Super 66 camera lenses all work well in infrared photography applications. The Kowa lenses have an infrared focusing mark needed for easy off-set focusing for infrared film.

Can I use my Kowa medium format SLR camera for ultraviolet light photography?

Ultraviolet light photography may be possible thanks to Kowa's single lens coating. A simple Wratten #18A or Hoya U-360 filter passes only ultraviolet light in the 280nm to 450nm range. Conventional films such as Tmax or other black and white films are very sensitive to UV, as are some Fuji tungsten lighting color films among others. 

Why does medium format depth of field seem to be less than 35mm?

Technically, you can argue that depth of field is the same for the same image height between formats. But in practice, most medium format users find they have less depth of field to work with. After all, your Kowa normal lens is an 85mm lens, which is a moderate tele-lens on a 35mm camera and considered to have less DOF than the usual 50mm normal lens on 35mm cameras.. This DOF issue puts a premium on careful focusing and attention to DOF effects.

How can the close focusing distance of medium format lenses be improved?

Many photographers are dismayed to discover that close focusing distance on most medium format telephoto lenses is significantly less than 35mm lenses with similar angular coverage. You can either use a 67mm thread fractional diopter lens [e.g., +1/3 diopter] to make it possible to focus more closely, or use a Kowa extension tube (T1, T2, or T3) or bellows to provide closer focusing. 

The Kowa lenses are relatively close focusing, except for the 250mm and 500mm telephotos. See Kowa 66 Lens Tables for specific distances. Note also that the Kowa teleconverter doubles the effective focal length, but the lens retains its original close focusing limits.

Are there any books about Kowa medium format SLR Cameras?

Sadly, there are no books devoted completely to the Kowa 6/66 cameras that I am aware of, although most camera collector books covering the 1970s period have a few pages devoted to these interesting Kowa 6/66 camera models and lenses. Shutterbug has featured an article on the Kowa 6 camera by Jeffrey Steele in the October 1991 issue (pp. 130-2).

How can I locate Kowa 6/66 related manuals, brochures? product information?

See Kowa 6Kowa 66Users' Manual and Data Sheets pages for various brochures and materials. Several Kowa ads and review are also available (Ads & Review). 

Naturally, I welcome and solicit any materials that you have on these classic Kowa 6/66 cameras that you don't see posted here! I would especially welcome manuals for the Kowa 6, 6MM, and Super 66 cameras, as well as any accessories such as Polaroid or other backs, lenses, and so on.

Note: Please send updates, corrections, and additions to kowa@tuberadio.ru. Thank you!