Kowa cameras were made in the 1970s and early 80s, and have sometimes
been referred to as "the poor man's Hasselblad".
The lenses are quite good, and still are sought after by photographers.
For those looking for low cost medium format SLR's, Kowa offers
a solid option. The Kowa Six is a standard all-manual SLR camera
with leaf-shutter in the lenses. It also offers interchangable
screens and viewfinders, and 120/220 capability.
As has been reported, the only potential problem with the Kowa
Six and 6MM (which adds multiple exposures and mirror lockup)
is that the advance gearing is soft and can strip if used too
roughly, much like the earliest Bronica 6x6 cameras. I haven't
had problems with mine, but I use the knob rather than the crank
to advance the film just to help guard against problems. The 85mm
lens I have is quite good, and lenses are available from a 30mm
fisheye up to a 250mm telephoto.
Another advantage to Kowa is that lenses are relatively inexpensive
compared to current lenses from Hasselblad and other current manufacturers,
but still provide excellent performance.
By 1981 Kowa was well & truly out of the general (amateur & professional,
35 & medium format businesses). In 1972 the 6 & the 6MM were on
their last legs & I doubt that they got much past 1974 anywhere
in the world. A Google search suggests that the Super 66 that
followed the 6MM in 1974 was the last of the line although reviews
to 1976 were found. The father of a 1972/73 colleague of mine
worked for the Australian Kowa agents. I believe that the 6MM
was made available about this time. The manufacturer withdrew
from the market not long after (certainly by 1976). The original
6 had a poor reputation for mechanical reliability - hence the
reviewer's comment??? On the other hand the 6MM with 'L' shaped,
interchangeable magazine (and the later Super 66 evolutionary
version) established a quite reasonable reputation but it seems
that it was too late. The 35 mm offerings of the 1960s I don't
think made it into the 1970s at all. They were apparently honest
but uninspiring offerings up against numerous & impressive offerings
from the bigger Japanese manufacturers. Kowa are still in business.
They make slit-lamp biomicroscopes - hand-held & table mounted
(stereo microscopes developed specifically for examining the eye),
telescopes, esp. spotting telescopes, binoculars, CCTV lenses,
and other industrial lenses, e.g. projection lenses for industrial
Pros and Cons
The lenses are of high quality with very good resolution. Kowa
targeted the professional market so construction and finish are
to a high standard.
The models are:
The first model. There was also a Six MKII which can be considered
the same. These are fixed back, knob+lever wind, only needs a
single forward turn to cock shutter / wind film. The mirror is
a non-return type (i.e. wind the film to see again).
Very similar to the Six but has additional multiexposure capability
and mirror lock-up.
This has interchangable backs. The backs have an automatic "darkslide"
so there is no darkslide to lose / forget to fit etc. This model
lost the mirror lock-up capability, but still has multiexposure.
The ground glass in the Super66 is larger and so shows >= 96%
of what is on the film vs about 93% for the six/sixMM.
I found the prices for spare backs to be quite high. So for the
price of a Super66 + 2 backs I was able to get the Six, and SixMM.
This gives me a spare body, and weight only a little more.
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 (see below). 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).
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. (There some rollei content).
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