Kowa Six (1968)

The Kowa Six was first introduced in 1968 and is a 6×6 medium format camera made by Kowa Optical Products Co., Ltd., in Japan. With shutter speeds from 1/500 to 1 sec, no Bulb mode. It also has a cold shoe for an external light meter. The camera uses 120 film and can take 12 6×6 cm images per roll. The lens is interchangeable, with the standard lens being an 85mm f/2.8. During the initial release, it was a popular camera among hobbyists and pro-am photographers.

This is one of three cameras that I purchased in 2022. I bought it on the “unnamed auction site” from a Japanese seller. The one thing that attracted me to this specific auction was the camera came with both the 90-degree viewfinder and a Kowa Six Exposure Finder. During my initial testing of the exposure finder, I found that the meter was working but questioned the accuracy. To be safe, during the first two rolls I shot, I used my Gossen Luna-Pro S light meter. And then on the third roll, I used the meter in the finder, which surprised me with its general accuracy. Not as good as the external meter, but good enough.

Before my purchase, I did some research on the Kowa Six and learned the camera has some known flaws that have been reported by photographers. One of the biggest known issues on the Kowa Six is a jamming issue where the film advance mechanism does not work properly. This can prevent the camera from advancing the film to the next frame and can cause the camera to become inoperable. There are a few reasons why the film advance mechanism might jam on a Kowa Six:

  • Dirty or worn gears: The gears that advance the film can become dirty or worn over time, which can cause them to bind or not mesh properly.
  • Faulty film advance lever: The film advance lever can become bent or damaged, which can cause it to not properly advance the film.
  • Film tension: If the film is not loaded properly or the tension on the film is too tight, it can cause the film advance mechanism to jam. This can be caused by a problem with the film spool or rewind knob.

When the Kowa Six was released, it competed with the Hasselblad. The Kowa’s primary advantage was price. The Kowa Six doesn’t have an interchangeable film back like Hasselblad, however Kowa produced additional models that would compete with the features of Hasselblad and Bronica. The Kowa MM added a multiple exposure switch and mirror lock. The Kowa Super 66 has both 6×6 and 6×45 removable backs, as well as a Polaroid back.

As for the known issues I listed above, they’re all preventable/fixable. I’ve learned to take my time when advancing and loading film. And honestly, the camera is 55 years old, it’s mechanical and serviceable. A small annoyance that I quickly found was a strap cannot be used on the camera with the Kowa Six Exposure Finder attached. The strap lug on the side of the camera rubs against the exposure knob, potentially changing your exposure results. A minor annoyance.

Overall, I’m happy with the Kowa Six. I’ve started calling it my “Japanese Hasselblad.” For my initial two test rolls, I asked my friend Bailey if she’d be up for a quick portrait session downtown. As you can see below, the images look fantastic. I’m looking forward to using the Kowa Six for more portraits in the future.

Camera: Kowa Six (1968)
Film: Kosmo Foto Mono 100
Process: Cinestill DF96 Monobath (3 Min @ 26° C)
Scanned: Epson V700 Photo

Camera: Kowa Six (1968)
Film: CineStill BWXX ISO 250
Process: Cinestill DF96 Monobath (3 Min @ 26° C)
Scanned: Epson V700 Photo

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