This post was originally published on 2014 April 27 on a now defunct blog. Edited with new details.
By Paul del Rosario
It finally happened. On 2014 April 26, I met the man that created the legendary Plaubel Makina 67 camera, and it was a very humbling experience.
Uchida-sensei is now in his early 80s and volunteers his time teaching photography at local community centers in Tokyo. It just so happened that one of the centers is very close to my home, so I naturally signed up - not to take lessons, but to meet The Man.
I attended my first session yesterday as an observer, and it was interesting to see Uchida-sensei giving a short lecture about ISO and shutter speeds for shooting landscapes and flowers, etc. Afterwards, participants (mostly senior citizens) went into their usual monthly routine of putting three of their photos on the whiteboard, and then Uchida-sensei would critique the photos. This might sound rude, but I had almost zero interest in what was going on as I was waiting for the end of the two hour session to whip out the Makina and bring it back to its creator.
After semi-participating in the Q&A session, the class ended, and it was now time to complete my mission. I said to Uchida-sensei, "Thank you for letting me sit in your class today." He replied "You're welcome." "Sensei," I said, "I have just one more thing....please wait." I rushed to my bag several desks back and took out the Makina. My mind was racing; here is the moment of truth. My beloved Palubel Makina 67 will return to its father.
As soon as he saw the black rectangle, he said in a gentle voice "Ah...I designed that." Tears were about to flow from my eyes.
The other students were surprised when Uchida-sensei confirmed what I had read about on the Internet. They were probably surprised because 1) they didn't even know what kind of camera it was, and 2) they probably never realized that their own teacher was the brains behind the Makina 67.
I took off the lens cap, released the lens bellow, and handed it to its father. He then began telling a few details about his work with it, the finder patch, and his arguments with Doi International (the Japanese company that bought the rights to develop the Plaubel Makina) when developing the camera. Uchida-sensei worked for Konica at the time, and Doi International asked Konica to design the body, and they insisted the camera have a Nikkor lens for which Uchida-sensei said "Rensu wa hijouni kirei desu." (The lens is very beautiful).
One student asked "Sensei, do you have one (Makina 67)?" He said "Of course. If I run out of money for food, I'll sell it."
After a few minutes of talking about the general details, he handed the camera back to me and said "Arigatougozaimasu." I then said, "may I take your photo?" He said "Sure."
I took two portrait shots with Portra 400. I was REALLY nervous about the entire situation. The lighting, exposure, the pose, the background, and I had to do this as the entire class was waiting for him. Their workshop usually concludes with coffee or tea at a nearby cafe with the teacher and students. They asked if I would like to join, but unfortunately, I had another appointment.
While we walked towards the train station, I asked him if he knew how famous his creation was in the world. He said that he only knows that many professional photographers use it, but that's about it. He also said that, one of the original engineers lives about five minutes from his home, so whenever he has a problem with his camera, he just brings it to his former colleague.
I told him that the Makina 67 has a legendary status worldwide among camera nerds, and still retains a high resale value, and it takes beautiful pictures, blah, blah, blah. I even told him that I bought TWO of them! He just said "Ah so desuka? (Oh really?)"
Plaubel Makina 67 Chief Designer, Yasuo Uchida
A year after meeting Uchida-sensei, I was able to sit down with him at Starbucks and ask further questions about the development of the Makina. Below is a video of him talking about the camera. Unfortunately, it's only in Japanese. Once time and resources become available, I will have subtitles in English.
Since this meeting, Uchida-sensei was kind enough to send me a DVD (available only in Japan) of another project he led, the development of the Konica C35 AF, the world's first mass produced auto-focus camera. The DVD is available in bookstores in Japan.
Living in Japan has given me the opportunity to meet many people in the Japanese photography world; some interesting, some weird. Looking back at the first time I purchased the Makina 67 on eBay, and eventually meeting Uchida-sensei has been such an incredible experience.