Nowadays, when people start their journey into photography, most begin on the digital path using their phones, a point & shoot or an entry level DLSR. If you’re someone that really ‘gets the bug’, you’ll gain an increased awareness of the larger tools available to use with film. If photography is something you really enjoy, picking up a medium format film camera can open up a world of visual yumminess (yes, yumminess) that just isn’t possible with an entry-level digital setup. There are many options out there for medium format film photography. Holga, Kiev, Mamiya, Fuji, and Hasselblad are just a few of the cameras available, and you can find a wide variety of film at BHPhotoVideo or Adorama.
My current camera of choice for medium format is a Mamiya C330S. C330’s are TLR cameras that were made from the 70’s through the early 90’s and they are pretty fun to shoot. Because it’s fully mechanical and void of any electronics (like I like it), it slows you down and makes you think about everything regarding the image you want to take.
The HUGE advantage of shooting with medium and large format cameras, is that the surface area being exposed on the negative, is SO MUCH larger than what’s exposed on 35mm or P&S cameras. As a result, both quality and detail, are drastically improved.
I found a chart on Wikipedia by MarcusGR and for comparison, I added a couple of medium format film sizes (6×6 and 645). The chart shows up to 6×6, but you can also shoot 6×7, 6×9 and wider on medium format film.
Once it’s developed, film can be digitized with a dedicated film scanner. When medium format negatives are scanned, depending on the resolution chosen, you can have image sizes upward and well beyond of a hundred megapixels. Another bonus, is that once you have the digital negative, you can crop it to whatever aspect ratio you’d like (4×6, 5×7, 8×10 etc. if preferred). Granted, you can crop anything. However, when you have a massive amount of ‘information’ at your disposal with larger format negatives, cropping doesn’t drastically decrease the overall quality, like it can when cropping some digital images.
Another perk to MF & LF photography, is how depth of field (DOF) changes. If you’ve been shooting for a while in the 35mm format, you’re probably used to how f/2.8, f/4 & f/16 for example, changes DOF. As you move up in film size, the DOF decreases. When I started shooting MF, I quickly learned that f/8 on the Mamiya was not the same as f/8 on my 35mm cameras. You have to be a lot more careful when focusing with these larger formats, because even when ‘stopped down’, you might only be focusing a sliver of sharpness back and forth in the frame.
EDIT: My Dad pointed out a couple of things in the comments below .. “Two other benefits that 35mm film shooters may not be aware of are these 1) grain is less apparent when shooting higher speed films in medium format. The appearance of grain is inversely related to the size of the negative. The bigger the negative, the less apparent the grain. 2) the tonal range of any given film is more apparent. Again, it relates to the size of the negative. Here, the apparent tonal range is directly proportionate to the size of the negative: the large the negative, the more subtle the tones.”
There’s an undeniable, aesthetic appeal to the images created with MF & LF cameras. They create looks that just aren’t possible with P&S and 35mm cameras. In this day and age, because of the world’s focus on pixel-cramming digital technology, the price point to get the look of medium format film, is relatively low. Take advantage if you can.
A handful of medium format images …
Some medium format cameras can also use Polaroid backs as well. I’ve taken a bunch of Fuji peel-apart film, as well as an ever-increasing number of Impossible Project photos on the Mamiya RB67. You get great results with both types of instant film. Below are a couple of images shot with the RB67 and Fuji B&W peel-apart film. Note how much of the image is exposed through this method.
And finally as a bonus, some medium format cameras make for great props! 🙂
Thanks for reading! You are appreciated!
PS – MOST of these photos are available as prints. If you’d like more information on purchasing, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
ON A SIDE NOTE: Last year, I was shooting a lot of portraits on B&W through the C330 and I made a stop-motion video promoting our business. The video consists of hundreds of images detailing part of the process of shooting, developing, scanning & retouching film portraits. The music is by Curt Bisquera; a ridiculously talented drummer/musician that I met a few years ago through my brother. The song “Pimp D” has a cool, west-coast vibe. If you haven’t seen the video before, it’s worth checking out on the larger size through YouTube.