The Beauty & Advantage of Using Medium Format Film

July 28, 2012 § 24 Comments

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.  HolgaKiev, 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.

- Mamiya C330S w/ 105mm f/3.5 -

– Mamiya C330S w/ 105mm f/3.5 –

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.

Comparison between digital sensor sizes & a couple of MF film sizes - Not to Scale

Comparison between digital sensor sizes & a couple of MF film sizes

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 …

Mamiya C330 - 80mm f/2.8 - Pan F Plus - Rodinal

Mamiya C330 – 80mm f/2.8 – Pan F Plus – Rodinal

State Fair of Texas - Mamiya C330 - 55mm f/4.5 - Delta 3200

State Fair of Texas – Mamiya C330 – 55mm f/4.5 – Delta 3200

David DeShazo - Mamiya C330S - 55mm f/4.5 - Kodak Tri-X - DDX

David DeShazo – Mamiya C330S – 55mm f/4.5 – Kodak Tri-X – DDX

Mamiya C330S - 80mm f/2.8 - Acros 100 - Rodinal

Mamiya C330S – 80mm f/2.8 – Acros 100 – Rodinal

Mamiya C330S - 55mm f/4.5 - Pan F Plus - Rodinal

Mamiya C330S – 55mm f/4.5 – Pan F Plus – Rodinal

Pacifica, CA - Mamiya C330S - Kodak Tri-X - Ilfosol DDX -

Pacifica, CA – Mamiya C330S – Kodak Tri-X – Ilfosol DDX –

Grant Pittman - Mamiya C330S - 80mm f/2.8 - Adox 25 - Rodinal

Grant Pittman – Mamiya C330S – 80mm f/2.8 – Adox 25 – Rodinal

Maybelle - C330S - 80mm f/2.8 - Neopan - Rodinal

Maybelle – C330S – 80mm f/2.8 – Neopan – Rodinal

Transamerica Pyramid - San Francisco - Mamiya C330S - 55mm f/4.5 - Acros - Rodinal

Transamerica Pyramid – San Francisco – Mamiya C330S – 55mm f/4.5 – Acros – Rodinal

Mamiya RB67 - 150mm SF-C - Delta 400

Mamiya RB67 – 150mm SF-C – Delta 400

Arches National Park - Mamiya C330S - 80mm f/2.8

Arches National Park – Mamiya C330S – 80mm f/2.8

Mamiya RB67 - 90mm f/3.8 - Delta 400 - D76

Mamiya RB67 – 90mm f/3.8 – Delta 400 – D76

Mamiya RB67 - 90mm f/3.8 - Tmax 400 - Rodinal

Mamiya RB67 – 90mm f/3.8 – Tmax 400 – Rodinal

Pacifica, CA - Mamiya C330S - 80mm f2.8 - Ektar 100

Pacifica, CA – Mamiya C330S – 80mm f2.8 – Ektar 100

Mamiya C330S - 105mm f/3.5 - Ektar 100

Chevy Cameo – Mamiya C330S – 105mm f/3.5 – Ektar 100

Club Med - Punta Cana, DM - Mamiya C330S - 80mm f/2.8 - Ektar 100

Club Med – Punta Cana, DM – Mamiya C330S – 80mm f/2.8 – Ektar 100

Punta Cana, DM - Mamiya C330S - 55mm f/4.5 - Ektar 100

Punta Cana, DM – Mamiya C330S – 55mm f/4.5 – Ektar 100

Grace Bay Beach - Turks & Caicos - Mamiya RB67 - Portra 400VC

Grace Bay Beach – Turks & Caicos – Mamiya RB67 – Portra 400VC

Buzzard's Paradise - Mamiya RB67 - Ektar 100

Buzzard’s Paradise – Mamiya RB67 – Ektar 100

Buzzard's Paradise - Mamiya RB67 - 90mm f/3.8 - Ektar 100

Buzzard’s Paradise – Mamiya RB67 – 90mm f/3.8 – Ektar 100

Mamiya RB67 - 150mm SF-C f/4 - Velvia 50

Del’s Charcoal Burgers – Mamiya RB67 – 150mm SF-C f/4 – Velvia 50

Monument Valley - Mamiya C330S - 55mm f/4.5 - Ektar 100

Monument Valley – Mamiya C330S – 55mm f/4.5 – Ektar 100

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.

Mamiya RB67 - 90mm f/3.8 - Fuji FP-100B

Mamiya RB67 – 90mm f/3.8 – Fuji FP-100B

Turks & Caicos - Mamiya RB67 - 90mm f/3.8 - Fuji FP-100B

Turks & Caicos – Mamiya RB67 – 90mm f/3.8 – Fuji FP-100B

And finally as a bonus, some medium format cameras make for great props! 🙂

A C330, a D700 & a few lights ;-)

A C330, a D700 & a few lights 😉

Thanks for reading!  You are appreciated!

-Justin

www.goodephotography.biz

PS – MOST of these photos are available as prints.   If you’d like more information on purchasing, contact me at info@goodephotography.biz.

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.

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§ 24 Responses to The Beauty & Advantage of Using Medium Format Film

  • Mark says:

    Great post! I’m in love with MF (as you know). 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.

    One final thought: the pictures in your post are BEAUTIFUL! You really know how to shoot with shallow DOF and isolate the subject. Great work!

  • Moni says:

    Gorgeous images! I just started shooting medium format and I love it. Still trying to get the hang of it. I love how it slows you down and forces you to be more mindful of the act of making the photo.

  • Jill says:

    Thanks for the post, Justin! I’ve also become a complete medium format convert in the last few years and my gateway drug was definitely the Mamiya C330. Though I’ve added quite a few to the collection since then, the Mamiya will always be my first love — and recently I’ve given her a little facelift with a new rangefinder focusing screen, which totally rules.

    Anyway, glad to discover your blog and hope you have a wonderful week!

  • Peter says:

    Great blog. Your attitude towards shooting film is very similar to mine. It’s hard to explain how much joy I feel while shooting film and I never had that experience shooting digital, even though I pretty much started out with a digital camera. Every time I get my negatives from the lab it’s like opening a christmas present. Can’t beat this feeling 😉

    Cheers from Germany

    • Justin Goode says:

      Peter,

      My sentiments exactly; film is just better. To quote something I’ve written before “Forget 1’s and 0’s, chemistry is where it’s at”. For me, there’s some special about the fact that light rays have bounced off the subject at hand and have made their way through a lens optic to record information onto a tangible negative. That’s real. Being rendered from the sensor into 1’s and 0’s, to make an image, doesn’t seem as real or as cool to me 😉

      Thanks for taking the time to read & check out the blog man!

      -Justin

  • Great post! I just bought a TLR and shot a few rolls on it and wow- it is amazing. I am in love with medium format, I think. The process is slower, but so thoughtful and I really feel like I’m ‘making’ the image. Love your photos, especially the one of the person and the ferris wheel reflection!

    • Justin Goode says:

      Thank you Sarah!

      Medium format is so amazing isn’t it??? Once you step into its realm, it opens up your eyes to a world of opportunity!

      Life just looks better in the larger formats 🙂

      Thank you SO much for taking the time and commenting. It is appreciated Sarah.

  • Andrea says:

    Hi!
    First of all, congrats for the blog, I’ve just discovered it and I think it’s very interesting!
    Then, may I ask you some suggestions?
    I’ve just bought on the net a Mamiya C220, being me new to MF photography while I’m waiting for “her” can you suggest me a fast contrasty b/w film for shooting street/architecture with stopped-down lens, a B/W film with fine details
    for indoor/tripod portraits, and a color dia or negative film for outdoor lanscapes and nature shoots?
    Thank you and keep up the good work!

    • Justin Goode says:

      Thank you Andrea!

      B&W: I really enjoy Ilford Pan F Plus (50 speed), Kodak TMAX (100 or 400), Delta 400 & Tri-X.

      Color: For C-41, I prefer Portra or Ektar and for E-6 I like Provia.

      Keep in touch 🙂

      • Thanks so much for this post Justin! I was on the fence about buying a C330 (which is on it’s way from Adorama – barring all the problems NY is suffering due to the storm), and I want to say thanks for being here in DFW promoting film and instant film! I’m so looking forward to the Polawalk at the Zoo (which thanks to you again I have a Sun 660 and some of that PX 680 on the way!), and meeting up with other people who don’t begin sentences with “Yeah, I USED to shoot film, but (insert talk about their digital camera path)

      • Justin Goode says:

        Laidric! Man .. thank you so much for this message! I’m so happy you found the Instant Film Society page on FB and are coming to the PolaWalk. Film is a huge passion mine and we need people like us promoting its use. It is something that can’t let die off! Again, thanks for the comment & feedback. I look forward to meeting you!

  • jpmuralla says:

    I just got myself an RB67 PRO SD body. Slowly building my kit as I read great posts like this.

  • Joan says:

    Thanks for your post! Your photographs are beautiful! I especially love the simplicity of the fence in the snow. I left the digital world (D700) to an F100 and now a Mamiya 645AF, all b&w. I just got back my first rolls and am amazed by the creaminess of the film! Are you developing/scanning yourself?

    • Justin Goode says:

      Joan – You’re welcome. Thanks for the kind words. Medium format is incredible isn’t it? When you compare a FF DSLR image to MF images, it’s mind-blowing. The differences are remarkable. B&W I develop myself and I scan them in at home with an Epson V500. I use a D700 & a F100 as well. The D700 is great for long exposures, lighting experiments etc., but other than that, I rarely use it for personal stuff. Film just has a “real” aesthetic to it that digital lacks 🙂 I’ll stay in touch. I look forward to seeing what you capture with the 645!

      • Joan says:

        Thanks Justin. I have the Epson V500, too, but have a very hard time scanning. Besides the dust I end up with black splotches when I try ICE. Do you have particular settings you use? I am using the software that came with the scanner.

      • Justin Goode says:

        I never have had an issue with black splotches from using digital ice, but I don’t think I really use ICE that often. Normally, I’ll scan at 1200-3200 dpi and I get good results. Keeping the glass clean can be a pain, but it’s just the nature of the beast.

  • Great post. I love the boy portrait especially. I discovered MF over last year and shoot 645, 6×6, 6×7, 6×9. Mamiya rz67 ii is my current fav. See blog for examples of model photography / wedding photography on film with Mamiya rz67 ii, Contax 645 and others 🙂

  • Which light meter do you use or suggest?

  • Tim Girarde says:

    Wonderful. What a very exciting find. Tossing the coing between MF and 135. Easy to get hold of 135 in London, but not so with MF.

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