35mm vs. medium format

Discussion in 'Medium Format' started by dana___, Aug 31, 1998.

  1. I am a bride getting married and would like to know the advantages of medium vs. 35 mm film for my wedding photographs. Some photographers will provide me 35mm negatives, but I do not think others will provide medium format. Any comments would be helpful.
     
  2. Dana, a lot depends on the kind of pictures you want. If you want mostly posed pictures, then most photographers will be able to give you sharper photos with finer grain with medium format. However,the difference will probably not be noticeable unless the photos are enlarged to 11x14 or larger. This is what many photographers mean when they speak of "better quality."

    <p>

    However, there is more than one way to look at quality. The method above will produce what I call "abstract photographic quality," but I believe the most important quality of a photograph is the quality of its content. I use 35mm for all wedding photos except the formal shots because with 35mm I can do a much better job of capturing the expressions and emotions, the love, the laughter, the details, the instantaneous little happenings that give each wedding its character and make it unique and different from any other wedding.

    <p>

    I've seen too many albums of posed pictures. Only the faces are different; everything else looks the same. Just change the faces, and Jennifer's album could be Kim's or Susan's. People are individuals and their wedding photos should reflect that uniqueness. That's why I work as a wedding photojournalist, using mostly 35mm equipment.
     
  3. Dana: Medium format will definitely give you better looking pictures. I disagree with my colleague above, in that I can see the difference between the two formats in pictures of sizes 8x10 and even smaller. Medium format prints look sharper, and the colors will be more vivid. The downside is that medium format will probably cost you more money than 35mm coverage. Medium format equipment costs a lot more, and processing the film also costs more. No one would use costly medium format equipment if it didn't give better results! Also, almost all photographic films are available to both formats. The difference, then, is the amount of enlargement to get the final album print. Medium format negatives are between three to five times the size of 35mm negatives, and the less you need to enlarge a negative to get the print, the sharper and more colorful the finished print will be.

    <p>

    Please refer to my E-mail to you for more discussion on this issue.
     
  4. Dana,
    Rather than argue the technical differences between the two formats you should seek out several Pro-Wedding photographers and look at their porfolios. Be sure to not only look at their proofs but their enlargements as well. Avoid photographers who use a lot of gimmicks (filters, multiple exposures, etc.) Wedding Pros who shoot "clean" and make their pictures look elegant without the use of special effects are generally the best.

    <p>

    As for format comparisons I'll take a position between the two posters above. For 8x10 or bigger 35mm can't touch MF, but you can't beat the accuracy of TTL flash metering or ease of use of a 35mm when it comes to reception shots or informals. I shot both formats for awhile and I simply refused to allow my 35mm shots to go bigger than 5x7.

    <p>

    //scott
     
  5. Dana, congratulations and best wishes on your forthcoming marriage. First, I'd just like to confirm that you know medium format means negatives approximately 4.5 x 6 cm, 6 x 6 cm, or 6 x 7 cm in size shot on either 120 or 220 size film as opposed to 2.4 x 3.6 cm negatives on 35mm size film.
    My own experience is that the difference is readily apparent in prints 8 x 10 inches and larger. If the photographer takes the pictures with great care and chooses particular types of films, the difference may not show up much until 11 x 14, but there's a lot of other considerations in choosing a film and taking pictures at a wedding, so I don't think you should count on it.
    But what does better quality mean? Well, for me there are two big differences. The first is in the detail and textures you can see. For example, in group shots the extra detail from medium format makes it easier to see each person clearly, including details of their face.
    Secondly, because 35mm must be enlarged much more to make a print of a given size, the grain of the film frequently gives smooth regions, such as your cheeks or areas of sky, a granular appearance. It can make your complexion look rough, even though it's not. This problem is unusual with medium format.
    In general, I think medium format gives significantly better results for enlargements of posed pictures, whether individual portraits or group shots. However, medium format cameras are bigger and are slower to operate than 35mm ones, so 35mm is better suited to capturing action or excitement, such as at the reception. You're much more likely to want big prints of the formal shots, if you're like most people, so what a lot of photographers do is shoot the formal (posed) shots with medium format and the reception and other action with 35mm. Medium format pictures typically cost more because the equipment and film are more expensive. Note that it is extremely unlikely that you, or even other photographers, will be able to tell the brand of camera by looking at your final pictures.
    All that being said, however, I think it's just as important to take a look at the work of each photographer that you are considering hiring. Each photographer has a different personality, works a little differently, and has a somewhat different style. You may not like the work of some photographers, even though it is technically excellent. If you like the samples you see, there's a good chance you'll like what that photographer can do for you. Also, see if you can get recommendations from friends, particularly if you like their wedding pictures and their photographer was reliable. These considerations can be more important than the size of the negatives. While negative size is a consideration, I don't think you need to rule out a photographer just because he uses only 35mm film, especially if you like his work and feel he (or she) did a wonderful job at one of your friend's weddings.
    Also, in case it is unclear to others, most wedding photographers don't let you keep the negatives. It's common to charge you a relatively low initial fee for showing up at your wedding and taking the pictures, then earn more money by selling you copies of the pictures. The photographer keeps the copyright to the pictures, meaning it is illegal for you to make your own copies. If you like the pictures, chances are you'll order some copies or enlargements and he'll break even or earn a little profit. You'll likely end up with better prints if you let the photographer make the copies for you. Some photographers may be willing to let you keep some or all of the negatives if you are willing to pay a significantly higher initial fee. If you want to make your own copies or to keep any of the negatives, discuss this topic ahead of time and make certain the details are specified in the contract before you sign it.
     
  6. Great advice Michael.

    <p>

    One of the ultimate WORST things any "bride-to-be" can do is to get cousin Harry, the pro wanna-be with his 35mm automatic to shoot their Wedding. The wedding tends to look like the celebrity glamour shots in the National Enquirer. I've seen hundreds of weddings ruined this way. Anybody numb-skull can shoot candids. Making formals look elegant and like they were shot in a studio on location is tough work.

    <p>

    The best thing to do is let competition do it's thing and compare several different photographers and their services. Generally, the higher priced guys do a better job because they are in more demand and their weddings look more like a formal work of art. With all the chaos going on I can't criticize a $1,000 or more photograher for keeping his wits together and shooting a masterpiece. That takes talent and nerves of steel.

    <p>

    How many times I wanted to beat the brides or groom's mother in-law unconcious with my tripod for trying to supervise the photo-shot while not being on my payroll.

    <p>

    Besides myself I know of one other photographer who did fairly competive work with 35mm weddings. We both were meticulous in technique, used the 35mm for it's advantages and tended to charge less than the MF guys. I guess we filled a niche'.

    <p>

    //scott
     
  7. Dana, this is an arguement which will never be settled because each individual has his own priorities. For some, absolute technical quality is most important and they will be found using medium format equipment. Others feel it is more important to capture the life and
    spirit of an event. Their instrument of choice will most likely be the fast, flexible 35mm camera.

    <p>

    As a long-time corporate/advertising/editorial photographer, I do weddings because I enjoy them. But I don't enjoy them if I have to do the traditional list of portraits and canned poses. I bill myself as a "wedding photojournalist" and use 35mm for everything except the formal photos. My coverages start at $1175, which is pricey for my area, but people who want what I offer will find a way to pay for it. For me and for them, the spontaneity of 35mm outweighs abstract technical quality. What good is an ultra-sharp and grain-free 16x20 if it has no life?

    <p>

    Having said all that, let me emphasize that good 35mm work is not lacking in technical quality. I have 16x20 and 20x24 prints from both medium format (6x7) and 35mm hanging in my studio, and when I have a prospective client who has been told that a real professional only uses medium format, I ask them to look at the prints and tell me which were made with medium format and which with 35mm. Most people can't tell the difference, and those who can realize that the difference is so slight it's a non-issue.

    <p>

    I get some flack in these on-line forums because of my defense of 35mm as an extremely capable format, so I'd like to tell you a true story. This past June 25th, I photographed the wedding of the only daughter (and only child) of two engineers. These people are absolute sticklers for precision in every way. Both father and mother are engineers, and both came to just about every meeting. It was like two hens with just one chick between them!

    <p>

    Eventually the father told me how they had happened to come to me. It seems they had been to see another photographer in my building, whom I consider very competent. He uses medium format with NPS for almost all his work. In any case, they did not consider his photos sharp enough. As they were leaving the building they happened to see my window display of mostly 16x20s and 20x24s, most of which had been photographed with 35mm. They were very impressed with the sharpness of my photos, and made an appointment to see us. The biggest obstacle we
    had to overcome was their inability to believe that the photos on display had been made with 35mm equipment. Someone had told them that only medium format was capable of making sharp photos, and they were literally unable to believe the evidence before their eyes.

    <p>

    They did eventually come around and book with us. I've said it before and I'll say it again: reasonably good equipment, reasonably good film, and reasonably good technique can add up to extremely good photographs. So go with a photographer whose style you like and don't worry about the size of his negatives.
     
  8. Well, Dana, I too would like to congratulate oyu on your wedding, as I neglected to before. You sure have a lot to think about! And while I am not in your area, I probably will not be shooting your wedding. Therefore, I CAN try to assist you in filtering out what you've heard.

    <p>

    I think David Jenkins and myself have different opinions regarding the validity of medium format! You have heard a lot of comments which are valid for you to consider. One however is not! Mr Jenkins gave you a story about how a couple came to him because his 35mm pictures were sharper than someone else's medium format! Wow! That must have thrown you for a loop! Let me try to explain. While what Mr. Jenkins says may very well be true, he is pergaps not revealing the whole story, and can possibly therefore mislead you into obtaining the best picture quality you decide you want. You see, Dana, there are a large number of wedding photographers out there, shooting medium format, who think the nice soft dreamy look is what clients want. They use special soft focus filters to achieve this! And while their color saturation (vividness) may be better, the effect is that when compared to 35mm taken without these filters the 35mm will look sharper! Personally, I do not use the soft focus filters very much ecause I like the detail and sharpness of the final pictures. Without this added soft-focus affect, the medium format would have looked great! (Probably better) This is an element of style. You must decide what you want by looking at representative work from several photographers.

    <p>

    Again, the best, and most difficult, way to tell the difference in quality between the two formats is to see the same exact scene taken under the same conditions with the two formats, and LET YOU DECIDE which you want! I'll wager no one will want you to do that -- because it will show the medium format to be the better! Yes, Dana, it is possible to take great shots with 35mm, but they take more care, and are NOT likely to be the "action" shots at your wedding.

    <p>

    My colleages are correct in most of what they have said regarding the selection of a wedding photographer, but your question was between the two formats. Can I presume for a moment that you know to select a photogrpher you feel comfortable with, whose style you like, whose albums you admire, etc? Action shots are best captured by someone who does not miss the shot beacause s/he was fiddling with the camera! But medium format does NOT have to be slow and awkward, and lacking in capuring the moment. Please refer to my last E-mail. It is possible to caputre the moment, and give you the added picture quality of medium format.

    <p>

    Good Hunting!
     
  9. >> For me and for them, the spontaneity of 35mm outweighs abstract technical quality.<<

    <p>

    Wow, I'm a strong proponent on the 35mm format also, but even I have to take deference to that statement. A 6x7 image has close to 5x the image quality of a 35mm frame. That's not "abstract" to me - $1175 isn't exactly abstract either if your shooting the event on 35mm. :^)

    <p>

    35mm film is just as "sharp" as medium format film. It's the degree of enlargemant that kills you. If your clients are commenting on "sharpness" then they must be seeing grain as a reference. With most MF format grain is not even visible in a 16x20, especially if your using a low contrast film like NPS or NPH.
    NPS is good, but it ain't THAT good. Grain is fine for journalists and noir printing but for wedding photos it doesn't belong. Face it - weddings ARE abstract by the nature of the event. As a wedding photographer my job was to exagerate the illusion of the event and the romance, not make Time-Life's best of list. Couples hire video guys to do the documentary stuff.

    <p>

    If you've got a killer style and clients like it go for it, but there is no way a 16x20 or 20x24 from 35mm could even stand next to the same image shot on MF shot with good technique - chances are your clients would throw rocks at the 35mm print if they saw the comparison. In order to get a high quality image from 35mm like you claim requires custom (not machine) printing, glass carriers and the like. Unless your priting the entire event yourself or having it custom ($$$$$) printed as opposed to machine printed your going to have serious problems with 35mm and big enlargements

    <p>

    I have walls full of big, razor sharp 35mm prints also, mostly shot on ektar 25, but no way would I shoot 35mm portraits and make posters out of them. 8x10 is the limit and sometimes I cringe at that.

    <p>

    //scott
     
  10. Well, Scott, Thomas, and you too, Dana, my studio is in Chattanooga, Tennessee. You're welcome any time. And by the way, the other photographer I mentioned does not use soft focus filters.

    <p>

    As for capturing the spontaneous life of a wedding on MF, Denis Reggie is the only one I know of who is good enough to do it consistently. And he is using more and more 35mm. I am not seeking to enhance the illusion of romance when I photograph a wedding, I am seeking to tell a story as realistically and honestly as possible.

    <p>

    Regarding the clients I wrote about, names, phone numbers, and affidavits can be made available for you unbelievers!

    <p>

    Choose a photographer whose photographic style and personality you like, Dana. If you like the pictures in his portfolio, chances are you'll like the ones he'll do for you. Good luck on your search -- and by the way, I travel!
     
  11. " I have walls full of big, razor sharp 35mm prints also, mostly shot on ektar 25, but no way would I shoot 35mm portraits and make posters out of them.
    8x10 is the limit and sometimes I cringe at that.

    <p>

    //scott "

    <p>

    You got that right! Sure, we can pass 8x10 prints from 35mm off on the public, but that's not nice, especially if we can/should use MF to do it even better.

    <p>

    Another point is that a speck is a speck, regardless of neg size. Thus, a speck (or scratch) on a 35mm neg will become much bigger on a given print size than will the same imperfection on a larger negative. This requires time-consuming (expensive) handspotting.

    <p>

    For very good reasons, nobody shoots weddings with a Minox, and nobody shoots sports with an 8x10 view camera. One can shoot a wedding well with a 35mm, but usually better with something larger, up to 6x9 or so.

    <p>

    Still, Dana, if the work of your chosen photographer shows talent and you anticipate ordering only a couple of prints larger than 5x7, his use of 35mm equipment is not a major deal. Go with your instincts.

    <p>

    Mel
     
  12. Gosh, Dana! Bet you didn't know your simple little question would start such a firestorm! If you're still tuning in to these postings, may I suggest that you look at the web pages of Steven Gross, www.reallifeweddings.com and Rick Rosen, www.rickrosen.com. They do a good job of showing and explaining what the photojournalistic approach to weddings is all about. Also, if you're interested, e-mail me with an address and I'll send you an 8x10 print made with 400-speed NPH film in a 35mm Canon EOS camera so you can have something for comparison purposes. There will be no charge. My very best wishes to you for happiness and success.
     
  13. A much more important question than whether medium format is significantly better than 35mm is whether -you- like the kinds of images a particular photographer is producing. Talk to several photographers about their style and look at their photos. Finding a photographer who capture the kinds of images you want will have a much greater effect on how happy you are with your wedding pictures than the kind of cameras used.
     
  14. The 120 format is easier to RETOUCH and to ENLARGE, while 135 format
    is easier to HANDLE.

    <p>

    The 135 format would be a better choice if your wedding is to so
    busy and so unpredicatible that demands the photographer to work
    like a jounalist or a foot ball game player.

    <p>

    Otherwise, use your common sense.
     
  15. Dave,

    <p>

    This is the old arguement of content vs format again.
    With due respect I don't have to visit the studios of photographers to see their 35mm wedding prints to know what they look like. I used to handle several hundred weddings a week from every possible format or calibre of photographer. A 35mm 16x20 looks like a 35mm 16x20 regardless of subject matter. I learned most of my printing skills on a Leitz Focomat enlarger, so I'm more than a little aware of how to make a sharp 35mm enlargement NPH 35mm 400 is good, but 120 VPS , NPH or NPS is far superior.

    <p>

    I've seen the "journalistic" approach to weddings and it has it's demand. We lab rats used to call it "alternative" weddings. You know, the same couples who liked their entire wedding shot with available light on 35mm Tri-x . These are typically the gothic couples who wear sandles at the alter and hand out love beads. Hey, different strokes. Any bride who doesn't care about grain in her proofs probably doesn't care about wearing make-up either. What do you tell the bride when she wants a group shot of 20 people? That means in a 16x20 you have about 50 pieces of film grain for each face. Lovely.

    <p>

    Again, speaking from a guy who shot a lot of weddings with BOTH formats, most of the 35mm stuff is off the cuff and not very difficult. It also is limited in what you can do with it considering retouch options, etc. Capturing the details of the event belongs to the video guys, not the guys getting paid $200-400 an hour.

    <p>

    The idea of content being more important than format is an idealistic arguement that I wish were true, but if that were the case I could charge $500 to shoot the event with a Kodak Disc camera :^)

    regards
    //scott
     
  16. Well Scott, different strokes for different folks. I find that the more upscale the bride is, the more she is likely to prefer the journalistic approach. And since upscale brides are what I want to do, since I'm in this for money as well as for love, I guess I'll just put a few smudges on the lens of my disc camera (artsy, you know), and head for the wedding. My poor brides and their families are so ignorant that they're actually happy with their pictures.

    <p>

    I would say I'm sorry to scandalize you guys, but I'm really not. I kind of enjoy it. Actually, though Scott, I enjoy your postings, and agree with a great deal of what you have to say. I guess I'm just incorregible on this particular point.
     
  17. The varying references both for and against the benefits of the two formats
    ignores the obvious, 35mm is the diagonal of the frame, medium format is
    usually expressed as 6x45 or 6x6 or 6x9...... purely as an example and to
    avoid a myriad of dimension....... the 6x45 neg when measured in the same
    manner as the 35mm frame gives a dimension of 70 mm.

    <p>

    Now, I cannot understand the logic in comparing say, half frame with 35mm
    or 35 mm with 70mm.....the variation in quality between the negative size
    is blatantly obvious. ..the larger the neg the better quality the
    print.......... even when the enlargements are to the same ratio (neg to
    print).........and references to myopic customers who can't tell the
    difference are just an ego massaging diversion.

    <p>

    The individuals needs may well be met by the varied and extensive range of
    35mm equipment, circumstances may even dictate the specific equipment but
    please, do not confuse quality with convenience.........

    <p>

    Just ask the simple question... if money was no object......what ??????

    <p>

    Just as an aside...... Hasselblad have now put their name to a 35mm
    camera........reputedly made by Fuji

    <p>

    Just for a closing point..... Rollei made a 35mm carrier for 120 film for
    both Flex and Cord models.....does that make them 35mm cameras..........
     
  18. The diagonal of 35mm is 43mm, not 35mm. It doesn't affect the arguements much, but we might as well be accurate.
     
  19. How many of you wedding gurus have used/currently use 645 cameras? (Mamiya, Pentax, Contax, Bronica, that type) How do you think they compare to 35mm, such as Nikon or Canon?
     
  20. I really have to strongly agree with David Jenkins. To paraphrase an interview in a recent NPS mailing, are you selling images, or are you selling format? An awful lot of wedding photographers are selling format. It is the only way they can distinguish themselves from "uncle Harry and his SLR."

    As for Scott, and his continuous know-it-all posts, in one of his earliest posts on photo.net, he revealed an important fact that doesn't often get repeated, i.e., he dropped out of photo school when he decided that the instructors really couldn't teach him anything.

    It must be nice to know it all, and at such an early point in one's training.

    Dave, hang in there. I enjoyed the recent article in Rangefinder highlighting your work.
     
  21. In this discussion it is obvious that 35mm has the advantages of spontanaiety and handling, whilst MF has sheer resolution. Most wedding photographers have 35mm & MF for a wedding. The answer is bring both. MF has obvious advantages, as does 35mm. Neither is better than the other, they are better at different things.
     
  22. First, good luck with your wedding!

    This post has been very educational to 35mm vs. medium format, but is digital a viable option. Can a high resolution digital create good enlargements and capture reception action shots?

    Lou.
     

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