Experienced photographer.. want to get into Medium Format

Discussion in 'Medium Format' started by Ray S, Mar 27, 2017.

  1. Hi All,

    I just tried to search for any threads on this but found the "Search Community Posts" does not seem to allow me to narrow my search to just this forum & I didn't find my question within the first couple of pages of recent posts so I guess I'd better just ask...

    I'm an experienced photographer shooting mostly digital and more recently shooting and developing my film using an older 35mm rangefinder (Yashica GTN Electro 35 & Canon QL-17 GIII). But now I'm curious to try my hand at medium format especially since the cost of used gear is decently low right now.

    My question is, how to choose what medium format size I should be considering? I've read the (common?) formats are 645, 6x6, 6x7, 6x8, & 6x9. Is there anything online I can read that goes into what the pros/con's of each format are if any? Also, are the lenses interchangeable between the different formats or is it like the FX vs DX issue in current 35mm dslr cameras?

    Oh, my intended use will mostly be landscape photography with occasional informal portraits thrown into the mix.

  2. Dustin McAmera

    Dustin McAmera Yorkshire, mostly on film.

    Mostly, MF lenses tend to fit only the camera system they were made for. There are adapters for a few cases. My 'best' (in a technical sense) MF camera is a Mamiya 645 Pro; an SLR. The lenses for it fit Mamiya's older range of 645 cameras, but not the 6x7 RB or RZ cameras or their RF press cameras. I think Bronica systems are similar; each camera has its own range of lenses. Even with an adapter, the image from the lenses for a 4.5x6 camera are unlikely to cover the 6x9 frame.

    If you are only going to get one camera, you need to look at the pictures you take, or maybe the pictures you like, and decide what aspect ratio you tend to see satisfying pictures in most easily. You could even do the art-lesson exercise of cutting out some cardboard frames; one square, one 3x4 (i.e. 4.5x6) and one 2x3 (or 6x9), and try composing scenes through them. Choose which shape you like. Of course, if you choose a big format camera, you may be able to adapt it for smaller pictures; you can get a 4.5x6 film holder for some square cameras. Some 6x9 cameras (I'm thinking about old folders) have masks to allow 4.5x6 as 'half frame'; your (fixed) lens is then quite long for the format - might suit your portraits.

    Since you are using 35mm RF, think about whether you want a RF for your medium format camera. Myself, I wouldn't be without ground-glass focusing.

    If you're up for something quite slow (and maybe clunky) to use, consider a press camera. I have a Graflex Century Graphic which takes film holders for square format, 6x7 and 6x9. Lenses, which have to be with a shutter, are whatever I can mount in a lens-board for it. Getting lens-boards was tricky, and I had to do some drilling to mount my lenses. The camera has a rangefinder, but which I can only couple for one lens at any time. So I had to do a little DIY making focus scales for the lenses which aren't coupled. The camera also has ground-glass focusing, and I'd use that every time for landscapes.
  3. All take the same 120 film, some use it for more other for less frames. - You can probably print bigger from a bigger neg and you can also find lighter more convenient cameras in the square 6x6 format when you don't need a rotating back to shoot portrait orientation with a WLF. But there is some truth to: 6x6 is 6x4.5 + wasting 25% of your roll.
    You decide on a format by liking a camera system enough to get it. I already mentioned weight once and believe bigger can mean heavier as the 6x7 Mamiya RB & RZ or Fuji's 6x8 SLR proof.
    Do you want a Rangefinder SLR TLR or view camera? Which focal lengths? Does weight matter to you? Will you need a leaf shutter for (fill) flash with your portraits? Do you need interchangeable camera backs? Do you want a built in exposure meter? TTL flash? Some sluggish AF?
  4. 645 cameras, the Mamiya 6 and Mamiya 7 handle like 35 mm cameras, eye-level finder, easy change from horizontal to vertical orientation. The Mamiya's are rangefinder cameras, with superb optics, light weight and nice for travel and hiking. Cameras in this group tend to have focal plane shutters.

    For all around use, I suggest a 6x6 SLR camera, like an Hasselblad. The Hasselblad has interchangeable finders and backs, and a wide choice in lenses. So many were made, and well-made ad that, that they are widely available used.

    Mamiya RB67 and RZ67 are also SLRs, but nearly twice the size and weight of an Hasselblad. The backs rotate, so the camera is easy to use in vertical or horizontal orientation. I've seen a lot of them in the field, but for my taste, they are better used in a studio environment. Even the Hasselblad only delivers crisp performance when used on a tripod (or in a studio with studio flash).

    There are many digital backs for the Hasselblad, but not so much for the 6x7 format. Don't expect miracles from medium format film in a world accustomed to digital. You get about the same acuity with a 16 MP digital back as for 6x6 film.
  5. Digital killed the secondary market for film cameras, and Hasselblads are now "affordable." By affordable, I mean a 500c/m + 80CF + A12 back kit, cost me significantly less than what I paid for my Nikon D70. So if you ever "wanted" a Hasselblad, now is the time to go for it.

    Dustin hinted at something. Experiment with other formats. It was after I got my Hasselblad that I started to SEE that there are MANY square format images to shoot. Prior to that I had been a 35mm, digital Nikon DX shooter, so I was in the 1:1.5 ratio world, especially since I shot a LOT of slide film.
    • 6x4.5
      • 1:1.33 ratio
      • Gives you more frames per roll of 120 film.
      • I do not know if any of the 6x4.5 cameras have a rotating back. If not, you have to rotate the camera to change orientation from Horizontal to Vertical or V to H.
    • 6x6
      • 1:1 ratio
      • You can shoot vertical or horizontal without having to rotate the camera. You just crop the frame.
    • 6x7
      • 1:1.17 ratio
      • The largest of the easily found medium format enlargers, I think.
      • The RB67 has a rotating back so that you can shoot V or H without having to rotate the camera itself.
    • 6x9
      • 1:1.5 ratio
      • Same ratio as standard 35mm film (24x36mm)
      • Gives you the least number of frames per roll of 120 film.
      • You need either a 6x9 enlarger or a 4x5 enlarger to print this film.
      • Largest roll film size before the next size up of 4x5 sheet film.
    Common paper sizes
    • 5x7 = 1:1.40
    • 8x10 = 1:1.25
    • 11x14 = 1:1.27
    • 16x20 = 1:1.25
    You can see that none of the ratios of the rectangular formats match up with the ratios of the common paper sizes. So you will still have to crop the image to fit the paper.

    You say landscape use, but to me that does not automatically mean wide ratio format. I've seen very good vertical and square landscape images, so I would not automatically go for a wide ratio format such as 6x9. This depends very much a photographers eye and mind, and what kind of shot he tends to shoot.

    As far as I know, from my initial research, you buy into a system. Unlike 35mm cameras, I do not know of independent lens makers for MF cameras. So for the most part, you are stuck with that brand and model's lenses.

    However, camera models are in lines, and those cameras do have a certain amount of interchangeability. Example, you can use a Hasselblad V lens on any of the V series cameras. There is limited interchangeability between the V series and the 200 series, you can use a V series lens on a 200, but not the other way around.
  6. I'd also consider two things: buying the newest gear you can afford; and buying into a long-running, strong selling system. Repair resources are dwindling, so buying a mint relic can be dicey. Those transformative CLAs so often discussed aren't that easy to find any longer. MF gear often had hard working lives, so be aware some of it has been worked to death. Buy from sellers who will refund/exchange duff used equipment. Long running models like the Mamiya/Bronica 645, Hassie and Mamiya RB/RZ are plentiful and are more likely to be serviced by someone somewhere. Poor sellers like the Bronica GS-1 and RF 645 aren't a plan.
  7. If you are used to rangefinder cameras and like using them I would recommend the Mamiya 6. It only has 3 lenses available for it but they are really good lenses and more than adequate. Of course any time you buy older equipment, condition is everything. You are better off paying more for one that is in good condition. I bought a new one when they were introduced. Must be about 25 years ago. It has never failed.
  8. Most of the advice here is excellent, IMHO.

    Just a few random comments:
    While the hardware (cameras, not-so-much lenses, and such like) is more affordable than ever before, actually shooting and printing by traditional wet methods are pretty pricey.
    The virtual disappearance of 220 film, means that the short 120 rolls force a certain, shall we say, more selective shooting practice. For many, that is a positive.
    If you go to a mixed pattern, then it is not easier these days to find really high-resolution 120 film scanners. Once it's in digital form, of course, you can have your way with it.
    Fully digital backs are available, but there is no way doing this can be called "inexpensive".
  9. david_henderson

    david_henderson www.photography001.com

    The biggest issue on format , to me, is what you can compose into. I used a 6x6 camera to shoot landscapes for more than ten years and very rarely cropped. But then whilst I'm scarcely alone in liking square landscape images ( I even crop some of my DSLR shots to square) that's not going to help you unless it comes fairly naturally.

    The advice I particularly like on here is to buy from a source that underwrites that the camera works to spec, and will return your money if not. Many medium format cameras available for sale have a problem. Indeed many of them are for sale because they have a problem. The cameras are great value if they work . Repairs are not cheap and sometimes are difficult to source on the older, lower volume models.
  10. I think you need to ask yourself a few hard questions Ray. Like what are you hoping to get out of using a medium format film camera?

    If it's to get better image quality than a DSLR, then prepare for a disappointment. There's are good reasons why MF gear is comparatively cheap these days. One reason is that it really offers little or no IQ advantage over a full-frame DSLR or even over an APS sized one. IME you need to shoot 6x7 with 100 ISO or slower film to roughly equal what can be got with a DSLR.

    If you want the dubious "fun" of shooting, processing and, most importantly, printing film, then fine. There's still nothing to beat a proper silver-gelatine print. But if you're going to scan the film that's another can of worms to open up. Quite frankly I fail to see the point of shooting film to just end up with a digital file as the end product.

    I'm not trying to put you off going into medium format. I just think you need to examine your motives to make sure you're not going to waste time and money chasing a dream that may well not live up to your expectations.

    In any case I'd suggest dipping your toe in the water with something like a Yashicamat TLR. Not the most ergonomic of cameras, but capable of delivering good results for not a lot of money. Then if you decide MF isn't what you expected you can probably get back what you paid, since Yashimats seem to hold their price well.
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2017
  11. You just need to narrow it down with your own criteria in what want to own and what you want to do with it. Start with budget. Don't forget to think about what you are going to do with the film after you shoot it.
  12. Hi everyone,

    Thank you for all the input. I've also been doing additional research but first let me explain why I'm doing this... or at least why i 'think' I'm doing this. LOL.

    My first camera was a Canon AE1 program slr and its kit lens back when it was available new however, I really didn't understand what I was doing with it and just shot it in ful program mode. To top it off that camera was stolen within 6 months of purchasing it.

    Fast forward to the age of digital and I bought my first. Digital camera. A 1.3MP Fuji point and shoot LOL. It didn't matter that it was such a low end camera. I was hooked! Digital allowed me to learn the principles much more quickly and I quickly moved from a simple p&s to a 'prosumer' class non-dslr camera. Then DSLR's got cheap and I bought a Nikon D70. Then a D300, D300s, Fuji XE1. XT1, D500.

    Then I discovered my dads 1960's Canon QL17 and my passion for film photography was reignited. Since then I've gotten my own QL17 later pre-GIII, a QL17 G-III, and a Yashica Electro 35 GTN.

    I've also recently begun developing my own film using a Paterson tank & Unicolor C41 developing kit. I know the same tank can be used for developing medium format film so I'd like to try my hand at shooting MF.

    So I mentioned the additional reasearch I've done. I found an article on www.photographybay.com which goes over the different MF size ratios, brands supporting each of those ratios, the common lenses available, and their 35mm equivalent.

    Based on that, I'm considering either a 6x6 format or 6x7 format with a wide lens (45mm/55mm or 30mm/40mm/50mm respectively) since I'll be looking to shoot primarily landscape/nature photography.

    That said, your objective and also any biased insights are all greatly appreciated.
  13. The format ratio for "6x7" given above is incorrect. The frame size is actually 56mm by 67mm, which is a ratio of 5:6 and so prints almost perfectly on 10"x12" paper.

    That extra 11mm of film length isn't to be sneezed at since it allows cropping from square to panoramic with a minimal loss of frame area, while keeping quality high. So if quality is your aim, then 6x7 should get serious consideration. OTOH, 6x6 is very wasteful of film area unless you only print square, and if not you might just as well save weight and film cost by using 645.

    With this rationale I think your choice should be between 6x7 and 6x4.5. Don't mess with mister in between!

    BTW, I'm pretty sure there are no 30mm rectilinear wideangle lenses to cover the 6x6 format. Best you'll do is Mamiya's 35mm lens for 645, but its quality isn't great.

    Here's a list of (IME) unreliable MF cameras to steer clear of:
    Kiev 60
    Kowa 6 or Super 66
    Pentacon6 (due to age)
    Any plastic bodied Mamiya 645 - although the older metal bodies are reliable.
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2017
  14. Ray S wrote:

    Landscapes don't move rapidly. Nature subjects, whatever that means, don't.

    OP, if you're going to shoot moving subjects and/or want to use long as well as short lenses a 6x6 or 6x7 SLR is probably the best choice. But if you're going to shoot static subjects then a press/technical/view camera might do well for you.

    In comparison with the people who've responded to your question, I'm either excessively old-fashioned or a contrarian. I shoot 2x3 (same size as 6x9, typical frame size is 57 x 82 mm but some roll holders have shorter gates, others longer) with 2x3 Graphics. The focal lengths I use on my Graphics without resorting to heroic measures range from 35 mm (f/4.5 Apo Grandagon) to 12" (f/4 TTH Telephoto).

    I like my 35/4.5 Apo Grandagon, adore my 47/5.6 Super Angulon and am passionately in love with my 38/4.5 Biogon (not ex-SWC and it doesn't cover 2x3). None of these lenses is safe to use with scenics. Shoot a broad vista with a short lens and all you'll get is foreground. These are specialized tools and aren't generally useful. Think hard about whether lenses shorter than 2/3 normal will give you what you want.
  15. Not that this is of help to you in your medium format considerations but for me I would need a scanner for the film first. Currently I develop my B/W 35mm B/W film and scan with a Plustek 35mm scanner. It works very well and has a small footprint on my desk. I suppose after taking a look at scanners I would want a Plustek 35mm/120 format scanner and it costs about $1800.00. Kind of a lot but if I were serious then the good news is I should have a scanner that could produce some nice files for my B/W photography.

    So first the scanner and then the camera is how I would go. I do not know what camera I would shoot but Fuji made a folder camera that seems like it would work for me well. I print at 4x6 99.9% of the time and 8x10 0.1% of the time. The 8x10 photos are always family portraits and my 35mm does very well in that size. However if I wanted to drop a bundle on a camera that I do not need I would go with a Plustek scanner and just look around for a camera. I have no issues with cropping for print size actually but I imagine a 645 would be the best negative size for 4x6 prints. Most likely I would shoot a Mamia TLR in square format as my son has one that he would give me. I would at least start with that one and move into new camera's over time.

    But the bottom line for me is I am not going to drop a bundle on another way to make 4x6 prints. I will just keep and shoot my 35mm Nikon camera's.

    Michael Kenna shoots a Hasselblad. Being interested in landscape you could probably watch some of his you tube videos and see if any of that would work or is of interest to you. He prints in the darkroom himself.

    He has an interesting workflow as he buys his film on location to avoid airport scanners. He then has a lab develop his film before heading back home to Seattle. Also to avoid the airport scanners. Even though in the US you can get a hand inspection some countries do not bother with that. He sometimes will pass through 6 airports before arriving to his shooting location.
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2017
  16. 6x7 is a nominal value. The exact dimensions vary depending on the camera. I doubt that a few tenths of a millimeter make a significant difference in the aspect ration, especially if they're cropped to fit a certain sized print.

    i'm fortunate to restrict my medium format to 6x6 (nominal), which ranges from 5.4x5.4 in an Hasselblad to 5.9x5.9 in a Rolleiflex TLR, to 36.7x36.7 for CFV digital. It's square in any case, sparing us from internet pedantry.

    Oh wait! What is the REAL cropping factor ;)
  17. For scanning the images, one route I'm considering is a flatbed scanner like an Epson v600 which scans medium format film. Alternatively a good friend of mine actually photographs images/film rather than scanning them. He has a full setup for both 35mm & larger medium format film. it's no simple setup mind you using an array of flashes, light distribution boxes, etc to get the shot properly. He used to work at a commercial film lab so he's pretty knowledgeable about what he's doing.

    As for having a local lab develop film, where I am (Nor Cal) the closest shop that can develop film same day is 70 miles away in the Bay Area. You can drop it off in the morning and they can have it ready later in the afternoon. ALL other options I've investigated no longer develop film on premises and have to send their developing out which means 3 weeks before getting developed rolls back. :(

    This is why I've begun developing my own film at home. My setup can accomodate medium format film so that's another reason I'm seriously considering this now.
  18. "6x7 is a nominal value." - Exactly! So you don't get the true ratio by dividing 7 by 6. And nobody is arguing about fractions of a millimetre, but a few millimetres do make a difference.

    For example: shortening the long side of the 135 format by just 4 millimetres would change the ratio from 3:2 into 4:3, or adding a mere 3mm to the short side would do the same.

    Lack of sloppiness isn't the same as pedantry.

    If you really want to dupe your film onto a digital camera (!) then you might want to look for a device that Bowens used to make called an "Illiumitran". Basically a vertical copy stand on top of a flash illuminated light-box. A similar rig could be based on an old enlarger..... but then if you've got an enlarger...
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2017
  19. Wow, thanks! I'll definitely keep this all in mind.
  20. Thanks! I will probably shoot mostly static subjects, but natural scenes, versus street/man-made scenes. i'm definitely being careful about selecting the system I go with based on the lenses available and whether they can be useful for me.

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