Getting better results from medium format film...

Discussion in 'Medium Format' started by hnl_imaging, Jul 29, 2015.

  1. Hello, I have (or thought I have...) wanted something like a Pentax 67 or 645 for many years now. I finally decided to purchase one and things are not quite what I expected. My first film scans from my local lab are not significantly different than what I seem to be getting from my ME super, in some ways they are worse...
    I don't have access to a dark room and my personal scanning abilities aren't that great, but I have been happy with 35mm cameras, but I am rather disappointed with my medium format. The last couple roles of film I got back from the lab didn't show a lot of difference between the medium format and 35mm in terms of resolution, it was better but not as much as expected. The tonality and depth that I associated with medium format seems to be a bit of an illusion. And for some strange reason I seem to be getting a bit better color out of my ME super and any of my 35mm lenses than I am with the 645 and the 75/2.8.
    I see such outstanding results by people like Jose Villa, and Elizabeth Messina, as well as a guy who goes by Johny Patience, or Bruce Percy (I know that I am not nearly in the same league as these guys...). So I expected a certain look and feel to my images that I associated with medium format.
    Is there a chance that this is just a 'time needed with this particular piece of gear' problem, or is medium format not as significant of a difference as I have been lead to/ possibly fooled myself into believing? Is it something that only works if you work in the dark room or pay RPI $40/role, or whatever they charge now, and do your own scanning?
    Thank you in advance for any advice.
  2. SCL


    Personal opinion experience is that the results are very noticeable when: 1) you either do your own developing or use a high quality lab, and 2) you do your own scanning or use a high quality lab and provide specific instructions. You don't mention what lab you are using, but if they aren't particularly adept with medium format development, printing, and high res is time for a change. Medium format has all the capabilities of clearly differentiating itself from 35mm, but it also requires some attention be paid to the details.
  3. Medium format will give you less grain no matter what. However if you want more resolution, you will need to use a tripod - religiously. Tonality is a little harder to achieve. Commercial scans and prints are generally processed to exaggerate contrast and saturation. You can have custom prints made, but in the long run you must do it yourself.
    A color darkroom is a major undertaking, requiring construction, electrical and plumbing skills, or pockets deep enough to hire the work. For most of us, scanning abd digital printing is the better approach. Finding decent equipment is harder these days, and there is a steep learning curve in the process.
    Dedicated film scanners, like a Nikon LS-8000/9000 work very well, but have been discontinued by the manufacturer. If you find a good one, new or used, expect to pay as much as $9000 (originally $2000). Flatbed scanners are the most economical option, and some produce fairly good results. Don't believe the hype. Practical resolution is between 2000 and 3000 ppi for a flatbed scanner. Along the way, you will need to buy good software, like Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, and learn to use it to produce good results. Printers are optional. If not used daily, inkjets tend to clog. Fortunately if you have a good digital image file, even Walgreens can do a decent job printing it for you.
    Ultimately, you will find that medium format film does not compare favorably with the better small format digital cameras in terms of tonality and resolution. Medium format digital is another option, and actually affordable if that's what you really want. You can get a 16 MP back for about $8000, which is equivalent to only 400 rolls of film (at about $20 for film + processing). 16 MP doesn't seem like much, but contains as much detail as a 4000 ppi scan of film, better color and a wider dynamic range. For under $16K, you can get a 50 MP back, which will challenge all but the best lenses in resolution.
  4. I'm afraid I am not surprised. The issue will be largely that scanners for MF film are not very good unless you find a drum scanner and are prepared to pay the extra bucks for a skilled operator. Given that shooting direct to digital removes this intermediate step it is no wonder that digital is where it is today. I found commercial square 5 x 5 inch prints not much different really from good 35mm film prints, although of course there is less grain, but at that size this is not really noticeable.
    In order to be really happy with MF I suggest you start your own black and white darkroom with a dedicated MF enlarger, or be prepared to pay the money for 1st class printing and drum scanning from a top line professional operation. You can scan with a decent flatbed and this is OK up to about 8 x 10, but personally I never found this entirely satisfactory either.
  5. david_henderson


    I bought a medium format outfit in 1997 and used it as my main camera for ten years. I also bought and used where circumstances indicated a MF rangefinder system. I bought these because I wanted to make large prints- bigger than I could make with quality from 35mm film. For some years I made prints that I could not hope to make from 35mm- for example 20" x 20" prints from transparencies. And then scan and digital print came along and my horizons became 36" x 36".
    So here's the thing. If I'd wanted to make small prints only, or make images for a website, or (moving on a few years) using images on-screen then I wouldn't have needed a MF camera. Now unlike some others I could see a little difference - a smoother yet more resolved image- between my MF camera and 35mm on small prints and negs under a good loupe. But that difference would not have been enough to haul a 6x6 system with 5/6 lenses around with me for a decade- it was the ability to make big prints that sealed it. And I'm not the only one who noticed. Many of the bigger stock agencies would accept only MF (not 35mm) transparencies in the 90's and early 2000's. But again that's size related- a stock agency doesn't know how big an image a client's going to need so they always made sure they could offer a really big scan.
    And of course it is necessary to spend a bit to see the best from a MF original- the bigger you want to print , the more you need top of range scans. You won't in my experience see better very large prints from your own darkroom than you'll get from a top-end scan, and that scan will enable you to push the envelope that much further. Then also you're talking of great paper, great print skills, and not least a great original. Not every MF transparency is able to support a very large print.
    I suspect that you will improve as you use the MF more, but if your desired outputs are the same as with 35mm you' won't see the best from it.
  6. Is the lens clean, no fungus, etc? Why not post a couple of your scans so we can see and advise?
  7. Thanks for the responses.
    I'm finding, at least with what is convenient, that I won't get the results I was looking for. I had my local lab, which I am generally happy
    with, do their best quality scan an the results were slightly better detail and a large tiff file, unfortunately that file is only marginally useful
    in Lightroom. I usually don't have to do too much adjustment with my film.
    I think the do it yourself option would be great but it's not an option right now.
  8. Totally at odds with my experience when I got back my first proofs from a Mamiya 645 Super+80/2.8. The difference between 35mm and 120, especially b&w, wasn't subtle. Wondering if your lab is scanning at a lower resolution than you're being told. Any chance of finding a pro lab that's still doing quality processing/scanning/printing. Not always easy to find today but worth looking if you want better results.
    I'm guessing you're also aware that those medium format shots you admire are undoubtedly manipulated.
  9. I find scanning MF film is much easier than 35mm and provides better tones.
  10. I have experienced superior results using 6x6 compared to 35mm, and also results that aren't any better. The latter was with colour negative film developed and printed by a lab. Note the comment in a post above about tripod use!
    But even with 35mm, using a very good lens at optimum aperture, tripod, slow film can give results very close to medium format. In my experience, sometimes MF is worse: using fast film for candid portraiture in ordinary indoor light with fast film (Delta3200) compared to a wide aperture very good lens on a 35mm camera using 400 film. The faster film was chosen because of aperture and depth of field limitations with the MF camera. My experience is limited to black and white, darkroom printing.
  11. My experience shooting medium format color print ISO 400 6x6 negative: handheld shutter speed 1/250 or higher, below tripod needed to avoid shutter shake. Also depth of field is more shallow than with 35mm format, make appropriate adjustments. I've little if any experience with scanning but have used DSLR, copy stand and light box to photograph a negative and software to make and improve the image. Process is tedious and results are OK but not stunning!
  12. My opinion is that if you're not wet-printing onto proper photo paper, then what's the point of using film at all? Scanning gets you a digital file that's got around the equivalent of 12 bits depth dynamic range - if you're lucky. Usually it's more like 8 or 10 after a suitable tone curve has been applied. Leaving aside the DR, you've doubtless picked up a load of micro-dirt on the film from processing and handling, which can easily damage tonality and overall IQ, and the image has now passed through two lenses. The second one of dubious quality in the case of a flatbed or amateur quality scanner. And no matter how many pixels it produces, the lens (or flying spot size) limits the resolution of most scanners. Add in aliasing between film grain and scanner pixels and you've usually got quite a poor 2nd generation copy of what was in front of the camera.
    If you want a digital file to make a digital print from, then a digital camera is the obvious and logical choice. Especially since high pixel-count cameras are now very common and relatively cheap. Waiting only for (affordable) lens quality to catch up with them.
  13. I have an Epson V550 and I can assure that there is pronounced difference in the look of a 6x6 neg scanned at any resolution compared with that of 35mm. The fundamental attributes of medium format are inherent the moment you snap the shutter. The neg is going to have massive resolution. I shoot 6x6 mostly as well as 135. I was hooked on 6x6 from the first BW negative I scanned. It made it hard to go back to 135. Processing black and white at home is easy. I routinely make inkjet prints with a Canon PIXMA Pro9500 printer using Arista Baryta 11x14 paper (from Freestyle) and prints look really good - even A3 sizes - and I come from a darkroom background since 1976. People knock flatbed scanners all day long but I don't think they're actually seeing prints made from flatbeds since hardly anybody prints anymore. The belief that you can only get a quality print from a drum scan or a wet print is rubbish. Have you asked your lab what their using? Some labs here in LA only drum scan, and some have "art scanners" which means flatbeds. The only inconsistent scanning results I ever found are with 35mm images; some film/developer combos are not good match ups for scanning, but they're usually good enough, and I've tried them all, I think.
  14. So, I just went on vacation and wanted to put the 645 through its paces. This was my second time using this camera. I was nervous about
    hand holding it( I did take two shots @ 1000th &500th of a second... Don't see any noticeable motion blur) so the camera was usually on
    the tripod.
    I was using portra 160 and ilford 50. Generally not wide open or stopped ask the way down ( I don't really know the lens well yet...) I did
    also shoot a roll of velvia 50 that I had to send out. I sent that to Holland photo in Texas whom I've had one really good experience with,
    hoping that will really be great...
    I only have access to a v500 scanner, would it be worth trying to scan or learning to use that better with the 645?
  15. I use small format (35mm FF digital) for color and some B&W and find it as good as my previous experience with color film and MF, although for very large prints (16 x 24 and larger) I am sure that MF film is quite good.
    I do most of my B&W work with MF film and a very pleasant to use darkroom. The 35mm film B&W cannot touch the quality of MF (6x7 or 6x9) film for 16 x 20 and larger prints. The cost is small with modest film use (20 to 50 rolls per year), modest but high quality equipment (Fuji GSW 690 III or GW 690 III cameras) and today's inexpensive darkroom enlargers, optics and associated tools.
    It is also a lot of fun but you need to want to spend the time and do everything yourself. Also to embrace a type of photography approach that allows you to use a tripod asEdward mentions, at least in resolution critical cases (detailed landscapes, architectural subjects).
  16. A couple of things... I do really like using the 645, just not sure what to think about the results. I don't mind the tripod, I really like the view finder and and it's just fun to use. I don't want to get too bogged down with gear related issues, but is there any reason to think that the 645 vs 6x6 or 6x7 is an issue, or maybe the Pentax vs. Hassleblad or Mamiya lenses. I expect the format to make the bigger difference, I mean 135 compared to MF...
  17. [​IMG]
    Forgive my horrible photography, but this is what I am getting from the ME super with a 35/3.5.[​IMG]
    these other two are from the 645, both from a tripod.
  18. guess that didn't work
  19. I am wondering, compared to the 35mm if this really seems that much different.
  20. I do agree with Robin Smith and Rodeo Joe. There`s no point having MF unless you´re doing at least part of the job yourself (developing your black & white and/or colour negatives).

    I prefer square format and that`s why a 6x6 MF gives me more useful negative area compared to 35 mm frame (max. 24x24 mm).

    I also like relatively short DoF of MF lenses. After all it´s not always the question of sharpness or resolution. To me its more important how the subject itself pops out from the foreground/background


    Esa Kivivuori
  21. your Pentax pic is very pixelated, its scanned at low resolution and blown up in software, its a lousy scan job and not a problem of the camera.
  22. david_henderson


    Its not a question of doing it yourself. I used MF professionally for years and used pro labs and where necessary scanning services to process/contact/print monochrome fibre and colour from scans. I'm convinced I got much better work than I'd have done myself with no experience.
    And today its easier still because you can make print files on your own computer to control what you get on your prints.
    Frankly if you're using decent labs now its more than likely that taking their tasks on board yourself would result in things getting worse not better.
  23. I am wondering, compared to the 35mm if this really seems that much different.

    I see a huge difference between the linked shots, and in general, in 35mm vs medium format film; first one, the size. At the very same scanning resolution, one format is bigger than the other. (There are other issues in your samples, more related to the shooting technique than to the format used).

    If we look at two different format shots at the screen, my guess is that it could be somewhat difficult to know about them... otherwise, I for sure can tell you which one I prefer, once they are printed and over my desk.

    In my experience, if you want very sharp prints you don`t have to enlarge too much. Smaller formats are too small even to get a "reasonable" sized print (to my taste), so I way prefer medium format for almost everything. Personally, the only advantage of 35mm film is portability (and working speed, sometimes).

    Agree with Rodeo... scanning, unless of very high quality, will always result in a quality loss. I have a V750Pro, and to be honest, I must say I`m not able to get the most of it. I find scanning to be a difficult task, in fact I find much easier to get a good print from my darkroom. For color work, I prefer to have direct digital camera RAW files.

    Also, there are too many parameters to control in a scan. Not all scanners are the same, nor is the scanning software, so don`t try to know the performance of your gear with other than full quality scanning (gear, knowledge and procedures).

    And is not only the scanning... film choice, use and processing also counts. There are different films and developing qualities (developers in b&w), so results are also different. We usually talk about "film" as if it were only one product, while I can get noticeably different results changing just one parameter, either the film, the lens, the exposure, the developer, etc. Things are not as easy as it could seem.

    At this point I wonder if I`d find a noticeable difference between different brands, I`d say I don`t. I don`t shoot Hasselblad, but Mamiya (two different systems) and Schneider/Rodenstock/Nikon via adapters; I bet nobody will tell you which one is each... so I`d say enjoy shooting your film cameras, "standardize" your processing, print your pics and after that you`ll know which one you prefer.
  24. Jose Angel, those comments are kind of what I was interested in... the comments about "its more about an issue with your shooting technique..." I am wondering if it was just that I needed more time to practice with the gear or if I would always get the same kind of results no matter what. If you could point out some things you are seeing that I should work on that would great!
    I keep seeing a lot of "use a tripod" and "you have to do it yourself (with the printing etc...). First I did use a tripod for all but 2 frames on the 4 rolls of film I've put through it so far. The second issue is a bit bigger. My wife actually bought me a dark room kit, though it's suited more towards 35mm, which I never got the chance to use as I was never home long enough and the chemicals were difficult to get. Now I have kids and I'm really busy, basically I don't have time to get really into the darkroom AND my wife doesn't want the chemicals around the kids...Unfortunately the closest I can come to doing it myself is scanning on an Epson flatbed and having the processing done by some other lab. Hopefully the scans would provide a file that I could mess with in Lightroom iff needed.
  25. david_henderson


    Just a quick point. If you scan 35mm negs on a decent film scanner, then switch to medium format and scan using a consumer flatbed, you just lost your medium format advantage, period.
  26. I develop my MF film in a pro lab and scan myself on a flat bed Epson V600. I don't print much now. I love using MF (Mamiya RB67 6x7) because I think my work is better. I don't bother with 35mm film. I use a digital (P&S and MFS) for travel, family shots and stuff like that.
    With MF, I think more, and create better. I slow down. I like the feel and the way it operates. I like using a separate light meter. I like the whole process. Since I'm not a pro, the advantages of digital are a side issue.
  27. Jason the MF shot is very nice. Much better than the 35mm both in tonal and resolution and in composition. There might be a correctable color tint, but I might be mistaken on that.
  28. David, thanks.
    Alan, those are some of the reasons why I actually still use film at all, and why I bought the 645. I was really thinking that in some ways, the different shooting experience would push my way of seeing and working a bit. I almost wanted to do LF but my wife and kids don't have that kind of patience. Unfortunately I only get to shoot when on vacation. I use my P&S for everyday snapshots. And you are right, at least by my eye there is a magenta type color cast to the MF photo. I took the same shot on my K200 with a smc 35/3.5 lens which showed a much more pronounced color cast than the film shot does. I put images up straight off the scans from the lab.
  29. I don't print much now​
    Jason is talking about seeing an objective difference MF to 35mm with the prints he's getting. The point of slowing down etc is significant for photography as a whole but not really for the MF/35mm question: after all one can slow down shoot on a tripod with 35mm too: this is a state of mind. Liking the whole process of MF photography is a different thing from objectively comparing print quality (independent of subject matter).
  30. Robin, yes, that is the idea. I was really looking for a difference in perspective that I have been led to think was due to the physical size of the lenses and recording medium. I also wanted the different format and view finder... In reality for the last bit I should have gone with a 6x6 TLR or Hassleblad but I couldn't afford it. The 645 still has a bigger view finder than my aps-c or 35mm, at least it seems to.
    I know you can just use a tripod. I have actually been doing this. I was hoping for the depth you get. I see a lot of hassleblad b&w stuff that looks like you could actually talk to the person in the image, it just has a depth that I assumed was in the optics not so much the resolution... It didn't look as compressed as the 35mm stuff I am used to seeing that looks so ordinary. Is there a way to get that kind of look?
  31. Medium format can, and does, deliver results which are manifestly an improvement on 35mm. My favourite MF cameras are my Mamiya TLRs. As noted above: use a tripod; be precise about metering; process your own film and be very exact about development. It will pay dividends.
  32. Dave Henderson, I really like your gallery! Wish I could do even an 8th of the quality of work you do! and that has been one of my problems, getting the time and ability to perfect the lab processes is beyond what I can do at the moment so i would definitely get worse results than I am with a lab. Unless for some reason learning that flatbed scanner is really of some use...
  33. Robin mf is much better than 35mm when it comes to
    prints. Although I'm not printing lately, 90 percent of
    these were wet printed 16x20". On many of them you
    can't even see the grain. So yes mm f peons better
    than 35 mm.
  34. david_henderson


    Thanks. I have a flatbed scanner myself. I use it for digitising MF transparencies , negs and the occasional small monochrome print--
    • For my website
    • When I need to send material to a stock agency to select or reject
    • For any screen -based application from emailing a photograph to a friend to illustrating a point on
    • For making scans to make pages up to 12" x 12" for self-published Blurb books.
    So my V700 gets some use but not daily. And if you accept its limitations and work within them , you can get decent results at a not unreasonable cost. I used to have a Nikon 9000ED film scanner too, but when I found sources of Imacon scanning at about £5 a slide, cleaned, my strategy became to put the small quantity of high quality scans I need to external services , and do the easier stuff myself.
  35. I agree 100% with Chris Walker. Period.


    Esa Kivivuori
  36. Alan,
    Of course, I agree, but OP was talking about scans from a lab and being disappointed. My experience is that lab scans are often disappointing and that the difference between 35mm is less than you might expect a priori when looking at typical scans. I found the same with MF prints made in commercial labs at smallish enlargements. The care and pride in output is often lacking. If you do your own printing and developing you are onto a good thing. I contend (with Rodeo) that MF film is not really worth it if you are aiming for a good digital file as you might as well go straight to digital in the first place. But having said this, I think David H's strategy is a good one, but you will need a good lab for your Imacon scans, and the $$ and hassle mounts up. As you can probably tell, I gave up all my MF work (in 2009)!
  37. Robin: Good point. I use MF becuase I bought the equipment about twenty-five years ago for around $8-9,000. I used it for awhile and then it sat in the closet for years depreciating in value as digital equipment kicked in. I thought I should have sold it but just never got around too.

    Then, one day I decided to shoot again and began to enjoy it. I never did buy an DSLR and really didn;t want to carry around heavy equipment on trips, vacations, and parties. So my P&S and MFT sufficed for those occasions. I use the MF equipment when I go out to just shoot. It relaxes me and I enjoy working with a tripod, meter and the equipment and the film. It's good Karma for me. Relaxing if heavy. And most of all I think I do better work. Nothing wrong with DSLR. I suppose I could do better, work with it but that's not totally important to me at this time. I just don;t want to spend a lot of money again for a lot of heavy equipment I won't carry with me other than on special photo projects. So for those special projects, I'm using the MF equipment I have and paid for a long time ago.

    Regarding the OP, if he's shooting film, MF will give better prints, tonal values, easier to scan, etc than 35mm.
  38. When properly applied, medium format will blow 35mm out of the water in terms of quality. But you do need to use a tripod whenever possible. I do not shoot color with my Hasselblad any more, instead shooting pretty much Kodak T-Max 100 exclusively. I do have a darkroom and process my own film and have a Nikon LS-8000 scanner and the quality is outstanding. Nothing beats a medium format negative printed on top quality B&W paper like Oriental Seagull.
  39. I see a HUGE difference in quality between the two images in terms of sharpness, don't you? Try posting same shot images, as your 35mm sample is poorly
    focused and has very little depth of field. If you try the same shot with each while using a tripod you will see a massive difference in sharpness and resolution
    for landscape or other high detail scenes.
    Also, for both shots posted you should be using slide film. Not a portrait negative film. This change alone will greatly improve both your 35mm and 645
    landscape images. And when you get back your 645 slides you will most certainly be impressed they will be works of art unto themselves and you will
    appreciate medium format. And shooting slide film creates a tangible, real, beautiful object that digital does not. Not saying better than digital, it is not, just
    unique, different, and beautiful.
  40. I finally got a chance to make some prints... cheap prints from costco... At any rate, in print, I definitely see a difference between the medium format with Portra 160 and 135 of the same film. Some photographs of my girls, the scans look kind of bad, but the prints actually look quite good at 8x10. I had some prints I also printed a shot that was done with the 645 on panf 50 and also on my K200D with a limited series lens. The results are kind of interesting, the film image does seem to have a bit better sharpness and tonality is better, it displays quite a bit more grain however. I spent quite a bit of time looking at medium format images in various places last night and I'm noticing that I seem to be getting quite a bit more grain from any of my films than many seem to be getting. I am wondering if there is a way to lessen this? I have also seen very good results from Epson V500, 550, 600, and 700 scanners on the web. ( I actually have a few rather large prints from 35mm film that were scanned with one, but the guy I had print them was a very good fine art reproduction printer...).
    Is there some good method of exposing the film and/or working with a lab to get a more dense negative?
  41. Get real optical prints from Bluemoon Camera, you will see a big difference, smooth, tight grain, great tones:
  42. your Pentax pic is very pixelated, its scanned at low resolution and blown up in software, its a lousy scan job and not a problem of the camera.​
    I totally agree with Mag's assessment - that 645 shot has much more to give, with better scanning.
    In contrast, while the plane of focus of the 35mm shot is narrow and only about 10 feet from the camera (well short of the gent standing in the scene), the relative lack of resolution in this plane and the grainier appearance are both obvious.

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