Which format is best for portrait photography?

Discussion in 'Medium Format' started by david_hall|8, Jan 4, 2003.

  1. Over the past ten years, I have been photographing nature and
    wildlife utilizing a 35mm format. Presently, I am interested in
    portrait photography but am overwhelmed by all of the medium format
    cameras available.

    I am drawn to the Mamiya 645 AFD due to its automated features and
    ability to add a digital back. However, I do not know whether there
    is a greater advantage to utilizing the larger formats such as 6 x 6,
    6 x 7, 6 x 8, or 6 x 9 in portrait photography.

    I am aware everyone has their own opinion of which is the "best"
    system to use (i.e., Mamiya, Hasselblad, Bronica, etc.), I would just
    like to know if it would be more advantageous for me to go with a
    larger format than 6 x 6.45.
  2. The larger the better but you quickly reach a point of diminishing returns. A poster-sized enlargement can be made from the negative of a well-focused 6 X 4.5.
  3. I think 6x4.5 is too close to 35mm, so I shoot with a big monser 6x7 camera. However, 6x6 and 6x4.5 can be fine, depending on what the client wants. If you'll be enlarging past 20x24" I'd use a 6x7, but smaller than that you probably won't notice the difference at normal viewing distance.

    Another point to consider is depth of field. Between equivalent lenses on 6x4.5 and 6x7, the larger format will have less DOF, which will allow you to seperate the subject further from the background. This really only applies if you're doing environmental portraiture.
  4. Which format is best for portrait photography?
    The best answer is:
    The format that fits you as a person. Don't let equipment drive your muse. many very fine portrait photographers use 35mm cameras and no one complains.
  5. Slightly OT, but why do so many think 645 is "too close" to 35?
    It's almost 3X the size of 35mm but 6x7 is only 50% bigger than 645.
    Sure, it's in between 35 and 6x7 but it is quite a bit closer to 6x7.
  6. Joseph--Actually, in terms of image area, 6x4.5 is closer to 35mm (24x36mm) than 6x7.
  7. Whoops sorry, that should have been "6x4.5 is closer to 35mm than 6x7 is to 6x4.5."
  8. One thing you might want to consider, is the square format as a square. You might want to do some reading, looking, researching on the square vs rectangular formats.
  9. My own opinion is that there is no excuse to shoot the biggest possible format for in studio use. While lugging around gear in the field you can make an arguement for 645. While on a tripod in the studio you had better be shooting at least 6x7. Yes, there is a quality difference in medium formats, and you'll learn to appreciate the bigger film if you start scanning it. My 6x7 work looks better scanned on a $200 flatbed than 35mm on a $2000 dedicated scanner.

    When you crop a typical 6x6 frame of film, you get 645 - period. I have no issue with the square format, but if you are simply going to crop most of your frames to 8x10 ratio, you are simply wasting film.

    As mentioned above, I think 645 is too close to 35mm to warrant a lot of expense for studio work. In the field, 645 does warrant it's greater mobility and near 35mm ergonomics over the typical 6x7 'sherman tanks'.
  10. It has to be the square format! If a portrait, either single,double or environmental,requires a square composition then thats your answer.
    I think to shoot it 6*4.5 would be a compromise. Shoot square and keep your options open.
    james kingston.
  11. I think most 645 users would have to admit that the format is a bit more
    akward to use in the portrait orientation. A square format eliminates that
    issue, and you can compose either vertically or horizonally without
    turning the camera. Also, studio oriented cameras like the Mamiya RZ
    Pro II feature rotating backs that allow full use of the rectanglular format
    either way. I find the RZ to be my favorite portrait tool for all studio and
    in home portrait assignments. For wedding work I prefer the square
    because I don't have time to re-orient the camera position for different
    situations when the church has allocated 20 minutes or less for formal
    shots at the alter.
  12. David, I prefer a TLR. I can keep on looking at the sitter while taking the photo and the TLR is much quicker than any SLR as there is no mirror to be lifted. With any SLR you are about to miss the "decisive moment". As a bonus a TLR is silent and less intimidating than many loud SLRs. Well, just my view. Ferdi.
  13. A lot of good advice here, David. The question you present is a rather common one and you will find many threads that touch on the topic -- scanning them would give you the sense that a lot of people have faced the problem in the past.

    You did not mention whether you are doing your own developing and printing. If so, MF is an easy step to take. If not, you may want to look closely at the costs of having processing done by commercial labs. The prices may startle you.

    The 645AFD must surely be an excellent choice -- it is feature rich and operates more like your 35mm SLR than anything else you are likely to pick up. Well, anything else that doesn't involve a second mortgage, that is. (If money is no object, why not get the newest Rollei MF AF SLR and a couple of lenses? That rig is so expensive that my wife won't even allow to hold it in my hands at the dealer's ;-). I think that AF is nothing short of miraculous and my Contax G2 amazes me with its precision in grab shots on the street and its AE is also quite impressive -- not always on target but nearly always salvagable in the darkroom. I'd love to have a 645AFD and you can look forward to adding a digital back (although technology change is such that you will probably find yourself buying a completely new digital system rather than upgrading -- look at the thread at http://www.photo.net/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg?msg_id=0048fO for a discussion).

    Something that isn't quite clear is what you mean by 'portrait'. For a lot of people, this means studio work but it may also include pictures taken in homes, offices, etc., where the conditions (mainly lighting) are less controlled. It may also mean more or less candid photos of faces taken in the field, baby pictures, and so forth. For the last, the AFD would be wonderful and quite useful (those rugrats move so fast and they love to put fingers on your lens ;-).

    But if you are talking strictly about the portraits in studio or composed settings like offices, the AF and AE are of less significance than other features. There you control the light and the distance and you are likely to do the same thing over and over so that routines of light and exposure are readily established. The TLR is actually quite wonderful here. There is no annoying 'clunk' of mirrors; the lens shutters are as quiet as anything this side of full digital. Significantly, with a TLR the time between pressing the button and the shutter opening is a few milliseconds. To capture that perfect expression, especially with someone not used to posing, you want to be able to take a picture just NOW, and not 100 - 300 ms later. Ironically, you would get that with the Mamiya C330 but may not with an AF! The waist level finder produces nearly perfect ergonomics when you are standing and the subject is seated. If you use a cable release there is almost no movement of the camera. The available lenses are high quality. The TLR square format makes it immaterial how the camera is positioned so you do not need to adopt awkward positions -- no matter how you plan to crop the print, the camera orientation stays the same all the while.

    But back to the stages of work. A principle advantage of MF is that it offers you the opportunity to crop without restraining your enlargement. Gaining this capability shifts your work towards the darkroom -- more work on the print cropping, adjusting proportions, getting the tones, and so forth. It seems to me that MF is an invitation to do more work in the darkroom -- wet or dry. Unlike 35mm, where the image quality limits enlargement so that you have a strong incentive to produce 'all in' prints, MF has image quality to spare and you can crop any way you like. (Wildi's book "The Medium Format Advantage" is a useful reference as is Hicks and Shultz's "Medium and Large Format Photography"). The image content of MF is a siren's song, of course: you can easily find yourself reversing the ratio of time spent taking pictures to time spent printing them.

    The greatest advantage of the TLR is that you can get one for so little. The 645AFD is a pricey little box. You can get a TLR used with a portrait lens for a few hundred dollars and light meters are available used for around a hundred. You can even, if you like, use your 35mm camera as the light meter.

    Why not try the MF thing beginning with a cheap, used TLR and then decide whether it is worth it to invest much more? If you buy a reasonably recent TLR, e.g. a C330F, from a private party, you should be able to sell it for almost what you paid if you decide to remain exclusively 35mm.
  14. David, the phrase "portrait photography" is very broad, but here's a few things to consider,

    1. What's your style of portraiture, natural and informal or more crafted and posed? To capture an unobserved moment smaller and less obtrusive cameras have an advantage. Furthermore, getting that elusive expression generally requires a lot of film, so 16 exposures on 645 is less disruptive than 8 exposures on 6x9.

    2. Portraiture places a huge premium on focusing accuracy. Full face images are at magnification ratios (on the larger film formats at least) that can approach a fifth or even a quarter life size. It's nearly macro work, and if you're ever tempted to do full face portraiture on large format then it is macro work! If your style is more fluid then you'll likely combine this with wide apertures and a moving subject, consequently the biggest technical hurdle you'll have to overcome is accurate focusing. Auto focusing may provide a solution in 35mm, but it's been my experience that it's simply not rapid, accurate, or precise enough to consistently do the job in medium format. That's not to say auto focusing isn't worth having, but it's absolutely critical that your system permits an instant transition between auto and manual. If you're a spectacle or sunglasses wearer then you've a further focusing issue in that neither Pentax, Mamiya, nor Contax offer a particularly high-eyepoint 645 prism viewfinder. If you want to see all four corners of the frame you'll need a waist level, "chimney" or 45 degree prism finder, and none of these is very practical on 645 where you have to rotate the body for vertical composition.

    3. The optimum format size is obviously related to the planned print size. In Europe people get self-consciously uncomfortable with displaying a portrait larger than say 11"x14", in the US I get the sense people are less inhibited as I see in people's homes 30"x40" and even 40"x50" portraits. 645 is a pretty good match for 11"x14", but it's running out of horse-power by 40"x50".

    4. If you're handholding there's the fact that the bigger the SLR then the bigger the mirror that has to crash up and down. Maybe I drink too much coffee but I won't hand hold a Hasselblad with an 80mm lens at 1/60, where as I will using a modern 645.

    5. Do you use fill flash? If so your options for successful fill flash are much better with most 6x6 and 6x7 cameras than with any 645 other than the new and as yet unproven Hasselblad H1.

    Guess all this actually demonstrates is that the one, perfect camera is as far away as ever! Seriously, in 35mm the differences between individual SLR's are fairly small but in medium format they're a lot bigger. It's not that one brand's better than another, it's just that medium format cameras tend to be designed for a more specific purpose and working style.
  15. "They" get away with low res "arty" type 35mm or low-end digital rubbish, and we are not supposed to rock the boat by producing quality pictures. I like pin sharp hair in a portrait.

    The best format for most things is 6x9... The Hasselblad system 69 with lens shutters would make an ideal portrait camera - (why) has nobody made or marketed one?

    Does anybody make a decent modern, compact 69 rangefinder?
  16. Probably because 6x9 format is extremely awkward to get commercially printed and is not a standard format. You generally get charged for 4x5 custom pricing vs 6x7 proofing.

    Just like 6x6, most 6x9 shooters I know crop to 6x7 because few labs have proofing decks set up for 6x9.

    Show me a crop card for 6x9.
  17. I used to use 645 (Mamiya) for portrait work, but I have since changed to 6X6 because of a handling issue, I didn't like having to turn the 645 on its side for verticals as in 35mm. If Mamiya made an RB645 that would have been nice, I did use an RB67 at one time but it seemed too big to handle off of a tripod sometimes. I am happy with 6X6
  18. Consider this: You can always crop a rectangular shot down to a square. 6x7 = 6x6, 6x4.5 = 4.5x4.5, 24x35 = 24x24.

    You have lots more room to play around with a larger negative.

    The most important thing to consider is how the camera fits your personal style. Think about how you shoot, and then work from there.

    Come to think of it, why not get started photographing people with your 35mm setup, and then purchase a MF system when you have developed your style? Then you can make a well informed choice.
  19. Years ago I was in this decision mode myself. I went with a 6x6 format
    because you don't have to rotate the camera to shoot vertical with flash, can
    crop anyway you want at a later date and concentrate on the subject matter
    and have the ability of printing square which, for all intensive purposes looks
    really sharp in a rectangle frame. I prefer to have a manual camera (use
    Bronica SQA's) because there is less failure of batteries and less electronics.
    Shooting in manual is really easier than you think, with flash or without. With
    6x6, you can crop to 645 but you have other advantages.
    I think it is with the Mamiya that your referring to, you need to really keep after
    the plastic back plate on the film backs. They are prone to crack and ruin film
    due to light leaks. They are user replaceable though. Just a few thoughts to
    be aware of.
  20. I prefer the 6x7 format. For 8x10s there is virtually no cropping required. If needed the larger format allows room to crop to square and all sizes inbetween. Mamiya RZs have the convenient rotating back that is ideal for quickly reoreinting the subject from portrait-to-landscape without flipping around the entire camera and readjusting the tripod. Tight head shots require longe lenses so I would stay away from range finders to do portraits.
  21. David, when you say you are "interested in portrait photography" I do not know what that means. Professionally? If not, it just means you're interested in shooting people more, and there's little reason to run off and buy a new camera system. Pick up some books on techniques for photographing people: indoors, outdoors, formally informally -- whatever you're interested in.

    Jane Brown, who's shot celebrity portraits for the London Observer for over four decades, has since 1972 exclusively shot with an Olympus 35mm camera and 50mm lens and Tri-X, without a meter or flash.



    (Before 1972 she used a Rolleiflex TLR.)

    You could do worse than learning to get your technique down first with the gear you've got before pulling out the credit card.
  22. Ellis and Bailey make great points -

    1) MF is about more than just shooting "portraits". You can shoot a great portrait with just about anything. Seriously consider why you are making the move before doing it.

    2) Format-wise you need to pick something YOU are comfortable with! I can't stress this enough! I have both 6x6 and 6x4.5 cameras. PERSONALLY I prefer my Bronica ETRsi at 6x4.5 over my Mamiya C3. Mostly because I go for 4x5 or 8x10 or whatever enlargements and I just find it easier to use the ETRsi with it's rectangular format than the square format of the Mamiya. But that is me. My shortcoming is that I find it harder to crop in my mind's eye with the 6x6 format than with the 6x4.5 format. Other people find the 6x6 gives them a lot more flexibility. Play with some cameras and see what you like the best. Maybe you will find that 6x7 is what you like. Only one way to find out.

    3) My $0.02. When getting into MF for the first time, buy used. Unless you have thousands and thousands of dollars to just throw around, there is no point in buying your first MF camera new. Especially if you have any doubts about the format. A used Bronica, Mamiya, or Pentax can be had for much less than a new one. And if you decided to get out of MF, you will take much less of a hit selling them than if you had bought new.
  23. Consider a few things, the gear that you become 'at home' with, will enable you to do your best work especially in a Portrait session where people skills and the rapport you have/develop with sitter determines whether the images have a soul/something that makes contact w/the viewer of those images.

    In specifics, I mean you're comfortable with gear you have become used to, your routine is effortless, you're not tripping over things, you look and feel 'at peace', in turn, that relaxes the sitter, calm, trust, and mutual give and take abound, the session turns into a 'feelgood' event. The sitter walks in nervous/scared/uptight, and you try to peel all that away to get at the confident, at peace soul underneath, by personality, jokes, reassurance, whatever is necessary.

    You will hear recommendations about gear, but there is always going to be the issue of gear that is comfortable, easy to use, that you like, becoming the gear that you swear by, as opposed to the 'dogs' that have put a 'hitch in your getalong'.

    You have a sojourn that has no shortcuts in that you will have to 'hands on' experience the gear to find out what you if you'll get along together, and this is regardless of format.

    Whether you end getting a 6x6, 6x7, 6x8, 6x9, or LF, the overiding factor will probably be one of the cameras feels good in you hand, and you find yourself doing good work with, and this process doesn't have anything to do with logical choices, deosn't have anything to do with logic.
  24. At around age twenty I had saved and bought a Nikon Photomic and the original Vivitar 35-85 ser 1 lens, I did everything but eat and sleep with that camera, I shoot with 5254 which were 'short ends' that I loaded up into cassettes with a Lloyds loader, and for several years this is what I used, until I got an itch I couldn't scratch and sold the camera, and I have regretted it ever since.

    Keep your 35mm gear regardless of whatever else you get.
  25. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    I would stay away from range finders to do portraits
    You mean you can't do shots like this?
    Portrait, Mamiya 7, Copyright 2002 Jeff Spirer
  26. gl5


    JadeClose.jpg ©2002 Tristan Tom
    i prefer the square format best for portraits as i sometimes feel like i don't know what to do with the extra space when i shoot portraits with a rectangle. on the other hand, most of the images you see in fashion print are rectangles.
  27. Jeff - NO YOU CAN'T!!! Now destroy those negatives and go to your room!
  28. Jeff
    Nice picture but it's not a “tight head shot". It illustrates the point I was attempting to make earlier - longer lenses lend themselves to easily getting close-up portraits without stepping on the subject's toes. Longer lenses also have the advantage of narrower DOFs making it easier to get the blurred background preferred by most fashion photographers. Very narrow DOFs are often essential inside crowded portrait studios.
  29. Who said we were talking about headshots in studios?
  30. 'Longer lenses also have the advantage of narrower DOFs making it easier to get the blurred background preferred by most fashion photographers. Very narrow DOFs are often essential inside crowded portrait studios.'....................This has gotten to the heart of an important issue just as important as the original question, editing out everything else but what you want to emphasize, not just with lenses, but with clothes(black), lighting(snoots, high lighting ratios), and of course the shorter the lens(and closer you to the subject) the more potential for distortion.
  31. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    Who said we were talking about headshots in studios?
    That's the point, isn't it? The original poster asked about doing portraits without specifying specific types of portraits.
    FWIW, I've used the Mamiya 7 in the studio too, but I generally blow out the background to get pure white. "Close headshots" aren't all that interesting most of the time, at least to me.
  32. Every user is going to have an opinion.. There were days/years, that I had little money,so I went to a flea market--bought an old B&J 4x5 with a Wollensak lens for $35.00, and beat "Fine" Hasselblad users in an excellent club competition--BUT I controlled the developing--the old 'hot' lighting-etc.,etc. I got so much flak-resentment, that for the next years event, I used a 35mm with some of the Kodak Panatomic -ASA 32 film ---and won again...I am not saying that I am that good---but I knew that the competition was--so I worked a little bit harder, and with more concern...I bought an old store in FL -the former owner always used 4x5 (50,000 negs in the store stock), and if you do not mind the additional pain of the bulky 4x5,with the pain & aggravation--the larger negative just has a finer tone and quality that can easily yield super prints.. BUT you can also get get results (as shown in this forum) from 35mm and 2 1/4" !!!!???!!! JRM

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