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Introduction to Medium Format Photography

via Introduction to Medium Format Photography.

 

What is medium format ?

Photography is divided into three main categories : 35mm, medium format and large format photography. 35mm photography employs common Nikon, Minolta and Canon cameras. The film is approximately 36 by 24mm in dimension.

The next larger size of film is the medium format film, which is 6.5 cm wide. It comes in rolls, and is available in 2 lengths – 120 and 220. The two lengths represent different length of film, much like the 24-exposures and 36-exposures type of 35mm film.

Large format films comes in sheet form, rather than in rolls. They are used mainly by professionals, because of the extreme care it takes to load and handle the film and camera. It comes in two sizes – 4 x 5 inches and 8 x 10 inches

Medium format films require less magnification when enlargements are made. Less magnification results in sharper prints. The 8″x10″ format is a very popular print size both for magazines and framing. The 6x7 format (shot on 120/220 film) is very close to the 8×10 aspect ratio and hence requires little cropping. The 6x4.5 format (shot on 120/220 film) requires just a little more cropping and is just a little smaller so it requires more enlargement. The yellow rectangle below shows and area of the 6x4.5 that would be enlarged to an 8″x10″ print. Some 6x7 format cameras have special film adapters so 35-mm film can be loaded and panorma photographs taken. As shown below, the 6x7 on 120/220 film covers more of the scene. A lens with a shorter focal length would be required with the 35-mm film adapter in the 6x7 camera in order to photograph the same scene. Last, a 35-mm slide is shown at the far right below. Again, the yellow lines show the area of the photograph used for an 8′x10″ print. Clearly, it would have to be magnified considerably more relative to th 6x7 on 120/220 film at the far left.

Photographed on 120/220
film with 6 x 7 camera
Photographed on 120/220 film with
6 x 4.5 camera
(portrait)
Photographed on 120/220 film with 6 x 4.5 camera
(landscape)
Photographed on multiple
frames of 35-mm film using
6 x 7 camera
Photographed on single frame of
35-mm film with
35-mm camera

What should you know ?
Here are some basic points you should know about medium format photography:

  • Medium format photography is not just for professionals. It can be and is being used by non-professional photographers too. But medium format photography is more tedious to use than 35mm photography. Thus, you need to take more care in using medium format to reap the rewards of the larger format, and it does require you to have a basic knowledge of photography, since automation is scarce. You do not need to be a pro, but you do need basic photography skills.
  • You can expect higher quality images from medium format cameras than your 35mm cameras, simply because of the larger film format. Because the negative is larger, it means you do not need to enlarge as many times to get the same sized photograph, leading to less grainy pictures and better tonality. Also, for 8×10″ prints less of the negative will be wasted in cropping.<click here for more about film size>
  • Make no mistake – medium format photography is expensive, especially if you plan to get a reasonably good and complete system. Not only are the equipment more expensive than the 35mm equivalent, the films, processing costs and enlargement costs are much higher than 35mm photography. However, with careful analysis of what you need and settling for less than the best, you can get started in medium format photography with a “reasonable” budget (reasonable for the average man in the street, not Bill Gates).
  • Medium format lenses are limited. It is rare to find super-long telephotos with medium format cameras. If you’re into wildlife and sports photography and you want a 500mm telephoto, search elsewhere. The longest lens available for medium format is around 500mm, which translate to around 350mm for 35mm format focal-length equivalent. The aperture for medium format lenses is also modest compared to 35mm.. You will read more about lens focal length conversion later. There is also very few zoom lenses for medium format, and prime lenses are the order of the day. Even then, the common apertures are f/4 and f/5.6, compared to the usual f/2.8 found in 35mm prime lenses. Extreme focal lengths (super-wide and super-teles) are also extreme in pricing. But then, users usually stick to three focal lengths only.
  • Finally, medium format cameras does not handle like 35mm format cameras, with the exception of a few models. Unlike 35mm cameras which are molded to conform to your hands, medium format cameras are ancient in design, usually boxy and bulky. This is because of the bigger mirror-box required, and the modular system that the camera incorporates. You cannot use a medium format camera as quickly as a 35mm camera. So if you are thinking of using medium format for fast photography like photo-journalism and sports, give it up. Most medium format cameras do not have a prism, so the image is laterally inverted. You will have to get used to the image on the ground glass, since when you move right, the image shifts left on the screen !! Hilarious for the subject as you curse and swear at the screen. There are a few models which are designed like 35mm cameras on steroids, and they do enable you to shoot faster. But 35mm cameras still rule the roost when it comes to speedy photography, But quality-wise, medium format photography still wins.

Why medium format ?

If you’re not sure whether you should go into medium format photography, use the following guidelines to check. I’ve listed the pros of using medium format, and if you do not need the advantages listed below, you should probably invest your money in something else.

Less enlargement is needed from a larger film
When you start off with a larger film format, you capture more information from the scene, leading to a more detailed final image. In addition, you do not need to enlarge your image as much to achieve a similar sizes enlargement compared to a smaller format. This allows you to attain greater sharpness, less grainy image and higher saturation. You are also free to crop your medium format film for greater creativity, without sacrificing image quality because you are starting off with a larger film format.

Ability for mid-roll film change
Some medium format cameras allow you to change films mid-roll, by swapping the film magazines. This advantage allows you to use several types of films to capture one scene, without having to use up the entire roll before changing. As you enter into a low-light situation, you can swap your low-ISO film for another magazine with high-speed film for greater versatility. In addition, you have the option of instant preview when you use a Polarioid (C) back on some of the cameras.

  • Ease of viewing and retouching
    A larger film is easier to view with the unassisted eye, and you can retouch finer details as compared to a smaller film format. You do not need a magnifier or a loupe to appreciate the details of the image, and the greater surface area gives more flexibility for retouching work.
    Easier fill-flash possible with leaf-shutter lenses
    What is leaf shutter ? Our 35mm cameras (eg. Nikon, Minolta and Canon) usually takes focal plane shutter, which is located in the camera body. Due to the construction and operation of the focal-plane shutter, we are able to sync the flash at 1/30th or 1/60th second. Modern SLRs can sync the flash at 1/250th second, or perform reduced-power flash sync at higher speeds. I shall not go into technicalities, but the reason is that focal plane shutters expose the frame one portion at a time, so synchronizing the flash at higher speeds is a problem. Leaf shutters expose the entire scene at a time, so they can sync with the flash at all speeds, usually up to 1/500th second. Leaf shutters are built into the lens, rather than the camera body. This has the advantage that a spoilt shutter means that the body is still usuable with other lenses since all lenses contain their own shutter, but it also drives up the costs of lenses, since you’re paying for a shutter for each lens you buy !

    Professional photographers require fill-in flash exposure for a variety or fashion, portrait, and commercial assignments. They need to synchronize the camera shutter at a wide range of shutter speeds with a variety of on-camera flash equipment as well as multi-head studio strobes. With most 35mm fill flash operating systems, you are limited to using low power, single head dedicated or TTL flash units, and maximum shutter sync speeds from 1/60 to 1/250 second.Leaf-shutter lenses allow synchronization at all shutter speeds up to 1/400 or 1/500 second with any type of flash.

    (Note: Not all medium format cameras have leaf shutter lenses)
    So if you do not need a bigger negative, mid-roll film interchangeability, ease of retouching, instant Polaroid proofing and high-speed fill-in flash, you do not need a medium format camera. As I said, medium format equipment is expensive, so you’ll need to evaluate very carefully before taking the plunge.

  • Film types

    Medium format films are exactly like 35mm films, except that they’re packaged differently. Like their 35mm cousins, medium format films are basically silver-halide gelatin coated pieces of plastics. Most types of film available in the 35mm format can be found in medium format too. The difference is that they are larger in size, and packaged in a different form. Rather than being wound up in a metal cartridge, they are rolled around a plastic spool. The film is backed by paper, and rolled tightly around this spool.

    There are 2 lengths of medium format film – the 120 and 220. The 220 is twice the length of the 120 film, and has its paper backing removed from the middle portion of the roll to save space. That is the only difference between the two types of film.

    How many exposures can be made ? It depends on the film format of the camera that you’re using. Both the 120 and 220 films are 6.5 cm wide. How many exposures can a roll take depends on how wide is the camera format. I shall explain it in the next section. Do take note that 120 and 220 films usually require different film magazines, due to the different thickness of the roll.

    Camera format

    Unlike the 35mm camera which makes images 24mm by 36mm, there is no standard image size for medium format cameras. There is the width and height of a image of course. The height is obviously restricted by the height of the film used, which is 6.5 inches. So all medium format cameras make images that are 6 cm tall (not taking into account the film edge). But the length of the images depend on the cameras themselves. There are 3 popular sizes: 6 X 4.5, 6 X 6 and 6 X 7 cm. Notice that they are all 6 cm on one end, which is restricted by the width of the film. The exposures I quote are based on 120 film; to get the exposures of 220 films, just multiply the figure by two.

              6 X 4.5 cm

    The smallest of medium format, the 645 cameras are compact (around the size of the biggest 35mm cameras). The smaller frames means that they are capable of taking 16 images on the 120 film. The 645 images can be printed on standard sizes of printing paper (eg. 4R, 8R) with a little cropping. 645 cameras offer medium format advantages with the least bulk. However, some people feel that 645 is not much bigger than a 35mm image.

  • 6 X 6 cm6 X 6 images are squares obviously. But they are also very special. Because the images are square in format, you have to learn to compose the image very differently from a rectangle. Some people love the square format, while some absolutely hate it. There is something very special about a square format that gives it a very harmonious feel. Indeed, there must be something exceptional about square formats, because the top two brands of medium format are square formats !! 6X6 cameras give 12 exposures from 120 film.

    6 X 7 cm

    The largest of the common formats is the 67 format. 67 cameras are bulky and chunky, but they do offer the biggest film size of all the format. Some people refer to the 67 as the ideal format, because the 67 film can be enlarged to print on standard size paper with minimal cropping, leading to enlargement of the entire image with minimal wastage of negative size or paper. 67 cameras offer 10 exposures per 120 roll.

    Other sizes

  • There are other sizes of medium format around, but they are not as common. Sizes include 6 X 8 and 6 X 9 cm from a unique Fuji GX camera, which is a beast both in size and weight. Also, there are medium format panoramic cameras which blazes through a roll of 120 film in less than 4 exposures.

     Camera brands

    Here I list some of the more popular brands of medium format cameras and some general comments. Discussions of specific models can be found in the later section.

    Bronica manufactures cameras in 645, 6X6 and 6X7 format. They are known for making modular cameras at reasonable prices (i.e compared to Rollei and Hasselblad). Their products are generally high in quality and offers good results, but lack the luxurious feel of their more expensive counterparts. Backed by a prominent Japanese lens manufacturer, Bronica has considerably increased its lens range. Bronica is popular with photographers searching for value for money. But it terms of resale value, it is generally considered a bad investment because of the low second-hand prices. If you intend to buy a Bronica, you should probably be prepared not to switch to another system.

    Contax is a new player on the medium format market. However, it does not mean that it does not deliver. It makes what is arguably one of the best 645 camera around, albeit at a extremely high price. In 1998, Contax entered the medium format arena with the Contax 645, with superb German lenses and modern technology taken from its 35mm cameras, creating only the best. But it is extremely pricey though, and the system is very limited in terms of lenses and accessories.

    Fuji is not only a film manufacturer, as many might think. They are also a prolific manufacturer of medium format cameras, and large format lenses. Their photographic equipment ranks with the very best in the industry. Fujinon large format lenses stand on par with Schneider and Rodenstock lenses, and their medium format cameras are comparable to much more expensive counterparts. Fuji is especially well-known for making autofocus medium format range-finder cameras, which gives performances much larger than their sizes suggest.

    Some consider Hasselblad the king of medium format. For decades, the Swedish camera manufacturer churns out finely-machined hand-assembled cameras which photography enthusiasts embrace as the classic medium format camera. The Swedish camera is not cheap, only second to Rollei in prices, but they are very fine machines which will serve you for life. The mechanical cameras are classic in design, being both functional and in looks. And the design has hardly changed since the 1950s, testifying to its well-thought out design which hardly needed any modification. Some has accused the Hasselblad design of being old-fashioned and obsolete, but few manufacturers can claim that parts and accessories for a camera from the 1970s can still be obtained at the factory, or that the 1970s Hasselblad camera that you own can use the latest lens. Talk about being obsolete ! Hasselblad does produce a line of electronic focal-plane cameras which are arguably the most expensive medium format cameras around. Love it or hate it, a Hasselblad draws attention like no other camera can. It gets my vote for resale value – in fact, you would have gained a profit if you had bought a 500CM in the 1980s and sell it in the market now !

    Kiev is a Russian manufacturer of Russian cameras that is best forgotten. It churns out cheap (not only in prices, but in quality as well) Hasselblad copies from its factory in Ukraine that sells at 1/8th of the prices of the Swedish camera. The quality of the optics is generally good, given Russia’s past status as a superpower, but the mechanical construction of the cameras is atrocious. They are generally unreliable and prone to breaking down. Although they are cheap, they are not worth the investment. Between $500 (that’s what a set generally cost) and a broken camera, I’d take the $500 any day.

    Mamiya is one of the best manufacturer of medium format cameras. Their designs are well thought out, and the optics are superb. They offer the widest range of medium format cameras around, both in SLR and range-finder forms. The SLRs are available in 645 and 67 formats, and the range-finders are available in both 6X6 and 6X7 formats. Backed by a adequate system of accessories and lenses, Mamiya cameras offer value for the buck. Although slightly more expensive than Bronica, Mamiya products do offer better handling. Long in the business of medium format, Mamiya boasts of a great system of accessories too.

    Pentax seems to specialize in medium format cameras that do not offer interchangeable film magazines. It offers two models, one in 645 format, the other in 6X7 format, both models come in two versions, but the common point is that they all do not offer mid-roll interchangeability. Pentax users are generally very happy with their lenses. The system accessories are limited for the Pentax cameras, and their cameras are aimed at niche markets. For what they are meant to do, Pentax cameras gives impressive performance, but they are certainly not for you if you’re looking for a multi-purpose camera.

    Rollei is seen as the arch-rival of Hasselblad. Both of them are arguably the best manufacturers of medium format cameras, and both uses the 6X6 format. The similarities end here. Rollei differs from Hasselblad in the sense that the former is very heavily into electronics. Rollei cameras are completely electronic, and most models have built-in metering and built-in motorized film transport. Rollei cameras run on rechargeable NiCd batteries, and will not function without power supply. However, Rollei cameras provide ease of operation due to its automated nature. Rollei cameras are expensive, ranking at the top of the price list, but they do have cheaper models that can be upgraded with options. Both Rollei and Hasselblad compete in the high-end 6X6 market, resulting in high-stakes and continual product refinements for the end user.

    Seagull is a manufacturer of cameras from China. Although they do make Minolta 35mm camera clones at a cheap price, they are better known for their budget Seagull Twin-Lens Reflex cameras. They have several models to choose from, and the cheapest model costs only around $130. They are a great way to get started in medium format without bursting your bank account. Don’t expect German lens quality or luxurious mechanics from them. They are cheap, but they do what they’re designed to do. You do get more than what you pay for. Considering that the camera only cost $130, the results are impressive. However, the lenses have a tendency to collect dirt and dust after some time.

    Lenses and focal length

    Because of the different film dimension, lenses for medium format are different in focal lengths compared to their 35mm cousins. For example, a 50mm lens for 35mm format is equivalent to a 80mm lens in 6X6 format, and a 85mm lens for 35mm format is equivalent to a 150mm lens in 6X6 format.

    The table below gives a few example of the 35m lenses focal length and their approximate equivalents in different medium format sizes:

    Focal length in 35mm Equivalent in 645 Equivalent in 6X6 Equivalent in 6X7
    28mm 45mm 45mm 60mm
    50mm 80mm 80mm 110mm
    105mm 180mm 180mm 210mm
    200mm 350mm 350mm 500mm

    The focal length are approximates, because the conversion is non-linear and thus no lenses fit proportionately to a ratio. As a guide, multiply the 35mm focal length by 1.6 times to get its equivalent for the 645 and 6X6 format, and by 2.2 times for the 6X7 format.

    What do you need to get started ?

    When we talk about budget, we not only include the cost of the equipment, but also future purchases and cost of processing and printing.

    The first cost is when you purchase the basic set of equipment. Depending on what brand and camera you choose, it may cost from a lowly $130 for a Chinese-made Seagull to more than $10,000 for a top-of-the-line Hasselblad 203 FE with the works. Check out the list of cameras I’ve listed at the end of this article.

    You’ll need a lightmeter to read the light levels too. If you’re really broke, you can use your 35mm camera to take a light reading, and transfer the readings to the medium format camera. But it would mean that you’ll have to carry two sets of cameras with you. A better alternative would be to buy a basic incident lightmeter like the Sekonic L-308B ($350), or a better one like a Minolta IV F ($480) or Sekonic L-508 ($530). Minolta lightmeters get my vote for reliability, accuracy and the ability to take modular accessories for greater flexibility in future.

    Film costs is around $5-$6.50 per roll of 120 film. It sounds quite cheap, until you realize that it is only 10-16 exposures. But then, you will not be shooting as much as you would when using 35mm film. Processing costs is more expensive, because fewer shops handle 120/220 film processing. It costs around $3 to process the roll in C-41, or around $4-5 to process E-6. The printing cost is the expensive one, since it may cost up to $0.50 to print 3R or 4S. And enlarging costs will be absolutely stunning, because most labs do not do medium format. If you’re into square format, take heart. Because most paper sizes are in rectangular sizes, it is difficult to find people to print in squares. Sometimes they will use a larger piece and crop out the square from the paper, but charge you for the larger size. You could compose in square, but print in rectangle, but you lose the composition then. But square pictures are unique in their own sense.

    I’m assuming that you can only afford the basic set of equipment for the time being. If you are interested in going all the way in the long run, I’d suggest you check out the prices of the equipment and lenses before investing in any system. Rollei and Hasselblad prices are very high, so you might want to consider buying a second-hand car instead. I’m not kidding about their prices. Bronica, Pentax and Mamiya have more reasonable prices, although they can still be quite depressing. You might want to get a wide-angle and telephoto lens in future, maybe a couple more film magazines and a Polaroid back, and maybe a prism.

    Thus, here’re some combinations and costs:

    $8000     Buy a Rollei 6008/Hasselblad 503CW with motor with a Minolta V lightmeter (top of the line stuffs)

    $5000     Buy a Hasselblad 503CW with a Minolta IV F lightmeter   ( a great combo if you have the budget)

    $3000     Investing in a set of Mamiya 645 Pro TL with prism, magazine and lens, with a Minolta IV-F meter

    $200       Get a Seagull and using your 35mm camera for lightmetering

    As you can see, there are various budgets to suit everyone. If you’re keen in trying out medium format photography for fun, get the Seagull and enjoy yourself. If you’re thinking of getting into serious medium format photography, my recommendation is to get a Mamiya 645 or Bronica ETRSi or SQ-B at the minimum. Hasselblad and Rollei are for the filthy rich. Bronica and Mamiya can do the job just as well, although they may not feel as good as the more expensive cousins. They are like Nissan and Toyota. They do the job of getting you places, but are not as luxurious as Mercedes and BMWs.

    What to consider when choosing a medium format camera?

    Here are some factors to consider when making the choice for your MF camera:

    1. Usage
       

      First of all, what are you going to use it for ? Are you interested in taking portraiture, close-ups, still-lifes, architecture or photo-journalism ? Some cameras are pretty specialized. For example, the Mamiya 6 and 7 are rangefinders. So they cannot be used for close-ups and still-lifes. However, they are compact and great for trekking and landscape photography. They can be great for photojournalism too. The Mamiya RB67 or RZ67 are great cameras for taking close-ups and still-lifes, since their bellow focusing allows closer focusing. They are also great studio cameras, since they offer big negative sizes but are heavy to bring around. Hasselblads and Rollei are great as multipurpose cameras. The Pentax 67 is a incredible camera for landscape, since it handles like a oversized 35mm SLR. Check out the list of cameras I listed at the end of this article.

    2. Interchangeable backs ?
       

      Do you need interchangeable film backs and magazines ? Cameras like the Bronicas, Hasselblads and Rollei all offer interchangeable backs. The Seagull, Pentax, Mamiya 6 and 7 do not offer interchangeable backs. Being able to use Polaroid film and change film-mid roll is a big plus for medium format photography, but if you do not need it, then there is no big loss.

    3. System accessories and lenses
       

      Like what I mentioned earlier, check out the system backing up the camera. Some systems like the Mamiya 645 and RB/RZ series and Hasselblad is extensive, so you can adapt your camera to do various stuff. Also check out the range of lenses to make sure that they have the lenses to do the job you want. Some cameras like the Seagull fall flat in the system accessories department, while the Contax 645AF is severely limited as a system too.

    4. Prices
      Finally, it is important to check out the prices !! If you can’t afford it, well… wait for Christmas and hope that your Christmas stocking is bulging with a Hasselblad !!

    Some popular medium format cameras

    Finally, here are some popular medium format cameras and a short commentary on their performance and handling etc.

    Bronica ETRSi

    Format: 645

    Bronica ETRSi is one of the most popular 645 cameras around. If offers value for money, and has a reasonably good set of 16 leaf-shutter lenses to back it up. It can take prism finders and motordrives, and the large range of lenses at reasonable prices means you are not limited by the system. Great if you are going for a budget, but do watch for the low second-hand market prices. Great if you’re buying second-hand because you can get good buys for low prices; but if you are the seller … well…

    Bronica SQ-Ai/SQ-B

    Format: 6X6, 645, 35mm

    Bronica SQ-series if the cheaper alternative if you want to compose in square format, and yet don’t want to spend a fortune on Rollei and Hasselblad. Like the ETRSi, the Bronica SQ-series offer a wide-range of 14 leaf-shutter lenses and accessories. The SQ-A series are better featured than the budget SQ-B, but the SQ-B offers value for money for a few less features. But you do get what you paid for – the Bronica SQ feels plasticky and doesn’t have the substantial feeling of a Rollei or Hasselblad. Functional for sure, but durability is suspect.

    Bronica GS-1

    Format: 6X7, 6X6, 6X4.5

    The Bronica GS-1’s claim to fame is that it is the most compact and lightest 67 format camera with interchangeable magazine. Other 67 cameras either don’t take interchangeable back (like the Pentax 67), or are bulky (Mamiya RB/RZ 67). Bronica achieves this by having a non-rotating film back. This means that if you want to take a portrait-orientation picture, you’re going to have problem with the Bronica GS-1. I’m not sure if reducing the bulk by getting rid of the rotating back is such a good idea after all. The Mamiya 67 although bulkier, makes rotating the orientation a breeze. The GS-1 has 9 leaf-shutter lenses.

    Contax 645

    Format: 645

    This is the new kid on the block, and is yet to be released at the time of writing, so I can’t comment much. The Contax 645 uses German Carl Zeiss lenses for unbeatable image quality, and managed to incorporate ultra-sonic motor focusing into the lenses ! This means superior optics with ultra-fast and quiet focusing. The camera also uses the famed Real Time Vacuum ceramic back for superior film flatness, a feature brought over from the Contax RTS III. The prism viewfinder also features center-weighted and spot metering. All in all, it’ll easily become the best 645 camera around, if you can afford the price that is. The system accessories is another thing altogether – you are severely restricted by the lack of system accessories. If you are a pro looking for a system camera for multiple purposes, you can do better with the Mamiya 645.

    Fuji GA 645 series

    Format: 645

    The Fuji GA series of 645 cameras come with a variety of lenses, from normal to wide-angles. They offer superb non-interchangeable optics and are compact range-finder cameras, and the newer generation GA-series are autofocus. Their sizes hide the incredible performance that they’re capable of. They are used by professionals and non-professionals alike. Don’t let their appearance fool you.

    Fuji GX-680 III

    Format: 6X8, 6X7, 6X6 and 645

    The Fuji GX-680 III is not called “The Beast” for nothing. If you have seen one in real life before, you’ll understand its nickname. The 680 is the bulkiest and heaviest medium format around. It is however, also the best featured MF camera. It runs on power and offers lens movements on the front standards, which no other camera of its class offer (with the exception of the Flexbody from Hasselblad). The multiformat film back can record data such as time, date, aperture, shutter speed and more on the film edge ! And it automatically reads the DX-code of Fuji film. Of course, you’d expect it to be motorized. There is a total of 15 high-quality Fuji lenses available. This is definitely a studio camera.

    Hasselblad 500-series
    Format: 6X6, 645

    Hasselblad medium format has the oldest design of all current medium format cameras.The stylish and distinctive design has remained unchanged since it was first launched in the 1950s. New features are incorporated into the design, leaving the exterior looking very alike the older models. Hasselblad has 2 models 501C/M and 503C/W which are completely mechanical, and a motorized version of the 503 called the ELM. The operation of the 500 series is basic, and the camera takes the superb Carl Zeiss lenses from Germany. Although expensive, Hasselblad can give long unproblematic services throughout its lifetime. It is an attention seeker, and sure to draw consersation from other photographers once you bring it out. Its compact built and a full array of accessories make it a good choice for multiple purposes.

    Hasselblad 200-series
    Format: 6X6, 645

    Often the centre of controversy, the Hasselblad 200 series is the electronic line of the Swedish cameras. Based on the same external design as the 500-series, they are packed with electronics for metering purposes. Instead of using leaf-shutters, they utilize focal-plane shutters. The controversy stems from the pricing of the 200 series. Although more expensive than Rollei, they do not include some of the features Rollei includes in their price. The 200-series is not as popular as their 500-series counterparts, but they can use faster Carl Zeiss lenses due to the focal plane design. Many of the accessories of the 500-series can be used on the 200-series as well.

    Hasselblad 903SWC
    Format: 6X6, 645

    Certainly one of the most unique camera in the world, the Hasselblad 903SWC is considered by most photographer to be the best wide-angle camera in the world. The camera is a unique beast because the lens is non-interchangeable. In fact, the body is built specifically only to house the Carl Zeiss Biogon 38mm. Because of it’s retro-focus design, there is no mirror housing. The 903 SWC can be found in many architectural photographers bag, becuase of its extremely high quality optics which enables it to replace a view-camera at times.

    Kiev 88
    Format: 6X6, 645

    Like I mentioned previously, the Kiev is a camera best forgotten. The Kiev 88 is a copy of the old Hasselblad 1000F camera. It is a focal plane design with cloth shutter. The mechanical construction of the Ukraine camera is generally poor, with common problems like light leak and jamming of mechanisms. Although some good samples can be found at times, it is a risky investment. It is unfortunate that the optics available for the camera is quite good. If they could improve the camera, it would no doubt be popular as a “poor man’s Hasselblad”. An entire set can be gotten for a little more than $1000.

    Mamiya 645 Pro TL
    Format: 645, 35mm

    The Mamiya 645 Pro TL is one of the most evolved cameras around. It has been around a long time ago as the Mamiya 645, before becoming the Mamiya 645 Pro and then Pro TL. This latest version has TTL flash metering, when coupled with the appropriate SCA adaptor. It is stylishly designed, and awarded the G-Award from Japan for its outstanding design. The lens line-up and accessories are impressive. When coupled with the motordrive and prism finder, it makes an excellent hand-held medium format camera that performs very much like a 35mm camera. Until the arrival of the Contax 645, this camera has been considered as the best 645 around. However, it is much cheaper than the Contax version, so it will still be around as one of the most popular 645.

    Mamiya 6/7
    Format: 6X7 (for M7), 6X6 (for M6), 35mm

    The Mamiya 6 and Mamiya 7 are unique cameras, because they are range finders. Because of the rangefinder design, there is no interchangeable camera backs nor Polaroid functions. However, they are lightweight and suitable for trekking long-distances. The 43mm lens for the Mamiya 7 is reputed to be the lowest distortion lens for medium format. If you want to use filters, or want to take closeup portraiture, they might not suit your purpose. But if you’re into landscape and photojournalism, they might just be the best tools.

    Mamiya RB67/RZ67
    Format: 6X7, 6X6, 645

    Mamiya RB 67 and RZ 67 are easily the most popular studio cameras around. They offer the large negative sizes, and their bulk means they are most comfortable in the studios. The lens line-up and accessories is quite good, so there is no danger of it being obsolete anytime. Both models feature turnable magazines for easy switch from horizontal to vertical format. The RZ is the electronic version of the RB, and is much easier to use than the older RB, which requires 2 steps to cock the shutter and advance the film before making the next shot. Moreover, the RZ is adjustable in 1/2 stops and features microfocusing for fine focusing. Both the RB and RZ uses leaf-shutter, and there is even a special soft-focus lens for portraiture. The RZ accepts optional motorized film transport and can be fitted with digital back.

    Pentax 645/645N
    Format: 645, 35mm

    The Pentax 645 and 645N faces stiff competition from Mamiya 645, and are not as popular mainly because of the non-interchangeable film back. I cannot imagine why Pentax did not change this feature when they redesigned the P645 into a autofocus model, the P645N. The Pentax 645 is a very capable camera, and it handles quite well, with a grip by the side and a prism finder included. The 645N is based on the 645, but has improved ergonomics and is the first medium format SLR. It even imprints data at the edge of the film rebates. Both 645 uses a set of leaf-shutter lenses. If you want a general purpose camera, the Pentax 645 and 645N may be limiting.

    Pentax 67/67 II
    Format: 6X7

    The Pentax 67 and 67II look like a 35mm camera on steroids. They are shaped like a 35mm SLR, looks like one, operates like one, but at twice the size. It draws attention to you from passerby with smartass comments like “is that your grandfather’s camera ?”. They are admittedly the easiest MF camera to learn, since you’d already know how to use it ! They take both 120 and 220 films, simply by turning a switch on the film back. There is no function for interchangeable backs or Polaroid, but they are so much cheaper than the other brands that you can buy a extra body and load it with other films. Both P67 uses Pentax lenses, which are highly regarded. The P67s are focal-plane shutters which sync at 1/60th sec, but there are 2 leaf-shutter lenses which are available for faster flash-sync.But the main problem of the P67 is that the mirror slap is quite substantial, which means speeds below 1/125th sec are risky. The newer version of the camera is basically the same thing, just redesigned with slight improvements and the capability to take a optional AE prism finder.

    Rollei 6000-series
    Format: 6X6, 645

    The Rollei 6000-series is easily one of the most advanced and electronic cameras around. There are several versions, from the high end 6008 to 6003. The numbering and different versions can get confusing at times, so do some reading up. They are packed to the brim with electronic devices and have lots of functions that many cameras do not have. Some of the budget versions are actually stripped down versions of the most advanced models, and can be upgraded at a later stage if you wish to do so. Rollei 6000-series uses the famous Schneider lenses, which some consider as the world’s best MF lenses. Of course, Carl Zeiss enthusiasts will disagree, but that’s irrelevant here. The series of camera all depend on the NiCd batteries to power up. That can be seen as a major source of danger, but to be fair the batteries are fairly lasting. Just remember to charge the batteries before going on assignment, and bring a spare (charged of course) battery. Rollei cameras are amazingly easy to use, due to their electronic nature and built-in automation. All the cameras in the series are equipped with built-in motorized transport, and the higher end models feature metering.

    Seagull TLR
    Format: 6X6

    The Seagull is a Chinese manufactured low-budget camera. It does what it is meant to do, and nothing else. It is cheap and it takes decent pictures. The workmanship is reasonable, and the functions are pretty basic. The lens isn’t as good as a Rolleiflex or even a Yashicamat, but it gives acceptable images. For $130, you can’t complain much can you ? It is a twin lens reflex, so you will have to compensate for parallax errors close-up. There is no room for interchangeable backs or Polaroid, but you can buy a dozen of these cameras and load up with a dozen different films.

    For a complete write-up on this camera, click here.

    Conclusion

    There is no doubt that medium format photography is rewarding. But it works best for the careful photographer, rather than a trigger-happy snapper. It does offer various advantage over the 35mm, but it does carry along some inconvenience. No format is better, they’re just different. If you find that you do need the advantages offered by medium format, make the move up. The resulting images will astound you. But do not invest in a medium format system just because it offers a bigger negative, or because it looks more professional. Be aware of the higher costs it entails, and the limitations of medium format photography. Check to see if medium format suits your working style. Although many users of medium format are professionals, there are plenty of professionals working in 35mm too. They know what they are looking for, and use the tools to get what they want. You too should treat your equipment as the tools to craft out your images, not a magic solution to create images.

     

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