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Medium format, and the agony of choice

cathal > cathal Blog > Medium format, and the agony of choice
25/09/2009 - 1:59 PM



Unique views 327 (385)

Photographers are an argumentative bunch! Before digital photographers argued about sensor size, the debate was equally lively regarding film sizes. Its best summarised by 35mm being the format for those who valued convenience, while those who valued quality above all would shoot using medium or larger formats.

After using 35mm film for twenty years I tried my hand with medium format, and bought a system using a 6x6 square aspect ratio. Unlike other roll film cameras, the advantage of the square format is that there is no longer a requirement to tilt the camera between portrait and landscape orientations.

The transition from 35mm was neither particularly difficult nor especially traumatic. The controls on a medium format camera are similar to those of a 35mm camera and in this regard the learning curve is very small. But it is another medium and so there are differences.

The first difference is loading the camera. Roll film has a protective backing paper on one side of the film emulsion. With undue care and attention it is possible to load the film the wrong way around. I'll be honest and admit that it is something I've done, and am still haunted wondering what those lost images could have looked like.

The viewfinder reveals the second difference. With most medium format cameras you're looking directly at the ground glass screen. Stripped of a prism, the image is reversed, though you can look at the whole picture from a slight distance. Most waist level finders incorporate a very useful magnifying lens for acute focusing.

This runs neatly into the third difference. Using the square format really has an impact on the composition of pictures. Seeing the world through square pictures does not suite some people, and I found it wasn’t as suitable for me as I imagined it would be.

The fourth difference concerns exposure. Many medium format cameras require a hand held light meter. Calculating exposures using a hand held meter was very new to me. The compensation for any filters used must be calculated manually.

Another difference is the pace of medium format photography, which tends to be much slower than 35mm. A tripod was de rigueur, and I always made detailed notes. I took more time to compose each picture. I exposed far less film as a result. Medium format photography was more relaxing.

The final difference? When it comes to quality, while 35mm is very good, medium format is better. No contest.

But now it is in the past. It never replaced my 35mm system entirely, and received little or no use once I got a digital SLR. Burdened with too much equipment, I sold it. But no matter how hard I try, I cannot get that little voice out of my head, calling me back.

Now Pentax have finally confirmed the 645D. Could this have the advantages of medium format, with the convenience of digital, at an affordable price?

Do you need to pick all six numbers to win the lottery?

Tags: , 35mm, Choice, Digital, Film, Medium format, Systems

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