An Introduction to Medium Format Photography

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An Introduction to Medium Format Photography

Medium format photography refers to cameras and film that use a 6 cm wide image capture area. They can be used for snapping urban scenes, automotive photography, nature scenery and much more with stunning results.

Since medium format negatives are larger, they allow for the creation of higher quality photos than 35mm or lower resolution digital cameras. Medium format photography originally referred to film cameras, but they do have an electronic digital counterpart. While these digital versions tend to be quite expensive, traditional film cameras have come down quite a bit in price.


Size Matters

What photographers love about medium format photography is that it allows for the creation of stunning images without the need for large format equipment. Standard cameras can only do so much in terms of quality and size; medium format cameras offer the ability to increase image resolution as well as the print size while retaining image quality very well.

Medium format film comes in two available lengths: 120 and 220. The 120 film yields around 12 square photos, and the 220 length supports about twice that many. Medium format cameras really shine in situations where large, high quality images are required. Since medium format cameras have a surface that can be up to four times larger than a 35mm frame, images can be enlarged quite substantially without a loss of quality. Photography artists who wish to enlarge their work for display in a gallery, office building or other large space are drawn to the benefits of medium format cameras and photography.


Camera Brands and Options

Bronica and Mamiya made some of the top medium format cameras during their heyday. At the highly affordable end of things were the Diana and the Holga, which can be found at cheap prices today; however, their results can be quite unrefined. A used TLR (Twin Lens Reflex) camera is a great way to get started affordably and get really good images. These cameras were used in the 60s and 70s in newspaper as well as professional photography, so there are many used models around.

At the higher end of the spectrum is the famous Hasselblad medium format camera, which has been trusted by photographers for decades and even used by astronauts in outer space.

Midway between these two camera options for getting started in medium format photography is the brand Yashica, and its MAT camera is an excellent medium format option. There are models from Nikon, Canon, Leica, and just about every major photography brand. Both new and many used models in all of these brands are available for purchase online.


Used Camera Buying Tips

If buying a used camera, make sure the shutter works properly. Test it by setting it to 1, and then time it with a stopwatch to make sure it buzzes smoothly for one second (or very close to that). If performance is disjointed, it's best to look at a different camera. Also, the lens should be clear and clean when the shutter is open.


Medium Format Shooting Techniques

Here are some key things to be aware of when shooting medium format images.

Get hip to the square

One of the biggest differences beyond the great resolution of medium format images is the fact that they are square - not rectangular. It may take some time to adjust to this cropping and composing format, but once photographers become familiar with shooting this way, many come to prefer its artistic possibilities.

Focus, focus, focus

Since the depth of field will be much shallower than other camera types, focus is key. Medium format images are known for their soft, inviting feel, but it's important not to let this get out of hand and into the realm of being blurry.

Scan and refine

The good news is that with today's scanning and editing technology, images can be sharpened and refined on the computer. While this isn't a pass to be careless while shooting, the huge resolution allowed by medium format images means that there's lots of data to work with.

Getting started with medium format photography takes a willingness to experiment and a commitment to practicing and learning how to use some of the best classic equipment of yesteryear. While there is a learning curve for those who have never done it before, the payoff can be gorgeous images that hold up even when enlarged to museum print size.

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