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An Introduction to Medium Format Photography Pg 1 | Pg 2 | Pg 3 | Pg 4



What is medium format?

Medium format photography refers to cameras that accept medium format film. Medium format images are 6 cm wide, and the film rolls are available in 2 lengths – 120 and 220, each representing a different length of film.
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Medium format photography is not just for professionals, but it is more tedious to shoot with than 35mm photography. You’d need to take more care in using medium format to reap the rewards of the larger format, but you can expect higher quality images from medium format cameras because of the larger film format. The film size is larger so it requires less enlargement, leading to less grainy pictures and better tonality.

Medium format photography can be expensive, especially if you plan to get a reasonably good and complete system. The films, processing costs and enlargement costs are significantly higher than 35mm photography. However, with careful analysis of what you need, you can get started in medium format photography with a reasonable budget.
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Medium format lenses are limited - it is rare to find super-long telephotos. There are also very few zoom lenses for medium format, and prime lenses are the order of the day. Even for prime lenses, the common maximum 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. Many medium format photographers are perfectly happy with two to three lenses for their system.

Medium format cameras do not handhold easily like 35mm cameras, since they usually are boxy and bulky in design. This is due to the bigger mirror-box required, as well as the modular system that the camera. Many medium format cameras do not come with a prism, so the image is laterally inverted. You’d have to get used to the image on the ground glass, since when you move right, the image shifts left on the screen!
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Lesser enlargement required with a larger film

When you shoot with a larger film format, you capture more information from the scene, leading to a more detailed image. And you do not need to enlarge your image as much to achieve a similar size 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.
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Ability for mid-roll film change

Some medium format cameras allow you to change films mid-roll, by swapping the film magazines. This lets you to use several types of films 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 back on some of the cameras.
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Ease of viewing and retouching

A larger film is easier to view with the unassisted eye, and you can retouch finer details on the film directly 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.
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Film types

Medium format films are basically silver-halide gelatin coated pieces of plastics just like 35mm films. 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.
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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. How many exposures can a roll take depends on how wide is the camera format. Do take note that 120 and 220 films may require different film magazines (depending on the camera) due to the different thickness of the roll.
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Image sizes for medium format

Unlike the 35mm cameras, there are no standard image sizes for medium format cameras. The height is obviously restricted by the height of the film used, so all medium format cameras create images that are 6cm tall. But the width of the images depends on the cameras used. There are 3 popular sizes - 645, 66 and 67.

6x4.5 format

The smallest of medium format, the 645 cameras are compact (around the size of the biggest 35mm cameras). The smaller 6 x 4.5 cm 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.

6x6 format

Some medium format cameras deliver 6 x 6 cm square images. They are unique because the square format requires you to compose the image very differently from the traditional rectangle format. Some people love the square format, while some absolutely hate it. Indeed, there is something very special about a square format that gives it a very harmonious feel. 6 x 6 cameras deliver 12 exposures from 120 film.

6x7 format

The largest of the common medium format cameras is the 6x7cm format. 6x7 cameras are bulky and chunky, but some people refer to 6x7 as the ideal format because the 6x7 film can be enlarged to print on standard sized photo paper with minimal cropping. 6x7 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 6x8 and 6x9, or even wider panoramic sizes. These ultra-wide cameras can blazes through a roll of 120 film in less than 4 exposures!
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Medium Format: Pg 1 | Pg 2 | Pg 3 | Pg 4