Fadzly's blog on his photography

Venturing the Medium Format world: The feeling of expansiveness, closeness and detail.

Seagull 4A TLR | 75mm ƒ3.5 | Fuji Pro 160S
Tok Jembal Beach, Terengganu, Malaysia (2008)

I’ve been craving for a medium format system and had done quite some research over the web for the said objective. Thus, over the last year or so I’ve tried (i.e. tested and borrowed) a few medium format bodies, namely RB67, Hasselblad 500 C/M and a Seagull 4A (TLR).

One thing that marks the medium format experience is the feeling of expansiveness, closeness and detail that is visible through the finder and the elegance of the shape relative to the angular, distant and cramped (my view) 35mm view. I get these things with 6×6 and 67.

Personally I don’t get this feeling with a 645 system results that I see on the web which I guess is another way of saying that it all looks too similar to 35mm for me. I hope I could have my hands on a 645 system so that I can really get a proper feel for the system.

That said there is certainly enough film size to produce great large prints. At the moment I am more inclined towards getting a camera with the largest negative that I could afford (i.e. 6X6 or 6X7)… Maybe a system with reputable lenses like Mamiya or Hassleblad. They are quite easily acquired from some good stores like KEH, some camera strores in Singapore or Evil Bay if my budget gets too tight.

Quoting Mr. Philip Partridge, Jan 09, 2006; 02:15 a.m. (Photo.net Forum)
I sometimes ponder why some people cannot see the ‘sharp edge/ poor tonal separation’ syndrome one encounters all over the place with digicam images. Maybe there is a kind of visual literacy at play?

In a word, better images, so typical of larger pieces of film real estate, exude *authenticity*. It’s a combination of clarity, fine detail rendition, lack of obvious grain, and tonality (or tonal separation) and even the range of tonal values. It’s not apparent sharpness (MTF) as such – many top MF lenses rate with the finest from Canon/Nikon; check out photodo.com.

Notice that most of these qualities do not lend themselves to ready quantification or measurement. Which explains the plethora of ‘6mp vs (pick a film camera)’ comparos on the web, that narrow it all down to *resolution*, which is perhaps the least significant metric of photographic image merit. Witness the rich heritage of the accumulated photographic record from the olden times down to the present. Not too many ‘L’ lenses in that lot…

IMNSHO, the jump from small format to medium format is a good leap, whereas the step from there to 4×5 is well, a good step. It’s a threshold in image quality you cross when jumping to MF. LF cameras also suffer all manner of drawbacks technical and practical – you miss plenty of shots that are eminently takeable with MF, esp. the more auto ones. Most LF guys use dumbed-down flatbeds; no good desktop film scanners are available for them..

The tonality smoothness is the biggest benefit of MF over 35mm. If you look at the LPM figures for assorted lenses, there are actually 35mm lenses that can resolve detail nearly as well or better than some common MF and LF rigs, but film grain and the need for greater enlargement prevents that resolution from ever approaching the clarity of even a relatively low grade MF or LF lens.


3 responses

  1. I won’t go back to film but I, like you, crave the medium format. I don’t currently have $30,000 to get a good digital outfit but I can see the day when $2,000 buys a nice starter kit.

    September 27, 2009 at 4:31 pm

  2. I was thinking that I can settle down calmly with my 35mm but accidentally stumbled upon Mamiya RB67. The test roll came out really well and I’m amazed with the vividness of the image. Only the weight prevented me from carrying it around for daily out and about. Now I’ve acquired Yashica MAT – cheap but the result is still very sweet to my eyes. I started shooting roll after roll with this newfound love but 12 frames can disappear pretty quickly compared to 36 exposures 35mm. Currently, I’m developing both formats on weekly basis and simply can’t leave home with any of these.
    Happy hunting and thanks for sharing!

    December 2, 2009 at 2:32 am

  3. I’d highly recommend a Minolta Autocord (6×6 TLR). I’ve been shooting one for several months now and I find my desire to shoot any other cameras diminishing quickly. Image quality is superb, and I’ve heard the Rokkor lens compared to the vaunted Rolleiflexes. Everything you’ve mentioned in your article here is true. There’s a difficult to classify “feeling” to 6×6 MF that you can never achieve in 35mm. I also have a Mamiya 645 and it’s fantastic, but I agree with your assessment. It’s still too close to 35mm.

    February 5, 2012 at 6:49 pm

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