Medium Format Advice Centre
Medium Format cameras are often viewed as a big step up from 35mm format cameras. They are certainly the domain of the serious photographer, whether professional, aspiring professional or experienced amateur.
Price is often the most significant factor that stops people stepping up to this format, with fully featured, automatic cameras regularly coming in at well over £2000. Before you are put off for life though, at the other end of the market, for around £200, you can find an entry level camera. Obviously cameras in this price range will not be overloaded with all the latest state of the art features, but you will be able to explore the medium format world. For many former aspiring professionals the step up to this format has led to increases in income quickly offsetting the initial expenditure.
If you wish to sell your photographs in the commercial world then you should seriously consider a medium format camera. Your chances of success are considerably higher when you are able to present to art directors and picture editors the larger slides and negatives produced by these cameras. It is easy to understand why when you consider the fact that the negative size is typically 350% larger that a 35mm negative. Not only do the images look more impressive, but because of the level of details that can be captured in a Medium Format image, enlargements are of a far greater quality. If you are a picture editor this is exactly the level of quality that you demand.
Medium Format cameras have four major components. All components are interchangeable. Although it should be noted that components are not always compatible across different manufactures. There has been a move towards lighter components making Medium Format cameras easier to use for work out in the field. A number of the features now available also provide these cameras with some of the functionality you have come to expect from an SLR.
The body is the control centre and forms the hub of the camera. Once the components are fitted to the body you are ready to start shooting. The body has a maximum format size that it is capable of producing, so when you see a camera quoted as a 6x6, then the camera can produce images up to 6 by 6cm. A 6x6cm image is 350% larger than a 35mm image, so you can begin to see the power of this type of camera and why they are the choice of professional photographers. The actual picture area is a shade under the format size, for example a 6x7cm format can give a 56x69.5mm picture.
The camera back holds the film. Different format sizes and film types can be used, with the interchangeable backs allowing for mid roll change. If you are using a camera body with a maximum format capability of 6x7cm, then you
will normally be able to use backs with film sizes 35mm, 35mm panoramic, 6x4.5cm, 6x6cm, up to 6x7cm.
A popular additional back is the Polaroid instant film back. This back allows you to take a test picture and see an instant print. If you are satisfied with the instant print then you can reselect the back and shoot your image confident of the end result.
There is also an increasing range of digital backs available. These allow you to maximise your investment in Medium Format equipment by adding digital capabilities. The first Medium Format cameras built for digital photography are now becoming available.
Some cameras also offer a revolving film back making it possible to change from portrait to landscape shots without moving the camera.
As with any camera the lens is a vital piece of equipment. A lens of inferior quality will lead to poor quality final results. The choice of
available lenses is wide and varied, including fixed and zoom. Lenses can commonly be found in the range of 40mm to 500mm. At the lower end of
the range tend to be a series of wide angle lenses, with the upper end providing telephoto effects. Also included in the range are a number of
special application lenses, fish eye, macro and soft focus, being among those available.
There are also a number of further attachments available, affording you total control over each different shot. These include fisheye lenses, auto extension tubes for close up photography, additional close up lenses, focusing levers for rapid focusing, tele-converters and bellows attachments for continuous variations in magnifications. For lenses if the standard range you are also likely to find matching lens hoods for removing stray rays.
Cameras can come with a choice of finder. Waist and eye level finders are available. Prism finders are available for laterally correct, upright images.
Top of the range finders provide additional functions such as, a choice of spot or average metering, exposure compensation, TTL automatic exposure systems
and LCDs indicating the different modes currently selected, appropriate shutter speed and the exposure compensation setting condition.
The finders work in conjunction with focusing screens. There is also a wide choice of focusing screens. The screen for general purpose photography is the Matte screen. Others available include the Checker for close ups, copy work and architectural applications, Rangefinder Spot for rapid, accurate focusing and the Cross-Hair for close ups and astronomical work. A series of correction lenses are also available.
For precision focusing you can attach a magnifier to a eye level prism finder. These work by magnifying the centre of the focusing screen. Once focusing has been achieved they can be raised to check the overall composition.
The primary reason for stepping up to the Medium Format range is the size and therefore quality of the image produced by this type of camera.
Editing and Retouching
The large image size makes it easier to edit and retouch an image. Images are also perfect for cropping and enlarging.
Whatever type of camera you are buying the quality of the finder is always an important aspect to consider. Medium Format cameras offer larger finders than their 35mm competitors, making it easier to see the exact image that you are about to capture.
With typically 15 exposures or less per roll, film is also more expensive to buy and develop. The number of exposures per roll depends on the format of the pictures that you are planning to take. If you take 6x7cm pictures you will get less exposures per film than if you take 6x4.5cm pictures. Standard films are 120 and 220. A wide range of film speeds are available, similar to 35mm film and slide.
By using interchangeable backs, cameras will shoot different size images.
Mid Roll Change
It is possible to change film in the middle of a roll, returning to the original when required.
There are a wide range of flash units are available for Medium Format cameras. Compatibility needs to be checked to ensure your chosen flash unit will work with your camera.
Highly accurate exposures can be achieved through cameras offering Through The Lens (TTL) direct light measurements at the film plane.
For hand held shots, out in the field, speed grips are available.
A wide range of lenses and complementary attachments are available to suit every photographic opportunity.
Motor Drives are available making continuous sequential shooting a possibility.
Bulb Shutter Mechanism
Some cameras now have a Bulb Shutter Mechanism for long exposure work.
Stepping up to Medium Format can feel like a leap in the dark. So if you are not sure what to buy or uncertain about the merits of Medium Format photography, then try some cameras on rental. Rental rates can be very reasonable and this can help you decide which features you consider a must and which features you can add on later.
Second Hand Market
There is an active second hand market for Medium Format cameras and accessories, although you may not get all the latest features there are some very good deals to be found. Always ensure that you get a guarantee for any used equipment.
Once you have found the camera that you are looking for and paid out your money for it there is one more item that we recommend, camera insurance. This can protect you against accidental damage or loss of your camera or equipment. The insurance company that we recommend is Photoguard. Click here for details of their services.