Medium format

From Academic Kids

Medium format is a film format in still photography. Generally, the term applies to any film size between 35mm and large format (eg: 4"x5" sheet film) and to the type of camera that uses the format. Due to the higher image resolution offered by the larger film size, the majority of medium format users are professional photographers who often require fine image detail, but the format is also gaining increasing favour amongst amateur enthusiasts.

Contents

Characteristics

The main draw to medium format is that, due to its increased negative size (around 3 to 4 times bigger than 35mm), it offers much higher image resolution. This allows for relatively big enlargements and smooth gradation without the grain or blur that would characterize similarly enlarged images produced from smaller film formats. While large format film used in view cameras offer greater negative size and higher resolution still, they generally lack the versatility and convenience of a medium format camera due of their bulky size and relatively awkward processes.

Medium format negatives can also be shot in a variety of aspect ratios, which differ depending on the camera or frame insert used. The most common aspect ratios are 6x6cm (square) and 6x4.5cm (rectangular). Other frequently used aspect ratios are 6x7cm, 6x9cm, and 6x17cm panoramic. The 6x4.5cm format is usually referred to as "645", with many cameras that use this ratio bearing "645" in their product name. Cameras that can switch to different aspect ratios do so by either switching camera backs, by using an frame insert, or by use of special multi-format backs. All of these dimensions are nominal; actual dimensions are a bit different. For example, 6x7cm might give an image on film that is actually 56 x 70 mm; this enlarges exactly to fill an 8x10 sheet of paper. Another feature of many medium format models is the ability to use Polaroid instant film in an interchangeable back. Studio, commercial and architectural photographers value this system for its ability to verify the focus and exposure. Another pro is that, like large-format cameras, many medium format cameras have various interchangeable parts. While most 35mm SLRs support different lenses, it is standard for medium format cameras to support different lenses, winding mechanisms, viewfinders, and camera backs.

Compared to 35mm, the main drawbacks are accessibility and price. While 35mm cameras, film, and photo finishing services are generally widely available and cheap, medium format is usually limited to professional photography shops and can be prohibitively expensive for some. Medium format film also supports fewer exposures per roll, usually around 12 to 16, and are generally more difficult to load and handle than their 35mm counterparts.

Medium format photography today

Digital photography has come to the medium format world with the development of digital camera backs, which can be fitted to many medium format and 35mm cameras. Digital backs are a type of camera back that have electronic sensors in them, effectively converting a camera into a digital camera. These backs are usually very expensive and are used predominately by professional photographers. Like with film, due to its increased size they deliver more pixels and have lower noise. Features like fan cooling also improve the image quality of studio models.

All medium format cameras manufactured today use the 120 film format. Many also can use the 220 film format. When buying a used camera, ascertain whether it takes a film format that is currently available.

Medium format photography and lomography

While most professional medium format cameras are very expensive, inexpensive plastic imports, such as the Diana and Holga, are gaining in popularity, particularly with toy camera enthusiasts. Due to the poor quality of the camera, the exact image captured on the negative is somewhat random in nature. These camera usually have distorted lenses that offer poor or uneven focus, light leaks that vignette or oddly colorize an image, and a multitude of other 'flaws' that are generally undesirable to photographers. While these elements certainly are "flaws" in camera design, they can produce interesting, artistic, or enjoyable results. Because of the popularity of lomography and toy camera culture, medium format photography has seen a resurgence with the amateur class.

The Chinese TLR Seagull, also from China and soviets low-end medium cameras like the Lubitel are also available at moderate prices. These camera can deliver quality images, although the lenses and camera bodies are not at the level of those from Swedish, German and Japanese manufacturers.

Used amateur folding cameras and box cameras are also cheap option to shoot medium format. Sadly many of them, including most of the mass produced Kodak folders use the discontinued 620 film requiring the user to respool 120 film.

Medium format Cameras

Types

  • Folding-bed field cameras

Additionally, most large format cameras can, with the use of roll-film adapters, use medium format film.

Common brands

"Classic" medium format cameras are collected and used by antique camera enthusiasts. Names like Graflex, Omega, Voigtländer and Zeiss can quicken a collector's pulse.

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