View Full Version : Exploring medium format

29-06-2010, 5:26pm
Hi all

Looking for some advice on medium format cameras – for a while now I’ve been toying with the idea of trying out MF photography, and have a few questions.

Firstly, given the current state of digital technology, is it really worth delving into MF with all the associated costs of film, developing, scanning etc? Obviously a MF frame is physically bigger than a 35mm frame, digital or otherwise, but unless you’re printing big – is there any appreciable difference?

My idea is that I’d use it for landscape photography, generally where I take off in the car and have the time/inclination to set up with a tripod.

Secondly, a local shop has a Mamiya 645 Pro + 80mm lens for $650 – does this seem a reasonable price? The same shop apparently has a couple of Hasselblad 500C/Ms, but they’re a few hundred dollars more – is it worth spending the extra on a Hassie, or will the Mamiya be a good enough entry point?


Thoughts? Experiences?

Debra Faulkner
29-06-2010, 6:55pm
Ahhh what fun! I haven't as yet had the pleasure of being able to play with MF - only in my dreams :D If you really want to, go for it! There are heaps of MF's around so I'm sure you would have done your homework before considering the local shop. To give you an idea of the 'look' from a Mamiya check out my niece's partner's site (http://www.chrisgroenhout.com/index.html) if you like - in the mono portraits section you will see some examples. He has fun, so why shouldn't you? :th3:

29-06-2010, 6:59pm
I really enjoy getting my MF camera out at times. And if your photography skills need a hone, MF will drag you into full time manual mode quick smart. It also teaches you to slow down, and think about exposure and composition a lot more. After all you have only a small roll of film and have to pay for it, and developing, so you tend to check and double check your exposure and composition before firing off a single shot. Digital makes you lazy..hehehe

29-06-2010, 6:59pm
You can get a mamiya rb67 for about USD 200 on ebay... or try KEH.com...
I think you will find that the mamiya performs as well as a hassy. Perhaps go for the cheaper option until you're really sure you like medium format. I personally think it is fun to be developing and processing the film yourself but i don't know if you have the equipment to do so? To me, using film makes me think alot harder on how i will make a picture. I kind of just get abit lazy with digital cos it doesn't cost anything to take numerous shots and then choose the best one out of the rest.
oh, keh.com has a hassy at $650 i think... thereabouts... but is in bgn condition.
i'm waiting for my mamiya rb67 in the mail... keke....

29-06-2010, 7:00pm
Hi Jimbo, I jumped into film MF last yr and have really enjoyed the experience thus far. I don't print big and IMHO digital has more or less overtaken all measurable aspect of image quality such as resolution, high iso, etc.
For me MF is all about the 'look' and perspective of the larger capturing real estate.
I only have a 645 with an 80mm f2 and I'm a big fan of shallow dof, creamy bokeh so it suits me just fine.
I also like the square format but bought the 645 first but would love to add a 6x6 TLR at some stage. If money isn't tight, I'd personly go for the blad if I was in ur position.
And lastly, compared to MF digital, MF film is still pretty cheap comparatively as long as you can put up with the extra time/effort just to see you shot. The up side is there's less post processing and part of the character of the shot is already built into the film u've chosen.
In short, do it for the look, not for technical quality increases.

JM Tran
29-06-2010, 7:02pm
you can also do what I did, shoot a 120 roll, drop the roll off to lab to develop it then scan the negatives at high res and onto a CD, all for 16 dollars, so you have some digital format as well as an alternative from the dark room

29-06-2010, 10:21pm
I took the MF plunge about a month ago and went for a Koni-Omega Rapid with a 90mm F3.5:


This one cost me about $150 at the Adelaide Camera Market. I went this camera for two reasons, I wanted a Rangefinder and I wanted to get in at a cheaper level. I have only put a few rolls of film through it (two B&W and one colour) and am suitably impressed with the results thus far. I think in the future, I will look either for a Mamiya 67 (which ever variant I save enough for) or go all out on a 'blad.

The thing I suppose you need to weigh up for yourself is whether you want to go down the film route or not. While there is a cost (I am like JM, with colour and get Dev and scan for $15.....but lets not forget, on a 6x7, that's only 10 shots!), the results are generally good to go straight off the neg.

29-06-2010, 11:14pm
Thanks everyone.... well... no-one's screaming "don't do it, you're crazy!".

I'm trying to decide whether to take this path, or to save up for a Zeiss 21mm Distagon. For half the price of the Zeiss I could get the Mamiya or a 'blad with a wide angle lens. <sigh> decisions...

Food for thought!

Re film, I've always heard that different films, eg Velvia, have their own characteristics - does anyone know of any sites that have information on this, provide examples etc?

30-06-2010, 12:35am
Jimbo, I suggest you give the 645 or 6x6 formats a miss and that you consider 6x7 instead, specifically Mamiya RZII but maybe the Pentax or other 6x7 cameras. Unless you are specifically a fan of the square format, the 6x6 format is equivalent to 6x4.5 as soon as you crop it horizontally. Shooting 6x6 does not give you a higher quality image! I do like the square format but you don't have to shoot square format to get a square format image. On the other hand shooting 6x7 gives you a much larger negative than 6x4.5. The difference is quite noticeable and possibly as big a step up as 6x4.5 is to 35mm. I've had Mamiya 645's (and still have planty of the lenses which I use on Canon EOS bodies) and I still have Mamiya RZ's and I can tell you that the resolution and tonal gradation from the RZ is quite amazing, even with relatively fast film, simply due to the fact that you don't have to enlarge it as much as 6x6 (cropped horizontally) or 6x4.5. I used to shoot ILFORD HP5+ (which is a 400 ASA film) and normally printed about 11x14 with stunning sharpness and tonal gradation. FROM A 400 ASA FILM!

Have a look for a Mamiya RZII with a 110mm lens. The 110 lens is stunning. This gear is unloved and unwanted so it's easy to buy it for next to nothing yet these lenses cost thousands of dollars new 5, 10 years ago!

Don't bother shooting medium format film if you are simply going to scan the film. I think you are wasting your time and money as you can get equal results with most high end digital cameras and you can certainly mimic any films qualities or quirks in Photoshop or similar. You will also save heaps of time retouching dust! It's another story if you print the film yourself so that you maintain the greater tonal gradation that's a key quality of medium format film in the first place.


30-06-2010, 7:44am
Yes different film has its own characteristics. Fuji Velvia produces lovely saturated colours that make for brilliant landscapes. Remember that higher ISO film also gets a superb grainy result that can be very effective, especially if shooting mono.

Here is a link to a fair few: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_photographic_films

30-06-2010, 9:47am
Thanks Rick, that's pretty much what I was looking for. Might have a look for some Flickr groups dedicated to various well known types, find some sample shots.

JJ - I'd like to give 6x7 a go, but I'm on a limited budget ($1000-1200 or so). I'll have a look around, would've preferred to buy locally, but in a small town I'm not likely to find a 6x7 system for a reasonable price. I'll have a squiz on KEH.com :)

David Woods
30-06-2010, 9:51am

Beware of MF, one you see the negs you will want to shoot bigger negs, it happened to me I now shoot 5x7, my medium format camera's cost me $80 on ebay, a Zeiss Nettar and Zeiss Ikon, both good camera's and cheap.


30-06-2010, 10:02am
Yes to all of the above. An especial yes to JJ's idea of skipping 6x4.5, that's only 1.6 and 1.8 times the dimensions of a 35mm frame. Of course I barrack for the Mamiya RB67. If you do see a "bargain" on E-bag you'd have to check it out carefully. I could see a potential crash in interest if you get a ho-hum quality machine. In shops around Syd, M RB67s go anywhere from $500-1000, depending on the gear with them.

On any camera you may get that take "dark slide" on their removable back, beware that warped slides and iffy slots on the backs can cause light leak. Took years to figure this out.

Oh, and yes: DON'T expect to do any fast photography with MF cameras.

30-06-2010, 10:08am
PS. Have you seen this?

30-06-2010, 11:04am
...but I'm on a limited budget ($1000-1200 or so). I'll have a look around, would've preferred to buy locally, but in a small town I'm not likely to find a 6x7 system for a reasonable price. I'll have a squiz on KEH.com :)

KEH is good, but you have to be willing to ship an item back if you are unhappy with it but at least you have the option to do so. Buy in EX or EX+ and you should be fine.

I wouldn't consider anything in BGN condition but this is generally what you probably want, just in better condition, ie EX or better.

This is so cheap for what it is! The 110 is amazing and will get you hooked but the rest of the lenses are quite cheap too. There are a couple of lines of lenses as the RZ lenses were updated about 10 years ago. You need to know what you are looking at when deciding if the price is cheap or not, but KEH is always very reasonable, much more so than the typical prices you find on Evilbay.

You need at least a couple of backs, the more the merrier.


30-06-2010, 11:16am
Geez, Jimbo. I dunno if I'm missing something, but I wouldn't push my interest OS like that.:eek:

30-06-2010, 11:53am
Geez, Jimbo. I dunno if I'm missing something, but I wouldn't push my interest OS like that.:eek:

Not sure I understand?

30-06-2010, 12:05pm
I saw KEH is an OS firm. Am.

30-06-2010, 12:29pm
KEH is in America. That's why you need to consider the possible cost of having to ship an item back if you are unhappy with it, but at least you have that option even though it would be a last resort IMO. That's also why you need to choose an item in EX or better. If you buy BGN items then you can get lucky and get a great item at a bargain price but if you have to ship it back then that cost can eat into any benefit you might have had.

I've purchased from KEH and they are fantastic. They've been around for along time.


30-06-2010, 12:30pm
Ah, ok. As I understand it, KEH is well respected as a source of MF equipment and taps into the very large US 2nd hand market. Basically, I'll have more chance of finding what I want through KEH than I will in Australia and probably for a more reasonable price.

Eg my local shop is selling a Pentax 67 (and not a MkII) with a 105mm lens for $1800. I could probably save several hundred $ on that through KEH.

The only downside is not being able to inspect the gear in person, but KEH at least has a rating system for condition.

01-07-2010, 11:53am
well next semester in my course we cover medium format film shooting so looking forward to that

03-07-2010, 1:47am
Jimbo, I would like to suggest you look closely at the Mamiya RB67. It will cost you a lot less than an RZ67, they are better built, and are a fully mechanical camera. The RZ67 relies on a battery...no battery, no play. I have owned and used both the Mamiya RB67 and the Hasselblad 503C/W, and my preference is the Mamiya. Here are my reasons:

1) Whilst 6x6 is an interesting format and beautiful in its own right, for landscape work, more often than not you will be wanting a more standard aspect. The way 'blad has always marketed their camera is to shoot square and crop when printing/editing. This freed the photographer to shoot without having to rotate the camera and essentially gave them around the same as a 6x4.5 (or thereabouts) for the final image. This is about double the size of small format 35mm. The RB67 can shoot in a 6x7 or 6x8 ratio, and this is five times the size of 35mm. If there is any advantage with the Carl Zeiss lenses of the 'blad, and I doubt there is, the effective neg size more than makes up for this shortfall.

2) Whilst the 'blad is a smaller, lighter camera, it cannot focus anywhere as close as the Mamiya. This may not be useful for landscape, but I find it useful. With the 'blad I had to mess around with extenstion tubes.

3) Cost of camera, and accessories

4) The Mamiya is less prone to jamming. I no longer have to take my 'jam' tool with me.

5) The rotating back (that's where the "RB" comes from) is a blessing. The backs are much easier to load than the 'blad backs also, although the 'blad backs are easier to change.

I love the 6x6 format, but IMHO the Rolleiflex is a better option for that format.

03-07-2010, 8:32am

Medium format is just great. I had a Blad 550C many years ago, then it was stolen, and I always wanted to get back to MF. I bought a Seagull TLR a few years ago, that whet my appetite even more. For such a cheap camera it had a surprisingly good sharp lens and I shot mainly trannie film with it.

I then bought a Blad 553elx and various bits and pieces and lenses, hoping to one day be able to afford a digital back for it, mainly due to the fact that film, and subsequent developing, were getting harder to source and much more expensive. (I now have the 553 kit for sale on here BTW.)

Then I had a windfall last year, and saw a Blad H2 with PhaseOne P20 digi back plus 80mm lens for less than the price of a digi back for sale and I bought that, and I am very happy with it. I personally like the square format, it makes you think about your composition and gives you more to play with. The P20 shoots a 4x4cm image. The sensor is much more sensitive to colour, and produces truer colour than the smaller ones (in my experience). The larger format sensors also have a greater Dynamic Range (up to 12-13 as against 6 or so for 35mm) so you score on that basis too.

A point to keep in min if you purchase a digi back for med format, be aware the sizes vary quite a bit across the ranges and check the sensor size so you know what you are getting. Phase One backs produced after my P20 are mostly rectangular, it seems from my research. I thought when I was buying it the size would be 6x6 as film blads were, I did not know then where to check the info.

Whether you go film or digital I think you will be pleased with the results.

03-07-2010, 9:00am
I've been using an RB67 for over 20 years, and I wouldn't use anything eklse - with a few exceptions, of course.
It's a totally different way of life. It forces me to slow down, to look at what I'm picturing, and to think twice before I press the button.
I,ve never found prices to be a problem, the RB being built like a brick outhouse.