Jumping from 35mm to 120 can at first be a bit daunting. Larger negatives mean less frames to play with, a different ratio, and a range of cameras to choose from. In the latest of our 52 Photo Tips series with photographer Stephen Dowling, we’ll show you a few of our favourite medium format cameras that you could start with.
When looking for your first medium format camera take your time in choosing, try the cameras out, go to camera shops and hold it in your hands.
Medium format means medium sized film that is inbetween 35mm and large format. 120 film is 6 cm in width and the amount of images per roll varies depending on the camera format; 6×4.5 (16 frames), 6×6 (12 frames), 6×7 (10 frames), 6×8 (9 frames), 6×9 (8 frames), and so on even some up to 6×17 (4 frames!).
Compared to 35mm, medium format uses 3~4 times as much film surface. Technically speaking, medium format film gives you clearer, crisper images with more tonality. This is due to the fact that the light-sensitive silver halide crystals, which are actually the grain of your film, are more evenly distributed as the film is larger in size, this results in less grain and more information to be collected.
Using medium format does require you to have slightly more patience as you often tend to be using more awkwardly shaped cameras and your playing with less frames too. They do take time to get used to, especially if it utilises a waist level finder instead of a eye level viewfinder. A waist level finder (WLF) is a box shaped finder where you look down at your image rather than holding the camera right in front of your eye. With waist level finders you don’t have a prism like you do in an SLR to flip the image the right way round, this can work in your advantage as your seeing the world inverted, allowing for a new perspective. The image is viewed the right way up but reversed left-to-right. WLF’s also allow you to shoot from very low perspectives, again helping with composition.
Here are some of our favourite medium format cameras that are easy to use: