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10-01-2010, 08:24 AM   #1
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Medium format basics

I was hoping there'd be a sticky in here more about "basics". I understand the benefits (barely understand), but would love a bit more info. I've been thinking of getting a film camera to play with and get some unique looks out of; however, I'd like to learn all I can about medium format before I make any decisions. Do you guys develop your own film, or are there higher-end camera shops you bring it to? How do you load the film? What is the difference between 220 and 120? Really, I'm looking for the rudimentary basics. Any advice, or perhaps, easier for everyone else, links, would be greatly appreciated.

10-01-2010, 08:48 AM   #2
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We should work on an article for this- it would make a great addition.

My first piece of basic advice would be that you've really got to pay attention to when you shoot. If you don't think the photo you're taking will be worthwhile, just don't take it!

I guess that developing your own BW 120 or 220 film is feasible, but I think that most people just take it to high end labs to get it processed. In Phoenix, there's a nice store called Colormark that takes care of those sorts of things- I'd presume that very similar onces are all over the place elsewhere.

My other piece of advice is to ALWAYS use a tripod. No exceptions- bring along your digital cameras if you want to take snapshots as well.

I've personally only used 120 film, and I forget why, but I believe it's better than 220.

The benefit of medium format is added resolution. You can squeeze at lease 60 megapixels out of a 645 film scan (another thing to note is that such scans are extremely expensive; usually only low res scans are affordable. Should you decide to frame or otherwise proceed with a particular photo, you'd then want to go for the max res scan).

MF gear is heavy, so definitely plan on going somewhere car-accessible when out on a shoot.

That's about all I can think of for now- I'm sure others will have more!
10-01-2010, 09:01 AM   #3
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Cool. That helps a lot. I'm an over-analyzing, over-thinking, introspective person. I read and researched for about 4 months before actually pulling the trigger on the Kx. A bit overkill for an entry level dSLR, but that's how I am. I'm sure I'll do the same with a film purchase, so any and all info that is directed my way is helpful.
10-01-2010, 09:34 AM   #4
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1. 120 film is widely available, 220 is made in limited formulations. 120 has paper backing and you get 12 6x6 (15 or 16 645, 8 6x9 etc) exposures per roll. 220 does not have paper backing (thus the need for a camera that specifically can handle it) and gets twice as many shots per roll.

2. For color print or slides you can get film developed in many places - some minilabs will do it, though they may not be able to scan the film, people use Walmart send-away service (Fuji labs does the developing), and there's mail order, e.g. Dwayne's does good work.

3. For traditional b&w you can get it developed at some places, or even an old fashioned local camera store can do it for you, but the economics start to get horrendous. Developing your own is easy and fun, you don't need too much equipment, and for me at least 120 is even easier than 35mm. Get a tank with a plastic reel that has large tabs (Samigon is one) as that makes loading the reel eee-zeee.

4. The wet/dry workflow again is a bit easier with the usual flat bed scanners, as the scanner has an easier time extracting from the much larger negative. However you need to have a scanner that does 120 film.

5. How to load film - youtube has several videos and I believe even Ken Rockwell has a little tutorial. Once you get the hang of it, it isn't hard at all. I'm blessed with an old fashioned camera store in town, and the owner showed me the first time.

6. Advantages, as Adam says, the potential for extra resolution. Like with larger sensors, the larger film area gives benefits to lens resolution as well (i.e. for an object taking up the same portion of the frame, the larger frame area requires fewer lines per mm resolution). The larger frame area also means that for the same size object in frame 120 film will have a smaller depth of field, which comes in handy.

This means you're using a longer lens, 75mm say, where on an APS-c camera you might use a 35mm and on a 35mm film camera a 50mm. When you get a person's head to fill 3/4 of the frame edge to edge, you will be approximately the same distance with all three set ups. The natural DOF with the 35mm will be greater than with the 50 and greater still than with the 75, assuming equal aperture settings. The 75 will also produce a better sense of perspective...

If you should want to try 120 out, I suggest an old TLR or folding camera as the first. This allows you to play around with less expensive equipment while getting the hang of things. These are also light in weight so you don't necessarily need a tripod every time, or if you do use a pod you can use a fairly light weight one.

10-01-2010, 09:44 AM   #5
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120 is a spool (very similar to a spool for thread) that has film that is 6cm wide wrapped around it. The film has backing paper behind it. The original use for the backing paper was so you could see the frame count through a little window on the back of the camera. Most box cameras use this system. Many 645, 6x6, and 6x7 format SLRs do the frame counting for you, so the backing paper isn't necessary in those systems.

So the film companies came up with 220: it's 120 without the backing paper, allowing you to fit 2x the film on the same spool.

With medium format, you're working with longer lenses (80mm is normal for 645), so a tripod is necessary most of the time. And with a tripod you'll get amazingly sharp negatives.

I have taken 645 negatives that rival 4x5 in terms of sharpness and tonality at 11x14.

As for purchasing a 645 camera, I'd look at the forum Marketplace, and KEH.com. I bought my Mamiya m645 1000s from KEH, and have been extremely happy with it. Competitive prices, and guaranteed equipment.
10-02-2010, 04:54 PM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by brofkand Quote

I have taken 645 negatives that rival 4x5 in terms of sharpness and tonality at 11x14.
My 4x5 wet prints beat my 6x7 even at 8x10 print size. You must have some magic going on with that even smaller negative.

I think 320TXP is the last 220 BW and Kodak has discontinued it.
10-02-2010, 08:04 PM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by tuco Quote
My 4x5 wet prints beat my 6x7 even at 8x10 print size. You must have some magic going on with that even smaller negative.

I think 320TXP is the last 220 BW and Kodak has discontinued it.
I shoot PanF, ISO 50 film by Ilford or Fuji Acros, ISO 100. both are very sharp and fine-grained films.
10-02-2010, 11:28 PM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by Adam Quote
My other piece of advice is to ALWAYS use a tripod. No exceptions- bring along your digital cameras if you want to take snapshots as well.
What about the rule of thumb that you can hand-hold as long as the shutter speed is faster than 1/focal-length.

Are you saying this rule is insufficient? Is Medium format different from 35mm? Are you using slow film so you are forced into slower shutter speeds?

10-03-2010, 12:50 AM   #9
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You can shoot MF handheld. Don't worry about it. Who here hasn't that has a MF camera? Just like small format, you need decent shutter speed. And just like small format you'll get the steadiest shot if you do use a tripod.
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