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03-19-2011, 09:59 PM   #1
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35mm vs Medium Format

Can the seniors over here kindly advise how great is the difference between pictures taken with a 35mm film and that from a Medium Format camera ?

Thanks in advance.

03-20-2011, 12:16 AM - 2 Likes   #2
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Briefly, and oversimplified: The common 35mm frame sizes are 36x24mm (full-frame, 135/FF) and 18x24mm (half-frame, 135/FF). Our dSLR APS-C sensors are about the same size as 135/HF. 35mm camera film is also called 135, the designation of the cartridges it's supplied in.

The common medium-format (MF) frame sizes are nominally 60x45mm (645 or 6x4.5cm), 60x60mm (6x6) 60x70mm (6x7), and 60x90mm (6x9). Actual MF frame sizes are a few mm smaller because of sprocket holes etc. MF film is actually 70mm wide.

Obviously, the same film type, used on larger frames, will give images with more resolution. More detail may be captured, and the greater area ("more real estate") allows more leeway in cropping and manipulating prints and copies.

More significantly, those different frame sizes affect the kinds of lenses that can be used with each. The 'normal' focal length for each is the diagonal of the frame. For APS-C and 135/HF, that's around 30mm; for 135/FF, it's around 45mm; for MF, it ranges from around 70mm for 645, up to around 100mm for 6x9.

It is much easier (and cheaper!) to produce fast (wide aperture) lenses in shorter focal lengths, and with smaller image circles (the light that is projected onto the frame). A 50/1.2 lens for APS-C or 135/FF may cost US$500-$1500. A used 15/1.2 lens for an 8mm cine camera may cost ONE DOLLAR! (That's what my 15-25/1.2 cost, and it weighs just 110g.) A 100/1.2 lens for a 6x9 MF camera would be hideously heavy and expensive; only a well-funded spy agency could afford one.

Thus, lenses for MF cameras tend to be longer and slower and larger than 135 lenses, for similar uses. Smaller faster 135 lenses allow more control over DOF, and can more easily exploit available light. MF generally requires more careful planning for focus, DOF, light, timing.

And so, a major difference between 135 and MF shots is the attitude of the photographer. Smaller cameras allow more freedom; larger cameras demand more control. Excellent photos can be made with any format cameras, but smaller ones are usually better for action, and larger ones invite more contemplation.

Other issues: An inexpensive MF lens, used right, can achieve a dimensionality, a 3D look, that in 135 requires much costlier lenses. A camera with a top-down ground-glass screen, common on MF TLR's, gives the photographer a different vantage than does an eye-level viewfinder, but various 135 and MF cameras may have either sort of viewer. And 135 film typically costs less than its MF version, so non-commercial shooters may be more cost-conscious with MF. All these issues affect the ways we use cameras; they're not technically intrinsic to the formats.

How great are the differences between formats? As great as photographers wish to make them.

Last edited by RioRico; 03-20-2011 at 12:25 AM.
03-20-2011, 12:45 AM   #3
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Some additional explanation: greater magnifying means greater detailing. With larger sensor we have lesser effective focal range for the the given lens, so it means we have greater detailing on the same frame size with the larger sensor (eg the 82.5mm lens on full frame has 135 sensor works the same as 55mm one at APS-C, but gives greater magnification, so it's easy for 82.5 to give better resolution). So you see why the MF camera shots are more detailed. The same story with FF vs APS-C. They can increase lens resolution, but it always hurts another important characteristics. The excellent example are Canon lenses, shots taken with them are not near the MF in terms of details and they suffer from lifeless plastic picture.

Last edited by Emacs; 03-20-2011 at 02:07 AM.
03-20-2011, 02:19 AM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by RioRico:
. Actual MF frame sizes are a few mm smaller because of sprocket holes etc. .
120 does not have sprocket holes.

03-20-2011, 04:43 AM   #5
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Adding to what's said - in a very un-specific, un-technical and non-rigorous manner that is entirely open to refutation and correction

the basic advantage is that everything is larger - from the line pairs per mm captured across the entire frame to the cameras and lenses to the 'normal' focal length... making it easier to get excellent resolution from the system. In this day of post-film photography, the cost is no longer much larger than 35mm.

You don't get as many pictures per roll of film, and therefore whether you process it yourself or send it out, the cost per image works out higher for 120 film.

The scanning advantage is with 120 film, though you need a scanner that will do 120. One reason is that everything is bigger on the bigger film. Another is that 120 film tends to lie flatter than 135.




But all that aside, in practice, say you have a 35mm camera and a 6x4.5 camera and you want to get a close in shot of a cat. The 35mm has a 50mm standard lens and the 645 has a 75mm standard lens, f/1.7 for the 50 and f/2.8 for the 75, say.

When you get close enough to fill the frame with cat head and paw in both viewfinders, at identical apertures the 645 camera will have shallower DOF than the 35mm camera. To equalize this you need to open up the 50mm lens or close down the 75.

With a 6x6, 6x7 or 6x9 camera the DOF difference is even more pronounced. And, as you know, with an APS-C camera you get more depth of field, and with a compact point & shoot you get even more...


This to me is the crux the matter: portraits using a 75 to 105mm lens framed to fill a 120 film frame can give a depth of field that naturally and gradually goes out of focus towards the back of the head (or tail, with an animal). This to me is an ultra cool and classic look. Same goes for other types of shooting.
03-20-2011, 05:30 AM   #6
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Bigger is better - up to a point, as shown in the youtube video

though I must say the contact prints from that camera must look fantastic.
03-20-2011, 09:54 AM   #7
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The dealbreaker for me is that there are no affordable medium format film scanners.
If I ever get my wet darkroom going again I may venture back into medium format.

Chris
03-20-2011, 10:54 AM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by Steve Beswick Quote
120 does not have sprocket holes.
Absolutely right. What *was* I thinking? The spacing is due to frame margins. Duh.

[/me slurps more espresso, tries to revitalize cerebral function, fails...]

03-20-2011, 04:23 PM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by ChrisPlatt Quote
The dealbreaker for me is that there are no affordable medium format film scanners.
The Epson 4490 wasn't too expensive, and does a much better job with 120 than 35mm
03-20-2011, 07:52 PM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by ChrisPlatt Quote
The dealbreaker for me is that there are no affordable medium format film scanners.
That is true...sort of. While you can buy a decent used car for the price of a high resolution film scanner capable of handling a medium or large format negative, perfectly acceptable results can be had with the Epson flat beds. The reason being is that even 2400 dpi (the maximum real world resolution of my V700) is quite adequate for a usable print from a MF negative of the same size that most home darkrooms are capable of handling.

Steve
03-20-2011, 07:59 PM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by Digitalis Quote
Bigger is better - up to a point, as shown in the youtube video
So true! I attended a presentation where a guy was talking about using his ULF camera and while it was quite interesting to see the "instrument" and hear how that type of photography is done, I left thinking that there is a significant shift in emphasis from doing "art" to mastering the process of managing the gear.


Steve

(BTW...while his platinum contact prints on fine art papers were nice, I have to admit that I have seen better work done using various alternative media from much smaller negatives.)
03-21-2011, 12:01 AM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by stevebrot Quote
his platinum contact prints on fine art papers were nice, I have to admit that I have seen better work done using various alternative media from much smaller negatives
Large format contact printing is harder than it looks as the formats get bigger and bigger keeping the film flat becomes harder and harder. That is why I am completely content with my Ebony 8X10 - digital medium format backs have yet to come even close to surpassing the image quality of 8X10 IMO.

I prefer enlargements over contact prints on platinum. When all the stars align the results can often be superior to a contact print. Though of course you need an 8X10 enlarger,a UV illumination and Super-achromatic enlarging lens. Fortunately my late grandfather* owned precisely what I need to do this. I only do contact prints to determine what is needed to get the best out of an image, It ticks me off that contact prints from Ansel Adams can obtain higher prices than his fully realised prints.


*My grandfather was also responsible for teaching me to use large format and to print on platinum. My grandmother however, was quite different style of photographer: she preferred a 35mm cameras, Her favourite was a Leica M3 - though during a visit to Japan in 1968 she was in a Tokyo camera store and bought a camera that impressed her. It was called a Asahi Pentax spotmatic - the beginning of a 40+ year history of pentaxians. My grandmother also preferred colour photography to black and white, and she would occasionally produce dye-transfer prints with bright, larger than life colours - the stylistic contrasts between my grandparents couldn't have been more extreme.
03-21-2011, 03:02 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by ChrisPlatt Quote
The dealbreaker for me is that there are no affordable medium format film scanners.
If I ever get my wet darkroom going again I may venture back into medium format.

Chris
I just picked up an Epson V500 scanner new for $125 from Amazon. I'm really enjoying making my own MF scans right now, and generally happy with the quality at 2400.
03-21-2011, 03:16 PM   #14
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I have owned two Epson flatbed photo scanners.
One was DOA and the other died after less than a year of light use.
You might say I'm not real impressed with Epson scanner quality.

Chris
03-21-2011, 03:37 PM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by ChrisPlatt Quote
I have owned two Epson flatbed photo scanners.
One was DOA and the other died after less than a year of light use.
You might say I'm not real impressed with Epson scanner quality.

Chris
Ah, too bad. Not the standard Epson experience with these scanners, but I see how that could put you off.

Mine's excellent. So's the 4490 I bought several years ago......I passed it on to a friend and it's still going great.
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