MEDIUM FORMAT FILM CAMERAS
When it comes to medium format film cameras, there are literally hundreds of choices. These cameras shoot on 120 or 220 film, and come in a variety of formats as well - 6x6, 645, 6x7, 6x9, etc. The size of the format dictates how many shots you can shoot on a roll. For instance, with a 6x6 format you’ll be able to shoot 12 shots, while on a 645 format you’ll average 16 shots per 120 roll, and 32 shots per 220 roll. Incredibly, some cameras - including one manufactured by Shen Hao - shoot on a 6x24 panoramic format and achieve just three shots on a roll of 120 film!
Once you decide on a medium format (MF) camera, there are a few things you need to consider. First, is the camera metered? Many film cameras don’t come with a built-in light meter, while others offer it as an add-on accessory, often as an interchangeable metered prism viewfinder. This is something to keep in mind, as you’ll need a light meter if you choose to shoot with a non-metered camera.
Second, consider the weight and size of the camera. Some MF cameras can produce stunning images but simply aren’t practical for certain applications. A camera that’s too large and bulky will be difficult to use at a wedding or portrait session. Ideally, look for a camera that feels comfortable in your hands and is easy to shoot without a tripod.
Lastly, you’ll need to determine if you want an auto or manual focus camera. Keep in mind that shooting a manual focus MF camera is completely different than shooting your digital camera in manual focus mode. The screens on MF cameras are often much larger and brighter, making it easier to tell when your image is in focus. However some older MF cameras, such as the Zeiss Ikon and Ansco Viking shown above, employ a distance dial - this can make it tricky to determine whether or not your subject will be in focus.
In the last few years, film photography has been regaining popularity. Certain medium format cameras have also become extremely sought after. While some of these cameras, such as the Contax 645, are enjoyable to shoot, we encourage you to look around and choose a camera that it fits your personal and financial needs, and not because it’s trendy. Every photographer has their individual preferences, and we’ve outlined a few MF cameras from our own collection.
The Rolleiflex medium format twin lens reflex (TLR) camera is a true classic. There are a variety of models with different lens choices and metering options. The Rolleiflex 3.5 T (shown here) was made from 1958 to 1976. It shoots on 120 film in the 6x6 cm format, producing 12 exposures per roll, and features a 75mm f/3.5 Carl Zeiss Tessar lens. There’s no light meter with this particular model, so we use a handheld Sekonic meter. The Rolleiflex 3.5 T comes stock with a waist level viewfinder, which can be tricky to use. Because of this we’ve added the optional prism finder. The Rollei TLR is an extremely fun camera to shoot - it forces you to slow down and really be in the moment, and works brilliantly for both portraits and landscape images. A less expensive 6x6 TLR option is the Mamiya C330, but I find it a bit more ‘clunky’ to operate than the Rollei.
The Pentax 645 is a medium format camera that handles like a 35mm. This camera was first released in 1984 and has undergone a few model revisions. The last model produced was the 645 NII (featured here). The lens we primarily use on this camera is the SMC Pentax-FA 645 75mm F2.8, which is nearly the same as a 50mm on a 35mm camera. This autofocus lens is inexpensive, sharp, and has a decent build quality. The 645 NII is extremely easy to use and has an excellent metering system, and it’s also likely the least expensive auto-focus 645 camera on the market. The body can typically be found for around $800 - $1000, depending on condition, which includes everything but the lens. Luckily, there’s also a great selection of inexpensive lenses available for this body.
The 67II is the last of the Pentax 67 models produced from 1969-1999. The 67II features a removable AE Pentaprism finder with advanced metering capabilities such as average, center-weighted and spot metering. Although heavier than the 645, the 67II is a remarkable camera to shoot. The stunning, large viewfinder makes manual focusing a dream, and the images it produces are simply incredible. The basic 67II body can usually be purchased for around $1000. The lenses, focusing grip, and wooden handle are extra. Our two favorite lenses for this system are the Super-Takumar 105mm f/2.4, and the rarer SMC 75mm F2.8 Al Lens.