Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The World of Medium Format

We all know what medium format (MF) can do but for those who don't, let's just say the details and depth of field alone will blow any 35mm full frame pro range DSLR to Pluto and back (and maybe to Pluto again just for the fun of it). One thing for sure though, MF digital backs (layman's term - digital sensors that you slap to the back of a MF camera to turn it into a MF digital camera) are way out of reach of most photographers (due to their crazy prices).

So then how do we venture into this seemingly Holy Grail of a camera range without having to sell everything right down to your slippers? Well luckily (or unluckily, depends on how you look at it), the 2nd hand MF film cameras themselves are priced so crazily affordable (cheaper than some point and shoot) that you might and I say here MIGHT, take the plunge into this unknown realm. You will of course need to consider film cost, developing, scanning etc but all in all it should be around $2 per photo.

Ok let me stop here for awhile, what crap am I babbling about when I haven't even shot a single frame let alone develop to see its result. Well normally I do a lot of research before jumping into anything and MF is one of them. Initially the idea was to go with a Hasselblad H1 with a digital back but a quick check in ebay sent me immediately back to the drawing board. 

Next came the Mamiya 645 AFD with a Leaf/Phase One digital back. Now this was looking more promising but again, 2nd hand 645 AFD are still on the high side, to start trying out MF on film. At the same time, I needed to have a MF body that is capable of attaching a digital back since not all are compatible with the new technology. 

That pretty much left me with the Hasselblad 500 series or the Mamiya RB/RZ 67 series which are boxy in design as compared to the H1 or 645 series which are designed more similar to the DSLR range. Quick check on ebay and Hasselblad 500 series is once again off the list even though there were tons of them available. Now we're down to RB/RZ 67 and as luck would have it, the local camera shop that has everything - Foto Easycam has on its hand, a mint condition RB 67 Professional SD + 90mm lens + 180mm + prism finder + 3 film backs all going for a really attractive price. The previous owner had apparently only shot 5 rolls on it and then put it up on sale. A quick check on the equipment confirms this as some of the items still had the Mamiya tags on them - that is practically unused. Anyway, I've got 5 rolls of Kodak Ektacolor Pro 160 to start off with and hopefully I can rake some shots off after reading the manual on how to operate this monster (it makes my EOS 7D with 24-70 f2.8L look like a point and shoot).

Until then, let the fun begin and photos flow...


  1. Actually it isn't all that complicated to operate. Of course the work of loading and unloading film takes time but not compared to large format sheet film cameras that require a dark room or dark bag.

    The beautiful thing about the RB is that it won't let you do to many things wrong. If you forget to focus you'll see that immediately in the viewfinder. If you forget either step of cocking the shutter or advancing the film it won't let you release the shutter. So focus, compose, pick an aperture and shutter speed and you are ready to go! And when you rotate the back you'll immediately see the change in your viewfinder. I would encourage you to pick up a waist level VF and give it a try. You'll be shocked by how bright it is and how easy it is to get precise focus accuracy!

    Have fun!

  2. now you've gone beyond serious... enjoy your new gadget
    hope to see more of your billboards shots soon ;)

  3. Jim - thanks so much for the input. Appreciate it :)

    Alvin - hahahaha will definitely have fun and stress :)

  4. Hi Kevin,

    I've been reading your blog with growing interest, as it is EXACTLY my own story. In march 2011 I started looking at medium format with digital backs, came out way too expensive (I was afraid of that), so I changed to film, then I wanted a Hasselblad, but eventually in April I ended up with a very nice Mamiya RB67 ProSD with 127mm k/L and it was love at first sight. Now I slowly start to develop my own black/white film, it is really very simple (never done that before). Hope to buy a 180mm sekor-c for portraits tomorrow and I'm off in a whole new world of film photography. Good luck with yours and I hope we will make beautiful pictures with our Mamiyas.

    Best Regards, Niels van Tol

  5. Hi Niels,

    So happy for you buddy and can totally feel your excitement :) I've shot 3 rolls so far (mainly color) and with each roll I try to learn the characteristics of the camera from aperture effect and shutterspped setting to get the effect I want for both of the lenses (90 and 180).

    This weekend, I'm going to use it on a mock fashion commercial shoot with strobes and then make large print outs to see the quality. Will be writing another blog after all of these learning.




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