Format conundrum - MF & LF?

Discussion in 'Large Format Cameras and Accessories' started by jmooney, Oct 20, 2007.

  1. jmooney

    jmooney Member

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    Hi All,

    I've been messing with photography for many years now but this year I have really begun to take it seriously as an art and creative outlet. To the end I'm taking a course in B&W developing and printing. Needless to say I'm hooked, big time. I still shoot my color work in digital but B&W has become my focus for my vision. I'm planning on a home darkrooms soon.

    Now to my conundrum: I'm going to be investing in LF withing the next year or so. I'm planning on 8X10 and contact printing pretty much exclusively. Right now I'm shooting 35mm. My plan was to get a 6X7 and LF but I'm really wondering if it's worth it to add MF to the equation. The 6X7 is expensive (relatively) and I'd rather put the money toward 8X10. 645 is practically free (especially Bronica) but does it really give me a huge advantage over 35? Most of my printing will probably be 8X10 but I'm planning on capability in my darkroom to go up to 16X20 but I don't see that happening very often. I guess if I was consistently printing at 16X20 MF would be an advantage but I'll loose autofocus and portability with MF. I guess I'm figuring if I going to forgo AF and portability I might as well carry the 8X10 otherwise 35mm will serve me well.

    I hope this doesn't seem rambling but I'm trying to not burden myself with gear that I won't use and find out how many of you shoot MF as well as LF and how it fits in to your work.

    Take care,

    Jim
     
  2. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I still find room for both. My Bronica S2a is an SLR and has flash sync, so it's good for photographing things that move like candid portrait subjects, and it's small enough for handheld use and convenient for casual snapshots. Every system does something well that the others don't do as well.
     
  3. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    Hi Jim,

    Your's is not a unique conundrum. Many of us, including me, have been through it. I went to the LF side, first with 4x5, then 8x10, and have never been sorry.

    First, I maintain that you can get into LF for the same money, if not substantially less, than MF. Second, the larger the negative, the more information that is recorded. That's a first principle. Third, the movements of a view camera,focusing, and composing through a ground glass are a true joy to work with. Don't worry about losing autofocus; life is much better without it IMO.

    Unless lightness and portability are at the top of your list, I would recommend starting with 8x10. Its perhaps the most versatile of all the large formats. Using reducing backs, you can also shoot 5x7, 4x5, plus MF roll film (with the advantage of the view camera movements). If portability is a major factor, go with a 4x5 or 5x7 camera body.

    Enlargements: An 8x10 enlarger is a large machine and a substantial investment, but 4x5 and 5x7 enlargers are very reasonable on the used market, and they don't require the amount of space that an 8x10 must occupy. So if you want those 16x20 enlargements, go with 4x5 or 5x7.

    Another pure joy of LF is doing macro work. You don't need to buy expensive macro lenses; just use your LF lens and run the bellows out to twice the focal length.

    I'm also a big fan of LF Polaroid work. That's an entire subject in itself, but worth mentioning as another world of possibilities with LF.

    I still keep a 35mm and a MF camera around, mostly for family events and such. All of my "serious" work is done on LF these days, even the holiday portraits of the kids. :wink:
     
  4. walter23

    walter23 Member

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    I have something that functions kind of like a medium format for me (cough, digital, cough) that I use often enough even though most of my efforts are directed into LF right now - so I can see how it's useful to have this kind of alternative. I use my rolleiflex and lubitel often enough (more for the sheer fun of using these neat cameras). My smaller format stuff tends to be of the "vacation snapshots" variety, though not always.

    One thing to think about is that after using an 8x10, even a 4x5 seems very small and portable so you might consider a little 4x5 field camera and a roll film back instead of the MF rig if portability and lower expense is your goal. This would let you shot 4x5 sheet film or roll film, and have all the nice view camera movements. I presume you're interested in enlarging; does your enlarger permit 4x5? If not, you can probably pick up something like an Omega D5 or D6 for very little money. If you get a lens board adapter for your 8x10 you can use some of your 4x5 lenses on the 8x10 too.

    I don't think there's an enormous resolution disadvantage to 4x5 over 8x10 in any realistic sense (except obviously for contact printing and extremely big enlargements). The main reason for 8x10 as far as I'm concerned is big contact prints and funky optics; I'm happy with my 4x5 as far as pure resolution and printing/scanning capability is concerned.

    One last note: with the right film / developer combinations (ask around here) you can get results printing up to at least 11x14 from 6x7 negatives that look pretty similar to LF - at least that's my experience looking at the prints my darkroom buddy has been making from his mamiya RB. Definitely a lot nicer than 35mm. I don't have a 6x7 myself. If you already have the enlarger for this it might make more sense than a 4x5 would. You can get a mamiya RB setup for dirt cheap on ebay.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 21, 2007
  5. Konical

    Konical Subscriber

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    Good Evening, Jim,

    "645 is practically free (especially Bronica) but does it really give me a huge advantage over 35?"

    I'm not sure I'd call it a huge advantage, but, in my opinion, it is a very significant one. I feel that going from 35mm to 120 (either 6 x 6 or 6 x 4.5) is a bigger quality jump than going from MF to 4 x 5. As the previous responses indicate, however, there are lots of factors to consider, including, especially, what is comfortable for you for the kind of shooting you normally do.

    Konical
     
  6. John Kasaian

    John Kasaian Member

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    Shoot the formats you have fun with. 8x10 is a kick in the pants. 35mm for me has become the alternative to digital with point and shoots---great fun at parties and road trips. MF suffices where the 8x10 can't go (along with a speed graphic!) You need to evaluate what YOU want to do. If my choice is between 8x10 and mf, I'd opt for an 8x10---I traded in my 'blad for an 8x10 and haven't looked back (though I later did add a Rolleiflex T to my stable because it was rediculously cheap, along with a meopta 6x6 enlarger and a couple of dozen rolls of verichrome pan---quite honestly the Rolleiflex dosen't get out much)
    For me mf is a pleasant diversion, but when I'm playing for keeps I'll take the LF kit every time.
    Whatever format you choose, have fun with it!
     
  7. reggie

    reggie Member

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    You seem to be empnasizing your 'vision', which I think is a great idea.

    One of the first things you should ask yourself is what image making process best suits your vision and your personality? 35mm, MF and LF are vastly different in their mechanics as well as their formats. The time difference between the 'moment of inspiration' and the 'moment of releasing the shutter' increase exponentially as the format size increases.

    Are you the contemplative type who can keep an image in mind for minutes or days or are you the more impulsive type that needs the image recorded in a few seconds? Is your ethic is about full tonal ranges and everything in focus near to far and all lines parallel to the frame and you want maximum sharpness? Or do you need spontaneous intuitve recording of an image with an emphasis on capturing a moment or mood that may be fleeting? For example, consider the work of Lee Friedlander and Ansel Adams. Entirely different visions and each chose different tools to accomplish their vision.

    I bring up this point because I find the question of 'should you choose a MF or LF camera' to be curious. If you have a vision and you are clear what it is, then you should be able to choose the camera system using the criteria of which supports your vision the best, not which one is more economical, convenient, etc.

    So what I'd suggest is that you really consider the question of what your vision and photographic ethics are. Get very clear on them and see if you can write them down and share them with us. Then we can advise on the selection of a format\system that supports the vision.

    Nice topic to post on, it really gets to the heart of photography and why we photograph the we way we do, as far as I'm concerned.

    -R
     
  8. walter23

    walter23 Member

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    I guess I kind of went all over the map with my previous response.

    I think my point was that different formats serve different purposes and you can easily find uses for several formats, but just as easily find you have a lot of unused gear kicking around. I don't think you should go overboard with gear purchases unless you find you really want them - if you want to focus on 8x10 right now, then get into 8x10 and put off the medium format until you find you need it. Those bronica & RB67 deals will still be there on ebay when or if you do decide to go there. I would probably go with 6x7 or 6x9 over 645 though; I found 645 to really be like a glorified 35mm. 6x7 is almost twice the negative area.

    You might want to examine why you're interested in 8x10 instead of 4x5 though; are you planning to do off-the-shelf silver paper contact prints? Or are you thinking alternative process stuff? If silver gelatin papers, why not go with 4x5 and get an enlarger? This gives you a reasonably inexpensive and portable format, all the advantages of a view camera, and wicked resolution. Not that I'm dissuading you from 8x10, it's a fantastic format, the optics can get really wild (especially with longer lenses, vintage lenses, and close-up work), etc. It's just that 4x5 is more portable and convenient, and might really be what you'd find most useful if you're deliberating over both 8x10 and MF :smile:
     
  9. John Kasaian

    John Kasaian Member

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    IMHO, I'd focus (pun intended) on one format at a time, starting with the one that really tweaks your creative nerve, be it MF or LF and if LF then 8x10, 5x7 4x5 or ?? You'll probably end up there sooner or later---better sooner than later.
     
  10. Nick Zentena

    Nick Zentena Member

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    If you go with LF then get a smaller MF. The 645 are perfect for this. Something like the RZ67 OTOH is more like a LF in terms of weight etc.

    I doubt you'll have any trouble seeing the difference between 35mm and 645. To me a bad 645 11x14 print looks like a good 35mm 4x6 print.

    You only lose autofocus and portablity if you go with larger MF. I'm not hung up on autofocus but some MF cameras do provide it. Most of the 645 are light enough they are similar to the pro 35mm in weight.
     
  11. Ian Leake

    Ian Leake Subscriber

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    Jim, you mention contact printing in your question. Contact prints, which in my opinion are the most fabulous print medium of all, demand big negatives. It's just about possible to contact print from 6x6 or 6x7 but many people struggle with prints that small; likewise with 5x4 actually.

    Assuming you want large prints then you've really only got three options:
    1) Use a large camera
    2) Use a small camera (e.g. a 6x6 or 6x7) and create hybrid negatives (lots of people do this - try Hypbrid Photo for more information)
    3) Use a small camera and create enlarged negatives (people still do this but it's not easy)

    Personally I prefer using a large camera to create in-camera negatives. There's something very special about seeing the image on the ground glass and knowing that you're seeing exactly what's going to appear on your final print. But it also quite an exacting process which requires discipline: if you miss something on the glass then it'll be there on the print whether you like it or not. And it's also slow: I think in terms of 20 minutes per negative (some take a lot, lot longer). And you have to learn darkroom processes that make 35mm look like child's play.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is that although big cameras are immensely satisfying, they're not easy. So if you're serious about using a 10x8 then I'd recommend that you try one first or maybe take a workshop where you can use one in the field. If you were in London then I'd offer to let you play with mine, but you're a bit too far away for that. But maybe there's someone closer to you who can do this.
     
  12. nicolai

    nicolai Member

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    Exactly what reggie said.
     
  13. waynecrider

    waynecrider Member

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    I think you already have a plan and are confusing it with more options. Don't get caught in the what should I do mentality. Get your 8x10 and make your contact prints. Just make sure that you understand the format, limitations as well as positive points, and the dedication in time and money that it will take before you put your hard earned money to work for you. If your uncomfortable with your decision, reference this thread, maybe you have not done something yet that will make you feel better about your decision. Could it be actually experiencing the the format first? I wish you much luck and success tho no matter which way you go.
     
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  15. Black Dog

    Black Dog Member

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    I've been thinking about this sort of thing too for a while now, and asked myself 'how often would it have been practical for me to use 8x10 instead of MF (Mamiya 330)'? I concluded that it would have been practical probably 90% of the time, apart from portraits of my niece and nephew (anyway, I still have lots of APX 400 in 120) and some landscapes in very remote/rough terrain. Also a contact print from a big neg beats an enlargement hands down every time for me, even on horrible RC paper. So 8x10 it is for me then (plus I want to do more alt process work anyway, and there's Lodima Fine Art paper too hopefully), unless I specifically want a different look or feel . Now I just have to resist the temptation to buy a new MTB instead of the 8x10....
     
  16. MP_Wayne

    MP_Wayne Member

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    I too support previous comments and your own statements about having a vision for your photography. That is most important and could very likely change as you branch into new areas of exploration/creativity in this wonderful avocation/art we call photography.

    I shoot 35mm, MF and LF and I love all three formats for vastly different reasons. For 25 years, I shot 35mm exclusively and given the amount of travel I was doing, it worked well for my needs. Then, about 5 years ago, I discovered the wonder of LF. It was such a radical departure from the travel, journalistic, and sports photography I had done and I purchased, without hesitation, a 4x5 monorail and have not looked back. There were so many new avenues to pursue in technique, equipment, composition, subject, and of course, printing. I was thankful for the emergence of digital too as it had served to depress LF prices on equipment. Sweet! That monorail and lens purchase eventually migrated to a field camera and several other lenses, as well as medium format film backs when I did not want to shoot 4x5. That capability provided considerable flexibility with little weight penalty (especially when travelling with the 4x5).

    One of the ongoing issues I had, in my printing, was obtaining acceptably sharp 11x14 prints from 35mm. Well, with the 4x5 negatives, those issues were a thing of the past.

    About 2 years ago, the advent of the digital frenzy had a highly inviting impact of severely depressing the prices of MF equipment. I bit and purchased an RB67 with a lens and a couple of film backs. The 6x7 format provides excellent negatives with very good sharpness retention through larger print sizes. What started as an basic outfit since grew to a half dozen lenses (often at only $1 per mm focal length), and additional filmbacks and other accessories often obtained for 10 cents on the new dollar.

    Of course, there is usually some carping about the weight of the rb67, but you will not find a more rugged, reliable instrument. And, the weight issue is overblown. I have a setup where I have a body, 6 lenses, and other assorted accessories in a Lowe Pro Nature Trekker AW. Yes, it has a bit of heft, but it is not that onerous.

    With respect to a 645 camera - I did not consider it at all as the negative format is more like 35mm on steroids. If I want to shoot 645, or even 6x6, it is just a matter of getting film backs in those formats for the RB67.

    In the end, I did not plan to get into MF at all, but the prices on equipment were too inviting. At times when I do not want to shoot 4x5, or on very long range trips, the MF provides that capability of excellent negative quality and relative portability.

    The 4x5 remains the bell weather of creative landscape and macro/still life work, and the 35mm equipment is pretty much in the sports and wildlife subjects.

    I use all of the equipment and have an enlarger to print in all formats. For me, it just comes down to deciding what I want from a particular subject and applying the equipment and technique of any of these formats that will give me that result.

    Have fun with your deliberations. Whatever you decide, as long as you enjoy doing it, you have made the correct choice.
     
  17. Removed Account

    Removed Account Member

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    If it helps I was thinking about switching from 4x5 to 6x7 a while back. I now have a second 4x5 AND a new-to-me RB67 Pro S. The lens and film for the RB will be in tomorrow so I will have to let you know how I feel about it in a few days. My conundrum is that my main 4x5 is a studio monorail, and so is big and heavy enough that when I got the RB body I thought, "Wow! I can hand-hold this!" The other problem is that I haven't even used 8x10 yet and already the 4x5 negs look a little small.

    The reasons I wanted to poke around with 6x7 instead of saving a little more for an 8x10 are the wider range of film choices and affordability of experimenting with unusual films such as infrared and Delta 3200. I will post my learning 4x5 kit for sale and I was planning on using it to pay off that credit card I bought the RB stuff with, but it may end up finding its way to 8x10 gear, or another 4x5 lens. The 4x5 contact prints are like small jewels, and I'd imagine an 8x10 contact print to be a 4x bigger jewel. I love the camera movements and groundglass focusing, even if I could use a loupe.

    I feel like I'm rambling, but so far a seemingly functional RB Pro S body with a 180mm Sekor C lens cost me a grand total of about $325 CDN, in addition to the film costs. I think this is a reasonable price to see how much I like the kit I wanted before I got in to LF. What I guess I'm saying is to try all 3: 6x7, 4x5, and 8x10 and see which one(s) you like. I may end up selling the RB kit for LF, I may keep both, but playing around with different cameras, formats, and films is a big part of the joy of analogue!

    - Justin
     
  18. Scott Peters

    Scott Peters Member

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    Painting a ground glass like the 8 x 10 is a real treat and a contact print should more than satisfy (tonality and sharpness, etc.) - see 8x10 and 7x17 contacts on my web pages as examples... As to MF, this is a tough one as Brett Weston created some fantastic work moving close in with a MF camera. So, there is the end result and the process of making the photograph....

    As a suggestion, I would start with the 8x10. Give yourself some time visually...then depending, you may want to try MF as you are correct as it is relatively inexpensive to try right now with film.
     
  19. walter23

    walter23 Member

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    Heh, after trying a couple of times to load some 35mm rollfilm and failing miserably I'd have to say the opposite. Dealing with LF sheet film in the darkroom is child's play in comparison!

    Even 120 is a bit of a hassle but at least it's short and wide enough that I can deal with it (as opposed to 35mm).
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 21, 2007
  20. wclavey

    wclavey Member

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    Somone earlier mentioned comfort, and each of us bring a set of experiences that define what we are most comfortable with. For me, I am most comfortable with MF because I have used it for the past 45 years, and used TLRs for most of that time (...I just got my "new" Bronica S2a kit last year...). So for me, it is most often the camera I reach for first. I keep the 35mm kit loaded to go for those times when I can't take a real camera with me - - my P&S equivalent, as someone else described it.

    In thinking back over my first foray into LF about 3 years ago now, while I have enjoyed 4x5, and had a blast assembling a working Crown Graphic from 3 bags of junk, I wish that I had started with a larger format - - 5x7 or 8x10, since I have discovered that I really enjoy contact printing my negatives. So I think your inclination towards something larger than 4x5 is good.
     
  21. Rolleiflexible

    Rolleiflexible Member

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    I shoot all formats from 35mm to 5x7. All the LF shooters here are advocating the big negative. But if you are getting your darkroom legs underneath you, you are going to need to shoot a lot of film in a lot of different circumstances to get to know, really know how B+W film behaves, and how it develops, and how it prints.

    You can accumulate this knowledge shooting sheet film, no question. But you're going to have to invest an ungodly amount of time and money to get there in large format.

    I would say that medium format is a much better learning tool. Using Kodak prices, an 8x10 negative costs $4. A 4x5 negative costs a dollar. A 6x6 roll film negative, about 25 cents. And you can develop nearly a hundred 6x6 frames -- 8 rolls -- in 15 minutes. You'll be in a darkroom all day processing that many 8x10s.

    So, I'd say go for MF for now, even if you think you want to move up to LF as you develop your understanding of B+W film and paper. As for the ultimate choice of format ... they all have their place. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Even 35mm keeps a spot in my arsenal. But if, as you say in your post, you are printing mostly on 8x10 paper, you will not, no way, not see a difference worth talking about in prints from MF and LF negatives. If you are using a really good MF camera (try a Rolleiflex), you can print a good deal larger before seeing any benefit from LF negatives. Until you're printing really big, the format choice, in my mind, is driven much more by the camera's character and fitness for the shoot, than by image quality.

    RFXB
     
  22. wclavey

    wclavey Member

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    I think there is a lot of truth in what RFXB says here.

    Long before I started in LF, I was shooting MF with a Mamiya C220 and C3. I always joked with my son (who was already shooting LF) that using those TLRs, especially on a tripod, was just like using the LF, in terms of setup, composition, lens selection, bellows factors, etc. They really introduce you to a "measure twice, cut once" mentality and workflow.

    Learning that methodology, combined with the logic that RFXB presented, makes another strong case for MF.
     
  23. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

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    Hmm, maybe that is my problem ...
    I thought it was cut twice, measure once!

    Steve
     
  24. jmooney

    jmooney Member

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    Thank you all!

    Thank you all for your wonderful responses. I've read and re-read them over the past day or so and they've helped me with my conundrum a great deal. (I owe some thanks to the folks in the MF forum as well as I posted a query over there as well.)

    Through all this thinking I've considered something I never had before: The 6X6 MF format. I used to poo poo it because it took away the ability to make a choice of portrait or landscape but I guess as I've matured I see it now as freeing you from that choice. I think this will probably be my next immediate move. I'll still be able to crop if I want to when printing to a more traditional print size and will gain over 35mm for enlargements. I'll never abandon 35mm, it's too convenient and portable and I think when I move into LF the MF gear will fit nicely when I need to travel lighter than LF will allow. I see the square format as a nice option as well to create some unique photographs in that it's a shape that isn't seen much anymore. Not only am I gaining a larger negative over 35mm but another perspective to work with.

    As far as LF goes, I'm 100% sure it's something I need to be doing at some point. I may put it off a little longer until, as others have suggested, I get my darkroom legs under me better. I am still a total novice but I have the process down, what I need now only time and experience can give me and if I get more proficient in the darkroom before tackling LF I think when I make the step up my work will be much better for it.

    I'm positive when I do make the step into the world of LF it'll be with 8X10. I've been doing a lot of reading and my desire to use it is based on my wanting to be able to contact print those monster negatives. I see these prints as a great way to do some of the work I'd like to do. I'm also interested in learning some alternate processes and I have in my long term plan to attend some workshops once I acquire the camera.

    Thank you all again for your advice. The concept of treating my photography as art and developing a real vision and goal is one that is fairly new to me but the shift in my thinking and attitude has been a good thing for me.

    Take care,

    Jim
     
  25. joneil

    joneil Member

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    One more comment for you to think about. At my local camera store - the one that still carries wet darkroom supplies, 35mm and MF enlargers sit and gather dust. I do mean dust, not just in a figurative sense.

    Last year, two 4x5 Omega enlargers came in the store, for sale, both used, both good shape. Both sold within 2-3 weeks of them arriving in the store.

    Locally I see medium format camera systems - some of them in very good shape - selling for 10 cents on the dollar what they sold for new. Used large format cameras and lenses in good shape can fetch as high as 80% or more of that they sold for new.

    I've been told - but i cannot verify (maybe others can) that large format sheet films are the only films that are either holding their own or actually increasing in sales over the past few years.

    You've got to decide what you want to do on your own, but IMO, right now, large format is in the start of a rebirth, revival or whatever you want to call it.

    good luck
    joe
     
  26. Nick Zentena

    Nick Zentena Member

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    All those 4x5 enlargers work just fine with MF. My first 4x5 enlarger was really an upgrade over my MF enlarger. I wouldn't be suprised if many people have upgraded their MF darkroom gear over the last few years. Instead of consumer grade MF setups moving up to higher end enlargers etc that all handle MF just fine.