Moving up from 35mm to Medium Format
Compared to most people on APUG I am a luddite photographer and have many more skills to develop before I move on from 35mm photography, not to mention the financial issues!
However, I am curious as to what the potential benefits are to moving to medium format. I currently use a 35mm Nikon F5. If I moved to medium format, how would be images differ using the same skill level as I have now? What is the difference between an image on medium format and the same image captured with medium format equipment?
Also, what medium format camera and lens are a good start for someone moving from 35mm to medium? Are Hasselbalds medium format, or large format?
I did my A-level last year and i was told how to use an RB67 in ten minutes flat. I absolutely fell in love with it. i took the best images of my life with it, and it had an f64 lens on it! I took some slides and some negs, and slide is well worth it if you get it right, there was a bit of resprocity failure on them (as it was over a 2 minute exposure at night, and i didn't know that existed) but the quality was beautiful. So, 12 months later, I bought one, in bits and pieces, for about £250 with a 90mm and body off eBay, and a 220 back from ffordes in Scotland. All i use is slide on them now, and i am dead chuffed with it. My suggestion is a RB67, cos they're not as expensive as a 'blad, and you get a lovely big 6x7cm neg. The only problem is... you'd need an exposure meter for them.
I find that when I shoot MF (or LF) my images tend to be more studious, if not formal. The equipment tends to get used differently - 35mm is often hand-held and lends itself to quicker shooting in a greater variety of circumstances; MF (for me, at least) tends more to be on tripod... or if I "loosen up" on a monopod. The cost of MF and the metering differences, in-camera vs handheld meter, make MF a bit of a slower and more contemplative photographic experience. Image-wise, the differing ratios of the various formats is the obvious difference. I like square format o fMF much better than anything else... except maybe the ratio of 4x5. Otherwise, a well-executed image is about the same, if you don't count the "wow" that is often said when looking at the larger negs and transparencies.
Hassy is, indeed, MF and a good place to start since used equipment can be found rather affordably these days.
I think a Hasselblad, or if you want something cheaper and unique, a Mamiya 330, would be a good place to start. Both systems are inexpensive now compared to what they used to be. Having said that, coming from an F5 something like a Mamiya 645 or Pentax 645 might be an easier transition.
Just my opinion.
Concur with Brian's assessment of the nature of the beast - each tool used in photography has its strengths and weaknesses; each implies a certain gestalt for a certain type of photography.
The strength of MF is that roll film images are roughly 55mm high (compared to 24mm on 135 film). What this means is that if one uses 6x7 it takes less than half as much enlargement to make an 8x10" print compared to 135 film (providing of course one scales the lens focal length along with the film size.)
The weakness of MF are many, including the fact the industry is pretty much dead and one (beginner) usually buys older gear that may not be functioning quite right.
Currently I am using 6x7 for a project (which will take several months) to look at the world more closely (i.e., up to 1:1 in magnification). For this I compose on the ground glass using a loupe (an opaque column one, as one would use on a view camera.) 6x7 is much better for this than 645 simply because the ground glass is so much larger (plus I don't really care for 645.)
Search APUG, Photo.net, and the web in general for a very large body of discussions on MF, its strengths and weaknesses, its fans and detractors.
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In the end, the major difference is the negative. The differences that tend to come up as a result of using the equipment to get the negative exist without question, but the importance of them is personal.
I would recommend getting a decent used TLR, like a Mamiyaflex an economical way to test the waters, and always nice to have anyway. If you find yourself liking the negs, you can go on to other systems from their.
1. You'll shoot differently. As noted by others, you'll tend to be more thoughtful and shoot fewer images, but the results will be different. Some subjects won't be as well suited for medium format, but some will be much better suited. (For example, spontaneous children shots are great on 35mm but a challenge on medium format. Formal posted portraits and landscapes are wonderful on medium format, better in most cases than on 35mm.)
2. The negative is significantly larger. This means you can make much larger prints at the same quality. Even when 35mm is entirely satisfactory in quality, larger formats have better microcontrast, which results in a more satisfying appearance that is hard to explain but fairly easy to see.
3. Large format is 4x5" or larger (more commonly called 5x4" there). Medium format uses a film just over 60 mm wide. Images are generally shot at 6x4.5 cm, 6x6, 6x7 or 6x9 depending on the camera although there are some obscure cameras that use slightly different formats. 120 and 220 fim can handle this without difficulty; the larger formats simply record fewer images per roll.
4. What camera? It's hard to say. There are a lot of choices. I chose a Bronica SQ system (SQ-A camera in my case, along with 50, 80 and 150mm lenses and several 120 and 220 backs). Because there is no digital back option for Bronica, the equipment is very affordable. This gear shoots 6x6 which I like. The ETRS series gear shoots 6x4.5, and there is a 6x7 set of gear too. Hasselblad is 6x6. Pentax has 6x4.5 and 6x7. I'm not very familiar with Mamiya or the other options.
5. Notice I mentioned backs above. You can get different camera backs for a single camera. You can load them up with different types of film, and change on the go. This is really really useful. Not all medium format cameras can do this, but many can. If this feature sounds useful, try to find a system that supports it.
Jim MacKenzie - Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
A bunch of Nikons; Feds, Zorkis and a Kiev; Pentax 67-II (inherited from my deceased father-in-law); Bronica SQ-A; and a nice Shen Hao 4x5 field camera with 3 decent lenses that needs to be taken outside more. Oh, and as of mid-2012, one of those bodies we don't talk about here.
Favourite film: do I need to pick only one?
Exactly as others have commented, the main benefits are that you will slow down a bit more and take a bit more care, but mainly the sheer size increase in going from 35mm to MF (a factor of about four times) will give you a quality increase in terms of grain, etc. Also, as Jim mentioned, the ability to change backs as you go is a superb benefit. I swear by my Hassy, but they are not cheap.
Personally I went for a TLR. There was 3 reasons for this.
1) cheap option for trying out a new format.
2) Square format gives another option to try ( and composing a picture with square IS different to cropping a rect to square).
3) Compact option for some of the type of work I wanted. I use mine in urban environments so the WLF and quiet operation is very nice.
Ted You haven't mentioned the use to which you will put a MF camera but I note that previous posts have often centred around commercial wedding photography. If MF is being contemplated as an alternative to 35mm wedding photography then the Pentax 645N which has autofocus offers a number of advantages such as AF and its tends to be cheaper than the Mamiya equivalent. The disadvantages tend to be non interchangeable backs( Yes, you can change backs in mid roll but you can't simply push in a dark slide and then change back where you left off as you can with a Mamiya 645) This is unlikely to be an issue in wedding photography where you can simply sacrifice the rest of the roll and move to another back with different film.
If MF is to be used for hobby photographs and especially if you intend to use a form of N, N-1 and N+1 development for B&W then the Mamiya 645 with interchangeable backs and darkslides has advantages.
It might help if you were to say what purpose you intend to put MF to, as compared to 35mm. For instance I wouldn't bother with MF, despite there being a 80-160 zoom for the P645, if it were action photographs at the Isle of Man TT races!