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Photography QnA: Comparing Formats - 35mm, 120, etc

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Category: Best Photographic Equipment to Buy : Film-Based Camera Equipment : Comparing Formats - 35mm, 120, etc

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Photography Question 
Laljit S. Sidhu
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 8/13/2002
  1 .  Choosing Medium Format
I am currently looking into medium format photography and have some questions.

First, are there any advantages to medium format photography over 35mm ASIDE FROM THE LARGER NEGS?

Is there an actual image quality difference?

What disadvantages would there be in switching from 35mm to medium format? With the newer AF 645's available, bulkiness seems to not really be a hindrance even for candid work.

I have noticed many professionals use medium format over 35mm? Is that primarily for the larger negatives or are there some other advantages as well in terms of the images made?

Finally, if one switches to medium format would there be a point in keeping 35mm equipment or would it be better to just sell the 35mm equipment to fund the medium format equipment?

I am not a pack rat and don't really see the purpose of holding onto 35mm equipment just for the sake of having it. But at the same time, I don't want to just get rid of it if there are significant advantages to keeping both formats.

I am primarily interested in outdoor photography ... portrait in the outdoors and on location and nature photography.

I am debating between picking up a 645 system and getting rid of my 35mm system or picking up a 6x7 system and keeping my 35mm for candid work.


6/22/2003 10:55:19 AM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 9/27/2001
  My thoughts about medium formt:

Not likely what you want to hear. It's all related to "LARGER NEGS." Whether or not it makes a difference in "image quality" depends on how you define "quality." It has the capability to deliver greater technical quality at larger print sizes and in projection of slides to a screen.

The practical magnification limit of film is about 12X its linear dimensions (length and width) before resolving power of the film becomes visible to the "unaided" eye. Some films (in general, the faster ones) exhibit this with less magnification. This puts the practical limit for 35mm format at about an 11x16 print size. Some place the limit at 16x20; it depends on what is considered "acceptable." A projection is viewed at much greater distance than most prints, and it allows more graceful degradation. Close examination of a projected image on a screen clearly reveals its resolution limits though (using an excellent projection lens). If one starts with a larger piece of film, 12X enlargement of it allows a larger print and screen projection shows greater apparent sharpness with higher detail.

The tradeoff is size, weight and agility when making photographs. There are additional tradeoffs with fastest lens speeds and in film reloading. The fastest 35mm format lenses are faster than the fastest equivalent lenses for medium format systems by one to two f-stops. It takes longer to reload a medium format film insert than to reload a 35mm camera body. [Extra film backs can speed it up considerably, but at the cost of $$$ for the additional backs.] This is why all the photographers I know with medium format systems do not abandon their 35mm format systems. They use them for different types of tasks. One excellent example is wedding photography. 35mm has the weight, size, agility, faster lenses and quicker reload time for the candid, photojournalism done before the ceremony and at the reception. Medium format offers ability to repeatably and reliably make much larger prints from the "formal" portraiture done just before and just after the ceremony.

Those who use both systems leverage their respective strengths when their weaknesses do not greatly impair accomplishing the task.

6/22/2003 8:12:31 PM

Laljit S. Sidhu
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 8/13/2002
  Thanks for the feedback. It would seem then, that if one was planning on retaining the 35mm system ... it would be wise to find a MF system that complemented it ... made up for its weaknesses and such.

A 67 system, it would seem, would do this ... the 35mm compensating for the lack of a 67 portability and speed; and, the 67 allowing for truly larger neg and greater enlargement ability.

In contrat, it would seem, a 645 system would be somewhat redundant ... somewhat larger negative, but enough to add it to a 35mm system rather than a 67?

In other words, if I am going to keep my 35mm system, why would I want to choose 645 over 67?

Do my questions even make sense ???


6/22/2003 8:29:15 PM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 9/27/2001
  This depends on how big you want to make a print (or project a slide compared to viewing distance). All the 6x7 cameras I've handled are significantly larger and heavier than a similar 645 model, making carrying them and hand holding them for any length of time tiring. In addition, the similar lenses for 6x7's are usually slower by yet another f-stop, even though they're physically bigger (and heavier). In a studio, this is much less a problem and some will mount them on tripods with castors (or a dolly) for studio work. When working "on location" when it must be carried and hand held for much longer periods, it can get tiring.

Most 6x7 systems do not have quite the range of lenses available for them too . . . although this may not be that much of a consideration for you.

645 compared to 6x7 is similar to the differences between 35mm format and medium format, although not quite as dramatic. IMO, there isn't that much difference between 645 and 6x6 for standard print sizes. The only advantage a 6x6 offers is the square format which means it need not be turned on its side. If a standard print size is the goal (and not a square print), then the user of a 6x6 must be mindful of this when shooting the photograph as it will have to be cropped to a rectangle for a standard print (some pro labs will print a square, but common frame/mat sizes do not come in squares). OTOH, a 645 is more efficient with film: 15 exposures for 120 and 30 exposures for 220 versus a 6x6's 12 and 24 exposures. A 6x7 gets even fewer frames per roll.

6/22/2003 11:38:10 PM

Tom Walker

member since: 3/12/2004
  When I bought my 1st medium format camera, a mamiya 645 about 20 yrs ago, I decided to sell my 35mm gear. Then I took it on a 3 day hike in the mountains
at the end of 3 days it weighed at least 200 lbs. Now if I'm driving to the site, I take the mamiya, if I'm walking, I take the 35mm.

And you did say outdoor photography????

3/13/2004 11:04:40 PM

Allan Yates

member since: 2/21/2004
  It's all about the big neg/transparency and image quality. If you want to get your work published, the big neg is more attractive to editors and art directors. Big negs/transparencies mean better print quality, too.

If you want a medium format camera that isn't a backbreaker to carry, take a look at the Mamiya 7II. It is small and light by compairson to other MF cameras and produces outstanding results.

The Hasselblad 501 or 503 with the 80mm lens is a light setup too, with the standard viewfinder. With any of the prism finders, it is heavy and a bit awkward to shoot hand held. If you shoot from a tripod, this is not an issue.

The Pentax 67II is a good camera/system - while big and heavy, the lenses are very affordable and the camera operates much like a 35mm SLR.

All medium format cameras have their strengths and weaknesses. Give some thought to what your needs are and which camera is the best fit for you before you invest in a camera/system.

3/15/2004 7:34:32 AM

Randall Stewart

member since: 3/20/2004
  To respond to your second question, there is little point to retaining your 35mm system and adding a 645MF system. A 645 MF system has part of the quality increase of the 67 system and most of its disadvantage is terms of extra cost, weight and slower usage. It is a compromise between 35mm and MF.
If you keep your 35mm system for its speed of use and flexibility, your investment in a MF system would be better served with a 6x7 system. [The 6x6 format is basically a 645 that you don't have to turn for portrait and landscape formats, offering about the same advanages and disadvantages of 645.]
Remember the down-side of 6x7 systems: weight, cost, more limited range of lens and accessories [except as to the Pentax 67 system, which seems to have everything you'd every need, except autofocus and magazine film backs].

3/20/2004 12:27:45 PM

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Photography Question 

member since: 10/6/2001
  2 .  What's it All About, Alfie? SLR that is...
What characteristics of a 35mm SLR make it different from the rest of the 35mm family?

10/6/2001 3:49:29 PM

doug Nelson

member since: 6/14/2001
  When you look into the viewfinder, you're looking right through the lens. You can see nearly everything that will be in your shot. You can even see your depth-of-field by pushing a button that closes down your aperture to the setting you made for the shot. I think all SLR's have interchangeable lenses.

10/10/2001 7:56:50 AM

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Photography Question 

member since: 9/5/2001
  3 .  First Camera - APS of 35mm SLR?
Hello... I'm buying my first real camera and I want to know if anyone could tell me the difference between a standard 35mm SLR and APS. If I wanted to develop film at home (after I learn a lot more) does APS make a difference?

9/5/2001 7:51:18 PM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 9/27/2001
APS stands for "Advanced Photo System." 35mm refers to the film size used. APS was created for consumers and the cameras made for the film are consumer grade. If you want to develop film in a home darkroom, it would be much easier with 35mm size film (see remarks about film availability). Following are the major differences between the two:

Film Size:
This is the major difference between the two. APS uses 24mm film which is the entire width of the film strip from edge to edge. The actual frame size is 16.7mm x 30.2mm. By comparison, 35mm film refers to the width of the film strip from edge to edge. Its actual frame size is 24mm x 36mm. This makes a difference in how large a print can be made from the film. A 35mm camera with an excellent lens and very fine grain, slower speed film can easily produce high quality 11x16 or 11x14 prints. An APS can produce up to 8x12 or 8x10 prints. You can ask for larger ones, but either grain will begin to show, or they will start to look a little soft since you are past the resolving power of even the finest lenses with that much enlargement.

Film Availability:
For film availability, very, very nearly all still camera film is available in 135 size (the number size for 35mm film), both consumer and professional. This includes black/white and color in both negative (print) and transparency (slide). By comparison, the only films available for APS are consumer color negative. The B/W for APS is actually a "chromogenic" film, exactly like color negative, except it renders in shades of gray, which is entirely different from true B/W film. The easiest film to develop and print in a home darkroom is B/W negative. It is possible to set up a home darkroom for color, and some do, but the setup will be more expensive. Controlling both time in various process steps, and temperatures of chemical baths is much more critical with color films.

Camera Bodies and Lenses:
Very nearly all APS cameras are "Point and Shoot" viewfinder type with auto-focus and "program mode" (only) auto-exposure. These cameras have relatively weak built-in flashes (very short range) and cannot mount or fire a more powerful external flash. Lens speed is comparatively "slow" (how much light the lens admits) and they do not have as much range in shutter speeds. This forces the use of faster films with larger grain structure. The couple of SLR's made for APS have extremely limited lens selections. All that applies to APS "P&S" cameras also applies to 35mm consumer "P&S" cameras. OTOH, 35mm SLR's span a huge range from introductory consumer grade to very high end professional grade. In some systems, such as Canon EOS, Nikon (AF and AIS), and Olympus OM, the same lenses can be used on any of the system bodies, from the lowest price consumer one to the premier professional grade "flagship." Within the 35mm SLR systems, the user can grow a comprehensive system over time, including upgrading both bodies and lenses without losing compatibility at any point.

My recommendations:
If you're looking for a simple camera that doesn't require any special knowledge to use, and you don't plan on making much more than color print "snapshots" (Kodak's term, not mine) then an APS P&S can be ideal for it. If you are looking for a more advanced camera system for "serious," specialized and/or professional photography, with an extremely wide range of film choices (to match your type of photography and style), then a 35mm SLR is the better choice.

-- John

9/5/2001 10:39:05 PM


member since: 9/5/2001

Wow... thanks for quick response and for clearing that up for me. Thanks...

9/6/2001 11:36:36 AM

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