what is your favorite camera for format photos
August 15, 2004 3:19 PM   Subscribe

I've suddenly decided that I am on the verge of diving headfirst into the murky waters of medium format photography. Any of you have any favourite cameras? Favourite brands? Favourite filmstocks? Rest assured, I will not be shooting weddings or yearbook portraits.
posted by nylon to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
what do you want to shoot, and how much do you want to spend?
posted by gravelshoes at 3:29 PM on August 15, 2004

Response by poster: what do you want to shoot

stationary outdoor scenes. medium to close-range urban landscapes. stuff that's already out there. i'm not really interested in studio based work or models. well, not in that sense.

how much do you want to spend?

as little as possible, and yet as much as is necessary.
whatever it takes to get quality colour prints that can credibly be shown in galleries or printed in coffee table books.

i've used SLRs for a good few years but feel it's time to turn things up a notch or two. i was thinking about hiring equipment for a project, but then i looked on ebay and thought i might as well invest in something. but which something is a big question.
posted by nylon at 3:51 PM on August 15, 2004

Hooray -- another on our side of the fence.

I use a Bronica GS-1, a model that was discontinued a few years ago. It's 6x7, and I've found the quality of the lenses and camera in general to be great -- and slightly cheaper than Mamiyas, and significantly cheaper than Hasselblads. I preferred it to the other dominant 6x7 camera, the Mamiya 67, because the Bronica was lighter and easier to handhold (though I still use a tripod 75% of the time).

Do a fair amount of research before making a purchase. First, what size negative do you want -- 6x4.5 (aka 645), 6x6, 6x7, 6x9? Obviously bigger negatives give you better resolution when you print, but the difference among various MF negative sizes isn't all that striking. (It depends more on the quality of the lens and the quality/speed of the film.) And obviously, different proportions have a different aesthetic -- some people love the square; others love the golden rectangle. You'll likely use 120 film regardless of the negative size, and you'll get more shots per roll depending. I get 10 shots per roll using a 6x7 format camera; square 6x6 negatives will get you 12 shots per roll. I think you get 15 shots per roll with 645.

One place to do a lot of research is photo.net. They have a lot of boards where people discuss pros and cons of various models -- of course people tend to praise most of the cameras they already own, as they don't want to feel like they've wasted money, but it's still enlightening (if a bit wonky). There are many people who will say you're cheating yourself if you use anything less than a Hasselblad (and they are great cameras, if a bit overpriced). Others will argue that point.

I bought this book before I bought my Bronica. I found it to be very fair about the various brands & models.

A good idea when you're starting out in MF is to get a used kit -- unless you really want to make a $4000 investment right off the bat. There are various reputable places that sell used MF equipment -- keh.com and mpex.com among them -- and they have strict ratings that indicate the condition of various camera parts. Many used MF cameras have previously been owned by professionals, so they're often still in almost-pristine shape. (And you don't have to buy all of your camera parts at the same place, either. I think I bought my camera body and viewing prism from KEH, my lenses from MPEX, and a new grip handle from B&H. (bhphotovideo.com).

As for film, I use color negative stock. I used 160-speed Kodak Portra VC for a long time, but I've grown a little disenchanted with it; some photos I took three years ago are a little difficult to print now, color-wise. I'm now switching to Fuji NPC (which is also "vivid", 160 speed). Someone else can give better black-and-white or slide advice than me.

Have fun!
posted by lisa g at 3:59 PM on August 15, 2004

I recommend Lomo LC-A camera and Fuji Super HQ 35mm film (cheaper than Kodak, less orange in the color). Both together will yield beautiful color that holds up in prints as large as 30" x 40" and beyond. The size and mechanics of the Lomo lends itself very well to on-the-go urban photography.
posted by samh23 at 4:02 PM on August 15, 2004

Argh, I just realized you specified medium format. Sorry.
posted by samh23 at 4:04 PM on August 15, 2004

Quick, samh23! Run like the wind, while I try to hold back the angry mob!

Seriously, though, I second the Lomo. The Lubitel 166 B can handle medium format film. In spite of its flaws, and the outcries of its critics, it can still be a fun, simple little camera for beginners to experiment with.
posted by Smart Dalek at 4:14 PM on August 15, 2004

I think that everyone who steps into MF ought to give a TLR a try, because they are cheap. TLRs provide a lot of the benefits of MF for a reasonable price, whereas most other MF platforms are horrendously overpriced.

So try an old used Rollei TLR or a Mamiya. It'd be a great way to get your feet wet without spending more than a few hundred dollars.
posted by gen at 4:17 PM on August 15, 2004

Lisa beat me to a lot of what I was going to say.

A good idea might be to start out with a low end camera before splashing out on something special. My first medium format camera was a Yashica Mat 124 - you can pick them up really cheaply, the results aren't bad, and it begins to give you a feel for the affair.

All I will say about Hassleblads is that they are very beautiful, and very expensive. I accompanied a photographer friend to 'look' at one a few weeks ago. He was completely broke, but once he had picked it up, he wasn't going to let go, and now he is even more broke.

Fuji NPH is a great film
posted by gravelshoes at 4:23 PM on August 15, 2004

Oh, and another decision to make is if you want an SLR or a rangefinder. Many of the older MF cameras are rangefinders, and some (like the Mamiya 7) are still being made.

The pro of a rangefinder is that it's very light & easy to handhold compared with an SLR -- also, if you can find older used ones, they're cheap! And they're quiet, so you can sneak photos of unsuspecting subjects more easily. The con is that the composition you make through the viewfinder isn't always identical to what you'll get on the negative ... you have to learn to adjust for that. You might get a lot of unintended legs and street signs poking into your frame at first.

The pro of MF SLRs is that they're basically WYSIWIG in terms of what you see through the viewfinder and what you get on the negative. They tend to operate a lot like a 35mm camera in manual mode ... they're just bigger and heavier. The con is that they're big and heavy, and the mirror can be loud if you're trying to be discreet. (My Bronica lets me flip the mirror before I make an exposure, which helps, but don't try that without a tripod.)

Of course, the cheapest rangefinder MF camera of all is the Holga -- so fun in its unpredictability. Some images here.
posted by lisa g at 5:11 PM on August 15, 2004

If you're not doing your own, bear in mind that the cost of processing and printing medium format (compared to the convenience and ready availability of 35mm) is an important consideration in total cost of ownership.

For the kind of pictures you describe, another consideration is a 5x4 field camera, for the benefit of an even yummier format. Some are surprisingly portable and there are bargains to be had in the used market if you do a bit of research up-front.

Agree with the TLR recommendations, at least for starting out in medium format. It's a nearly completely different way of photography if you're used to 35mm, and folks tend to either love it or hate it.
posted by normy at 5:26 PM on August 15, 2004

I got into it using a Holga. $15! It's a lot of fun, but I'd recommend trying out a more general-purpose camera at the same time.. too much Holga can start to feel gimmicky.
posted by Hypharse at 6:05 PM on August 15, 2004

My Bronica ETRSI kit was £499 in the UK, which is pretty damn cheap. That's about $920, so it's not too silly an amount to drop on what is a v. nice MF body+lens. However, in the US it's going for $1599, which is surprising. Perhaps you should buy from here and ship it over? I'll third the recommendations for NPH.

Can't believe it works the other way too
posted by bonaldi at 6:17 PM on August 15, 2004

Response by poster: bonaldi, i live in the UK. there's a jessops about 200 yards from my house :)

thanks for the advice, everyone - i'm getting more excited about this by the minute.
posted by nylon at 6:22 PM on August 15, 2004

I have this one. It would work for you. No internal light meter, so you need one.
posted by JohnR at 6:28 PM on August 15, 2004

Yeah, you really need to think about where and how you'll be taking photos in order to get the right camera. I specialized in photography when I got my BFA, which taught me much about cheap-but-good medium format cameras, being poor back then and all.

If you want something that will travel well, a TRL is a good choice, as is any of Fuji's older rangefinders. No interchangable lenses or backs, though.

There are some odd and very old cameras you can look into for either cheap entry-level or novelty or both, like Mamiya's Universal line, but since these are about as large as a Speedgraphic 4x5, they aren't for candids or anything. Good news is that they only run about $200.

If you want to get serious, consider buying into a system, like Bronicas ETR or SQ lines. I currently own a SQ, and it is a great bargin for the quality. Steer clear of Bronica's "S" line, however, since they used brass gears that stripped too easily.

Mamiya's 6x6 line is nice as well, but known to be large and heavy. Since they are not as popular, they can be found for good prices, though, and can be a good choice for landscape photography, if you plan to haul around a tripod and such anyway. Mamiya's 645 line is a good portable medium format camera system, but a bit pricier since they include some more advanced features.

Pentax has a great reputation in medium format. People say their lenses are amoung the sharpest. Usually the older 645s are not too pricy, but I'm afraid I don't much else about 'em besides that. They do have those great wooden grips, though.

Hasselblad you don't even want to think about unless you are serious serious.

6x6 vs. 6x7 vs. 645 all depends on the mix of gear and photo types you plan to take. 645 is more of a fasion designers format. 6x6 is the standard and most widely used, I believe. 6x7 or 6x9 is good landscape stuff. Also consider how much film you want to be carrying around, since each format will use a 120 differently.

Also consider what kind of metering you plan on doing. If you already have a handheld meter, then no problem. If not, them make sure you either get one (Gossen Luna Pro is good) or get a system that can accomodate a prism with TTL metering.

Price, however, is usually the big deciding factor. Look around on ebay for what you can get in your price range and compair features/format/etc until you settle on something comfortable.
posted by Hackworth at 6:50 PM on August 15, 2004

oh yeah, and if you are shooting B&W, I suggest Ilford FP4 plus, since it offers great grain and forgiving processing vs. a T-grain film like T-max or HP5. Plus, well priced.

Color, I am ignorant to since kodak discontinued their supra line.
posted by Hackworth at 7:09 PM on August 15, 2004

check out r.p.e.medium-format, this sort of question gets asked fairly often, and most of the time an interesting and informative discussion ensues.

a kiev is perfect for some people, but it's not for everyone. I absolutely love my 88cm. (and while they can be gotten ridiculously cheap, I strongly recommend a more trustworthy source like arax or mikhail fourman...)

another recommendation is the fuji gw iii series aka 'texas leica' -- comes in 6x7 and 6x9 versions, superb glass, excellent quality, very cheap if bought from uk (e.g. robertwhite used to sell them new for about $400 less than the site johnr linked!) the main drawbacks are (a) fixed focal length and (2) fuji stopped making them a couple years ago, so it's not so easy to get anymore.

fuji's 645 auto-zoom makes a fairly decent point and shoot, but again they stopped making it ... dnno what kind of crack fuji has been smoking lately.

my preferred film is transparency, specifically provia and velvia.

holgas and lubitels are definitely lots of fun as well.
posted by dorian at 7:21 PM on August 15, 2004

stationary outdoor scenes. medium to close-range urban landscapes. stuff that's already out there. i'm not really interested in studio based work or models. well, not in that sense.

Large format is somewhat-to-much cheaper than medium format. And you get to tilt the film plane in crazy ways.

Medium format seems to be for well-funded studio photographers.
posted by Kwantsar at 11:03 PM on August 15, 2004

I can personally recommend the Pentax 645.

It's a well built camera, has a meter in the lens, operates essentially as a SLR, is very inexpensive for both body and lenses, and is built like a tank. The only drawbacks that I've found is that it doesn't have a removable back - which for your purposes shouldn't be an issue.

Good luck!
posted by jazzkat11 at 9:23 AM on August 16, 2004

Oh - and on filmstocks, I personally love the Ilford C41 process films for B/W, and the fuji 800 for color. But that's an area for each to find their particular liking.
posted by jazzkat11 at 9:26 AM on August 16, 2004

Whoops, in my film recommendation above, substitute HP5 with Delta 400. My bad.
posted by Hackworth at 10:13 AM on August 16, 2004

The Pentax 6x7 body is built like a tank and can be found for very low prices. With the money you save you should buy a sturdy tripod, you'll need it. I use a combination of medium format cameras for landscape and travel work: Pentax 6x7, Pentax 645n (i agree with jazzkat11's reccomendation), and the Fuji 645zi. The Fuji is a rangefinder with an autofocus zoom lens. The range for this lens is limited (sort of semi-wide to normal), but its advantage is the extremely light weight, and very very sharp lens. Due to its design and lack of mirror, handheld exposures at very slow speeds are possible. There are many good deals available now in the used market. I would also consider renting different cameras, shooting a few rolls and seeing what you like best.
posted by ig at 6:02 AM on August 18, 2004

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