Medium Format vs. 35mm

One of the best reasons to shoot film today is the increasingly popular medium format. Generally, medium format refers to film and digital cameras that capture images on film or digital sensors larger than 24x36mm (full-frame, used in 35mm photography), but smaller than 4x5 inches (large-format photography). Below, we’ve outlined some of the major differences when comparing medium format vs. 35mm. 
 
 

35mm

Developed in the 1920s by Oskar Barnack, 35mm is still one of the world’s most popular film formats. 35mm gets its name from the total width of 135 film, which for years was the format’s primary medium. In digital photography, the format is also commonly referred to as “FF” or “small format”, so as to distinguish it from medium and large formats. The chief advantage of 35mm is its portability; larger format cameras are heavier and are tend to be more difficult to set up. Indeed, the 35mm format is convenient and easy to use, but many amateur photographers never consider other formats that may be more appropriate for their work.
 
 

Medium Format

While medium format digital cameras, also called “digital backs”, can cost tens of thousands of dollars, shooting medium format in film is much more reasonable. Once the most widely used film size, medium format now occupies a niche in the photography world, adored by professionals and amateurs alike for its distinctive, true-to-life quality.  
 
One of the defining characteristics of medium format cameras is the large size of the film or digital sensor, which can be anywhere from two to six times larger than in 35mm cameras. This allows you to produce images at a much higher resolution, as well as create bigger prints without the noticeable blur or grain that compromises images enlarged from smaller formats. The larger size of medium format film also allows for more control over depth of field, and therefore has greater creative potential.
 
Size and resolution aside, there is another, more subtle advantage to shooting medium format film. Even when viewing on the web, medium format images have a signature look that is instantly recognizable, but difficult to articulate. This is because medium format has a lack of perspective distortion, which warps and transforms an object significantly from how it looks with a normal focal length. In other words, medium format images tend to look closer to what your eyes see in the real world. This natural look is what makes medium format images so powerful.   


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