Medium Format vs. Full Frame

To the untrained eye, a medium format film camera and a full frame SLR can produce very similar results. However, each camera format has clear advantages and disadvantages, with medium format offering more precise controls and sharper results overall. Below, we've outlined a few clear differences when comparing medium format vs. full frame.   

Image Sharpness

In general, medium format cameras offer a crisper image, while SLRs are tailored more for a computer screen. If you compare the two cameras with a physical print, though, the medium format shot will look noticeably sharper, without any Photoshop tweaks. Meanwhile, you'll need to perform significant sharpening on the SLR image to even come close. When dealing with adverse lighting conditions, the medium format camera is more adaptable as well. For photographers who prefer the advantages of a digital camera, an SLR can produce excellent results, but medium format cameras offer a sharper image overall.


If you plan on using manual focus for most shoots, medium format is the way to go. With a large viewfinder and an extremely precise focusing wheel, you can make tiny adjustments and see them right away. For example, you might want to emphasize a small object in the foreground, and even if the object is far from the frame's center, it's possible to focus on it. On the other hand, SLR cameras can be more temperamental when you need to focus on a small subject.    


In this area, full frame SLR cameras win out. Developing quality film is more labor-intensive than editing a digital image, and with today's editing software, it's possible to make a bland photo look much more vibrant. Film boasts dynamic range, and medium format images look incredible with the right conditions, but SLRs offer another level of color correction. When comparing medium format vs. full frame, this might be a reason for the average photographer to choose a DSLR.

Depth of Field

Next, the bokeh effect that you can achieve with a medium format camera is generally superior to a SLR. With a faster, more elaborate lens, a full frame camera can deliver the necessary aperture range to produce a comparable effect, but it's much more expensive than the average medium format camera.  


With a digital camera, you know exactly how many pixels you're working with, but medium format film depends on your development process. With a high-powered scanner, your film negatives can look much better than a DSLR, but there are more steps involved to achieve a finished print. Ultimately, it's a matter of personal preference. If you're the kind of photographer who lives for the darkroom, medium format is your best bet. On the other hand, those who prefer photo editing software and digital media will be more than happy with a full frame SLR. 

Need images for your project? Shutterstock’s impressive collection of more than 70 million images can help! See what our library has to offer.

  • Was this article helpful?

Can’t find what you’re looking for?