What is Medium Format Photography?

Most photographers first wade into film with a 35mm camera, but medium format offers even greater resolution and control. Below, we've outlined the sizable benefits of medium format photography, as well as some popular cameras and film sizes. 

What is medium format photography?

The main factor that distinguishes medium format from 35mm film is its width. Medium format film is 6cm tall, but the width depends entirely on the camera used, and this can also affect the number of shots per roll. Though medium format cameras are intended for "professionals", it doesn't mean that they're much more difficult to operate than a 35mm body. The results can be spectacular, with crisper, more vibrant, and higher quality images. Medium format's improved resolution allows for less grainy photos, and if you're making a print for an art show or ad campaign, you won't need to enlarge the image as much.    

Types of Medium Format Film 

The typical medium format film is a 120 roll, which usually contains twelve 6x6" exposures. Depending on the exposure's size, the number can change, with the biggest sizes containing half the exposures in a roll. 120 film is compatible with most cameras and can be loaded in sunlight, which is why it's so popular. Many medium format cameras also take 220 rolls, which allow for twice as many exposures, but these must be loaded in complete darkness. Due to the large film sizes, medium format bodies are larger than your average 35mm camera.

Types of Medium Format Cameras

  • TLR: Short for "Twin Lens Reflex", TLR cameras have two lenses, so that photographers can view the image when shooting and when exposing. Like SLRs, these cameras use a waist-level viewfinder, which project the image onto a focusing screen. This is great when shooting candid photos, because you can casually look down at the viewfinder while keeping it at your waist. Most TLRs do not allow for interchangeable lenses. 
  • SLR: Short for "Single Lens Reflex", these cameras usually have a waist-level finder and a box-shaped body, which can be difficult to get used to. 
  • Rangefinder: These quirky cameras include a special focusing device that measures distance between the photographer and the subject, resulting in ultra-sharp photos. However, many of these cameras lack the advanced functionality of an SLR or TLR.

Medium Format Digital Photography

In the early 1990s, camera manufacturers like Kodak and Leaf Systems merged medium format film and digital worlds. By attaching a digital camera back (or DCB) to a medium format body, electronic sensors could convert analog data to digital. These DCBs were extremely expensive, so only pro photographers could use them, but they paved the way for today's all-digital medium format cameras.  

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