A Comprehensive Guide To Medium Format Film Photography

Photo by Shannon Ciricillo

It’s true what you’ve heard, film photography isn’t dead. In fact, it’s alive, well and thriving among our new age of photographic creatives. It’s safe to say that even in a digital world, film photography is here to stay.

While you may be familiar with the concept of film photography, many young photographers have yet to try out this medium. Maybe you have tested the waters with smaller, 35mm formats. But, have you ever taken a swing at another larger format and leader in the analog world? We’re talking about medium format film photography.

Medium format film photography is the mecca for creating beautiful images. It has a true appearance of depth, detail and the finest of grain – an impeccable combination resulting in stunning photographs.

But, what exactly is medium format film? What’s the hype over this process? And how exactly can you shoot it? To help answer your need-to-know questions, here’s our in-depth scoop on the world of medium format film photography.

What is Medium Format Film Photography?

To break it down for our newcomers to film photography, medium format film photography is essentially a process that results in medium sized images. It is larger than the 35mm format and smaller than large format – sitting perfectly in the middle.

Medium format images result in images sized at 6×4.5cm, 6x6cm or 6x7cm. With this, there is a larger available area to capture images shot on medium format. This allows for more light to enter into the camera and results in some truly spectacular compositions.

In fact, the medium format results in negatives that have 3-4 times as much film surface as the 35mm format. With this, you have the ability to produce higher quality scans and even enlarge medium format images to bigger prints without compromising quality.

What is the Difference Between 35mm and Medium Format Film?

So, now that we know what medium format film is – what exactly is the difference between this process and shooting 35mm images? In simple terms, it often comes down to a matter of preference.

Both 35mm and medium format are suitable for large scale professional projects. The larger surface area and size of a medium format image, doesn’t mean it is better than the 35mm counterpart, just different.

You create 35mm images with point and shoot, SLR or rangefinder cameras. They can produce great photographs even with their smaller mechanics. With 35mm, you can create high quality, detailed and fine grained images.

On the other hand, medium format film’s larger surface size has its advantages. It results in better color range, finer details and a lesser look of grain for your images. So, these are all results of stylistic preferences determined by the photographer.

The main difference between 35mm and medium format film photography is cost. With a roll of 35mm film you can shoot 36 images, with some stocks starting at $5 per roll. For medium format film, depending on the size, you can shoot 10, 12 or 16 images for about $8 per roll.

Additionally, medium format cameras are heavier, more cumbersome, slightly more expensive (depending on brand and supplier) and have lenses with apertures starting at f/2.8 or f/4.

Medium format is often not a part of the starter pack for new analog photographers. It is a process that requires investment both in learning the shooting process and financially buying and developing the film. Yet, even with this curve – medium format film photography is one of the most coveted photographic processes.

Top Gear Choices for Medium Format Photography

As a medium format film photographer, you can shoot a variety of cameras. The options are:

  • Twin Lens Reflex: These cameras consist of two lenses, where the bottom lens takes the photo and the top helps you determine what your image will look like. They are built to stand upright, in a vertical position
  • Single Lens Reflex: Better known as an SLR, these cameras have one lens that is attached to their camera body. They are often removable and the shooting can be done at waist or eye level view.
  • Rangefinder: These cameras are compact and allow you to measure your subject’s distance to create sharp images.

If you’re looking for recommended medium format film gear, here are some of the cameras you can buy right now:

Mamiya 7 II

This is a 6×7 format medium format camera by Mamiya, check it out here.

Holga 120 Medium Format by Lomography

This is an affordable entry level camera to medium format photography by Lomography. You can read more about the camera here. 

Russian Medium Format 6×6 Camera 

This twin lens reflex style camera shoots 6×6 medium format. For more information, check out the camera here. 

For more available options for medium format film cameras, check out the cameras being sold through sites such as Ebay. 

Additionally, medium format film or 120 film can be purchased across the web and in physical retailers nearest you. There is a variety of film stocks that result in various colors, here are some examples of 120 film stocks you can buy right now:

Kodak Portra 400 

Ilford HP5 400 

Ektar 100 

Medium Format Images To Inspire Your Next Creative Project

So, now that you are well versed on the world of medium format film photography, let’s leave you with some inspiring images to ignite your next creative project.

Photo by Shannon Ciricillo
Photograph by Shannon Ciricillo
Paris on Medium Format, Photo by Shannon Ciricillo
Medium Format Film Photo by Shannon Ciricillo