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What the F is Medium Format Photography?

October 23, 2017

I recently bought a Mamiya 645 E, which is a medium format film camera. I was really excited to show it off and brag about it to my family, but I learned that they didn't know much about medium format photography. I was shocked. I obviously needed to educate them.  Now, my parents see the value of medium format photography.  I wanted to share the value of shooting with medium format cameras, so this blog post will be exploring the very, very important question: What the f is medium format photography?

 

First things first, in 1839, Louis Daguerre had taken the first photograph that contained people, solely due to the fact that a man had stopped for a shoe shine on the street, which was enough time for the camera and paper to register him on the film. Daguerre had worked on a method called Daguerreotype, which resulted in photography becoming commercially viable for the first time, aka birth of photography.  Other methods of photography followed Daguerre's invention, and all of that growth in photography lead to George Eastman's development of the Kodak camera in 1888. Eastman's invention was paramount because the camera became accessible to all, whereas it was only reserved for the wealthy prior to this.

Boulevard du Temple by Louis Daguerre

 

 

The Kodak Brownie used 120 film, which ensured higher quality and a wider dynamic range, which was the norm for the public. That stopped when Canon and other companies utilizing 35 mm film entered the market in the 1950's, and took over the consumer market.

 

In today's camera market, only a few camera manufactures, like Hasselblad and Pentax, focus on the creation of medium format and are only sought out by professional photographers/artists.

 

The reason that medium (and large) format mediums are sought after by professionals is due to the quality and detail. Medium format sensors can capture a wider dynamic range, meaning that more colour and light detail can be captured that would be lost on a full frame camera. Medium format is always going to be superior to the full frame photography (sorry, not sorry).

 

Comparison of sensor sizes

 

The photographs shot on a medium format sensor also has quality to stand out from the full frame images, even if browsing on social media. The increase in quality is quite noticeable and give the impression of a better image. You'll see things that cannot be picked up on a full frame. For example,  in the image below labelled "Phrase One", you can see more detail such as individual light trails and the coloring is more accurate.

 

 Comparison of full frame and medium format

 

The only downfall of the medium format is the cost. Whether shooting digital or film, the cost to maintain the camera and the craft is very expensive. However, I believe that the good outweighs the bad. By using medium format you end up with the highest quality and detailed photographs. 

 

Some of my favourite artists shoot medium format and their work always inspires me. I always find they photographs to have an impact and surreal feeling that can't be captured by any other sensor other than medium format. The artists are:

 

Ryan Pfluger

 

 Sarah Paulson by Ryan Pfluger

 

Platon

 

Vivan Maier

 

 New York, NY by Vivan Maier

 

Annie Leibovitz

 

Jonathan Moore

 South Falls by Jonathan Moore

 

Maybe you think that I am crazy and don't think that medium format is worth half of the hassle. Or I convinced you to fall in love with the technique! However, what ever you do with the information, I hope that I made you a tiny bit interested and I would urge you take whatever amount of interest you have and nurture it! Look at more medium format images, artists, and techniques. Talk to people about it! Hire a photographer (like me) to shoot something a couple of times! Buy some art that is created by this format. It is a incredible craft, and I believe everyone should interact with it at least once in their life time!

 

 

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