What is a Medium Format Camera?

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With the advent of digital cameras, film has become “old school” but there is one type of camera which is still has a good following of film users. Medium format or film format cameras are still used for still photography today. You may not have heard of this kind of camera or photography technique before since the market is dominated by DSLRs, digital point and shoot cameras, and other high-performance compact system cameras, but in the professional arena, medium format is still a widely used system and it’s only recently that digital medium format cameras have become more affordable for pros to use. The earlier digital backs ran into many many thousands of pounds to buy.

Getting to Know the Medium Format

medium format cameraGenerally, medium format refers to film as well as digital cameras which record the images on media which is larger than 24mm by 36mm mm which is used in 35mm (or full frame) photography, but is smaller than 4×5 inches of the large format cameras.

When it comes to the film used for medium format, the easiest way to decipher the difference is by looking at the sides of the film. Medium format film does not have the sprocket holes on its sides like you see on 35mm film.

Interestingly, you can sometimes see the sides of medium format film (characterized by having some numbers and letters on one of the corners) used as photograph frames on photo editing apps in your phone.

Medium format is used in digital photography as I mentioned before, the main difference is that these have sensors which are larger than those on 35mm cameras. Modern medium format digital cameras have sensors with specs of 40.3 by 53.7 mm and can give photos that have up to 60 million pixels. Because of this, they are often used for professional medium format photography as like the film option, the larger film/sensor size allows a lot of detail to be captured which may then be blown up for media use without the quality suffering at all. In the world of film, medium format was widely used from the 1900s to the 1950s, and was still more famous than large format back then.

The Pros of Using a Medium Format Camera

  • Some models of medium format camera come with detachable “backs” which are the parts that either house the film of the digital sensor, so you can buy a digital back for your medium camera but have a back up of film if you need to.
  • Image quality is generally better than a DSLR, even a full frame version. The image sensor of medium format cameras is much bigger, therefore they capture much more detail compared to DSLRs. A 20 megapixel medium format camera can come up with more detailed photos than a 30 megapixel DSLR because of its much larger sensor.
  • As the sensor size is larger, the ability to capture more detail in both the highlights as well as shadows is greater. Just as a DSLR is capable of capturing more detail than a point and shoot camera because the DSLR sensor size is larger.

If you would like high quality photos which can rival that of the best DSLRs out there, you can trust that medium format cameras can achieve this for you.

The Cons of Using a Medium Format Camera

  • A medium format camera can be very expensive compared to usual DSLRs. Their larger sensors and more specialised bodies make them have retail prices which range from a few thousand pounds, all the way up to twenty or thirty thousand pounds. You have to be quite serious about your photography hobby when you decide on buying this kind of camera. Prices are coming down as technology improves and just like DSLRs, they will soon be an option for the keen amatuer and not just the professional market.
  • Medium format photography film can get quite expensive as well and is harder to find with fewer stores selling it.
  • Should you ever need repair services, it would need a specialist store, so make sure that when you buy an expensive medium format camera, you find out about servicing too.

Basically, you will be faced with more expenses when using medium format. If you are prepared for that, however, then you can enjoy the added detail and higher quality that medium format photography gives you. If you do end up doing commercial work then hiring these cameras might end up being a good solution until your work earns you enough to buy the equipment yourself.

About Author

A keen amateur photographer, Garry has been teaching people photography for over 5 years but is also always learning. Garry enjoys many types of photography but prefers Street Photography and Candid Event Photography All content is Copyright © 2017 Garry Finch. All Rights Reserved.

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  1. Pingback: The three main types of digital camera | Photography Basics

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