Dipping a toe into medium format

I’ve spent the last year or so trying to not express an interest in buying a Mamiya 645 a friend of mine wasn’t using. Eventually I bowed to the inevitable and asked if I could borrow it for a while to find out if I liked it. Not only do people still rave about the image quality to be had from the old medium format film cameras, but also let’s face it the 645 was the type of camera I could never have afforded back in the 70s and 80s, so the chance to own one now is pretty damn attractive.

The thing is a beast. The concept of medium is, once you think about it, based around the idea that it’s going to be midway between 35mm and 10″ by 8″, and that’s pretty massive when all is said and done. The lenses are huge (yes, it has a range of lenses) and hand holding it one realises early on requires a steady hand. Automation comes down to a light meter, none of this auto-focus malarky. I spent a fun afternoon putting new batteries in and and reading the manual to work out how to load the 120 roll of HP5 I’d decided would make a good test roll of film (another roll of HP5 and a Portrait 400 are in the fridge). It’s been ages since I had to read the manual to learn how to do something basic on a camera, the entire thing was a voyage into the unknown and was great fun.

So I shot off the roll of film around the garden, using either the onboard light meter, the one on my phone or my Sekonic hand held meter, so I could see how accurate the onboard one was. I realised early on that it needed good light to get the shutter speeds up enough for confident hand holding; the tripod adapter being large enough to dry dock a ship I decided it would be something for another day. So once I’d got to frame 15 it was back to the manual to unload it and off to A.G. Photolab (who are my processors of choice) for developing and scanning.

The image quality is stunning. It’s everything you love about film (I’m assuming that you do love film? everybody loves film! it’s like vinyl for your eyes..). It has the feel of 35mm with crispness and detail. But, people say the depth of field on medium format is small at large apertures, yes it is, it really really really is. No place for sloppy focussing with this puppy I can tell you.

Take a look at this one of our new patio and you’ll see what I mean.

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That’s f/11 at a 250th focussed on the seat. On my cropped frame 450d at f/11 I can pretty much get sharp from here to Timbuktu. In this the fountain is blurred, but just look at how crisp the leaves on the maple are.

And at f3.5 this sunflower photo redefines bokeh

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So the medium format experiment will continue, I’ll be loading up the next roll of HP5 and, equipped with my discoveries from this first roll, I’ll be attempting to make some images I’m pleased with. I think I’ll be breaking out that tripod adapter though.

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