Is 645 medium format film really better than 35mm? Well, yeah. It is.

Jan 12, 2021

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Is 645 medium format film really better than 35mm? Well, yeah. It is.

Jan 12, 2021

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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I still shoot quite a bit of film when the opportunity allows, and when I do, I still primarily tend to reach for a 35mm. It’s not that it’s the best, or even just the best suited to what I want to shoot, but it’s convenient. The 35mm film SLRs I use the most are all Nikon F mount bodies, letting me use most of the lenses I also own for my DSLRs. But medium format definitely has it’s benefits.

In this video, photographer Kyle McDougall looks at the overall thought process behind using 645 medium format instead of your standard 3:2 ratio 35mm film, as well as some of the objective benefits and drawbacks to the larger format.

Personally, for me, the major benefits of medium format film are the higher clarity and detail (thanks to the negative being almost 3x as large) and shallower depth of field for a given field of view & aperture combination. It means I can get those full-length shallow depth of field portraits on location without having to spend a fortune on an f/1.2 lens. Instead, I can shoot a longer lens at maybe f/3.5 or f/4 and get a very similar look.

Being able to get that shallower depth of field at smaller apertures helps when you might be limited on shutter speed – hey, most film cameras didn’t go all the way up to 1/8000th – or perhaps even due to flash, if you happen to want to use it in your shot. So, being able to be a couple of stops smaller than on 35mm lets you drop down the amount of light entering your lens to help balance the ambient and flash. At least, it has for me.

But I do also have a couple of Nikon 35mm SLRs that do go up to 1/8000th for when I need that. When it comes to medium format, though, I’m more a fan of the square format 6×6 rather than 4:3 ratio 645. And, no, it’s nothing to do with Instagram. The square format has been around for much longer than that.

Kyle goes into a lot more detail than that to show some real comparisons and benefits between the two in the video. It’s well worth a watch if you’ve been wondering about medium format but haven’t shot it before.

What’s your favourite film format?

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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14 responses to “Is 645 medium format film really better than 35mm? Well, yeah. It is.”

  1. Lorenzo Morgoni Avatar
    Lorenzo Morgoni

    I’ve never tried medium format cameras but I’d really like to.

    1. Lorenzo Morgoni Avatar
      Lorenzo Morgoni

      Dunja Djudjic I missed this article! Later I’ll read it ;)

    2. Dunja Djudjic Avatar
      Dunja Djudjic

      It was almost a year ago, pre-corona age :D

  2. Rolando Urenaphoto Avatar
    Rolando Urenaphoto

    Portra 160

  3. Rod Cage Avatar
    Rod Cage

    Fuji 6×9

  4. Stewart Norton Avatar
    Stewart Norton

    I’ve always wanted to try medium format, bought myself a cheap camera and two rolls of film one colour one black and white. Took 6 shots of black and white and it’s been sat in the shelf for two years untouched ?

  5. Christian Thompson Avatar
    Christian Thompson

    Still more myths about medium format film. ..
    The film size is bigger, giving higher quality and definition. But thats all!
    The story about mf having more narrow dof is yet another misunderstanding of the principles. Of course f2 on a 10×8 plate camera would give a wafer thin dof, but that lens has never been built. F5.6 or f8 is an approximate maxapeture
    equivalent on 5x4inch format camera lenses..
    Mf cameras reflect this.
    645 lenses usually have a max opening of 2.8
    And 6×7 lenses max around f4 to 5.6
    On my mamiya 67 cameras f4 gave me a dof similar to f2 on a 35mm format. So the numbers are different on a mf lens, but the actual performance is the same.

    1. Kaouthia Avatar
      Kaouthia

      Still more people who don’t understand the concept of relativity. The depth of field for a given aperture at a specific field of view (NOT FOCAL LENGTH) does affect the image differently with a differently sized film plane or sensor. Unless you can show me how 300mm is still considered a wide lens when it’s on a 35mm body and not an 8×10. :)

  6. g_discus Avatar
    g_discus

    6×9 is bigger and better

  7. Tom Connor Avatar
    Tom Connor

    We use Pentax 645z digital medium format. Blows 35mm digital full frame out of the water.

  8. Miroslav Vrzala Avatar
    Miroslav Vrzala

    Gfx50s ?

  9. Arthur_Gavin Avatar
    Arthur_Gavin

    The image quality improvement of medium format far outweighs the convenience of 35mm. If you want convenience then you should buy a digital camera. 35mm needs to die to medium and large format can live.