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?