Getting Into Medium Format Film Photography on the Cheap

Those who state that they can’t use an APS-C sensor camera or smaller are seriously fooling themselves if they don’t at all want to experiment with medium format film cameras. Yes, you’re spending money on film and processing each roll, but you’re also forcing yourself to create better images with more careful and creative intent rather than sitting there shooting away. It’s one of the biggest pieces of advice I tried to teach at a recent workshop where no one came away shooting more than 24 images in a period of six hours.

Now here’s a big secret about medium format film: don’t need to spend a lot of money. Here’s how you can do it all for a couple of hundred bucks.

Films

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Essentials Medium Format Beginner (3 of 6)ISO 1001-125 sec at f - 4.0

Film is one of the most integral parts of the whole process. Medium format digital backs are very expensive but film isn’t that much honestly as long as you’re careful. With a bit of searching, you can get a lot of film for dirt cheap.

Now let me emphasize that again: as long as you’re careful. No machine gun shooting here, no shooting just for the heck of it. It’s all about shooting with a vision and intent. If you don’t see something, don’t take a shot. It’s something that I will preach until the end of days in photography.

Chris Gampat Lomography La Sardina review last batch of photos (3 of 7)

Ilford HP5: Ilford HP5 has a very specific, nostalgic look to it. It isn’t necessarily as sharp as some of the company’s other films like XP2 or the Delta series, but it’s a very nice entry point. It’s wonderful for portraiture and in the right hands can also work for street photography.

Kodak Ektar: Kodak Ektar is a very affordable film with the saturation of a chrome film. It’s awesome for landscapes but some people use it for portraits and as a general film. It’s slow, so be sure to give it a lot of light.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sigma 85mm f1.4 EX with Kodak Portra 400 (2 of 11)

Kodak Portra 400: Kodak Portra 400 is probably the most popular color film out there. It’s got muted colors and has that token film look that you’re going for. For the best results, expose it at ISO 200 and process it at ISO 320.

SLR Cameras

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Cub and Co Shooter Camera Bag product images (12 of 12)ISO 1001-400 sec at f - 3.2

Now we all will probably sit here and dream about the Contax 645, but it’s wayyyyy too much money. Yes, those Zeiss lenses are beautiful but there are a lot of other really good and really affordable medium format SLR cameras out there that you can spring for.

Mamiya RB67: The Mamiya is a 6×7 format camera and the reason why I’m specifically choosing this has to do with the price. The Pentax 67 II is in way too high of a demand right now and the higher level Mamiya cameras can cost you loads of money. But the RB67 won’t run you a whole lot but it will surely be quite an intensive amount of work and care for you.

This image was shot with Kodak Portra 400 on a Bronica ETRS: which means that it was done in the 645 format.

This image was shot with Kodak Portra 400 on a Bronica ETRS: which means that it was done in the 645 format.

Bronica ETR-s: The cheapest way to get into the 645 format is probably through Bronica. I used to own one of these and it was a complete workhorse.

Kiev 88: The Kiev 80 series of cameras were essentially Hasselblad ripoffs made by the Russians. Their quality varies and I’d honestly recommend the other SLR cameras before this one; but good deals can be had a ridiculously low prices and these cameras are highly capable in the right hands.

Point and Shoot/Alternative

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer 4V Design strap review (10 of 10)ISO 4001-100 sec at f - 2.8

Yes: medium format point and shoots exist!

Lomography LCA 120: This has to be one of my favorite cameras at the moment. It’s got a very wide lens, automatic exposure that’s very accurate and feels great in the hand.

Diana F+: The Diana F+ is far more versatile than it’s given credit for. It shoots at a constant shutter speed in normal mode and all you need to do is focus the lens and choose the aperture based on the lighting situation you’re in. Plus it can shoot pinholes. If you’re not all about a plastic fantastic lens, there are glass lenses available.