While today’s digital cameras and a bit of smart editing can help you create pretty awesome landscape photos, I genuinely believe that very little can beat great good old 120 film when it comes to image quality. The process is much more involved and requires you to get a lot more right in the camera, but the results will be very worth it if you’re willing to do more in the beginning and much less later on.
There are loads of great medium format film cameras but if you’re into film then you probably can’t beat these.
What Makes These Cameras So Great
When you’re shooting landscapes, you should expect to be taking a lot of gear with you. Good zoom lenses are very rare in the medium format film world so you should probably just accept that you’re going to use a lot select prime lenses. These lenses need to be made very well and that is one of the parameters that we’re looking at here. On top of this, keeping the electronics down quite a bit is also something that is attractive because of the way that the elements can work out.
Most of all, you probably want something sort of lightweight. My absolute favorite tripod for shooting medium format photos is the Vanguard Auctus Plus 383CT because it’s well built, allows you to have a lot of control if you’ve got the right head and supports all the weight that your camera can throw at it.
Long considered by many photographers to be the best film medium format camera ever made for wedding photographers, what’s great about this camera is not only its autofocusing abilities and TTL metering, but the fact that it can use Zeiss lenses. In fact, the system has f2 lenses–which is incredibly tough to find with any medium format camera system because of how thin the depth of field is at that aperture.
For the landscape shooter, the system’s widest lens is a 31mm f3.5–which isn’t extremely wide when you consider landscapes but more than wide enough for most photographers. There are also load of telephoto lenses.
The Contax 645 can also be used with modern digital backs if you choose to do so–or can ever afford to purchase or rent one.
Pentax 645N II
Pentax has made a huge splash with their Pentax 645 digital cameras; and their older film cameras were also very good. It is capable of shooting very fast shutter speeds, has a bulb mode, mirror lockup, a Polarizing window with the lens shades, etc. What you may not like is the automatic film advance–if the motor goes after a while then you’ll be kind of stuck. This is one of the reasons why photographers love the manual advance.
Lomography LCA 120
As one of the latest medium format cameras made, you should know that the lens on the LCA-120 is incredibly sharp and the camera is fairly well built. Of course, it’s also the lightest camera on this list because it’s essentially a large film point and shoot camera. But there are also problems like putting a filter on the front. That indeed can be tough but a bit of DIY hacking can get it done really affordably.
Though Hasselblad has many other more complicated SLR cameras, we’re including the 500C here because it sold so well that the company only recently discontinued it. Sure, there is the Bronica SQ-A that was also very good and is a favorite of many photographers–but the 500C still receives lots of support. This camera is by far seen as the very typical 6×6 square format SLR camera that many others are based on. You can use the top down viewfinder, a prism finder, and other accessories to make this camera really rock for you. There are a large assortment of lenses you can use, too.
Pentax 67 II
Every landscape photographer that uses their Pentax 67 II holds onto it not only out of total love for the camera, but also because they know how excellent it is. The camera is a tank with a very loud shutter and build quality that is quite literally designed to take abuse. The fact that it’s the 6×7 format and not the 645 format also makes it capable of shooting a larger image than even their new 645 DSLR can.
There are a large number of lenses available for this camera that are all very good. But what you’ll really want to keep in mind is the relatively compact size here. The camera doesn’t have interchangeable backs, so you’ll be stuck with one roll of film at a time–which means you’ll need to finish it no matter what.
The camera is great for landscapes and portraits, but we’re not too sure it’s great for much else besides stagnant subjects. It’s heavy, so handholding it requires you to have quite the strong arms.
While the camera had an improved second version, we’re recommending the first because it’s more affordable and still gives you what you need to get the shot.
Mamiya RZ67 Pro II
Very few people can handhold a Mamiya RZ67 Pro II, though there are some who can without getting camera shake. The camera is an SLR that uses the bellows system to focus, and is much more complicated than many SLRs. For example, removing and attaching the lenses requires you to use a ring around the lens and to line the ring up with specific dots. To take the lens off, you’ll need to make sure that the shutter is cocked and then undo the connection ring. Cocking the shutter is also different because of the lever used instead of the winding knob that many SLR cameras have. It just means that you’ll need to be much more careful about all that you do.
The most risky part about this camera is the fact that it focuses via a bellows system. So just ensure that there are no light leaks or holes and you should be fine.
Still though, it’s one of the best cameras that Mamiya ever made and it (and the lenses) still go for lots of money.
Mamiya 7 II
Regarded as the world’s best medium format film rangefinder, you’ll never want to buy a digital camera again when you buy a Mamiya 7 II. With a fairly large number of lenses available, a light body, and with loads of features that make it perhaps the absolute king of medium format cameras, you can’t complain at all. Well, there is one thing–the shutter is so quiet you may not even think that you’ve taken a photo.
No, I’m not kidding.
Fujica GW690 III
This camera and some of its iterations are called the “Texas Leica” for the reason that it looked like a giant version of a Leica M3. With a 90mm f3.5 lens affixed to the camera, you’ll be able to shoot loads of awesome landscapes. Oddly enough though, the camera was mostly used for photographing tour groups. However in the years afterward it was used by many photographers to do portraits and landscapes.