Medium Format Film & Cameras

I'd like to ask permission to geek out a little bit for a moment, is that alright with all of you?

Some of my favorite cameras still elude me. I'd absolutely love to get my hands on a Contax 645 with an 80mm lens. The photographers around the world whom I admire most use this epic camera, however it's very expensive and requires film backs and all sorts of accessories. I'm a beginner and still learning, so it's silly to invest in this camera quite yet.

As I learn to shoot film, I use whatever cheap medium format cameras I can find. Right now, I play with a Yashica Mat 124. It's one of the most affordable medium format cameras you can purchase and will run around $125-250 dollars. You can even sometimes find them for $20 bucks at a thrift store, if the owner doesn't know what they have (in Portland, OR...they always know). I named mine she is below (I think she's pretty cool).

Meet my friend Winifred.

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What is a medium format camera? Medium format (as I understand it) just refers to a larger film negative size than the default 35mm film you can buy at any drug store. The professional medium format film produces amazing quality and tonal range (like Fuji 400 or Kodak Portra).

Winifred (my Yashica) uses this such film and is also a twin reflex lens (which is why it has a double lens stacked on itself). Twin relfex lenses can be difficult to get used to because you look down into them from above (rather than through a viewfinder you hold up to your eye). They also move in the opposite direction that you are moving. So, if you are moving your camera to the left, in your viewfinder it actually moves to the right (confusing yeah? I think so too).

For this reason, Winifred is not a good choice unless you are doing personal work or using a studio (in my opinion). Perhaps some of the pros can roll with the Yashica for anything, but I'm not one of those people.

 All photos:Shot with Yashica Mat 124 with Fuji 400 NPH 120 Film


I felt the need to move back into film because I want to really know light and really know how to manually set a camera. Let me tell you, I've done one maternity shoot using film and it was stressful. When using film you go back to the old days, where you need to meter the light to set your camera and then shoot away. Only when you got your film back do you know if you've nailed it or not. Luckily for me I had also shot those maternity pictures digitally and good thing, because my film prints did not come back horrible, but certainly not good enough to give a client. 

Digital cameras grant you the immediate positive or negative feedback to know if you are on the right track with your settings for light, composition...all of it. It's also more affordable and has invited far more people into the craft (dark rooms and expensive film processing kept the profession more obscure for years). It's also led to a highly competitive world of photography and sometimes because of that it's hard to break into and find your own style for shooting...your own point of view you can be proud of (with so many photographers to compare yourself to).


For all these reasons, I decided I wanted to learn old school. From my modern perspective it often feels so slow, so expensive and so frustrating when your prints come back and you don't even have one shot you absolutely love. However, I know I'll really know my stuff in the the mean-time, it's a work in progress. 


Alright everyone, thanks for letting me gush about my film adventures. If you want to learn more about shooting film and be inspired by amazing artistry, here are some of my favorite photographers.

Elizabeth Messina

Jonathan Canlas

Erich McVey