Those of you that follow me on social, and particularly those of you in Sofia will know that over the last few weeks I’ve been completely swamped as I’ve been working on my first ever solo show! Exemplary Home opened a week ago to a wonderful turnout and I’m absolutely ecstatic to actually be sharing this work physically with my countrymen. Whilst the project had already seen a degree of acclaim and received multiple awards over the last year, I still couldn’t be sure it would resonate with people locally, and now that I’ve seen it does for myself, it’s a huge weight off! Take a look at the installation shots, as well as some images from the private view below and if you’re around before the 10th of August, feel free to visit us at the gallery!
I got the most delightful call yesterday, letting me know my project has won another prize! This one means even more to me as I feel super strongly about the development of the creative industries in my home country, and I believe BECA Before Creating Academy is doing just that! Thank you once again to everyone involved for giving me, and so many others this opportunity, as well as to the jurors for considering my work! Don’t forget to check out their website and explore the work of the other participants and winners as well!
It’s now been over two years since I took the leap and bought my Pentacon Six. The way I came into ownership of this camera was a bit unconventional. I was flying back to my home country of Bulgaria when upon arrival, the worst thing that could have happened, happened. The delightful airline had lost my luggage, including a few of my university’s books, and more annoyingly, my trusty Canon AE-1. I briefly considered replacing it, or getting a different SLR altogether in 35mm, however quickly opted to use this as an excuse to pull the trigger on a medium format camera, as I had been wanting one for a while. Luckily for me, Sofia has a few vintage camera stores, so I figured I’d go and give those a shot before opting to go to eBay and using my foolproof method to grab a steal (shameless plug). Long story short, after having a look around and determining I was after a Pentacon, I managed to haggle one down to a very sensible £130, including the standard 80mm lens and a prism, and off I went.
1.Don’t believe the hype
The only appropriate starting point of any article talking about this camera is of course addressing the rumours/beliefs that a lot of the photography community seems to have about it. Chances are if you’ve heard of it you believe it breaks any time you pick it up, has a tendency of overlapping frames and is generally super unreliable. Now, I’ll be the first to tell you that when shopping for one of these you’re not getting a Hasselblad and should manage your expectations. At the end of the day, we’re talking about a 70-year-old camera made in the eastern bloc, meaning quality control wasn’t really a priority. There’s a decently high likelihood of something having failed or gotten out of whack in all that time. It’s a purely mechanical device, meaning the shutter speeds rely on a very complex mechanism and need periodic readjustment to remain accurate. So, before looking into getting one, it might be worth doing your research and finding a local Pentacon expert to look at yours for you. Time for another disclaimer: this will NOT be as easy as finding a repairer for a more popular system. Trevor at pentaconsix.com has compiled this useful list of repairers, which is a solid starting point.
So in the two years of having mine, what’s gone wrong? Actually, not that much:
I’ve only ever experienced the notorious frame spacing issue once and can confirm it was due to loading my film in very hastily, and not due to a fault with the camera. Multiple technicians have confirmed that 95% of the cameras sent into them due to this problem show no visible problems, meaning it’s usually down to the photographers not loading the film straight and tightly enough.
When shooting a commission last summer, I had a problem with the bolt, holding down the film advance lever, which caused the entire thing to fall apart. Luckily, I was able to find someone to fix it very quickly as I was in Sofia where these cameras are more common.
This year, I had a problem with an entire roll of film being unexposed when shooting in cold weather. I suspect due to the near-zero temperatures something froze over and subsequently snapped in the camera, causing the damage. Around this time I also had my 50mm lens’ aperture fail and get stuck. Both of these issues are why I sent in the camera and that lens for a service with Tom Page, during which he also fitted a new focusing screen by Arax, which is significantly better and brighter than the stock one the camera comes with.
Now this may sound like a lot and it certainly is the camera in my collection that’s required the most TLC, however even with all of that, the amount of money I’ve spent breaks down as follows:
Camera with 80mm standard lens - £130
50mm wide-angle lens - £80
Initial service for the winding lever fault - £15
Subsequent full service, focusing screen replacement, lens service - £80
All in all, I’ve spent less than I have on my Nikon F3 and its f1.4 Nikkor 50mm, for a medium format system that now runs perfectly smoothly and provides me access to stunning Zeiss lenses, at a fraction of the cost of the Hasselblad equivalents. Bet you’re intrigued now if you weren’t before!
2.The shooting experience
The Pentacon Six is a 6x6, focal plane shutter SLR, which puts it in a rather unique position, bringing with it both pros and cons. Most obviously, and particularly when paired with a prism, it’s essentially an oversized 35mm SLR, meaning it’s great for street photography, on-location editorial or wedding shoots, etc. It’s hefty and quite bulky, but not to the point where you don’t want to take it out with you unless you’re working on something very slow. Paired with a reasonable lens and a decently fast film you can get away with shooting handheld as slow as 1/125th or even 1/60th of a second on most days. The cons of a focal plane over a leaf shutter system is of course that the flash sync speed is pathetic. You only get 1/15th of a second, so if you’re looking for a cheap studio setup, I’d probably point you towards something like a Mamiya RB67.
That being said, the system is quite modular and adaptable - even though you obviously don’t get magazines like on a Hasselblad, you’ve got a very impressive (and cheap) lens selection, a few different prisms, as well as a waist-level viewfinder to choose from, and even a few funky third party accessories, such as the aftermarket Arax focusing screens I mentioned earlier, and 3D printed handles that help with the ergonomics which you can find on eBay.
In terms of prisms, I only have the non-metering one, so I won’t speak on the metered alternative. It’s solid, and certainly comes in handy when you’d rather bring the camera up to eye level - it is also incredibly heavy, due to the size of the focusing plane, meaning that unless you know you’ll be shooting something quite dynamic, you’re likely better off just focusing through the waist level finder.
Speaking of, that also allows for the use of a “sports finder”, pictured below - a little metal square that you can use to look out the front of the camera, in the event you need to track something fast-moving after you’ve already set focus.
More often than not when taking it out, I’ll have the camera mounted on my carbon fibre Manfrotto tripod, and shoot on my sticks. The reason being, that when I’m opting for the bigger negative that medium format provides, I want to make as much use of that added fidelity as possible, and shoot low-grain film, generally stopped down. Living in Britain, that’s often a recipe for a shutter speed below what I’d feel comfortable doing freehand with the Pentacon. This is also a good time to mention that you probably won’t need to grab a new tripod if you already have one for your DSLR/SLR - I use the carbon fibre version of the Manfrotto Element, and have never felt unsafe, despite using a heftier camera than what Manfrotto specifically had in mind for it.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the camera doesn’t have a built-in light meter or indeed any electronics unless you opt-in for the aforementioned metering prism. What I chose to do instead of that, is to grab a Sekonic Flashmate, which has come in handy even when I’m using it in conjunction with other cameras that are metered. I will also say, however, for the majority of the time I’ve shot the Pentacon I went off of a free light meter app on my phone, and it’s never steered me wrong, so use your best judgement on whether or not you need to be THAT precise about your exposures.
I’d say this section encompasses the biggest draw to the Pentacon system for most people. The reason I referred to this camera as a poor man’s Hasselblad is simple - beyond sharing the format, Pentacons also share the lens selection of Hasselblad. The difference is, their Zeiss lenses - Zeiss Jena, were made in a factory across the wall, use a different mount and are many times cheaper than their West German counterparts, despite offering competitive performance. What this means in practice, is that my 80mm Zeiss Jena f2.8 lens can be found comfortably at around £150 where the equivalent Zeiss Plannar 80mm for the Hasselblad 500 starts at £650.
As mentioned, the lens selection is broad, and you’re able to easily find anything from 30mm fisheyes to a monster 1000mm 14kg Zeiss Jena mirror lens (which even at that weight is lighter than the Hasselblad equivalent, just saying). Currently, I can only speak to the quality of my 80 and 50mm Zeiss Jena lenses, and I have absolutely no complaints. They’ve both exceptionally, stunningly sharp and outperform my contemporary EF lenses to the point where I 3D printed myself an adapter to use them on my Canon 6D-II! Significantly, depending on where you’re based, you’ll of course be doing most of your shopping online, so make sure you’re comfortable with that and it makes financial sense for you to do so when you’re reaching a decision - it’s not necessarily worth saving £200 on a lens over the Hasselblad equivalent if you’ll have to pay another £100 in shipping, customs and VAT.
To close this practical review out, I’ve included a little list of some of my favourite captures with the Pentacon over the last two years. Of course, digital renditions at 72ppi won’t do it justice, so if you’re really curious about the fidelity of it, I’d direct you to my print store, where you can grab yourself a fine art, limited edition print and closely observe it to your heart’s content!
As always, if you enjoy my writing and photography, I’d like to invite you to support me via Patreon, which gives you early access as well as a few other exclusive perks. If monthly subscriptions aren’t your scene, you can always support me by purchasing my artwork, as well as by subscribing to my newsletter and following me on my social channels. Thank you for reading, have a lovely day!
So, you’ve read my post on selecting a film camera and decided what you want, now it’s time to buy. Should be simple enough, right? Wrong. When shopping for analogue cameras or any sort of vintage photographic equipment, there are various pitfalls around every corner. But fear not, with a little bit of guidance and strategy, you’ll be loading up your brand new (old) camera in no time!
Firstly, I think it’s important to understand that you have options when buying any vintage kit. Without going into too many specifics, we can nail down two common places where one can purchase a film camera - Online (specifically eBay, Instagram, Depop) and physically in store (be it camera-specific or otherwise). Each option has its positives and drawbacks and is highly situational, but in breaking them down I hope you can make an informed decision about where to head first. This week I’m focusing on purchasing online, particularly on eBay.
Most people I know, myself included, have bought most if not all of their kit online and there’s good reason for that! In general terms, you can expect to pay less as there’s less cost associated with making a listing on an online marketplace, and plus, sellers in-store are aware of the premium of being able to closely inspect the condition of the product and charge for the privilege. Other benefits include the superior choice and option to import goods from abroad. Depending on where you’re situated, this will vary tremendously. For instance, in my home country of Bulgaria, it’s essentially a given that you’d have to shop online and import if you’re after anything non-soviet for an acceptable price. Conversely, if you live in Japan or Hong Kong, I’m insanely jealous, as access to near mint film cameras at ridiculously low prices seems to be abundant (I’m really jealous).
Naturally, these benefits come with a few drawbacks. Shipping charges, import fees, tricky returns, uncertainty around the condition and working order of the items and largely fluctuating prices (particularly on eBay). Depending on your risk tolerance and experience in shopping used online these might seem rather daunting, but worry not, for with a little bit of patience and reading you can avoid 90% of uncertainty and associated faff. Below I’ve broken down each problem and proposed my solution to it:
1.Shipping charges, import fees.
As you’d expect, this one is highly location-dependant. Different countries have different laws around import and export and as we’re dealing with borderline antiques, different levels of supply and demand. Here in the UK, chances are you can find at least a few listings for whatever you’re looking for locally at any given time. Unless it’s a massive lot, shipping tends to be quick and not cost too much, and returns in the event something isn’t right aren’t too much bother. The only reason you’d import is if you’re after something in really pristine condition and/or something rare. My only advice is, if that’s the case I’d step away from eBay, and look at some of the reputable camera stores that deal in vintage cameras across the country. Places like The Latent Image or West Yorkshire Cameras. Even if they don’t have what you’re after, drop them a line and see if they can source it. I can’t speak for the precise price difference between that option and shipping from Japan, but personally, I’d rather that premium go to a small local business and not the taxman.
Finally, if you are going to be importing anything, make sure you do your reading and you’re aware of exactly how much you’re having to pay on top of the purchase price - it’s really easy to find a camera you’re after for £200 under what you’d be paying locally and in better condition on the other side of the planet, decide you can stomach the £50 shipping and then get slapped with VAT and import fees, eventually making the purchase pricier than just buying the more expensive local listing.
2.How to buy a 30+year-old camera online and not get shafted
Probably the biggest concern I’ve heard revolving around buying used online has to do with condition. When dealing with precision tools this old, how good (or bad) they look doesn’t necessarily correlate with what images they can produce (if any). Let me go out and say straight away - there isn’t a way to be 100% certain of anything unless you’re buying physically. Some sellers are incompetent, some are shady and even those that are neither can’t guarantee a parcel won’t get dropped, which could be enough to damage a precision instrument, which a camera certainly is. That being said, in my four years of shopping for vintage camera kit online and helping friends do the same, I’ve never been screwed. The worst that’s happened is two weeks ago I had a filter turn up in the wrong size, and needless to say, I got a refund for that and received the correct one shortly after.
So how do you avoid disappointment? In short, do your due diligence. Firstly, make sure you’re buying from a reputable seller. What are their ratings like? Are they a specialist or just someone that’s selling on a camera they found in their attic? Have they been descriptive and straightforward in their photos and descriptions? Essentially, do you feel like they can be trusted? If so, great!
(Mind, just because someone isn’t a specialist, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider them, some of the biggest steals I’ve had have come from people that don’t really know what they have, but do be wary of purchasing anything “Untested” - think about what you’re buying - is the camera traditionally very reliable? Is it fully mechanical? How old is it? To give an example, I bought my Canon AE-1 untested for £70 with a lens. It looked good externally and the lady selling it was very quick to answer all my questions even though it was clear she was no photographer. I knew it was unlikely considering the external condition of the camera that it had seen much abuse, and as they’re quite reliable generally, I pulled the trigger on it. I had also agreed prior that I’d be testing it and keeping it so long as everything works as intended, and returning it if not.)
Next, manage your expectations. Study the photos closely, read the description a few times. If you’re missing any information, ask. Remember it’s a buyer’s market and don’t ever impulse buy anything. If you can’t find what you’re looking for at the right price right now doesn’t mean there won’t be one that crops up next week. (Pro tip: Use eBay’s search alerts to get notified of any new listings.) Think about why you’re buying the camera - if you just need a simple SLR to see if analogue will stick as a hobby, make sure you’re getting something that won’t give you trouble, but also remember that you don’t need to take on a bunch of risk with anything too fancy - you can always sell your purchase on and upgrade down the line. Likewise, if you’re shopping for a system that you intend to stick with for the foreseeable future, maybe waiting for the perfect listing and spending a little more to make sure you have the most longevity possible is worth it. In that kind of situation, I’d even invite you to consider eating the import fees and expensive shipping if it means you’re getting something pristine, or going for the pricier local option and buying from a reputable store, rather than eBay.
3. What’s the right price?
This question applies the most to eBay, but let me be the first to say, I’ll always haggle when buying vintage. You must remember you’re buying a product on the market principle. There are acceptable margins for what each item should cost, but it’s never a fixed price. Again, I’ll use the example of the Olympus MJU II, which can be found for upwards of £350 nowadays and would probably run you about a third of that if even, five years ago. What I like to do is set my search criteria on eBay to show me finished listings and see how much similar items have been selling for in the last few weeks. Try and establish the top and bottom dollar options and see where your budget fits into that. If you find you’re willing to spend more than most, congrats, you’ve got room to manoeuvre and chances are you can snipe a deal quite quickly. Conversely, if you’re finding only a few listings ended within your price range, don’t get discouraged - I’ll share my little golden nugget for how to own auctions below…
The number one rule of eBay or How not to waste money in auctions.
We need to understand that eBay makes their money on commission. As a result, it’s in their best interest that every item that’s listed on the platform sell for as much money as possible. It’s therefore not surprising that the way they’ve designed their marketplace conveniently funnels buyers into a bidding pattern that encourages higher pricing, due to auction fever. If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s essentially a phenomenon where people get so caught up in the bidding that they spend more on an item than they set out to, and worst-case scenario, more than it’s worth in the first place. The brilliance of eBay is that they’ve managed to obscure this tendency behind a tool that’s seemingly there to prevent it. If you’ve shopped with them before, chances are you’ve noticed that when you bid on an item, the bid only goes up a fraction of whatever you put in as your “maximum bid”. The reason for that is that eBay will automatically bid up for you until your maximum, so long as there’s another bidder competing against you. To explain this better, I’ve offered an example below:
Bidder A sees an item at its starting bid of £10. They know that this item tends to sell for about £150 and that they’d like to purchase it at £125, so they plug the latter number in. The listing then goes up to £11, they close eBay and forget all about it.
Bidder B comes along and sees that same item. They’ve got a bit more money to spend, so they go and put in a maximum bid of £150, thinking the platform will tick up to that slowly. The item updates and is currently sitting at £126 with two bidders and five days to go still.
Beyond that point, it’s really a crapshoot what would happen, but suffice it to say that if there are 15 bidders going after the same item in this manner, there’s a high chance it will sell at above the median price for said item, and whoever wins out will almost certainly get shafted and overpay. eBay win out because they get the biggest commission possible, and the person that wanted to cleverly get it at £125 gets frustrated and probably goes on to overbid on their next attempt, driving the median price for that item up in the process.
So how do we prevent this? Simple. If you see an auction you’d like to bid on, go through the following:
1. How many bidders are there? If you see a large number here and the bids are already quite high up with a while to go on the listing, I’d encourage you to stay away - it’s harder to snipe against more people and as mentioned in the example above, the majority of them won’t be bidding “correctly”.
2. Decide how much you’re willing to spend - your absolute top amount. This is less to do with the prior market research (though that should factor into it) and more to do with what you’re comfortable with. Remember, with this method, it’s unlikely you’ll have to actually part with all this money, but in the event you do, it needs to be an amount you’re okay with. As an example, I wanted to get a set of Nuraphones two months ago and decided I don’t want to spend more than £150, so that’s how much I bid on a pair. Using the method I’m describing I got them for £110 - significantly lower than what most sell for.
3.Once you have that figure, do the following. If the listing is on its starting bid, consider bidding just one pound over it. The reason you might want to do that is that some sellers get skittish and cancel their listings when they’re on the last day with no bids. This is highly frustrating and speaks to them not fully understanding how eBay works either. If you’ve got a bid for the minimal amount on it, the listing cannot be cancelled.
If the listing already has a bid or two on it, “watch” the item, even set an alarm for five or ten minutes prior to the end time.
4.When the listing is about to end. Sit down in front of your computer or on your phone with eBay open, and get ready to bid. If you’ve never done this before, aim to get your bid in the last twenty or thirty seconds. If you’re a bit more confident, go for the last ten. Bid your absolute maximum comfortable price, and wait. One of three things will happen next, which are all mostly due to chance:
- You win the item at one pound over the second-place bidder, at a sum somewhat lower than your max. (best case scenario)
- You win at exactly your max bid, in which case you’re comfortable because you haven’t overspent. (Least likely option, as this means the second-place bidder bid exactly one pound less than you).
- You lose the item because the first-place bidder had a higher comfortable price than yours. In this case, you might lose by as little as a pound, all depending on how many people you were bidding against and how far off they were. (In this eventuality, remember - you put in the maximum amount you’d comfortably pay for the item, so resist the urge to feel bad - the price wasn’t right on this listing. Regroup, and go for another!).
With this method, more often than not I’ve gotten a steal on whatever I’m after, and if I’ve lost, I’ve managed to get the item at a comfy price usually on the very next listing I bid on. The way I like to think of it is that whenever someone beats you they go out of the running for that specific item, and there aren’t that many people bidding on the exact same vintage camera at the same time. So long as you persist (and your max comfortable price isn’t way off the market value of the item you’re bidding on) you’ll get it eventually, and at a cheaper price than expected!
So, now you know how to “hack” eBay listings to gain the biggest possible advantage and swipe up the kit you want for the lowest possible (acceptable) price. Use this knowledge wisely, and apply it without compromise. If you’re still feeling daunted, feel free to drop me a line via email or DM me on Instagram. Also, if you’ve learned something or just enjoyed reading my writing, please consider supporting me on Patreon or by purchasing my artwork via my website. If you’re not quite convinced yet, keep in the loop by subscribing to my mailing list or just following me on social. I promise I’ve got more great content coming!
Have a wonderful day!
We’ve all been there. Stumbling into an elaborate new obsession or hobby, mulling it over for days upon days, before finally deciding to pull the trigger on it and get stuck in, only to be hit with the paradox of choice when trying to figure out where to begin.
Nowhere is this a bigger wormhole than in the field of film photography. So where DO you begin? There’s years and years and years worth of cameras across every format, and even if you can nail that down, you’ve got point and shoots, rangefinders, SLRs, TLRs, instant, fixed lens, the list goes on and on. To top it all off, the vast majority of your options are borderline antique, meaning you can either pay top dollar in a camera store (and risk paying at least triple what the camera is actually worth) or taking a risk on eBay/Depop or an equivalent. Having shot film for over four years now and tried out most of the cameras people tend to go for across all three formats during my degree, I figured I’d pull together a little guide of tips on what to think about when buying for anyone from general photography beginners, to more experienced shooters looking to grab something with a bit more soul than a DSLR.
Firstly, answer the question of why you’re getting into film photography. I know it’s cliché, but at the end of the day, the equipment doesn’t matter. That being said, overspending on a piece of kit you don’t need is a bit silly, and so is copping a bargain, before finding out it’s not fit for purpose. I’ve tried to break down this decision, based on the format, in the sections below:
Just looking to shoot casual snaps when you’re out and about?
Prioritise portability and ease of use. I’d recommend a 35mm point and shoot or SLR.
The former (depending on the model) will allow for limited creative control, no interchangeable lenses, meaning you’re stuck with a 35 or 50mm most often, and autofocus with occasionally questionable accuracy. The trade-off is that nothing will beat it in terms of speed and ease of use. Point and shoots can go for anywhere from about £20 to a couple of hundred, and to be honest, I wouldn’t advise you to go over thirty. Get yourself something from a reputable brand like Canon, Nikon or Olympus and make sure it works. When doing research prioritise fast and accurate autofocus (keeping in mind we’re looking at 30+-year-old cameras here), and a decent flash. And please, for the love of God, don’t believe the hype around the Olympus MJU ii - it’s a decent point and shoot for £50, but nowadays people are asking many times that, presumably, because there are suckers out there paying for it.
The next step up in complexity would be a 35mm SLR or Rangefinder. Here, the options vary tremendously in terms of price and how feature-rich they are. If you’re pivoting into analogue from a DSLR and intend to use it professionally or at least in a capacity where you’d like some more advanced features like mirror lock-up, full manual mode, interchangeable prisms etc, I’d recommend looking at the professional range cameras from Canon and Nikon. I recently bought a Nikon F3 and I’m beyond impressed with it - you get a wealth of lenses to play with, bulb and time exposure, mirror lockup, interchangeable prisms with the option to shoot with a waist-level viewfinder, and even interchangeable focusing screens. Expect to pay around £300 for a body and lens combo online.
Conversely, if you’re looking for a nice middle ground between a point and shoot and a pro-grade SLR, there’s the iconic trio of the Canon AE-1, Olympus OM-10 and Pentax K-1000 - these are commonly dubbed “student” cameras, which I’ve always found a bit misleading. I’ve only had an AE-1 and my girlfriend has an OM-10 and they’re both more than fully-featured enough for 95% of photography either of us would be likely to employ them for. With these, expect to pay somewhere in the £100 - £150 range, though I’ve seen an AE-1 with a standard lens going for £300 (ridiculous) at a Camera store, and I grabbed my one back in the day for about £70 with a Zeiss lens off a private seller on eBay. It just goes to show you can get tremendously lucky online (I’ll get into how I go about it in a future article). In this category, there are also plenty of cameras by the likes of Konica, Minolta, Practika, etc. Don’t dismiss these brands on account of them no longer existing or being less known, just be aware and do your research with the specific camera you’re buying. Some are great and significantly cheaper than more famous options, others aren’t worth the savings (specifically beware of the likes of Zenit). My advice would be to stay away from anything with too much electronics (they’re more liable to fail (remember the age) and harder to fix if they do) and buy based on the lens mount. The reason Nikon SLRs from this era out-price Canon for instance is that every Nikon SLR (including their DSLRs) is compatible with every* lens, regardless of generation, meaning your options in terms of expanding your arsenal are significantly larger.
*This is a bit of an oversimplification, there are many generations of Nikon lenses with a tremendous amount of variety, but that’s cause for an entirely new article in and of itself so I won’t get into it here.
Right, if you’re a true beginner or someone only looking to shoot casually, you can stop reading here. In summary, think about how deep into this rabbit hole you want to go. If you’re keen to actively learn and have a deeper interest in photography, think long term, get a nice SLR with interchangeable lenses depending on your budget currently. If you’re a pro or you’re interested in only ever buying one 35mm camera without needing to upgrade the body in the foreseeable future and have a bit more to spend, look at the Canon and Nikon professional ranges. Conversely, if you just want a film camera to take casual snapshots with and can’t be bothered with manual focus, lenses or complexity - opt for a decent (and not overpriced point and shoot). Shop in-store at your discretion, knowing you’d be paying a premium, often as a trade-off to knowing the exact condition of the camera you’re buying and having a guarantee it works, or hold off and read my guide to shopping for cameras on eBay (coming soon) to learn how to do it risk-free and get yourself a bargain.
Those of you that are interested in a bit more firepower or resolution might be considering jumping into medium format. Things are less standardised here in terms of design, with cameras taking on different forms - there are twin-lens reflexes, modular systems such as the Hasselblad 500 or Mamiya RB67, as well as systems that are a bit more familiar to a 35mm or DSLR shooter, like the Mamiya 7 or Pentax 67. There are also multiple sub-formats, wherein the long edge of the frame is different. The most common formats are 6x6, 6x7, and 6x9. What all of this amounts to is the same question from earlier - why do you need a medium format camera?
The added resolution means you can crop in easily, however, if you’re primarily interested in portraiture perhaps you want to gravitate towards a 6x7 camera of a 4x5 aspect ratio, so that you don’t always have to crop (or maybe you like a 1x1 ratio, in which case 6x6 is totally fine). Maybe you prefer landscapes or street photography and want to fit into that workflow with a wider aspect ratio and even higher resolution, so you’d gravitate towards a 6x9. If you do a lot of work with flash, a top priority should be a system that uses leaf-shutter lenses instead of a focal plane shutter, as those can sync to any shutter speed, and with a lot of medium format SLRs, like my Pentacon Six, the sync speed (fastest shutter speed you can use with flash) is rather pathetic - I only get 1/15th of a second. There is also the matter of portability - medium format cameras range from barely heavier than 35mm, like the Mamiya 7, to cameras so bulky and heavy they’re almost completely unusable off a tripod, like the RB67. Finally, you have to keep in mind your budget - by and large medium format is less popular amongst amateurs as the smaller amount of images you can fit on a roll and the higher barrier to entry in terms of. the learning curve makes it a more difficult format to jump into. There are great cameras on the cheaper end of the spectrum in all three main sub formats, such as the RB67, which is a monster in terms of its design, lens selection and weight, or the Pentacon Six (which is an absolute steal for the amount of camera you get, though it’s got a lot of character, and not always in a good way). Bronica also make solid, workhorse alternatives across all formats, which won’t break the bank too badly. It’s also worth noting that with medium format and a decent scanner, you can expect to outperform a DSLR in terms of fidelity, so unless you’re printing that large or need the flexibility of being able to crop in with little penalty, it’s worth thinking twice about whether the comparative lack of convenience is worth it.
Finally, there’s large format. I won’t spend too much time here as I believe the use-cases are far fewer than the other two formats and frankly, I’m not that experienced with it.
Large format cameras come in two standard sizes - 8x10 and 4x5. I’ve found a negative comparison between 4x5 and 35mm for you below, it truly is a sight to behold.
These big negatives mean big cameras and a lot of extra kit. Wherewith 35mm you can more or less buy one and go, and with medium format, you might need to rely at the very least on a light meter app on your phone and be fine, here you absolutely need a tripod, cable release, dark cloth, changing bag, film holders, a blower, lens cleaning solution, a loupe, a good light meter and the list goes on and on. Whilst it is a gorgeous format and provides the unrivalled best in terms of fidelity and resolution, it comes at a great expense. You’re more or less constrained to still scenes, such as still life, landscape and portraiture. The film is incredibly expensive - as an example Kodak Portra 160, which costs about £10 a roll at 35mm and £11 at 120, costs an incredible £23 PER SHOT at 8x10, or £230 for a single pack. Of course, these prices are lower in 4x5 and even lower when looking at black and white film, but it’s certainly worth noting if you’re considering taking the leap. Unless you have some subjects lined up that are really that special to you, and/or you absolutely NEED the resolution (which at that point is so outrageously high, I’d wager nobody reading this actually does). I’d relegate large format to an occasional, secondary, “special occasion” format if you will. It’s something that I want to get into at some point, but cannot honestly justify for myself at the moment. My recommendation here would be, go on a photo rental website like Fatllama and see if you can’t borrow a kit for a few days. Buy some film, shoot it, see how you feel. It is a very, very special experience looking through the ground glass of a large-format camera and one I hope anyone with an interest in analogue photography gets to experience someday!
And that brings us to a close! Was that useful? I hope so. If you have any questions or are in need or recommendations please do not hesitate to reach out to me via email or social, my DMs are always open! Finally, please consider supporting me on Patreon, doing so will grant you access to upcoming content early, as well as other nifty perks. Or, if monthly pledges aren’t your thing, you can head to my store, where you can find fine art prints, as well as premium postcards, featuring my photography! You can also follow me on Instagram, and subscribe to my mailing list to keep in touch with anything I’ve got going on! Have a wonderful day!