medium format, large format: is 'more' necessarily more...?

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Dean Taylor
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medium format, large format: is 'more' necessarily more...?

Post by Dean Taylor »


Please take moment to define different qualities of prints for both medium and large format photography. Said another way: is it true that for b & w prints the larger format will capture more light-bearing image--and, is preferred for that reason (owing solely to larger surface area of negative) than a medium format negative--or, does the MF negative have features particular to that format size (e.g., thinner emulsion) that LF does not?

I am venturing into LF--keh has a couple of basic 4 x5 cameras for around $200: an omega


and a calumet


Which appears to be the better value?

Thank you

Dean Taylor

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Re: medium format, large format: is 'more' necessarily more.

Post by Ornello »

There are several intertwined factors. The larger the film format, all things being equal, the less enlargement required for printing, and thus the higher the tonal quality. With 8x10 or 11x14 negatives, contact printing is usually used. Contact-speed papers are of a different composition and yield better tonality than enlarging papers, though since Kodak quit making Azo I'm not sure what contact printing papers are available now. Smaller formats, though, if handled properly, are capable of excellent results. And of course 35mm equipment is much more flexible and versatile. With view cameras you are pretty much limited to static subject matter.

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Re: medium format, large format: is 'more' necessarily more.

Post by pirateoversixty »

RE: azo paper
I've never checked it out, but I think michael smith/paula chamley are selling an azo paper. or at least their version of it. will leave others to follow up on that.
as for the quality of an mf image vs a lf image, i still think it depends on the vision and technique of the photographer. i have seen some lf prints that i swear weren't any better than those i could take with my stylus epic.

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Re: medium format, large format: is 'more' necessarily more.

Post by foolscape »

Yes, Michael and Paula Smith are selling an Azo-like paper called Lodima. I think, however that the question was about 4x5, which hardly make usable contact prints.

The cameras in question are both pretty much equal. You could choose either and be OK. If you intend to do landscape photography, you may want to look into a field camera. Monorail cameras are cumbersome in the field.

As for film and quality: large format gives you three distinct advantages to make up for less portability.

1) Sharpness, and a greater degree of magnification available.

2) Zone System control. You can develop each negative separately, and so control highlights. I take two exposures of each shot, so that I can adjust development of the second one if necessary.

3) Movements. You can use movements to control perspective, and focus in order to shoot at a wider aperture and still get everything sharp.


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Re: medium format, large format: is 'more' necessarily more.

Post by Ornello »

I think the best answer is to decide what kind of photography you want to do first, not what format to use. The latter depends on the former.

Personally I have no interest in the sort of photography usually associated with large format. Rocks and trees....don't interest me that much.

This interests me: ... hotostream

And you can't take such shots with large-format cameras. (Taken with 350mm lens on 35mm camera.)

With today's cameras and films and refined techniques, excellent quality is obtainable with 35mm equipment.

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Re: medium format, large format: is 'more' necessarily more.

Post by FatBear »

Regarding item 3, above. Camera movements allow you to fit the shallow plane of focus a little better to your three dimensional subject, but the much longer lenses used to achieve a particular viewing angle in large format have such shallow depth of field that they really require movements for really deep subjects such as landscapes. So I'm not sure the movements are really so much an advantage there as an equalizer.

My take would be as follows - and remember that there are going to be exceptions and differences of opinion to all of these.

Fine Art Landscape Photography - Large format shines because it packs so much information onto the film. The work is a very detailed and complex place and the more you can put onto the negative, the more real it is going to look. The slowness of using LF is not a drawback, but an attribute in landscape photography.

Architectural - The ability to use rise/fall to correct perspective is a strength inherent in large format cameras which is very expensive to replicate in medium format with shift lenses. But indoor architectural - especially in busy buildings - can be very difficult with LF. It is easier to setup and use medium and tiny format cameras indoors and wider angle lenses are available for them.

Portrait - LF can be used in the studio, but it is probably not the best choice except for photographing centerfolds. Most people look better with somewhat less resolution in the image (soft focus filters are often used even with medium and tiny format cameras) and the slower operation of LF makes for somewhat uptight looking subjects. Studio work is more often done with medium format or even tiny format cameras - in fact I'd bet most portraits are taken on Canikon digital cameras these days. Resolution is no longer an issue with them, it's more a question of dynamic range.

Weddings - MF has been popular in the studio because good enlargements and almost absolute control are possible, though I'm not sure Canikon aren't taking over there, too. Digital MF offers much better tonal range than tiny format cameras, too. But tiny format rules at the reception when the photographer must be mobile and agile.

Candid - Forget about LF. MF works OK, but TLRs are best followed by rangefinders. The big reflex MF cameras are a bit to much like having a cannon pointed at you, so don't work so well. Tiny formats work very well, but not if they look like the big "professional" SLRs - then people begin to feel violated.

Product - LF is a very good choice because of the total control available.

Fine Art Abstract - Can be done with any camera, though the style must be adapted to it. Even Lomography is being shown in some galleries and I challenge anyone to do that with LF. (I think the cameras of choice tend to be cheesy plastic-lens ones.)

Travel - Tiny format or rangefinder MF cannot be beat due to their compactness, lightweight, convenience, and agility.

Sports - Tiny format, hands down.

What did I miss? :-)

Last edited by FatBear on Tue Feb 21, 2012 10:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: medium format, large format: is 'more' necessarily more.

Post by Ornello »

I have never understood this argument. I remember when newspaper photographers in the US sneered at "postage-stamp negatives". They were used to 4x5 Speed Graphics with film packs. Their work was of "grip and grin" variety for the vast majority of their work, and the rest was of crashed cars and the other usual "news" sorts of photography. Of course their darkroom work was sloppy, which it could be, because they were using 4x5 negatives. The bigger newspapers had "lab boys" who handled the darkroom chores. When 35mm cameras were finally accepted by newspapers in the late 60s to the 70s, it was because a lot of those old guys had retired.

There were some "Big Bertha" cameras used on college stadium rooftops to photograph football plays, but the results were nothing like what you can get from the sidelines with a long lens of 250mm or more.

What I was trying to get at was that the format is dictated, more or less, by the type of photography, not the other way around. It is irrelevant that large format gives grainless images if you want to photograph action sports from a distance. To me it seems puzzling that people are drawn to formats rather than a certain type of photography. One almost never finds a photographer who is equally adept at all sorts of photography, from sports action to portraiture to nature to landscape. Most are specialists to a certain extent.

I had the opportunity to photograph college football games alongside a 'pro' photographer who was a portrait guy. His 'action' shots were laughable.

Of course I'm also sure his portrait work would eclipse mine.

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