35mm and Medium Format, what is the difference?
Over the past two years that I have been taking film images, I have had the privilege of owning both a medium format and 35mm film camera. So what’s the difference between the two? Is one better than the other? Which one do I prefer? Well, I can tell you this. I love both. They each have their own pros and cons and in this blog post, I’m going to tell you what those are!
Before I get into the pros and cons of each camera body, I thought I should probably let you know what camera bodies I use.
My 35mm camera is the Canon 1V. I have also owned the Canon EOS 3 which is very similar! Both the 1V and EOS 3 look very similar to digital DSLR camera bodies on the market today.
My medium format camera is a Pentax 645n. I love this camera even though it is somewhat of a tank! It is very large. However, it’s worth lugging around and I’m about to tell you why!
The Biggest Difference
The biggest difference between a medium format camera and a 35mm is the size of the film. 35mm film is a smaller film stock. You’ve probably seen 35mm film at Walmart in the photo department. If you are a kid from the 90’s or earlier, it is probably the type of film your parents used when you were growing up!
Medium Format film, on the other hand, is much larger than 35mm. The film size itself is 3x as big as 35mm! You may also hear it referred to as 120 film.
Medium format film has the advantage over 35mm film because of it’s larger size. One of the biggest advantages is less grain (the small little dots in a film photo that give it a rough looking appearance). 35mm film is known for having much more substantial grain in an image while the medium format has a much finer grain, almost unnoticeable. Another big advantage of the 120 film size is that when you go to print your final product, you can get much larger print sizes without the images being distorted.
For me, the aperture is a huge contender. If you are not sure what aperture is, it’s a setting on your lens that controls two things. First, it controls how much your background is in or out of focus behind your subject. Second, it determines how much light you are allowing the camera’s sensor to detect. A smaller aperture (larger f/stop) such as F16 is going to sense very little amounts of light. A larger aperture (smaller f/stop) such as F1.4 is going to let your camera’s sensor detect a LOT of light!
If you don’t know already, film LOVES light! It requires a lot of it and this is where 35mm definitely wins the aperture battle. Why? Because lenses with a larger aperture are much more common and more cost-effective on 35mm cameras!
For example, my Canon lenses which I can exchange between my digital and film camera (another advantage) will stop down to F1.4! This is SO helpful when I’m shooting film indoors or even outside towards the end of the day when not as much light is available to me.
My Pentax 645n, on the other hand, has a lens that only stops down to F2.8. This doesn’t seem like a big difference, but trust me, it is!
This is definitely where my frustration with a medium format camera comes into place. Unless you have plenty of daylight or maybe a strobe light indoors, it is going to be hard to get enough light for your camera without having to lower your shutter speed considerably and risk bluriness from camera shake! Lenses with larger apertures are available for medium format but you can expect to pay a very pretty penny to even get one, like $2,000 – $3,000!
Film is known for producing soft, creamy skin tones and amazing colors! These two things are what make me LOVE film! However, how do 35mm and medium format match up? In my opinion, they both give you creamy skin tones, but for some reason that I don’t fully understand, medium format wins the gold for creamy skin tones! The skin tones alone are why so many professional film photographers are sold on medium format!
There’s no comparison on the price point. 35mm are definitely the most affordable! If you’re a Canon user like myself, you can score an EOS 3 on Ebay for around $300 or a 1V for around $500. The nicer medium format cameras, on the other hand, start around $1,000 and go up from there!
The developing cost is also very different. You may pay $3-4 more to get 35mm film developed but a roll of 35mm contains 36 images! Medium format film will only take 16-17 images per roll. So 35mm wins the development price point too!
I absolutely LOVE film! I’ve been shooting it for two years now and adore it so much! My favorite thing about it is that it’s beautiful right back from the lab, doesn’t have to be edited and therefore gives me my life back. Goodbye, editing chair of death!
I’m definitely still learning and growing as a film photographer but I’ve learned a lot in the past 2 years. If you have any questions for me in regards to film photography please don’t hesitate to contact me here or by leaving a comment below! If you have a film camera and need someone to walk alongside you I’d be happy to mentor you in person!
I actually learned how to shoot film by taking the course, Find In A Box. I highly recommend it!
Other great film courses I would recommend at a better price point are listed below. These, unfortunately, were not available when I was first learning or I probably would have taken one of these instead. Both of the photographers who teach these courses are some of my photographer role models. Their work is fabulous and as people, so are they! Such sweet spirits and amazing teachers…
I hope this post was helpful! Happy film shooting!