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Phlogger aka Andrew Walmsley

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Medium format starts here

Good day everyone, welcome to medium format starts here.


During the last article – (180 days of film photography)we looked at the success, the failures and what was left to do.  At the time of press the medium format pictures had not been developed, well guess what, now they have!

However, before we jump to that, let’s go over what medium format is all about.


What is medium format anyway?

Great question, basically its a type of camera that has a larger sensor than the 35mm camera’s used in the other shots. .   Medium format according to wikipedia just means anything larger than 35mm but smaller than 4 x 5 inches (as this is referred to as large format).  Can you Imagine something that large, the amount of information you can capture is huge.  Normally in the digital world professional’s will use full format cameras, but consider they are only using the equivalent of 35mm, which is standard in the film world.  So buy jumping to this size, the image is somewhere near 4 times the size!


The main reason for using them is they are modular in design, based around a body, lens, viewfinder and film back. This flexibility allows you to change the camera to suit what you are shooting but keep a standard base (the body).


Medium format is in both film and digital worlds too, but the digital cameras are very expensive in comparison.  You often find names like Mamiya and Hasselblad mentioned in this area, but there are so many options in the film world.  Professional’s like Karl Taylor recommends the format due to the level of detail you can get and uses a Hasselblad in much of his work.

bronica etrs medium format camera
Close up of Bronica ETRS lens

The camera

As part of a Christmas bonus the decision was made to buy a medium format camera, as they seemed the next logical step and heard such amazing thoughts about them. After researching options a Zenza Bronica was chosen from a reputable company (ffordes) because that way there would be a warranty and support.

The Bronica was purchased with a speed grip, a 75mm lens and waist level viewfinder.After reading up on the masters, the waist level seemed the appropriate choice. This allows how to shoot from a lower perspective and perfect for street photography, which is the main focus of my photography.

Other options like a Mamiya were considered but due to their weight and size, they are not practical for hand holding.

bronica etrs medium format camera
Front view of a Bronica ETRS medium format camera

The film

In the gallery shown Kodak Portra 400 has been used, sourced from a second hand website (it was expired stock).  The film has a reputation for portraiture work because of its performance with skin tones.  Because you are working with film, you have to consider the purpose of the film and shoot accordingly.  Therefore, you will see street portraiture examples, some taken in partnership with Stephen Rendall of Fez Photography.

bronica etrs medium format camera
View through the waist level viewfinder

The shots

One of the rolls was specifically used when out with Fez Photography, due to his experience with portraiture and fashion photography.  He provided some great advice and we took turns shooting random people on the streets of Lincoln, who was always happy to pose.

Because this camera has no light meter and a constraint of a fixed ISO, the shadows from the falling sun soon affected the choice of locations.  After persevering we walked the streets that still had enough light and used the trusty Olympus OM10 as a guide for metering combined with a little “sunny 16” and common sense.

The greatest part of these adventures is the actual journey, you meet random people, strike up an accord and have a laugh.  You learn from practising your craft and try new elements, never before had I stopped to think people would pose!  But after 2 sessions with Fez you find yourself asking complete strangers all the time, some of the shots are taken when out was out with my young family.

Anyway, on with the gallery.

  • "pedestrian" near Lincoln train station
    "pedestrian" near Lincoln train station

The developer

Any good film photographer has also to think about the process of getting the image to a computer.  Of course, there are choices, develop yourself or pay someone.  Since this was the first few rolls of film and Portra is not exactly a cheap film, there was only going to be one solution – pay someone with experience.  After reaching out to Facebook groups and emailing companies this company were chosen and they were quite simply, great.  The company telephoned me to say the package of 4 films had come undone in the post and they would do their best and even provided advice to stop this common event happening.

They developed very quickly and emailed me links to the files, so within days I had an end product.  Nervously the files were opened and oh my what a relief. Practically every shot was exposed correctly and there were some that would be quality enough to share with you.

It truly is an amazing feeling seeing your success, especially with such random encounters and guessing the settings.  You cannot believe how it feels to be a beginner, someone without any prior experience of film and no-one around to guide me.

bronica etrs medium format camera
Side view of Bronica ETRS
The future

I am not afraid of the truth, nor my position in life.  The Bronica would have been sold if the pictures were bad, it was that simple, our family has little money left over for luxuries.  Because of the great results the Bronica will stay with me and will be used where possible, so I can improve.

There are some Ilford black and white films that still need developing, but that will have to wait until funds are available.  For now, the colour feels the right choice and it’s still summer so even lower ISO film is on the horizon.

Will there be lenses on the Christmas list and ND filters in the future, who knows?  One thing I have learned from shooting is practice with the equipment you already have, learn their limitations before you move on.

Keep reading, shooting and smiling, as usual, I would love to hear your thoughts.


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