Updated: Nov 13
Here at Michael Elliott Photography, I pride myself on using the finest medium format camera systems and films to produce my wall art.
Medium format film photography is a niche but enduring practice that offers many advantages over digital photography. In this article, we will explore some of the reasons why medium format film photography is still better than digital, and how it can enhance your creative expression and image quality.
What is Medium Format Film Photography?
Medium format film photography refers to the use of film cameras that have a larger film size than the standard 35mm format. Medium format film cameras typically use film sizes ranging from 6x4.5 cm to 6x9 cm, or even larger in some cases. This means that medium format film cameras can capture more detail, color and dynamic range than 35mm film cameras or most digital cameras.
Rollfilm was responsible for popularizing photography at the end of the 19th century
- Paul Burrows, Medium format film cameras: a complete history | Digital Camera World
Medium format film cameras come in various shapes and sizes, from the classic twin-lens reflex (TLR) cameras like the Rolleiflex, to the modular single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras like the Hasselblad, to the compact rangefinder cameras like the Fuji GW690. Some medium format film cameras also have interchangeable lenses, backs and viewfinders, allowing for more flexibility and customisation.
Benefits of Medium Format Film Photography over Digital
There are many reasons why medium format film photography is better than digital, depending on your personal preferences and goals. Here are some of the main benefits of medium format film photography.
One of the most obvious advantages of medium format film photography is the higher resolution it offers. According to research carried out by a team of four industry experts, it was found that medium format film has the potential to capture a jaw-dropping 400 MP photograph, however, after digital scanning, resulted in a resolution of 50 to 80 MP. This is still much higher than most digital cameras, which typically have resolutions ranging from 20 to 50 MP.
Higher resolution means more detail, sharpness and clarity in your images, which can be especially useful for large prints, fine art or commercial work. Higher resolution also gives you more room for cropping, editing and enlarging your images without losing quality.
As Matt Parry, an award-winning travel photographer and a regular contributor to a range of magazines, says: “The level of detail you can achieve with medium format is incredible. You can print huge without losing any quality or sharpness” (Is film better than digital photography in 2022? We asked an expert | Digital Camera World).
Better Dynamic Range
Another benefit of medium format film photography is the better dynamic range it provides. Dynamic range refers to the ability of a camera to capture both the brightest and darkest areas of a scene without losing detail or creating noise. Film has a natural advantage over digital sensors in this regard, as it can handle overexposure and underexposure better than digital sensors.
Film also has a smoother tonal transition from highlights to shadows, creating a more natural and pleasing look. Digital sensors tend to have a more abrupt transition from highlights to shadows, creating harsh contrast and clipping. Film also has a more organic and subtle grain structure than digital noise, which can add texture and character to your images
- Brian Tremblay, Film Photography: A Complete Guide | PetaPixel
Film also has a smoother tonal transition from highlights to shadows, creating a more natural and pleasing look. Digital sensors tend to have a more abrupt transition from highlights to shadows, creating harsh contrast and clipping. Film also has a more organic and subtle grain structure than digital noise, which can add texture and character to your images.
As Matt Parry explains: “Film has a much wider latitude than digital. You can overexpose by several stops and still retain detail in the highlights. Conversely, you can underexpose and still pull out detail from the shadows” (Is film better than digital photography in 2022? We asked an expert | Digital Camera World).
More Creative Control
A third benefit of medium format film photography is the creative control it gives you over your images. Unlike digital photography, where you can preview your images instantly on a screen and adjust your settings accordingly, film photography requires you to rely on your skills, intuition and vision. You have to carefully choose your film type, exposure settings, composition and focus before pressing the shutter button.
Medium format cameras are mostly manual, you need to set the aperture, do a manual focus, and so on. And the joy of taking a good photo is much greater, just because it’s your effort, you and not just a camera processor did all this job
- Dmitrii Eliuseev, You can still get started in Medium Format Film Photography in 2022 | Medium
This can be challenging but also rewarding, as it forces you to think more about your artistic choices and intentions. You also have to wait until you develop your film to see the results, which can add an element of surprise and excitement to your photography.
Furthermore, you can experiment with different film types, formats, processing methods and techniques to create unique and distinctive images that reflect your personal style.
As Matt Parry says: “Film makes you slow down and think more about what you are shooting. You have to be more selective and deliberate with each frame. You also have to trust your instincts and skills as you can’t check the back of the camera” (Is film better than digital photography in 2022? We asked an expert | Digital Camera World).
More Aesthetic Appeal
A fourth benefit of medium format film photography is the aesthetic appeal it offers. Film has a certain look and feel that many photographers find appealing and nostalgic. Film has a warmer, softer and more natural color rendition than digital sensors, which tend to produce colder, sharper and more artificial colors. Film also has a wider color gamut than digital sensors, meaning it can reproduce more shades and hues of colors.
Six-by-six was the most popular medium format image size for a long time as it allowed for many cropping options when shooting with cameras that weren’t practical to use in the vertical or portrait orientation… such as the twin lens reflex (TLR)
- Medium format film cameras: a complete history | Digital Camera World
Film also has a more three-dimensional and realistic quality than digital images, which can look flat and lifeless. Film creates a sense of depth, dimension and perspective in your images that digital sensors struggle to replicate. Film also has a timeless and classic quality that digital images lack. Film images can evoke emotions, memories and stories that digital images cannot.
As Matt Parry puts it: “Film has a unique character and charm that digital can’t match. Film has a soul and a personality that digital lacks. Film has a history and a legacy that digital can’t compete with” (Is film better than digital photography in 2022? We asked an expert | Digital Camera World).
Medium format film photography is still better than digital photography in many ways. It offers higher resolution, better dynamic range, more creative control and more aesthetic appeal than digital photography. It also challenges you to improve your skills, express your vision and enjoy the process of photography.
Of course, medium format film photography also has its drawbacks, such as higher cost, lower convenience, limited availability and environmental impact. It is not a perfect or superior medium, but rather a different and alternative one. Ultimately, the choice between film and digital photography depends on your personal preferences, goals and budget. But if you are looking for a way to enhance your photography and create stunning images, you should definitely give medium format film photography a try.