With the advent of digicams, the demand for medium format photography has gone down slightly, as more and more photographers move onto the digital format.
That has caused the price of medium format cameras to drop correspondingly. Where a top class Rolleiflex would have cost way over $6000, now you can pick one up for much, much less than that.
Of course this is a blessing in disguise for all of us who could only dream about owning a medium format camera. Even a high-end Hasselblad can be picked up at ridiculous prices…I saw one advertised at just $550 recently!
So now we can jump straight into medium format right at the high-end if we want and enjoy all the benefits such as unbeatable image quality, large viewfinders that allow you to see what will actually be on your shot, as well as interchangeable film backs on some models.
And prices are unlikely to drop further. I reckon prices may actually rise soon, as more and more people realise what has happened. But before you buy a medium format camera, there are a few points that you need to be aware of.
Firstly, there is the cost issue. Medium format film is rather costly, to buy as well as to process. And it’s not as easy as shooting a roll, then popping along to your neighbourhood Walmart or Walgreens or what-have-you to get it processed….they most likely won’t be able to do it! You have search out photo processors who cater for medium format, and of course, their prices will be higher.
That’s no big deal really if you’ve made your mind up and know the advantages of using medium format. Myself, if I’m shooting monochrome film on medium format, I just do my own processing. It really is so easy once you know how, and you don’t even need a darkroom to do it…everything can be done with a changing bag and developing tank. Once the film is developed, you have the option of having it printed by a printing shop, or scan it yourself.
What should you look at before deciding what to buy? I’ll make it easy for you by listing it:
1 Choose a simple outfit. Don’t go overboard and buy extra lenses, filters, hoods, backs, etc etc. You will most likely use them maybe once a year at most, so why throw away money on something you will scarcely use? Fine, if you really need a spare film back, or a selection of lenses, then try and do a deal with the seller for the whole lot including the camera…I don’t know of any seller who, faced with selling a lot of items compared to selling just one, would not haggle with you.
2 This is everyday common sense really….choose a camera that is in very good working and physical condition at the outset. While these larger cameras are far easier to repair than say, a miniature rangefinder, you still need to get it done by a reputable repairer, and the skill necessary for such a job does not come cheap. better to buy a camera that looks good and works well in the first place. Avoid cameras that have been owned by professional photographers, as more than likely these will have been handled in many different ways by a pro-photographer rushing to meet a deadline or whatever. Look for a camera owned by an amateur photographer.
3 Which camera is best? Short, sharp answer….ALL of them! At this high-end market, all the medium format cameras such as Rolleiflex, Rolleicord, Hasselblad, Mamiya, Bronica, Pentax and others are well made, precision instruments, and all are extremely good value for your dollar. Don’t forget, at the time these cameras were manufactured, you were looking at spending the equivalent of around TWO YEARS of the average take-home salary in order to buy one!
So, which one should you buy? This is a very personal choice and depends on how you are going to use it, for what purpose, and how much you have in your pocket ultimately.
At the high-end of price, 3 models stand out….Pentax, Bronica and Mamiya. I choose these as they have the very useful option of being able to use 220 film, which can give you around 32 to 36 exposures.
Hasselblad also falls into this category, but again, it depends on you personally, if you like this model. I am probably the only guy in the world to say, if given a choice, wouldn’t go for the Hasselblad! Why? Well, it’s a silly personal thing again…I just don’t like the clunky, boxy shape of Hasselblads, period! I know, I know..NASA took them to the moon, but I still don’t like them.
Next best category will include again, Hasselblad and the very well-known and designed Rolleiflex/Rolleicord models. Here you have a huge range of models, lenses shutters and accessories to choose from, at very affordable prices.
The next ones I recommend are the Yashicamat range. These cameras came out after the Rolleiflex, and so are an almost 100% copy. They are very well-built, and if you go for the ones without the built-in exposure meter, you will have a high quality medium format camera capable of beating a whole lot of top digital cameras in terms of resolution and clarity.
There are a few others, namely Minolta, Kiev and Seagull to name a few, but these I do not consider spending money on, unfortunately, good as they may be.