Written by Kathleen Frank
If you’re ready to jump into medium format film photography, we have got you covered! A few weeks ago, we shared our guide to shooting medium format film photography, explaining what medium format is and its benefits and disadvantages. This week, we are talking cameras.
Here are a few of our favorite medium format cameras for beginners.
We looked for cameras that bridge the gap of affordability and quality. We wanted cameras that don’t break the bank but still give a great experience and introduction into medium format.
(Still not sure about medium format? Check out our lists of favorite 35mm cameras for beginners and best point and shoot film cameras!)
1. Mamiya 645 1000s
The Mamiya 645 1000s (find on eBay) is the perfect combination of quality and price for a beginner. It has a mechanical, old-school feel with a super sturdy build.
The thing that makes the Mamiya 645 1000s so amazing is it’s standard lens. The standard lens for the camera is the Mamiya 80mm 2.8. This thing is so sharp! It’s stunning. You’re going to have no problem getting that amazing medium format look.
The camera is also low fuss. If you’re new to medium format, there will be a small learning curve on how to load the film and use the basic functions, but this is a great camera to learn with.
It’s features are minimal without unnecessary dials and knobs. It’s also incredibly durable with a low rate of known issues.
The most likely thing you’ll come across is a broken light meter in the viewfinder, and the camera still completely functions without it.
It is an all manual camera. You focus the lens, adjust the aperture and shutter speed, and advance the film manually. It also has a decent viewfinder, so if you’re not used to manual focus, this camera won’t cause you too much trouble.
The amazing lens plus it’s durability gives you one of the best quality cameras in the lower price ranges.
Technical details: has manual focus, a waist level viewfinder or a prism (eye-level) viewfinder, interchangeable lenses, does not have interchangeable backs, top shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second, has a double exposure feature, 6 cm x 4.5 cm negative size, and weighs about 3.5 lbs
You can find a complete setup with the 80mm 2.8 lens in good condition for around $250-$300 on eBay or at KEH Camera.
Alternatives worth considering: Bronica ETRS (eBay or KEH Camera), Pentax 645 (eBay or KEH Camera)
2. Pentax 645N
If you’re looking for something a little more modern and updated, try the Pentax 645N. This is a favorite of wedding and portrait photographers for it’s great lens system, interchangeable backs, and autofocus.
Autofocus! It’s the only camera on our list with autofocus. This also makes it the most expensive camera on our list, but compared to other autofocus options, it’s a great deal.
This camera has less manual features and a more modern look. It will feel more in the realm of your modern DSLR cameras.
It’s also very easy and comfortable to use. Zero intimidation factor! This ease of use, plus the great image quality, makes this the first medium format camera choice for many photographers.
Tech details: has autofocus, an eye-level viewfinder, interchangeable lenses, does not have interchangeable backs, top shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second, has a double exposure feature, 6 cm x 4.5 cm negative size, and weighs around 3 lbs
You can pick up a Pentax 645N with a lens for under $600 on eBay or around $600 for the body only at KEH Camera.
Alternatives: Mamiya 645 AF (eBay or KEH Camera)
Read a full review of the Pentax 645N here.
3. Minolta Autocord
The Minolta Autocord is our favorite choice for a TLR medium format camera. (If you’re not familiar with TLRs, you can read more about them in our guide to medium format film photography.)
In the world of TLRs, Rolleicord and Rolleiflex cameras are at the top of everyone’s list. They are beautiful machines. But they can also come with a hefty price tag. The Minolta Autocord has flown under the radar a bit, having the quality in range of the Rolleis but not the matching price tag.
TLRs typically do not have interchangeable lenses, and this is true for the Autocord. It has a fixed 75mm f/3.5 lens.
Even though it only has the one lens, it is a beautiful one. The lens is amazingly sharp and a great introduction to the quality of medium format.
It has a simple, sturdy construction, and it’s lighter and smaller than a lot of cameras on this list. If you’re looking for something easier to carry around and a little more low key, this is a good way to go.
Tech details: has manual focus, a waist level viewfinder, a fixed 75mm f/3.5 lens, no interchangeable backs, a top shutter speed of 1/500 of a second (earlier models have a top shutter speed of 1/300th or 1/400th), has a double exposure feature, 6 cm x 6 cm negative size, and weighs a little over 2 lbs
If you keep an eye our for a good deal, you can find an Autocord in great condition for around $250 on eBay or around $300 at KEH Camera.
Alternatives: Yashica Mat 124G (eBay or KEH Camera), Yashica 635 (eBay or KEH Camera)
4. Mamiya RB67
I don’t love recommending 67 cameras to new medium format shooters. While they produce the most beautiful negatives, 67 cameras are large, heavy, and only have 10 images per roll. Generally, not ideal for a beginner.
But if you love those negatives and are ready to get into the 67 format, the Mamiya RB67 is a great place to start.
This camera is going to look similar in style and build to the Mamiya 645 1000s but much, much larger. It weighs around 6 lbs. Almost twice the weight of the 645. It’s a beast!
And that makes for a super durable camera. It is built like a tank. You don’t have to worry about it being too delicate or that is has worn out over time. It’s also fully mechanical, including manual focus.
Since it’s size is a little limiting, it has become a favorite camera for studio and landscape photography. Anything with a tripod. Stick it on a tripod and get all of its 67 magic without the hassle of the cumbersome size.
It also has a toggle to flip between portrait and landscape mode, which is a genius feature for a camera often on a tripod.
The RB67 has a solid, sharp lenses and a bright viewfinder. You’re going to be able to create some high quality 67 images.
It also comes in at a pretty reasonable price tag for 67 cameras. While not the most portable camera, you’ll really get to see if the 67 format is right for you.
Tech details: has manual focus, a waist level or eye-level/prism viewfinder, interchangeable lenses, interchangeable backs, a top shutter speed of 1/400 of a second, has a double exposure feature, 6 cm x 7 cm negative size, and weighs around 6 lbs
You can pick up one with a lens for around $250-$300 on eBay or around $400 at KEH Camera.
Alternatives: Pentax 67 (eBay or KEH Camera), Mamiya RZ67 (eBay or KEH Camera) You can also check out a detailed review of the Mamiya RZ67 here.
5. Holga 120N
The Holga is our toy camera choice for newbies. It’s fun, incredibly easy to use, and inexpensive. It is the cheapest camera on our list, and you can buy one new for under $50 or a used one for under $10 or $20.
Toy cameras are made out of plastic, so while it’s a more affordable way to get into medium format, you won’t see the sharp, high quality images like with some of the other options on this list.
The charm of a Holga is in it’s simplicity. It’s light and small, and it has very few settings. It has a fixed lens with 4 focus options and a standard shutter speed of 1/100th. You basically just point and shoot.
Holga images are often filled with light leaks, soft focus, and vignetting. This makes it perfect for experimenting and creative shooting, but if you’re looking for a cleaner, more polished look, this may not be a good fit for you.
Tech details: has 4 manual focus settings of 3 ft, 6 ft, 18 ft, and infinity, an eye-level viewfinder, comes with a fixed 60mm f/8 plastic lens, no interchangeable backs, shutter speed is fixed at 1/100th or there is a bulb setting, is able to do double exposures, and has a 6 cm x 6 cm negative size
At the time of this article, you can find a Holga 120N for under $50 on Amazon.
Alternatives: Diana F+ (Amazon)
Kathleen is the founder here at Shoot It With Film, and you can read more of her articles here, such as Shooting Film on a Budget: Money-Saving Tips for Film Photographers and 5 Great 35mm Film Cameras for Beginners. You can also check out her work on her website and Instagram.
Leave your questions below in the comments, and if we left some of your favorite medium format cameras off the list, leave those in the comments, too!
Want to learn more about shooting film? Read more film photography tutorials here!
October 25, 2019 at 1:42 pm
Hi, just a correction on your Pentax 645N summary above. Sadly, this camera does not have an interchangeable back…
October 25, 2019 at 1:48 pm
Thank you! We’ve made the correction!
October 28, 2019 at 5:51 am
(1)The Mamiya 645 1000s does not have a meter in the camera body, although there are metered viewfinders available.
(2)The shutter is controlled electronically so it does, in fact, require a battery to function properly.
October 29, 2019 at 8:44 pm
February 13, 2021 at 7:06 am
All of them listed cost you a pretty penny.
From the expensive ones you definitely forgot any of the Hasselbald 500 models oder the Rolleiflex models (used or new).
Many of the sliding tube or bellows folders cameras line-ups have rangefinder models as their top models, often with excellent lenses from Zeiss (Novonar/Tessar), Enna (Ennar/Ennagon), Schneider (Radionar/Xenon/Xenar) and other of the smaller lens makers which were around and active during the early 1950ies up to the 1970ies.
While it is true that any of the old cameras should be serviced after replacement with the the leatherrettes and folder’s bellows requiring replacement, leaf shutters and aperture blades as well as the lenses requiring a good clean still this will give you a nice medium format film picture taker below 300 € and 200 € if you are lucky or even less if you do the work yourself.
So: I am looking to many more MF cam articles from you.
But still: Instead of the Hassi or the Rolleiflex you list the pile-of-dung plastic-lens Holga … anyway 😉
December 25, 2022 at 7:59 pm
It’s a pity you tend to not recommend the magnificent Mamiya RB67 to those interested in taking up medium format. My RB67 ProS serves me well and a camera with weight suffers less from movement caused by shutter release than lighter cameras. That additional weight is a benefit, not a detriment! I accept its extra weight, especially with a lens, means it takes more physical effort to carry around and it should really be placed on a tripod, but the results speak for themselves!