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, explaining what medium format is and its benefits and disadvantages, and, 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? We have a list of our favorite 35mm cameras for beginners, too!)
1. Mamiya 645 1000s
The Mamiya 645 1000s 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 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
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
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 here.)
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
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
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 3 Tips for Shooting Moodier Images with Film 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 all of our film photography tutorials here!