Your Guide to Medium Format Film Photography

Guide to Medium Format Film Photography on Shoot It With Film
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The ability to shoot medium format is one of my favorite benefits of film photography. In the digital world, medium format cameras are so expensive. It’s rare to see even professionals use them. But not so with film!

Medium format film cameras can be found at any budget, opening up this style of shooting to pretty much everyone.

As amazing as medium format is, it can often feel intimidating to new film photographers. So let’s break down exactly what medium format film photography is, why people shoot it, and some of the common terms and definitions.

Your Complete Guide to Medium Format Film Photography on Shoot It With Film
Your Complete Guide to Medium Format Film Photography on Shoot It With Film
Guide to Medium Format Film Photography on Shoot It With Film

What is Medium Format Photography?

Medium format refers to the size of your roll of film (or if you’re talking digital, it’s the size of the camera sensor). It really just means that you are shooting on a bigger piece of film than you do with a 35mm camera.

There are three different categories of film size: 35mm, medium format, and large format.

A 35mm film negative, or image, is 24 mm x 36 mm. A medium format film negative is anything larger than 24 mm x 36 mm but smaller than 4 in x 5 in. And large format is anything 4 in x 5 in or larger.

Guide to Medium Format Film Photography on Shoot It With Film
In this size comparison between medium format film and 35mm, you can see how much taller the 120 roll is, giving you a larger negative for your image.

A roll of medium format film, also called 120 film, is approximately 6 cm tall, and common medium format image sizes are 6 x 4.5 cm, 6 x 6 cm, and 6 x 7 cm.

A lot of technical info, I know, but you’ll notice how they are all 6 cm on one dimension, matching the height of a roll of medium format film.

You’ll also see these sizes referenced when you start looking at medium format cameras. A camera like the Mamiya 645 creates negatives that are 6 x 4.5 cm. The Pentax 67 camera creates negatives that are 6 x 7 cm.

Guide to Medium Format Film Photography on Shoot It With Film
The first image is 6 x 4.5, the second is 6 x 6, and the third is 6 x 7.

So, why does it matter what film size you shoot? What are the benefits to shooting a larger negative?

Benefits to Shooting Medium Format?

Higher Quality Images

The increased size of medium format film means a much larger negative. This will give you finer details and less grain.

You also get smoother tones with a wider range of colors. Basically, this means a prettier image, avoiding the grittier quality you’ll often find with 35mm.

Guide to Medium Format Film Photography on Shoot It With Film
A medium format image shot on the Mamiya 645 1000s (find on eBay)
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Shallower Depth of Field

Medium format film cameras have a wider field of view compared to 35mm cameras when you’re using lenses with similar focal lengths. That large negative lets you see more of the scene you’re shooting than you would with a 35mm camera.

This gives the appearance of a shallower depth of field for your apertures. If you like to make your subject pop with a blurry background and lots of bokeh, you’ll love medium format!

These two things together produce the medium format “look” you’ll often hear photographers talk about.

Beautiful creamy background, sharp subjects, and low grain. Medium format makes it much easier to get clean, lovely images, which is why this format as a favorite for portrait and wedding photographers.

You can read more about the crop factor and differences between medium format and 35mm here.

Guide to Medium Format Film Photography on Shoot It With Film
A medium format image shot on the Mamiya 645 1000s (find on eBay)

Disadvantages to Shooting Medium Format

Camera Size

Medium format film cameras are much larger and bulkier than 35mm cameras. And if you get into 67 cameras, they can get very heavy! If you are looking for something small and light, 35mm may be a better fit for you.

Number of Shots per Roll

A roll of 35mm has 24-36 shots on it. A roll of 120 film has 10-15 shots, depending on the size you’re shooting. With the 645 size, you have 15 shots per roll; with 6 x 6, you have 12 shots; and with 67, you only have 10 shots.

That is just not many shots per roll!

It will definitely help you slow down and cherish each frame, but you will still be changing out those film rolls pretty often.


While shooting medium format on film is much cheaper than shooting it on digital, it still tends to be more expensive than 35mm.

120 film is more expensive than 35mm film, and you get far fewer shots per roll. If you send your film out to a lab, developing is also more expensive per frame.

While you can find a medium format camera at almost any price point, the cameras also tend to be more expensive than their 35mm counterparts.

There are definitely some pros and cons that come with medium format. Personally, the image quality wins for me.

I also enjoy the skills I’ve developed from only having 10-15 shots per roll. I often find I have more images I love out of those 15 shots than I do with the 36 shots on a roll of 35mm.

The images really do seem to have an extra something you can’t replicate with 35mm, in digital or film.

Guide to Medium Format Film Photography on Shoot It With Film
A medium format image shot on the Fuji GF670 (find on eBay)

A Few Common Medium Format Terms

Here are a few terms that come up a lot with medium format cameras. Understanding them will help if you’re shopping for a camera and comparing all of the different options.

Waist Level Viewfinder

With a typical film camera, you hold the camera up to your eye to take a picture. On a camera with a waist level viewfinder, you bend over the camera and look down into the top to focus and take your picture.

It’s called a waist level viewfinder because you hold the camera down at your waist in order to see into the top. Definitely takes some getting used to!

And even more so, the image on a waist level viewfinder is flipped left to right. Composing your shot can get a little tricky.

Often abbreviated as WLF or WLVF, waist level viewfinders are found on both medium format and 35mm cameras, but they are much more common on medium format cameras.

* If you have a camera (or are shopping for one) with this kind of viewfinder and you don’t like it, check to see if there is an eye-level attachment! Many cameras have attachments that will let you replace the waist level viewfinder with an eye-level one.

Guide to Medium Format Film Photography on Shoot It With Film
Example of looking into a waist level viewfinder
Image credit: @jengolay

TLR Cameras


The term SLR stands for Single Lens Reflex. It means the viewfinder of the camera uses a mirror to look through the lens, so what you see through the viewfinder is exactly what you see in the final image.

You can find SLR cameras in 35mm or medium format.

Compare a SLR to something like a toy camera or an Instax camera where the viewfinder is just on top of the camera. Your final picture doesn’t quite match what you saw through the viewfinder, because the view from the viewfinder is a few inches high and maybe to the right or left of the lens.

Generally not a big deal, but if you’re looking for more control over your images, you’ll want a SLR.

So, What is a TLR?

TLR stands for Twin Lens Reflex. Rarely seen in 35mm (although there are a few), TLRs are primarily medium format cameras. If you are looking at medium format cameras, you will definitely come across some TLRs.

The twin in Twin Lens Reflex means these cameras have two lenses. They have a very cool and distinct look with one lens on top of the other.

Guide to Medium Format Film Photography on Shoot It With Film
Example of TLR cameras
Image credit: @sarah_adaptandsurvive

The second lens is there for the viewfinder. Instead of seeing exactly what the lens sees, like with a SLR, you see what the second lens sees.

With a SLR, the mirror that lets you see out of the lens moves up and down with the shutter. A TLR is built with this two lens configuration so the mirror doesn’t have to move.

Lenses & Viewfinders on TLRs

Due to this unique lens setup, it is rare to find TLRs with interchangeable lenses. The lens is built into the camera, so you are limited to the focal length and aperture settings of that particular lens. The Mamiya C330 (find on eBay) is the exception to this.

The other most notable thing about a TLR is it almost always has a waist level viewfinder. There are a few eye-level attachments out there, but, with these types of cameras specifically, many find that the eye-level attachment detracts from the usability of the camera.

Lastly, TLRs tend to be durable, but not heavy, and very quiet, making them a favorite of street photographers, and, generally, quite fun to use.

The non-moving mirror makes them incredibly steady at slow shutter speeds. They are also one of the most unique cameras out there. The design alone makes them a conversation starter. Definitely a staple of the film world!

Guide to Medium Format Film Photography on Shoot It With Film
A medium format image shot on the Fuji GF670 (find on eBay)

That pretty much covers it for medium format film photography! And if you want to know more about specific camera models and brands, check out our list of favorite medium format cameras for beginners!

Kathleen is the founder here at Shoot It With Film, and you can read more of her articles here, including 5 Awesome Medium Format Cameras for Beginners and 30 Film Photography Resources for Beginners. You can also check out her work on her website and Instagram.

Leave any questions about shooting medium format below in the comments, and check back in in a couple weeks for our recommendations for medium format cameras!

Want to learn more about shooting film? Read all of our film photography tutorials here!

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Kathleen Ellis

Kathleen Ellis (Kathleen Frank) is a fine art and travel film photographer and the founder of Shoot It With Film. Find her other articles here, such as 5 35mm Film Cameras for Beginners and 5 Best Point and Shoot Film Cameras.

Blog Comments

“Medium format film cameras have a wide field of view. That large negative lets you see more of the scene you’re shooting than you would with a 35mm camera. This gives you a shallower depth of field for your apertures. ”
Well, not exactly.
Medium format cameras with a wide lens will, indeed, have a wider field of view, the same camera with a longer lens will have a more narrow FOV; just as in 35mm photography using a wide lens vs long lens results in greater depth of field vs less depth of field.
The three things that affect DOF are focal length, distance from film plane to point of focus and aperture. The reason that you may have a shallower DOF with a medium format camera with, say, a “normal” lens is that a normal lens for a medium format is a longer focal length than a normal lens for 35mm format.
For example, normal focal length for 35mm film is generally considered to be around 50mm, whereas a normal lens for 6×6 in medium format is around 80mm. A 50mm lens will have greater DOV than an 80mm lens regardless of format.

Keep up the good work.

Thank you for clarifying! That’s a great explanation!

“Great explanation” but the article is still spreading a false statement. People only reading the article will think wrongly that 120 cameras offer a wider field of view.

The size of the negative or sensor on medium format offers a wider field of view than a 35mm negative/sensor when using lenses at a similar focal lengths. Ria is right about the focal length of the lens changing field of view, but the larger field of view of medium format is why an 80mm is considered a normal lens on medium format but a 50mm is considered normal for 35mm. This difference gives an illusion of a smaller depth of field at similar apertures with medium format. We updated the language a bit in the post and link to an article on crop factor to try to make this more clear.

The often high cost and very large size of medium format film cameras should not keep people out of medium format film photography.

There is an inexpensive and very compact film camera option for medium format photography: folding lens cameras.

I have a 1952 Voigtländer Perkeo I (6cm x 6cm format camera) that measures an incredibly small 4.9in x 3.3 in x 1.6 in (125x 85x40mm) closed,
and 95mm deep with the lens extended!
It cost me $50.00.
Takes superb photos – just be aware it is a viewfinder, so you’ll have to estimate distance or use a separate range finder and you’ll have to calculate f stop and shutter speed – either use “Sunny 16” rule or an exposure meter.

Thank you so much for sharing about the Voigtlander Perkeo! It’s great to find such compact and affordable medium format camera!

Do you accept comments?

Yes! We sure do!

I have to agree with the comment by PIERRE, I have a Yashica-Mat EM i inherited but i also have a Zeiss Ikon II 517/16 Nettar that i picked up for about $50 including shipping. It shoots 6×6 and it fits in my pocket when folded up. The only real downside is that it is zone focus but like sunny16 it’s fairly easy to learn, or a cold shoe rangefinder works too.

There are also 6×9 MF cameras, certainly among the folding cameras. The Agfa Billy Record series were 6×9, as was Kodak’s Sterling II. As hinted by the other post above, the fixed lens on these is usually a normal (diagonal of the frame size), so the focal length of this lens varies according to the frame size of the camera. 6cm x 9cm gives us 10.8cm diagonal, so the lens on those cameras is usually either 105mm or 100mm. That determines depth of field as a result of the opening being larger. I’m not sure if that’s because the same aperture ratios are physically larger (f2 on a 50mm lens is 25mm diameter, while f2 on 100mm lens is 50mm diameter) or because the so-called entrance pupil of the lens is larger. Perhaps both. But the angle of view is the same as you’d get on 35mm with a 40-45mm lens, because normal for 35mm is 43.3 recurring.

Good article. I have several medium formats – a Mamiya 645 and Hasselblad 503CW and a Yashica Mat 124. As I got older waist level focusing became more difficult due to aging eyes so I use prism finders – the Hasselbald has diopter correction which really helped. Trying to decide if I need a 6×7 but haven’t done that yet. Keep up the good work.

Hi Steve! That is a wonderful set of medium format cameras! Let us know if you decide to try out a 67! Those large 67 frames are really fantastic, but it is tough that you only get 10 frames per roll.

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