Fast vs Slow….FIGHT!!!

After shooting medium format for awhile (aka 120mm), you get a little weary of the workflow.  Let’s look at the list of inconveniences for 120mm in comparison with 35mm film.

  • Number of shots per roll.  120mm gives me 10 images per roll (6×7 format).  35mm gives me 36 images per roll.
  • This translates into a higher cost per image.
  • Scanning takes a long time.  I can scan 10 35mm images in the time it takes me to scan 3 120mm images.
  • 35mm scans are smaller and therefore don’t take up as much space as 120mm.
  • Medium format cameras are bigger, bulkier and heavier.  35mm cameras are more common, more mass produced, lighter and less expensive (speaking generally).

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Of course, inconvenience is all in the way that you look at it.  You could also say that these inconveniences are beneficial.

  • Only getting 10 images per roll makes every frame more important and therefore worthy of more work per image (WPI).
  • Film is expensive so there is more WPI.
  • Scanning takes a long time… so there is more… WPI.
  • Very large image sizes so very large image files… WPI.
  • Bulky and heavy cameras… WPI.

So the pattern here is pretty obvious.  Working in medium format makes you… work more.  And that can be a very good thing.  Not to mention some of the other benefits of medium format… which are shallower depth of field and larger image size (freaking awesome resolution).

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But of course, putting more work into every image changes the style of your photography.  You don’t see people wanting to shoot candid shots walking around with a big camera that shoots medium format do you?  Of course not and that all has to do with the fact that shooting 35mm is easy and quick.  Automatic modes take out all of the thought process in exposure and focus so you can quickly get that shot when it comes in front of you.  If you like classic street photographers then a few of these names come to mind – Garry Winograde, Henry Cartier Bresson, and Joel Meyerowitz.  These guys loved the Leica 35mm rangefinder because you could quickly compose, snap the shutter and capture what you need.

This kind of shooting opens up avenues that simply aren’t possible with medium format.  When you see an image that is the quick snap, the reflexive shot, the instantly composed frame, you feel all of that in the photo.

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On the flip side, photos that are painstakingly planned out down to the tiniest detail, when a lot of time and energy and patience has been sunk into that one image… you feel it as well.  Which style is better?  After soaking in the instant style for some time, I became convinced that the slower, planned out shots were the best.  But now, I have been shooting only 120mm in 2013 and have now soaked in the slow style for a spell.  So the pendulum is starting to swing back to the other side.  Really, both styles have merit and can make great artwork.

So here we have setup a loose dichotomy between 35mm (fast) and 120mm (slow).  But this portrait I have painted is not 100% accurate.  Of course you can work fast with a 120mm camera and you can work slow with a 35mm camera.  But what camera will allow you to work the fastest while retaining that buttery amazing DOF and resolution?

Enter the Mamiya 7.

I have yet to purchase this camera… and to do so would require disposal of some other pieces of kit.  But this is the fastest shooting 6×7 camera in the world.  And that is why I am seriously thinking about buying one.

Sure, I love my Pentax 6×7.  The lenses are great, its inexpensive, its a solid camera. (Further Pentax 67 sycophancy linked here).  But I would like the option of shooting faster, with automatic modes.  Of course, I say the word option, because no doubt I won’t be using the automatic modes all of the time.

So the question is this (the sacrifice!!!) – should I trade in my Pentax 67 with 5 lenses for a mamiya 7 with one lens and save up for another lens (I only really care about the 80mm and the 65mm)?

This will take some deliberation…

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2 thoughts on “Fast vs Slow….FIGHT!!!

  1. A Rolleiflex is a beautiful medium format camera that is ‘quick’ so to speak. It’s also not quite as bulky as many other medium format cameras. Plus, with its waist level view finder one can capture candid shots on the street. I find street photography to be more difficult when shooting in my 35mm AE-1. It’s easier to be noticed by passersby when I’m looking through the viewfinder at eye level. Zone focusing is not something I’ve mastered just yet. Anyhow, food for thought. A Mamiya 6 or 7 is a dreamy camera. I’d love to own one someday.

    1. Thanks PJ. Good points all around. I think the fastest cameras for street work are Leicas (the M6 or above). The TLRs are great cameras. Rolleiflexs are stunning objects in and of themselves. I think I am going to go with a Minolta Autochord though (for less than $300, you can’t go wrong). So I am loosing the Pentax 67 and hopefully gaining an Autochord and a Mamiya 7 (with the 80mm lens). I can’t wait :-).

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