Medium format photography uses a larger film type than 35mm film cameras, allowing for more detail to be captured and the negative to be printed dramatically larger than 35mm film prints. There are multiple medium format film camera types such as single-lens reflex, twin-lens reflex, and range-finder and toy cameras. Medium format cameras are great as you begin to learn more advanced basic photography tips and techniques and work well before moving to large format cameras.
Medium Format Single-Lens Reflex (SLR) Camera
Medium format single-lens reflex film cameras are nearly identical to the 35mm SLR cameras, except that is houses a larger film type. However, not only do medium format SLR cameras support different camera lenses, but also different winding mechanisms, viewfinders, and camera backs. The flexibility of this camera is unmatched by the 35mm counterpart, but will cost much more.
The different viewfinders will allow the photographer to look through the back of the camera or a waist-level viewfinder that allows you to look down the camera. Neither viewfinder system offers a better arrangement; it is mostly just a personal choice. SLR cameras also began support digital backs that effectively turn the camera into a modern digital camera, allowing for image previews before exposing the film.
Twin-Lens Reflex (TLR) Cameras for Medium Format Photography
The twin-lens reflex (TLR) camera features two lenses, one above the other, and is a cheaper alternative for medium format photography over the SLR. The top lens is what the photographer views through the waist-level viewfinder and the bottom lens is where the camera captures the image, creating the parallax error. Subjects at a short distance require the photographer to adjust the camera accordingly and subjects at a far distance are virtually free of this error. Beginners would do well to take multiple shots of the same object close-up while adjusting each shot to learn how to properly compensate for the error.
Both lenses on a TLR medium format camera are set at the same focal point. A screen through the waist-level viewfinder mimics the photographic lens to ensure the image seen by the photographer through the viewfinder matches the detail seen through the photographic lens. Additionally, unlike SLR film cameras, TLR cameras do not have interchangeable lenses – the Mamiya C-series being the exception. The Mamiya C-series cameras are the only TLR medium format cameras that offer true interchangeable lenses that range from wide angle to telephoto lenses.
Range-finder and Toy Cameras
The popularity of toy cameras, like the Holga, has increased over the years. These minimal cost cameras have little or no controls and require a sunny day for exposure. These cameras are much like point-and-shoot cameras that do not offer focusing or zoom attributes, but are quick and easy-to-use.