View Full Version : Noob Question. What to buy? LF vs MF

2-Jul-2015, 05:44
Hi Guys,

I am a new member, joined a week ago and since then I have been reading many interesting posts here. I have a few questions and wanted to gather opinions. I donít own any LF gear but have been shooting 35mm film with a Leica / Nikon for about 6/7 years. I process film at home and Iím about to finish my darkroom. It is pretty generous, I have a Durst M670 enlarger with space for another and room to develop using 20x24 inch trays if needs be. I am a total darkroom novice, so plan to use this coming winter as training time.

I have mainly shot street/documentary style images with my 35mm which works perfectly, however I want to shoot a series of landscapes / buildings / Interior details / portraits in a much more considered fashion. LF looks very appealing and like I said I have been reading posts about what to buy (Ebony RSW45 vs Walker Titan vs Shen Hao - metal vs wooden field cameras etc.) and I am excited, but overwhelmed. The shots I am planning will involve driving around, jumping out of the car and setting up quickly (in different kinds of weather). They may also involve some trekking (but not a huge amount). So I would be looking for a 90mm, a 150mm for full body portraits and potentially something in the region of a 210mm (eventually). I am new to portraiture so need something I can learn and set up quickly so as not to piss the subject off too much.

My photography usually has a very deep depth of field and I plan to stick to this, although I have been reading how LF gives infinite creative control using movements and this does appeal. However, I have also been looking at the Mamiya RZ67 MF to fulfil these needs. I can get a full Mamiya RZ67 3 lens kit plus accessories for the same price as a LF camera body. I know to truly get the best out of LF I need to do more than contact printing, but I then need another enlarger (suggestions welcome). I am pretty sure that printing 20x24 will be excellent quality with the MF and it is quicker to set up - I know I would love to have a go at LF at some point, but does anyone have words of wisdom or an opinion as to what I should do?

Many thanks - and apologies if this is the wrong area to be posting this question in.


neil poulsen
2-Jul-2015, 06:20
What size do you want to make the prints?

2-Jul-2015, 06:27
How many pictures do you want to take and how fast? MF is more amenable to taking more pictures faster than LF. Either will get you the deep DOF if on a tripod. Either will be OK for carrying around in the car but set up with MF will be much faster than LF. And either will piss off a portraiture subject if you are spending lots of time setting up and fiddling.

But all that said, as they say... LF is a real experience that you may not want to miss.

Honestly, though... you need one of each. :D

2-Jul-2015, 06:39
Thanks for the swift replies! And yes, both would be good :) I would be planning quite a few pictures in order to make a series. That said, there is something deeply appealing to shooting landscape on LF.

I would be planning to print no bigger than 20x24 (although who knows - maybe in the future some bigger prints may be on the cards?).

2-Jul-2015, 06:42
That's pretty easy. Unless you will take time to carefully set up and compose your images, Large Format would be a total waste for you.
The Mamiya is a great camera -- probably perfect for your needs.

2-Jul-2015, 06:43
I'd just question the op's assumption that getting the best from lf means enlarging.

2-Jul-2015, 07:04
Image quality, ease of use, quick to set up, fast or slow shooting, shooting moving subjects, re-composing on the fly, etc etc - medium format is the best option for your project, and it enlarges very well.
If you want to get acquainted with LF, get a cheap Graphic kit here (camera, lens, film holders) at some point and play with it in your spare time, get good with it.

2-Jul-2015, 07:06
Please don't get me wrong, I would still be setting up and composing the image. I just wanted to give some idea of how I would be using the camera. After reading many 'what should I buy posts' I thought I would step back and look at what I planned to do with it first and get an understanding of opinion. Although the allure of LF is strong, and in the future I would love to dabble, maybe the Mamiya is best for what I have in mind?

2-Jul-2015, 07:07
Thanks Ari - appreciated.

Jim Jones
2-Jul-2015, 07:14
Careful camera work should permit up to 20x24 prints from a Mamiya RZ67 that would satisfy most people. After all, it's the same degree of enlargement as a 8x12 print from 35mm, and the larger prints are usually viewed from a greater distance. Also, MF cameras are much better for grab shots than tripod mounted cameras. The proper 4x5 press camera may be an adequate compromise between a street photography and landscapes, buildings, etc. Consider using 35mm for those shots for which it is best suited, and a view camera where versatility and maximum image quality is paramount. For decades I concurrently used Leica RF and Nikon SLR gear for many subjects, and 4x5 where it was distinctly better. Rarely did MF equipment tempt me. Older but good LF equipment is inexpensive enough that one can usually afford both formats. Remember, many iconic photographs were made with LF cameras of 50 or 100 years ago. The same equipment, if properly maintained, can do exactly the same today. For many years my main LF camera was a 1950s 5x7 Burke & James flatbed, usually with a 4x5 back. A similar camera without a lens should not cost over $100 now.

It is often said that smaller format cameras provide more Depth of Field. This is partly true. However, for comparable set-ups, stopping a LF lens down so the aperture as seen through the front of the lens has the same diameter as the aperture of a 35mm camera, both will yield exactly the same DoF in the same size prints. A view camera does have adjustments that extend the DoF in some, but not all, photos. It also permits perspective correction unavailable in most MF and 35mm lenses. This can be very important in urban and some scenic photography if perspective correction can not be done in editing or printing.

2-Jul-2015, 07:21
Thanks Ari - appreciated.

You're welcome, James; I'll second what Jim is saying in that using 35mm or MF requires careful attention to get a good usable image that you can enlarge well.
A stable tripod is paramount, and a cable release is really useful as well.
I've used a Pentax 67 for a long time, and the image quality can easily approach 4x5 quality if used properly.
The RZ lenses are no slouches, you'll see a huge difference from 35mm.

2-Jul-2015, 07:46
the first thing I would get..depending on where you are.. is a space heater for the darkroom

2-Jul-2015, 09:00
Already sorted :)

Dan Fromm
2-Jul-2015, 09:13
I would be planning to print no bigger than 20x24 (although who knows - maybe in the future some bigger prints may be on the cards?).

Lessee, now. 20x24 from nominal 6x6 (56 mm x 56 mm) means about an 11x enlargement. For longer roll film formats, the height sets the limit. Around 9x. And that's assuming you print full frame and don't crop at all. 10x is the practical limit for acceptable print quality and is hard to reach.

20x24 from nominal 4x5 (roughly 90 x 120) wants at most 4.8x. And you think you might want to print larger.

Its 4x5 or larger for you, friend. I shoot 2x3 and 6x12 and they won't do what you want. Fortunately for me I don't want what you do.

Alan Gales
2-Jul-2015, 10:26
I used to own an RZ with three lens outfit (50mm ULD, 110mm, 180mm). I moved to large format and no longer own a medium format outfit. It was the right decision for me. I read everything I could find but I finally decided to try for myself so I picked up an old Cambo monorail with 210mm lens for dirt cheap and found out. You can talk to people or read all you want but there is no substitute for hands on experience.

Pick up a used Crown Graphic or cheap monorail with a lens and try out 4x5. If you don't like it you can always sell the gear for close to what you paid. Anything lost just consider a cheap rental fee.

Drew Wiley
2-Jul-2015, 13:12
Really, it takes awhile to really get a new pair of shoes to fit. I easily gravitated from a 35mm up to a Pentax 6x7 because the concept was so similar. But that phase lasted less than two years. I still shoot 6x7 once in awhile nowadays, mostly when I'm on vacation with my wife; but once I got into 4x5 I really got hooked for the next twenty years. What killed that off for the next fifteen years was 8x10. Now I kinda go back and forth, having kept all this stuff. I wouldn't overthink it. But based on my own history with format schizophrenia, I'd say it's better to buy one high quality system and stick with it for awhile rather than futz around anything of compromised quality that leaves you disappointed. Fortunately, there are a lot of bargains out there in both MF and LF gear and lenses. One good camera and one good lens is all you need to get on the road and see if this is for you or not. Sheet film is vastly preferable to print from in a darkroom. But the film is a lot more expensive. If you're just going to scan, that's a different story. And how do you feel about the calorie-burning aspect of all
this? Large format does tend to be, well, large. But some 4x5 gear is actually lighter than some MF kits. Just depends. I dunno. The world just looks so much
more beautiful upside-down, once you're accustomed to that.

Richard Rau
2-Jul-2015, 13:34
I'm going to answer your question directly from experience, and I would imagine it is about the same experience that I would imagine probably the vast majority of the folks on this forum have had. Although you don't give your age, I would assume you are fairly young, relatively speaking. I think most of us here started out with 35mm, and eventually progressed into medium format as a course of natural progression. And eventually, at least for me, then into 4x5, then 5x7, and finally 8x10. Then there are the folks who weren't quite satisfied with that and went into ULF, 11x14 and larger! The experience of photographing with a view camera is totally different than with a smaller camera, where as your decision making is completely and deliberately slowed down, previsualizing the finished photograph before you even begin, your selection of composition, setting up the camera, selection of lens, composing the image on the ground glass, focusing the ground glass, filter selection, metering, inserting the film holder, making the exposure. It almost becomes Zen like, although with experience, your work flow becomes faster and faster. Then the darkroom experience is different as well, when it comes to sheet film processing. Your working habits should become very precise if you want repeatable results. As mentioned earlier, you can get remarkable results enlarging medium format up to and beyond 20x24.

I would imagine, if you continue with photography, you may eventually move into large format photography, like most of us. I think Alan's recommedation of picking up a used Crown Graphic or monorail 4x5, a lens and some used film holders is good advice. If you can afford it you should try it to see what it is like. You might like the quaility and the added control you can achieve with a 4x5 or larger camera!

2-Jul-2015, 13:34
LF is going to be easier to scan if you go that route. 4x5 and bigger scans nicely with the Epsons. If you go MF, then the Epsons are pretty mediocre (great for web and small prints) for that format and you'll need a fancier scanner.

LF or MF, if it's old looking (1950's or older), you will not piss off a portrait subject if you have your act together and it takes longer than other types of cameras. It's retro magic that is very disarming and quaint. With LF, you can leave them with an instant print as well.

For darkroom printing, either LF or MF can made nice prints in my opinion.

2-Jul-2015, 14:51
Thanks for your comments. Leaving an instant print with a portrait subject is great idea! - so thank you. I am 32, so not sure if that qualifies as young? I may do as is suggested and dip my toe in the water if the right kit came along. There is currently a NAGAOKA SEISAKUSHO in what looks like good condition complete with lens etc. on eBay in the UK which I'm monitoring.

In terms of enlarger, what kind of budget would I be looking at? I snapped up my Durst M670 for £100 and paid about £90 for a lens separately. I take it LF enlargers tend to be more expensive?

Alan Gales
2-Jul-2015, 15:34
Watch your local Craigslist if you are in the U.S. The Omega's work great and are dirt cheap and sometimes are even given away for free. There is a glut of them out there since they were popular with schools.



2-Jul-2015, 17:10
20x24? Gee n I've been doing this for 40 yrs n I can count on one hand the number of prints I've made larger than 8x10. And that's from MF all the way to 8x10 negs!

Tim Meisburger
2-Jul-2015, 17:19
Nagaoka is a great, lightweight camera that may be all you ever need.

32 is young!

Alan Gales
2-Jul-2015, 19:41
32 is young!

When I was in the sheet metal trade they called you a kid until you were 30. The OP is just a little bit older than a kid! :)

3-Jul-2015, 07:30
I've used the Mamiya RZ and it's a phenomenal camera that offers lots of ability for creative control. The shift system on it is also not so expensive.

LF offers even more creative control. But it is much more inconvenient (going to a field or monorail camera with lots of movements and setup). As others have said, you could fall in love with the workflow (and I hope you will because of you don't the camera will sit in the closet). That's not trivial.

Maybe the test is to put your 35mm camera on a tripod and leave it there for 30 minutes (or longer) and learning to love making micro adjustments during that timeframe. Just appreciating looking through the viewfinder. I'm a fast paced New Yorker and it's hard for me to have patience. But I like challenges and this has pushed me to revel in watching the ground glass for long periods of time.

In terms of printing, either option will be fine. Drum scanning can do wonders with MF and LF. The real question (to me) is patience, convenience, and the need for movements.

4-Jul-2015, 00:47
Thanks for your replies. I will continue to think hard (and see what kit present itself to me!).



6-Jul-2015, 11:46
One thing to consider is that although the severity varies from each local, pre-exposure dust botching an otherwise great 4x5 negative is nothing to shrug off. The only way to fix it if doing genuine darkroom based prints is to either spot the neg so it is easy to spot the print or scrape / etch / bleach the black spot off the print...either is a really big pain in the butt.

It took me close to a year to get my dust issues under control and I *still* find my self "Dust Bracketing" on key shots. For this reason and a few others, medium format is by far my most productive format used and simply yields the photos with the most viewer impact.

Maybe you would not have issues with dust on the film during exposure, maybe you will, but I would consider that aspect as well as you choose your tools.

Peter De Smidt
6-Jul-2015, 11:55
How about a Fuji GX680 system? This gives you front movements, terrific lenses, and no need for a gym membership. They're really affordable.

Sirius Glass
6-Jul-2015, 12:15
For MF I use Hasselblad and shoot 6x6. I like the size and weight, interchangeable backs mid roll, that it is a system with loads of options and parts and service are easily available.

For 4"x5" I use a Pacemaker Speed Graphic as a view camera and hand held. I shoot it mostly hand held.

For kicks I have a 4"x5" Graflex Model D which gives me a LF SLR.

6-Jul-2015, 15:29
Dust kills 4x5 for me. My MF negatives don't have as much information but at least they don't have dust spots in the sky. Since I don't use a digital work flow, there is just no way to deal with it. If I could still get quick loads I would shoot more 4x5.

I miss movements on MF. Tried 6x9 view cameras, but too fiddly for my big hands.

Maybe I should try 8x10 again. Perhaps the dust is not so visible in a contact print.

6-Jul-2015, 23:55
Thanks for the heads up about dust - I have read about this so will take it seriously. Thanks for all comments thus far, I guess I should let you know that I have bought a complete Nagoaka kit for a decent price, so I am about to dip my toe and get a feel for LF! I'm sure I will be asking many more questions on the forum.



8-Jul-2015, 15:56
Thanks for the heads up about dust - I have read about this so will take it seriously. Thanks for all comments thus far, I guess I should let you know that I have bought a complete Nagoaka kit for a decent price, so I am about to dip my toe and get a feel for LF! I'm sure I will be asking many more questions on the forum.



Congratulations. I'm sure you won't regret it. I think 4x5" is the perfect sweet spot in film photography. I just wrote a blog post outlining my experiences in choosing a perfect film format and camera combo: http://www.angusparkerphoto.com/blog/2015/7/the-search-for-the-perfect-film-format