So you want to get a bit bigger, but what are your options?
Right, so I hear that you are looking for a medium format camera, but you are not sure what is on offer. Due to popular request I have decided to produce a little buyers guide to medium format cameras.I have decided to break this piece into bits to make it a bit easier to digest. The first being TLR cameras.
Firstly I should probably give you a little bit of an explanation about what medium format actually is. 35mm format is generally the most popular form of photography, and I am sure that I don’t need to tell you what it actually is. But when you want to get bigger then you are going to have to move up a size, to a width of 6.5cm to be exact.
As medium format negatives (and sensors) are bigger, the images require less enlargement, which will give you greater tonality and sharper images. You can read a whole lot more about the ins and outs of this by clicking here.
The usual suspects
What I want to do with this guide is give you an idea of what you can get and a rough idea of how much you should expect to pay. Now, there are a few different types of camera that you can be looking at, so I am going to break them into categories to make it easier. So lets get started with the first type of camera that we will be looking at.
TLR (twin lens reflex) cameras
The TLR camera uses two objective lenses of the same focal length. One lens is known as the photographic objective lens, this is the lens that will be taking the picture. The other lens is used as a view lens, through the viewfinder, which is most commonly used as a waist level finding system. The reflex part of the name comes from the fact that the viewfinder incorporates a 45 degree mirror. The two lenses are connected so that the image that you see through the focusing screen will be the same as the image you shoot. Most TLR cameras are fixed focal length cameras, though the more expensive models might have a rudimentary zoom function. The majority of TLR cameras use a leaf shutter, which allows reasonably high speeds, quiet operation and low shutter vibration. Pretty much all TLR cameras are film cameras, using the 120/220 film sizes, though some cameras use the 35mm format, but we are not talking about them.
The plus points for a TLR camera are the quiet operation, the leaf shutter will sync with flash at any speed, the image you seen in the viewfinder is the same size as the negative and there is no viewfinder blackout. The down points are the reversed image can take some getting used to, there can be parallax problems at close range, heavy and fragile cameras, and lack of depth of field through the viewfinder. But don’t let these things put you off, using a TLR is a very rewarding experience. With practice using one of these cameras can become second nature.
If you are on a budget then you have a few options, though not many of them are much cop.
First up we have the bargain basement Holga TLR. This is not a quality camera, but if you are looking for cheap laughs and interesting effects (due to a crap lens) then you cannot go wrong for $30. There is also the Blackbird Fly, but it doesn’t count as it is a 35mm.
If you want to spend a bit more money and actually get a camera that is not a total load of crap then you could look at the Seagull TLR, made by The Shanghai General Camera Company in China. Not a bad camera and you would be able to pick one up for around $200.
Another option is to go for the Yashicamat 124G. The advantage of this camera besides the cheap price is the camera has got a built in light meter. You can pick these up in Japan for around 25,000 yen, depending on condition.
If you want to spend a bit more money but still stay in the realms of reality then you could not go wrong with a Rolleicord. There are loads of different models, but some of them are now collectors items, so you may be better off with a Va or a Vb, which can be found for around ¥35,000 in reasonable condition. You will need to get a light meter though.
Other than this there are a lot of different budget TLRs around, the Minolta Autocord, The Flexaret or the Mamiya C are all options that are also worth considering. The Mamiya C cameras hold the distinct advantage of being the only TLR that have interchangeable lenses. A really clean C330 will go for about ¥60,000 now.
TLRs that cost a bit more
As for mid range TLRs there is not a lot of choice before you get into high end ones, you are limited really to the Rolleiflex range. After that pretty much the most expensive TLR cameras are Rolleiflex cameras. There are many different models, but basically the camera is essentially the same, it is based around the lens. The earlier cameras were Tessar type lenses, these are becoming collectors items now and they can get expensive. The most common and easiest to find are the Planar type and to a lesser extent the Xenotar type. The Planar type is the cheapest, especially the 3.5F without a meter. The Xenotar is quite a bit more expensive. In Japan you can spend as little as 80,000 yen on a Planar 3.5F, right up to 300,000 yen for a gleaming Xenotar 2.8F with meter. There are shops here that literally have shelves heaving with Rolleiflex cameras, so finding one is no problem, you just need to set your budget.
‘I have more money than sense’ TLRs
When Mamiya released the C220 and C330 cameras Rollei decided to counter this with some special type cameras, The Tele-Rolleiflex and the Wide-Rolleiflex. These are speciality cameras and you can expect to pay speciality prices for them. The 4.0FT and FX cameras were the last cameras the Rolleiflex actually produced, and they are often classed as instant classics (despite the fact that they are not actually all that good).
If you really want to see how expensive these cameras can get, go over to e-bay, type in Rolleiflex and then sit back and rock quietly to yourself, it gets very silly.
To be honest with you, the options are almost endless as there were hundreds of different brands of these cameras made, so it really is up to you what how far down the rabbit hole you are prepared to go. By looking for collectors items you could end up spending into the many thousands of dollars. But this guide is not for that. This guide is to give you an idea of cameras that you can use and enjoy without killing your bank account.
Do you have a favourite TLR camera? Perhaps you can recommend one to the rest of us. Comment and tell me what you think or what I have missed.
In part 2 we will look at your options with Hasselblad and similar type Medium format cameras. Send you suggestions and I will do my best to include them.