My Medium Format Journey Part 1

As people who follow me on Facebook will know, I’ve recently taken a step out of my comfort zone and into the world of Medium Format film photography. I thought readers might be interested to know how the journey goes. I’m sure that as with any journey, there will be mistakes made, unplanned detours, dead ends, disappointments, frustrations, but hopefully a joyous arrival at the destination. Now of course I’ll probably never know when I’ve reached the final destination, and may never actually get there, but to correctly quote Ralph Waldo Emerson ‘To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom’

This first chapter will cover how I made the first step into medium format, and probably more importantly, why.

Like so many things you come back to in later life, this change to medium format has its seeds back in childhood. My late father was a keen amateur photographer in the days when 120 roll film was the norm. Sadly he passed away when I was very young but somewhere down the line the seed must have been sown. In the early 1970’s the education system in my home time of Bradford was transformed by the arrival of Middle Schools. The one I went to, Leaventhorpe, was a new build and was equipped with a darkroom, and a science teacher who knew how to use it. I joined the school camera club and was soon developing and printing from 35mm black and white film at this point my own camera was a Kodak Instamatic. Although the Instamatic cameras were loaded with a cartridge, this could be broken open to reveal the 35mm film inside.

Around this time my Mother allowed me to start using my late father’s Ensign Selfix 820. Now in its day these were amongst the top of the range folding cameras, and used 120 film. The problem here was that the school darkroom was only set up for 35mm. However, lurking in the family garage was a Johnson developing tank which would accommodate film 120 film.

I took this in to school and processed my first medium format black and white negative film at the age of about 12. That gave me a strip of negatives, but as the school enlarger only took 35mm film there was no easy way of making prints. Undaunted, I read in an old book that you could make contact prints, so the next step was to make a contact print frame. By covering my bedroom window with hardboard it could be made dark enough to make prints, albeit of a small size.

Move forward 42 years.

By this time my interest in photography had been re awakened through the ease of the digital media. I had found myself developing a bias towards landscape photography and through social media became aware of people extolling the virtues of medium format landscape photography. I was perfectly happy with my digital set up so why change?

Firstly I wanted something that would slow me down. Try as I might my self discipline wasn’t strong enough to make me think hard about the image I was trying to create before I made the exposure using digital. Only having a limited number of frames on the roll of film, and the cost, will hopefully reinforce my willpower. Secondly, I wanted to explore the different results of the various film emulsions and to appreciate for myself the difference between Velvia and Provia.

The thoughts hadn’t really got much beyond searching the internet for prices in an idle moment, when just before Christmas 2016 Matt Lethbridge posted on Facebook that he’d bought a large format set up. I posted him good look and mentioned I was thinking about trying medium format. Before I knew what was happening Matt had offered to sell me his Mamiya 645 complete with 4 lenses and other bits at a very reasonable price. The end result of this was a trip to see Matt, resulting in me coming home with a full medium format set up, including film.

Now of course I’ve just got to work out how to use it. More on that in the next episode..