Jason Talks Gear - Medium Format Black and White Film Photography | Jason Scott Photography
Jason Scott Photography
Sarasota Wedding Photographer - Siesta Key Beach Portraits

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Jason Talks Gear - Medium Format Black and White Film Photography

This is part of a series of blog entries written by Jason about the more technical side of Jason Scott Photography.

I have recently been shooting and developing black and white film. It has been an interesting side project and I have had lots of fun with it. I should probably tell you, this is not my first endeavor with black and white film processing.  I had a dark room and film processing equipment when I was a kid, but I never had much luck. My most recent attempts from 2012 have gone extremely well.

Medium Format Cameras and Film

I found a Yashica Mat 124 G on Craiglist for next to nothing and took it, on family vacation, to Myrtle Beach, SC in June. While in Myrtle Beach, I used the Yashica Mat 124G and shot a few rolls of Kodak T-MAX 120 film in ISO 100.

As it turned out, the quality of the optics in my 1970s Russian communist made / cheap Craigslist camera were extremely disappointing.   Even though I shot everything on a tripod and at a comfortable f/5.6, all my photos were below average or just adequate.  I was surprised by the lack of detail and clarity, but the photos were still usable.

Here are some examples:

My second attempt at film came in late June.  This time I used my Mamiya RZ67 medium format camera with Kodak T-MAX 120 in ISO 400.

This camera is HEAVY.  Lugging the camera, 120 back, prism viewfinder, 180mm lens, and tripod is a chore.  However, the photos were exceptional.  I found all the photos to be exceptionally sharp with outstanding contrast.   The RZ67 with 180mm produced  better background blur at f/16 than my wide open 85mm f/1.2 L (a 35mm format lens) – this was a clear result of being the same distance from my subject with a longer focal length.  The RZ67 also produced sharper photos than the 5d Mark II.

Here are some photos I took of Allyson and Badger at Brohard Beach in Venice:

Finally, I broke down and purchased a Mamiya 7 with a 43mm f4.5 lens.  In my opinion, the Mamiya 7 is the best medium format camera in the world.  However, It does have some major disadvantages.

Mamiya 7 pros and cons:

  1. Outrageously awesome image quality
  2. Lightweight – no tripod is necessary

  1. Loading film is slow and you can't preload extra backs
  2. Rangefinder camera body: I shot 50% of my photos with the lens cap on
  3. Wide angle lenses require a separate viewfinder attached to your flash shoe
  4. Only 10 shots to a roll of film
  5. Film is expensive
  6. Light meter in the camera is spot only
  7. Flash use is difficult / no E-TTL or I-TTL equivalent.
  8. No auto-focus

The Mamiya 7 may be the best camera in the world, but I could never use it for my wedding business because it takes far too long to load film and to meter shots. It also lacks an adequate flash system and auto-focus.

The Mamiya 7 is a rangefinder camera and has far better optical quality than my SLR camera.  As with all rangefinders cameras,  photos are composed through a viewfinder window. Coming from a SLR background, this difference has caused me some problems.  I KEEP LEAVING THE LENS CAP ON!!! During my first attempt, 50% of my photos were shot with the lens cap on!  For now, I have stopped using a lens cap altogether.

If all you care about is image quality, the Mamiya 7 is your camera.  In terms of practical application, Canon's digital EOS camera system destroys the Mamiya 7 and all other film cameras.  The digital cameras we use now have outrageous auto-focus, outstanding light meters, and unbelievable flash systems.  That, combined with exceptional quality and the ability to take thousands of photos, relegates film to fine art and hobby applications.

Here are some Mamiya 7 photos, taken at Deer Prairie Creek in North Port, Lemon Bay Park in Englewood, and Shamrock Park in Venice:

Developing Film

I ordered everything needed to develop film off the Internet for about $100.  This included Kodak chemicals, a Patterson tank, Patterson spool, and a changing bag.

At first, I had a very hard time loading the 120 film onto the Patterson spool.  This step needs to be completed in total darkness, and I underestimated how difficult it would be. It took several rolls of test film before I was confident enough to spool up film with actual photos.

It takes me about a half hour to develop a roll of ten photos.  It then takes about an hour to dry the negatives and another half hour to scan them in to the computer. It would take me about 160 hours to process film photos from a wedding.  Again, digital is a handy time saver.

So what is the end result of my film endeavors? … I have some very very nice photos but it took a VERY long time to produce them. We won't be shooting any weddings or beach portraits like this any time soon!

To find out more about the professional gear we use when we photograph Sarasota Weddings and Siesta Key Beach Portraits, click here.

PS - Don't forget, you can also follow this blog on Facebook, Twitter, or through your favorite feed reader


  1. You do realize that a Yashica 124G is Japanese made, right? The Camera you have pictured is a Yashica 124G, the last TLR, the company made (1970-1980). The date is indicated by the serial numbers. It is not russian by any means. The first picture you feature is blurry due to parallax error. Also, each film is different. I find it hilarious, that you buy a camera, from craigslist, shoot it and say "oh it's the cheap russian optics of the camera". Before you say a camera's optics are cheap and disappointing, you may want to know a bit about it. Hell, you may even want to know the maker at some point. Ever think about getting a CLA done? The Yashinon 80mm lens is reputed to be a pretty sharp lens. Google it.
    By the way, Russian TLR are Lutibels not Yashicas. Oh, and the cheap russian optics you have featured in your picture (ie Yashica), ever hear of Carl Zeiss? Well, Yashica collaborated with Zeiss. I wonder if Zeiss thought that Yashica's optics were cheap Communist made optics. But somehow were good enough to work along side of them. Hmm... The funny part, I don't even own a Yashica TLR, or a lutibel. But I know more than you do. Even, funnier, Russian optics are known to be very sharp, the camera bodies have issues. Keep shooting those Canon DSLR's. By the way do you shoot in auto mode? I noticed you chimping in one of your photos....

    1. Dear Anonymous -

      Thanks for taking the time to read my blog!

      I checked it out and you're right; the Yashica is infact a Japanese, and not Russian, Camera - thanks!

      I did shoot several rolls of Kodak T-Max through the Yashica 124G and, in my opinion, they did not have anywhere near the quality of the Mamiya RZ67, Mamiya 7, or Hasselblad 1000F (all of which I own). All cameras are shot in manual, on a tripod, with a light meter (love my Sekonic L478-D). However, photography is an art and very subjective, so different people will like different things.

      Also, I use my Canon 5D mk III cameras every day in full manual mode. I am one of the few photographers who shares meta data for all shots online. You can see it by clicking the “info” button for any photo in the “Samples” or “Your Photos” section of my website. I do use program mode for photos of families walking down the beach and kids running down the beach, but all portraits are shot in full manual.

      As far as “chimping” (checking every photo on the camera display immediately after each capture), YES I am “guilty” of doing that for each pose and grouping, but not every photo. I use it to verify the operation of my flashes, exposure, and overall composition. I’m not sure why anyone wouldn't. I’m always VERY happy the the quality of the end result.


    2. Nice reply Jason, never understand why people take the time to make comments such as "Anonymous". Curious if ever found a use for the medium format cameras outside of your wedding business (portraits, landscapes, etc)? Thanks

    3. Hi Rad, thanks for your comment :)

      Jason mostly uses his medium format cameras for landscapes and nature photography, just for fun. We don't typically use them for weddings or our portrait business :) Thanks for reading!



Thanks for leaving feedback! All comments are moderated to prevent spam. Your comment will be posted within 24 hours.