In the dark ages before the prevalence of digital SLRs, there was a natural progression from 35mm to medium format for some types of photographers. My early photographic interest was primarily street photography, which meant 35mm rangefinders. I started with a Petri 7, moved up to a Canonet, and finally made the jump to a Leica when I got more serious. I also had Nikon film SLRs for some types of work.
After shooting a job with a rented Nikon D1X about 5 years ago, I realized the speed and economy of digital SLRs was a big advantage. Because I was interested in night and low light photography, I switched from Nikon film SLRs to Canon digital when the 10D came out.
I often shoot with two cameras at night, one film and one digital. Around the full moon, digital exposures are usually in the 3-8 minute range. Sometimes I’ll shoot 15 minute exposures with the 5D for longer star trails. My strategy is usually to work the scene with 5-6 minute digital shots, and use a film camera for 20-30 minute exposures. I would really like to replace the $79 Voigtlander rangefinder I’m using with a medium format film camera. As a rangefinder fan who usually prefers small format focal lengths between 21-35mm, the best choices look like the Mamiya 7 or Fuji GSW690.
After years of shooting mostly 35mm, I’m most comfortable with the 1:1.5 aspect ratio. I’ve owned a twin lens reflex and Hasselblad, but I just don’t see in squares. Medium format shooters have long pondered the format question: 645, 6×6, 6×7, or 6×9? For me it’s between 6×7 and 6×9.
When you’re shooting 20-30 minute or longer exposures, medium format is great because you’ll shoot one roll in a night. A 6×7 camera is 10 shots on a roll of 120 film, 6×9 is 8 shots. With 35mm film it sometimes takes me 2 nights of shooting over two full moons to go through a roll of 36. I’m a reasonably patient guy, but waiting 9-10 weeks to see your photos is ridiculous.
If night photography didn’t involve crawling around in some funky places, there would be an underdog contender for a medium format camera. I haven’t had a bout of camera lust quite this bad in a long time. I tried not to look. I tried not to think about it. Blame it on Lance Keimig, who brought one to the Mono Lake Workshops this year. I want an Ebony SW23.
Ebony is a small Japanese large format camera company with a reputation for superb design and craftsmanship. The SW23 is actually a 6x9cm or 2×3″ format camera with the movements of a view camera. The camera does not fold, making it light weight, and easy to setup. Optimized for wide angle lenses, focal lengths from 47-180mm can be used, which translates to about 20mm to 65mm in 35mm format.
Sounds expensive, right? The Ebony SW23 is $1995, about $500 less than a Canon 5D. Of course you still have to buy lenses and a film back. And I’d need to hire a bodyguard to take this camera on a night photography shoot. And it’s challenging enough to frame your images at night, much less when they’re upside down and backwards on the ground glass (you can also use a Horseman SW viewfinder).
But if you want to print large, consider these numbers: A 6×9 negative scanned at 4000dpi is about 9,400 x 14,000 pixels. A 300 dpi print is 30×45″ without any interpolation. That’s about 130 megapixels, or 10 times the Canon 5D. That’s food for thought. To read more about Horseman and other choices in 6×9 medium format view cameras, have a look at this interesting thread on www.largeformatphotography.info.