Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Medium Format Love

Painter's studio near 12th and Pine. 

Simply put: I'm enamored by the look of a well-made print from a 120 film negative.

On the flip side, there are a lot of reasons to not shoot with medium format cameras. They are comparatively large and nowhere as nimble as their 35mm or digital cousins. Many have no built in light meter. The lack of autofocus would be a deal-breaker for many. There is no preview screen and no way of knowing whether you got things right. The better compact, folding-type models are not cheap, fussy, easily damaged and notorious for poor alignment and focus issues. Maintenance and repairs are expensive, often take months, and careful, competent technicians are hard to find. Then there is the issue of film—not always available or pricey depending on where you buy it, and it has to be developed, most likely by you. From capture through processing there are lots of places you can go wrong and fall down on the job. It’s kind of like building a house of cards: fairly simple in its basic construction; looks quite impressive when tier after tier is perfectly stacked layer upon layer, but can come unexpectedly crashing down into a big mess where the only option is to start over.  

But as the Zen imbued sage might say: “Every front has a back.” Shooting larger really helps shift the emphasis from product to process. My overall experience with the camera and the surroundings becomes more important than whether I got the shot.  If the first peek at the wet, newly-developed film shows images, it’s like being a kid again during the holidays. There is something extremely satisfying about a tangible physical-chemical artifact (the negative) that bears witness in minute (and hugely enlargeable) detail to what was in front of the lens and how I worked both in the field and in the lab. The carefully inspected twelve-shot roll is both mirror and critic, occasionally granting me a few velvety “keepers.”   

Ninth near Spring Garden.

6th and Girard. This is a crop from a larger image. It's still a formidable 18" x 18" @240 dpi.

Ridge and Lemon Sts. You probably remember the digital and 35mm version of this. Black and white film has it's own color interpretation and the medium format lens gives a more natural perspective.

Broad near Washington. I had my eye on this for a while, looking for the right light .Horizontal crop for square negative.   

I think this is Delancy St. near the Rosenbach Museum. I don't remember even taking this. Horizontal crop from square negative. 

Baltimore Ave. near Clark Park. This is a classic case of where exposing for the dark area and developing (less) for the highlights would have helped. They value range is just too wide, even for film.  A single digital shot would have given either blank shadows or blank highlights requiring two exposures.  Luckily two scans plus tweaking compensates. 

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