Eric’s Note: This guest blog post is by Christian Nilson, a street photographer based in Zurich. Christian attended my Introduction to Street Photography Workshop in Berlin this year, and upon meeting Juliane Eirich (one of my guest lecturers) and seeing her work, he decided to experimenting using a square-format TLR. In his article below he shares his experiences and challenges. 

Christian: After having met Juliane Eirich at Eric’s workshop in Berlin, in May this year, I was intrigued with her photography and the square format. She uses a medium format TLR, which is both a format and a type of camera that I have never used. The first thing I did after my return from Berlin was to check the auction sites for a used Ricohflex and I was soon successful. A couple of days later I had it in my hand. Full working condition. I popped a roll of film in it and went out shooting. It took a bit of getting used to the different way of shooting and composing.

Ricohflex TLR Camera

The main differences being that you look down through the viewfinder, holding the camera at waist level and the 6×6 format. The 6×6 format is challenging if you haven’t used it before, at the beginning it gives you the feeling that you have either to much space above and below the subject, or you have too little space to the left and right of the subject. But you quickly get a hang of it.

kids in the finder of Ricoh Flex
Looking through the viewfinder of a Ricohflex. Photo Credit: Akiko Aoki

Using a medium format TLR for street photography is a great experience and I would recommend any one to try it. A used TLR can be had for around $100 so that should not stop you. To give you an idea of what it is like I will list the challenges and rewards that I faced using it for this purpose.

Challenges:

1)  DOF

Most lenses of TLR’s are either 80mm or 75mm which gives you a very shallow DOF, which means zone focusing becomes very difficult if you want to keep any kind of useful speed. This means that the way to go is to focus each shot, this slows you down and it can sometimes be difficult to see on the screen if the shot is really in focus or not.

2)  Accurate focusing

As mentioned above it can sometimes be difficult to see if your subject is in focus or not, depending on the light falling on to the focus screen. To help in these circumstances you have a pop-up magnifier that allows you to see the screen better.

3)  Shooting moving subjects is really difficult

For the above two reasons, trying to get a shot of someone walking is probably the biggest challenge. My tip is to focus on a patch of the street where you think your subject will pass and hope for the best, doesn’t work all the time, but often enough.

Rewards:

1)  The negatives

Do I need to say more? 6×6 cm of pure wonder. I mostly shot slide film which makes the experience of picking up the negatives from the photo store pure pleasure. They are just so beautiful to look at, and are full of detail that blows 35mm film out of the water.

2)  You be more patient before clicking the shutter

Each of the above challenges forces you to slow down, thinking more about light and composition. This in combination with only having twelve shots per roll really makes you think twice before you take the shot.

3)  Your keeper rate will increase

Since you will spend more time with each of your shots, you will probably experience an increase in your keeper rate, I know I did. I went from something like 5% with digital to more like 40% with medium format.

If you want to move forward with your photography, try it out. If you want to see some of my shots, please have a look at my series “The Station”.

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I am currently taking a one year break from medium format to challenge myself with “1 year, 1 camera, 1 lens and 1 film.” For this I’m back to 35mm rangefinder and Tri-X. If you want to see more:

Have you ever shot with a TLR or medium-format camera for street photography? If so, what have you found to be the challenges and rewards of shooting medium-format film? Share your experiences in the comments below!