So after a long trip in Stockholm, Dubai, and London I wanted to share some of my experiences shooting medium-format (Hasselblad 501c + 80mm lens and Mamiya 7 + 80mm lens) for street photography (and traveling in general).
To start off, I have been really fascinated with shooting square-format photographs recently. To be honest, my first real fascination with shooting squares was from Instagram (and of course photographers like Lee Friedlander and Vivian Maier).
So I first started shooting a lot of squares on my smartphone (squares in-camera, post-processing in VSCO, and uploading to Instagram and social media). Then I realized I had a Hasselblad that my friend Jeroen Helmink gave me about 2 years ago (which was collecting dust on my shelf) that I wanted to try out. Dutifully while living in Berkeley, I carried around my (quite heavy) Hasselblad while on my daily chores and just exploring the neighborhood.
The experience of shooting on a Hasselblad
Shooting on a Hasselblad if an amazing experience (or any TLR camera). First of all, you see the world in a unique way. We’re always so used to seeing reality head-on (or through a viewfinder), and rarely while looking down (using a waist-finder on a Hasselblad or TLR). What is also fascinating about shooting on the Hasselblad is that everything is inverted.
So when you move your camera to the left, it appears to be moving to the right (and vice versa). Furthermore, you see the world flipped left-right. Also there is something sensual about looking through the ground-glass of a Hasselblad. The world looks so much more interesting through it (hard to explain) but it looks more 3-D like.
I also love the zen-ness when it comes to shooting on a Hasselblad (or any other medium-format camera). Because you have only a few shots a roll (10–12 shots) – you make every image count.
I think shooting medium-format has helped me slow down, be a lot more conscious of each shot, and also made me appreciate the act of image-making.
My experiences shooting with a Mamiya 7
When I was in Dubai, my friend Imraan Dudhia let me shoot with a Mamiya 7 (owned by our friend Mohamed Somji). I was starting to get a bit annoyed with the Hasselblad (as it is quite big and heavy, and clunky to use). The Mamiya 7 seemed like a fun camera to play around with– it provided the ease-of-use (rangefinder) with the quality of medium-format. The Mamiya 7 is like a Leica on steroids. To be honest, I fell in love with the Mamiya 7. I loved the way it felt in my hand, how easy it was to use (like my Leica), and the weight and handling (not that heavy and quite portable).
So for about a week, I shot about 10 rolls through the Mamiya 7 (Kodak Portra 400) and I have actually been quite pleased with the shots. I notice while the photos on my Hasselblad tend to be of urban-landscapes and stuff that isn’t moving, the shots on the Mamiya 7 are much more energetic, fluid, and include a lot more “action”.
The cons of shooting medium-format
So recently I dusted off my Epson v750 scanner at home, and started to scan some of my negatives (on the Epson scanning software). After my trip to Stockholm, London, and Dubai I had around 25–30 rolls of Kodak Portra 400 120 film to get scanned. I got the film developed at a local lab in Berkeley (Photolab) and because scanning was expensive, I decided to do it myself.
First of all, I have mixed feelings about scanning. On one hand, I love the sense of surprise and thrill I get when I finally see my images on the screen. It is hard to tell what the colors of a photo look like (just by looking at a color negative), and after a month or two without seeing any of my medium-format film, I was so excited to finally see my images.
However at the same time– scanning can be a pain in the ass. It can be quite time consuming– and sometimes I feel like my time can be better used either shooting, writing, or reading.
For my process, I scan on the built-in Epson scanning software (I lost the serial key on my Silverfast software) and scan with default settings at around 2800 DPI. Each scan takes me around 2 minutes. I kind of like the zen I get from the scanning process (I kind of zone and zen out) and relax. But at the same time, I feel anxious that I can be doing something more “productive.”
Medium-format vs smartphone + VSCO
Another thing that I was quite surprised at was looking at my medium-format scans versus the same photos that I shot on my smartphone + processed in VSCO.
I did this for a while when shooting on the Hasselblad: I would see interesting scenes and then shoot it on the Hasselblad, and then also take one on my smartphone (and process it in VSCO and upload to Instagram).
However looking at the two shots side-by-side, I was a bit disappointed to realize that both shots looked about 90% the same. The shots on the Hasselblad looked slightly better to me, but not by much. And actually– some of the shots I processed on my smartphone and VSCO (using the Analog #3 preset) looked better than the Hasselblad!
Now I know this probably has to do with the fact that I suck at scanning medium-format, and that I am doing something wrong. But at the same time, it made me happy– knowing that I could get photos on my smartphone that look pretty good (at least to me).
Unfortunately the truth of the matter is that people “respect” film more than photos on digital (especially on a smartphone). But for me, I don’t really care– the final result is more important to me than the process or artistry behind it. I haven’t finished scanning all of my medium-format (yet), but honestly I think I have discovered that with 20% of the effort (of shooting on a smartphone) I can probably get around 80% of the quality of shooting medium-format (when looking at photos on a screen).
Of course, there are tons of benefits of shooting medium-format. You can blow up the photos HUGE. There are tons more detail. You get epic bokeh (or shallow depth-of-field) for portraits. But frankly speaking for me– I rarely print photos that big (maximum is usually 12×18) and at the end of the day, I prefer shooting and editing my images more than the painstaking process of having to scan my films.
Portraits shot on the Hasselblad
Below are some portraits I shot on the Hasselblad:
Medium-format vs 35mm
So you might be wondering– “So Eric, how about the Mamiya 7?” I actually think the Mamiya 7 is a badass camera– and definitely a lot more useful in street photography than a Hasselblad. The Hasselblad is big, clunky, slow, and heavy.
The Mamiya 7 is relatively light, portable, and very nimble. But then again, I think the reason that the Mamiya 7 is so awesome is because it is a rangefinder.
Then again, I already have a Leica which is (even more nimble) than a Mamiya 7. So what is the point of me shooting with a Mamiya 7 over a Leica? Well, of course you do get the “medium-format look” (which is better colors, depth-of-field, and 3-Dness when compared to 35mm).
But once again, for me I don’t care about these things as much. I am more interesting in capturing emotions, a moment, gestures, and a feeling. The image quality doesn’t matter much to me.
So I think in 2015 I am just going to stick with the following: my Leica MP and 35mm f/2 Summicron and Kodak Portra 400 film (and my smartphone for random urban landscapes I want to shoot). I also recently got some photos printed from my smartphone and they honestly look pretty awesome (I love VSCO).
35mm vs VSCO
Here are some side-by-side shots that I shot on my Leica and Kodak Portra 400 (35mm) vs my Galaxy Note 4 processed in VSCO:
The benefits of one camera, one lens
Now I know that I have written a lot about the benefits of shooting with one camera and one lens. And of course (like a hypocrite) I break my own “rules” and contradict my own philosophy. When I was shooting with medium-format, I left the Leica at home and focused on just shooting medium-format.
In my experience going out and shooting with multiple cameras is a pain in the ass (and really stressful). I also get the temptations of “GAS” (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) as much as any other photographer out there. I am a total sucker of “neomania” (wanting the new for the sake of the new as explained by Nassim Taleb in his book ‘Antifragile’) and I love toys and gadgets.
But I always find that I have a temptation to buy a new camera when I am dissatisfied with my photography, and I think that buying a new camera will suddenly make me feel more “inspired”. But what I need to remind myself is this: the best way to become re-inspired is to just live a more interesting life, and to explore more.
Generally I am a slave to routine– I like my days to be structured and followed in a very rigid way. I usually have a self-imposed rule of the following: wake up, have an icy-cold shower, have a shot of espresso, start writing, when burnt out from writing go to the gym and do some powerlifting, come home and eat a huge meal, take a nap, run some errands and make photos, pick up Cindy, make dinner, read a book, and go to sleep).
But I have been trying to inject more randomness and adventure to my life (today I woke up and went to a cafe to have breakfast of Avocado-toast, Proscuitto-toast, Espresso, Almond-milk Cappucino, pastry) and am writing this at a cafe table.
In 2015 I want to also explore more parts of Berkeley, Oakland, and Albany (near my neighborhood) and try to print and exhibit more of my work (and also collaborate with more local photographers). I want to break out of the monotony and tyranny of routine – and live life more vividly, richly, and to feel fully-alive.
Is medium-format right for you?
If you shoot 35mm film, and never shot medium-format (and are interested) I’d say give it a go. If you never have shot film before (and are interested) also try out 35mm film or medium-format. I think it is a great experience for everybody– and you will learn a lot more about your photography.
It is also a lot of fun, and gratifying in a lot of different ways. But whether or not you like it is a personal decision. But if you are curious, just try it out. Experimentation is the sauce of life (which makes it much more delicious and tasty).
The format doesn’t matter
Honestly at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what format you shoot with. Large-format, medium-format, 35mm, full-frame digital, aps-c digital, micro 4/3rds, smartphone, whatever.
At the end of the day, make photographs that personally touch, inspire, and make you happy. The format doesn’t matter, it is all about the soul, energy, and emotions you put into your photographs that matter.
So shoot whatever makes you happy, and don’t let anybody look down on you for that.
Introduction to Darkroom Film Developing and Printing in Istanbul
Watch this 2-hour long film if you want to learn how to develop your film and print it!
An introduction to Hasselblad by Jeroen Helmink
My friend Jeroen Helmink gives an introduction to shooting Hasselblad:
Budget starter film cameras
If you are starting off in medium format, and you want a TLR, I recommend a Yashica mat.
If you want a medium-format rangefinder, I recommend the The Bronica RF645.
If you’re starting off in 35mm, I recommend starting off with a Canon AE-1 camera (or any other cheap film SLR). The Nikon FM2 is amazing too.
If you want a 35mm rangefinder, I recommend starting off with a Voigtlander Bessa (R2, R3, R4) and pair it with Voigtlander 35mm f/2.5 lens.
For a 35mm compact camera, I recommend the Contax T2.
Or just get any old cheap film camera from your parent’s basement, and just crank out a few rolls with it–and see how you like it!
Learn more about street photography and film
If you want to learn more about shooting film, you will enjoy these articles:
- What I Learned Processing 164 Rolls of Film After Waiting a Year
- An Introduction to Shooting Street Photography With Film
- A Guide on How to Shoot Street Photography on a Film Leica (or Rangefinder)
- Why Digital Is Dead For Me In Street Photography
- The Benefits Shooting Both Film and Digital in Street Photography
For buying film, I recommend checking out Camera Film Photo, Amazon, or BH Photo.
Also Japan Camera Hunter is the biggest sources of shooting film for me, so make sure to check out his site.