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  • Tom Mills

Falling (back) in love with medium format

Let me preface this post with a confession. I am absolutely horrible at making good decisions when it comes to GAS; let me explain. Many years ago, I decided to dump all my 35mm film gear to move to medium format, specifically a Contax 645AF. I was sure medium format would one up my photography and get my photos displayed in art galleries in the DC area. Medium format was cool, what the pros used and this would be the key to becoming a pro... or, at least have a killer camera for family portraits.

After spending loads of time selling my gear and searching for the right camera to buy, I shot a whopping two rolls of film through the camera, a roll of Ilford Delta 100 and a roll of Fuji Velvia 100, before retiring it to a camera bag for two years. While I was in love with the idea of shooting medium format film, I ended up never getting the film processed after shooting. I was just "too busy" to get to a photo lab to process these "exceptions"; it wasn't as easy as dropping off 35mm C-41 film at a local CVS and having negatives and prints a mere hour later. The next time I touched the camera was to sell it on eBay to fund a Nikon D700 (full frame glory!!!). In retrospect, an incredibly stupid mistake.

Fast forward to July 2020. I took the ancient roll of Ilford Delta 100 and developed the roll since I have the chemistry and was getting the hang of developing film at home. That's the moment when I fell (back) in love with 120 film. So much easier to load on reels and the negatives... so much bigger, so much easier to scan, so beautiful...

Home under construction, VERY Expired 120 Ilford Delta 100 taken with Contax 645AF

The only problem I had now was that I no longer had a medium format camera with which to shoot that beautiful 120 format film. GAS kicked in full time and I soon found myself looking for my new toy. Sensibility prevailed a bit more this time though, prices for a replacement Contax 645AF were astronomical and I simply wasn't willing to pay the premium for a replacement of my original medium format rig. I looked at the Mamiya RZ67 Pro but they weren't much cheaper and they were oh so heavy... I then contemplated a Hasselblad 501C, an amazing classic camera, but they also commanded a hefty premium on price.

I finally chose the Mamiya 645 Pro; decent price point, very modular system, and lenses were cheap and plentiful. I was fortunate to find one on eBay in "near mint condition" and as they say, the rest is history...

Happy mirror selfie, Kodak T-Max 400 taken with Mamiya 645 Pro, Mamiya-Sekor 80mm f/2.8

I absolutely love this camera; it's portable for medium format and I'm very happy with the "package" I purchased on eBay, which included the AE Prism finder. I prefer shooting in auto-exposure mode... same logic I talked about previously choosing between a Leica M6 and M7. With AE, I have one less thing to worry about when shooting, all I have to do is set f-stop, focus, and the camera chooses the shutter speed based on the AE mode I select (spot, average, or auto-shift)... easy and accurate 90+ percent of the time.

Cabell Mill, Ellanor C. Lawrence Park, Kodak T-Max 400, Mamiya 645 Pro

As an added bonus, the camera also has some "bling" factor; while shooting photos on campus at Virginia Tech, I was asked if I was "flexing" while taking pictures of Burruss Hall next to another photographer using a micro 4/3 mirrorless camera, nice!

Burruss Hall, Virginia Tech, Kodak Portra 400 shot with Mamiya 645 Pro

Looking forward to many more rolls of 120 film with this camera. I recently picked up a roll of Lomochrome purple film that I'll shoot when the leaves start changing color... can't wait to see what I get. Also, did I mention that I have a roll of color slide film to process? Yes, already ordered an E-6 development kit to see what comes out on that last remaining roll of film I took on that Contax 645AF I regrettably sold.

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