Old 35mm lenses saved me medium format film developing.

Not long ago you would find a medium format camera on my person or nearby. Why? Glad you asked. While I always admired the look of the cameras themselves once I obtained one for myself I was hooked by the ‘look’ of the images they produced. Sometimes when people talk about a certain brand or format’s look admittedly I roll my eyes. But to my surprise when my very first roll of medium format film came back the difference was right there before my eyes.

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As much as I tried to emulate this look with digital I could not with the tools I was using. That is until recently. Truth be told I had given up and had accepted the fact that I could not afford digital medium format so I split my photography in to practical (digital) and optimal (medium format film) and would usually carry one of each. My fascination led me to purchase 2 more medium format film cameras. I love each for entirely different reasons.

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A full frame camera with an insanely fast lens previously did not quite hit the mark owing more to personal taste than anything else. A fine camera and a stellar value, but I never did warm up to the Sony A7. One issue was the fact that I could not afford Sony’s fast zoom lenses. With the release of the K-1 40 years of legacy native and 3rd party lenses opened up, many offering autofocus, with many being readily available and quite affordable. While Pentax offers a fine, newer autofocus 50mm f/1.4 reviews indicated that this lens was not the sharpest at f/1.4, but at f/2 it really sharpened up. That information led me to try out the older film era 50mm f/1.7. I saved a few more bucks by buying one with a cosmetic defect (crack in the clear plastic over the DOF calculator) from KEH.com.

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So a cool camera I really like paired with a pretty humble old lens. No big deal right? But this simple set up netted amazing results. With AF down to -3 EV as an added bonus.

Is it dead on medium format look appropriation? No. Of course not. One cannot simply flaunt the laws of physics. Surface area rules in areas of light gathering and ultimate resolution. Is it close enough? The subject isolation, color rendering, transition from in focus to out of focus? To my eyes and for my purposes combined with the amazing IQ of the Pentax K-1 (called a full frame marvel for a reason) yes. Enough where I can stop hemorrhaging cash getting film developed weekly and reserve film time for fun and special purposes like a recent family portrait session that included my Grandmother below.

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Recent Portrait of my Grandmother w/ Hasseblad 501c

My experience with this lens completely shifted my fo… Nope. This totally changed my shopping list. Instead of looking at newer Pentax and 3rd party glass I started looking at legacy glass even scoring 4 M42 screw mount lenses. In order of purchase (galleries linked)  the surprise hit Vivitar 200mm f/3.5 ($30), Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 swirly bokeh machine ($47), the technically excellent and pin sharp Takumar 50mm f/1.4 ($100), and one I picked up recently just because it was so inexpensive, the Takumar 55mm f/1.8 ($43, no album yet).

I still love film and will continue to shoot with it regularly, but now that I am getting the look I want from digital I can either save a few bucks (hah!) or divert the savings towards even more inexpensive glass that performs well above expectations.

-ELW