Medium format photography refers to the equipment used to capture an image in a larger format than the average consumer camera. Whether film or digital, the medium format camera has a larger image capturing area than a traditional modern camera. The advantages to capturing a larger image are many; better image quality at higher sizes is among them. Typically found in 120mm or 220mm size, medium format developed alongside the current standard of 35mm film and shares much of the same history.
The 120 film format was developed in 1901 by Eastman Kodak for use in the popular "Brownie" camera. This was intended for use by amateur photographers, not professionals, but was soon displaced by 135 format film - today's 35mm wide standard. The 120 format film can be shot in a variety of formats and aspect ratios, allowing for a great flexibility of composition both in camera and as a print. While 35mm film did overtake 120 film in popularity, it is important to note that this size remains the standard for medium format film cameras to this day.
The 220 film format is an offshoot of 120 film and grew out of the same 1901 development by Eastman Kodak. Introduced by Kodak in 1965, it is 144 inches long, allowing for more exposures per roll of film. As this film was thinner, it had several drawbacks, including the absence of a backing paper which made frame numbers impossible. It attempted to address the convenience issue of medium format photography but in the long run has been beat out by 120 format film.
Digital Medium Format
Medium format digital photography has a high price point and remains the province of the dedicated professional. In 1992 Leaf Systems introduced a "digital camera back," a device which is fitted onto the back of a traditional medium format film camera and allows the photographer to instantly review the image taken. In 2006, Leaf introduced the AFi series of camera, hailed as, "the first medium format digital camera for professional photographers." This coincided with the 2006 release of the Hasselblad H3D series of camera.
The advantages to shooting images in a medium format are based on the greater range of flexibility that the size gives artists. A 120 film negative can produce a viable print at a much larger size than a traditional 35mm negative can and allows for different aspect ratios. In digital format, the megapixel count of a medium format camera nearly doubles that of the average consumer or even professional camera, and the larger sensor allows for lower noise or digital interference. This allows greater flexibility when working with the image.
Unfortunately, there are some drawbacks to working in medium format. The price point of digital medium format cameras--costing more than $10,000--sets them out of range for all but the most dedicated professional. Quality medium format film cameras are some of the more pricey camera equipment available today. Medium format film can still be found at most photography supply stores; however it can be difficult to find a processor for this format as drugstore machines do not have the capability to handle 120 format. There are also fewer exposures per roll than 35mm format film.