Is 645 Medium Format Worth It?

For many film photographers, particularly those only recently getting into film, the question of going to medium format reaches everyone at some point. The smallest format, 645, is debatably not worth the additional costs over 35mm.

In this video brought to us by Kyle McDougall, there are several examples of photographs that were taken on 645 and 35mm. Given that 645 is nearly three times larger than 35mm, there is a substantial improvement in detail when comparing photographs taken with lenses of approximately equal angle of views. 

For those that are unfamiliar with the 645 format in the medium format world, you can expect to get 15 or 16 frames per roll, depending on the camera. Of all the three main formats in the medium format world, (i.e., 645, 6x6, 67) 645 is the closest to the same aspect ratio you'd get with 35mm, and being that it's the smallest of the medium format options, it gives you the most frames per roll. While that may not seem like a huge deal, when compared with a 67 camera, getting an additional 50% more photographs for the exact same cost goes a long way. Personally, I hardly ever shoot my 35mm anymore compared with the amount of love that my Mamiya 645 Pro-TL and Mamiya RZ67 get from me. It's not that 35mm doesn't have its place in the world, it's just not much more convenient compared with my 645 camera, and the negatives (or slides) just can't go as far.

What are your thoughts on the 645 format? Is it worth the step up from 35mm?

James Madison's picture

Madison is a mathematician turned statistician based out of Columbus, OH. He fell back in love with film years ago while living in Charleston, SC and hasn't looked back since. In early 2019 he started a website about film photography.

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IMO no, 645 is a baby step. There are a lot of better options in the 6x6 and larger formats.

I have both, and I think it depends on the way I see things. Sometimes square format suits my view. Sometimes I like the 645 ratio.
But both, as medium format, are already a step forward from 35mm. Another step would large format (from 4x5 inches).

These days I use my Bronica SQ-Ai and Pentax 67 a lot more than my Mamiya 645 1000S but I do credit the Mamiya for at least getting my feet wet with medium format, and getting 15 shots per roll is nice when I want to draw out a roll a bit more. I still sometimes take it out when I don't feel like hauling my clunker medium format cameras around though.

The answer is entirely dependent on what, where, and why you're shooting and how you like to shoot. Do you plan to make larger prints? Are you shooting primarily on a tripod? In a studio? Do you want to lug around a big and indiscreet 4lbs camera? I love MF, but its advantages come with trade-offs.

The reason 645 was viable at all is because it uses the same usable film area in 4:5 format. So unless the plan is to cut a square out of that format, then, yes, it's equivalent to 6x6. The difference was in the usability of the cameras. The 645 format required turning the camera for landscape or portrait orientations and often didn't have interchangeable backs, but the cameras were smaller and handier.

If you want a difference that actually makes a difference in print, the significant step up is 6x7.

I used 6x6 for years then RZ 6x7 with a little 6x9 Fuji on the side...Shooting square was handy as it gave photo editors or art directors more cropping options. But as I began to shoot cars the RZ was the best choice as usually cars were horizontal, but I could still crop a nice 6x6 square. In the car biz 6x7 was called small format LOL...
I knew folks in the wedding biz who loved the 645 as the best of both worlds.

That's a negative ghost rider. 6x7 is the same aspect ratio as 4x5.

It is a transition state! I used 645 for a year until I moved on to 6x7 .

Big difference huh.

I'll tell you soon as I have just invested in a soon-to-arrive Mamiya 645. I am super excited about it but for reasons that are not simply those expounded either in the video, nor in the comments posted so far. Apart from wanting to delve into Medium Format, I decided I wanted to step back and rethink my approach to photography by venturing into the world of analog. OK, I could have done that with a 35, but I think the options Medium Format will give me, albiet the smallest of the family, more flexibilty and challenge are what I need right now. My choice of the 645 is mainly one of weight and practicalities apart from the pure joy of moving into something totally new for me. Perhaps, as one of the posters below said, in a year's time I might move up to a larger rendering MF or perhaps, have taken al lI want from the experience and pop back to digital completely.
Off the issue a little i think it's the perfect opportunity to give Kyle McDougall a plug and also my thanks to him. His YouTube chanel is fabulous and his direct and open style of presentation is welcoming and effective. The amount of information he gets across in each video is amazing. Well worth following... and of course, watching

For me going medium format means 67.
I had the opportunity to use all 3 discussed here and found the 67 to be the best for me over the others by a long shot .
It is not as portable but if I want portability I go 35mm.
The 67 (RB67 Pro S) is just magic.

I think all three formats fill a niche. I also think that it's a shame that 645 has been categorized as the beginners medium format frame size because that's not what it is. Sure it has some comforts of 35mm shooting mainly more frames per roll but I think some of the smaller rangefinder 645 cameras can serve as awesome street photography cameras and most of them have leaf shutter lenses that make for an almost silent shooting experience. You can still get incredible detail out of a 645 negative so for someone that is into run and gun shooting 645 is an obvious choice. I was sucked into the bigger is better school of thought but after shooting larger medium format sizes and large format for years now I can see the value of having something like a 645 rangefinder. They are light and just fun to pop off some shots with without having to think about it so much, while still not being glued to a 36 exposure roll of 35mm.