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The Age Old Debate: 35mm Full Frame Versus Medium Format Film

What photographer hasn't thought about getting into medium format photography? This comparison provides some useful side-by-side work for you to make your own comparisons. 

In this video, Film Supply Club does a nice comparison of a 35mm camera (the infamous Canon AE-1) and a 645 camera (the quintessential film camera for wedding photographers). For photographers who have not shot medium format, the appeal is pretty strong. While the lenses are generally slower, the depth of field is generally more pleasant with some lenses, offering a full frame equivalent of f/1.2-1.4 maximum aperture. Further, with the bigger negatives of medium format, grain doesn't disappear but is generally considered more pleasing. With that said, medium format cameras, particularly 67 cameras, are considerably larger and heavier. 

It should be noted that this comparison, while helpful, is not the end all, be all comparison — that would be impossible. As I'm sure you know, the lens choice makes a huge difference in the sharpness and depth of field. In addition, as noted in a previous article about film cameras, there are multiple formats that fit under the "medium format" umbrella — the 645 being the smallest format. Adding to the mix, the larger the format, the lenses are generally slower and there's a larger disparity between the focal length and the full frame equivalent. 

At the end of the day, deciding on the camera that's right for you is hardly ever as easy as a this or that comparison; however, this video offers a great introduction to comparing medium format and 35mm photography. Do you shoot medium format as well as 35mm? What are your thoughts?

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89 Comments

Dave F's picture

Since when did "full frame" become a term used for film?

Adriano Brigante's picture

Since there are "half frame" film cameras, like the Olympus Pen EE that shoots 72 frames per roll.

Dave F's picture

Sorry, I can't recall ever seeing 35mm film referred to as "full frame". "Small format", yes. "Full frame" is a digital term.

Les Sucettes's picture

Correct. Fullframe became a marketing term ... I suspect around the time when Canon went 35mm in digital and Nikon had to play catch-up with their APSC’s ... by comparison Canon was fullframe (small format)

Adriano Brigante's picture

Here's an 1969' ad where the Rollei 35 is described as "the smallest full-frame 35mm camera".

Tim Ericsson's picture

I love a post that so perfectly shows the inaccuracy of another commenter's statement! I wait with bated breath for an acknowledgement and/or redaction...

David Vivian's picture

huh? 35mm has always been synonymous with "full frame" unless you've been asleep for the last 15-20 years?

Jacques Cornell's picture

"Half-frame" was a thing. "Full-frame" wasn't.

Jacques Cornell's picture

OK, so you found one marketing blurb. The simple fact is that the media and photographers themselves almost never referred to 35mm format as "full-frame". I'm old enough to know. Prior to digital, when photographers said "full-frame", they were referring to a print that showed the entire capture with no POST-CAPTURE cropping. That's how black borders became a thing.

Adriano Brigante's picture

I found only one because I just did a 10-second google search. But here are more. The simple fact is that several camera manufacturers used the term "full-frame" since the 60s. So it was definitely used for film, contrary to what Dave said above. I rest my case.

Dave F's picture

I wouldn't rest just yet. I'll happily retract my statement if you find me a source that wasn't written by a marketing department. It wouldn't surprise me that because "half-frame" was a thing, somebody who knew nothing about cameras but had the job of selling them would come up with something like this. Just because a term was used doesn't mean it was used correctly. Nobody used to call 35mm film "full frame", at least outside of magazine ads, apparently.

Adriano Brigante's picture

Hey guys, don't hurt your back moving the goal post so much. Also, nice use of the "no true Scotsman" fallacy.

But I'll humor you one last time:

https://books.google.ch/books?id=hU8sHSz9ZkYC&pg=PA9&dq=full+frame+half+...

https://books.google.ch/books?id=WiYDAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA114&dq=full+frame+hal...

https://books.google.ch/books?id=Nf7MLkuUGGUC&q=full+frame+half+frame+35...

Hell, here's an Ngram plot:

https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=Full-frame+35mm&year_start...

Now, I'm done and I'm putting the burden of proof right where it belongs: On you. You claim it is not a term used for film. Prove it or GTFO. Good luck.

Dave F's picture

I said I would happily retract my statement and I've got no problem doing so. Apparently it was a term. I'm fine with admitting I was wrong. What's unfortunate is that what should have been a discussion devolved into you being an a**hole. "Prove it or GTFO"? Get over yourself.

Fortunately my identity isn't dependent on winning Internet discussions, but I'm happy that you got your points for today. Gold star for you.

Adriano Brigante's picture

Yeah, right! What prevented this from being a conversation is the last sentence of my last comment. It's definitely not you using multiple fallacies to disingenuously and repeatedly avoid admitting you were wrong, even though I provided plenty of evidence for it. Get down your high horse, will you?

Dave F's picture

Are you crying? I think I see a tear coming through the screen 🤣. Ride on, Internet warrior.

Jacques Cornell's picture

A ten-second Google search will find you proof that the Earth is flat.
"several camera manufacturers used the term 'full-frame'"
My point exactly. MANUFACTURERS misappropriated a term that, at the time, already had a widely-accepted and utterly different meaning. Nobody outside marketing departments referred to 35mm as "full-frame". How do I know? I was an avid amateur photographer in the 80s and 90s, and I read tons of photo magazines and books. I was aware of the "half-frame/full-frame" thing, but nobody actually referred to 35mm as "full-frame", and if they did the medium-format shooters would have laughed them out of the room.

Dave F's picture

Oh I agree, I just don't feel like arguing about it anymore.

Les Sucettes's picture

Since when did small format become fullframe?

Fullframe is 8x10.

Chew on that for a while

Brahm Sterling's picture

Since when did normal people be called cisgender?
Chew on that for a while.

Les Sucettes's picture

Since some idiots decided “gender studies” isn’t part of biology but a social science... and then started to confuse sexuality with gender itself... same stupidity. Actually it’s even more stupid and only will end in gender apartheid.

Tim Ericsson's picture

Hi just for your own (and possible others') clarification: gender is by definition socially and culturally constructed, which is why it can fall within the realm of social sciences. "Sex" is biological, which I think you were referring to. Whether or not you think it is stupid is not my concern; you're entitled to your opinion. But there is a very valid reason based on facts and definitions why what you wrote is a misrepresentation.

Les Sucettes's picture

I disagree with the notion that social and cultural constructs should lead to legal apartheid between sexual preferences or genders. Everyone should be treated the same in front of the law. By emphasising the differences, as the majority of social “scientists” are doing, we are dividing society and making it worse.

If someone is being mistreated for sexual orientation (note it’s sexual not genderal - the construct of gender being social is being defined by the same people who have a job because they decided there is, a circular argument that serve their profession, not society), then this person should have all the rights to demand the same rights as all others have. And not receive special privileges for real or perceived exploitation.

Tim Ericsson's picture

Again, you have a right to your opinion. And I don’t think any rational person would disagree that all people: regardless of their gender, or any other social/cultural identity (religion, ethnicity, etc.) should be treated differently by society or the law.

But you misused the words sex and gender, and it is important to correct inaccuracies such as these precisely to avoid the unwarranted anger and discrimination you are fearful of. The existence of differences in society does not lead inevitably to discrimination, as long as people are not misled or ignorant of the nature of these differences.

And just to be clear: what does this have to do with film formats? Is your choice of film leading to a photographic “apartheid”? Lol!

Les Sucettes's picture

It has nothing to do with film standards, and if you go up the chain, you’ll see that I didn’t bring it up.

If everyone agrees that there should be no difference between genders, then why are the very same “gender study” / identity politicians suggesting to use quotas as a valid tool? Why are there “safe spaces” in universities where we, in the name of anti discrimination, discriminate against certain people of colour?

This nonsense comes from the same ideological disciplines that are trying to sell the idea that gender is a social construct because they are trying to portray certain groups as victims so that they can claim power from others.

Gender studies isn’t really about equality - it is a movement that tries to use parity as a means to gain more power, not to actually be treated equally.

Tim Ericsson's picture

Good I'm glad you see this has nothing to do with photography!

I'm sorry you feel that people are out to take power from you, and that you assume negative intent from many people who want nothing more than equality. But frankly I don't care what you believe; I found it important to explain that you were mistaken when you confused gender with biological sex. Hopefully a better understanding of the facts may lead to a less extreme generalization of others, but I don't think any of this will happen on a photography forum.

Best of luck, friend!

Les Sucettes's picture

I don’t feel like people take power away from “me”. I personally have no skin in the game nor could the skin be taken away from me. I’m set in life - I am in a very furtunate position I know.

I simply state the obvious: if we simply agree on equality, there is no further need to make differences. Quotas may seem fair today, but they create unequal opportunities. That may seem fair at a 20000 feet level. But when you look at the i dividual cases, things can look very different very quickly, especially in time. Tell that to the black man from a poor family, who may be better qualified, than that Manhatten white girl, that he cannot access a job because of a quota... it gets weird very quickly.

We say women are disadvantaged and yet we typically create quotas mostly in the types of jobs that are accessible to white middle class women.

The black man from Atlanta is actually far more disadvantaged than the women applying for a board position - which is where we are introducing the quotas.

Quotas are impossible to create fairly. It creates more of a mess.

Personally, I couldn’t care less. I own my house, my gear and have enough to survive on.

Why do I care? Simply because it looks like a train crash in slow motion. You see it happening and you can’t stop it nor can you look away.

Now go back to bed and chew on that for a while before you assume that everyone who has a concern about quotas or gender study is some form of bigot.

Sure they exist too, but you know what they say, they’re mostly just the writing on the wall for something that actually is a bigger issue. And perhaps the intellectual elite - of which I happen to be part of - could scratch their heads a bit more before they introduce nonsense and instead should think things through to the bitter end. Quotas also are mostly defined by one sex. Many say at least 50% women. It’s so obviously exploitable - wait 10 years and now there’s 70% women in a board position and now what. Are we going to just take them back? Of course not.

At the end of the day it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) matter whether you are asexual and a woman or hetero and a man, black or why. Equality means the same laws apply to everyone.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast, and culture takes time to change.

PS in some bigoted countries, like the US, women don’t actually have the same rights. Maybe work on that first before going down the “gender is a social construct” route... things like the right to abortion, access to maternity leave, fathers should take paternity leave to create an equal playing field, and free childcare should be a “god given” right. Those are things that matter and not some silly “gender studies”

Tim Ericsson's picture

Are you even replying to me? I never called you a bigot or introduced anything about quotas. What are you even talking about? What a strange tangent.

All this back and forth because you mislabeled gender and sex. Geez, the egos here.

Les Sucettes's picture

You were implying it:

"I'm sorry you feel that people are out to take power from you, and that you assume negative intent from many people who want nothing more than equality."

that's shorthand for calling someone insecure or a bigot. Whatever it is I don't really care.

We would be much better served if all these brain cells wasted on gender studies were actually focused on creating equal opportunities and correcting the legal frameworks for it.

You have to ask yourself why does feminism and gender studies seem to care more about quotas and names and identities than specific legislation which would actually benefit people form Lower income spheres.

It's quite simple, it comes straight out of the bigot/racist handbook: If you create a difference you can divide and claim power to yourself.

Ever noticed how the loudest feminists are often white upper middle class and blondes (ok not always blondes but they are the most laughable ones)... yet they don't really fight for free and guaranteed childcare, or for maternal leave ... Not all that much anyway; mostly a bit of lip service... Why not? Simple: They are white and middle class and can afford a nanny... they just want to get into the Boardrooms. That's modern equality for you. It has nothing to do with actually helping the disadvantaged spheres of society. It is just about making it look like the majority (women are the majority) are the victims so that the upper sphere of that majority can claim more power. Sure in comparison to white upper middle class men they may have a slight disadvantage - but it is largely laughable if compared to the black unemployed youth in Atlanta, male or female or trans, lesbian, gay or whatever.

And Gender Studies is the main tool with which we divide up society into more and more parts, enabling (probably unwittingly, I would hope anyway) exactly that sort of bs.

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