The Joy of 6x6 Square Medium Format Film

Back in the days of film, the 6x6 format was highly popular among a lot of photographers. Even today, a lot of photographers would still love to have a square format digital sensor. This great video discusses a wealth of 6x6 film cameras, what they are like to shoot with, and the sort of images you can take with them.

Coming to you from Steve O'Nions, this great video takes a look at unique square format 6x6 film cameras. For those keeping score at home, a 6x6 film negative is approximately 4.17 times bigger than a 36x24mm full frame negative, giving a vastly different look. A lot of photographers really loved the square format, both for its look and for its versatility. The versatility came from both its symmetry and the geometric fact that the largest rectangle that can be inscribed in a circle is a square, meaning a square negative maximized how much area one could get from a lens' image circle (save for more exotic shapes). Personally, I have had a 6x6 Rolleiflex TLR from 1949 for about a decade now, and it is by far my favorite camera to shoot with. The waist-level TLR experience is quite unique, and the negatives that come from the 75mm f/3.5 Zeiss Tessar lens are gorgeous. Check out the video above to see more on these very neat cameras.

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13 Comments

Adriano Brigante's picture

I love 6x6 square format, especially TLRs. That's why I have so many (too many?) of them in my collection. Although I shoot with square images in mind 99% of the time, one of the advantages of shooting 6x6 square negatives is that you can crop them later to produce a rectangular image, either vertical or horizontal, and still keep lots of resolution. That's one of the reasons why this format was quite popular among photojournalists in the 50s and 60s.

Timothy Roper's picture

6X6 is great, but it does get monotonous and requires its own composition skills. And I find composing for, say, an 8x10 crop very difficult to do. I know greats like Richard Avedon did so all the time, shooting 6x6 and cropping for magazine covers and pages. But it's another skill that takes time to learn, too. Alas, all I have for medium format is my Mamiya 6, which I love to shoot with. It's probably my favorite camera of all time. So despite all my complaining, I will continue to shoot square.

Ben Harris's picture

I’m trying so hard not to buy a 6x6 at the moment 😅😅

Stefan Gonzalevski's picture

Don't fight ! Come to the square side of the force ! :-)

David Purton's picture

Always loved 6x6. Classic "wedding format" back in the day. Two of the biggest plus points is waist level viewing (or 45degree prism) and camera orientation always remains the same, which is particularly useful with flash attached as the flash head always remains above the lens axis.

Sam David's picture

Many thanks for this, Alex. I have resurrected an ancient (1960's) YashicaMat EM and am mostly enjoying the experience. Like me, the camera is old and cranky (and sometimes the film winding crank jams), but the images are wonderful, with great depth. I am having a difficult time keeping the camera steady for the sharpness I want, so increasingly am using a tripod, but the tradeoff for more of an image with which to work is worth it.

Craig Lass's picture

Alex, from one Clevelander to another, another terrific article. There's some truth to this old meme

Alex Cooke's picture

Hey, Craig! Always great to meet a fellow Clevelander! That meme made me laugh pretty hard!

Stefan Gonzalevski's picture

6 awesome ? That's pretty optimistic ! :-D

Spy Black's picture

If you want to continue with the film medium, it's a wonderful time to buy what are sometimes gorgeous condition medium format gear. Even the middle-of-road stuff can be fun. The TLR mirrors have some good slap if you're not used to them. I borrowed a Kowa Super 66 once, and the first time coming from Nikon, Pentax and Olympus gear the mirror threw me for a loop. I have a Mamiya C33 with a 55mm wide angle, and that's much steadier and easier to work with. I eventually bought a Bronica GS-1, and that mirror is murder.

I really need to get a Nikon Coolscan 9000 to really make the best of film, but they are expensive and you're never sure of condition. I do wish someone would make a modern-day evolution of the 9000, but I'm not holding my breath.

Timothy Gasper's picture

I just love 6x6. Have 3 film cameras and a Fuji GX680. I love that camera too. The negs and slides are big and crisp and have such high resolution. Especially with the lower ISO films. Still debating on a digital, but I am very happy with what I have. That Fuji GFX 50s looks good though.

Stefan Gonzalevski's picture

I shoot 6x6 too (Pentacon 6, Rollei SL66) and it's always a pleasure to check the slides. Digital is for my work, film is for my pleasure.

Andrew Broekhuijsen's picture

Love me some 6x6 cameras as well. I shoot my Yashica Mat 124 all the time, and restored an old Agfa Isolette as well for when I want the ultra portability. Even though I do shoot 4x5 when I can, I have made some large prints from my 6x6 negs that I'm really happy with.