What Is the Best Medium Format Film Camera for Portraits?

Medium format sensors are usually housed in expensive cameras, but with film bodies, you have far more options without having to remortgage. In this video, one film photographer discusses what the best medium format film camera for portraits is.

This video will likely attract some vitriol in the Fstoppers comments on two charges: one is film and the second is medium format. Well, for those of us who enjoy both, the conversation is worth having. If you don't believe there's a medium format "look" and that film photography is pointless, move right along.

Vuhlandes is a brilliantly talented photographer who shoots a lot of film. Among his cameras are medium format bodies and in this video, he discusses the pros and cons of one in particular. Among his collection is the iconic camera, the Mamiya RZ 67,  which has — rightfully so — a cult following. With the waist-level viewfinder (one of my all-time favorite features of cameras through the years) you get a shooting experience that is singular. While I would vote for the Mamiya RZ 67 in this list, I haven't shot with very many medium format film bodies and can't draw informed comparisons.

Do you ever shoot medium format film? What camera would say is the best? Share your experiences in the comments below.

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14 Comments
Brachenland Fine Art Photography's picture

Mr Baggs as I've always felt the Mamiya RZ was/is the go to camera for portraits assuming the lens is correct and Thanks you for writing/ keeping those of us interested in film or wanting to return to film for writing this. But lets not forget, Dora Goodman has her own design which incorporates the Mamiya press lens and magazine. This maybe the route I'll take as my next camera. But I'm still not done with my Holga.

Deleted Account's picture

Dora Goodman is doing some cool stuff.

Tony Clark's picture

I agree with his opinion on the RZ67, it was the last film system I owned before transitioning to digital. Previously, I found the Pentax 67II to be quirky and I didn't care for the lenses. I added the AE Prism and L Grip to the RZ67 and had no issue handholding plus I found the rotating back was a great feature. Looking at the 67 transparencies on a light table confirmed the quality of the lenses and made it difficult to go digital.

Don Althaus's picture

I have to agree with the company, just not the camera. The Mamiya C-330 with the 135mm lens (35mm equiv. of about 75mm) is an outstanding portrait system. The 105mm lens also works well.

Steve Novosel's picture

Agreed, great camera + lens. I've taken some nice portraits with the 80mm as well.

Mark Dolan's picture

My favorite is the Rollie 6006 with the Zeiss 150mm. Add the 45 degree prism and the Rollie remote. I shot tons of glamor portraits on the old Fuji Reala color neg film. Outstanding results. I still own the camera and have been shooting some B&W when I have the chance.

Kirk Darling's picture

My last medium format camera was the RZ6, and it was a lovable beast.

My last film camera, however, was a 4x5 Horseman view camera.

Deleted Account's picture

Define "best"? Is cost a part of that calculus?

I'd probably go for a Hassellblad; I shoot Rollei, and have a thing for square format. But also, interchangable backs, and really fine glass.

For a beginner, get what you can afford, and what feels good to you, and go from there.

Edit: try and get something in good condition, and which can be repaired. Anything with an integrated curcuit board will become a paper weight when the electronics fail.

Herbert Green's picture

I use 2 different Medium format cameras for Portrait work. I like using my Ansco Speedx Special R. It is a 6x6 folding camera that is small, easy to handle, quiet, and gives great results. I also use a Pentax 645nii. It is a 6x4.5 format, has a great stable of lenses to choose from, and with the format get to choose from a vertical or horizontal perspective for the best shot.

Jonathan Pearson's picture

I used all of them. While I love RB67 and RZ67 cameras nothing came near a Bronica ETRSi with plain prism and grip/winder for being manoeuvrable lightish and easy to shoot people while still giving you MF quality. I’d be wary now because of the electronics but it was the best at the time

Mark Adam's picture

Hello,

I've used many over the years, but I would have to come back to the very last medium format film camera that I sold when I stopped shooting professionally, the Hasselblad 500c/m.

Deleted Account's picture

Bronica GS-1. Hand holdable 6x7 with leaf shutter (x-sync to 1/500) and metering AE when needed.
Hasselblad 500 series comes a close second, but lacks linked metering and can be difficult to focus with glasses.
I used to have a Pentax 67ii which was a great camera held back by its 1/30 flash sync. Matching LS lenses are almost impossible to find these days.

William Dyer's picture

I love the Mamiya RZ67 Pro II system and have been shooting with it since 1993. I love the huge negative that you get, the quality of the lenses, and the rotating back. I shoot 120 film, and have some in the freezer that I pull out once in a while. I will never sell the camera and lenses, and will continue to shoot with it on occasion, as long as they make 120 size film. The scanned negatives give you huge, amazing files. I use it most often for studio portraits, but I've used it for landscapes, including going to Michigan's Upper peninsula in February to photograph frozen waterfalls. It never failed me, despite the freezing temperatures.