The next logical step
I had been thinking about trying a medium format camera for years and recently I finally made my mind up and give it a try. After some research I found a good deal on an internet auction platform here in Switzerland and I bought a lovely Rolleiflex MX-EVS with a Tessar f 1/3.5 75mm without knowing too much about it. The camera arrived within a few days and I was lucky to still have a few sunny autumn days to try the camera in the wild. Originally it was my idea to take mostly landscape shots with this new toy so it was great to have some sunshine.
As medium format was a completely new chapter for me I went through a lot of questions like where to develop the films, how to scan the negatives etc. I will share my experiences and thought process below and maybe you can avoid some mistakes that I made.
Initially I thought that developing medium format film at home as I do it with all my black and white 35mm film would be very complicated so I decided to have a local lab do that for me. I gave my first two rolls from the Rolleiflex to a local lab which also offers a scanning service. When I received the films after almost two weeks they made me pay over 40CHF per film and when I got the small size JPG files at home they looked rather bad.
So the lab did the decision for me: I will develop my own 120 films and I will have to find a solution regarding scanning.
For my later 6×6 films I simply had a look at some tutorials on YouTube and I found that developing at home is totally an option. I did several tries and it was not much more complicated than 35mm film. The only difference was that loading the 120 film on the reels works a little bit differently. But it is doable. The rest of the process is exactly the same as with 35mm film.
From a financial point of view the decision was easy: I simply couldn’t afford having my 6×6 films scanned at more than 40CHF each so there was no need to do the math – I could easily afford a used flatbed scanner which would be paid off after a couple of rolls of 120 film.
To be honest I am very spoiled from using my Noritsu LS-600 which renders top quality images for 35mm films and my whole workflow is automated. I first thought that I could get the same level of comfort for 120 film as well but after I read a lot of stuff on the web and also got useful hints from the Noritsu community (many professionals there) I found that a flatbed scanner would be my best option. There is a lot of manual work included but I was planning not to shoot a big amount of medium format film anyway so this was acceptable.
I finally found a used Epson Perfection v700 which was highly recommended by several people. There were no scanning masks included with the used scanner so again I asked the film scanning professionals that I know what solutions there are. I turned out that Lomography produces a pretty popular holder for 120 film called “Lomo DigitaLIZA 120 Film Scanning Mask”. This was a great hint, as it was cheaper than other options and works excellently.
After a little bit of trying my first results looked pretty okay. The whole process is of course a little bit time-consuming but the pictures from the huge 6×6 negatives have a very nice appeal.
It’s crazy that nowadays you can buy a 60-year-old second-hand camera, you put a roll of film in and it works straight away. At least that was my first thought when I loaded the first roll of 120 film in the Rolleiflex MX-EVS and it just worked. Simple as that. When I took the camera out for the first time I was impressed by its build quality, everything is extremely solid and well-built like a tank.
Also from a usability perspective it is obvious why the Rolleiflex cameras are still very popular. They are simple and very solid tools. They do no stand in your way when you are taking a photo but they rather support every step. It’s very hard to explain but when you get your hands on a Rolleiflex you will know what I mean. Their design as a TLR (twin lens reflex) using a different lens for compisition and for exposing the film is simple and fascinating. It also gives them their distinctive look.
I was also impressed how sharp the images were. Compared to my Leica which has a built-in light meter you are just very slow with this old camera while at the same moment the fun factor is amazingly high.
My first Rolleiflex showed me how easy you can start medium format photography and how great the results do look if you are a little bit patient and take your time in every step from shooting to development and scanning. My appetite for yet another medium format camera was rising.
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