The Difference Between 35mm And Medium Format In Film Photography

I’ve been shooting film for a very long time and over the years I’ve shot a lot of 35mm and medium format film!

The main differences between 35mm and medium format film is that medium format is a much larger negative, it can be scanned at a much higher resolution, it can provide sharper detail and you can get a much more noticeable shallow depth of field.

There are a lot of other differences including the price of medium-format cameras and the overall cost of shooting medium format instead of 35mm.

Film Formats

Film formats serve as the canvas upon which photographic stories unfold. The ubiquitous 35mm, embraced by both amateurs and professionals, is characterized by its compact frame and substantial frame count, whether 24 or 36, it’s pretty substantial.

On the other hand, medium format, revered in professional and artistic circles, boasts larger negatives that give a lot of detail and the potential for exquisite image quality. Usually, medium format will produce 10,12 or 16 shots, depending on the size of the camera frame.

There is of course large format too, which is shot with a large format camera and can produce even more incredibly detailed pictures.

Image Quality & Resolution

The allure of medium format lies in the sheer size of its negative, translating into superior detail and sharpness. This format is usually the choice of professionals and people who demand uncompromising clarity in their visuals.

On the other side, 35mm, with its smaller frame, strikes a delicate balance in resolution, showcasing versatility and prowess in achieving quality within its compact confines.

35mm is of course 36mm by 24mm film (the actual frame of your image sits in 35mm). Medium format can be 6cm by 4.5cm, 6×6 and 6×7, which makes it significantly bigger than 35mm.

This difference in the size of the negative means that we can get far more detail from scans!

Depth Of Field

Medium format photography unfolds a world where the depth of field is shallow, and bokeh is creamy and mesmerizing. This characteristic renders medium format particularly attractive for those specializing in portraiture and fine art photography.

Generally, this depth of field is created because of the quality of their lenses and the lower F Stop they can achieve.

That being said, a good 35mm camera with a great lens could still produce a really shallow depth of field.


The practicality of film formats extends beyond image quality to the physical realm. 35mm, with its compact size, epitomizes portability, making it the perfect companion for candid moments and impromptu captures.

Meanwhile, medium format cameras, with their bulkier stature, find their niche in professional settings and meticulously planned photography sessions within studios.

This is one of the reasons I went back to 35mm cameras, lugging a big medium format camera around just wasn’t practical and it didn’t make it easy for me to shoot intuitively.


Film has become more and more popular over recent years but that’s not why it’s become more expensive. The main reason is that in the early 2010s photography brands were effectively selling off all of their old stock and they weren’t reinvesting into production.

Since the resurgence, that has changed completely and Kodak has had to invest and hire new technicians. Also, unfortunately, prices of everything has gone up significantly over the past few years.

And all of this gives us food for thought when we’re considering whether we should shoot 35mm or medium format.

If you’re shooting Portra 400 on 35mm then it’ll cost you approximately 84p per shot (including developing costs), which is still a ridiculous amount of money.

If you’re shooting Portra 400 on medium format then it’ll cost you about £2.75 per shot with development costs (assuming you’re shooting 6X9). There’s a really significant jump in the price per shot.

Why Shoot Medium Format

Pros Of Medium FormatCons Of Medium Format
A lot of detailExpensive
Large scans for printingFewer shots
Specialised for certain types of photographyMore expensive cameras
Amazing lensesDoesn’t suit every type of photography
Depth of fieldAnnoying to carry for long periods
Pros and cons of medium format

If you believe that shooting medium format will make you a better photographer then you are wrong. Medium format film and cameras are just tools, tools that are perfect for certain jobs and unnecessary for others.

If you need very detailed, sharp pictures for print then perhaps medium format will suit you. If you shoot portrait or landscape photography and you’re looking to take it to that next level then perhaps medium format is for you.

Medium format won’t fix all your problems, I’ve gone from 35mm to medium format and back to 35mm again because medium format was unnecessary for my style.

Cameras like the Mamiya RZ67 are generally made to be studio cameras but of course, people use them for all sorts. They aren’t convenient for most kinds of photography though and you’d do just as well with a high-quality SLR in a lot of cases.

So basically, you should use a medium format camera if you already have experience shooting film and you’re looking to take your shots to the next level. Perhaps you’re shooting for a specific project and you want the most perfect prints that you can produce (without shooting large format.

This is when I think medium format is a good shout, because otherwise, you’re causing more problems for yourself in terms of being able to shoot more freely and being able to learn as much as you can.

Why Shoot 35mm

Pros of shooting 35mmCons of 35mm
More shotsLess shallow depth of field
CheaperLess detail
Low barrier to entry
Great lenses
Same dynamic range
Pros and cons of shooting 35mm

To me, the pros massively outweigh the cons when it comes to shooting 35mm. Yes, medium format is technically superior but it really depends on what you’re shooting and why.

If you’re not shooting something that needs to be printed really big or needs to have really shallow depth of field then you don’t really need a medium format camera.

35mm allows you to shoot much more which is a massive thing in this day and age. Shooting something that makes film even more expensive is generally really unnecessary. Most people won’t even notice the difference in the image for most types of photography.

So it’s really a case of understanding what kind of photography you’re doing and working out whether you actually need the tool of medium format for the job. In most cases, you won’t need it and 35mm will be perfect.


I love the picture quality of medium format cameras but in my experience, they are usually unnecessary for the job in hand. Unless you’re shooting a really important project that needs to be really high resolution and you can afford the costs, it’s probably not necessary.

Medium format can produce beautiful shots but so can 35mm and I think the freedom to shoot on 35mm with all 36 shots is a big positive.

Of course, medium format is technically superior but the practicalities of shooting with it can prove to be a big downside that makes life harder for the shooter.

Make your own decision but at the moment I’m shooting the Nikon F100 on 35mm, the AF lenses on it are brilliant.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *