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Medium Format Requires Revised Shooting Techniques

· 22.April.2020

When I switched from Nikon SLR to Fujifilm X100F, my shooting technique changed quite considerably. My slow and articulate approach gave way to a more spontaneous and energized way of shooting. Then, years later when I embraced medium format I went through another transition. Each stage was a new learning experience and led me to a different way of exploring and crafting my visuals. Here are a few observations and tips on how to adjust your shooting technique when working with medium format.

There is a considerable difference when shooting a handheld medium format camera vs. an APS-C system like the X-series. After years of laissez-faire shooting with my X100 series I had to face the rigour of GFX 50S and 50R handheld shooting. It wasn’t easy.

First of all, the way you hold your camera makes a huge difference. While smaller formats allow you to hold your camera in front of you, like your cellphone (I could do it without problem with the X100F), I would strongly discourage doing so with the GFX-series (except the GFX100 due to its IBIS system). Stand in front of the mirror and practice the right way to hold your camera. It should be pressed firmly against your face or forehead with your body ideally leaning against the wall or some other structure. Controlling your breath is something that is also important to practice. In theory this technique appears to be simple and straightforward or at least that’s what I thought. In practice, once you are travelling or shooting on the street, all that good advice goes right out of the window. Therefore, it is important to practice and be aware of your shooting posture at all times.

Some of you may wonder why I haven’t started talking about a tripod. You are absolutely right – I should have. As someone who has been savagely opposed to using tripods, my new tripod-centred existence works quite well for me in certain situations. I worked out a plan which allowed me to marry my zest for creativity (therefore lots of movement) with the use of a sturdy tripod (highly recommended for the GFX50S and GFX50R). In recent years I learnt to previsualize my ideas and not grab my camera right away. This slow process of evaluating the visuals in front of me before I reached for a camera meant I pursued only the worthwhile images. I used to come back from a long road trip with thousands of images but now it is max 100-200.

Another serious issue which many photographers face when starting in medium format is the choice of adequate depth of field. I am sure we could have a lively discussion on this subject but in general terms, due to differences in sensor sizes, the equivalent of a full-frame iconic f8 in medium format is about f10 or even f11. This smaller opening has an impact on the shutter speed when shooting handheld.

Although many other issues should be taken into account such as detraction, micro-contrast, etc., let me add one more key consideration – that is, to conclude with the issue of accurate focus. There is nothing more annoying than photographing a great subject only to find out later that the beautiful eye of our subject is out of focus. With 50 megapixels and now 100, such accuracy becomes a challenge. The latest GFX100 has shown a massive improvement in the auto EYE AF feature, something I have tested and enjoyed. Personally, I cannot wait until this level of autofocus finds its way to the next iterations of GFX 50S and R.

In future articles, I may expand on the above topics in more detail. In the meantime, please feel free to contact us about ideas you would like to read about in this monthly section on medium format.

Olaf Sztaba

Olaf is founder and editor-in-chief of the Medium Format Magazine – #1 publication dedicated to film and digital medium and large format photography. He spends most of his time writing and photographing in the field, usually exploring the side streets in big cities and less-travelled roads. He is a sought-after speaker and educator, leading the Visual Poet Experience workshops around the world. He is currently working on a series of books about creativity and his personal approach to image creation. Olaf lives in Coquitlam, British Columbia with his wife Kasia, his son Olivier and their furry four-legged companion, Bailey.

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