A Wedding Pros Confession
I Still Use Medium Format Manual Focus Cameras, For My Work

The square format is beautiful! By cropping this photo, you'd either have to sacrifice the trees framing the top or the leading line on the bottom. The square allows you to keep both.
Photos © 2000, Steve Bedell, All Rights Reserved

First, let me state that I currently shoot the majority of my wedding photos with a Bronica SQ-Ai medium format 6x6 camera. I use Kodak Portra 400VC 220 film (I like the extra snap in the contrast). It's fast enough for 90 percent of the lighting conditions I encounter, and if it isn't, I carry a few rolls of 800 speed Portra film, also. I use two 220 backs and a 120 back if needed for the 800 film. I have two bodies, two 80mm lenses, and two eye-level finders so if one breaks I still have a complete system. If you're over 6' tall you can probably live with one prism.

Add to that a 50mm and 150mm lens, two flash units with brackets, a big reflector and tripod, a meter, a few filters, and that's about all I carry. I also have a separate 35mm setup, but that's a different story. I have friends in big cities that carry more lighting gear and fuss about multiple flash lighting, but my specialty is using natural light. Most of my weddings involve outdoor shooting, so my limited arsenal works for me. I usually refer the hotel weddings in Boston to other photographers, preferring to keep my dates open for New England coastal weddings. This keeps everybody happy.

I'm telling you this because you must have some sort of rational behind your equipment choices. I know 35mm and digital have changed the way people work weddings, but you can't just choose what one photographer or I or anyone else uses just because they use it. It has to fit your shooting style and the types of weddings you do. Here's my rational.

In this window light portrait, I like how the square cropping is echoed by the design on the walls in back: 10x10 and 8x8 prints always look great in albums.

I like shooting medium format. I've been shooting medium format in general and square in particular for so many years that I think I lean to the right without that camera weighing down my left side. I look at scenes and visualize them in both squares and rectangles. I settled on using one film speed (400) a few years back for all my shooting so I know most of my exposures without even looking at a light meter, although I use one. That means I just have to lift the camera to my eye, focus, and shoot. I'm usually pre-focused to about 8 or 10' because most of the time that's the distance at which all the action takes place. What I'm trying to say is that once you become used to your equipment, you can shoot very quickly without all the bells and whistles like autofocus and exposure. More on that later.

The main reason I use medium format is that, just like they used to say about muscle cars in the 1960s, there ain't no substitute for cubic inches. I am completely confident that every shot I take can be printed 20x24", the size needed for a full-page panorama, without worrying about image deterioration. I don't take some photos with one camera and others that might be made bigger with another format, I just shoot them all the same. It's also much easier as far as keeping track of and sorting negatives since each one is in its own bag, not in strips. Negative handling is also much easier for the professional labs, as reflected in their lower price for prints from medium format negatives vs. smaller sizes. There may be some photographers who still buy into the mystique of having a bigger camera than everybody else at the wedding makes you a real pro, but I've always been confident enough to let my photography do the talking, so don't buy medium format for that reason. It's the wrong one.

There are a couple of reasons why I like the square format in particular. First, with flash photography I'm not always flipping the bracket back and forth for horizontal and vertical photos. It's always in the correct position, about 10" directly above the lens. This eliminates "redeye," something no professional photo should obviously have, and also allows the shadows to drop directly in back of your subject so they become invisible. Nothing bugs me more than to see a photo of people by a wall and see these little black heads formed behind them by the shadows from a side mounted flash. I think that's one of the reasons I don't use multiple flash units. I tried it about 15 years ago and my clients started complaining about the shadows. I've found over the many moons that I've been doing this that people like flat light.

Medium format allows me to diffuse the image and still get beautiful print quality, as in this 8x10 example here. (Models: Ed and Beth Parolisi.)

Having duly noted all of the above, let's look at some of the technological changes that are here now or will soon influence my decisions about equipment and technique. First, autofocus. Now that my eyes are 50 years old, autofocus is much more attractive to me. When I was writing this I knew of no square format cameras that offer autofocus, although there are several excellent choices in 645 format. I keep hearing that they are on the horizon but at this point they are still rumors. I'd take a serious look at them when and if they become available.

Then there's the digital dilemma. There are digital backs for medium format cameras but I'm not at the point where I'd be comfortable using one on a wedding, even though they have battery packs. As I write this, I've received word of a new medium format camera just developed by Hasselblad and Foveon, maker of a high-end studio digital camera, called the DFinity. Given the companies involved, I'm sure this will be a very high quality imaging device and be priced accordingly.

Negative handling is not as big an issue as it once was. My lab in Massachusetts (Lustrecolor 800-827-7101) is on the forefront of the digital movement for professionals. When I get my prints back, I no longer have a stack of several hundred negatives but just one CD. Using Kodak's Lab Link program, I now order my weddings on my computer and send it in via the Internet. I can even have the bride lay out the album herself online!

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