26 Nov. 2012
photography is seeing a resurgence today. As a result, more and
more new people are picking up film cameras. The Twin-Lens Reflex
camera, or TLR, is a great and fairly inexpensive way to get into
medium format photography. There's also a certain
sophistication that goes along with using one of these. The TLR
is about as far from one of those "picture-taking computers" as you can
So you score a nice Yashica MAT or perhaps a Minolta Autocord on the 'bay. Or, if you've got
the budget, perhaps a Rolleiflex 2.8 Planar. You receive the camera in
good shape and you're all giddy. You load the film just right,
you meter your scenes carefully, and you make what ought to be a series
of great shots.
you get the film back and scan the pictures, you notice something is
just a tad amiss: the pictures are blurry near the
Immediately you start to wonder:
Could you have gotten a
Could the taking lens have some kind of astigmatism you
never noticed before?
Did you happen to pick a photographic
location that's somehow cursed?
The real answer, in all probability, is none of the above.
Welcome to the world of "film bulge", an occasional artifact of 120
You might not notice it at first, but look near the center of the
picture, just off to the right of it and up a little. Once
you see what I mean, it becomes tough to look at this picture.
Solution? Well, this picture is toast, but for next time: check out the list of handy tips, below. The main
one in this situation would have been: take multiple shots of the
same scene. (Incidentally, the exposure on this photo was about 1/3 stop too high for my liking.)
And yeah, the camera had probably heated up sitting in its black camera bag while I was driving.
be the first to tell you that 120 film is the greatest thing since the
wheel. The fact that it's been around for about 111 years and is
still going strong in the Digital Age should tell you something.
120 film (a.k.a. medium format) yields very high-resolution images, and
of course they have that incredible tonality that only film can
give. Besides, there is something almost magical about
working a roll of 120 film through a camera. 35mm film is cool and I love it, but the "big
pictures" are special.
There have been a lot of photos taken with anything from
Rolleiflexes to Lubitels, and many (most) of them are quite
sharp. Even though film buckling is a nuisance, it can be managed.
Here are some tips I've learned from experience (which has included at least a few pictures being blurred in the center...)
TLR's are actually not the only ones to have the problem.
The basic design of a 120 camera is the same whether you're using a
rangefinder, a TLR, or whatever. There is a pressure plate, and
there's empty space in front of it. You need that empty space so light can get from the lens to the film! The mechanics
of this problem are common to every make and type of 120 camera that I can
Avoid temperature fluctuations.
As film expands and contracts, it is much more likely to "pop" suddenly
out of flat (I've seen mounted 35mm slides do this, too). As the
film expands, the edges can't really go anywhere. They're held
against the rails by flanges on the pressure plate (or, with slides, by
the mount itself). Therefore, the easiest thing for the film
center to do is buckle outward into the empty space in front of the
pressure plate. Loading your film in an air-conditioned building,
then getting out into the hot sun to take pictures with your
TLR, is a common scenario that probably causes a lot of this.
Another thing to avoid is leaving your camera bag in direct sunlight
where it can get warm.
Minimize the time between each shot. According to the Carl Zeiss company (Camera Lens News, No. 10, 2000), you'll have best results if you take each shot within five minutes
of winding it to the frame. The longer it sits, the worse
it is; in a couple hours, the film will certainly
distort. I wouldn't doubt that if the camera heated
up a lot while it was in the car, the film may buckle off the pressure
plate as soon as you wind to the next picture. (Haven't
tested this yet, don't want to waste the film to find out!)
Looking through some 120 transparencies, it looks like the shots I took shortly after winding really do look sharper.
Choose a narrow aperture.
If you're shooting landscapes and have a steady tripod, try shooting at
the narrowest aperture you have. The Yashica MAT 124 goes up to
f/32. Sure, you get some diffraction effect there, but it's no
big deal compared to the alternative. The very narrow aperture
has great depth of field, which can offset minor un-flatness of the
Take more pictures.
I know, this uses more film, but it decreases the chance that your
pictures will all have a nasty blurred area. (It
won't be every one, just the
scenes you really liked...) Besides, in this digital age,
the best way to keep film going is to buy and use more of it.
(Once you get hooked on film, that's not hard to do!) With that
worthy aim in mind, here are some
links where you can buy 120 film for your TLR (or Holga, 645, 6x7,
etc). I get my film from here, too.
|120 Transparency Film (E-6 process)
Regular Velvia 100 (not "100F") (120 format) - 5 roll pro pack
Velvia 100F (120 format) - 5-roll pro pack
|120 Color Negative Film (C-41 process)
TLR camera is a fine way to shoot medium format, and with the right
technique it will yield sharp, high-resolution pictures. Film has
beautiful tonality that can't be matched by digital. If you
haven't gotten into medium format yet, give it a try.
I hope this article has helped you get the most out of what may just be
the best photographic tool of all time: the 120 film camera.
By the way, you can really help me out by using the links (above) to
buy your stuff. It helps me keep this site on-line. Thanks,
and happy photographing!
I hope you enjoy my work. Thanks for visiting this site.
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