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I've recently purchased a Mamiya 645 AFD with both 80mm ƒ/2.8 and 45mm ƒ/2.8 lenses and I'm looking forward to dipping my toes in the medium format (only the pinkies could fit in my current digital crop-sensor).

Are there any rules of thumb I should know when it comes to choosing film? I mostly shoot landscapes and am accustomed to the Fuji provia look from my X-T2 and Lightroom or Capture One editing workflow. The green tones always do give me a headache though.

I expect things will be very different with film. I intend to get them developed and scanned to high res Tiff by a professional lab (any tips on choosing a good one?). From editing videos I've seen online the colour rendition can be quite variable depending on the lab, so I expect to have to fiddle around and go through some iterations before being comfortable and confident with the output.

My main question at this stage is: what factors should I consider in choosing film? I see various brands on sale because they're expired; is this typically a risky hit-or-miss business best avoided for beginners like me? (the low price is attractive, but less so if one considers the development + scanning overhead, should the scans turn out awful).

Availability and price are definitely going to be an issue, but aside from this, are there well-known colour rendition factors that I can research? Any comparison site to show side-by-side colour rendition features/peculiarities of the various common brands?

As an aside, I converted an old Fuji X-pro1 to infra-red and am really enjoying the looks of black-and-white infrared photography. I expect it's also something that can be done with this new Mamiya and suitable film (black and white would be my preference) – any tips on this as well would be appreciated!

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  • Your question reads as though you are seeking better digital photos. If you want better quality digital files then what your crop sensor camera can provide then why not invest in a larger sensor camera ? What is the point of investing in film, film camera, lab costs, etc. ( i am glad you are but i do not understand your reasoning ) if you are only going to scan it to digital ? Shoot film, print from negatives. Luke, join the dark(room) side and together we will rule the universe.
    – Alaska Man
    May 13 '20 at 19:10
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    I'm puzzled you read the question this way. A digital medium format sensor matching the resolution of a negative scan would cost a couple of grants that I can't afford to spend on a hobby. I also like the idea of shooting film; to me it does not mean that film is only meant to be printed. Lots of photographers scan negatives and post-process them digitally, I don't see the problem at all. Film has a different response, dynamic range, character broadly speaking, and spirit (cf slowing down comment below).
    – baptiste
    May 13 '20 at 20:47
  • "Lots of photographers scan negatives and post-process them digitally" YES, but in my opinion i see no point to that. One can post process digital photos to look like film. If you want to do it, fine knock yourself out. Like i said it seamed you were saying you were not happy with your small sensor more so then you wanted the characteristics of film. If you want the characteristics of film then why digitally alter those characteristics ?
    – Alaska Man
    May 13 '20 at 21:02
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    It is possible to get the best of both worlds, or at any rate to find a workflow to suit all tastes and opinions. You clearly have yours, and that's fine :) Personally I like some aspects of film, but I'm not a purist for purity's sake. If I can finetune the results, or correct some mistakes, or use the versatility of digital format to produce photobooks, albums, etc. it doesn't bother me at all to mix the 2 worlds. On a more philosophical note, I'd argue that photography has always been about experimenting; frozen rules about one particular form don't appeal to me. Just my opinion of course!
    – baptiste
    May 13 '20 at 21:55
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There's no two ways about it - film photography is an expensive hobby. I calculated that every time I press the shutter button on my Rolleiflex, it costs me about £2, considering film, development and scanning costs. You are going to have to bite the bullet to some extent. But I think film photography is a fun and rewarding hobby - it's worth keeping that in mind too.

(By the way, digital photography is an expensive hobby too - think how much film you can buy for the price of a Sony α7R IV!)

I would suggest avoiding expired film. Film is one of the most important factors in how your images turn out. Why would you want to risk introducing problems into your image making? Buy fresh film - you won't have to worry about how your film was stored or how it might be expected to perform, and you will be supporting the film industry and continued film manufacture.

By the way, I don't think it's correct to say that colour rendition can be quite variable depending on the lab. Developing film consistently, for an established lab, is not a difficult process. I would say that experimenting with expired film is going to be a much bigger variable in the colour rendition of your images.

As regards particular films, I would say just experiment! Well, as far as your budget allows. You won't really know what you like until you try it for yourself. I usually stick to the big two - Kodak or Fujifilm - but there are lots of options. Read the description from the manfacturer to see what kind of characteristics a film has - saturation, contrast, etc.

Also, if you use Instagram, I enjoy following images with a certain hashtag. If you're interested in some particular film, follow that hashtag on Instagram to see what kind of images others are making. It's great for inspiration too.

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  • Thanks for the helpful comments! A couple of comments: i) price – yes, I am very aware it's an expensive hobby, having bought dozens of smaller format cameras and lenses over the past two decades ;) part of the attraction of film for me is that it forces me to slow down and be much more deliberate in choosing what deserves a click: nail the exposure, composition, etc. I'll still have my trusted digital for quick snaps on the side, so this is meant as a complementary setup to grow in new directions.
    – baptiste
    May 13 '20 at 20:20
  • ii) Expired film: great to know – for some products expiry dates are irrelevant but I guess for film it isn't the case, and expired film is best left to lomography enthusiasts (of which I can be at times, but with my plastic Holga, not this $$$ mamiya glass ;). iii) Film development: I got this indication from a professional wedding photographer's youtube channel but I suspect this is for fine art professionals. I'll check which local labs are most conscientious with their service, even to hobbyists (not always the case, in my experience).
    – baptiste
    May 13 '20 at 20:31
  • iv) from checking what's available around here (limited options, it turns out), and a few reviews online, I've decided to start with Fujifilm’s Fujicolor Pro 400H, probably on the overexposing side, and also try Ilford 3200 for lower-light black and white situations. These seems like safe bets to start with, and I'll keep the experimenting with trickier film for later, when I'm more familiar with the camera and medium format.
    – baptiste
    May 13 '20 at 20:38
  • PS: I do of course follow photographers online, but truth be told unless you know the photographer or they reveal their workflow, a lot can happen in the digital processing (which doesn't bother me one bit, but it's not necessarily a direct indication of what film produces what).
    – baptiste
    May 13 '20 at 20:40
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first of all, good call on going with a medium format film camera. you'll thank yourself later :)

expired film is primarily used for the creative effects it can yield (over-saturated colors, unexpected tones, weird streaks, etc.). it can be very fun and cool to shoot, but don't expect the level of consistency and sharpness you'll get from fresh film!

part of shooting film (to me anyways) is saving a buck while doing it.

to save tons of cash, learn to develop and scan your own film. it's soooo worth the gear investment, and you don't have to wait for your film to be processed! reading the forums around the web, you'd think it was like performing heart surgery, but it's really not. I can answer any questions you may have about doing this the cheapest you possibly can.

it's really cool to be able to go out and shoot a roll, come home, develop it, and see your photos all in the same day. plus it'll cost at least 1/10th less than using labs. using medium format is key here, as you'll be able to get much better home scans out of 120 film than 35mm unless you spend huge dollars on a barrel scanner.

sorry for ranting, here's my recommendations on film stocks:

Color

Color-positive film

for landscapes, you won't be able to beat Fuji Velvia. get a good tripod. it's slide film, which comes with a few very important considerations:

  • it needs special E-6 chemicals to develop (and by "special", I mean non-C41; they'll be a little more expensive and a little harder to come by/dispose of)
  • much less forgiving when it comes to exposure. color negative film can handle being overexposed extremely well, and even underexposed to a certain degree, but not slide film.

you'll be rewarded with exceptional sharpness and color.

Color-negative film

go with Kodak Ektar 100. it's very sharp, has fine grain and yields beautiful colors. I use this film in the mountains a lot.

for something faster with a more muted and realistic look, try Kodak Portra 400. I would recommend exposing it at 200 ISO.

Black and white

for landscapes, you'd want something sharp with fine grain, so I'd recommend Ilford FP4 Plus. this film handles being pushed very well (as do basically all B&W films). something more contrasty and edgy would be the timeless Tri-X. I like to shoot XP2 because I can develop it in C-41 chemicals instead of black and white chemicals.

as for film labs, when I first started out with an old Agfa folding camera, I sent my negatives to The Darkroom in the Bay Area. I found they had extremely good customer service and everything was done to perfection each time, plus their costs are affordable.

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    Thanks for sharing your tips! I've been experimenting and have soon realised that the options around here are very limited indeed. Thankfully the first couple of rolls (Ilford 3200, FujiPro 400H, Portra 400) have come back with satisfying results so I can be more confident to try more challenging film. Some greens have come out a bit weird but overall quite pleased with the look even before any editing.
    – baptiste
    Jun 12 '20 at 9:21

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