Understanding and Selecting Medium Format Lenses
Medium format lenses are interchangeable lenses for medium format cameras using 120 and 220 film, or which have similarly-sized digital sensors. Professional photographers aspire to medium format cameras because of their superior quality, greater dynamic range, and increased resolution.
Lens and Camera Systems
Medium format cameras fall into four groups. There are traditional modular cameras, such as those from Hasselblad and Mamiya. Others are conventional single lens reflex designs, such as Leica and Pentax. Newer medium format cameras such as the Fuji GFX range are mirrorless, and there are rangefinder cameras made by Horseman and Linhof.
With such a wide range, medium format lenses vary in complexity, size, and application. For example, Linhof wide-angle camera lenses have a built-in vertical shift to compensate for parallax errors when photographing tall buildings, a feature similar to that achieved with tilting special effect lenses.
Characteristics of Medium Format Lenses
Two factors affect lens design: the flange focal distance and the image circle. Most medium format cameras have a long flange distance, so lenses are larger and more complex. A large image circle often requires a greater lens diameter. However, lenses for rangefinder cameras such as Horseman and Linhof are like full frame rangefinder lenses and relatively small.
The best camera lenses for medium format cameras have excellent optics that take advantage of the image potential offered by 120 and 220 film, and by the high pixel density of medium format digital sensors.
Medium Format Lens Shutters
Medium format cameras use two types of shutters. Some have a focal plane shutter while others use a leaf shutter inside the lens. Focal plane shutters are capable of high shutter speeds but low flash synchronization speeds. Leaf shutters don’t have that problem, and their high flash synchronization speeds permit the use of wide apertures to exploit the shallow depth of field characteristics of medium format lenses.
Adapting Medium Format Lenses
It’s possible to use lens mount adapters to fit lenses from one type of medium format camera to another. While there are limitations, such as aperture and focus control, these aren’t as significant as with other camera types. Lens mount adapters perform several functions. They adapt different bayonet mounts and adjust the lens position to the right flange distance. Some adapters are compatible with camera electronics. Manufacturers of mirrorless system lenses exploit this feature to offer OEM adapters for other lenses from their camera stable.
Find the best camera lenses for your medium format camera at B&H Photo and Video.