Do you choose your format or does your camera do it for you? That might seem like a daft question but when you think about it, if you just have to have a film Leica, then you're stuck with 35mm. If a 1960s Rolleiflex 2.8F is your dream machine then (provided it hasn't been adapted for 6x4.5 or 35mm) you're going to be shooting squares.
A comment left by David M. at this post about Adox CMS 20 got me thinking about this subject. David asked if it wouldn't be simpler, given the difficulties of achieving consistently good results using the 35mm Adox film and the efforts of some photographers to overcome its eccentricities using conventional developers rather than a special brew such as Adotech, to just switch to a larger format.
I don't think there's much doubt that it would be more straightforward to just load a Hasselblad with easy-to-develop Tmax 100 and get snapping. But there must obviously be something more to it than that or more people would be using medium format and sales of these slow, high-contrast microfilms would cease. And the reason might possibly have something to do with the camera choosing the format for the photographer.
Scotty Elmslie, as you'll see if you read his posts about developing CMS 20 in Rodinal or HC110, felt it was worth it to persevere - with a very good end result - with the Adox film. And I can see why he'd want to do that in preference to moving up a format.
A bridge too far?Everything being equal, I'd always choose a 35mm SLR (or maybe the Leica - have to think about that one) over all other cameras and formats. Of course, it's an unfortunate truism that everything else seldom is equal - especially in photography - so we small format shooters, if we don't fancy 6x6 as much, must try to find ways of keeping the many qualities of 35mm whilst bridging across to the print quality afforded by the larger format.
Adox CMS 20 is one possible way of achieving that. It's such a fine-grained, high resolution film that, provided you're up to its technical challenges, it can beat medium format at its own game and even give 5x4 a run for its money.
Why the preference for 35mm? Although I love my old Rolleis and the Speed Graphic, for me, every time I move to a larger format I lose a bit of creativity. The photographs I take with larger formats, although superior technically, don't don't do it as much for me as 35mm does. Why that should be isn't easy to fathom.
It might be something to do with the greater portability and usability of a 35mm system. I prefer looking for different angles and viewpoints with a lightweight camera at my eye. It's not always the case - at least for me - that the first composition I see is the best one and a 35mm camera makes it much easier to explore the possibilities.
The small format cameras and lenses are normally smaller and lighter as well which makes it a more attractive proposition if you're going to be out for most of the day with a camera bag on your shoulder. They are also cheaper to buy, by and large, and cheaper to stock with film as well.
Tripod-boundMy own medium format gear doesn't get as much use as it should because of my 35mm preference. The Rollei TLRs are great to use but the SL66E, much though I love the quality of the results from its Zeiss lenses, really has to be used on a tripod. It's the same with 5x4: I love the big negs but it's such a palaver setting it up on a tripod to see if the shot is likely to be worthwhile that I'm inclined not to bother.
Yes, that's probably down to laziness more than anything else but that's just me so what can I say? Even if you want to use your 35mm camera with a tripod when shooting a slow film like CMS 20, the whole process is easier and quicker.
So the plus points of the 35mm system really chose that format for me over its rivals and that, in turn, would point me in the direction of microfilms if I wanted to nullify some of the advantages of medium format. If you're a medium format user then, presumably, you value a different set of attributes chief amongst which is probably the comparative ease with which you can make good-sized enlargements.
For large format photographers it's definitely print quality above all else with, depending on your subject matter, some camera movements thrown in.
Yes, Adox CMS 20 may be a pain in comparison with many other films and, yes, it would be easier in some respects to use medium format instead but as long as there's a chance of having your cake and eating it as well then it's surely got to be worth the effort.