Is medium format really better than 35mm? When is a Hasselblad or Rolleiflex 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 inch medium format system essential?


For public lectures it is necessary to have a 35mm camera system because virtually no university, museum, or club in the world has a projector for 2 1/4 format slides any more. For this reason I also use Leica and Nikon to photograph for the lectures I give around the world.

But when I really wish to make an impact in a lecture room, I use the Hasselblad or Rollei medium format projector and 2 1/4 glass-mounted slides (which you can obtain from Gepe). You can hear the audience gasp. The Hasselblad quality almost burns a hole in the screen.

At our former annual Maya symposium here at BCC+FLAAR, this Hasselblad quality is what distinguishes our Maya Weekend program from the other excellent Maya workshops at universities elsewhere in the country. The FLAAR conference is the only Maya archaeology symposium worldwide which shows the Maya world in 2 1/4 format, 300% larger, brighter, and more impressive than ordinary 35mm.

If the Maya palaces have lasted over 1000 years, their remains deserve to be recorded by the very best available. We have used Hasselblad photography equipment for over two decades.

For tombs and interiors of temples and palaces the Hasselblad SuperWide C makes the most sense.

For architectural details the 350 mm Zeiss telephoto lens is outstanding. Advanced hobby photographer Eldon Leiter just got a 500 mm Zeiss telephoto. He got infected with the Hasselblad quality after being on F.L.A.A.R. archaeology expeditions for over 12 years.

The Zeiss 50mm lens is ideal for recording exteriors of Maya palaces.

For the beautiful Maya vases and other ancient artifacts, I use a 135 macro lens on the Hasselblad bellows.

On occasion I use the new 120 Macro lens which has its own mount. This is also the lens I use on my Seitz panorama camera.

For camera bodies I use two ELX's, many many years old and still working perfectly. My bellows, though, is showing its age after over 20,000 photographs, and will have to be replaced soon.

What do I still need? A 553 ELX would be necessary if I intend to use the Dicomed back. My trusty ELX's are not modern enough to handle a digital back.

My Zeiss lenses are also rather ancient. None have floating lens elements. Thus I need to replace the old 50mm with the new improved Distagon CF 4/50 with FLE (floating lens elements).

Since I am a gadget freak I would like to have the Zeiss Sonnar CF Superachromat lens (5/6 250mm). And for architectural photography of Maya temples and palaces the Zeiss Tele-Apotessar CF 8/500 mm would be a great help.

For a viewer I need the Meter prism PME 51 since there are times out in the jungle I need to shoot on the spot, and do not have time to bring a Minolta meter into action.

My Hasselblad projector accepts only American current. Since I speak German and am often asked to lecture in Switzerland, Austria, and Germany, it would help to have a Hasselblad projector which runs on 220 current so I can introduce audiences throughout Europe to Hasselblad and Zeiss quality.


In 1970 the F.L.A.A.R. Photo Archive evolved past 35mm photography to enter the realm of medium format. In 1994, funded from Japan, it was possible to move to 4x5 inch format. In 1995, several generous private individuals made it possible for my research institute to acquire an 8x10 inch format camera. Yet the core of the F.L.A.A.R. Photo Archive is still its mass of 40,000 2 1/4 inch format negatives and transparencies which will hold their Hasselblad quality forever.

Whenver time is at a premium, it sure helps to have prism meters and motorized film advance. An 8x10 chrome sure knocks the socks off people who have never been exposed to an original transparency this size. But it requires a truck to move it around Central America. Out in the remote Maya ruins, it sure is comfortable to work with my trusty Hasselblads.


What about other brands of medium format camera?

For some reason this is the one area of photography where American technology has resulted in zilch and European craftsmanship still reigns supreme. The archaeologist in charge of the Tikal archaeological project in Guatemala used a Bronica, and after I heard it vibrating as it worked I vowed I would never allow myself to suffer using such a low end piece of equipment. Japan makes many excellent cameras and lenses, but medium format is not among them.


New page format posted November 17, 2009