Rolleiflexes, Hasselblads, Yashicas, Bronicas, and Lubitels are just a few cameras to take note of if you're looking to dip your feet into the wily world of waist-level cameras. They have quite a following here in the community and for a good reason—they are a wonder to use, especially if you want to change things up from your usual photography routine.
Waist-level cameras are commonly fitted with larger viewfinders that pop open from the top. They can often give you a bigger view of your subject and a different angle to work with. You compose your shot with the ground glass at your waist level instead of peering into a traditional viewfinder. They can come in different formats like 35 mm and 120 film and use focusing systems like those in SLRs.
Photography greats like Diane Arbus, Vivian Maier, Richard Avedon, and Robert Doisneau (to name just a few) used cameras with waist-level finders to take wonderful photographs. They understood their gear and knew how to use them well. Curious to find out what makes waist-level cameras great? We've come up with a list to help convince you to consider them for your next camera.
You learn to shoot from a different perspective
Maybe all you need to get out of a creative rut is a change in perspective. Shooting from a different height level can do that. Waist-level cameras can break the monotony of routine. Instead of relying just on your usual setup, you will be able to approach situations using an entirely different angle than what you're used to.
It can be a discreet way to take photos
Usually you can walk around town with a camera and easily blend in with the crowd. However, the moment you raise the camera to eye level, you start to stick out like a sore thumb. People are aware that you're taking photos, which can ruin "the moment" if you're going for a discreet street photograph. Using a waist-level camera can remedy that. Since you will most likely look like you're just fiddling around with your settings, people won't have their guard up as much and you'll be able to sneak in some candid shots that can bring out the genuine reactions you're aiming for.
You develop a new sense when shooting
A waist-level camera is almost always built differently than SLRs and point-and-shoots. The layout for the controls, the position of the viewfinder, and even the way you hold the camera is different. These changes can be refreshing and you might be surprised at how they can affect the way you shoot. You'll start figuring out how to do things better with your new setup and how you can use your new angles to frame your subjects.
The change in film format can also be a good thing for you. Medium-format film has its quirks and challenges that can force you to push your creativity to its limits. It has fewer shots than a regular 35 mm film canister. You have a bigger frame to fill. Even the aspect ratio and amount of detail you can squeeze into the frame is different. These things and more can give you the creative kick you need to develop your photography sense and skill even further.
People look at you during shoots, not just at the camera
Some photographers are just natural when it comes to taking portraits and making a connection with their subjects. The moment they start the shoot, they can build rapport instantly and get great reactions throughout the session. Unfortunately, not all photographers are like that but something as trivial as the gear you use might help.
With waist-level cameras, there's no "barrier" between you and your subject. No camera in front of your face that acts like a wall between you and the people you're photographing. You can interact with people much better and in a more direct manner.
Waist-level finders are just cool
Let's face it, waist-level finders and TLRs look cool. They bring a visual flair to the table that is totally different from any other camera. Their classic appeal endures and it shouldn't be a surprise if you find yourself getting compliments from other camera enthusiasts. This cool factor can also have a disarming effect on people, which might just give you the authentic look you're aiming for.
How about you? What do you think about waist-level cameras? Sound off in the comment section below and share your thoughts!