By way of review.

Why don't you try a MF digital camera?

A reader of the VSL blog recently wrote to suggest, after reading my post about photographing Lou with my film Hasselblad, that I try out a medium format digital camera before making the assessment about which path will ultimately yield better results. I thought I would remind my readers that I've been down that road before, for months at a time, and with three different systems. In 2009 and 2010 Studio Photographer Magazine commissioned me to test and write about three of the MF digital cameras that were just coming on to the market.  My two most memorable tests were of the Leaf AFi7 with a 39 megapixel back and the Phase One 45+ because, at the time, they were the state of the art.

I also reviewed the less expensive Mamiya entry camera.

Once you got over the fact that you'd just signed for a $45,000 system (when the two delivered lenses are factored in) the Leaf camera was nice.  It made beautiful files.  The 180mm f2.8 Schneider lens was superb.  It gave really nice out of focus performance and even better in focus performance.  But it's autofocus was slow like paint drying and the tandem batteries in the camera and grip did their best to die often, and always out of sync.  Would I still be shooting with the camera if someone bestowed it upon me for free?  Yes.  Was the calculus there for me to buy it and make more money with it? No.

The Phase One was as close to being the perfect medium format digital system I've shot with so far. The camera is much lighter and better set up than the Leaf and the lenses+body were small enough and light enough to be used handheld and to be carried around town.

The Mamiya was heading in the right direction price wise and I thought the files were just fine.

But with each of these cameras I kept coming back to the idea that I could dump the $25,000 or more into film and processing with cameras I already owned and get files that were just as good.  And I could side step the handling and battery problems. The bottom line is that my clients didn't need the bigger files and I didn't need the additional expense.  Not in the middle of the great recession...

If you want to read what I wrote about the cameras for the magazine (now discontinued) you can read them at these links.

So, how are those LED lights working out?

I read stuff on the web and die hard strobers are always telling people that LED's are too dim or that the color can't be used for professional jobs. Those people are limiting their own work by thinking in such a linear and bracketed way.  While LED's aren't the perfect solution for everything they are great to have in your tool kit. I did a job with Ben on Tues.  We shot video for a television commercial and stills for print.  We used four LED panels to light a greenscreen background and another three on work main subjects.  When we finished shooting video we clicked the camera over to the manual mode and banged off some raw files.  All of them were beautiful. You'll see the commercial as soon as it's edited and approved.  I don't use LEDs for everything but when I do I know it's a good choice. A recent job for a healthcare company was also done with all LED's.  The difference it that those LED panels were all battery powered.  We were able to move through location after locations almost as fast as if we had been shooting available light and the images were just right.  The check cleared the bank. 

This image has nothing to do with LEDs.  I just like the graphic and the message.

The best use for LED's is in product and food shooting.  I wrote about this in my book and I've blogged about shooting food this way here on the blog: http://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2011/02/kirk-tuck-photographs-food-at-jeffreys.html

The set doesn't get hot, you can work closer in to your subject and the color is easy to white balance.  The use of continuous light gives you a level of control you'll never really have when using flash.

And when we rev up the cameras for a video shoot there's nothing I'd rather light with right now.

Photos of me by Amy Smith.

Finally.  Could there be a better time to buy used stuff?


  1. Just because you can doesn't mean you should.

    I love Phase One. I get to borrow one from time to time. The files are overkill for what I do right now. For a showcase cover, I would definitely rent one. Or even just use my RB67.

  2. When you look at it the right way it almost makes more sense to shoot film and scan big than to pony up for a rental on a project. The client will get a great file and you'll be able to bill them for the special and elite experience of having used big film..

  3. Thanks Kirk for the links & reminder :-)

    You have to throw into the equation though that with the aforementioned recession a lot of used gear is to be had if one shops around for a while.

    My whole RZ67 setup was less than $10K ($2,300 for the used RZ67IID w/ lens; another $1,000 for two more used lenses; $5,000 for a used Phase One P25; and $800 for the AFD adapter plate). That's the same price as what I paid for my Canon 1DsM3 + 85mm/f1.2 for a very different system.

    The RZ67IID is the same model still made by Mamiya, thus latest in MF bodies. The P25 is a reasonably modern sensor and back. And I bought the back from one of your frequent readers (as I discovered later - small world). The P25 is plenty good for everyday work, and I can always drop in a rented higher res PhaseOne back when needed without disrupting the workflow.

    So when you consider these details, then the economics of become a lot more reasonable :-)

  4. Hello! I think a lot of people ask your advice for a LED-lights and I will join this croud :). What lights would you recommend for an outdoor portrait work? I'm looking for something battery-powered (preferably), with good CRI and powerful enough to be used with softboxes or umbrellas. Thanks in advance!

    (And sorry for possible mistakes, English in not native for me :))

  5. I think I see a Lindahl lens shade on your Canon video setup. Could you tell me what adapter you used to mount it to Canon lenses?


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