Why I have absolutely no interest in acquiring a medium format digital camera at this time.

 Just for info here's what I wrote about MF digital cameras back in 2012:

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 MF digital 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...

At the time the medium format digital cameras were ponderous and pricy beasts. They were also slow and mostly used CCD sensors which made them gluttonous battery hogs. But they did have some redeeming attributes such as true 16 bit color capture. I also used one of the Aptus II 80 Meg backs (33 by 54mm) on a Mamiya camera and that convinced me that the smaller sized MF sensors (32 x43 etc.) were mostly a small bit different than 35mm and more of a compromise than a real upgrade. 

So, recently two of my photographer friends bought current, entry level medium format cameras. Both bought Fuji GFX 50Rs. One friend, who doesn't shoot for a living, is very happy with his purchase and posts about it frequently. My other friend is a hard core professional who has shot with a previous, larger format Hasselblad MF digital system and he also shot for several years with the Leica S2 MF system. He used the 50R for a couple of weeks and immediately put it up for sale. Why? Because if you are already shooting with a Nikon D850 or an Z7, a Lumix S1R, or Sony's new A7RIV camera (and the best lenses you can lay your hands on) you're probably not going to see much difference between those and the files from the 50R. The lower pixel density might give a different impression of sharpness but there's really not enough difference in the sensor geometry to get you the kinds of wonderful out-of-focus backgrounds we loved film MF for so long ago. 

Shoot your 35mm, high res cameras at one stop further open than your smaller MF sensor cameras like the HBlad X1-D or the Fuji GFX'ers and you'll pretty much match the focus fall off between the two formats. If you are buying the very best lenses for your particular system they'll probably be equally sharp at the corresponding f-stops.

I was offered a Fuji 50R camera with the 50mm f3.5 lens, three batteries and some extras for the very sensible price of $3500 but I still can't see the value of that camera over the performance of the Lumix S1R for my work. That, and the fact that we'd be right down the same rabbit hole of buying lots of new and overlapping lenses, batteries, etc. for very little (if any) gain. 

Yeah, you might see some differences if you routinely print very large but I'd guess that most of the raves about the pixie MF format images is all about the quality of the lenses more so than it really is about the sensor or the color science being lightyears better than that in the slightly smaller 35mm format.

No, I'm keeping my powder dry when it comes to the MF digitals. I'm holding out for larger sensor sizes (not more resolution, just more real estate). Now... I know it's probably not going to come from Fuji since they are three models and many lenses deep in a commitment to the smaller MF format. Hasselblad is all over the map but their only affordable MF system cameras are also of the pixie sensor variety. You'll still have to cough up good used car budgets for their larger sensor cameras. 

I'd much rather spend the extra money (is "extra" money really a thing?) buying supremely good lenses and putting them on very high res 35mm bodies than buy into what I consider to be a compromise format. 

But you could look at this from another direction. If you don't do this for a living and you do want to carry a camera around that makes super good images, and you want a different look to your images, and you don't currently own a camera I'd argue that one of the Fuji or Hblad cameras might be a heck of a lot of fun. Just doesn't make sense in this era of lockdowns, diminished engagements and limited opportunities to make commercial images with. Not for me anyway. And I saved $3500 into the bargain. 

About half the price of a decent 50mm Leica lens... Oh boy.


Craig said...

From what I've read, it seems that all the digital medium format systems are based on sensors about 44x33mm in size, which is certainly larger than 36x24mm but a far cry from the 60x45mm or 60x60mm sizes that were considered "medium format" in the film era. I'm sure they make great files, but you're really getting something in between full frame and traditional medium format and it's not going to give you the same "look" at all. Considering the cost (still high, though not as crazy as a few years ago) and the overkill resolution (few use cases really require more than 25 MP), I just don't see any point to it.

christer said...

And you will probably need a new more powerful computer to handle the larger files. Ditto hard discs. Will $ 5000 do?

TMJ said...

Apart from my clinical photography, everything else I do is as a 'hobbyist'.

I had the 50R for a few days recently and it was a nice camera to use with good image files. But I was not blown away: although a larger sensor than FF, it still dates from 2014 and is outpaced, I think, by current FF sensors. Add the slightly clunky handling, very distinctive slowish shutter response and larger lenses, it doesn't add up to me. Autofocus is OK, but again not up to current standards or indeed as good as the GFX 100.

I like the styling though and will keep my eye out for the Fuji announcements at the end of February.

Andrea Bellelli said...

I find the digital MF fascinating from a technological view point but overkill in practice. Even full frame is overkill for the majority of practical uses and you did excellent work with the fuji system you were using not long ago.

Greg Heins said...

When I was still a working boy, there was some merit to the idea of using something that the client didn't have, that produced something with better image quality than others delivered, and all that stuff. I had a Pentax 645Z with a full range of manual-focus lenses that were all purchased used for very little money, camera-land speaking. I discovered that for my personal photographs, which I like to print around 20x30-ish, I could see the difference between MF and FF and I rather liked what I saw. But I strongly doubt that anyone else notices – or cares. Now that all my photography is personal, I have switched over to a kit that I can carry around as opposed to wheel around. All the Pentax stuff went off to be replaced by a Fuji 50S and two zooms (again, all purchased used). Not quite as straightforward in use as the Pentax, but close, and with its own advantages to me. Again, if I didn't print at that size, it wouldn't matter. And ultimately, of course, none of this matters!

Ronman said...

I think what Greg says pretty much says it all. Do you see a difference and do you like what you see? I've bounced between m43, APS-C and now back to FF. They all do the job, but I suppose FF is what pleases me most. There's a cost/benefit component at play I believe. The cost being capitol outlay and physical size and weight. More is always better on paper, but we don't take photos with a spreadsheet.

DGM said...

Your reasoning is perfectly sound for your situation. I'm not a pro. My previous camera was the Sony A7 first generation with old adapted Leica R series lenses. When I was looking to jump into the next level of camera, I compared the Sony A7R 3rd generation and the system lenses I wanted, with the freshly introduced (and intro priced) Fuji 50R with the system lenses I wanted. The two systems were essentially the same price, depending upon lens choice.

The most important aspect in my decision was that I did not need all the fancy features of the latest Sony. I was used to manual focus adapted lenses on the first generation Sony A7.

My further reasoning was that the system would evolve. (The 102mp camera coming up very soon will be $5,999 and I already have all the lenses I want!)

Your reasoning makes perfect sense for your situation, my situation was totally different.

Matti Sulanto said...

That could have been written by me, except that I can't write as well as you😀
I have exactly the same reasoning to use so called full frame camera.
Back in the day I used the Mamiya RZ Pro as my daily driver for corporate portraits and many other things as well. The 6x7 format was great because it needed very little cropping for a full page or full spread in a magazine. It was also big enough to look different from 35 mm.
The digital MF formats today, like you say, are not big enough to look distinctively different from the full frame. The biggest MF sensor, which is close to 645 negative size, is the smallest I would even call MF.
Anyway, it was fun to read this, because it really was almost exactly what I think of the matter.

scott kirkpatrick said...

I've been semi-pro for some years, so I could write off an occasional impulsive expense against other income. I got very inexpensive Hasselblad 500C and SWC cameras with 80, 120, and 38mm lenses during a pause in the digital tsunami. I loved the quality of scanned B/W but couldn't get color negative to work. That's when I bought a Phase 45+, and it was everything that you say. It's a 36 x 48mm sensor, BTW, with lovely big 6.8 micron pixels. Easy to use with the four unlabelled buttons that Leica also picked up on as their S and SL UI. I found it worked best for group shots from a tripod, where the extra solemnity of the "old fashioned" camera contributed to the scene. I still use it, although not often.