5 reasons why you should consider buying into medium format

Oct 5, 2017

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

5 reasons why you should consider buying into medium format

Oct 5, 2017

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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Thanks to cameras like the Hasselblad X1D and Fujifilm GFX 50s, there’s been a lot of fuss over medium format the last couple of years. And while those two cameras have helped to drive down the cost of getting into medium format, it’s still not cheap. So, is it worth getting into?

This video from LensProToGo looks at some of the advantages of medium format, and how they might be able to help you as a photographer and a business.

YouTube video

1. Colour & Dynamic Range

The whole dynamic range thing has bounced back and forth a little over the years. Many digital cameras used CCD type sensors in the early days. My two Nikon D100 bodies and my D200 contain CCD sensors. Most medium format digital cameras also traditionally used CCD sensors. CMOS sensors, however, were quickly adopted by DSLR manufacturers, and developed at a much faster rate. This soon allowed them to beat the dynamic range found in CCD sensor technology.

Now that medium format camera manufacturers have started switching over to using CMOS, their dynamic range easily keeps up and even exceeds DSLRs. The larger size of the sensor also allows for a smaller pixel density per area, despite having a higher overall resolution. This means each pixel site can read the light more accurately.

Overall, it means you’re retaining more of the highlights while keeping the shadow detail, with less noise, and smoother graduations in things like skies.

2. Lens Optics

There are many excellent lenses out there for DSLRS and “full frame” mirrorless cameras. Nikon’s 105mm f/1.4, Sigma’s 135mm f/1.8, and Canon’s 200mm f/2 immediately spring to mind. To account for the larger sensors in medium format cameras, though, medium format lenses often need to be substantially larger, too.

This means that they’re typically much easier to construct, and have an overall better optical quality. Whether or not this is noticeable will depend on the final use of the images.

3. Flash sync speeds

The limitations of a focal plane shutter mean our regular flash sync speed is somewhere around 1/160th to 1/250th of a second. Beyond this we need flash and triggers that supports high speed sync of some variety or other. While some medium format cameras also have shutters with similar limitations, others have leaf shutters built into the lenses themselves.

These will allow you to shoot much faster with regular flash, without the issues that plague focal plane shutters.

4. Depth of Field

For me, this is the primary reason to go with a larger sensor. It doesn’t matter whether it’s going from APS-C to “full frame”, from full frame to medium format, or from medium format to 8×10 large format film. Going to a larger sensor allows you to get a depth of field so shallow that even Canon f/1.2 lens owners will be envious.

And when you want that deep depth of field, the larger optics of medium format lenses let you stop down a whole lot more without having to worry about diffraction.

5. Display options

The ultra high resolutions of medium format sensors presents a whole host of viewing options. And they’re only set to get even higher resolution in the future. But medium format allows you to make prints the size of an entire wall that you can still walk up to and easily pick out the details instead of seeing a bunch of squares.

Medium format is common for high end fashion, automotive, advertising and other sectors of the photography industry. And while owning a medium format camera isn’t essential for breaking into those worlds, it can hold advantages. So, if those are the markets you’re looking to target, it’s worth thinking about.

With medium format cameras like the Fuji GFX 50s starting at around $6,500, getting into larger sensor systems isn’t cheap. But when you consider that a camera like the Nikon D5 also costs $6,500, it’s no longer as out of reach as it once was.

So, are you ready to jump into medium format yet? If it’s not the cost, what’s holding you back?

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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27 responses to “5 reasons why you should consider buying into medium format”

  1. Paul Richards Avatar
    Paul Richards

    Considering going smaller, rather than larger

    1. Chris 'Sharky' Wright Avatar
      Chris ‘Sharky’ Wright

      The fella in Truro camera shop makes a compelling reason to go APS-C.

    2. Paul Richards Avatar
      Paul Richards

      Chris ‘Sharky’ Wright I use full frame for work, but I really like my m43 mirrorless kit. And I do use it sometimes for work – and for social media size clients won’t see a difference

    3. M S Avatar
      M S

      Smart move. Storage space/backup is expensive and a real hassle. I shoot 4k video and I burn through disk storage.
      Also keep in mind most print shops will not take anything over 18 mg so you have limited choices on trying to print a 100mg file. It could easily balloon to 1 gig file after photoshop editing.

  2. Paul Willy Brown Avatar
    Paul Willy Brown

    not convinced

  3. John Flury Avatar
    John Flury

    While I do love my Pentax 645z, it’s often not the right choice. For now I use it as a studio camera and for projects where I know what I want to achieve and want the best possible image quality. The shadow recovery abilities has of the Pentax has saved my butt a number of times too though.

  4. Petar Maksimovic Avatar
    Petar Maksimovic

    Yeah people into DIY stuff are a true medium format shoppers… What’s happening with page, ran out of DIY ideas?

  5. George Pavlov Avatar
    George Pavlov

    How would medium format help me as a photographer?!? Considering my photography skills, I think I should have at least XXXL format.

  6. Chris Chinnock Avatar
    Chris Chinnock

    Gear, gear we want more gear! Everyone is cheering get the flipping gear in NOW! #gearheads

  7. Alexandre Bettencourt Avatar
    Alexandre Bettencourt

    $5K?? I’ll say this: No thankkkkks ?

  8. Šimun Ruščić Avatar
    Šimun Ruščić

    Sure l’m on that road long time agoo but l really like 6×7 format so l’ll stick with film and enjoy in it

  9. Jamison Donoho Avatar
    Jamison Donoho

    Not opposed to it but how does it help a photographer become better?

  10. Motti Bembaron Avatar
    Motti Bembaron

    I would assume that most of us do portraits and events. In my experience more and more clients (almost all of them) want everything on USB or just a digital download. The largest prints these days -if I print- are 11×16, however, most are 4×6 to 8×10. 11×16 is easily achieved with crop sensor (easily!).

    I fully understand that medium format cameras have a much better dynamic range, better sharpness etc. however, 99% of our clients will never need or even notice it. Photos are much more likely to end up on social media than printed. In fact, most show photos using a smartphone or a tablet :-(

    Even using a full sensor format is an overkill. If anything, the new crop sensor cameras like the D500, are as capable as any full frame, whether it’s an event or a portrait session.

    1. M S Avatar
      M S

      You sir are correct. That is why i am a Fujifilm Pro. I can do everything I need with 26 mpx and the crop sensor gives you more reach. When I shot giant full-frame files in the past, i would always crop down every photo to get that close-up look I can not get easily with Fujifilm.

  11. Rob Eves Avatar
    Rob Eves

    Yes but only if they increase the prices.

  12. Hert Niks Avatar
    Hert Niks

    Medium format for Instagram pics. Right.

  13. Wild Moe Avatar
    Wild Moe

    I’d opt for a “full frame” pentax 645ZII. Mhm, if that is coming

  14. Adrian J Nyaoi Avatar
    Adrian J Nyaoi

    I can give 6 reason why you shold not. Do i win?

    1. JML Avatar
      JML

      Only 6? :-)

  15. Ralph Hightower Avatar
    Ralph Hightower

    Yea, I want two medium format cameras, the Mamiya RZ67 and Mamiya 645. Oh, they don’t have megapixels, but that’s okay. They’re cheaper that digital.

  16. CAugustin Avatar
    CAugustin

    This “more dynamic range” is not entirely true. An FF body with a modern Sony sensor is at least in the same ballpark, if not better (depending on the MF sensor). Resolution can be an argument (depending on the client’s needs), but mostly it is DoF (or rather the lack of it) that distinguishes these systems. With film this was different …

  17. JML Avatar
    JML

    #1 is simply incorrect. Look at DXOmark and you will notice that the first medium format camera is somewhere on place 9 or so for overall rating, and the latest Nikon cameras beat all of them for dynamic range. For (2), I want to see proof, I do not believe this is correct. #3 and 4: who cares, really? #5: The Nikon D850 has the same number of pixels as many medium formats for half to one tenth (!!) the price! And for anyone doing night photography at ISO 3200: every $400 entry level DSLR with APS-C sensor will beat the crap out of a $30000 Hasselblad !

    1. M S Avatar
      M S

      sorry son but you obviously do not understand medium format.

      1. A_n_S Avatar
        A_n_S

        Instead of insulting me, dad, why don’t you enlighten me as to which of my points is factually incorrect and why?

        1. M S Avatar
          M S

          If you think a dslr aps-c sensor will beat a $30k HB then you have no experience with medium format photography or understand its capabilities. An iPhone might produce better low light photos than your dslr..does that make it a better camera?

        2. M S Avatar
          M S

          Btw I wasn’t trying to insult you. I am really old. I call everyone son…or sweetie ?

  18. Rhonald Moses Avatar
    Rhonald Moses

    FF as it stands, is fine-tuned and reached the peak of sensor innovation (hence, camera manufacturers are looking at adding different applications and things around sensor) and there can be very little added to FF in next 5-10 years (sure, back-lit sensors, etc… all of which will land on CMF/LMF as well).

    Innovation in digital MF has just begun and at this point, a fine tuned FF beats MF in most of the areas. 50mp on a FF will be the sweat spot. Anything more will be a overkill (compare upcoming Canon 100mp with the current GFX 100mp and you will definitely see the difference).

    If you want to do a technical comparison between a fine-tuned FF and MF, do a comparison between Nikon D850 vs GFX-100S against expectations of the MF shooters. In that case, both MF and FF wins and the choice between the two formats lies with the shooter and his application (or wallet).

    Current FF vs MF:
    Dynamic range: Difference between the most innovated FF and current crop MF is 3 stops (FF: 12 stops, CMF: 15stops, human eye: 22stops)
    Image quality: No difference when CMF is down sampled. AS-IS, there will be minor differences between FF output and CMF when zoomed at 150% (pixel peepers). If you are viewing photos on a 65-inches 4K/8K TV or large prints, then CMF wins (hence, CMF is not for all, it’s for a specific application or brag rights)
    Color reproduction: CMF provides some wiggle room to work on RAW, but FF can match CMF at the moment
    Pixel count: Barring 100mp CMF or LMF, FF can match in some situations (upcoming Canon 75/100mp camea!!?)
    Autofoucs: Barring 100mp GFX, none of the current MF can beat FF (however, when you think of a traditional MF shooter and it’s application, the current autofocus already exceeds the expectation from a MF)
    Continuous shoot (FPS): Barring 100mp GFX against a standard FF, the FF leads by miles (again, when you think of a traditional MF shooter and it’s application, the current fps already exceeds the expectation from a MF)
    Depth of field: with many available lenses, this can be easily matched with a FF

    GFX-100S is just the beginning of MF innovation and I am sure, in next 3 years MF will be way ahead of FF (Similar to FF being way ahead of a well fine-tuned APS-C).

    Future MF
    Now that innovation in MF has started, things will look very different in next 3 years. MF is going to match current FF on autofocus, fps (may not match 20 fps and above, but I see 8-10 fps as something real with MF), Dynamic Range (maybe 17 stops), Megapixels (60-75mps might be a norm for CMF).

    In next three years (GFX-50S will be due for it’s successor), innovation in MF means, MF will eat into pro FF due to their price proposition for portraits, fashion, wedding, landscape, select sports, etc… In any case, I don’t see sports shooter using CMF/LMF (maybe for certain sports, but not for all)

    Remember, all above FF innovations will be done on MF as well (especially with Fuji. Hassleblad is somehow bullish in their MF philosophy and lives in its own bubble). There might be even larger mirrorless medium format in next 3 years from Fuji (Hassy and Phase 1 already has, but they will release a successor to their current line ups)