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.
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?