Medium format comes with a double-edged sword you need to know about before you buy

Nov 12, 2021

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.

Medium format comes with a double-edged sword you need to know about before you buy

Nov 12, 2021

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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Now that digital medium format is approaching and even beating high-end DSLRs and mirrorless cameras on price, more people are considering making the switch. One of the things to take into account, though, is that the larger you make your sensor, the shallower your depth of field becomes relative to your field of view.

In this video, Mark Denney talks about this problem for landscape photography since switching to the Fuji GFX 100S. He also busts a few of the myths that are typically touted as reasons against buying into medium-format that are no longer really relevant with as small as medium format cameras have started to become.

It’s as true now with digital medium format as it was in the film days. It’s why some medium format cameras like the Fuji GFX680 (still on my wishlist) offered front standard movements similar to those of a large-format camera, in order to be able to shift your plane of focus (amongst other things) and compensate for the shallow depth of field inherent in larger film formats.

Yes, from a purely technical standpoint, your depth of field doesn’t change. But because you have to change focal length in order to get the same field of view that you would with a full-frame or APS-C camera, the combination of the two does result in the appearance of a shallower depth of field for the same composition. APS-C has a 1.5x crop factor (unless it’s Canon). The Fuji GFX 100S has a 0.79x crop factor. So, you’re shooting at a longer focal length for the same field of view. And just as full-frame has a shallower relative depth of field than APS-C, medium-format has an even shallower relative depth of field than full-frame.

For some, though, the shallower depth of field is not only not an issue but is actually a desirable trait. It’s the whole reason that they bought into medium-format in the first place. But it is something for potential buyers to be aware of.

But it does mean that for landscape shooters who like to put something in the foreground, you might be often taking multiple shots at different focus distances and compositing in post in order to maintain sharpness throughout the image. For portrait shooters, you might have to stop down more than you expected to be able to get both eyes of your subject in focus on a close-up headshot.

With the prices at which you can pick up a medium format camera these days – less than many flagship DSLR or mirrorless cameras – they’re becoming far more popular. People hear things like “huge sensor” and 16-Bit RAW files and that’s what they tend to focus in on. The potential depth of field issues aren’t something that usually spring to mind unless you’ve had prior experience with medium or large format film.

It didn’t spring to Mark’s mind. He knows better now.

What’s stopping you from switching to medium format?

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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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