ALL IT PROMISES?
the proof is in the image
but there’s more to getting it
than meets your eye
Medium format (MF) digital cameras possess a certain quality that is hard to describe but easy to see. But there’s more to this story than meets your eye–good and bad. Although I’m reporting on an entry level kit, these generalities apply to the $50k+ systems as well.
What is a MF system? Simple, a body, interchangeable lens and a “digital back.” The digital back is easily the most expensive component in the equation by a large margin. You can spend upwards of $35,000 for a current state-of-the-art digital back alone, when a good body and stellar lens are in the $6,500-8,000 each range.
Let’s assume you have the means, have reasonable experience with DSLR’s and can’t wait to dive-in. Caution! There is a bit more than you may have bargained for–read on.
“…images produced by medium format (MF) digital cameras possess a certain unrivaled quality that is hard to describe, but easy to see…”
The handling of a MF system is noticeably slower than a DSLR on nearly every front–much slower. Auto-focus is slower, you have fewer focal points, shooting in bursts is not a reality although exists. Mirror “blackout” is so slow you’ll swear the curtain is stuck in the closed position.
As a “Manual” shooter, the physics behind MF have caused me to chant “everything times-two.” What does that mean? It means a 50mm DSLR prime lens is an 80mm MF lens, the minimum shutter speed = focal length rule needs to be doubled–which then becomes exponential; 50mm=1/60sec, versus 80mm=1/160sec. Now times-two is more like times-three. It gets worse? ISO above 400 is not acceptable, particularly when you’ve invested in a MF system expecting the cleanest, most hi-fidelity images possible. Worser still, aperture at the equivalent focal length, say f2.8 in DSLR will require f4 or f5.6 MF for similar DOF. Damn, the thing is deaf, dumb and blind–you now realize just how much of a diesel train MF is compared to the DSLR Ferrari.
Here’s where the good part comes in–the images are stunning–oh yeah, we know that already. Wait, there’s more than just the image quality. The MF limitations actually became an asset by forcing you to consciously “slow-down, take more time, be more efficient, breath…” you get the idea. I realized I’d become too impatient and lazy from the capabilities afforded by high-end DSLRs. Refining my approach to best use the MF tool has resulted in me elevating my game as a photographer–an unexpected yet welcomed bonus.