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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Comeback - Medium-Format Resurgence

Medium-format is experiencing a resurgence. The dire predictions of a few years ago are being replaced by guarded optimism amidst higher-resolution products that are more portable and more affordable.

Comeback! Thanks to the steady rise in quality and popularity of 35mm-format digital SLRs, medium-format manufacturers have spent much of this decade fighting for their proverbial lives. Add to that the early limitations of high price and low portability in its digital systems, and medium-format seemed poised to disappear.

Recently, though, thanks largely to portable digital systems with massive pixel counts, medium format has again found its footing. While the market for film cameras is still in decline, medium-format digital sales are on the rise. Manufacturers say this new twist on an old favorite means their format is here to stay.

The Decline And Fall Of Film

According to Hasselblad USA President Jack Showalter, the 2000s brought several years of steady decline in film camera sales. Showalter attributes this directly to the adoption of digital; unfortunately, for his company, it was 35mm-format digital.

But in mid-2005, Hasselblad and other medium-format makers began to see their sales turn around. The company attributes “solid growth” to increased sales of H1 and H2 bodies for use with digital capture backs and integrated all-digital H2D and H3D cameras. Phase One also reports an upward trend, with a 33-percent increase in sales from 2005 to 2006. According to Phase One's Director of Product Marketing for Digital Backs, Jens Holst-Andersen, the future continually looks brighter.

“Medium format, specifically digital backs, has seen a very brisk increase in business over the last two years,” says Holst-Andersen. “Why? Because as most photographers have moved to digital, those photographers who took the D-SLR route have been finding that the image quality and what's demanded by prestige accounts just wasn't there. What many are finding is that by trying to accomplish everything with a 12-megapixel D-SLR and pushing the envelope, they're actually turning out lower-quality work than on film.”

Professionals' desire for the highest possible quality always has been evident to manufacturers and retailers. According to Don Jakubowski of New York's Foto Care, the resurgence of medium format can be traced directly to an age-old analog equation.

“Canons and Nikons are beautiful cameras,” says Jakubowski, “but some photographers are looking for something else. The reason to own medium format has never changed; the reason to own a view camera has never changed. They all exist. It's still the right tool for the right job.”


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