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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.


Better quality in the form of bigger sensors and bigger pixels also comes at a price—a big price. Perhaps the greatest barrier to widespread adoption of medium-format digital systems is their exponentially greater cost when compared both to medium-format film and digital SLR systems. Manufacturers recognize this and are constantly working to bring prices down.

“In the old days, you'd spend $2,000 or $3,000 on a professional medium-format system and it would last you 15 or 20 years,” says Leaf's Rezzonico. “Then when digital happened, and every six months there was something new and it went from being a $2,000 or $3,000 investment to being a $36,000 investment, it was much, much harder to justify. Knowing that they're going to have six months or a year or two years, they find themselves asking very serious questions: Is what I'm buying today going to be obsolete in six months? Chances are, it's probably not going to be obsolete. Is there going to be something better, faster, bigger, smaller? Yes, of course—that's just normal business. But what you have today is still going to work. Now that the quality is substantially better than D-SLRs, it's a much easier conversation to have.”

As much as anything, device makers know they need to get their products into the hands of photographers if for no other reason than to awe them with the quality. The rental market works ideally for this, providing a way for photographers to ease into medium format and letting the quality sell itself.

“As all medium-format digital capture products improve,” says Hasselblad's Showalter, “photographers are seeing the kind of differences that justify spending three or four times as much on medium-format digital as they would on 35mm digital.

“The simple fact is,” he continues, “many professional photographers simply can't afford to pay four times more for medium-format digital, even if the difference in image quality is substantial. As a result, many medium-format film photographers who felt the need to go digital abandoned their medium-format gear and converted to 35mm digital. As a manufacturer of medium-format cameras, this was disappointing, to say the least. We've tried to mitigate this by offering 16-megapixel backs that fit on our V system cameras for under $10,000. That's still a lot of money, but at least the photographer still gets to use the camera and lenses he or she loves—and also doesn't show up at the wedding shooting the same 35mm digital camera as the bride's Uncle Ernie.”

“Looking forward,” adds Showalter, “if we're to reach our full potential, we're going to have to offer a more viable alternative to photographers who, because of price, are currently shooting 35mm. We have to.”


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