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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!The New Niche

Medium-format digital capture isn't simply the continuation of medium-format film in the digital world. Much as photographers found that their Canon and Nikon D-SLRs produced images akin to 120 film, medium-format digital shooters are finding that their results are trending upward, too. Not only has medium-format digital capture found its niche, it has found a niche quite similar to the one long held by large-format view cameras.

Allan Weitz from giant retailer B&H sees photographers augmenting their large-format film gear with medium-format digital capture. “Things change,” he says, “because 35mm digital isn't 35mm film. These 39-megapixel sensors, they knock out files that rival 8x10 [view camera] if they're exposed and lit properly.”

“The first digital medium-format back passed the quality of film a long time ago,” says Phase One's Holst-Andersen. “Medium format, especially in the higher-megapixel backs, has been compared to shooting 4x5 film and larger. So now photographers have high-end images that they once obtained only from large view cameras in a much more compact system.”

Sinar Bron's Strobel has witnessed firsthand how her company's digital offerings have impacted the view-camera market. “It's made large-format film photography a boutique offering,” she says. “There has been a paradigm shift. Film has become an alternative process; digital capture is the standard now.”

Leaf's Rezzonico, though, says that the film/digital comparison is practically moot. “I think the argument of comparing film and digital is pretty much over now,” he says. “It really just goes back to the classic difference—bigger is better. A bigger sensor with bigger pixels is going to be a better result, just like the bigger piece of film was in the old days.

“I don't look at this as medium format versus 35mm anymore,” he continues. “It's a matter of the resolution that you need more than anything. I'm certainly not saying anything bad about 35mm cameras. They're really unbelievable; the quality is phenomenal. Whatever I used to do before in film is exactly what I do today in digital. The same thing holds true with view cameras; if you needed perspective control before, you still need it now.”

Holst-Andersen agrees that, as it was with film, there's enough room for multiple formats in the digital market. “I think more and more photographers will come to rely on D-SLRs and medium format as tools, just like we did in the film days, and use both.”

The Future

With so much flux in just the last few years, photographers and manufacturers are finding it hard to predict how the market will look in a decade. Dramatic shifts don't happen overnight, but they do happen. It's clear that the audience for high-resolution digital capture will continue to grow with photographers' demands for ever-increased quality and performance. The biggest question at the moment seems to be whether photographers will continue purchasing digital backs for analog cameras or will the market move to integrated medium-format digital products comparable to 35mm D-SLRs.


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