DPP Home Gear Cameras Is There A Medium Format Digital In Your Future?

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Is There A Medium-Format Digital In Your Future?

When it comes to ultimate digital image quality, nothing beats medium-format cameras and digital backs. The word 'medium' might be tepid—the image quality is anything but.

Medium FormatThe Road Ahead

Practical concerns about immense files are one reason DeLuca believes medium-format sensor resolutions will eventually plateau. The technology may be capable of continually producing exponentially higher resolutions, but photographers will ultimately decide that they have reached the magic number representing “enough” pixels.

“I don't know what that number is, but I think there is one,” DeLuca says. “The image that's generated is still going down to the same sort of output medium. As you go bigger and bigger, the file sizes just start to choke things; 100 million pixels is a 300 MB TIFF file at 8 bits. You take a couple of shots, and you've filled up a gigabyte. Then you've got to put it into Photoshop to process it. You can do it, but it turns into workflow issues.”

DeLuca knows, though, that nothing in the future of camera-sensor technology is certain. Today's standards may eventually fall by the wayside. CMOS sensors, for example, aren't used in the medium-format sensor market, but they're increasing in popularity between D-SLR and point-and-shoot cameras. DeLuca says that while camera manufacturers today prefer CCD for medium format for its historically cleaner low-ISO signal, the future is unknown.

“As a technology, CMOS is really appealing,” he says. “It gives you some interesting things that you can do in terms of how you work with the pixels, how you read them out. Kodak manufactures CMOS devices, and we go to medium-format customers, and they're saying, ‘What's going on with CMOS?' We say, ‘Well, today it looks like this.' And they say, ‘It's never going to work.' But then we say, ‘Tomorrow, it might look like that.' And they say, ‘That's kind of interesting!' Is it ever going to go there? It might. But I don't see it going there in the immediate future.”

One forecast that DeLuca is confident making is that the technology won't change overnight. In five years, he says, the top-of-the-line sensors of today will still be desirable.

“Compared to other markets, this is a specialty market,” he says. “Cycles in cell phones happen really fast; the cycles in this market are a little slower. Five years from now, I'd be surprised if you couldn't buy the current generation of products. That doesn't mean that there wouldn't be additional ones, but I'd be surprised if they were completely shut down. It's not the kind of thing that cycles every six months or every year.”

The best news, then, is for photographers who are concerned about their prospective purchases becoming outdated before they're fully paid for.

It's reassuring to know that the investment required for today's best digital-capture quality will still be worthwhile in 2012.



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