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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Next-Generation Medium-Format Cameras And Backs

The reports of the death of medium format in a digital age seem to have been greatly exaggerated

Although the digital-film hybrid system has in many ways revolutionized professional photography, the approach has its drawbacks. For many photographers, the price of these digital backs has prevented them from making the leap to an all-digital environment. Although the resolutions are on the rise and the prices continue to drop, most backs are still in the neighborhood of $10,000 and up—way up. In such a quickly changing industry, that can be a big investment for new gear that may be obsolete before the loan is paid in full.

Even when the economics of digital capture make sense, there are physical limitations to shooting with medium format. Early digital backs were scanning backs, which meant that a moving subject was impossible to capture. Many backs still require a tether to a computer in order to download and immediately process the digital image files, and this significantly impedes a photographer's ability to shoot on the go. These idiosyncrasies have left the window open for small-format digital cameras to begin to dominate the landscape and those small-format manufacturers have taken advantage.

With the recent double-digit megapixel gains of the Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II and the Nikon D2x, photographers are suddenly confronted with a small SLR capable of producing image files that approach medium-format scans. When the Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II was released in 2004, there were whispers: This could replace medium format. After all, if your 35mm camera can produce medium-format-sized images, why stay with the bulkier and more expensive medium-format system?

Since photographers continue to rave about their medium-format systems, it's clear that there must be distinct advantages. First up is resolution. The Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II is now 16.7 megapixels, comparable in size to many digital backs for medium format, yet it costs less than any of them. While it's the current resolution leader in 35mm-format cameras, though, the EOS-1Ds Mark II can't yet compete with the 20- and 25-megapixel files that are now commonplace among medium-format digital backs.

How many photographers shoot literally no film? No matter how technologically advanced, most of us still manage to shoot a roll or two every now and then when the work dictates it. For anyone who splits his or her time between film and digital on a more regular basis, the medium-format system is even more of a natural fit since the same body, lenses and accessories all can be used whether you're shooting film or digital. For the vast majority of working pros who need to keep an eye on a business' bottom line, that versatility is tremendous. The same photographer can use a decades-old lens with an equally antique body and choose between a favorite classic film or a brand-new digital back without missing a beat.


Rollei 6008 AFRollei 6008 AF/Phase One Package

Not all medium-format manufacturers are reinventing the wheel when it comes to digital photography. Rollei has taken its most recent film camera, the auto-everything Rolleiflex 6008 AF, and packaged it with a Rollei-branded Phase One db20p digital capture back. This film-to-digital kit offers photographers a one-camera solution, no matter how their next assignment needs to be shot.

The 6008 AF offers many of the features 35mm shooters have long loved: auto-exposure, autofocus, TTL-flash metering and full control over metering modes, focus points and exposure compensation. Combined with the db20p, the kit provides 16 megapixels and 16-bit-color digital captures, CF file storage for tether-free shooting and Phase One's acclaimed C1 software for capturing and processing image files directly from the camera. And, of course, with the right Rollei film back, the camera is equally suited to 6x6 and 6x4.5 old-fashioned film photography. One camera, lots of options.


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