Monday, June 23, 2008
The Fall And Rise Of Medium Format
New technology, a commitment to developing the very best image quality possible and a thriving rental market all have contributed to a renaissance in the digital medium-format category
Out With The Old
Before we look at the latest developments in camera design, we need to briefly look back at the medium-format scene a few years ago. The major medium-format players at the time were Hasselblad and Mamiya, with Rolleiflex accepting the role of a minimal player. Leaf continued to offer digital backs for a number of different manufacturers, but many at the time felt the medium-format business was losing its grasp, especially in the wake of Contax, Bronica and Pentax exiting the market.
At Photokina 2006, Hasselblad announced the end of its H2 model to make way for a fourth-generation camera, the H3D. This move meant that although the H3D possessed a removable digital back of its own, no other company would be able to, or allowed to, attach to an H3D body. What seemed sacrilegious at the time turned out to be a shrewd move for Hasselblad—an opportunity to start designing a new fresh, fourth-generation system.
“To halt the H2 model was very controversial at the time, but we felt it was the best move for our company,” explains Showalter. “But to be honest, the integrated platform makes far more sense. Developing an integrated system allows us to make our own specific designs, tackle design problems and take a number of issues into consideration.”
Showalter notes Hasselblad's new 28mm lens, designed and optimized specifically for digital image capture as an example of what the new H3D has allowed the company to build. Image quality has been dramatically improved by lieu of digital correction for both color aberration and distortion.
“Designing a wide-angle lens for film is one thing, but on a CCD you have to deal with a new level of chromatic aberration,” says Showalter. “Coming up with bigger optics and, more to the point, a completely new system, allowed us to compensate for errors normally experienced with regular digital backs.”
Estimated Street Price: $43,995 (Hasselblad H3D-II 39MS with standard 80mm lens); $39,995 (Hasselblad H3D-II 39 with standard 80mm lens); $26,995 (Hasselblad H3D-II 31 with standard 80mm lens).
The fallout of releasing a closed H3D system obviously had an effect on those manufacturers marketing backs, specifically Phase One, Leaf and Sinar. Hasselblad was a huge sector of the market, and one that each company obviously required, but out of this adversity came opportunity. The time was ripe for more sophisticated medium-format digital products, and the ensuing gap between Photokina 2006 and today has resulted in some interesting developments.
Phase One took the first proactive step by joining forces with Mamiya to create a first-generation body, the Phase One/Mamiya 645AFDIII. The camera has open architecture, allowing companies such as Leaf to offer their digital backs on its body.
“We have a fundamental, philosophically different approach to Hasselblad,” notes Christiansen of Phase One's and Mamiya's approach to the marketplace. “We want to develop a broader marketplace for our customers. Throughout our dialogue with the pros, we've learned that they don't want to be limited by options. These are artists who need to choose the best tools for the job, and we want to deliver on that.”
The Mamiya 645AFDIII picks up from previous incarnations of the design, improving autofocus capabilities by virtue of a quiet, powerful, coreless motor that includes variable user-selectable focus points.