The major advancements in full-frame D-SLRs are in overall image quality and providing resolutions approaching what was once exclusive to medium format. When D-SLRs had yet to break the 10-megapixel barrier, 20- and 30-megapixel medium-format systems had a lock on the ultra-high-resolution market. Now with 20+ megapixels available in full-frame D-SLRs, many photographers question whether they need medium format. Higher resolutions are available at a premium, but many photographers believe a 20-megapixel range is sufficient for most of what they do. The D-SLR can handle much of the work that called for medium-format film just a few years ago, and do it in a package that has been familiar to photographers for decades.
“I currently have six prints in my house that I made recently for a show,” says photographer Ryan Schude, “all about 36 inches wide and made with cameras ranging from the old Canon [EOS] 5D, [EOS] 1Ds Mark II and [EOS] 1Ds Mark III to a [Phase One] P45+ on an [Hasselblad] H2. I really wanted to be able to tell the difference, but honestly, I can’t—and I doubt many people who claim they could would be able to either.”
The State Of Medium Format
Consolidations, closures and takeovers have dwindled the numbers of medium-format makers in 2009.
Hasselblad. Manufacturer of the H3DII line, including 50-megapixel digital capture. The company was purchased by Imacon, manufacturer of digital backs, and has now incorporated body and back into an integrated system similar to D-SLRs.
Phase One. Makers of the Phase One 645 system, which uses a Mamiya body and lens mounts. In 2009, Phase One partnered with Mamiya and took over Leaf.
Mamiya. The longtime medium-format mainstay’s partnership with Phase One has produced the 645ZDb, a 22-megapixel, medium-format digital kit for under $11,000.
Rollei. Cameras were made by Franke & Heidecke until its closure in September 2009. The company created the Rolleiflex Hy6, a digital system licensed to Leaf and Sinar and sold under the brands AFi and Hy6, respectively.
Leaf. Currently a division of Phase One, Leaf will continue making medium-format digital backs, sans AFi, under Phase One control.
Sinar. The camera maker known for versatile large- and medium-format digital offerings had been owned by optical company Jenoptik since 2007, although the parent company recently announced it had sold Sinar (citing “significant deterioration in the business potential”) as a result of tumult in medium format and the collapse of Franke & Heidecke.
Leica. At a time when long-established medium-format makers are suffering, Leica has entered the fray with a new 37.5-megapixel S2 system—a hybrid camera offering medium-format quality in a D-SLR package with a $23,000 body-only price.
Phase One P40+
While medium-format digital offers extremely high and excellent overall image quality, many pros don’t need such extremes. Couple that with the advancements full-frame sensors in D-SLRs have made in high-ISO performance, and the medium-format sensors have a tough time competing. Should that photographer care to dabble with HD video, medium format isn’t an option.