There always will be a place for the biggest and best digital capture at any price. And that price may shrink and entice new buyers, just as the cameras are likely to get smaller and more convenient and more akin to D-SLRs (the Leica S2, for example). But as future generations of full-frame D-SLRs get even better, faster and more affordable than the current breed, it must get harder for medium format to compete. And as there always will be a niche for top quality, there’s certain to remain a massive market for affordability—even disposability—in small-format digital SLRs.
“If you wanted my dream camera,” says Stephen Matera, “it would be the size of a [Canon EOS] 5D, maybe 35 megapixels, full-frame, of course, with the ability to shoot high ISO, at least 1600, with low noise, a fairly fast frame rate of four or five frames per second and a good autofocus system. And within a couple, three years maybe? The technology moves so quickly, it’s incredible.”
What Is RED?
Big sensors have an edge for studio shooters like August Bradley. For them, high-end digital cameras will always have a place—even if the state of the format isn’t quite settled. Enter RED, the maker of RED ONE digital HD cinema cameras that have gained favor this year as hybrid digital/still systems for those with a penchant for the deluxe. The current technology, the RED ONE, was used in 2009 to photograph a cover for Esquire magazine, as well as to film the blockbuster movie District 9.
Planned next-generation RED systems, known as Scarlet and Epic, will be modular HD-video and still-photo devices (known as DSMC, Digital Stills and Motion Camera) designed to be completely customizable and infinitely upgradeable—making “obsolescence obsolete.” Sensor “brains” will start at small 2⁄3-inch video sizes, include full-frame 35mm formats, move beyond to medium-format 645 sensors and ultimately top out with the massive 617 digital format, mimicking the Linhof Technorama camera and creating a 261-megapixel panoramic image—with a retail price of $50,000 (brain only).
“That seems a more near-term challenge to medium-format cameras,” says Bradley, “since they’re not talking just about closing the gap on medium-format digital, but reinventing the top caliber of image capture. I trust Hasselblad and the other medium-format camera makers have aggressive R&D in process just as RED, Canon and Nikon do.”