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The Fall And Rise Of Medium Format

It’s no secret that the medium-format industry has experienced dramatic changes since the advent of digital. Open camera systems (think Hasselblad’s H2 series) became closed, leaving players such as Phase One and Leaf no access to Hasselblad’s systems. Additionally, the disappearance of beloved medium-format models signified harsh times in the sector as Contax, Bronica and Pentax fell by the wayside.

A renaissance has blessed the industry, however, as new systems have entered the marketplace. Hasselblad, Mamiya, Phase One, Leaf and Sinar all have pushed their technology forward and opened up a new arena once considered dormant.

Hasselblad has been producing medium-format cameras since World War II. Its latest creation is the H3D, a camera that reflects a radical change in direction for the company by effectively sacrificing interchangeability and backward compatibility. But this has allowed Hasselblad engineers to focus on ways of improving image quality and camera functionality. Examples include lens-correction technology to fix aberration issues and a new 28mm lens.

Phase One recently made an alliance with Mamiya after Hasselblad announced its closed H3D system. The result of this partnership is the 645AFDIII with a Phase One badge (Mamiya also is releasing the camera under its own brand name). The body will accept any Mamiya 645 standard accessory, including lenses and backs, and offers significant improvements over previous Mamiya models, including faster and quieter autofocus. Phase One will continue to be committed to open systems.

D-SLR Vs. Medium Format

Even with the release of impressive new models, medium format still wrestles against the virtues of 20-plus-megapixel sensors touted by various 35mm manufacturers. Fred Blake, rental manager at FotoCare, a respected 40-year-old company in New York, can testify to 35mm’s recent megapixel growth, specifically in rentals.“It looks to me like the Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III digital SLR camera is having an impact in medium-format rentals,” he says. “The line between 35mm and medium format is now a little blurrier at 21 megapixels.” The bottom line is that a larger bucket on a medium-format camera always will deliver more image quality. “The fact of the matter is that you get a damn good photo in 35mm, but it just isn’t the same as medium format,” explains Jack Showalter, president of Hasselblad USA. “Let’s face it, it’s not just about pixel count. The reason you use larger pieces of silicon for medium format is to convert more photons to electrons and thus get more data with a deeper bit depth.”

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