The Fall And Rise Of Medium Format

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Deeper color bit depth also means better image quality. The Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III boasts an impressive 14-bit color depth, but the higher 16-bit color depth of medium-format sensors equates to more luminance within the same range of stops. Bits refer to the dynamic range—the larger the dynamic range, the better you’re able to simultaneously see details in bright and dark areas in the same shot.

The birth of a new pro camera is rare enough, but the launch of the Sinar Hy6 6×6 medium-format digital system from Jenoptik is unique. The Hy6 is based on a range of hot-swappable backs, employing a 48x36mm sensor with an image ratio of 4:3. Photographers can compose in vertical portrait or horizontal landscape mode by simply turning the camera back. A full range of Schneider Autofocus Digital (AFD) lenses and manual lenses from 35mm to 300mm are available.

“Dealing with true 16-bit color depth makes a difference,” says Mark Rezzonico, vice president of Leaf America. “The biggest difference between 35mm sensors and medium-format sensors is that the medium-format pixels are physically much larger, measuring about 9 to 10 micron pixels. This allows medium format to hold far more detail than any 35mm camera, regardless of megapixel size.”

Jan H. Christiansen, marketing director of Phase One, notes the different type of professional attracted to medium format. “We have a very narrow market to cater to—professionals who understand color depth and accuracy,” says Christiansen. “That’s not to say D-SLR cameras are poor, just that if you’re shooting in tricky situations and you want those subtle details, tones, shadows and highlights to show, this is where medium format really comes into its own.”

Rental Programs

Medium-format manufacturers not only are selling their systems to traditional camera stores, but also accomplishing high unit sales through deliveries to a prosperous rental market. Symbolic of the trend is L.A.-based Digital Fusion, a digital scanning, retouching and printing business providing a complete solution for professional digital photographers. Hugh Milstein, co-owner of Digital Fusion, offers a fleet of Hasselblads for clients and expects new models in the very near future. “The bottom line with medium format is that big glass makes a big impression,” says Milstein. “It has an intangible, atmospheric effect; the guy with the bigger camera gets the better shot because it elicits an emotional response from the talent. Plus, with new cameras available, it goes back to offering the widest possible choice of equipment because then photographers’ artistic sensibilities creep in. Digital medium format is finally allowing this to happen again.” “We’ve seen some good action over the past year in medium format,” adds FotoCare’s Blake. “Hasselblad’s H3D series has definitely made an impact. Plus, with Leaf’s new AFi body, I predict the trend to continue. When it comes to gear, we need to offer it all.”

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