Join Ben Long for an in-depth discussion in this video Medium-format market, part of Advanced Photography: Medium-Format Digital Cameras.
- Image sensors come in many different sizes of course. What we call full frame cameras have image sensors that are the same size as a piece of 35 millimeter film, while what we usually call cropped sensor cameras have sensors that are the same size as APS film. Micro four thirds cameras meanwhile, all have sensors that measure roughly 22 by 17 millimeters. These sizes are all standards, but unfortunately, there is no standard for what we call medium format. As I discussed earlier, medium format film is always 56 millimeters wide, but it can vary in its length.
By comparison, the image sensor on the Hasselblad H6D digital medium format camera is 53.4 millimeters wide. By the way, the 100 megapixel version of that body will cost you $32,000, and you'll have to spend more to get a lens. Phase One sells a 100 megapixel medium format back with a 53.7 millimeters sensor, and I could go on. The point is, the medium format market is a little complicated. The Fuji GFX50S, the Hasselblad H1D, and the Pentax 645 all use the same sensor, which is made by Sony.
You won't get identical images out of these cameras because each vendor has customized the sensor, and they all process the raw sensor data in different ways. The sensor in these cameras is a 50.4 megapixel sensor that measures 43.8 millimeters wide. Now that's quite a bit smaller that those expensive medium format cameras, and that is the first thing you need to know about digital medium format. Right now, just as the regular camera market is divided into full frame and crop sensor models, the medium format market is now divided into large medium format and smaller medium format.
If you want larger, you going to have to pay a lot for it. That's what makes these smaller medium format cameras so important. Until the release of the Pentax 645D, digital medium format prices were always in the five digits. These smaller medium format cameras still bring a large sensor, but at a much smaller price tag. However, their sensors are not as large as those more expensive medium format cameras, and none of these sensors are as large as a piece of medium format film.
That last point is important if you come from a medium format film background. When switching to digital medium format, it's important that you understand you won't actually be shooting at a full medium format size. With these cameras that are actually affordable, you'll be using a size that's roughly a centimeter narrower. Now people often speak of a medium format look, and we'll discuss that look in more detail later. Part of what makes a medium format look is the shallower depth of field that is made possible by the larger film size. Because the sensors on these cameras are smaller than the 645 format, you're not going to get that same shallow depth of field that you might be used to from medium format film.
That doesn't mean that you should not consider these cameras, but you do need to manage your expectations if you come from a medium format film background. Now I'm just throwing a lot of measurements at you, and let's look at how they compare in size. Here's micro four thirds size, the smallest of the current sizes that you'll find in a mirrorless camera. Up from that comes APS C, which you'll find in both mirrorless and SLR's. Then 35 millimeter, which is usually referred to as full frame. Up from there comes small medium format, the size of the sensor in these cameras.
And up from there, the large medium format sizes that we looked at earlier. In this course we're going to focus on small medium format. All of the issues we'll discuss also apply to larger medium format, and if you're serious about image quality, and you have a client base to pay for it, you should definitely look into a large medium format camera alongside these. But for the shooter who feels like they need better quality than their current APS C or full frame camera, these small medium format cameras will probably be the most practical solution. So let's take a look at that middle section of the sensor size chart.
Again, here's micro four thirds, then Nikon's APS C size, then full frame, then small medium format. As you can see, there's actually a greater difference in size between APS C and 35 millimeter, than there is between 35 millimeter and small medium format. So what does this small medium format sensor deliver? Well, 50.4 megapixels of data in a four to three aspect ratio. This is different from the three to two aspect ratio that you might be used to with a 35 millimeter or crop sensor camera.
In it's full four to three aspect ratio, the Fuji GFX50S outputs an image that is 8256 by 6192 pixels. By comparison, a Canon 5D Mark 3, full frame camera, delivers an image that is 5760 by 3840 pixels. At 300 pixels per inch, the GFX image can be printed at 27 1/2 by 20 1/2 inches without any resampling. The 5D image, by comparison, can only be printed at 13 by 19.
Now most of us print at smaller sizes than even 13 by 19, which begs the question of whether the pixel count difference matters when you're always going to sample down to a smaller size for print. We'll be looking at that question very closely in later chapters, along with many other comparison factors. For now, note that these are great cameras, but that this is the bottom end of the medium format market, both in terms of price and, potentially, image quality.
- SLR and mirrorless design
- Focal length and aspect ratio
- Exploring camera options
- Workflow and tethering
- Shooting with small, medium-format cameras
- Dynamic range and medium format
- Medium format and commercial, architectural, and landscape photography
- Determining if you need a medium-format camera