Does Medium Format have a future?

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by steveash, Feb 10, 2012.

  1. steveash macrumors 6502

    steveash

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    #1
    I have been considering investing in a digital medium format for a while for its various benefits to my business. It would be a major step that I'm not quite ready for yet. Recent news however has got me interested in what will happen to the format in the future.

    With mainstream manufacturers pushing up into the high megapixels (eg Nikon D800 and whatever Canon's response will be) and developing sensors that are sharp and noise free for a fraction of the price the smaller camera companies are finding it hard to compete. I wonder if the lower end MF cameras will disappear? If so, there may not be enough business left to support the production of the small quantities of high-end cameras needed.

    We always talk about the benefits of a large sensor but technology moves on and the image quality of a modern DSLR is now up there with MF of a few years ago.
     
  2. miles01110 macrumors Core

    miles01110

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    #2
    Medium Format has been relegated to its small niche for several years now. I don't see why it can't continue being popular amongst its devoted followers for a long time, but I'm not really sure what "future" you're really talking about. It's never going to regain even a fraction of the popularity it once had.
     
  3. steveash thread starter macrumors 6502

    steveash

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    #3
    I just wonder if their niche is getting too small to sustain successful businesses. The mass market brands with their massive resources seem to be moving forward more quickly. I certainly hope they survive, it's great to have these classic names and their level of quality in the market.
     
  4. MattSepeta macrumors 65816

    MattSepeta

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    #4
    Yes, it has a future.

    Just like how 15 years ago, vinyl had a future.

    :p
     
  5. flosseR macrumors 6502a

    flosseR

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    #5
    well, for the ultra high resolution and sharpness shots, there still is (arguably) no equivalent in the 35mm digital format. we don't have (yet) 80mpixels DSLRs and the clarity of medium fmrat is still amazing will it last?.. who knows..
     
  6. toxic macrumors 68000

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    #6
    it's been like this for years. Mamiya ZD, 2004 22MP. Canon 1DsII, 2005, 16 MP, and 1DsIII, 2007, 21MP.
    higher MP in new cameras has been a constant trend since digital was invented... nothing's changed.

    and the image quality of APS-C now is up there with 35mm of a few years ago. hasn't stopped everyone from gushing about how FF is sooo much better than crop.
     
  7. Le Big Mac macrumors 68020

    Le Big Mac

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    #7
    The issue here is full frame lenses that people have from film cameras. A 50mm lens is now a telephoto on APS-C.

    Obviously a bigger sensor does have some advantages, but also some drawbacks, so FF isn't inherently better than APS-C

    Question is whether enough people will have legacy FF/35mm lenses that they'll want to bring along by the time FF cameras/sensors get down to a price that's more reasonable than they are now.

    I suspect the same will be true for MF, just further out on the timeline.
     
  8. GoCubsGo macrumors Nehalem

    GoCubsGo

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    #8
    I disagree to a point. Because that niche is getting smaller and smaller, locating the film at a semi-modest price is in fact getting difficult. This could drive those "devoted followers" out of that pack.
     
  9. thekev macrumors 604

    thekev

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    #9
    He was talking about digital medium format cameras. The difference in quality is still definitely there, and it's not just megapixels. You get a lot more in the way of tiny detail and subtle gradation, although the top dslrs have gotten really really good.

    It's not so much of an issue at all. We've seen full frame cameras come further and further down in price, although the 5d hasn't seen a new version in several years. There are lenses made for smaller formats. They aren't as popular, and wide angle lenses on slr cameras kind of suck to a degree anyway due to consisting of basically a reverse telephoto design as otherwise you'd have mirror obstruction. In the future I expect more of these wide angle lenses to be built to use software corrections for distortion.

    It gets better as the technology matures, but larger sensors often provide a level of smoothness that is really nice. Medium format digitals tend to use ccds rather than cmos and lack an anti aliasing filter. Just adding more sharpening doesn't change that, and whenever someone makes that claim I want to punch them in the jaw:D. Certain parts of this market have started to mature and stagnate, but you still get really nice quality from the large sensors. If you've do side by side comparisons, it's obviously way easier to see. It's just a kind of smoothness that is really nice.
     
  10. OreoCookie macrumors 68030

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    #10
    Really? The price of full frame cameras has not significantly changed after the introduction of the 5D: the cheapest new full frame bodies cost initially $3k when they are released and then come down in price when the model »ages«. While I do see a place for cameras whose sensors are larger than APS-C, I don't expect they'll become a lot cheaper anytime soon. As discussed a few times already, full frame sensors have significantly lower yield than APS-C-sized sensors and thus they'll remain expensive.
     
  11. firestarter macrumors 603

    firestarter

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    #11
    Yes, Medium Format has a future.

    It may even have an increasingly good future, as prices for big sensors come down (the Pentax 645 is really cheap).

    Whatever happens with 35mm size sensors, MF size sensors will always be able to go bigger and better. The Leaf Aptus sensors are 80 megapixels. FF 35mm sensors just aren't going to do that... current popular MF sensors have 2.5x the amount of silicon real-estate.

    MF is easier to compose with in the studio, it's a more flexible system (swap the back onto some view camera bellows for product photography), it's sharper and most importantly it has much better dynamic range.

    What the 35mm manufacturers need to concentrate on now is this last factor - dynamic range.
     
  12. thekev, Feb 10, 2012
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2012

    thekev macrumors 604

    thekev

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    #12
    The 5D II in the US currently goes for around $2200 for the body. The original 5D never reached that price point while it was still in production. This whole discussion and speculation comes up whenever things sit for a while. Prior to 2003 or 2004, medium format backs were using sensors similar in size to these "full frame" (although most are technically shy of it) sensors today. I kind of wonder how much of a market exists in that lower midrange of dslrs with APS-C sized sensors.

    Anyway I'd like to see a sensor with a dynamic range (hate that term) closer to what is seen in digital backs today, and one that doesn't require the damn anti aliasing filter. I hate AA filters. Imacon (now hasselblad) was one of the earlier ones to go away from that design. It doesn't prevent moire 100% of the time anyway. It just turns small details into mush.

    I'd love to see progression in sensor design rather than just more megapixels. I know foveon was referenced on the board before, and it did seem to have some really nice qualities when it came to reproducing reds or blues which are typically difficult colors for digital cameras. Also on the 80 megapixel thing, you can still benefit from that to a degree even without printing that large. They produce very clean details, which is a real advantage. I actually kind of wonder how the software interpolation works if you output smaller. If the density was high enough, you could get set something up where a small cluster of pixels on the sensor is used to make one real pixel rather than interpolating two channels into each.
     
  13. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

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    #13
    You mention "various benefits," so I'd like to see you quantify them. What do you see as the benefits to your shooting of the current medium format bodies? Personally, I don't see a whole lot-- I'd go LF well before MF if I were going to pony up serious cash-- it takes serious work to re-create movements. Unless you're shooting high-end fashion where the client is used to the quality edge of MF, I really don't see a business reason to go there- 35mm and APS-C have gotten "good enough" for almost any usage you can envision, depending on which body you select and your needs. However, since you see "various benefits," what are they and you can probably see how things stack up- given the cost of MF glass that's good enough for the ultra-high-res. sensors, you should be doing enough work that needs it to ROI the equipment in fairly short order, otherwise you're probably spending capital you don't need to spend on something that costs more than it needs to.

    Paul
     
  14. steveash thread starter macrumors 6502

    steveash

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    #14
    Hi Paul. Thanks for the reply, I'll try and clarify a bit. I am a commercial photographer mostly shooting for catalogues, brochures, editorial and advertising. I am sometimes asked to shoot in high resolution when a client requires images to be printed on posters at bus stops or bill-boards so I hire cameras for the job. Most of the time 21MP is plenty. I see the benefits of Medium Format apart from resolution being the colour depth, clarity of images (from a big sensor and high quality lens) and higher dynamic range. There is also the impression that a client gets if they see a high end camera - if a client see's serious equipment they feel reassured that they are getting value for money. Pictures may be 90% photographer and 10% gear but the average person often doesn't realise that.

    However... I'm not asking whether I should buy a new camera; I am holding out until it makes the most financial sense to upgrade. I am just wondering if the MF camera makers can survive when their market share is constantly being eaten away at by high end DSLRs.
     
  15. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

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    #15
    While 21MP is indeed "plenty" for billboards, client impressions count. If a 'blad gets you one client and your rates are good, it'll pay for itself. Long-term, there is no way the MF manufacturers will survive. The economics of sensor manufacturing almost guarantee their demise. None of them were doing well *before* the move to digital, and unless the "Full frame uber alles" crowd surprise us all and Canon and or Nikon gets into the MF business (in which case, they'll likely hasten the demise of the incumbents) I just don't see a way that more expensive sensors with higher reject rates make sense- the D800 is IMO the nail in the coffin-- it's actually almost too much resolution.

    To do advertising, you're probably looking at about $50-60k US for a high-end HD4 plus 2-3 lenses and software- you can save about $20k by going with a 30MP body, and if you get Hassy's newsletter thing, occasionally an old refurb will go for much less than that- for that sort of money, you can get a Better Light back and Schneider digital lenses for product photography and have movements-- and deliver 600MB-1G 48-bit files to those who are "impressed" with resolution and color depth. "I'll courier over a hard drive with a copy of the shoot." Of course the art department who has to work with the files will loathe you ;)

    Granted, you can go a lot cheaper going outside of the Hassy line- but they tend to win for color depth and DR against the Mamiyas of the world.

    I certainly wouldn't buy MF without a short-term ROI. As a long-term investment it's too risky. Spend the money on huge light panels for the studio and if most of what you shoot is compatible with LF, I'd look there for the wiz bang against the competition- "Oh, our high-end clients can handle the 384MP files, I can shoot it low-res with one of the little cameras if you're in a hurry though- much quicker to process the files." Plus, it's just fun to say "Scheimpflug!"

    Bottom line- if you're holding out for when it makes financial sense, it doesn't. If the ROI isn't there quickly enough to make it obvious, then it's probably a bad move and your clients likely aren't that obsessed with equipment.

    Paul
     
  16. firestarter macrumors 603

    firestarter

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    #16
    ^^^ Fashion and high end advertising photographers don't necessarily own their MF equipment.

    There's a large rental market (as there always has been in the cine industry). You rent the camera, which comes with an operator complete with laptop and tethering setup. It doesn't add significantly to shoot costs (given the size of the team) and you're always shooting well maintained, latest gear.

    I know people in this world, and that's the way they roll...
     
  17. carlgo macrumors 68000

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    #17
    At some point the dam will break and large sensors will be available for not so much more than today's "full frame" models.

    It is likely that the pixel count will be unimaginatively high and this will be used for a combination of new small lenses and very effective electronic zoom.
     
  18. thekev macrumors 604

    thekev

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    #18

    That seems slightly less common than it was a few years ago unless you're shooting accompanying video work. A lot of photographers own a dslr. The nikon is quite popular, then when they require it, they rent something larger. I'm not sure why canon has been so quiet the past couple years.

    It's a pretty small market. The guys that shoot a lot of cars or product work benefit from the really clean details. Car photographers didn't really have a great digital option prior to the P45 or so. They weren't shooting medium format prior to that. These were guys shooting 4x5 or larger, so they were obviously later adopters. And yes I know more of that is done in cgi these days, but they're often produced against photographic backplates.
     
  19. firestarter macrumors 603

    firestarter

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    #19
    What seems less common? I don't think you read what I wrote.

    The photographers I'm talking about all own DSLRs (5DII / D3x level) of course, but they rent MF equipment.

    My point is that I'm not sure that MF has to be cost effective for a single photographer to own and run, because there's a healthy enough rental market - which is fully cost effective.

    How has Canon been quiet?
     
  20. spacedcadet macrumors regular

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    #20
    All about the money

    With top advertising/ high fashion photographer getting £20,000 plus a day for a shoot, owning their own MF equipment is not really a problem.

    Admittedly, that's a VERY small niche market, not enough to keep a manufacturer in business.
     
  21. paolo- macrumors 6502a

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    #21
    Not sure how many people on this forum can give you a good answer to this (not saying I'm one of those). Honestly, very few people would want an MF camera. They aren't as refined for gain so they tend to get noisy at higher ISO, much faster than 35mm, they're bulky, expensive and possibly a bit more fragile. They're made for the studio. But damn the images are beautiful.

    Here's a nice write up by Zach Arias on the topic

    http://zackarias.com/for-photograph...oved-to-medium-format-phase-one-iq140-review/
     
  22. Consultant macrumors G5

    Consultant

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  23. SimonUK5 macrumors 6502

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    #23
    MF Flim and a Drum scan still out resolves Digital, until it doesn't, there will always be a place for it..


    Plus you know... the camera's are badass..
     
  24. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

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    #24
    Traditional lens designs don't lend themselves well to larger sensors AND smaller lenses at the same time. More importantly, even if you remove process defects, you're still looking at poor economics. Smaller sensors are performing better and better- If I can manufacture defect free sensors from a wafer, you're still going to look at the number of sensors per wafer as a measure of profitability. Historically, one need simply look at the price of film- even with film prices at an all-time low, APS film was attempted (too early for it's quality IMO) instead of more 11x14 sheets.

    We are very close to the point of no return on pixel density as well- you can only fit so many photons in a small well- APS-C and eventually smaller will continue to rule the day and anything bigger than 35mm will continue to shrink. The D800 will make 35mm more popular, but at the expense of MF- which are more of a niche than they were even 10 years ago.

    Paul
     
  25. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

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    #25
    I believe the BetterLight scanning backs will out-resolve 6x9 film and an Imacon ;) - but more importantly resolution isn't everything and the number of film manufacturers and amount of film produced is going down significantly every year- there's a finite lifespan ahead of using the medium practically- and we're near enough to the end to hear the weazing rattle of its barely-alive body. Fujifilm's product manager thinks they'll be in trouble in 4-6 years despite the retro lift they've seen recently. I think he's in the ballpark.

    Paul
     

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