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Thread: Digital Medium Format Back

  1. #1

    Digital Medium Format Back

    I am a Medium Format Photographer.
    I know, I know, there are some of us still!
    I also shoot film.
    I shoot film because I cannot afford the very high prices of the digital backs available for Medium Format.
    I like using film.
    I often read that film has a wider dynamic range in the highlights and, frankly, I wouldn't know what a wider dynamic range difference would look like if it sat on my face.
    I try to look for a cheap digital back and they all seem to be still very expensive.
    I don't want this thread to turn into a medium format vs DSLR or a film vs digital argument.
    I only want to know if there are other medium format users who are 'stuck' with film because they cannot make the leap to digital.
    Obviously, if there are any DSLR users who want to add anything, please don't feel excluded!

  2. #2
    carloshpvp's Avatar
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    Re: Digital Medium Format Back

    I have no experience with medium format photography but it seems that Pentax is offering a very good option with lower price compared to other brands. The model is Pentax 645D (http://www.dpreview.com/products/pen...rs/pentax_645d).

  3. #3

    Re: Digital Medium Format Back

    Thank You Carlos.
    It appears that the digital back makers come out with newer, bigger pixel backs but the 'old and inferior' ones don't reach an acceptable level.
    I don't expect them to give the backs away for free, but I think it is rather strange to have £6,500 and still not be able to purchase a back.

  4. #4
    rpcrowe's Avatar
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    Re: Digital Medium Format Back

    It seems that prices are driven by the numbers of an item that are sold. If you sell large numbers of any one specific item, the R&D and tooling costs are less for each copy produced. Top-line medium format film equipment has always been more expensive than top-line 35mm equipment because more 35mm equipment was sold, therefore lowering the prices. However, the price differential, IMO, was not as drastic as that between the DSLR cameras and medium format equipment because there was more medium format digital film equipment sold in comparison to 35mm camera equipment; than medium format digital equipment in comparison to DSLR equipment.

    More medium format film equipment was sold for a simple reason; 35mm film equipment just could not produce the quality most professional photographers needed for commercial work. I never used 35mm film equipment in shooting weddings until very nearly the end of my professional career and then; I only used 35mm to cover the reception because I determined that there were very few, if any, large prints of the reception activities ordered by my clients. It was cheaper to shoot 35mm and I was already suffering the impact or arthritis so I really appreciated switching from medium format to 35mm at the end of a day of shooting...

    Now, photographers are talking about full frame DSLR equipment in virtually the same context as we used to talk about medium format film equipment. IMO, the full frame DSLR (and to a lesser extent the crop) cameras combined with top-line lenses are fully capable of covering a wedding and producing the large prints required by clients. They are also capable of functioning in many other commercial venues.

    It is physically a LOT EASIER to shoot with DSLR equipment than medium format equipment. A photographer can easily carry a pair (or even three) DSLR cameras. These cameras can either be equipped with very fast prime lenses or excellent quality zoom lenses fully capable of producing the quality needed for most commercial work. Neither very fast primes nor excellent quality zooms were available for my medium format cameras and (although I always had one or more extra cameras set up for use) I never shot with a pair of Hasselblad, Mamiya or Rolleiflex cameras hanging around my neck.

    Since medium format digital equipment is such a specific nitche and since full-frame and even crop DSLR's can produce such exceptional quality (when combined with top-line glass) I don't see any reduction in the prices of medium format equipment in the future.

  5. #5

    Re: Digital Medium Format Back

    Thank you very much Richard.
    Thank you for the very clear explanation of my question.
    I do like the sound of my RZ67 Pro II's Shutter though!
    There is no way you can mistake the characteristic sound of the shutter!
    Thank you again for sparing the time to give me such a thorough explanation.
    Looks like Medium Format Digital is for high end photographers or rich amateurs.
    Shame.
    It looked so promising.

  6. #6
    inkista's Avatar
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    Re: Digital Medium Format Back

    Don't know if the prices hold where you are, but B&H is listing the DM-22 at US$8k. That seems like it's inside your price range. Maybe you just need a friend in the US. You could also look at "pre-owned" Phase Ones.

    I should probably also mention that my $2500 full-frame Canon 5D Mark II (that I got refurbished for $1800) has a 21MP sensor. Which is only 1MP less than the DM-22 has. Granted, the Canon pixels are waaaaaay smaller than the Mamiya pixels.

    One of the reasons the price gets jacked up isn't just volume, it also has to do with chip manufacture economics. The larger a chip is, physically, the fewer of them can be crammed onto a wafer, and the higher the likelihood that a surface flaw is going to ruin a sensor. When you can cram 50 point and shoot sensors onto a single wafer, and you only have three of them ruined by motes of dust your yield is pretty good. If you can only cram 5 medium format sensors onto a wafer, and three of them are ruined by dust, your yield is pretty bad.

    Richard, just a technical nitpick, but a lot of medium format cameras these days are actually SLRs, too. The OP's RZ67 Pro II is a medium format SLR. Might want to switch to "135 format" instead.
    Last edited by inkista; 19th August 2011 at 12:32 AM.

  7. #7

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    Re: Digital Medium Format Back

    Hi Sergio,

    I like to collect things -- in fact, just the other day a client popped into the studio to drop off an old Motorola "brick" cell phone that he thought I might like (and I do - thanks Frank!). I used to have one very similar, and it feels very nostagic to be able to look and and hold one again; and I don't see anything wrong with that ... but for day-to-day use, I use an iPhone 4 -- and I can't think of a single thing that the brick did that this can't do a whole lot better (times 1000).

    Now I'm not saying that medium format and/or film is as technologically uncompetitive (it's far from it) - and if one wanted to continue using it for no other reason than they liked it - then that of course is a perfectly valid reason ...

    ... but having said that, personally, I feel it's a good thing if people have the tools to be able to make an informed choice if they choose that route for (perceived) performance reasons. I'm not suggesting for a moment that this is the case with you, but in my mind, I've noted that many people seem to have notions "stuck in their head" that are perhaps based more on wishful thinking or something emotional; Mac -v- PC would be one example - Nikon -v- Canon would be another - 35mm -v- MF would be yet another. I guess all I'm trying to say is "if you haven't done so already, perhaps it's a good time to investigate 35mm Digital further"?

    In terms of dynamic range, most modern 35mm Digital cameras can capture in the region of 12 stops of dynamic range ("brightness"). Most prints can only reproduce 4 stops of dynamic range, and most monitors can only reproduce in the order of 6 stops - so already, most modern cameras are capturing a far bigger dynamic range than people are actually using (yes, I appreciate that we're probably compressing at least a couple or three more stops into what we reproduce, but that STILL leaves more than enough for most scenes). It's just a reality than in terms of being able to record and reproduce a scene - as technology stands - modern digital cameras are already capturing a far greater dynamic range than we know what to do with -- or put another way, it's the paper / screen technology that is by far the limiting factor.

    In terms of resolution - again - both MF and 35mm digital both come into the category of being "more than adequate" - and to be honest, that's pretty much been the case ever since they exceeded 8 to 12 MP capacities. In the vast majority of cases people are discarding a full 97% of captured information to display an image on the internet at a typical size -- not quite as much with a print, but again, the camera is still more than adequate in most cases (and keep in mind also that the bigger the print, the greater the viewing distance - and thus the less detail our eyes can resolve (and thus the less the resolution can be without being visible obvious). Keep in mind too, that print reolutions are a "square-law" function - so whereas you can make a very respectable 30 x 20 inch print from a 21MP camera, you'd need an 85MP camera to make a 60 x 40" print at the same resolution - and not even MF Digital backs are capable of that at this stage).

    Comparing MF Digital backs with 35mm Digital cameras - if one looks at the specs - one will typically find that the MF Back has a SLIGHT edge in terms of things like colour depth & dynamic range -- but in a very real sense that's a lot like saying "one country has enough nuclear weapons to kill everybody on the planet 10 times over" whereas another country only has enough to kill everyone on the planet 8 times over" when of course the reality is that having enough bombs to kill everybody "one times over" is more than "adequate"! Often these specifications are more to keep the marketing departments gainfully employed than they are to produce a quantifiable increase in image quality. And of course, many MF Digital backs come with some very "real world" disadvantages (poorer AF - poorer High ISO modes - expensive bodies and lenses etc).

    Just hoping to provide some food for thought

  8. #8
    inkista's Avatar
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    Re: Digital Medium Format Back

    One more silly thing to throw on the pile, the Luminous Landscape article entitled "You've Got to be Kidding!" where the author compared a H2 with Hasselblad P45+ output file .... to a Canon Powershot G10's.

  9. #9
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    Re: Digital Medium Format Back

    Hi Sergio,

    I still use film and I still use a medium format camera with a film back. I just recently went through the decision process and concluded that a top of the line DSLR was better value than a digital back for my 503CW, because of the lenses I already had and the huge expense of the back and a variety of image issues mainly related to practicallity. I think that there are image advantages for the top of the line backs, but they are really seriously expensive and would need to generate significant income for a professional to be able to afford them. Clearly there are those who have that level of business.

    I am still trying to decide whether to sell all of my film equipment or just keep using the 503CW for portraits and easily accessible landscapes. I have noticed though that the price of backs is coming down, maybe in 5 years time....

    Graham

  10. #10

    Re: Digital Medium Format Back

    Hello Colin,
    Thanks for the lengthy reply.
    You certainly spoke to my heart about collecting things!
    Inkista, thank you for the link and the advice.
    Graham, Yes.
    My Mamiya 645 AFD Mk III deserves a digital back.........five years!

  11. #11
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    Re: Digital Medium Format Back

    I am a former medium format shooter, I used a Bronica etrs system. I now use a Canon 5d (full frame) and I find the quality of the images is equal and even better than the Bronica. I purchased an adapter on ebay that lets me use my Zenzacon lenses on the Canon body. The Canon lenses are very high quality and they produce wonderful images. As far as I can tell, the only reason to use medium format body with a digital back is if your clients will only accept that format. I have talked to other photographers who work with older art directors and this is their preference. I even talked to one who said he has a client that he lost because he decided to go with a DSLR instead of a Dback on his hassy. He told his client that if the client would buy him one he would be glad to use it.

  12. #12

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    Re: Digital Medium Format Back

    Quote Originally Posted by knobspinner View Post
    As far as I can tell, the only reason to use medium format body with a digital back is if your clients will only accept that format.
    It reminds me of the time when a printer wouldn't accept images from a 20D because the resolution was too low (HAD to be 300 dpi, yawn). We just up-sampled them in Photoshop, and "viola" - end of "problem". Often these things are based on incorrect or out of date "mantra", and have no basis in fact in the real world.

  13. #13
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    Re: Digital Medium Format Back

    Colin mentions,,, "Often these things are based on incorrect or out of date "mantra", and have no basis in fact in the real world."

    I know this may be a bit off-track but...

    Speaking about "out of date" technology, can anyone help me to figure out what the advantage of using film in a basic photography course. For the life of me, I cannot figure out what the advantage of using that medium would be. But a lot of schools teach that medium...

    When I started in Naval Photography, we mixed our own chemicals. I am not talking about just adding water to the dry chemicals like a Better Crocker cake mix... I am talking about mixing the developing solutions and the fixer from scratch using the individual chemical ingredients. We spent over a week out of our 10-week photo course learning how to mix the chemicals, learning how to balance the weight of dessicated ingreients against those which contained extra moisture and all the other rules involving chemical mixing. Studying the chemical mixing process ate up about 10% of our learning time...

    Then the Navy started buying premixed chemicals (just add water) from Kodak because the quality control was better at the Kodak plant than in our individual photo lab chemical mixing rooms and the cost was cheaper (especially considering the labor involved).

    One of my schoolmates flunked out of the basic school of Naval Photography because he just couldn't understand the chemical process and the math involved in mixing formulas from the scratch ingredients. He ended up on an aircraft carrier as an ordnanceman, loading bombs. That was a shame because he was a pretty good photographer and got a job with Associated Press as a news photographer after his virtually wasted (photographically) four year stint with the Navy.

    I remember a vast amount of information I was taught in Photo School (over 50 years ago) but, I don't hardly remember a damn thing about chemical mixing - I couldn't tell you the basic ingredients for a developing solution to save my life. Yes, I learned a lot about photography from using film but, I am willing to bet that I would have become a better photographer faster if I had the advantage of working with digital photography from the start. I don't think that working in a darkroom provided any experience that sitting in front of your computer would not.

    Perhaps I am wrong. But maybe I am right. What we used to say in Navy photography was, "Those who can; do! Those who can't; teach!" Of course there is a second part to that saying. "Those who can neither do, nor teach; administrate!" And... it is often the administrators who determine policy.
    Last edited by rpcrowe; 20th August 2011 at 04:31 PM.

  14. #14
    FrankMi's Avatar
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    Re: Digital Medium Format Back

    Now, Richard, aren't you being a bit too reasonable?

  15. #15

    Re: Digital Medium Format Back

    I am still sticking with my Mamiya cameras. Selling my Nikon D700 and numerous lenses. I will finish photographing when film no longer exists. Made up my mind. Will not be ordered by pen pushers, accountants, marketing gurus or email enticements.
    You have all helped me make up my mind. Thank you.

  16. #16

    Re: Digital Medium Format Back

    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Southern View Post
    It reminds me of the time when a printer wouldn't accept images from a 20D because the resolution was too low (HAD to be 300 dpi, yawn). We just up-sampled them in Photoshop, and "viola" - end of "problem". Often these things are based on incorrect or out of date "mantra", and have no basis in fact in the real world.
    Just wanted to point out something in case it wasn't obvious already...

    A digital capture will typically show up in Photoshop as being 72dpi. Assuming its a high-res capture the x, y coordinates will be way larger than needed. If this is the case then you shouldn't "up-sample" the image, you're just degrading it for no good reason. Just uncheck re-sample and change the resolution from 72 to 300 or whatever is appropriate and "viola".

    If the image dimensions are smaller than required after you do this then your image resolution is "too low" and you are degrading the image by up-sampling. Admittedly if you're resampling by a fairly small amount then the degradation won't be visible in print, or at least not visible to those that don't know any better, which is most of the general consumer public.

  17. #17

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    Re: Digital Medium Format Back

    Quote Originally Posted by mitchjt View Post
    Just wanted to point out something in case it wasn't obvious already...

    A digital capture will typically show up in Photoshop as being 72dpi. Assuming its a high-res capture the x, y coordinates will be way larger than needed. If this is the case then you shouldn't "up-sample" the image, you're just degrading it for no good reason. Just uncheck re-sample and change the resolution from 72 to 300 or whatever is appropriate and "viola".

    If the image dimensions are smaller than required after you do this then your image resolution is "too low" and you are degrading the image by up-sampling. Admittedly if you're resampling by a fairly small amount then the degradation won't be visible in print, or at least not visible to those that don't know any better, which is most of the general consumer public.
    Thanks for you post -- and welcome to CiC.

    I know what you're saying - and agree as such (although when re-sampling -> re-sharpening the "degradation" is usually more theoretical than visually obvious). Unfortunately though, changing the PPI (eg from 72 to 300) is only 1/2 of the equation ... once one has done that the image STILL needs to be representative of the required size; in the case of the 20D (3520 x 2344 pixels) @ 300PPI that equates to an image size of 11.73 x 7.82 inches (assuming the original wasn't cropped), and that wasn't the "size" the printer wanted.

    So to hit the size and resolution specification the printed "needed", re-sampling was the only option.

  18. #18

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    Re: Digital Medium Format Back

    Ironically, printers (the ones that produce high-quality books and magazines) are the only ones
    that have a good technical reason to insist on 300 PPI originals: they have to sample the image
    through screens of (iirc) 150 lines/inch, and anything else than 300 PPI could give moiré effects
    (it's even a bit more complicated than that, as some of the screens are rotated, again to avoid
    moiré).

    Cheers,

    Remco

  19. #19

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    Re: Digital Medium Format Back

    Quote Originally Posted by revi View Post
    Ironically, printers (the ones that produce high-quality books and magazines) are the only ones
    that have a good technical reason to insist on 300 PPI originals: they have to sample the image
    through screens of (iirc) 150 lines/inch, and anything else than 300 PPI could give moiré effects
    (it's even a bit more complicated than that, as some of the screens are rotated, again to avoid
    moiré).

    Cheers,

    Remco
    And somewhat ironically, all the other printers prefer it too, although in most cases they don't have a clue about colour management or print resolution

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