Medium Format Gaining on DSLRs – Part Two


I’ve received a number of emails and comments regarding changing attitudes among photographers regarding medium format digital vs. DSLRs. Seems to me, first of all, that it’s not about the equipment. My daddy used to say, “it’s not the car, it’s the nut behind the wheel”. That said, I find that I can often see the difference between medium format (MF) images I’ve created, and those taken with a DSLR. My own approach has changed quite a bit; I think it is fair to say that I use my MF cameras much more nowadays than the DSLRs.

Some of the things I notice are sharpness, resolution, acutance, dimensionality, subtleties in tone transitions, and detail in shadow/highlights. In some cases, a MF lens will also show a difference in bokeh (smoothness of out of focus areas). In all of these, excluding the last item, I feel it is a combination of factors that makes up one’s perception of “difference”. For example high acutance coupled with low resolution looks much different than a situation where both are high. (a typical look for the former is a so-called “over-sharpened” image with that crispy look with lots of edge halos).

At the end of the day, images I’ve made with my MF cameras usually look quite different than those from the DSLR world – this is particularly the case when I’ve made a large print. The image below communicates some of these in spite of the limitations of computer screens. In print, it has amazing depth and dimensionality, and impressive detail in the leaves and textures in the rocks.

Columbia River Gorge

Columbia River Gorge

Hasselblad H-series camera body, P25 back, 100mm lens, f/11, approx one second exposure. It is true that one can make a very “sellable” image using a high-end DSLR. But can one achieve that look, that feeling of a unique image or print that one can almost walk right into? Doesn’t this affect both creative approach and one’s competitive position in an environment that challenges us all? And what about client’s perceptions? Haven’t many of use had the experience of a client choosing a photographer who owns MF digital vs DSLR? Does this set one apart from the pack? Thinking back, it’s made a difference for me – I’ve made far more money with MF than I ever have with my DSLRs. I’m working right now on a tour of seven cities, teaching use of MF digital cameras, high resolution printers, fine art printmaking, and art reproduction. The interest from photographers in MF is intense – something of a wake up call, in fact. More to follow.

Here’s a recent review of the Mamiya AFD III with the Leaf Aptus digital back.

4 thoughts on “Medium Format Gaining on DSLRs – Part Two

  1. An interesting twist to the plot. Most of the talk seems to be about smaller formats catching up IQ-wise with progressively bigger ones: cam-phones with compacts; compacts with DSLRs; and DSLRs gaining on MF. (Admittedly, not too much talk about MF gaining on Large Format.)

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