A disclaimer. This post may sound like a brain dump so I apologise in advance.
I have been reading with 'some' interest all the discussion about the D800 v IQ180 v blah blah blah and have become really quite disheartened. I feel that many of us have been turned into sensor monkeys and have forgotten what is photographically important, in my opinion anyway. Mass production camera companies want us to be sensor monkeys, so that we continue to upgrade and pay for the next best thing. That's one reason why Dx0 exists, it keeps the marketing about sensors rolling, and creates insecurity in the customer to get the next best thing.
In the film days people spent a lot of time arguing about which film was better, but the argument was more balanced then because people argued about lenses, viewfinders or cameras as well. The majority of debate today revolves around the sensor. It seems like that to me anyway.
Back in the day you could buy Kodak Portra 160 for 35mm or 645. So you could put the same film in a 35mm and 645 camera. Effectively the same 'sensor' in both cameras. Film 35mm was more portable; lighter; faster; smaller; you got 35/36 images per roll instead of 16 or less; it was cheaper to process; and the quality up to a certain print size was the same. All logic pointed to 35mm.
You could take a 35mm camera / Kodak Portra 160 / 50mm lens and put it 'in the ring against' a 645 camera / Kodak Portra 160 / 80mm lens. If you did a print at 8" x 10" and looked really closely at the results, they would be really similar. In fact looking closely no one would be able to tell the difference. But thats because our eyes are 6 inches from the print. We've forgotten about standing back and comparing the photographic differences between the images. Keeping our eyes pressed up to the print keeps the debate on the sensor and the rest of the elements don't get a look in.
So if it was just about the quality of film, medium format would have died years ago. We have effectively been able to put the same sensor in both 35mm and 645 for years.
So why did medium format keep being used back then? What were the differences that mattered photographically?
I think these are the questions that the MF digital companies need to focus on. I think that they have got drawn into the sensor argument too much and forgotten about the underlying rationale for medium format from a photographers perspective. Wrestle the debate back to what, in my opinion is important. To do that I think they need to differentiate themselves more. Get back to what made MF sing. However this requires them to go out on a limb.
To do that I offer my suggestions for a great medium format future:
Standardise on 60MP / 80MP.
The MF companies will eventually lose if the focus is entirely on sensor and megapixels. Sensors are controlled by the people with the biggest R&D depts. This will never be the MF guys. Keep R&D costs down by standardising.
Make the sensor BIGGER. 6x7 would be ideal.
The 40MP sensor size is just too close to 35mm and the 60MP / 80MP not big enough! Pull away from 35mm in physical size NOT megapixels. I would actually be comfortable if 35mm had more megapixels, as long as the sensor in my MF camera was much bigger. So much of the MF look depends on physical size, so much.
Allow the photographer to choose a format.
From this big sensor allow the photographer to choose a format and adjust the viewfinder automatically. Allow me to choose 6x6, 3x4, 4x5, 6x7 on the camera and when I look through the viewfinder it is automatically masked off. MF companies should take much more marketing advantage from this. I dislike the 35mm format and it is a reason I use MF. So make it even more of an advantage to me by allowing me to use all the formats I love.
Waist level viewfinder.
Bring back the god damn waist level viewfinder (removing this was a crazy idea, a classic example of making a medium format camera behave like a 35mm one). Stop doing this! Maybe even enhance it with auto exposure & focus. The waist level finder allows for a different perspective; the photographer / subject dynamic changes considerably and it allows for a more compact setup for hand held use. A photographer with a MF camera held to their eye is considerably more threatening than one looking down at a waist level finder. Plus the company makes money on the sales of waist level finders!
Its all about the lens.
Make us drool about lenses again. Its not just about sharpness. In fact in my portrait work, I take sharpness out! Concentrate on how the lens draws. Leica has been doing this for years and look at how their lenses sell. I would be happy to own 2 x 110mm lenses. One called the 110mm P (for portrait) and another 110mm L (for landscape). Glass is just so important to the overall photographic look of an image. It is no coincidence that the Hassy 110mm f/2 FE still commands such high prices. Maybe license some designs. Imagine the Zeiss 38mm Biogon or Mamiya 7 43mm lens design on a Phase DF. I'd buy them in a heart beat.
I use the 645DF and the shutter is just so loud! You can hear it go off at 100 paces. It must be easy enough to quieten down.
Portrait to Landscape.
Allow the sensor to be rotated in relation to the body. Its a really useful feature when doing portrait work. Really useful.
We don't need Live View
We need "Focus View". I've thought about this a lot. So hear me out. I use the viewfinder for composition, so I don't need the actual image on the digital back too. Thats just doubling up. I do need to know about focus, with the option of histogram too. So I would like a 'Live Focus Mask'. Plus I don't want it on the back. I want the green focus mask subtly superimposed in the viewfinder, with a button to turn it on and off again. I'm not sure it is possible, but it would be an amazing feature.
If I had a black screen with the areas of focus masked off in green with a small histogram as an alternative to a full image preview, I would use it much more often. Plus it would probably save on battery life.
Keep it simple
Modern day 35mm cameras are swiss army knives to me. They have too many options, too many features and its possible to take too many pictures. So a swiss army knife merged with a machine gun. For me the beauty of MF is the lack of options and the concentration on simplicity. I can't use a 35mm camera for this reason. My thought process is sped up and I stop thinking about the end product. But thats just me. However the important point is stay focussed on simplicity. It works well.
Ok my essay is over. Sorry for the length.
If you have reached the end of this, congratulations! My question to you is what other MF features are needed to bring back the differentiation between the formats that made MF so popular in the film days? What would you add? What do you disagree with?
But please please please, no Dx0 orientated pixel peeping nonsense.