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Thread: The little-discussed downside of using medium-format digital...

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    The little-discussed downside of using medium-format digital...

    Although I have been photographing with my Contax / P30+ combo for only a short time now, there’s no question I’m producing some of the best quality photos I have ever made. Better, in many respects -- most respects, even! -- than even those that began life as a piece of film in my 810G Toyo, which has come as something of a surprise to me. At the same time, though, I seem to be losing a lot as well.

    I arrived at medium-format digital after a nearly two-year stint of using m4/3 cameras almost exclusively. Thanks to their large LCDs, LiveView, and Olympus’ f2 zooms, I was able to photograph at times of day – specifically, at night – in ways that simply weren’t possible with a view camera. This last factor in particular has absolutely transformed my photography, because night time is about the only time I have free thanks to my busy work schedule and as a result, the frequency of my outings quickly increased from once a month or so to several times each week. And as the saying goes, practice makes perfect...

    Unfortunately, although the number of my outings hasn’t changed, it seems the amount of practice I’m getting now is decreasing markedly. Last night is a good example: I left my house at 9:00 pm and headed to the downtown Phoenix historic warehouse district. I arrived and had unloaded the gear from my car by 9:30 pm. I proceeded to photograph inside a three-block radius until 12:55 am, at which point I headed home and pulled into my driveway at roughly 1:20 am.

    My take for the night? A total of 34 images of 4 different scenes. With my m4/3 outfit, a typical night’s outing would have been 90-100 images of 12-15 scenes. (With my 8x10, a typical outing resulted in a maximum of 12 images, because I only have 6 film holders and at $15 per photo for film and processing, I was fairly conservative in what I photographed.) Combine this with the fact that I am now using a stepladder in order to compose images with a waist-level finder from my preferred perspective and I am essentially back to photographing out of my car, as I did with my 8x10, because walking around with a camera bag hung on one shoulder and the tripod and camera on the other, as I often did with my m4/3 outfits, simply isn’t possible. I will admit to having become spoiled by zoom lenses and LCDs that allow you to compose precisely right to the edge of the frame (for various reasons, I hate to crop) and I’m certain that as time passes, I’ll become proficient again at “seeing” in terms of the fixed focal-length lenses I am carrying. But for now, I am finding myself reminded in a rather vivid manner of all the reasons why I fell away from shooting 8x10 and am concerned about the implications this holds for the future.

    I realize every format has a sweet spot and everybody’s needs and preferences differ, but it’s clear to me now that there’s a downside to photographing with medium-format digital that is often overlooked. And as I rarely see this discussed here or elsewhere, I decided to post this note for the benefit of those people who are contemplating making a similar move, if only so they know going in that over-and-above the not inconsiderable financial expense, there is a price to be paid for photographing in medium-format digital in other respects as well.

    For the record, I have no regrets with my decision to make the switch and I will continue to explore different ways to adapt my workflow to better fit the tools I have available, but I sure do wish the experience of using a medium-format digital outfit was more like that of an m4/3 camera and less like an 8x10.

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    Subscriber & Workshop Member GrahamWelland's Avatar
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    Re: The little-discussed downside of using medium-format digital...

    I guess the question has to be asked how did the 34 images of 4 scenes compare with the 90-100 images from 12-15 scenes?

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    Re: The little-discussed downside of using medium-format digital...

    Quote Originally Posted by GrahamWelland View Post
    I guess the question has to be asked how did the 34 images of 4 scenes compare with the 90-100 images from 12-15 scenes?
    They're technically better in every way, of course; artistically, maybe not quite as good. My point, though, is that the experience of capturing them was quite a bit less pleasant and as a result, I find myself not quite as enthusiastic as I used to be each time I head out to photograph.

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    Re: The little-discussed downside of using medium-format digital...

    Of course, this isn't a medium format issue, but a technical/view camera issue. I'm in a similar situation, just beginning to work with an Alpa technical camera. But I still have the full PhaseOne DF system to use in times where I might want to work more quickly, or exploring new places.

    With the technical camera I find myself scouting the location early before I ever get the camera out of the back pack. I'm actually using an iPhone App, Viewfinder Pro to pre-visualize and plan what I'm actually going to shoot.

    I find the technical camera system actually lighter and easier to work with, and I certainly would find a different viewfinder option if I had to haul a ladder around. Sometimes I fine tune composition by simply firing off frames, tweaking between them.

    But you are right, I certainly capture fewer images and fewer compositions when working with it. I assume I'll will get faster with time, but at this point I will most likely use this system when shooting places I am more familiar with or when I know the shifts will be important.

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    Re: The little-discussed downside of using medium-format digital...

    One of the reasons I decided to get the technical camera was to slow down and make fewer but better thought out photos.

    Wayne - do you have a wide angle adapter for the iPhone to use with Viewfinder Pro?


    Terry

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    Subscriber & Workshop Member GrahamWelland's Avatar
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    Re: The little-discussed downside of using medium-format digital...

    Viewfinder Pro looks like a great app - heck I even managed to set it up for my M7 II too. Now If they added a reasonable meter it could be a killer app.

    Ditto for me on the format choice to slow down and focus more on the picture taking process. Nothing new about this though as we've been doing this for years as in "moving up" (I disagree with the term btw) to medium format, 4x5, 5x7 or 8x10 etc.

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    Re: The little-discussed downside of using medium-format digital...

    Very neat, just got Viewfinder Pro... does anyone sell a 0.5x or wider adapter for it?

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    Re: The little-discussed downside of using medium-format digital...

    Thank you Audii-Dudii for having the courage to state the hard facts of MFD. There is only one downside to a top of the line DSLR system today. There are several with MFD. It is all about one's goals.

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    Re: The little-discussed downside of using medium-format digital...

    Unless you are being paid to take a lot of pictures, who cares how many you take? What matters is how many keepers you get. How many stunning photos you get from what you shoot. It has been well documented that you can shoot more on a smaller, faster system, but I'm willing to bet that your number of keepers is pretty constant -- or at least will be once you get used to the new system.

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    Re: The little-discussed downside of using medium-format digital...

    No matter the camera, P&S or 4x5 I take less than ten pictures in a pictures session, just and simply because if you think at what you are taking there is very few photos to be done.
    You might look at the new Pentax MF which seems to have the ease of a small format's use.

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    Re: The little-discussed downside of using medium-format digital...

    What you can do that combines the best of both worlds, is to hire a photographer who uses MF or LF gear. That way you can get great files with no effort at all.

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    Re: The little-discussed downside of using medium-format digital...

    Quote Originally Posted by stephengilbert View Post
    What you can do that combines the best of both worlds, is to hire a photographer who uses MF or LF gear. That way you can get great files with no effort at all.


    Since this thread appeared I thought about a useful reply.
    I have none…
    Sometimes it takes me weeks, even months to take a certain shot.
    I go to the site many times… but then the sky is wrong (for instance fleecy clouds), or the foreground is wrong (cars or so), or the light is wrong (too bold or too weak or too boring). I do not even take the camera out of the case when the subject in question is not "ready"…
    One keeper for each trip would be excess… in a certain way.

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    Subscriber & Workshop Member GrahamWelland's Avatar
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    Re: The little-discussed downside of using medium-format digital...

    I confess that I normally subscribe to the 'thomas' school of photography. The 'must shoot' days are mostly a thing of the past for me, although sometimes it is good to force yourself to 'make' a shot even when things aren't as you want them to be. That's also where it's useful to have a choice of systems too. I might not break out the big guns on a poor shooting day but I might still try to grab something with the iPhone, P&S or RF.

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    Re: The little-discussed downside of using medium-format digital...

    I see there have been some interesting responses to my comments. To be honest, I’m still not sure what to make of all this, but I can now add yet another data point: My outing this past Friday night lasted three hours and during that time, I managed to photograph only three scenes and capture a total of 24 images (bracketing exposure, f-stops and focus points because I’m still learning the camera).

    On the positive side, all three scenes produced usable images and (IMO) two of the three turned out to be better than just usable. See below:





    But on the negative side, despite the fact that most of the scenes that I photograph are largely static and lit by streetlights, which suggests they will remain basically the same for a long time, many of them are surprisingly transitory in nature – i.e., they don’t last very long. As it happens, buildings get repainted, renovated, or torn down; roads get repaved; old signs are removed and new signs installed. The bottom line is that at times, I feel as if I’m racing the clock and if I don’t capture an image the first time I see it, I may not get a second chance.

    And therein lies the irony of digital for me. I came to it looking for the instant feedback and increased speed it offered and I was willing to accept the reduction in image quality as compared to what I could achieve with my 8x10. However, now that I’m hooked on digital’s instant feedback and speed, I find that improving its image quality comes at the sacrifice of its speed or at least that’s been my experience thus far.

    So, for me, medium-format digital is proving to be something of a mixed blessing: The results are superb, but there are fewer of them. :-/

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    Re: The little-discussed downside of using medium-format digital...

    I'm not sure if your problem relates to equipment or what you are trying to say. For sure your images are great. Is 3 scenes in 3 hours good? Who knows? What is the travel time between each scene? Are you sure that your problem does not relate to the fact that you are trying to produce a coherent series or essay and are not sure if you need ten pictures or one hundred? Ansel Adams reckoned 12 good pictures in a year was good going. How many are you trying to make? Are your standards lower or do you simply have a different objective in mind? Perhaps you need one hundred for your project. As you point out the landscape changes but surely you are trying to do more than simply record a moment in time.

    All the best,
    John

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    Re: The little-discussed downside of using medium-format digital...

    Also almost no reason to bracket in MF unless your REALLY bracketing by at least whole stops. There is so much play in these files you could be almost 2 stops under and pull a rabbit out of the hat. Now you may pick up noise going way under. I would not be using F16 either unless the DOF really called for it in these scenes even 5.6 would be fine or F8. This should help speed the process up.
    Photography is all about experimentation and without it you will never learn art.

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    Re: The little-discussed downside of using medium-format digital...

    Quote Originally Posted by Guy Mancuso View Post
    Also almost no reason to bracket in MF unless your REALLY bracketing by at least whole stops. There is so much play in these files you could be almost 2 stops under and pull a rabbit out of the hat. Now you may pick up noise going way under.
    I do bracket shutter speed for exposure purposes occasionally, but my bracketing has more to do with f-stops and focusing for DoF control, as I'm trying to learn what I can -- and cannot -- get away with in trying to keep my shutter speeds as short as possible. And Yes, noise is also a consideration, as the ambient temps are still in the high 90s late at night, so I'm trying as much as possible to keep the back cool, which means frequently turning it off and letting it "rest" for a bit between my setup and final shots.

    I would not be using F16 either unless the DOF really called for it in these scenes even 5.6 would be fine or F8. This should help speed the process up.
    For the most part, F5.6 seems to be cutting DoF too thin unless I'm shooting flat walls more-or-less straight on; F8 and F11 are what I'm using most often.

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    Re: The little-discussed downside of using medium-format digital...

    Quote Originally Posted by jbaxendell View Post
    I'm not sure if your problem relates to equipment or what you are trying to say. For sure your images are great. Is 3 scenes in 3 hours good? Who knows? What is the travel time between each scene?
    I like to go a specific area and then explore it on foot and see what I can find. Unfortunately, while this was easily done with my m4/3 outfit, it's not as practical with MF and I'm moving back to shooting out of my car instead, which is what I did with my 8x10. As for the number of scenes, three in as many hours would have been great with my 8x10, but it's a quarter of what I would typically manage with my m4/3 outfit. Horses for courses, I guess...

    Are you sure that your problem does not relate to the fact that you are trying to produce a coherent series or essay and are not sure if you need ten pictures or one hundred? Ansel Adams reckoned 12 good pictures in a year was good going. How many are you trying to make? Are your standards lower or do you simply have a different objective in mind? Perhaps you need one hundred for your project. As you point out the landscape changes but surely you are trying to do more than simply record a moment in time.
    I'm actually wearing two hats with my projects. There's the documentary side, wherein I'm trying to document these areas for posterity (I've been photographing in and around these parts since the mid-90s and an awful lot of the derelict architecture I've photographed since then no longer exists), and then there's the artistic side, wherein I try to capture certain moods or emotions instead of simply documenting a scene. Sometimes, I get lucky and one image works for both, but more commonly, I capture distinct and separate images for each project.

    Slowing down isn't as much of a problem for the artistic project, but it's a real problem for the documentary project because, as I noted above, it seems as if I'm very much in a race against the clock (although less so now, thanks to the economy) and often don't get a second chance to capture a specific scene on my next visit to an area, even if that's only a few days later.

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    Re: The little-discussed downside of using medium-format digital...

    Quote Originally Posted by Audii-Dudii View Post
    I like to go a specific area and then explore it on foot and see what I can find. Unfortunately, while this was easily done with my m4/3 outfit, it's not as practical with MF and I'm moving back to shooting out of my car instead, which is what I did with my 8x10.
    In my case I hardly ever carry a camera or take photos when exploring an area. To actually shoot distracts me from observation. When I have a clear idea of what images I want to make I go get the camera; or more typically, I'll walk around while the light is poor. I'll develop a sense of what time of day, which time of year (if applicable), under what conditions, and other circumstances (to the extent I can control them) will work for different images. I also think through what I want to communicate both with each image and as a whole, and if there are gaps. Then I come back as needed and shoot; this means i typically only ever carry a camera, one lens, film or db as needed, perhaps filters or other accessories I might want, a cable release, and a tripod. If I plan to make a whole bunch of different images at once I might bring several lenses.

    For a lot of landscape photography this means I walk around during the day, visually internalizing, then return to specific locations when the conditions suit a particular image.

    As a rule, to me it's not worth loading up a huge pack and walking around opportunistically - this never produces good work, and only gets in the way mentally. By the time I reach for the camera I already know exactly what I want, which lens and so forth and it's all about execution.

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    Re: The little-discussed downside of using medium-format digital...

    Quote Originally Posted by Jan Brittenson View Post
    As a rule, to me it's not worth loading up a huge pack and walking around opportunistically - this never produces good work, and only gets in the way mentally. By the time I reach for the camera I already know exactly what I want, which lens and so forth and it's all about execution.
    Clearly, our two styles are completely different, which is as it should be, of course! I am absolutely an opportunistic photographer, as the only pre-planning I ever do is to put myself in an interesting place and hope that something catches my eye while I'm there. That isn't to say I haven't returned later and taken a second crack at an image if I discover when I get home that it didn't work out as planned, but this is the exception rather than the rule.

    And as for heavy packs, this was one of the joys about shooting a m4/3 camera with a zoom lens. If the whole combo, including tripod, weighed more than 6lbs, I would be surprised and I could easily carry the necessary spare batteries and memory cards in a pants pocket.

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    Subscriber & Workshop Member GrahamWelland's Avatar
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    Re: The little-discussed downside of using medium-format digital...

    There is an alternative compromise here btw ... have you considered a Leica M9? You'd get all of the convenience of size & speed along with as good an image quality as the lenses you put on it.
    Last edited by GrahamWelland; 20th September 2010 at 14:05.

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    Re: The little-discussed downside of using medium-format digital...

    >this never produces good work, and only gets in the way mentally.

    Maybe better phrased: this never produces good work "for me", and only gets in the way mentally.

    >I am absolutely an opportunistic photographer, as the only pre-planning I ever do is to put myself in an interesting place and hope that something catches my eye while I'm there.

    Same here.
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    Re: The little-discussed downside of using medium-format digital...

    Not sure if forcing people to think on what they shoot is downside, really.

    I mean personally - it doesnt matter what i am shooting with - Nikon D700 or any of my medium format gear (film or digital), i'd still walk away with about 40-50 shots from 3-4 hour shoot with model (which is roughly 7-10 images from outfit/scene). Which i consider rather normal output. I'd rather have unique shots.

    Never been click-happy, never wanna be. Of course when i used to do sports shooting that was different (and still is), but its other field, where medium format isnt exactly proper choice anyway.

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    Re: The little-discussed downside of using medium-format digital...

    Quote Originally Posted by GrahamWelland View Post
    There is an alternative compromise here btw ... have you considered a Leica M9? You'd get all of the convenience of size & speed along with as good an image quality as the lenses you put on it.
    I have no experience with the M9, but I did try an M8 and, for me, it didn't work very well for this type of photography. For a start, I don't like the 3:2 format at all and cropping to 4:3 cost me ~15% of the pixels, which was problematic. Then there was the very approximate framing, which also doesn't work for me, as I prefer to compose my images in-camera rather crop afterward in order to preserve as many precious pixels as possible.

    I did consider a Sony A900 and Nikon D3X as alternatives to the Contax / P30+ combo, but they both have the same problem with regard to format and neither of them are appeciably smaller or lighter (or less costly, as I got some very good deals buying my gear secondhand.) And the A900 lacked Live View to boot.

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    Re: The little-discussed downside of using medium-format digital...

    I do not think much has changed for me when comparing digital camera formats to film camera formats. In the past when I shot film, I used a 35mm + prime/zoom for walk-around grab shots. If I was doing professional portrait work, it was Hasselblad on tripod, and if the client's needs were 4x5" chromes, it was a monorail + tripod. Different techniques for different tools is how I always saw it. Kind of like driving an automatic and then driving a stick-shift.

    Today with my digital tools, it is about the same with the exception of a MF replacing my 4x5". I do however make use of my D700 more than I ever did with my F3, and this puts it also on top of a tripod most of the time for landscape shots. I guess for me, things have gotten easier and that was one welcomed reason I made the switch to MF digital. When I learned my initial MF technique, it began with the box sitting on top of a tripod and I have shot like that ever since.

    Maybe this is more about technique in ways. No matter how lightweight the gear is, when I want to design my shot, I need to have it all buttoned down on the tripod so I can leave the gear-gymnastics and give my vision the freedom to develop. I do use a Canon G9 and the thought of putting that on a tripod would make me wonder why I purchased it in the first place.

    Darr
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    Re: The little-discussed downside of using medium-format digital...

    Quote Originally Posted by ustein View Post
    Maybe better phrased: this never produces good work "for me", and only gets in the way mentally.
    Oh yes, of course! Lots of people do great work shooting from the hip (sometimes literally) - it just doesn't work for me...

    I also greatly like to be alone when I have a camera in hand...

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    Re: The little-discussed downside of using medium-format digital...

    >- it just doesn't work for me... I also greatly like to be alone when I have a camera in hand...

    I understand that very well. Alone for me means photographing with Bettina. We want to be at our own pace and decide what and what not.
    Uwe Steinmueller
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