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Thread: Where is Medium Format heading in the digital world?

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    Subscriber Member KurtKamka's Avatar
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    Where is Medium Format heading in the digital world?

    How's that for a thought-provoking title? I've been thinking about the question as I think about the experience I had with a loaner MFDB over the weekend. In many ways, MF photography can be very different in terms of methodology and process compared to 35mm photography. But, in terms of composition, capturing an emotion or knowing when to push the button, it can be very similar.

    As sensors become larger in DSLRs and prices of MFDBs fall, photographers will begin to question what they can and want to accomplish in larger formats and with larger sensors. Feathers will be ruffled as conventions are pushed. Sometimes for the good and sometimes for the not so good.

    Many photographers (and dealers), have to have a certain amount of curiosity in understanding how and why the format will continue to evolve as places like this forum serve as grass roots microcosm of the marketplace as a whole.

    Any thoughts out there?

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    DougDolde
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    Re: Where is Medium Format heading in the digital world?

    Oh please don't even go there.

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    Re: Where is Medium Format heading in the digital world?

    Quote Originally Posted by KurtKamka View Post
    As sensors become larger in DSLRs and prices of MFDBs fall, photographers will begin to question what they can and want to accomplish in larger formats and with larger sensors.
    Kurt,
    Not meaning to sound flippant, but DSLRs are at their full size for the 35mm sensor in the top end Canon and Nikon cameras, and they are not going to get any larger. Maybe more pixels, but we are already seeing some of the limits there. The MF sensors are not likely to get all that much cheaper, as the price of the sensor will remain quite high, unless there is a significant increase in market share and much more demand for more large sensors to help amortize the costs over a greater number sold. (You many recall that when Canon first produced the 1Ds with its full frame 35mm sensor, the camera price was quite high, attributed to the cost of making that larger sensor. Well, with more of those full sized 35mm sensors being sold in a month than probably all of the MFDBs being sold in a year, it would be unlikely to see much of a price drop as new ones are developed.) It would be great to see MF become more affordable, and I think it could get there, but I am not counting on that anytime soon

    Personally, I think MF will remain confined to a much smaller market segment that is primarily working pros that need it, and serious enthusiasts that demand and can afford it. Not expecting it to be heading "mainstream" anytime soon. Even if the camera manufacturers find a way to make them much more affordable, and maybe even easier to use without hassle, I just do not see them showing up in too many people's hands for casual shooting. Not that many have even taken to the FF 35mm DSLR at this point, compared to the crop sensor cameras and even the more sophisticated digicams.

    The one place where things could change, but may not, is to get more interchangeability of lenses, backs and bodies, without all the hassle of hunting for special adaptors, retrofitting things, etc. That may boost overall attractiveness and utility of MF gear to many, but that is not looking likely either.

    LJ

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    Administrator Bob's Avatar
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    Re: Where is Medium Format heading in the digital world?

    Kurt,
    The history of lenses suggests that the practical resolution limit is about 400 line pairs per mm. That is of course obliterated with hand held cameras at speeds under 1/4000 given the angular velocity of hand held vibration and the results of shutter and mirror vibration.
    It used to be pretty good when one could resolve 80lp/mm with a traditional Lieca shutter.
    The M8 is nearing there with its 72-ish lp/mm sensor and the D3 has a ways to go.
    After the "full frame 35mm" format gets to somewhere around 22-24 MPixels it has nowhere to go as far as practically deliverable resolution unless we get to better image stabilization and lower camera vibration.
    MF will get you to more than double that because it has more space to work with. Assuming a 6 x 4.5 imaging area, a sensor at equivalent technology levels can deliver over three times the number of useful pixels at the same resolution, DR ISO and noise levels. If the manufacturer chooses to do a better job at DR ISO and noise at the expense of limit resolution, the MF cameras will offer a benefit in those parameters.
    That sensor, however may cost nine times as much due to defect density effects on chip yields or perhaps somewhat less if improvements are made in bad pixel mapping.
    In the end you get what you pay for.
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    Re: Where is Medium Format heading in the digital world?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob View Post
    Kurt,
    In the end you get what you pay for.
    -bob
    If you consider paying 4x the price for 2x the quality (purely random numbers, BTW) then perhaps that's true. A lot of what you can get from MF you simply can't get from 35mm (and vice versa). As has been said several times, it's more than just increased resolution.

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    Re: Where is Medium Format heading in the digital world?

    I am never really interested in "what's the future hold" for this or that.

    But what I find so interesting that people choose the technology to think about instead of the users. I am 35 yrs old. Have shot medium format since I starting shooting in the early 90's. I like MF for the slower approach to composing, thinking about the image. But what I have noticed is that younger photographers really don't have much if any experience in MF and therefore no emotional attachment, no nostalgia for MF as older photographers do. Younger photogs are quite happy with DSLRs. Now, there are several photo schools that have large numbers of MFDB for students during there 2-4 year coursework. But few continue with those backs after school, which they are almost always given the option of buying at a very reduced price. They generally still can't afford that. Younger photogs are horrible at pricing their work, running a business and can't figure out how to pay for such a large expense.

    If you want on ponder on the future of MF digital, then think about what the companies will need to do to attract younger upcoming photographers who see DSLRs as being good enough, have no attachment to MF, no long time experience with the format.

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    Re: Where is Medium Format heading in the digital world?

    Quote Originally Posted by schweikert View Post
    I am never really interested in "what's the future hold" for this or that.

    But what I find so interesting that people choose the technology to think about instead of the users. I am 35 yrs old. Have shot medium format since I starting shooting in the early 90's. I like MF for the slower approach to composing, thinking about the image. But what I have noticed is that younger photographers really don't have much if any experience in MF and therefore no emotional attachment, no nostalgia for MF as older photographers do. Younger photogs are quite happy with DSLRs. Now, there are several photo schools that have large numbers of MFDB for students during there 2-4 year coursework. But few continue with those backs after school, which they are almost always given the option of buying at a very reduced price. They generally still can't afford that. Younger photogs are horrible at pricing their work, running a business and can't figure out how to pay for such a large expense.

    If you want on ponder on the future of MF digital, then think about what the companies will need to do to attract younger upcoming photographers who see DSLRs as being good enough, have no attachment to MF, no long time experience with the format.
    What younger photographers like or don't like, use or don't use, can afford or not afford has little to do with MF of the future. Who buys and pays for the images has everything to do with it. MF is primarily a commercial tool serving the commercial world of commerce OR used by wealthy institutions to record art works etc. The demands are set by the applications ... and multi-purposing of images ... that demands more than 35mm DSLR can deliver. Believe me, no business savvy commercial photographer want's to drop that kind of coin on tools every 2 to 3 years if a $5,000. DSLR could do the job just as well.

    This forum, with it's well-heeled amateurs isn't a microcosm, it's an anomaly.

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    Re: Where is Medium Format heading in the digital world?

    Quote Originally Posted by fotografz View Post
    What younger photographers like or don't like, use or don't use, can afford or not afford has little to do with MF of the future. Who buys and pays for the images has everything to do with it. MF is primarily a commercial tool serving the commercial world of commerce OR used by wealthy institutions to record art works etc. The demands are set by the applications ... and multi-purposing of images ... that demands more than 35mm DSLR can deliver. Believe me, no business savvy commercial photographer want's to drop that kind of coin on tools every 2 to 3 years if a $5,000. DSLR could do the job just as well.

    This forum, with it's well-heeled amateurs isn't a microcosm, it's an anomaly.
    Hört, hört !!!

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    Re: Where is Medium Format heading in the digital world?

    Quote Originally Posted by ptomsu View Post
    Hört, hört !!!
    That wasn't meant as a dig. There are VERY dedicated and talented shooters here that are obviously successful at what they do at their day jobs ... and can afford to induldge in making art in any way they wish. Some of the work shown here blows me away.

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    Re: Where is Medium Format heading in the digital world?

    Photography, for many of us, is a journey and not a destination.

    Thus it is not unusual to see people changing their minds about what works best for them in their particular genre. For me, as a landscape shooter, the landing point of MF I guess was inevitable. My goal is to print large so resolution and pixel quality is everything.

    My cut at where MF is going is identical to where all of digital photography is going! As semiconductor technology improves so will our sensors. As can be seen with the outstanding high iso performance of the D3, the wonderful file quality of the M8 we have many choices and they will only become more widespread.

    I guess my hope is that the techology improvements, which will include semiconductor yield improvements, will allow prices to be lowered. Certainly the volume of MF backs sold won't drive that particular equation. A 39Mpx system at $25k would be (to me) ideal. Imagine owning a Hassy 3D39 at that price! Yikes

    JMHO

    Woody

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    Re: Where is Medium Format heading in the digital world?

    Quote Originally Posted by fotografz View Post
    What younger photographers like or don't like, use or don't use, can afford or not afford has little to do with MF of the future.
    I think it can play a major role in the large-enough scale viability, cost, whether it stays the same or comes down. If you want to talk about the future, then younger photographers are the future. Look at large format film, it's equal or better quality than most MFDBs. The user base of large format has dropped considerably. I, for one, simply don't shoot it anymore at all. So the possibility of a similar trickle down effect is viable. MF may be too burdensome for young photogs, too slow, who knows what the reason they may have.

    Leaf America just came to do a 4 hour demonstration our ASMP TN chapter helped host, open to any photographers. Steve Hendrix who participates here on this forum was there and the topic of younger photogs was discussed just as I said earlier. There were people who are shooting for a living who have never used MF. Some never shot film. Some never shot large format. I'm not saying this is the only demographic, but these are the people who will partly comprise the future shooters.

    I can pick 50 shooters in town and easily tell you what each one shoots. I read enough, hear enough and talk to enough of them to know. Not many MFDB shooters. The ones who are, shot MF for quite some time prior.

    Being active in ASMP, I get to see many trends because I see many shooters all year long, locally and beyond at larger events and expos. I don't believe the advertising, that's for sure.

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    Re: Where is Medium Format heading in the digital world?

    Quote Originally Posted by schweikert View Post
    I think it can play a major role in the large-enough scale viability, cost, whether it stays the same or comes down. If you want to talk about the future, then younger photographers are the future. Look at large format film, it's equal or better quality than most MFDBs. The user base of large format has dropped considerably. I, for one, simply don't shoot it anymore at all. So the possibility of a similar trickle down effect is viable. MF may be too burdensome for young photogs, too slow, who knows what the reason they may have.

    Leaf America just came to do a 4 hour demonstration our ASMP TN chapter helped host, open to any photographers. Steve Hendrix who participates here on this forum was there and the topic of younger photogs was discussed just as I said earlier. Some never shot film. Some never shot large format. I'm not saying this is the only demographic, but these are the people who will partly comprise the future shooters.

    I can pick 50 shooters in town and easily tell you what each one shoots. I read enough, hear enough and talk to enough of them to know. Not many MFDB shooters. The ones who are, shot MF for quite some time prior.

    Being active in ASMP, I get to see many trends because I see many shooters all year long, locally and beyond at larger events and expos. I don't believe the advertising, that's for sure.
    "There were people who are shooting for a living who have never used MF"

    Shooting what?

    Weddings? Photojournalism? What?

    While weddings were a market for MF, that isn't the market for MF Digital. So what is?

    Don't kid yourself. The future of high resolution digital capture isn't driven by photographers of any age ... young or old ... it's driven by a massive, interconnected commercial world spending billions on imagery. Everything is digital. It happened when the whole printing industry went ones and zeros, and next year your TV better be digital or you'll be sitting in the dark.

    Photographers were forced to fall in line by clients who no longer use analog for anything.

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    Re: Where is Medium Format heading in the digital world?

    The difference between any of the formats are broken down to a small number of variables. I guess IQ. Cost and functionality come to mind. You can pretty much make any image in both 35mm and MF with different IQ levels. You need LF type view camera movements to do other stuff. It would be interesting to see a system that delivers view camera movements employing a 35mm DSLR chip - we have that in MFD cameras and lenses already.

    Processing 35 vs MFD files shows up differences in IQ - however translating to print is not so readily distinguished if you are talking small print sizes ( say single page or smaller) - translating to a web display has little relationship to print. However - for many this may already be an irrelevant. consideration.

    Economics are already moving more favorably towards certain MFD entry points than high end 35mm DSLR's. The classic example is the Hasselblad CFV back on a 500 series body. However a used 20+ megapixel back from many makers delivers similar benefits at higher megapixels if one is so inclined. Really teh difernce in cost is no longer as obvious and therefore no longer as important as functionality and workflow.

    I remember paying $12K for a 1dmk1 and a similar amount for the L lens system I bought to go with it. At that time a CFV 16 megapixel back cost $30K.

    Now the CFV back and body and one lens starter kit can be had for less than $10K - not much more than a Canon 1dsmk111 and its 23megapixels...

    35mm has peaked and this peak in terms of IQ is significantly lower than an entry level MFD back.

    MFD back manufacturers are very silly if they ignore the "substitute for a top end Canon/Nikon body" market. CaNikon is very silly if they think that their high end cameras offer compelling value to a discerning buyer reltive to a so called low end MFD back.

    next year and the year after will see these dynamics gather momentum....I will save my predictions abotu what CaNikon will be forced to do ...for another time.

    Pete.

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    Re: Where is Medium Format heading in the digital world?

    Quote Originally Posted by PeterA View Post
    The difference between any of the formats are broken down to a small number of variables. I guess IQ. Cost and functionality come to mind. You can pretty much make any image in both 35mm and MF with different IQ levels. You need LF type view camera movements to do other stuff. It would be interesting to see a system that delivers view camera movements employing a 35mm DSLR chip - we have that in MFD cameras and lenses already.

    Processing 35 vs MFD files shows up differences in IQ - however translating to print is not so readily distinguished if you are talking small print sizes ( say single page or smaller) - translating to a web display has little relationship to print. However - for many this may already be an irrelevant. consideration.

    Economics are already moving more favorably towards certain MFD entry points than high end 35mm DSLR's. The classic example is the Hasselblad CFV back on a 500 series body. However a used 20+ megapixel back from many makers delivers similar benefits at higher megapixels if one is so inclined. Really teh difernce in cost is no longer as obvious and therefore no longer as important as functionality and workflow.

    I remember paying $12K for a 1dmk1 and a similar amount for the L lens system I bought to go with it. At that time a CFV 16 megapixel back cost $30K.

    Now the CFV back and body and one lens starter kit can be had for less than $10K - not much more than a Canon 1dsmk111 and its 23megapixels...

    35mm has peaked and this peak in terms of IQ is significantly lower than an entry level MFD back.

    MFD back manufacturers are very silly if they ignore the "substitute for a top end Canon/Nikon body" market. CaNikon is very silly if they think that their high end cameras offer compelling value to a discerning buyer reltive to a so called low end MFD back.

    next year and the year after will see these dynamics gather momentum....I will save my predictions about what CaNikon will be forced to do ...for another time.

    Pete.
    This subject is interesting because we each bring our respective perspectives to the party.

    My world is somewhat alien to most folks here (not all). I see MF digital capture primarily as a commercial entity because that's the business that I am in ... In terms of economics, I have bought more images as a career ad agency Creative Director than I have ever sold as a part-time Photographer ... multimillion$ verses a modest income supplement shooting weddings and commercial images. The only "35mm" images we have purchased in the past decade was for TV commercials, and that was motion picture film ... which is then digitized for editing.

    I wonder from the manufactures' perspective where the majority of MFD sales come from now ... and where they see potential growth? That will tell us where MF is going and who will influence where MF Digital is going.

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    Re: Where is Medium Format heading in the digital world?

    Interesting discussion... For me, the gold standard is to achieve drum-scanned 4x5 image quality in a direct digital workflow. IMO we did that with the latest batch of 33/39 MP backs, so the only hurdle remaining is entry cost. Fortunately that seems to be coming down to where more and more folks can justify it, and seems to be confirmed with the increased MF traffic on this forum. I figure I'm about a week away myself
    ~~~

    IMO, the "room for growth" question is going to be one of simply increased volume -- and to get increased volume, costs need to come down. I think we've arrived at a point where we don't need more pixels, unless they come in a significantly larger sensor -- larger like 4x5 film insert size so you could more easily use it with existing 4x5 cameras and movements. For a landscape shooter, a 75mm x 100mm sensor with 9 micron pixels would be around 100 MP of direct digital capture -- wouldn't that be pretty darn slick!
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    Re: Where is Medium Format heading in the digital world?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jack Flesher View Post
    Interesting discussion... For me, the gold standard is to achieve drum-scanned 4x5 image quality in a direct digital workflow. IMO we did that with the latest batch of 33/39 MP backs, so the only hurdle remaining is entry cost. Fortunately that seems to be coming down to where more and more folks can justify it, and seems to be confirmed with the increased MF traffic on this forum. I figure I'm about a week away myself
    ~~~

    IMO, the "room for growth" question is going to be one of simply increased volume -- and to get increased volume, costs need to come down. I think we've arrived at a point where we don't need more pixels, unless they come in a significantly larger sensor -- larger like 4x5 film insert size so you could more easily use it with existing 4x5 cameras and movements. For a landscape shooter, a 75mm x 100mm sensor with 9 micron pixels would be around 100 MP of direct digital capture -- wouldn't that be pretty darn slick!
    Jack, where is that price coming down? The 39 meg backs all went up in price this year ... at least in the US they're all over 30K retail ... or do you mean that used or demo prices are now available for stuff like a P45 or H3D/39 now that the P45+ and H3D-II are available?

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