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Thread: My Take On 35mm vs MFD (Long!)

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    My Take On 35mm vs MFD (Long!)

    Large Format vs 35mm – History Repeats

    I want to be perfectly clear that I am not a professional photographer. Sure I’ve shown in galleries and sold prints, but I don’t do photography for a living. I’ve never taken a photography course, never had any formal photography training and never aspired to be a pro. I just love to take images; landscapes are my passion. Finally, just to set the record completely straight, I am not receiving any compensation from anyone for this essay. I am just writing it for my own pleasure; just like my photography.

    Good. That’s out of the way. On to the meat of this essay. Why would anyone in my position (advanced amateur, unpaid landscape photographer) ever continue down the path of medium format back digital photography when there are now almost 40 megapixel, 35mm SLR’s available for 1/10th the price ($3,000 vs $30,000)? My answer is, of course, because a digital SLR doesn’t meet my needs; how I want to do photography and what I want from it when I do it. I’ll try to clarify.

    My time photographing is precious to me (remember, I have a day job). If I am lucky enough to get out for a day trip photographing or take a week’s vacation for photography, I want to be able to capture the absolute best image I possibly can and with the equipment I ENJOY using. I would never forgive myself for taking that once-in-a-lifetime trip for the Eastern Sierra fall color, or a 19 hour day trip (4am – 11pm) to Yosemite for the dogwood blossoms and come home with images I wasn’t happy with because of my gear. Bottom line, I never want to be able to blame my gear; only myself. Of course while I totally care about the quality of the file and the level of control, I simply cannot ignore the FEELING of the camera itself. Taking a tech camera out of the bag FEELS more substantial, more real, and more “camera-like.” I enjoy it more. And I'm not ashamed to say it :-). (There, I’m out of the camera closet now!!)

    Back in the day of shooting film, I went from 35mm to 6x6 to 4x5. I loved 4x5 for the incredible optics and control. Unlike 35mm, the system excelled at landscape photography. No R&D was spent on fancy autofocus, multi-zone metering, fast frames per second, zoom lenses or HD video. The whole system had been perfected to provide the best optics and platform for holding the optics and film solidly so the user had freedom to compose and create without limits. Plus the added wonder of composing upside down!

    I was spoiled. How could I create this same control and image dimensionality in a digital world? I went through a 35mm digital phase; tilt/shift lenses, etc., but it looked so plastic. It was two dimensional, but even more so than 35mm film. Yes, there were lots of benefits, but that was because of digital, not the platform. And I wasn’t able to immerse myself in the process. One of the primary reasons I photograph landscapes is to take myself away from the everyday, workday stress. A huge part of escaping is loosing myself in the process of creating an image. I want to think, because thinking is fun, but I want to think in a completely different way than my work brain. 4x5 film photography did this for me. I wanted to recreate this in my escape into photography.

    How do I do this with digital? How do I have a “no excuses” platform, be in total control, loose myself in the process of taking an image and create that same detail and dimensionality that I had in 4x5? The answer for me was a medium format digital back mated to a technical camera platform. The manufacturers concentrated on the best optics (again, not fast autofocus, multi-sector metering, etc.) and the most accurate, stable and user-in-control platform. Most importantly, the output from the digital back, so accurately mated to a 4x5 type platform, was simply phenomenal. My MFDB system has greater dynamic range and is sharper than my 4x5 with amazing detail and that three-dimensional look. I have been and still am truly amazed by the output.

    I have been incredibly lucky in building my system. Over time it has cost me much less than chasing after the latest and greatest 35mm offering. I have had amazing support from my MFDB dealer. He (Lance Shad at Digital Transitions; hooo rah!) started me out with an inexpensive used back from another customer’s upgrade that worked on both my Hasselblad and Technikarden 45S cameras. This 22mp back cost less than half the price of a new high-end 35mm body! After a year of use I began to acquire a technical camera system. It was 1/4th the weight of my Hasselblad system and 1/6 the weight of my Technikarden system. I could tromp around almost effortlessly with it compared to my DSLR, Hassy or TK45s systems. And because the dynamic range was so much better, the number of filters (and associated filter holders) I had to carry was minimized. Basically I now had a light-weight (relatively) system with precise optics and mechanics that gave me the best possible images. I of course sold my Hassy V system and got just a bit less than the cost of the new tech camera body and a couple of lenses!

    Then again the Lance-man worked his magic and moved me up to more than twice as many megapixels on another customer trade-in, giving me what I had paid for my original used back in trade. Amazing; that trade cost me about the same as a new 21mp SLR body and I had a Phase One P45+!! Now Lance is working with me again and I am upgrading from the P45+ to the Phase One P65+. Between the trade of the P45+ and the P65+, two 35mm high end DSLRs were released. I figure I would have spent about $12-$15k total if I had followed my normal “buy the best” path. For about that same cost (actually a bit less) I moved up to a bigger sensor with greater dynamic range. So without this kind of long-term relationship with a trusted dealer and a product that holds its value (almost guaranteed by the manufacturer), I could never have afforded these moves. By evolving the way I did into a MFD technical system, I really spent no more than if I had continued to buy the next greatest hit in the DSLR world (not even including upgrades to lens improvements, which I don’t worry about anymore).

    When folks start talking about how a high pixel, 35mm cameras with the greatest autofocus, better multi-segment metering, faster frames per second, etc., it’s déjà vu all over again. I’d rather have a simple system with the best optics and total control that gives me that 4x5 (and even better) look. I still loose myself in the image capture process; I have total control (can blame no-one but myself). I have incredible dimensionality and detail in my images. I was able to do this economically and at my own pace because I didn’t have to buy the system all at once or sell my backs to upgrade through x-bay, etc.

    For landscape photography, IMO, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind. Just as 35mm film did not come close to large format photography, with digital there also is no comparison. I think many (with the encouragement of 35mm manufacturers) try to argue that a multi-use, made for the mass-market system is equivalent to a system designed specifically for landscape photography. It simply is not. Try to say that about 35mm film vs 4x5 film. History repeats itself.

    Some of my medium format images can be seen at Medium Format Digital Back Images
    www.rgaphoto.com
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    Administrator, Instructor Guy Mancuso's Avatar
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    Re: My Take On 35mm vs MFD (Long!)

    People forget what this truly is all about for the hobbyist. You could not have described it any better and what I hear on the workshops working with people. Seriously this is supposed to be fun and enjoying your creative side . I think people get lost sometimes with what the real reasons why your out there shooting art.
    Photography is all about experimentation and without it you will never learn art.

    www.guymancusophotography.com
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    Senior Member Swissblad's Avatar
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    Re: My Take On 35mm vs MFD (Long!)

    Well put!
    Thanks for this post.
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    Senior Member rayyen's Avatar
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    Re: My Take On 35mm vs MFD (Long!)

    Like your sharing. I share your experience too
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    Re: My Take On 35mm vs MFD (Long!)

    Couldn't agree more, very happy with my MF system and no plans on changing it. (Have a P45+ I love as well, but would obviously love a P65+ and I am sure you will enjoy it

    The best camera is the camera you want to use!
    Rick Rose
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    Re: My Take On 35mm vs MFD (Long!)

    Thank you Robert.

    Not only did I enjoy reading your personal insights on the process, I loved looking through your work. I especially enjoyed the inclusion of benches and deck chairs in some shots because it injected the human element into the scene, and invited me to come sit, relax, and enjoy the view.

    I also prefer the tactile use of MFD, sometimes on a Rollie Xact-II camera with very precise optics, but also a more spontaneous relationship shooting with a MFD DSLR ... there is still something about the look and feel that is addictive and can't be simulated or duplicated IMHO ... and once you become proficient at the use of the gear through an on-going relationship, the incremental upgrades are easier to assimilate and fold into a familiar work pattern.

    Thanks again,

    -Marc
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    Workshop Member glenerrolrd's Avatar
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    Re: My Take On 35mm vs MFD (Long!)

    Very well written . Pretty much supports the definition of “ amateur “ .....”lover of “ . The ability to pursue ones loves without financial consideration . How great is that !

    You have a wonderful sense of purpose and have aligned you kit and efforts precisely with you goals . You are exceptionally fortunate to be able to loose yourself in your photography . The images show an emotional connection with being there at a great moment .

    Thank for sharing .

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    Re: My Take On 35mm vs MFD (Long!)

    Quote Originally Posted by glenerrolrd View Post
    Very well written . Pretty much supports the definition of “ amateur “ .....”lover of “ . The ability to pursue ones loves without financial consideration . How great is that !

    You have a wonderful sense of purpose and have aligned you kit and efforts precisely with you goals . You are exceptionally fortunate to be able to loose yourself in your photography . The images show an emotional connection with being there at a great moment .

    Thank for sharing .
    Well I wouldn't say without financial consideration exactly. Much of what I have bought is used (about 1/2 price). I also consider it an addiction (years of therapy haven't helped ). I'm not on a fixed income yet so there is some disposable in our budget.

    That's why I love working with my dealer. He's always got my back (pun intended :bug eyes: ). Buying used and from a non-dealer is, IMO, much riskier with at 35mm system than with a tech cam and back that are from a reliable and honest broker. That's why the continuous evolution of my kit is, I believe, costing much less than doing the same in 35mm.

    Just wanted to clarify...
    Bob

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    Re: My Take On 35mm vs MFD (Long!)

    Well put and thanks for sharing.


    Don
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    Re: My Take On 35mm vs MFD (Long!)

    A very thoughtful article. I am glad that you have found the equipmemt that gives you both pleasure and technical capability. Great images and vision.

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    Re: My Take On 35mm vs MFD (Long!)

    Very well put, my sentiment exactly, and same approach. It obviously works for you looking at your images.

    Cheers, -Peter

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    Workshop Member glenerrolrd's Avatar
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    Re: My Take On 35mm vs MFD (Long!)

    Quote Originally Posted by rga View Post
    Well I wouldn't say without financial consideration exactly. Much of what I have bought is used (about 1/2 price). I also consider it an addiction (years of therapy haven't helped ). I'm not on a fixed income yet so there is some disposable in our budget.

    That's why I love working with my dealer. He's always got my back (pun intended :bug eyes: ). Buying used and from a non-dealer is, IMO, much riskier with at 35mm system than with a tech cam and back that are from a reliable and honest broker. That's why the continuous evolution of my kit is, I believe, costing much less than doing the same in 35mm.

    Just wanted to clarify...
    Bob
    The definition of amateur is speaking to the perspective that you aren t on deadline or need to come back with the shot of the day . e.g. you don t need to receive payment for your images and in turn work as a professional . Any pro will tell you that financial considerations force them to work to their customers point of view ( a few exceptional photographers can get beyond this).

    During portfolio review I had a few years back ..I told the reviewer that I was attempting to produce like a professional . Creating structure in my techniques to give me good odds at getting publishable images . The room was full of accomplished professionals . His point was “ look around ..everyone of those pro s is working his/her a$#@ off to be you “ " having the ability to pursue your passion as an amateur” . Probably one of my most insightful therapy sessions.

    Thats the spirit of my comments . Enjoyed your post .
    Roger Dunham
    http://rogerdunham.com/
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    Administrator, Instructor Guy Mancuso's Avatar
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    Re: My Take On 35mm vs MFD (Long!)

    His point was “ look around ..everyone of those pro s is working his/her a$#@ off to be you “ " having the ability to pursue your passion as an amateur” . Probably one of my most insightful therapy sessions.


    Believe me I can't tell you how true that is. I envy every person that comes on our workshops just to enjoy themselves with nothing attached to it. Lately I am having a blast playing golf a 3 year absence and I'm starting to enjoy my life again. Bonus both kids want to go out and play too and ultimate bonus I'm getting back in shape.
    Photography is all about experimentation and without it you will never learn art.

    www.guymancusophotography.com
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    Re: My Take On 35mm vs MFD (Long!)

    Amen to all these comments and particularly those of rga. My goal is to enjoy the therapy. Charles
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    Re: My Take On 35mm vs MFD (Long!)

    Very well stated; I can personally identify with your goals and priorities, and I, too, am so happy to do what I do just for the sheer joy of doing it.
    Stephen Penland
    www.stephenpenland.com
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    Re: My Take On 35mm vs MFD (Long!)

    Quote Originally Posted by Guy Mancuso View Post
    People forget what this truly is all about for the hobbyist. You could not have described it any better and what I hear on the workshops working with people. Seriously this is supposed to be fun and enjoying your creative side . I think people get lost sometimes with what the real reasons why your out there shooting art.
    Guy,

    I'm totally with you, I'd just like to extend this idea.

    a) the geeks that enjoy the photographic stuff
    "Having a lot of megapixels and 146 AF-modes on this cam"
    -> they get a great photo by mistake

    b) the people that enjoy the photographic process
    "Having a great time enjoying their hobby"
    -> they get a great photo even from a 60 year old device
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    Re: My Take On 35mm vs MFD (Long!)

    Quote Originally Posted by Stan ROX View Post
    Guy,

    I'm totally with you, I'd just like to extend this idea.

    a) the geeks that enjoy the photographic stuff
    "Having a lot of megapixels and 146 AF-modes on this cam"
    -> they get a great photo by mistake

    b) the people that enjoy the photographic process
    "Having a great time enjoying their hobby"
    -> they get a great photo even from a 60 year old device
    Actually I think you're missing (C)

    c) the people who enjoy the photographic process AND most elements of the best stuff
    "Having a great time enjoying their hobby"
    -> they get good & occasionally "great" photos by only using a fraction of the stuff that their gear can provide, ignore most of the bells & whistles but appreciate the technical excellence of the best equipment nonetheless. Cameras don't make great photos, photographers do.

    (Btw, getting great photos by 'accident' is a given for everyone at times )
    Remember: adventure before dementia!

    As Oscar Wilde said, "my tastes are simple, I only like the best"
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    Re: My Take On 35mm vs MFD (Long!)

    I am so glad I came back to read this, thanks Bob.. Totally in sync with you...actually makes me take a day off today from regular work and head out with my newly acquired tech cam and mfdb! I used to get that wonderful feeling during my 4x5 days and lost it completely when i shifted to 35mm! I feel the joy of creating the image and the process you go through kind off reflects on the output!! Thanks once again!
    Harshan Thomson
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    Re: My Take On 35mm vs MFD (Long!)

    I can get a lot of Papst Blue Ribbon for a little amount of money. It has the same effect as any beer. But I prefer buying something a little more expensive. And it has nothing to do with the quality of the hangover.

    But that is not quite right...

    I like making my own hard cider. Sure I can buy hard cider, but it is not the same (mostly because my stuff is around 12% alcohol). I decide what goes into it--I use no sulfates and no yeasts other than what is in the apple juice and raisins. It is the best cider in the world, no, but it is mine. And because of that, it is far more enjoyable--and that is not the alcohol content speaking.

    I approach my photography in my own terms as well. I am sure there are easier ways to do it, but just like my cider, that does not lead the most rewarding process nor outcome.

    There is so much emphasis on the "best," whether that is equipment or IQ or sharpness or leather finish. But the best art is never defined by these qualities. "insert_name_of_artist_here" is not at the top of hie/her field because of the system MTF of the equipment. There is certainly a lot of sharp images in the world, few of which are are very captivating. This does not mean that IQ is irrelevant, but rather it adds the flavor to the work. Both an IQ180 and 35mm TriX have great qualities, neither is better, just like some ciders are 5% alcohol and others are 12%.
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    Administrator, Instructor Guy Mancuso's Avatar
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    Re: My Take On 35mm vs MFD (Long!)

    Interesting now from my seat as a working Pro its slightly diffrent. For us it's more the challenge to nail it walk away and hear nice things from your client and even better if the check clears. LOL

    Seriously I still get the excited feeling when shooting something I have never lost. Buts it's more a switch of on and off. When I pick up the cam everything changes, it's more game time attitude. It's tough it's a grind , it's hard and sometimes just flat out crappy but you can't lose your heart in it and find ways around the BS side of the business. Really end of day if you can keep the hobbyist and oh by the way your getting paid feeling than you will last a long time in the business. Even though golf is truly my hobby I like to try and keep photography as well. One reason I like this forum is I get to enjoy the hobbyists here and for me that keeps me grounded and gives me joy.

    Little secret I have 16k posts more than anyone here, if I did not like the place I could actually work harder and that ain't no fun. but on the other hand I could use a little break from the daily grind of this place and the next couple weeks I will be working, traveling and than vacationing so I'll be around just missing sometimes. Folks in NY do try and meet me and other members on the 12th for lunch. Notice is in sunset bar
    Photography is all about experimentation and without it you will never learn art.

    www.guymancusophotography.com

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    Re: My Take On 35mm vs MFD (Long!)

    I did myself as an amateur get a MF tech cam system because I like the shooting process, and I was slow and fiddly with my 35mm digital anyway. I'm an engineer, I enjoy the gear and I'm not ashamed of that :-).

    Being out in the nature enjoying both the nature itself and the shooting experience is the most important to me. A good result now and then is still important to me, but I don't need to produce it every day to meet a demand and make a living. I'd like it to stay that way.

    I refuse to be a fan boy though and join in on the MF team in the MF-is-better-than-35mm-war. I would not have got into MF if I couldn't buy the digital back second hand. The DBs are just too expensive for what you get, and the business is just too professionally oriented for us amateurs, never liked the dealer-centric way, and that gear seems to be designed to need excellent support rather than just work flawless.
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    Re: My Take On 35mm vs MFD (Long!)

    Like Torger, also got in through amateur status. Found a demo back for a great price, fit it on the body it was made for, and never looked back. Never had a dealer for support, just factory reps.

    With this setup, the work has gotten significantly more serious and disciplined. No longer just shooting, rather looking for the serious image, a single good one each time out. Everything becomes a setup for that shot. That discipline is related to the larger viewing, ability to compose critically, and the inability to be casual about technique. MFDB can deliver extraordinary results, but also can smack you around if you don't pay attention. At the same time, the file elasticity means a photo may be found in surprising places. For walkabout still-lifes, the results can have such incredible tonality and be much closer to fine art. Its a pleasure to shoot and to work like this.

    Some or all of the technical capabilities of MFDB can be found in smaller setups, yet the experience cannot. The work would not be the same. I wish it were, as simpler, smaller, cheaper gear wouldn't hurt at all. But its not.
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    Member Richard Osbourne's Avatar
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    Re: My Take On 35mm vs MFD (Long!)

    Absolutely agree with you Robert. Very well put. I came to similar conclusions just recently. You might find my last blog post of interest: Richard Osbourne Art Images | A New Camera! The Odyssey from 35mm Digital to Medium Format Digital Photography

    Even though I'm working professionally, the love was definitely draining out of it with 35mm gear. I'm loving the simplicity and image quality of the Cambo/P45 and it's brought me right back to just the love of doing what I do. I'm actually excited about doing landscape photography again!! Yeeehah!
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    Re: My Take On 35mm vs MFD (Long!)

    Hearing you guys, it sort of pointing the right direction for me. Really encouraging. The recent months have been a turing point for me as a photographer. I embraced MF for the first time and have never been happier shooting 120 film. I know that a digital back is the logical next step for me.

    Probably a more affordable like a used P25+ or even a P21+. Maybe I should contact a dealer soon for possible good deals...

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    Re: My Take On 35mm vs MFD (Long!)

    Quote Originally Posted by torger View Post
    I did myself as an amateur get a MF tech cam system because I like the shooting process, and I was slow and fiddly with my 35mm digital anyway. I'm an engineer, I enjoy the gear and I'm not ashamed of that :-).

    Being out in the nature enjoying both the nature itself and the shooting experience is the most important to me. A good result now and then is still important to me, but I don't need to produce it every day to meet a demand and make a living. I'd like it to stay that way.

    I refuse to be a fan boy though and join in on the MF team in the MF-is-better-than-35mm-war. I would not have got into MF if I couldn't buy the digital back second hand. The DBs are just too expensive for what you get, and the business is just too professionally oriented for us amateurs, never liked the dealer-centric way, and that gear seems to be designed to need excellent support rather than just work flawless.
    I have to disagree, respectfully, with you. I've never bought a new back; only used from a dealer. I've needed little support as my backs have come flawless with a 1 year warranty. When I do need support (usually from my own ignorance) I get first class treatment.

    I've shot a lot of 35mm "fiddling" as you do/did (Canon 1DsMkIII with T/S lenses, tripod only, MLU, live view manual focusing, etc.), so I love to geek as much as the next geek. But the files and images from MFDB far exceed 35mm and using a tech cam is heaven on earth for this geek.

    My backs have worked flawlessly (3 used ones from a dealer), I've gotten great trade in value (basically my original cost) when upgrading, and I continue to struggle to have my photographic capabilities equal my equipment's capabilities. So I ain't no fan boy either. Just a guy who, with the help of a great dealer, adores his gear!
    Best,
    Bob

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    Re: My Take On 35mm vs MFD (Long!)

    I'm a bit in the same camp, maybe skewed to being a "fan-boy" a bit, but for reason. Long term, I've had good experiences getting what I want from MFD both for paying work and for personal art.

    In the beginning, it was for demanding commercial work that required very detailed images that could be manipulated by retouchers and/or used in various end applications up to 8' wall banners. I also shoot weddings and really didn't need MFD for that work, but did since I had the gear. Now I'm moving away from weddings and found a new niche shooting fitness portraits where MFD has come to the forefront again to deliver exactly what I want and do it flawlessly.

    The other day I did a job with a fitness competitor (swimsuit category), and we went from 7AM to 3PM non-stop, often shooting sync flash up to 1/800th shutter ... mostly tethered, all seamlessly and swiftly. The tonality and detail once again has become paramount in importance, and once again my trusted MFD delivered beyond client expectations ... which is what I always strive for ... give them "beyond what is expected" and they will come back and spread the word.

    -Marc

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    Re: My Take On 35mm vs MFD (Long!)

    Just like flash sync speed can be a MF killer app, so can tech camera movements. However, I don't think the industry can ignore that those journalism/wildlife/sports DSLR cameras now are very close in many areas.

    If the systems are a lot more expensive and only have a few key features it can become a problem. I think there have to be a change in the coming years in order to keep a reasonable size of the market. Making MFDBs more attractive for amateurs through lower prices and make them easy to buy (put in basket in a web shop for example) could be one way.

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