Over the past month, you all may have noticed me griping and complaining a lot about my experiments with medium format digital. The fact is, it took a good learning curve and a giant chunk of my savings to make the move – the whole technicality aspect of it can get overwhelming. Did I choose the right camera? Is the glass going to be as good as what I have been shooting with? Why in the hell did I decide to do this? Well, I want to spend some time on this article and explain.. for those that are a big tech-geek like me.. and of course, from the views of a location, studio and editorial photographer.
Why the move away from full frame?
I could go on and on about this really… But I will lay down some key bullets.
First: I began finding my peak with a D700 and D3 when it came to size in print format. Some of you may have noticed my tables at cons and art shows the past few years – I don’t print small. I have a good range from 16×20 all the way to 40×50. From 24×36 and up, I was having to pass my images through a digital filter to lessen the blur and distortion in the print. Sure, people don’t normally walk up to big prints and put their eyes a few inches from it to point out flaws.. but I do.
Second: Image quality. I began testing out and demoing gear.. made large prints and put images side by side from my full frame cameras to medium format. I was floored by the overall quality and detail the larger sensor was capturing. I am not talking megapixels here.. I am talking the amount of detail a larger sensor captures. I don’t care how many megapixels are thrown into a full frame sensor (talking to you, D800), the texture on the chair in the background is not seen by the smaller sensor.. period. It is essentially more pixels of a texture-less chair. (I still love you, Nikon!)
Third: Dynamic range. This kind of falls into image quality.. but I wanted to talk about it for a minute. For those who don’t know what it is.. this is how I describe it as a portrait photographer: The amount of detail a sensor can hold between when a shadow and highlight lose detail and become “blown out”. If you step outside in a sunny day, your eyes can see the clouds in the sky, the blue between them and yet the ground is still exposed well and you can see the details as you walk. Digital cameras have not reached the dynamic range our eyes can accomplish.. medium format is a step forward, though. This is why a lot of landscape photographers stick to medium format and even film large format.
H4D vs PhaseOne vs Pentax?
About six months ago, I began evaluating the 3 big boys of medium format digital. I knew I wanted to make the move in the near future… I just didn’t know which one to pick. Again, this could go on forever for what I have to say to compare the 3, so I will save that for my full review of the camera that I did pick – Pentax 645D (keep an eye on my blog next week). I will say this, though – I picked a camera that I was more familiar with from a DSLR user over the years. It felt right in my hands, it functioned in a similar manner and had great features… it was also not as expensive, of course.
The medium format digital cameras that I did demo are the following:
Pentax 645D 55mm 2.8 prime
Hasselblad H4D-40 80mm 2.8 prime
Mamiya/PhaseOne 645DF 50mm 2.8 prime
Consider sticking around and I will be sharing my thoughts on all 3.
Last month, I did my big test and went outside and in studio with my new camera. Now, most of you know me as that guy with a number of strobes – I enjoy controlling my own light and creating my own scene.. you may even sometimes hear me say “ick! available light!”
I’ll be honest here and say that the DOF changes pretty much slapped me in the face. During one of my shoots with a girl wrapped in a snake, I was having a very hard time keeping both her and the snake in focus in a single frame. I already knew I had to increase it by giving myself a little more space between the subjects and I.. and I did my best to focus 1/3rd between her and the snake. I was still failing horribly even at f11. But, like many other photoshoots the past month, I was shooting to practice and figure out my new camera. I think I am safe to say that I have a pretty good grip on it about 30 days later.
Moving to a larger sensor has been a really exciting feat and I just had to share it to everyone out there who are tech geeks like me. Stay tuned and I’ll supply more updates right here on my blog.
more to come…
Pentax 645D preview review as a portrait photographer