The Big Switch: Medium Format

MTS_BTS_062116-394 If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you probably noticed that I recently made the jump from a typical 35mm DSLR camera body to a Medium Format Mamiya/PhaseOne body. With all of the different options out there, you’re probably asking why, right? It was a question I asked for years (literally, I looked at switching for about 5 years) before I decided to make the jump. And it’s absolutely a legitimate question. With all of the different DSLR and Mirrorless technology out there, why make such a huge investment? Well, here’s a quick summary of why… IMG_1343 My biggest reasoning was actually the richness in the tones that a medium format camera produces. I honestly can’t entirely describe the technical reasoning for why or how it happens, but I have always been able to tell IMMEDIATELY when a shot was taken on a medium format camera and it has something to do with the depth of the tones and the richness of the tonality through the entire range of colors. Highlights, shadows, mid-tones; they always just popped to me in a way that I could never quite recreate with my trusty Canon 5D. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the images I can produce with my Canon and I’m in no way saying that the camera makes the image, but there is a reason why skilled craftsman choose certain tools and I believe that photography is no different. I actually can say this was the same reasoning that allowed me to finally convince my wife (yes, most of those 5 years I mentioned earlier were spent convincing her even more than myself haha) that there was a difference. I posted the images I took with the photos and immediately had multiple people asking if the images were taken on a medium format and her exact words were, “Holy crap, people can really tell a difference, you weren’t kidding were you?” The difference is real people… IMG_1341 Second, the distortion and perception of the larger sensor vs. the 35mm sensor. Things just look more… real on a medium format. I, again, am not an optics expert and even though I’m an engineer, the optical engineering and physics bore me considerably. BUT, as a photographer I do have an eye for things that just look different and I want to understand – to an extent – what makes that difference. In layman terms, the larger sensor means that the glass in the lens doesn’t have to be quite as rounded and the distortion is much lower creating a much flatter, more realistic looking image. I’m sure somebody can correct me, tell me how wrong I am, or explain it in a much more technical sense, but when it comes to photography I’ve taught myself and learned by going with my guy and so far, it’s done me ok. This was the second largest disadvantage the 5DR had against a medium format counterpart. The next reason was, obviously, the detail in the images. OMG. I never really understood it until the awesome people at Digital Transitions hooked me up with a loaner PhaseOne DF+ body with the Mamiya Leaf Credo40 back and I was able to take some of MY images. I stress the MY here because I think there’s a big different between looking at a file somebody sends you and being able to light, create, and look at the RAW files of an image you took yourself. That was the point at which I was completely sold. I was able to zoom in and I was literally having to spend some time editing the dust of the lens of the people’s eyeglasses!!! That’s INSANE right?!? IMG_1383 Now, I know what you’re saying, “Well I actually have more megapixels in my Canon 5DR and can get just as much detail.” All I have to say to that is maybe you can, but I’ve seen images produced out of those bodies and I’ve never seen anything like the files my Mamiya produces. I does create a little more work for me on the editing side of things, but I’d rather have more information and detail than less any day of the week. So that begs to ask another question, “Why the Mamiya system and not the Hasselblad, Pentax, or even the Canon 5DR?” In short, there were a few reasons. I’ve always loved Hassy and their film bodies were what originally drew me towards MF (medium format), but my biggest issue was with how their system is designed. The body/back have to go together and you can’t have an H3 and continue to upgrade the back or the body as needed/wanted. That was a big turn-off for me. (Disclaimer: I’m not really going to include anything on their new mirrorless system as it came out just after I made my decision. I also have the same concern I just stated with that camera as well. They’re going to update it every year or two and 10k per upgrade is just a little steep for me.) My issue with the Pentax was two-fold: 1. The lack of a leaf shutter system allowing for higher sync speeds, and 2. the fact that the body was married to the back. Again, they upgraded the first body to the second in a year and it was completely obsolete a little over 9 months after it was first released. That’s a lot of jack to drop on a camera that is done in just over a year. As for the Canon, I really debated this. The focus system in 100 times better suited to my typical type of photography and I already have the lens stock to take complete use of the camera body if I added it to my collection. In all honesty this was a HUGE and extremely difficult decision to make based on those factors alone coupled with the new and improved sensor and resolution of the images. Canon is basically trying to compete with the 40 and 50 megapixel MF systems and they’re doing a damn good job of it. Just look at Joel Grimes. He was pimping Pentax there for a few months then this new body came out and I don’t think I’ve seen the Pentax on his tripod since! It’s a real consideration. But, when it came down to it, the first two factors I mentioned made the difference FOR ME. As for Mamiya/PhaseOne, they are the best on the market in my opinion. The system is interchangeable so I can rent or by different bodies/backs, and they are constantly upgrading their systems to be at the forefront of MF technology. That was the different for me in making my initial decision on who to go with. MTS_BTS_062116-393 Now, what have I thought SINCE getting a medium format camera… It’s a tool for specific purposes and it’s an extremely nice tool for it’s purpose. Am I going to go shoot the X-Games with it? Hell no. Am I going to take every portrait I can with it. F*** Yes. One of the reasons being the focus system. It’s really not ideal in any way for shooting sports. It’s slow and finicky, but it serves a purpose. It makes me slow down, look at the image, and create something that is truly what I envisioned. I take about 1/10th the number of frames when I shoot on the Mamiya, but the quality/quantity side of things can’t ever be debated. I love that it makes me slow down and truly look at the frame before pressing the shutter. With that said, I doubt I’ll be hanging it off the back of a truck any time soon shooting a moving cyclist at 25mph. Different tools for different purposes. MTS_BTS_062116-399IMG_1511
So, what’s my ideal pack? Both. I love my Mamiya in every way shape and form and I want it for everything I’m shooting that is still in nature (I’ve even started trying it with pre-focusing on moving shots and I’m getting the hang of it!), and I love my lens diversity and ease of shooting with the Canon. Which is why I pack both when I’m going on a shoot. I honestly believe that each camera has its own benefit, but when it comes to portraits, I don’t believe there is any competition between 35mm and medium format and history backs me up. So, I hope that gives a quick, probably convoluted idea of why I made the switch and why I’ll continue to experiment in order to create the best pack I can possibly carry with me on each and every shoot. This is by no means the last blog post on this, and if you want to see where this journey goes (sellout incoming) be sure to follow it on Instagram and Twitter. I’m constantly trying to share my journey and knowledge with as many people as I can. Till next time…
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