Is Digital Medium Format Worth It?

sensor size chart
A comparison of digital sensor sizes - Wikipedia

In the not too distant past, you didn’t think about shooting a portrait with a 35mm camera.  You had your Hasselblad or Mamiya 645.  Weddings could go either way, I carried a 35mm and a Yashika Mat.  For some of the formal shots I’d even drag out my old Bush Pressman 4×5.

Today a medium format camera with a digital back will set you back nearly as much as a nice car.

The Mamiya RZ33 kit is a modern medium format digital camera.  The camera, digital back and lens run an eye-popping $18,000.  For that you get an imaging chip that’s 48 x 36.  Compare that to a full frame 35mm chip available in the Canon 5D MKII which is 24 x 36.  The 5D with a lens is closer to $3,200.  That’s nearly a $15,000 price difference just to gain another 24mm on the vertical of the imaging chip.

Why So Expensive?

That’s largely related to the physics of building the chips.  When you double the area of a chip it reduces the number that pass Q/A because of bad pixels.  Even a small increase in sensor size significantly increases the number of failures.

Add to that the limited number of companies building chips that size, mainly for space technology and remote sensing applications, where they are considered “low cost” imaging sensors.

There just isn’t enough demand in the digital imaging market to make large scale production for photography a workable reality.

Is It Worth It?

Some people think so, but I’m not convinced.  The pictures I’ve seen from Canon 5D MKIIs and even my Canon 7D rival anything I ever shot on any of my old medium and large format film cameras.  Certainly there’s a difference, but the question is whether the difference is enough to justify the cost differential?

If you have the money, go for it.  I’ve seen some amazing work from RZ33’s and the Phase One 645DF, but I’m not convinced you couldn’t get almost as good from your 5D and you could buy six of them for the same money.

Take Control of Time

shooting a time lapse
Sunsets are prime time lapse subjects - by Brynn

One of the more fascinating exercises in photography is shooting a time lapse.  To be able to  compress hours worth of activity into just a few seconds.  It never fails that you’ll see an event in a different light, you’ll notice things you can’t see at normal speed.

Shooting time lapse is a fairly straightforward process.


You’ll need:

  • A camera with a built-in interval timer or that accepts a third party timer
  • A very large storage card or the ability to change cards in the middle of shooting
  • A spare battery or plug-in power
  • A sturdy tripod
  • A video editing system with the ability to import a series of images as video

Doing The Calculations

First, decide the frame rate of your video timeline. I use 24 frames per second as my standard because it fits with my video time lines, which are either 24 or 30 fps.  The math works like this for 24p:

Length of event:  3 hours
Desired length of final video segment:  90 seconds
Number of frames needed for final video segment:  90 x 24 = 2,160

3 hours is 10,800 seconds.

To compress 10,800 seconds into 2,160 frames that means 1 frame every 5 seconds (10,800/2160).

Each actual minute of real time will be 0.5 seconds of video.  One frame every five seconds should yield a nice, smooth motion in the final video, perfect for clouds, sunrises and smooth continuous motion.

If the shot has a lot of moving pieces, like people and cars moving around, you may want to raise the frame rate for more continuity in the final product.  Otherwise you have cars suddenly appearing and disappearing in the video instead of driving through.

Set up

  • Pick your subject and find a good location for your camera (on a tripod) that will not be disturbed by anyone
  • Set your camera to take JPG pictures to save space
  • Set your camera to manual mode
  • Turn off auto-focus
  • Turn off auto white balance
  • Take a test shot and adjust your cameras settings to your liking
  • Wait

Once you are done you will need to use a movie making program like Quicktime Pro to put together your video.
Good luck and happy shooting!

Lytro cameras lets you focus after you have taken the photo

Lytro, a new camera start up, is trying to make the biggest change in the photography world since the 1800s. Instead of taking a traditional photo that just captures one plane of light their camera captures the entire light field in one shot, this allows you to adjust the focus after a photo is taken. The camera is built on research from the mid-1990s called light field technology, where 100 cameras were required in the same room to produce the same type of photo, Lytro is able to recreate that effect and fit it into your pocket.

The Lytro camera uses a microlens array sensor which captures more light data, from many different angles. Then that data if sent through powerful software that allows you to switch the focus point. In addition the camera is much faster than traditional cameras, there is no shutter lag or autofocusing device, this allows you to take photos faster.
(click the image to set your focus point)

The camera also gives you the feeling of 3D, by reorienting a photo after it is taken. You are also able to take photos in much lower light than regular cameras. When you take a traditional photo you have one opportunity to set the depth of field, while light field camera takes a lot of photos from different locations and angle which allows it to produce this type of image.

The company has raised $50 million to bring their new light field camera to the market. There is a big risk that this might be too much innovation and that consumers will not buy the camera if the price is too high. There is no word on how much the camera will sell for, but they say it will be priced for the “Consumer market” and should be out by the end of the year.

What do you think, is this just a neat feature, or the next innovation in cameras?

(Via NYT and TechCrunch)