I have shot a lot of different cameras, different brands, different sizes, different formats but the one question I get from professionals lately is why they should change to medium format. To be fair almost all current APS-C and full frame cameras will deliver amazing images. Our technology is mature enough and our quality good enough too safely say that whatever you choose now will deliver great pictures however that is the problem. Full disclosure here before I go on- I do not pay for my cameras, I work for the local distributor so that major barrier of cost is not so much an issue but I will attempt to explain the core reason why medium format digital is important.
Lets think for a minute about a customer looking for some photography. They see a thousand portfolios online of similar pictures shot with similar cameras using similar lenses- what differentiates any of these photographers? Any photographer with any sort of experience should be able to bang out a decent enough portrait or product shot but what this does is put them in a pool of thousands competing for an ever decreasing amount of work. The ability to change the look of your work, which medium format does enables you to rise above the pack and stand out.
How does it do this you may ask. Medium format by its nature, larger sensor and wider tonal range gives you the ability to deliver images with a shallower depth of field and more flexibility with recovering shadows and highlights. The sensors can shoot excellent pictures at higher sensitivities than smaller cameras giving the photographer wider lighting choices. The main reason I find is that when you turn up on set a client never questions why they are paying the rate they are- nothing says professional like a medium format camera.
As an older photographer I started in the days of film and prints. I wont go on about how these were “the good old days” or that we “valued photography more because not everyone could do it” but there is a grain of truth to these arguments. The printing and exhibiting of photographs in the home, office or gallery has never been easier in terms of the printing technology and paper available. Ink and paper is now as archival in most circumstances as film and silver halide and its a hell of a lot cheaper, just think what a one meter square black and white print would have cost back in the day and compare it to the same ink jet print now. When I actually had a darkroom the biggest practical print size would have been about sixty centimeters on the long side but now I can print that in my office with no chemistry and in comfortable daylight.
So if the print is easy and accessible and photography is more available than ever before why are we not seeing a flood of amazing imagery decorating of walls wherever we may be and why don’t we see a string of photographic galleries advertising exhibitions? The answer is in two parts and the first part is that we don’t value what we perceive as easy to do. When everyone is a photographer and we are bombarded by pictures there is no mystery left for the creator. Its interesting to see on set when clients comment on your equipment saying “I have a Nikon just like that” and you know they are questioning why they are paying for this when they could just go out and shoot it themselves. Shooting film used to be a skill and and a technically complex process best left to the professionals and so had an inherent value.
The other side of this is the snobbery we have here in Australia regarding photography as art. This question has been largely answered almost everywhere else in the world but here we are still obsessed with the medium and not the result. I can’t imagine Brett Whitley’s brand of paint was ever queried or which brushes he used or Margret Ollie was ever criticized because she used a certain brand of canvas but as photographers we are forever justifying our method of creation rather than the creation itself. While we are seen as “less than” painters, sculptors and other artists so will our work be relegated to the arts and crafts category.
Spent some time in the photography faculty at Sydney TAFE in Ultimo today. Good to see they are using the latest in studio flash plus some Hasselblad digitals as well. Just about everything is now digital but they still have a cracking darkroom. I went through there in the late 80’s early 90’s and spent two years learning how to correct verticals on 5 x 4 before even being allowed to look at medium format, now its literally state of the art stuff- well done to the new breed of teachers.
So here is the wish list, inspired by my visits with all technical and fine arts teachers I have visited with over the last two weeks-
Shoot some 5×4
Buy a printer
Do some scanning
Develop some film myself
Print some black and white
Photography in all its forms seems to be on the rise and I think there is hope for us all that our industry is getting on with it and moving forward, its up to us older lot to make what we sell and teach relevant to the new breed. For the young photographer of today the DSLR and its lenses are commodities to be purchased from the cheapest supplier, and so it should be- they are by and large the same. Where the local supplier and specialty store comes in is to value add their purchase with accessories and grow with their skills. I believe that there is still a place for studio flash and medium format cameras and I am backed up by the students who are learning on this very equipment. Its funny how they value the difference where a vast majority of the film to digital crew were willing to run with 35mm and smaller and forget the lessons of the film days. Imagine turning up to a shoot with an APS-C film camera.
Apologies for the ramble and rant.
As usual this is really only an excuse to shoot the ‘Blad-
I have a wholly subjective and unscientific challenge to professional photographers in NSW and to photo educators who reckon medium format is a waste. Put aside a couple of hours, break out your best 35mm digital and we will get together and shoot side by side. Subject matter could be people or things, not sport of course, in the studio or on location. Lets shoot it out and see which pics look the best.
I will travel just about anywhere for a shootout with anyone who is serious about taking the next step in their photography. Remember- medium format digital is not a cheap and easy fix for average photography nor will it make a bad photographer into a good one but it will leapfrog you image quality to a new level. Best have a good 50mm prime handy for your DSLR as I will come armed with the 80mm standard lens, we want to compare apples with apples after all.
Today I learnt, or rediscovered how CCD sensors seem to give richer colors than CMOS- digital velvia. I also continued to learn why medium format digital is a step up from 35mm. The only issue I can see with medium format is that the cameras can tend to be a bit unwieldy and counter intuitive in their operation. To be honest, I really want a CFV-50 back on a 503cxi Hasselblad, the H series are great but the buttons and dials are fiddly at times and can get in the way. Whats wrong with apertures on the lens? Shutter speeds as well, rocking it old school is sometimes the best.
I was talking with a H system user and he shoots studio and location on his and his clients actually comment that they always feel more confident of the result when the ‘Blad comes out. Are we travelling full circle? Back in the day shooting on medium format gave you the look and marked you as professional, 5 x 4 said you shot high end advertising and commercial with a bit of architecture thrown in (correcting verticals and perspective was an obsession, who’s remembers Sydney TAFE?) So does turning up with your 35mm give the 3k a day client pause to think? Maybe cracking out the Speedlights for a studio shoot would after all there has to be a reason to justify charging the big bucks. Maybe we have forgotten that the photographer used to be a guy who could weave magic with mysterious rolls of film and deliver amazing transparencies shot under complicated lighting and now with every Joe Shmo having a DSLR everyones and expert- or so they think.
Anyway, I digress- medium format digital is the next big thing and those who work it will benefit, it makes the difference significant and obvious.
So you want the new 50mp beasts from Sony and Canon? Spare a thought for your workflow. The picture below was shot on a 50mp Hasselblad and exported from Lightroom as a JPEG with the quality slider set to 100. As we understand it this is a one to four compression. This gives you a 36mb file- I think you’ll need a bigger boat (Jaws reference, see the first movie). To put it in perspective the JPEGS from my X100T at the same export settings are 5mb.
Be prepared to-
Upgrade your computer.
Buy a new NAS.
Buy bigger cards.
Freak out about if your lenses can even resolve to 50mp.
Take three times as long to process files.
Wonder why I have 50mp for posting to Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr etc.
I get the medium format sensor argument because the sensor is big in area as well as pixels, amazing how much sharpening you can apply to a blad file before it even looks like falling to pieces plus the depth of field is truly like medium format film- there is a massive difference in the look of 35mm and medium format just as there was in the film days. This is as it should be.
Another thing- you had better get that electronic shutter thing sorted out because if you thought shutter shock on the D800E and the A7r was a pain you aint seen nothing yet. The blad avoids this by doing the civilised thing and having the shutter in the lens.
I cold be wrong but 50mp may be a step too far for 99% of photographers, its a bit like rocket powered bicycles- just because we can make them doesn’t mean its a good idea.
After some time it has come to pass that I get to work with some of my dream brands. I have taken up the role of Industrial Sales representative for C R Kennedy. What does that mean? For the average punter it means that if you want to try out some great product like Ilford Inkjet paper or Hasselblad medium format digital then I am your man. Just check out some of the great product I get to work with-
Hasselblad (my favourite medium format)
Ilford (film of choice)
Bowens Flash (studio flash of choice)
Movcam rigs and cages
Pentax medium format
Xrite color management
Plus there are a few more that I haven’t even got my head around yet. Of course I will keep shooting but you will have to excuse me if I get a bit carried away when I get to shoot the H5 or use the new Rotolight Anova lighting.
If anyone wants to test or try some of these great products- you know where to find me.
Its interesting that in this time of increasing use of impersonal communication (including this one, so the irony is noted) people are relying more and more on their personal contacts to do business. Unfortunately, like a lot of things you learn this too late but I decided to jot down a couple of points that may help-
Yesterdays competitor is todays customer.
Suppliers can become employers.
People have long memories.
Yesterdays employee is tomorrows customer.
Treat everyone with respect and they will almost always do the same.
Its not personal, its business.
Six points that may help, you may think they are obvious or cliche but I feel that if I stuck by these early on in the piece then perhaps outcomes would be a little better. If anyone has anything to add feel free to comment.
I found myself with a Fuji X-T1 and an 18mm lens. The question I ask myself of all these mirrorless cameras is: can they replace the 5D kit for jobs? The X-T1 is a brilliant camera and is built like a tank, better quality than the Canon. the images it makes especially the JPEGs are fantastic. Its low light performance is possibly not as good but it makes up for it with the superior color rendition. I guess what holds me back is not the cameras or the lenses, both sony and Fuji make cracking lenses but its the wider compatibility. I use flash systems like the Profoto B2 which only TTL with Nikon and Canon. I pretty much use flash for every job so for me its critical. Maybe the mirrorless manufacturers could get together with major accessory manufacturers and give them a hand to develop add ons? Probably won’t happen but it would be nice to think that in order to compete with the Canikon eco system they would do something different. So the X-T1 is a great camera but if I am competing against 24, 36 and now 50 megapixels the I am afraid 16 just doesn’t cut it. I know 99% of the stuff I do would be fine on 12 megapixels but its that one time when a client wants to go big or you fluff a shot and need to crop that a smaller sensor may not hold up. What I will be doing is using the X100T and the X-T1 for my personal stuff, poor mans Leicas possibly but I am thinking that once there is a Profoto TTL adapter for Fuji or Sony it might be a different story.
I really like shooting black and white, always have ever since my first foray into shooting while working in London. Is there room for a dedicated black & white digital camera? I have shot with the Monochrome and the files are fantastic, the only issue is its based on the M9. I have also shot extensively on Fuji and Sony cameras processing the files through Silver Effex and the results are good but they are no where near the Monochrom.
Do we need one? No. Do we want one? Possibly. Do we want one enough for a mainstream brand to produce one? Probably not.
Here is a quick video on the Leica Monochrom-
I tell you what, if you could make a mono X-100T I would buy one!
Ran into and old friend while at a clients today. This guy was the national pro rep for a major camera brand and had been for some time- he was the contact between the brand and the retailer. I say was because today he was given his marching orders as they made him and some others redundant. Here is a guy who is good at what he does and for no fault of his own he is out of a job. The industry shrinks, margins are tight, costs go up and people lose jobs.
I guess for those people who rely on stores to support their tools of trade, having little or no contact with the supplier of those tools is going to leave your average sales person in a pickle. No more demos of new product or help when a customer has a curly question. No more support at pro events. Who to blame? Is it just the way the market is evolving? Will our local suppliers devolve into a tiny local team with all other support moving to somewhere in Asia? In a global market is this such a bad thing? One thing is for sure- get to know the guys behind the counter who know their stuff because the call centre in Manila won’t be able to help you work out how to program your Speedlight.
Is this an opportunity for specialty stores, your average large chain store person won’t be able to help you so where do you go? The problem is that there is now so little margin on the hardware and service is valued at next to nothing that the small guy is doomed from the start. Good service and product knowledge won’t help you when it comes to price, nine out of ten customers will take the cheaper deal and use your customer service to research their product- online or big chain store it doesn’t matter as the result is still the same. Online is even more insidious as once the customer gets used to transacting this way it becomes habit.
How do we stop it? One way is to offer unique services and products but you can’t really succeed without the big brands to draw the customers in. Another is to cut costs to the bare minimum, low rent, small staff but customer service suffers. Maybe go online? Don’t even try to compete on price but again you have to be there. The answer, as usual is a combination of all of these plus more and the un fortunate truth is that there will be casualties as the market restructures itself.
Whats the point of the rant? I guess if we don’t support our local specialists stores then there will be no one left to support us. Sometimes this means we will have to pay a little more or perhaps wait a little longer but when you need something fixed or a loan to get you out of trouble I can guarantee B&H won’t help you. Good luck major brand pro rep, I am positive you will go onto bigger things but I guarantee it will be outside the industry we know.