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Wednesday, 20 January 2016

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There is no doubt that the smaller sensors will be improved, but the same improvements will also be applied to the larger ones as well. With 50 meg sensors already here, even assuming resolution increases with pixel count, the need is really for improved dynamic range, ISO range and color accuracy. Still, I expect we will see 100 meg or higher in the near future for FF and smaller. How many photographers do 60" prints or murals, or crop their images to small segments? The market for 200 meg sensors will be limited. Still, there is still the "my camera is better" factor for some.

"**Better yet, make the sensor square. We know how to crop."

As in SpongeBob square???

Fuji has a medium format camera. It's the GF670.

If Fuji made a 645-sensor'd fixed-lens camera, they could call it the X-45.

Two of my favourite cameras ever are the Mamiya 6 and the Fuji X100, so if Fuji decided to develop an X100 on steroids I would buy it.

I used to pine for one of those "Texas Leica" Fuji 6x9cm rangefinders. I ended up with the poor man's alternatives: Soviet 6x9cm folding cameras, and later a Koni-Omega 6x7cm rangefinder. The latter was a beast -- heavy and cumbersome -- but it sure made nice pictures.

Fuji already makes a medium format digital camera system, it's named Hasselblad. I believe, and I could be wrong, that the early iterations of the H series cameras had a Fuji nameplate on it.

Fuji isn't new to digital medium format. Along with the rangefinders, Fuji they had a line of professional medium format cameras - namely the GX680. The latest version of those, III, came with an option of a digital back, with a 20mpix 52x37mm CCD sensor. I believe the GX680 to be the best medium format camera ever (especially for studio and architecture work) and I'd really love to see Fuji to create a new version of this, preferably with a full size sensor (76x56mm). That would give me the GAS of all GASes (by the way, this GAS is one hell of an unhappy acronym...)

Fixed lens, big sensor. Equivalent of 28, 35, and a portrait lens, 80 or 85. Introduced one per year. Lots of shared parts, plan to sell them for at least five years before making major changes. That might work.

The last sentence where you ask for a square sensor might be the brightest idea you have ever proposed!

I find lots of subjects that just cry out for the square format - and hate the idea of throwing away a third of my pixels in cropping. Redistribute those pixels in a square format please. While you are at it, make it compatible with an existing lens system.

Not likely to happen of course, and probably never sell any if it did, but you never know how many of us square format lovers are out there.

Why are you so unhappy with 24mm x 36mm Mike? Why would you ever think about trying to kill it?

And why are you so sure the answer is smaller sensors, rather than the same sensor in a smaller camera? Recall that part of what happened in the '90s was the arrival of very automatic cameras no bigger than, often smaller than, various "consumer" formats, that were full-frame 35mm.

[You're conflating two different things. I said I suggested to Kodak that it should kill 35mm *film* *if it wanted APS to succeed*. I didn't say *I* wanted to kill off 35mm film.

And I'm saying it makes sense for Fuji to leapfrog FF only because FF is so close to its current APS-C size system. Again, nothing remotely about killing FF, which works perfectly well in its various very well-established implementations. --Mike]

I just can't tell you effectively how much I would like to see the Texas Leica in Digital Mode. Well, almost as much as I'd like to see them make a digital X-Pan, since that was I believe made by Fuji for Hasselblad and my all-time favorite camera. A beautifully made piece of equipment that did just what I wanted it to. No more, no less.

In my film days, the difference between the best 35mm cameras (Leica M and Nikon F) and the best MF cameras (in my case, Rollei SL 66) was staggering when viewed at reasonably large print sizes (11/14"). Now my largest print size is A2 (16/24"), and I cannot imagine an improvement over the incredible detail of images from my Sony A7RII. So in terms of print quality, I have no desire for MF.
But I would surely love to have a FF digital camera designed like the brilliant Rollei SL 66.

I worked part time in a photo store through my period in university (2009-2012), and was surprised to find quite a few benefits with APS for the average amateur " holiday snapper".

For the customers, usually older ladies still clinging on to their compact camera, APS was far simpler to handle. Shifting through piles of 35mm strips, bending back to see it through the ceiling lamp, making notes of the tiny numbers? They could now match the number on the back of the print with the cassett, and hand it in for enlargements. It was easier for the store as well, finding the right frame from a set of notes. Storage was also simpler, and easier to avoid dust and crumbles. Even inserting a new film was easy, and you could see if a film was exposed by looking at the cassette.

For the store it was a bit more fidly, as we had to spool the film into temporary cassettes and back into the original after processing. This was done with two dedicated machines. But it was still easier than trying to get a 35mm roll out of its cassette.

Being born in '89 I am sort of a bridge generation having grown up with film but learnt photography digitally (and then going partly analogue in later years). From my experience with the "consumers" APS was a great idea and would be a success. If digital hadn't come along that is...


PS: While working in the store the last suppliers of APS ran out of stock (after doubling the prices of course), and I had to watch those old ladies going glum at the idea of learning how a new camera worked.

Regarding this comment:
"I think FF is an evolutionary tributary that will eventually dead-end as smaller sensors get better and better."

I'm not convinced. I acknowledge the sufficiency and benefits of APS-C (benefits in terms of cost and compactness, assuming sufficiency). But consumers already have migrated (or will continue to migrate) to smaller sensors, leaving enthusiasts as the market for larger sensor ILCs, and I think enthusiasts will diverge into "I want small goodness" and "I want as big as I can afford/carry". FF is kind of like the medium format of yesteryear; the better-than-we-need system that we want nonetheless. The difference is that it's about the same size as yesteryears compromise (35mm).

Smaller gets better, but not every enthusiast cares. FF gets better, too, and if someone is willing to pay for and carry FF, then they get 24x36mm of awesomeness instead of a small sensor full of sufficiency. And if you think about car or audio enthusiasts; hobbyists of any kind, who settles for just good enough ?

Meanwhile, you have Nikon, Canon and Sony all trying, not to "obsolete" APS-C, exactly, but to minimize it's appeal to enthusiasts and push customers to FF.

I expect camera sales of all kinds to continue to drop, due to market saturation and sufficiency, from real cameras to phones to GoPros (in light of recent headlines). I don't know what to expect on the consumer front, but at least in the enthusiast and pro markets, I expect to see a continued shift from APS-C to FF (with a small shift to smaller formats for on-the-go pros, like photojournalists).

Back in 1972 (as best I recollect) Fuji introduced their entry into the Film Kingdom dominated by Kodak, pitching the “fact” that Japanese eyes had more rods and cones than Caucasians and their film had superior color reproduction. In my opinion, it did not and was, in fact, greenish.
At the same time (or thereabouts) they introduced the STX-1 a smallish entry level, albeit cute, SLR. Both died very fast deaths.
Truthfully, what happened to Fuji in between the succeeding decades is a mystery to me, but something happened and they emerged with a winner in their Velvia (which I lovingly embraced) and later they came along with the X Series cameras (the X-100 and X-100 S which I also embrace to this day).
Yet in those days of King Kodak and Nikon and Canon, they still just dipped their toes in the waters. Hopefully, they will not miss the opportunities presented this time around and continue to produce some (more) great cameras.
I still believe that a FF camera (your opinion notwithstanding, Mike), shooting DNG and offering the “less is more” approach, manual/auto, auto focus, easy access to the files, would fare well in the marketplace. I still set my Fuji X-100s in one spot and leave it alone.
I don’t shoot video. Don’t need whatever else is under the hood of that thing. I just make pictures! (Just formatting a card requires a long excursion in the file system).
PLEASE. Make it like the old days. OK. Maybe I’m just getting too old for this.
Mi dos pesos

Will / should Fujifilm produce a medium format camera?

I also saw this small story this week. Of course I've no idea. But the following thoughts come to my mind.

I agree with you that Fujifilm's best prospects for a "medium format" product would lie within the untried fixed-lens niche. I could imagine that a folding rangefinder (ala their GF670 film camera) might do well. And what about a TLR? (A Fujiflex?) A "Texas Leica"? Not sure.

By all accounts I've seen the market for "medium format" cameras (i.e. anything larger than a 24x36 frame) is small and not growing. This is very much an older man's market. Young people are not clamoring to drop $10,000-$20,000 on bigger camera systems. Still, in good economic times I could envision a <= $7,000 specialty product selling enough units to make sense.

But, alas, we may have seen the end of "good economic times" for a while. The global oil/China panic/correction well underway in capital markets (as I write this) threatens to dig a much deeper divot into the world economy than the 2008 capital markets crash and subsequent recession. So speculations about such a bold new product might be increasingly vaporous.

Years ago, I have a prime lens lineup that doubled each focal length (24, 50, 100, 200, 400).

I agree with your contention that APS-C and FF are too close for a company like Fuji to consider. (The legacy manufacturers have historical reasons for doing so). I think a 2X crop makes a decent distinction. So a sensor roughly four times the size of APS-C (30x45 or so, Leica S size) would be where I'd start looking. I think I'd settle on a sensor size, then build a system around it, with a modest lineup of from-scratch lenses (no medium format crop factors like some of the other systems suffer with). Fuji showed they can develop a killer lens lineup in a reasonable period of time.

...can't believe it Mike, ditto for the Fuji 645 with the 60mm lens! (are you following me?) I got excellent images from it, it was almost impossible to use easily, especially the meter, which I couldn't even see through the view-finder (they should have just made it "auto"), and yet many parts of it were perfect. I sold it to an assistant, who promptly went out and crushed it falling on it running for the bus. I bought a Fuji 6X7, but hated using it on the fly because it didn't have any metering at all, and they didn't make a 6X7 with the 65mm lens. Fuji has certainly been a company of "almosts". The perfect camera for me would have been the big 6X7, with a 65mm lens, and auto-exposure!

To me, Fuji is always that "almost" company. They made view camera lenses, but everyone I tried (and I virtually did all my pro work on view camera), was just sort of 'lacking'. I could never figure if they were just a tad soft, or just a tad flat; but they never seemed to have it. Nikon view camera stuff was superior (as well as some Schneider stuff from the 60's). I even had (and still have), a 240-A, and it's not bad, but not better than my Red Dot 10 inch!

As far as that goes, I have a buddy that was a cinematographer/videographer all his career, and he always said the Fuji video lenses were "meh" too. For a short period of time, Nikon was trying to get into that market, and he bought a full blown (and very expensive) Sony pro tape camera, with a Nikon zoom; and when he went to sell it at the end of it's useful cycle, other video guys were bidding it up almost to new price, just to get the Nikon video zoom!

Ditto for the transparency film: OK, but some weird color and contrast variations over Kodak, and they killed Astia, which is originally what got photographers to change over from Kodak (before they called it Astia), and kept Provia, which was their "meh" copy of Kodak transparency (that even Kodak surpassed with E100GX).

I used to assist a photographer with a Fuji 120, with the swinging and tilting front, and the lenses were exceptional (looked like H'blad, which is weird based on their current marriage), but the bodies were pretty loosey-goosey.

Then there's their modern digital stuff, which everyone seems to fawn over, but I have yet to see a decent output from. (Pastel, and not all that sharp) I warned a buddy of mine (who's enamored with their stuff) he better rent one and check it out to make sure. Seems to me the Nikon D7200 was getting higher ratings for actual file quality.

You can certainly make a case for 120 based digital imaging, just take a look at any of the .tiff output from the new Sinar 100 megapixel, but is Fuji the company to do it? Can they do it for a reasonable cost? Hell, why don't they make a 'real size' 645 back for my H'blad V series and we'll see?

If they built it I would buy it. How about a medium format version of the Pro2 with say 3 prime lenses.
Until getting a Nikon D700 a few years ago I always used medium format. My favorite was the Pentax 6x7 but used the Contax 645 with three lenses for a travel camera. Still have a collection of medium format cameras, including several folders, that are smaller and lighter than my D700 and still work fine.

I agree with the 6x6 square format.
Hasselblad spend more than half a century trying to convince the world that God herself ordained the square and then dumped on its own legacy with 645 digital format.

Many of us love the square format. Weddings, portraits, street, etc - it works well. As one said, you an always crop if you want.

Bring back the square and make it digital.

I would welcome a Fuji medium format. Even if it's a fixed lens, no problem. What I wish for is that someone would start making interchangeable sensors. Much like an MF film back - just clip it in and remove dark slide (sensor cover). Then we could have big ones, little ones, square ones, panoramic ones, black and white ones etc. etc.

Heck, whilst I'm day dreaming those sensor backs would even fit other manufacturer's system "MF" cameras.

(No I'm not talking about MF digital backs as they exist today, but more as pure sensors)

I dream of a 'digital Mamiya 7'... leaf shutter lenses and all. For me, it's about the rangefinder experience and the lenses. I don't actually like lugging it around often, changing film after 10 shots is a pain, and it seems a it fragile. I've dropped it twice... that's two rangefinder adjustments I've had to pay for.

Will Fuji give us something similar in experience? I hope so. I don't expect it to be cheap. But, I do expect it to be smaller than a Mamiya 7 or a Texas Leica for that matter.

This is really a photographers dream though. I don't think many of us even as working professionals need this. I think were past needs here. Photography is as much about the interaction with the camera as it is the end resulting image. Some might argue that but, as the years have gone on, the more I value the shooting experience as much as image quality.

C'mon Fuji... throw us a bone.

If the fixed-lens Fuji GF-D has a lens focal length somewhere in the neighborhood of 35-40mm (35mm equivalent), and cost somewhere south of $2500, I'd definitely buy it. For carrying around the landscape.

Interesting post, as always Mike. But, I have to say that, in 1996 it was crystal clear (at least to me) that digital was coming and would rapidly "clear the decks" of film systems (Polaroid, too). That was when I started working as Director of Photography in a good sized photo studio that was an early adopter of high-end digital. That meant the Leaf DCB and a 30' SCSI cable, at that point. While we had a film processing lab in house, we quickly stopped using it in favor of the Leaf and rentals of the Nikon/Kodak hybrid cameras.
It was only a small leap of the imagination to see that the mass market consumer digital cameras and amazing pro gear of now was a certainty, and it wouldn't be long.
I turned my back on film and never looked back.

A couple misconceptions posted: 1) Fuji did not make the GF670. It's a rebadged Cosina "Voigtlander". 2) Fuji does not own all the rights to the H systems. Nominally Hasselblad designs the body so Fuji cannot just use them. The H lenses are different matter.

Having said that, as a person who is now shooting the Hasselblad 203FE extensively, and saving up pennies for the CFV-50C (ISO6400!!!), a mirrorless rangefinder MF digital camera from Fuji would be welcome by a small but may be significant number of amateurs. Fuji knows camera design, and Fuji knows about lens design. The digital MF is a teeny market, but when Phase wants $44K just for the latest 100MP CMOS back, there is some room for play here.

BTW, while I am a Leicaphile, I am not sure how well the Leica S is doing currently, with the Pentax and even Hasselblad H costing LESS!

Well, Canon and Nikon are both keeping FF and APS-C going pretty strongly. Canon even has that intermediate format between them. So I'm not sure Fuji would see them as "too close".

However, being bigger than FF would be a huge talking point for the gearheads, which could benefit Fuji a lot.

I had a 6x6 TLR for a while, made some good use of it. I tended to shot square with it except when consciously avoiding it (magazine covers and things that had to fit a known format). I think I avoided getting into medium format more seriously because I viewed 6x4.5 as too small a step up from 35mm (which I may have been wrong about, but that's what I remember thinking), and I viewed 6x6 as a way to get a lot fewer 6x4.5 pictures on a roll of 120 :-). (And 6x7 was really pretty expensive, that's not where the cheaper options were in medium format.)

I know what the chances of what I'm about to suggest are- zip, but still...
Although I could be in the market for a Fuji MF or quasi-MF fixed lens camera, what I really want is simple: a digital X-pan, the superb panoramic camera they made and was sold outside the home market as a Hasselblad. Most interested to me would be one that would take my Xpan lenses, and retain the RF focusing, but some sort of system that could accept new AF lenses and old MF lenses could be good.

I know, I know, win the powerball and have Fuji graft a digital sensor to my Xpan is as much as I could expect. But I can dream, can't I?

I used to own a Phase One P25 back for my Contax 645, and I don't care how good full-frame cameras are getting, the quality of that large sensor and the rendering of those medium format lenses could not be surpassed "in good light." And that last part was only one of the problems.
After a year with the system and some very nice pictures, I realized that I barely ever needed that look or was in situations when I would use the system over my digital Leicas that I ended up selling the back.

And now, when I need the look of medium format, I shoot film. The rendering of film is usually better suited for those occasions anyway, and even professionally processed and scanned, it is cheap for the hobbyist compared to the steep depreciation of medium format digital gear, even when you buy it used.

... Oh one more thing: when Fuji makes a medium format sensor the size of their own Fuji GF670 at a reasonable price, I'll consider medium format digital again.

Whenever I ponder what lenses I would buy into if I had any money, I always lean towards Pentax and Fuji. They seem to both towards having fun with photography rather than making a living from it.

I like Pentax for the 35mm limited macro which Mike has extolled, but I like Fuji because you can shoot square. So a medium format square sensor would be great by me. I don't see well as a photographer, so no way could I see a square image in a rectangle and crop later.

Mike, I have one question on Fuji's camera line. The new X-E2 looks like it has the same viewfinder size and resolution as the X-T10. Why does Fuji make these 2 cameras because they seem to heavily overlap each other? The only difference I can tell is the X-E2 is more rangefinder-like while the X-T10 is more like an SLR. Do you have any thoughts? Thanks

Kodak did make a camera with (semi) unperforated film. It was the Pony Bantam 828. There was only one sprocket hole per frame with a frame size of 40x28mm. I lusted after one when I was in HS but fortunately never got one because it never caught on and 828 film quickly went away. The cameras turned into nice looking paperweights.

I would buy a medium format x-100 style camera the size of a digital M.

If it were a square sensor, even better! It would just need an articulated screen and good manual focus tools, and digital Rolleiflex here we come!

I agree with CF Salicath. APS was the best system ever devised for people who just wanted to take pictures and not worry about the rest of it. Not just because the cameras were foolproof, but also because the storage system was robust and foolproof. (My son-in-law is a very well paid IT professional, and I'm certain he hasn't a clue where the digital photos of his kids are.)

As for killing off 35mm, your proposal for 40mm film is a reworking of the 127 format, which I would have supported wholeheartedly. I always regretted that there weren't better cameras for 127 (other than baby TLRs). It was small enough for lenses of reasonable size and cost, but big enough for better quality than 35mm.

A digital X-Pan would be very neat and would suit well since Fuji manufactured the original. However, I don't think it has much of a chance to be made due to the exotic format. However, something more like a fixed lens S2 equivalent comes to mind, as it wouldn't be huge and would have its own niche. It all comes down to development costs and how electronics scale in order to get a sustainable price. Sony already makes the full frame RX1 for over $3000 for the latest version, so there is some kind of market there.

In defense of a system, a medium format mirrorless system wouldn't have to be large; skip the long lenses, make at most one zoom, no multiple aperture versions and no macro lenses. It would really come down to 3 to 6 lenses. For a more radical approach, make the TTL flash interface open and let 3rd parties make flashes.

The square would in my mind be possible. After all, it's the instagram format, with phones nowadays redefining photography. OTOH, there will always be some marketing exec insisting that since 3:2 is popular in pro cameras, it's the way to go.

Mike, was your open letter to Kodak published somewhere? I ask because I think I recall reading it and agreeing with it. Even if I didn't read it, though, I agree with it - but I thought you were being ironic in pointing out that they'd have to kill a superior format in order for the new inferior to succeed.

I remember being in a Long's Drugs in Honolulu one day in about 2003 as a man walked up to the photo counter with his pristine APS camera, asking to buy film. Apparently he was one of those unreasonable sorts who pays a premium for a presumably well made camera from a reputable name (Kodak), thinking this will ensure longevity; and then tucks it away in a closet from which it will be pulled only every few years for special occasions. When the clerks at Long's explained to him that his format was discontinued and there was no film available for it, he became absolutely apoplectic. "I just bought this camera a few years ago," he said. "I paid $700 for it! And you're telling me it's useless?" I thought he was going to have a stroke right there by the disposable holiday cameras.

APS was the most harebrained, cynical, cockamamie, corporate scheme ever to come out of Kodak. Several big companies bought into it, as I recall, and not surprisingly they all lost big time - as any photographer who put shoe leather on pavement at the time could have told them they would. Never was I so glad to see dismal fail.

On another note, I always thought the "Texas Leica" was the Mamiya 7/7 II.

I think most of the commercial studios in the world use medium format, as well as many schools. When you consider the prices paid for Phase One gear (which I think is what most of them use), or Hasselblad, or Mamiya (and never mind Leica), there is definitely room for Fujifilm to enter the market with a "medium format" type product. Personally, if it's not too, as you say, fussy, and not too expensive, I would love to see it and probably buy it.

It seems the way Fuji does business, at least in the digital camera space, is to introduce a "proof of concept" product and see how the market responds.

I would guess that if they introduce a medium format digital, it would be a fixed lens model, perhaps with a zoom of limited range (e.g., 50-85ish) so that they can maintain a fairly wide aperture. I think they would also want to target it to a specific type of photographer or photographic niche to be able to achieve both respectable sales and focused feedback.

I have another suggestion for you (Fujifilm) -- make an XT-1 model with a SQUARE sensor that utilizes the whole image circle of their lovely APS-C lenses...

APS-C sensors are 23.6 x 15.6 mm. Going square would up the sensor size to 23.6 x 23.6 mm, which is essentially the same vertical as full-frame (36 x 24 mm). You’d get the same look as FF, using lighter APS-C lenses.

Added bonus... While the vertical is the same as FF, the sensor area is almost 36% smaller -- a huge savings in sensor cost.

Call it the XS-1 or the ST-1, and position it as the top model in the X-series range of cameras. They’d have a full-frame camera that’s less expensive to manufacture than every other FF camera, with the additional cachet of a square sensor, AND without having to start over with a whole new range of lenses.

By basing it on the XT-1 body, it’s an obvious upgrade path for their existing customers who already bought their previous top model. Same buttons, same interface, nothing to re-learn. And they’d have their old XT-1 as a backup body. It even makes sense from an engineering standpoint: keep the same EVF and LCD hardware and just display a square crop.

Would also be nice to have a multi-aspect ratio switch to aid composition, like the Panasonic LX7 and LX100.

This to me would be a lot more interesting than medium format. It builds on the great work they’ve already done, and they’d have an answer for everyone wanting/telling them to go full-frame. They’d have a unique offering with even greater retro-appeal, that fits nicely into their current lineup of cameras, plus the strategic advantage of lower sensor cost.

I don’t see any downside to this approach.

Very good point. I think they will. I think there are only two companies who might actually do that, Fuji or now Leica with their medium format system and sensor for it. They are also crazy enough, or unlimited by typical corporate caution, to try something really different. Why not, you can still get benefits from bigger sensor. Perfect landscape camera for big prints.
You are a bit unfair on the Fuji mf film camera. I had the af version, GA645. It had a pretty good lens, F/4 only but that was medium format. There are very few MF lenses faster than 3.5 apart from the 2.8 normals. And this needed to be compact lens for a compact camera. It's a bit like complaining that the kit zoom that is now sold with most dslrs is very slow, it should be at least f2.8, better still f2.

I still use a Fuji GW690II (the immediate predecessor to the GW690II in the photo in your article) with Kodak Panatomic-X film. The film is 20 years expired, but has been frozen since new and is a good as ever. The Fuji 90mm lens is amazing. Sadly, I think there would only be a small market for digital version of this camera.

One alternative is the method that Olympus uses. In my opinion, the shift sensor design, where the sensor shifts sideways and vertically to produce high-megapixel files is brilliant. The sensor itself does not need to be enlarged, but the mechanical movement simulates a larger sensor. There may be precision issues because of movement, but for now the concept works.

Interesting idea, but I sorta feel that medium format for digital makes less difference than it did in the film days.

I had, and have I guess, the Texas Leica but in the older three lens outfit. And the more desirable (to me) Fuji 645 folder with the insanely sharp 75mm. Oh, and come to think of it, the Mamiya 6 with 3 lens outfit. None of them really were handy enough to make me carry them instead of the Leicas.

And now I doubt the image quality of any medium format digital would tempt me away from my Nikon full frame and Sony A7. I make big prints, and they compare very well to my big contact prints, and I have no idea what image of mine could ever be improved with a larger sensor.

What 35mm film could do was pretty limited, and that's why portrait photographers used medium format. None of those cameras, making prints, were as good as either of my 24MP cameras.Transparency film did change the equation a bit, but that was a microscopic market.

Other than impressing clients on the job with the medium format, I just don't see the sense of it.

If made to be used handheld (and also if Fuji X priced not Leica S priced...), a fixed lens MF X-pro 2 would be perfect. And how about different lenses, as per Sigma DPs?

A digital Mamiya 6 system would be the creme de la creme. The (second) film version was a much nicer camera than the Mamiya 7.

"previously, variable-contrast papers had been resin-coated (RC)"

Mike you didn't really mean that did you?

DuPont Varilour (one of if not the best paper ever made) was out in the 50s , Dupont came out with Varigam in 1947 and Iliford invented it before that but WWII got in the way.

Varilour was so great, the only variable contrast paper I ever liked.

So variable contrast was in use for at least 25 years before RC raised it's ugly slimy head.

RC Cola is more useful as a developer than RC paper is as a photo paper in my opinion.

[My memory is hazy on these points, but I think there were several early VC fiber papers, Varilous being the most famous. But when Multigrade FB was introduced, there were none. Correct me if I'm wrong. Somebody call APUG! --Mike]

Dear Mike,

Some random thoughts in no particular coherent order.

Like you, I would find a Fuji medium format camera intriguing. We have both liked what Fuji does in the way of “rendition” (whatever that means). 'Course, it doesn't mean either of us will like the resulting camera (considering my reactions to the original Fuji digital rangefinder), but until they build one we'll never know.

I would be pretty annoyed by square sensor. If square isn't your preferred format, you end up with substantially larger, heavier, and more expensive camera bodies and lenses than you would with a rectangular sensor. How much more depends on one's favored rectangle, but it is not an inconsiderable difference!

Back in 1970, it was one of the things that steered me to the Pentax 6x7 (fast lenses were the other). I prefer rectangles. The Hassie and the Rollei SL66 bodies were pretty much the same price, but once I'd got done cropping down to a rectangle, I might as well have gone to 645 format, which was a hell of a lot smaller than 6 x 7. (For young-timers, there's a bit of retconning going on there, as 645 format camera systems didn't exist in 1970––I'm giving it as a comparison.)

APS… possibly, I really don't know, the handwriting might've been on the wall for medium format film by the time APS was released. Medium format was a dead market just a few years later––we only were seeing new medium format camera equipment and films because it was a prestige market. No manufacturer would've gone to the expense of trying to design a whole new system format for a collapsing market.

Ahhh, the GS645. I loved that camera! My “pocketable” medium format camera. Also, the only camera I ever got for free. Funny story. Fuji lent me one for extended testing. When I finally got around to saying to them, “Hey, I'd like to buy this, how much?” they told me to just keep it. They weren't trying to bribe me. What happened was Fuji Japan hadn't told Fuji USA that this was a discontinued camera that they were dumping on the US market. They never expected it to catch on here. Fuji USA only found that out when they sold out their stock and asked Japan for more.

By the time I got around to inquiring about the purchase price, it'd been officially pulled off their books. Consequently, Fuji USA informed me that trying to collect money for it would cause them more bookkeeping and accounting problems than the money was worth, as would returning it at such a late date, and I should just keep my mouth shut and keep the camera.

Interestingly, the one I had was very sharp wide open, at f/4. I'm thinking possibly lens variation, but more likely mechanical alignment? Those folding scissors bellows designs are notoriously hard to build and keep square -- another reason for it not having a faster lens. (Which also goes to the claim of some photographers that the camera body doesn't really matter, it's all about the lenses. Sure, in a universe of ideal engineering.)

I gave up the GS645 when the bellows developed too many pinholes to be patchable, just about the time the GA645 came along. Which, in my always objective view, was the most wonderful camera anyone ever made. Ever! I state that as a matter of fact, not opinion! [TiC]

So, yes, bring on a digital Fuji medium format camera!

(Then you can hear me whine that it's too big and too heavy and that I'm going to stick with my Olympus.)


pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
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Dear Edgar,

Not quite––image circle is determined by the diagonal of the format (which becomes the diameter of the circle). A square sensor has a longer diagonal than a rectangular sensor with the same long dimension. APS-C lenses (at least some of them) would not be able to cover a 23.6mm^2 sensor.

~~~~

Dear Hugh,

And once Fuji got a clue, they also produced Reala Professional, which was by a substantial margin the most accurate color negative film ever produced, as measured by color correctness, saturation, and overall contrast. I loooooved that film (big surprise). Froze a couple of hundred rolls of it when Fuji discontinued it. Used it up to the very end of my film career.

For the record, though, I consider Agfa Multicontrast Premium to be the very best variable contrast paper ever made. (Yeah, RC.)


pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
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-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com
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Mike, I am glad you delved into this subject. About a year ago, in response a question posted on another website, about how a company might make medium format digital work. Not in expensive multi-lens systems but by making a simple point and shoot camera with a fixed lens. Something akin to the 1960's Agfa cameras, and other companies like Bilora. They were basic 120 film cameras. If that flies well, then look at a more complex interchangeable lens system. This way, the maximum lens area available could be used. For those inclined to crazy ideas with a multi-lens square format digital, it would be fun to try an extension tube to create circular photos of the whole lens area like the first Kodak box cameras.

Last year we learned of a digital range finder camera under development. I found it interesting to the point of writing to the company and suggesting a square format sensor. No answer, but you never know where any suggestion might stick to the wall.

With DSLR camera sales falling, revamping the product line with alternative cameras, might be a winning strategy.

I would love to know what the company managers think of the square format idea.

I'm liking the idea of a "Texas X-100." I hope it will be (much) less expensive than the Leica Q and not much bigger either. The largish form-factor doesn't really matter because I'd mount it on a tripod shooting landscapes and "studio" portraits, anyway. It should come with two tripod sockets for both modes accordingly like the Pentax 645.

Since we're talking vaporware anyway, might as well go the whole hog. Would that Fuji finishes what Ricoh started with the "lensor" thing. That is, snap-in lens-sensor modules one each for wide, normal, and long-focus. The sensor for the wide angle lens will be a 56 x 168 like the Linhof 617 (no more stitching!). The sensor paired to the normal lens will be square (56 X 56). The mild telephoto lensor will have a 56 x 75 sensor like the GX680's (for portraits). Going the lensor route might just cost them even less than an MF system roll-out as extensive as the X System. And probably also less expensive than a series of fixed-lens MF cameras. This lensor system can then be competitive with Pentax 645D price-wise (except for the premium panorama sensor that might be impossible to make this wide). (This is what I really meant in a comment to a previous post by a one-sensor, one-lens concept borrowing from Ken Tanaka's "one-lens program".)

The dedicated flange distance for each lensor may also result in a smaller form-factor not to mention a consistent user-interface guaranteed by the single body. They only have to get the haptics right from the start like they did with the X-T1. Fuji can also release an MF counterpart to Ricoh's Mount A12. Say, a 50 MP 56 X 56 sensor with multiple native aspect ratios that maintains the sensor diagonal size (a la Panasonic's), and can accept adapted legacy and digital MF lenses across-the-board. They only have to make a few "native" DMF lenses then.

Getting back down to earth... What does Pentax' long delayed foray into FF imply about the digital MF market given that they already have the Pentax 645D? Or for "Full-Frame" for that matter? Is this (delay) a good or bad omen, for both (MF/FF)?

When a film fixed-lens camera might have been sane in the 20th century, I doubt that a digital one is sane in the 21st -- the sensor simply costs too much, and will probably continue to cost too much because of yield problems with the larger sensors. A fixed lens would wipe out too many of the very few potential users.

Some people like and use MF cameras, but the question is, why? The only answer is the ability to make larger high-res *prints,* but that need seems to be diminishing. I was in Best Buy today and saw an astonishing demonstration of a 75" UHD TV, and I may be incorrect about this because I'm no math god, but I think the resolution provided by a Nikon D800 is already twice that of a UHD video screen...the point being that as pro photo viewing moves more and more to video displays, the need for ultimate resolution in super-large prints is going to diminish.

If any of the formats eventually become obsolete, I expect it will be APS-C. It was a compromise format when FF was simply too hard to achieve at a reasonable price. It couples system requirements (lenses, tripods, etc) as large and heavy as FF, but without FF quality. M4/3 on the other hand offers a size/weight advantage with high quality photos and an aspect ratio that's better than FF's 2/3. But, that doesn't mean APS-C's couldn't keep operating within one manufacturer's system, like Fuji.

A camera that I would really like to see would be a Canon/Nikon/Sony super-FF with a 4/3 aspect ratio. I think that could be achieved with current bodies and maybe lenses, and with the multi-aspect ratio design we've already seen in some m4/3 cameras, the people who prefer the 2/3 aspect ratio could still get a FF equivalent, even after cropping.

@Hugh Smith: I didn't know that Fuji had extended "nihonjinron" (a belief in a uniquely unique Japan/Japanese) to film. Interesting. I still think Fuji files as rendered in Lightroom are tinted green.

Well, Fuji then does have lots of opportunities to mix more myths of unique Japan with photography. For example, Japan, as the only country with 4 clearly distinct seasons, should have a company that can produce superior equipment for autumn foliage. And as a country with the most humid summers on earth, Fuji should be able to perfect waterproofing. Oh, and the wet earwax vs dry earwax difference should be somehow useful too. Come to think of it, with all the never-noticed-until-asserted differences, the future of cameras and photography is in good hands. A magical mysticism that could compete with and defeat anything any of that from Leica.

"Which, in my always objective view, was the most wonderful camera anyone ever made. Ever! I state that as a matter of fact, not opinion!"

I have two GA645 cameras, the standard and wide versions. I haven't used either one for close to three years, but I will never, ever sell them. Why would you sell the most wonderful cameras ever made?

"The lens focal length of 60mm was moderately wide-angle on the format."

I know this puts me beyond the "go metric" crazies, but I advocate thinking about lenses and formats in terms of the field of view rather than "35 mm equivalent." A f=60 mm lens on a 60 mm x 45 mm sensor format gives you 1 x 0.75 radians field of view. The math is stupidly simple -- width (or) height / focal length gives you field of view in radians.

Furthermore, (ie, going ever further into tin-hat territory) I contend that thinking in radians isn't as hard as most people make it out to be. Officially, it's fifty-something degrees, but think of a standard (non telescoping) umbrella. When you open an umbrella, the angle subtended from the edge to the shaft (at the handle) is about 1 radian because the fabric runs from the tip to the handle and the open shape is roughly spherical (so the arc is equal to the radius).

Once again, Mike, our camera history coincides. Not only did I enter digital photography with the Minolta 7d, and move on to an alpha 850. For over a decade, my best landscape-chasing weapon was a Fuji 645W, with a 45mm lens.

It was my ever-frustrating favorite. The lens was very sharp, but f5.6 wasn't the just first sharp aperture- it was THE first, wide open. Remember, kids, this was the age of ISO 100 films and no image stabilization. The size was perfect, just taller than a 35mm SLR but lighter as it was made of melted View-Masters from our childhood. The leaf shutter made a soft click that hinted of flimsy springs. My biggest challenge was getting through a roll of film. The camera had a recurrent shutter-film transport problem that jammed every third or fourth roll. The problem continued after one repair, and on a second try, no parts could be found.

I loved that camera. It was portable and simple. The vertical format and aspect ratio suited my eye perfectly. But it certainly wasn't made as well as my humble Fujifilm x10, which just keep on shootin' after probably 100,000 exposures. It's the bottom of the X-camera line, but it's built like a luxury item compared to the 645, one of the flagships of Fuji's late-20th Century lineup.

Square sensor? But which way do I hold the camera, landscape or vertical? ;-)

I had both a GS645W and a GSW690 at one stage in about 2001. Until the advent of flatbed scanners that could scan this size film, these cameras were impossible to own, for me. How could I ever have enlarged the film?

But when I got the Epson 4990 scanner, I was in heaven. At last I could use the cameras and get very high quality digital files. Marvellous.

But a friend implored me to sell them to him at a good price, so I did. Occasionally I get the urge to buy another GSW690, but then I lie down and remember the size and weight and it goes away.

It's so easy now to get the equivalent to medium format by stitching a few shots together, even when you want a shallow depth of field (the "Brenizer method").

I would love Fuji to build on their panoramic heritage. Both my GX617 and Xpan (née Fuji TX-1)still see continued use, there just is no photographic equivalent, Koudelka's Leica and the Seitz 617 nonwithstanding. So much for my personal wishlist.

The Pentax "645" digital cameras are a good bit larger than 35mm and not astronomical in price. Pretty good ergonomics too. Aaand, not that much larger than a new CanNikon 5D6 mark 18.

@ John Camp - "Some people like and use MF cameras, but the question is, why? The only answer is the ability to make larger high-res *prints,*" Well, sorta. Even on a computer screen I have been able to perceive the difference in MF vs. 35mm/"FF" photos. At least I have in the past, I admit to not having made a study of the results from the latest samples. Yes, the degree of enlargement is smaller from a larger sensor given the same dimensions of print, but that's the point - there are qualities of detail, colour, micro-contrast, etc., that seem to be perceptible. IOW, "(enlargement) size doesn't matter"...

@ctein: I'm glad you mentioned Reala. Aside from Astia, Reala was a film I though was really excellent. I never cared for Velvia; it just seemed too IN YOUR FACE for more than specialized use. With digital manipulation a photographer can change a file into any number of "looks". I've never felt the files from my X-Pro were off. Maybe some who think they are not quite right are just used to a different look, i.e. that Velvia should be the native/RAW profile.

And I like my Fujinon LF lenses. Maybe Hugh wants to send me his 240/A? :)

Pentax was perfectly situated to introduce a medium format digital camera: experience in 2 different film medium format cameras, both types with multiple iterations, a complete lens line up (minus a T/S lens, unfortunately---serious omission...)for both systems, accessories, flashes, etc. With the coming of digital, all that was needed was a sensor, and they popped a smaller than 645 one into a camera with the same flange distance and voila, the D, and now the Z. And the latter is a great camera, truly. All the more mystifying why Pentax has taken so long to get a FF going. Blame the completely disastrous Hoya episode.
Fuji is similarly poised. Lots of previous experience with fixed lens rangefinder medium format cameras, in 645, 6x7, 6x9, and 6x17, and ILC, the cool but awkward 680, and the grandaddy, the G, followed by the GL and GM. Now that Fuji is well established digitally, they have all the experience they need to produce a great fixed lens medium format RF style camera.
I believe they would not be able to keep up with demand----neither could Pentax, in the first year of the Z.
I would buy one, no question. Don't know how, but I would make that happen, just as I did with my Z. I still have my Texas Leica 6x9...

Well, the artworld seems to love large format cameras, even digital ones. It's the nichest of niches though.

However, to make it useful, it would need something special. I have no idea what 'special sauce' Fuji would bring to the genre, and the supply of possible sensors is somewhat limited.

But one advantage of a rangefinder design would be more compact wide-angle lenses and the absence of mirror slap. The larger body would also make lens obscuration of the hybrid VF less of an issue.

If Sony is working on a stitched together version of their 42MP sensor, I could see the appeal.

I still can't imagine a price point under $10,000 though.

Just two weeks back I bought the predecessor of the GS series fixed lens cameras - the GM670 with the 100mm lens. I have been able to shoot just two rolls but I can tell you that the results are outstanding. I bought this over the fixed lens cameras because of the focal length, I so much prefer the 45 to 55 mm equivalent focal lengths and I am sure there are many out there who prefer some other focal length, so an interchangeable lens system is the way to go. But I think given the most likely use of this format i.e. studios, Fuji would rather design the GX680 equivalent for digital (though this one did have a digital back for a while). Makes so much more sense business wise, but then its a "hobby business", right? So anything can happen. :-)

Another vote for a square sensor. I love the format in my film cameras and find myself cropping my digital images to squares quite often.

Perhaps one of these days someone will come up with a truly modular camera design where one could start with the sensor they prefer (size, shape, etc.) and add components to suit.

Did I hear "square format"? The fantasy camera I'm designing in my mind has a square 30mm x 30mm sensor; just slightly more surface area than the standard FF. More important, the diagonals of the these two formats are virtually identical, so FF lenses would cover the 30x30 sensor and would have the same perspective on either format.
This 30x30 format isn't any use to Fuji, I suppose, since their very excellent lens line only covers APS-C. Canikon, though, could build my camera and offer their entire lens lineups for it!

My local camera store (Samy's in Santa Barbara) tells me that 120-format Fuji Pro 400 is one of their most popular films, and I believe them judging from the bricks of the stuff that move through their film fridge. Apparently the local wedding pros like shooting it on Contax 645 systems.

I think larger sensors will be disproportionately more expensive given the difficulty of making larger silicon devices. The number of defects grows by area and number of devices, so the price increase will be at least cubic. For example, all else being equal, it'll be about 8x more expensive to make a sensor that's 2x as big in area with the same sensel size. I'm not holding my breath for MF sensors that approach traditional MF sizes.

But that's OK, because we already have digital MF systems, and the digital sensor is interchangeable! My current favorites are either a Fuji GA645 or GW690, and my DSLR as scanner. Others may prefer a different digital backend. :)

How about an Instax in medium format for enthusiast photographers?

Something with a bit more control than the current toy-ish Instax cameras. It won't be small, but it could be much lighter than anything digital in that size range. Something that would also work in sub-zero temperatures, in winter light; that would be a cool challenge. Maybe even with nice "monochrome" paper editions.

Digital? I'd think that Fuji ought to go into micro four thirds. That's the goldilocks sensor size for most people.

Personally, I'd like to replace my aging Pentax 6x7 body with something new and modern; Film, of course, because a sensor at 6x7cm would be an expensive and clunky exercise in engineering. And live view with an electronic viewfinder on medium format... Let's not go there.

"Fuji has said it's looking into a medium-format digital camera, and there are two ways to look at that. First, that it might be a pretty foolish and foolhardy thing to do—market demand for digital cameras with sensors larger than 24x36mm (135 or "full frame") drops off like the face of El Capitan."

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the logic of that sentence. But...

I think we could replace everything after "First" with references to the cropped sensor Fujifilm X-series system, too. And darned if those haven't worked out very, very well. (I've been shooting the XE1 since it came out and I'm likely to very soon get the XPro2.)

So, what is Fujifilm's potential with some type of full frame camera system. Your point about building a space between crop and full frame is a very good one, and even using a 33mm x 44mm sensor (the "mini MF" sensor format used by Pentax and others) would accomplish that.

It could also be done at a very reasonable price. Fujifilm has all the pieces in place based on their work with the X-trans sensor cameras. The pricing of the 33 x 44 sensors is much lower than it was originally. The interest is there on the part of folks whose photography could benefit from the larger format.

If they go there, two things. One, I'll be very interested. Two, it had been not be a fixed lens camera like your old Fuji 645.

Every time FF digital is described as unnecessary I feel like something is being missed, which is lens cost. It seems to me for a given effective focal length, the apsc equivalent is more expensive in most cases (possibly because they are usually newer or maybe because they have to be wider which = more complex?)

"I haven't used either one for close to three years, but I will never, ever sell them. Why would you sell the most wonderful cameras ever made?"

Why wouldn't you use them? :)

I have a Fuji GSW690III and I love taking it on hikes loaded with Ektar or TMax - it is such a change of pace.
But I have no desire for digital medium format.
I am a commercial photograper and no client has ever complained about the quality of the files from my Canon 6d.

As others have said, this article leaves out the Fuji GF670, a modern 6x6/6x7 camera with a fixed 80mm lens at f/3.5. Fuji still makes it.

The equivalent camera in digital terms is the Fuji X100 series, with a 23mm lens at f/2.0, producing a similar angle of view and depth of field.

There have been a few comparisons between the 16mp X100S/T and the GF670 on the web, and the image quality is not all that different between the two when using a consumer flatbed scanner for the film and shooting at equal ISO's.

And let's not forget that Fuji already made a digital medium format system about ten years ago - they made their own 20mp "Fuji DBP" digital back for their Fuji GX-680 camera. Which, by the way is a great MF system that you can still use with any digital back.

I got spoiled using a 6x7 system for 17 years. I finally "had" to go digital and adopted a Nikon full-frame system, for which I'm still acquiring a kit of quality lenses. H'blads and Phase Ones are out of reach for all but successful pro shooters, but the idea of basic low-frills MF from Fuji is attractive. How about producing three sensor in body fixed zoom lens models with focal lengths equivalent to full-frame 20 to 50, 70 to 110, and 140 to 200? Or, create a modular system body that would accept lens "cartridges" in the above sizes? Going above 50 MP sensors in standard full-frame systems won't produce image quality comparable to a 30x45 MF sensor doing 50 MP files, and that sensor could easily bump out to 60 with stunning results. I never spent time with the old Mamiya 7 but I liked the concept. Fuji could smartly create a fundamental photographic tool that could become a darling of shooters who really do make, show and sell prints of 3'x 5'and up. Getting that size (and larger) into prints with a single shot has a lot of advantages for art and commercial work. Let's hope something comes along priced parallel to the Pentax MF gear but with Fuji's resources and quality.

"I gave up the GS645 when the bellows developed too many pinholes to be patchable"

Ctein, it crosses my mind that a perhaps minor and overlooked advantage of digital sensors is that in a hypothetical digital camera with bellows, pinholes will not really matter much.

Dear Mani,

???

You've entirely lost me. Please explain.

pax / Ctein

Add me to the list of people who drool at the thought of a digital XPAN.

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