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Friday, 18 September 2020


"..4/3s and FF are closely paired, with FF in front but not by all that much,...but FF to MF shows a strikingly bigger improvement." Mike, how dare you. The "Photographers" on the D reviewing sites will declare emphatically and with immense authority that any real photographer must use a FF camera because of the pixels, bokeh, dynamic range, equivalence, card slots, etc., etc. But digital medium format: all of a sudden it is totally unnecessary, is an affectation, is for poseurs, amateurs, and rich dentists, has outrageous lenses, etc., etc.

"Honestly—and I know this is a minority opinion—I like small sensors better. You get more depth-of-field with wider apertures, which is a good thing, and everything's smaller and handier."



When I look back on my spotty photography career, I realize that all I've ever done, really, is "visual note taking," which is why I'm so fond of small cameras, and the easier they are to operate, the better. That's why I like the Panasonic m4/3 system so much, and the various versions of the RX100 are, to my mind, very good. I don't include iPhones on my favorites list, and I apparently have a good iPhone camera, an 11 Pro. I find them awkward to use, and I've never gotten good photos with them, except when I'm in a grocery store.
and I have to send a photo to my wife to make sure I got the right pickles.

And I never understand people who like APS-C The cameras and lenses are essentially as big and obtrusive as FF; the only thing not really as big is the sensor, and perhaps the price. You'd be better off going to m4/3, which has a better dedicated (not adapted) lens system than any APS-C, and produces images virtually as good as APS-C.

That still life with Milk Bone is absolutely brilliant. If you put it in a print sale, I'd buy it. (Er, if it weren't too big or too expensive, that is.)

What you say matches up with my experience, too. I can't tell the difference between "full frame" and my Fuji in most cases, but the "medium format digital" or whatever you want to call it vs full frame seems obvious.

Yikes, that visual comparing FF vs 4x5 is an eye opener for sure. I did not shoot a lot of 4x5 film but the negatives when printed are in a world of their own. The detail, the tones just can’t be matched with any digital device, (my opinion). I used a Linhoff field camera, a Speed Graphic, a monorail, and what I settled on after many cameras and film formats was a Speed Graphic with a 6x9 roll film back. This produced the wider look and roll film shooting and processing was much easier than 4x5 sheet film. I still struggle with digital vs. film and I just wish I could decide to shoot one or the other, perhaps just build a setup again for 6x9 using a large format field camera ?

Mike, of course you like what you like.

I don't have the cameras or prints to compare but wouldn't a 50 mp FF such as the Canon 5ds have images 'jump out' vs MF images?

Well, Sony has always had small sensor cameras, I think what they are trying to do here is to create a line of more compact offerings (for those coming from cellphone photography every stand alone camera is too big), that still uses their premium glass (Grand Master, really? Who came up with this?). And right now “full frame” is the magic marketing word.

Interesting. And since I've got an iPhone from my employer (LTE as backup for internet providers), I know how good these are as cameras. But I often thought that compared to these devices, everything else - like µ43rds - is "large format" already. Just a slight shift in terminology.

Love my E-M10 Mk2, although it's a bit tiny for these hands - the E-520 was way better to handle, about almost perfect I'd say. Maybe I should try something like a G9 or so? Or even an E-M1 (Mk something?). Can't get used to handle an iPhone as a camera, even if the results are pretty good.

P.S. to my last post:

Just went from an electric fretless to an upright bass - nothing beats the sound of real wood, and the size also helps. Anachronistic? Maybe - but then again, just physics...

I took my 4x5 Crown Graphic to the baseball stadium back when the Braves were big losers and the place was only 1/3 full. I set it up across the field from the spectators to shoot back at the action.

A security guy soon showed up, saying "No video!". After he got a closer look, he said: "Oh! That's the kind of camera they used to take your picture sitting on a pony when you were a kid!"

My antique "pony" camera captured a view of about half the stadium. With a loupe on the original chrome, I can easily see my wife and her dad in the crowd, and see his wristwatch.

I don't mind owning a view camera (any size will do) for the purpose of display (in a sitting room), play (when I'm bored), and conversation piece (when I entertain on rare occasions).

In my experience, format choice is not as fungible in application as many would have you believe.

In addition to affecting one's use of DoF via aperture selection, it also affects, among many other things, lens choice (both in terms of focal length and optical design) and exposure length, too.

Over the course of my ~45 years as a hobbyist photographer, I've transitioned from shooting 35 mm film to 120 / 220 film to 4x5 and 8x10 film, to digital with a 2/3" sensor -- Yes, really, I went directly from using an 8x10 Toyo to a 2/3" Leica Digilux 2! -- then 4/3 and m4/3 format sensors, a medium-format (44x33) sensor, and APS-C format sensors, until I finally closed the circle back to a 35 mm format sensor, which is what I've used since mid-2014.

Interestingly, I have been working in essentially the same genre (urban / suburban street-and-alley scenes) since my 8x10 days and without a doubt, 35 mm digital is the optimal compromise format for my purposes. (I am also using the same lenses I did back in the early to mid 80s, which says something, too!)

If working with medium-format digital wasn't such a frustrating experience and best-case results were all that mattered, I would love to be photographing with it again for the improved tonality and greater resolution it uniquely achieves compared to smaller-format sensors.

But to achieve equal DoF means stopping down the lens further, which means using a correspondingly longer exposure, and this creates more opportunities for external events to interfere with my long-exposure nighttime photos, requiring me to re-shoot them. Sometimes over and over and over...

It also means I would be using longer focal length lenses, which have different rendering characteristics, and also make it difficult, if not impossible to compose from a wide-angle perspective, which is my preference, because suitable lenses and cameras that accept them cost many multiples more than I'm willing or able to spend.

For these reasons and many more, 35 mm digital has proved itself to be the "Goldilocks format" for my photography, even if there will always be one format or another that can handily surpass its performance in any given respect.

In my 4x5 days-

“[an] iPhone... It's like a field notebook on which I can jot quick notes.”

“...digital lets us go a good deal smaller. It's one of the good things about digital!”

Just wanted to juxtapose those two sentences. I think it’s interesting that as full-frame sensors become uncoupled from large bodies the discourse has shifted upwards: people used to say the same things about, say, APSC vs 1” sensors that they’re now saying about MF vs full frame.

Time for that Fuji medium format "impressions" piece.

I'm quite happy with APSC, after using 4/3 sensors for many years, and then full frame for a couple years. For me, buying a medium format digital would be very expensive and I'd likely end up using it even less than I did my full frame camera. If I were a certain type of wedding photographer, ran a studio, or needed it in some other professional capacity, then yes, definitely. I do believe people when they talk about the nice files, as I have downloaded some raws to process and examine. But that kind of image quality serves mostly to impress my eyes when zoomed in at 300%, and I really don't need that kind of impressing any more.

Here's my theory of camera size. There are only three sizes of cameras: pocket-size (phone, Ricoh GR, Sony RX100), carry-on-body-size (this is any ILC, mirrorless, or DSLR), and carry with a vehicle or mule train size (large format and all those cool cameras that never travel more than 400 yards without vehicular assistance).

Photographers from Galen Rowell to Pete Souza to Dentists vacationing in Antactica have all come to the same conclusion: carry-on-body-sized cameras are the best compromise. It's not even close. These are the non-phone cameras that you see everywhere.

From my experience, I've found that all ILCs are equally the same hassle to carry. Once the camera is large enough that it needs to be strapped around your neck or over your shoulder, it doesn't matter if it's micro 4/3, APS, or full frame, it's still a hassle to carry it. Yes, a smaller camera is lighter and you might not notice it as much on a hike, but you're still dealing with all the problems that come with carrying a somewhat delicate instrument on your body. The camera is always at risk of swinging around and bashing into a rock or your kid's head. You've got to either hang the camera from your neck, keep it in hand, or hide it in a pack. These problems are the same whether you're carrying a relatively small Panasonic GX85 or a chunky Canon R5 with a 24-70 f2.8 zoom. Yes, the smaller cameras are somewhat easier to carry, but only marginally.

So if there is only a marginal difference when considering camera size what do we use to make our purchase choice? I believe it still comes down to image quality and features that help you "get the shot". That's why as the camera market shrinks to only serving enthusiasts and pros, things are settling out towards full frame. Why full frame? It comes down to the size of the human body...

If camera purchases come down to "what's the highest performing equipment that I can carry on my body?", then the amswer is almost always going to be: whatever is the largest camera that I can comfortably carry. This brings us back to the 35mm image sensor. The road to 35mm as the standard size film and then standard digital sensor was dictated by the size of the human hand. 35mm is the largest format that the average person can lug around for a day in the field. Yeah, you'd be more comfortable with a smaller camera, but it's not worth the compromise unless as long as you're still healthy.

This brings me to another point. Photographers need to consider the importance of a pocket-size camera. Think about how often you snap away with your phone and how it has enhanced your life. But lets admit it, the quality of phone photos kind of sucks compared to what us camera geeks are accustomed to. Because of how much I found myself enjoying phone photography, I bought a Ricoh GR3 last November after sitting on the fence for years. The Ricoh is honestly the best photo equipment purchase I've made in my entire life. It goes everywhere with me. It's hard to explain what a joy it is to have that razor-sharp little monster come along everywhere. Photographers, if you own a big old full-frame DSLR system, and are considering something smaller, maybe go all the way and get a Ricoh. I have never been happier with my gear. I have a big, chunky Canon system for those missions and a Ricoh for bumming around town. A carry-on-body camera, and a carry-in-pocket camera.

I really agree with you about the latest Sony camera. Full frame sensors require large lenses if you want fast primes and zooms. Sony’ s A7 series are already quite compact, and full featured. They have had to reduce ergonomics and features in order to make the 7c More Compact, making the mismatch between camera size and available lens size even more apparent.
The real issue I think is that Sony , Canon and Nikon have given up on high quality APS C lenses , which COULD be more compact.
They have helped Fujifilm along in that regard. One of the things I notice about Fujifilm cameras is that they all seem “well proportioned,” neithe body heavy or lens heavy. I think that is part of good design.
They are all capable cameras so it becomes more a matter of taste.

Have you seen this? I'll believe it when I see it.


Being a current SONY A7 series owner, I happen to like very much the new SONY A7c. I am liking the rangefinder style and the smaller form factor which I think will be a winner. I owned the SONY NEX7 for a while and loved it and I thought the sensor was a very good one, combined with the older SIGMA 30mm lens you have yourself a great walk around, quick shooting, great image quality APSC camera. The A7c is calling my name but I just can’t justify another FF camera body.

As someone who started out in digital, during the pandemic I thought it might be good to take up a new (sub)hobby and try my hand at film and developing. Bought a Sinar F in March (though it took me almost 2 months to collect all the stuff I needed before I could take my first shot).

I love the process and and the photos it produces for all the reasons you mention. Admittedly the Sinar is a bit cumbersome, so I ended up also getting a Wista 45SP last week. I didn't feel so bad since both cameras combined with the basic 90/150/210mm lenses cost me less than something like a Z50 two-lens kit of a Z5 body.

I’m listening, but I’m quite not hearing. I am an engineer and I tend to look at and believe objective facts.
1” = 2.7 crop factor
M4/3 is 2 crop; 2x 1.35 = 2.7
Canon APS is 1.6 crop; 1.6x 1.25 = 2 Others are 1.5x 1.33 = 2
Fuji and Hasselblad MF are 0.8 crop from full frame, so x1.25
The crop factors are diagonal. Areas would be squares of those numbers. Eg. 1.25^2=1.56.
The differences from smallest 1” sensor to largest are: 1.35 1.25-1.33 1.5-1.6 1.25. The biggest jump, the biggest increase in diagonal or area is from Canon APS to full frame. I find it easy to believe that there is no appreciable difference between, say m4/3 and APS, that being only about 1.3x linear size increase (1.7 in area). But I find it hard to believe that suddenly at full frame, there is a huge increase when going to 1.25x larger (1.6 in area) MF sensor size.

[That's "all else being equal," but as Ctein likes to say, "all else is never equal." --Mike]

An interview taking place in the year 2020:

Q: "- So, Mr. Head of R&D in Camera Company C.N.S.: You have just released your latest, greatest, state-of-the-digital-art professional camera. According to the press release, this is supposed to be the perfect value proposition for a digital camera with interchangeable lenses. A key point is of course the sensor size. What was the deciding factor for you here - size vs portability, pixel well dimensions, the latest availability of BSI sensors, a visually appealing aspect ratio, perhaps the Nyquist theorem for optimum lens sharpness ??"

A: "- Nah, we just went with whatever Oskar came up with in 1913"

Don't forget K.B. Canham view cameras. Keith Canham makes an excellent wood and metal view camera as well as all metal cameras. I used his 5x7 for several years until I moved to a monorail.
Your comparison of full frame vs. 4x5 is misleading. How much information is stored per unit area? I remember that a number of color landscape photographers switched from 4x5 to the Canon 5D Mark 0 when it came out.
As important as image quality afforded by medium format digital is, I think that the advantage offered by full frame tilt/shift lenses is more important. Otherwise you're just photographing with the equivalent of a Speed Graphic. Canon makes a full range of TS lenses from 17mm to 135mm. I think this will be the route I take when the day comes that I have to give up on my Linhof Technika.

Here's the opinion from a guy who spent 40+ years in professional photography, making most of his money with sheet film:

M 4/3rds should've been, and should be, the "heir apparent" to 35mm photography. If you were happy with the results of 35mm film, you'll be more than happy with the results out of M 4/3rd's!

If there are any newspaper photographers left, and news outlets with photo departments; I can only imagine that the reluctance to stock M 4/3rd's has more to do with "muscle memory" associated with the few (read two) camera brands they were already buying for 60 years, and the lack of a truly "bullet proof" professionally constructed M 4/3rds series of bodies and lenses. Even my prime Olympus lenses, seem very 'plasticky' compared to Fuji equipment.

One of my first digital cameras was the Nikon APS-C D90, and I was surprised to find that the camera output a perfectly fine double-page magazine spread at 12.3 megapixels. So, I would imagine a M 4/3rd's chip at 16-20 megapixels would as well. Understand in most instances, a pro is interested in "reproduction look", and not wall-hangings and sofa sized prints.

I purchased a few M 4/3rds cameras to experiment with, and I'm perfectly happy because of the multi-aspect-ratio of the bodies! I am not held captive by the tyranny of the 3:2 format, and can shoot 8 x 10 / 4 x 5 (4:3), as well as square (1:1), and movie(wide)format (16:9). In fact, my camera is mostly set on 4:3 and 1:1.

As I've stated here on many occasions, the amount of 'real' commercial and professional photographers shooting sheet film and 120 roll film cameras, far, far, outweighed any professionals shooting 35mm (which were mostly your local newspaper photographers, and even wedding photographers were mostly 120 well into the '80's), so the idea that almost all affordable digital solutions were mostly 3:2 is a real puzzle!

In fact, this aspect ratio idea is why I'm really interested in the new Fuji FF electronic viewfinder cameras! They show in the specs that they list about 6 or more aspect rations, whereas cameras like the Sony, practically none!

When in comes to 'medium format' digital; I have a couple of caveats.

The first is that I also truly believe that the output from these cameras fairly "jumped off the screen" back in the beginning. It is well to note that the CCD sensors at the time were pretty close in size, to the actual 6:4.5 format, so actually larger than what is considered medium format today, which is 33 x 44, and not a whole lot larger than FF 35mm! Maybe NOT worth the "up-buy".

Second, you can still find photographers (and the last time I ran tests, I was one of them), that believe the old CCD sensor was in some way superior to the CMOS sensor in "feel".

Third, 16 bit color vs. 14 bit color. I can't remember the actual stats for this, but if anything, I'm under-reporting: I think the difference between the two is more than 2 million additional color and density tones! In other-words, far closer to 'real' film. Maybe not a "deal killer" if your use is to look at stuff on a TV screen, but it would be great to have a camera that shot native 16 bit color in .tiff, for ad shooters like myself!

People challenge me on the color space and density thing all the time, but I'm telling you, since I managed large catalog studios for the second half of my career, I was privy to technology tests by major manufacturers, and twenty years ago, I saw native 24 bit color photo output in .tiff that was indistinguishable from color transparency!

I will also say, I still own an 8x10 with a 4x5 reduction back. A Hasselblad set, and a Mamiya RB set, and since I am "semi-retired" I would be shooting everything on film, if I had an E-6 processor in my town (Thanks Kodak for reintroducing E-100), and if Polaroid or Fuji still made the last gen pack instant film I could be using for "pre-film" tests before shooting! I would own my M 4/3rd's stuff for when that would be 'needed'.

"You get more depth-of-field with wider apertures, which is a good thing," I get lost when people start talking about small formats this way.
My lenses need to be stopped down to get more Depth of Field.


A year ago when I was still a working TV news photographer/editor John Chapman and I did a story on the 100th anniversary of the lynching of Will Brown.
The Omaha riot of 1919 is well documented photographically but most of the pictures are now halftones from books and pamphlets, but not all.
There is a horrific image of the crowd burning Browns body and it was taken with an 8x10 camera and the negative is at the Durham Museum in Omaha.
The Durham was kind enough to make us a high resolution scan (about 50 megs) of the original for use in our story.
We used Grass Valley Edius to edit our news stories and it allows you to mix all kinds of files in a timeline in their native resolutions. It only flattens them down to an MPEG file for final export.
This allowed me to push in and move around the image with resolution to spare.
Forgive me for discussing such a dreadful image in technical terms but I'm trying to make a point about the information density of these large format negatives. This one changed the story of Will Browns murder from a historical abstraction to a nightmare.
As horrific as the picture is it gets even worse when you consider that it was taken with an 8x10 camera in 1919. That means the crowd had to stand still while the photographer set up the camera, got under a cloth to compose and focus and finally either set up a flash gun or pan of flash powder (1919?).
Nobody in the crowd moved, nobody tried to hide their face.

“Love my E-M10 Mk2, although it's a bit tiny for these hands”

I have the same camera and the same problem, which makes me sometimes wish that I had instead chosen something with a bigger grip like a G85 or an E-M1. But I have found that the ECG-3 grip makes a huge difference in terms of creating both a deeper grip for all my fingers and a taller grip so that my pinkie has a spot. I can now hand carry the camera for hours without my hand getting tired.

Your friend you quoted is right, digital MF does leap out ahead of FF, and in a number of ways. Not just in terms of resolution and file size, but more importantly for me, the file bit-depth, the range of tonality from full white to blacks is greater and subtler (or perhaps more accurately, finely resolved) and then...there are medium format lenses. MF lenses have some intrinsic advantages over smaller formats (i.e., less functional or engineering compromises) so you get superior quality as well as finer control over DOF. I'm sorry, but FF just DOES NOT look like MF. Ming Thein wrote a great article some years back on his blog entitled "That Medium Format" look, whcih articulates this better than I can: https://blog.mingthein.com/2015/02/24/that-medium-format-look-what-is-it/

My thoughts: you should at least rent one in (maybe the GFX50R) and see what it can do. Get it with the 45mm lens...and get to work.

When I was doing architectural photography, 4x5 was my mainstay, with Sinars the backbone. Various other formats were used for specific needs, from 35mm to 8x10 but 4x5 was always part of the mix.

Since I wasn't going to go hiking with a Sinar-p, I also acquired an Anba/Ikeda 4x5 which is similar to but even slightly lighter than the Nagaoka. I still have it in a small fanny pack with a couple or 3 Graphmatic holders, a 58SA-XL, 90/8 Nikkor, 135/5.6 Fujinon and 240 Apo-Ronar, as well as filters, dark cloth, light meter and various little things. A decent lightweight tripod and I'm ready to go. The fanny pack would not hold a Nikon or Canon DSLR with a 'holy trinity' of zoom lenses.

Now I mainly shoot m43 (finally no more struggle to get enough DOF!). I use FF mostly for special types of shooting. Medium format digital is mostly uninteresting to me, as I find 'small MF' like Fuji's too close to FF, and even the largest Phase One offerings are still far from 4x5 in their aesthetic and priced beyond my interest. I was hoping that the Betterlight scanning backs or something like them would progress in usefulness, but it didn't happen so if I want a true 'large format' look, film is still the only option except for stationary subjects.

"When the files are from a medium format sensor...the resolution and clarity and dynamic range just jump out at you. My impression. . . is that 4/3s and FF are closely paired, with FF in front but not by all that much, while the MF files leap out in front of the FF."

I read and enjoy this kind of posts. I find the comments interesting. But they are irrelevant to my photographic practice. I think it would be pushing it to think that I could manage to take 20% of the photos I take with a Fuji MF digicam.

That's assuming that I would have the ability and interest to carry eight primes and to spend the time to change them all the time. And that my subjects would still be there. And that I would be happy to miss the majority of the photo opportunities I would get with my existing kit.

But it's all moot, as the lack of FL range and of capabilities like focus stacking would mean carrying all my µ4/3 kit, as well. And I'm not carrying all that gear, so the MF would stay at home.

No matter how wonderful the files from the MF gear, the photo not taken due to unsuitability to the task at hand is approximately infinitely less good than one taken with "lesser" gear.

i bought a nice horseman monorail 4x5 with a caltar 210mm f/5.6 about 8 years ago. unfortunately it arrived from the US at a time when my photography career had gone on a downswing so i made way too few photos with it but i am both hooked and know that a full monorail is not for me. the horseman is finding its use with another photographer though who is doing interesting work with it, so it's not been a waste. I am sick of my current job now so when the pandemic passes, i have my sights set on the same intrepid camera that Dennis Ng in the featured comments mentioned. getting a good lens is seeming to be harder than it used to be though but i look forward to getting back into it eventually

Perfectly happy with my Fuji these days. If I would buy a large format again I would look at a very nice Italian Gibellini instead of a Chinese camera.

I like your comparison illustration between the 4x5 inch film and full-frame digital. I have both cameras. I have shot extensively with a view camera for more than 3 decades and in the last 18 months, I have been using a full-frame digital camera (Nikon D850). As soon as I got the Nikon D850 I did a number of side by side comparison tests with my view camera, using lenses that were about the same focal length on each camera, 120mm on the 4x5, and 35mm on the Nikon. I shot T-Max 100 with the 4x5 and set the ISO on the Nikon to 64. To my eyes, I thought the image detail was about equal, which I think is amazing considering how much smaller the area of the full-frame digital is in comparison to the 4x5. I even compare medium format and 35mm film against the D850. I posted this info on my blog.

Point taken on all else not being equal. But for a meaningful comparison of sensor sizes one should keep things as equal as possible. For example, the cheapest lens for Fuji or the X1 is $1000. Most lenses for Fuji are around $2000 and for the ‘blad $3000-5000. One should expect reasonably good glass at those prices. If one then compares that system to a full frame Sony, for example, using the kit zoom wide open at either shortest or longest focal length, or some other $250 lens, isn’t it more of a lens quality comparison with absolutely nothing to do with sensor size? Wrong conclusions can be drawn. Expensive ones.

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