Is digital medium format ever going to be realistic for amateurs?

Discussion in 'Medium Format' started by oskar_ojala, Feb 8, 2009.

  1. I don't think this is a question that anyone can answer definitely, but I'm quite inexperienced of the world of digital medium format, so I would like some opinions from people who know the industry better.
    My basic problem is this: I enjoy shooting 6x6 with my Hasselblad, there are so many things about it that are different from 35 mm and the image quality produced by it is very good. However, with digital cameras ever evolving, I find myself doing the majority of my photography with my rather nice DSLR system, simply because getting the 6x6 slides/negs onto a computer for printing or displaying is a hassle and the DSLR system comes reasonably close in terms of quality anyway.
    So I would like to use my Hasselblad more and even get higher image quality than possible with my DSLR, which would in turn mean getting a digital back for the blad. But these are expensive -- beyond what normal amateurs can realistically spend. What I would like opinions on is will medium format digital ever reach the realm of amateurs (say sub $3000) or will it remain in the five-figure range? Two years ago I would have say that it will become cheaper, but with the latest advances in 35 mm DSLRs, I'm beginning to doubt that MF will attract enough interest to sustain the volumes to make it cheaper and more competitive.
    So what's your take, MF will get cheaper and offer a logical "upper end" for many amateurs, or will it stay as a very expensive high-end solution, only available for a number of pros or rich amateurs?
  2. I still have (probably unrealistic) hopes that the price of a digital back for my Hasselblad 501CM will come down to a level where I won't have to get a second mortgage on the house, and that it will do so in my productive lifetime. I doubt that either will happen anytime soon.
    Willl the cost of MF digital eventually come down? Almost certainly. Will it come down far enough to attract the consumer market as well as the pros? Not likely. I think MF digital will always be at the high end of the scale, attractive only to those who have hopes of making money with their gear, and to those amateurs who have enough money already and can afford it.
  3. Scanning medium format backs are available, used, for less than $4k, as are some 12MP Kodak backs. Kodak has a miserable record regarding support for obsolete equipment, so be prepared to fly solo. There's a pretty good choice for 22MP backs under $10K, sometimes with a camera attached. A new Mamiya ZD is priced under $7K, but doesn't quite make it in the majors. I doubt you'll see any prices in the D2x range other than for bookends and paperweights.
  4. You will be able to build your own from parts readily available within 10 years or so when the technology moves on to 3D+ interactive holographic imaging.
  5. Being an amateur I even would not consider going digital. Besides, I like too much watching my 6x6 the colour slides directly. Film is also an excellent medium for archiving images. Digital images may be stored on different media (Hard Disk DVD etc), but probably as an amateur even more one likes to watch his photos after 20 or more years (think about family photos). The question is whether all these digital media can be read out at that time without hassle. At least, archiving digital images is not straightforward. For slides or negatives, this is no issue. Eventually scanning of 6x6 slides is possible with good and affordable equipment (like the Nikon coolscan 8000/9000) nowadays, also for an amaeur.
  6. There's always going to be a "trickle down" effect, and when the latest 36x42mm 39 megapixel backs are no longer good enough for professional use, they'll be available used at an affordable price.
    Current (35mm) full-frame DSLRs are as "affordable" as new medium format film equipment and, dare I say it? They give quality easily comparable to what can be achieved with MF film. Not necessarily in terms of pure resolution, but the smoothness of tone obtainable with 35mm digital is easily on a par with MF film results. And if you really want good tonality, resolution and megapixels on the cheap, then why not shoot 5x4 negative film and scan it? Even at 2400 dpi, a scan from 5x4 gives you 100 megapixels with a dynamic range equal to any MF digital back. Plus the bonus of total perspective and focus control.
  7. Even at 2400 dpi, a scan from 5x4 gives you 100 megapixels with a dynamic range equal to any MF digital back.

    Please cite a source for this tidbit - something from the non-fiction section of the library :)
  8. I don't pretend to be an expert in digital photography nor do I have a crystal ball, but I would like to cite a personal experience that puts this question into perspective at least for me.
    In the early 1970's I was a young engineer fresh out of grad school. My job was to design memory systems. Semiconductor RAM was just replacing magnetic core memory at that time and memory chips were only 1K bits with 4K bits just showing up as prototypes. I recall my boss mentioning that if we could develop memory at 1 cent per bit we would be in good shape!! At that rate the 1GB memory I just bought would have cost $80,000,000 instead of the $15 that it actually cost.
    The lesson to me is never say never. Digital technology evolves very quickly so we can probably expect significant improvements and cost reductions as time goes by.
  9. AFIK, the main thing that drives up the cost of medium format digital backs is the relationship between the size of the sensor and the size of the medium they make chips on. When you factor in what has to be discarded due to defects (and I guess the fact that it's easy to get defects with all such a large sensor) the yield of good mf sensors from the chip-making process is extremely low. It's not a straight ratio of the relative sensor sizes. So a manufacturing process that might yield 2 mf sensors would yield.. anyone know? 40 dx sensors?
    Chip manufacturing would probably have to change drastically to make mf sensors ubiquitous and affordable.
  10. I think we will see a time when medium format digital will be on par with what medium format film was. So, the prices will come down and there might be a tiered system in place, more of like what we are seeing with the Phase One versus Mamiya ZD levels - which will help bring it into the realm of affordability for amateurs - but again just like film days. So, a system that is one or two generations old, will be within reach. Current systems might still be outside of the financial reach of amateurs - inder $3000.
  11. I wonder why Epson, or some company like that, does not make a simple and cheap scanning back for medium format. They do very competitive scanners that give Imacon etc a run for their money. Surely it would be possible to build a similar system that can be mounted on any 4x5 and/or 6x6 camera 1-2 second pre-scan and 10s or so main scan. USB wire to connect to a small laptop. There is a large number of suitable second hand MF bodies at quite reasonable prices. 4k for a used scanning back is still a lot. If Epson could do it for 1-1.5k, I think they would have a winner.
  12. The prices of a digital MF back are high because there is little volume too; besides the sensor cost. The tooling cost of a Hannah Montana digital camera is little; spread across many million of cameras. For a MF digital back it is spread accross jsut a few thousand unit; or less.
    Amatuers have always wanted a low cost MF digital back; what if it never appears? One can go back 12 years ago to a 2048 by 2048 pixel digital back for a Hasslblad that cost as much as a small car; 4 megapixels. Then on can fart around today with a used one; an use an old Mac on a tether; or maintain a DOS/Win3.11 machine.
  13. I'm never getting rid of my Contax MF body or the gorgeous Zeiss glass I've collected. Of course, I have a growing pile of E6 film and not enough time to scan, dust spot etc. But maybe if I lose my job in the current economy, I'll just sit home with my trusty Nikon 9000, a case or two of fine wine, and scan and archive till the economy bounces back. Or, maybe Phase One will have a garage sale. Hope springs eternal.
  14. I'm never getting rid of my Contax MF body or the gorgeous Zeiss glass I've collected. Of course, I have a growing pile of E6 film and not enough time to scan, dust spot etc. But maybe if I lose my job in the current economy, I'll just sit home with my trusty Nikon 9000, a case or two of fine wine, and scan and archive till the economy bounces back. Or, maybe Phase One will have a garage sale. Hope springs eternal.
  15. Agree with Mr van der Graaf, no need, want or can afford a digital back. I'm basically a B&W film using person. I use about 2-3 rolls of color film, (and, only E-6) rolls a year. My local camera store has every type of E-6 film made by Kodak and Fuji in 35 and 120. They have a 2 hour turn around time. Developed and on CD. Also with B&W made by those 2 companies , also Ilford. They had some T-Max in 4x5 last time I was there. Digital backs are fine for those that need or can afford them. But, the rest of us will get along fine.
    I'm sure that digital MF backs will always be high.
  16. david_henderson


    I wouldn't hold my breath. It needs too many things to happen. Most of the most economic backs available now are crop sensor which means no wide angle photography or an inelegant part digital/part filmback shooting strategy. So a low cost full frame sensor is going to be necessary to meet most needs that aren't wedding/portrait/fashion/product. Then picking up the volume point , its going to need a real act of faith by a producer to invest in higher volume capacity to make these things more efficiently and then to set a price point at which those volumes become a possibility.
    Then I think potential demand is reducing. The number of interchangeable back MF slrs out there will not be going up, but their average age will be. I just can't see someone picking up an old MF kit for a few hundred dollars and then spending even a thousand or two (chance would be a fine thing) to enhance it. I suspect that a number of the MF sytems being bought cheaply today are not going to see a high usage and that as soon as anything material goes wrong it might result in no repair- which is why so many people come on here with tales like "I bought this on eBay and it appears not to work". Many of the people buying MF now are doing so because they are so cheap to the extent that a latent ambition can now be realised. They didn't buy MF when the entry price was a couple of thousand dollars. Which says to me that number of MF users voting for a digital back will always tend to be small and may in fact reduce not increase at all. Not a good scenario against which to make a major investment in production and price-point, anyway
    Finally I suspect that every time a volume manufacturer comes out with a dSLR with 20 or 30 MP or whatever, someone making digital backs will form or cement a view that the MF advantage is reducing and that the prospect of selling a back to serious amateurs, or travel/landscape/fine art professionals is reducing because competition is moving closer.
    Put this lot together and I don't think this is going to happen anytime soon.
  17. For me the question is not whether I can have high quality with some film based option; I do have a 4x5" camera, but naturally the hasselblad is way more convenient when lens movements are not needed. For various reasons I'm just mainly using digital today and that's not likely to change.
    I don't need a MF digital back this year; I'm an amateur and I have time to wait. My situation is more of the sort that should I keep putting money in my MF system, or should I just decide that no more money into the MF system until the upgrade path is clear. To be interesting, a MF back must offer clearly more than my DSLR, i.e. it needs to have over 20 mpix resolution, excellent dynamic range and color and a fairly large sensor (not necessarily full-frame, though).
    As was mentioned, I think the biggest problem with making MF digital backs affordable is volume. Process technology develops and know-how about making digital camera systems increases, which drives down the costs for digital cameras in general, but if MF volumes are low then backs will tend to cost much. The situation is further made difficult by the fact that many people find the latest 35 mm DSLRs entirely sufficient. So the hard part seems to be to tell if there will be sufficient demand for MF to sustain markets for cheaper backs.
    Of course there can always be technological breakthroughs, but I'm not even going to start guessing about those.
  18. Oskar -- You're right that the volume will never be there with MF to bring the costs down of a digital back; I suspect the best uplift we will see is a flowdown of sensor improvements and cost reductions from the dSLR arms race. I imagine that the digibacks will come down to $5-7K in the next few years, but it's unlikely that it will come down much more than that.
    Like you, I am an amateur who loves MF but can also wait for the path to become clearer. I am encouraged to see the Mamiya DL28 (645AFD, 80mm f2.8 lens, and the Leaf back) is around $14K. It wasn't too long ago when the digiback itself was going for that amount.
  19. Sure. If A-Rod and Tiger are into photography, it will be perfect, won'y it?
  20. I'm so fine with film and a Coolscan 9000 that I wouldn't be interested. Scanners are great, a few minutes of set-up time and they do the rest while you relax/work/play/sleep. The fun/hard part is editing what to scan, deciding what is scan-worthy. There's also the storage issue, too, with with all those high MP files. I'd probably get as selective shooting a digital back as I am with film. Like you say, when you need it there's the D3x and its ilk, for only $8,000 ;)
    Basically, I'm done spending thousands of dollars on "obsolete" equipment, when I already own gear that will get me to the same place, albeit a bit more "scenically." Guess I'm a cheap, Green, lazy Luddite ;)
    Now if they came out with a digital Mamiya 7....
  21. Edward. You can get a good 10 stops of dynamic range from properly processed colour negative film, which in reality is hardly ever needed because camera and lens flare will limit the film plane brightness range to about 9 stops with ANY camera. In fact the higher reflectance of digital sensors makes camera body flare generally worse in a digital camera than in a decently designed and maintained LF camera. Personally, I think it's the 12 stops range claimed for some digital backs which belongs on the fiction shelves.<p><p>As for the 100 megapixels, just do the maths. The film's image area is 95mm by 120mm times 94.48 pixels per millimetre = 101 megapixels. And that's not false resolution, because a modest 2400 dpi scan minimises film grain artefacts and is also well below the optical resolution of any good quality LF lens and film combination.<p><p>If you want to see what can REALLY be achieved by using LF film and scanning it, then take a look at the Gigapixel project.<p><p>
    <p><p>Put that in your 'Blad and smoke it!
  22. stp


    I can remember reading the ads, not that long ago, for the first consumer digital cameras, 1-2 megapixels, selling for around $25,000.
  23. I'd say that if you are an amateur with even a modicum of editing ability and some small amount of patience, then stick with film and scannning.
    MF Digital has become almost essential in the commercial sector where turn around time and instant approval on set or location is the rule ... not to mention that almost all printing is now digitally driven. Few paying clients are willing to foot the bill for the additional costs of film and processing plus high resolution scanning ... which for jobs like catalogs can easily exceed the photo fee itself.
    Scanning has ever bit as much of a learning curve as digital, but once mastered provides results on prints that defy all the clinical pixel peeping comparisons on the internet. Plus, we have to remember that all MF film cameras are full frame ... not 1.3X or 1.1X .... even 1.5X or worse when talking about a 6X6 or 6X7 MF camera. For example, a Zeiss 40mm f/4 IF is 40mm on a Hasselblad V film camera. There is nothing that wide in 6X6 digital V camera photography.
  24. Edward,
    You asked to:
    "Please cite a source for this tidbit - something from the non-fiction section of the library :)"
    But can you cite anything from that same section saying something different?
    Digital imaging technology will go the same route as pocket calculators and digital watches. Before long it will be so incredibly cheap that they built these things into stuff that realy doesn't need to have it.
    And the MF segment will not be able to keep itself isolated in a protected world of its own, ignoring how the thing spreads just because it is so dirt cheap.
    So yes, MF digital will become a realistic option for amateurs too.
    That, or MF digital will disappear alltogether.
  25. A good second hand back that can be used without computer, 22MP 37x48mm sensor can be had for less than 4500 euros. Not cheap, but what do you spend on film and processing each year? Even for amateurs this might be above 1500 a year.
    And an Imacon 528C that I have (and I know there are more of these in the market) is really more flexible and higher quality than scanned film, unless you are talking real high end scanning - which costs more than the back.
  26. david_henderson


    "high end scanning - which costs more than the back"
    Well it does if you scan every frame you take, and thats for sure. But that isn't the way I'd do it. I wouldn't buy a drum or Imacon or indeed any film scan for anything that I wasn't going to print, which is a tiny proportion of what I shoot. If I want to put an image on a website or send it to somone on a DVD, I'll scan it quickly on a £300 flatbed.
    And even if costs were on par, The sensor would need to be big enough to permit real wide -angle photography.
  27. I would doubt there will be a medium format digital back/camera that will generally affordable to amateurs.
    The reason for my brash prediction is as follows.
    Given the interests of younger folks in the area of imaging, the future "amateur " trend will probably be towards digital video, with high-quality still capability. Market/economics-wise, that will push the affordability of large sensor still imaging devices even farther away, despite tech advances/cost drops, etc.

    For example, Nikon recently said that 80% plus of their DSLR market was D40/40x/60/80/90. As youth affinity for video deepens, and they move up the age demographic, even the standard DSLR will become even more of a niche product in the future.
  28. Lenses have a much longer life cycle than bodies. In the same token the MF camera lenses are just as affordable to amateurs as hi-end DSLR lenses. The MF bodies appear to be cheaper second hand and much more affordable to an amateur. So the question really is how cheap will the digital backs get?
    Answer is quite simple. It is an electronic component that depreciates quite fast! They will be very cheap in 10 years time. Indeed. In fact, the digital backs WILL BE THE CHEAPEST COMPONENT of the entire MF camera set-up in 10 years time.
    About Jay Moynihan's comment: I think is way off mark in my personalopinion. The MF camera market will INCREASE! The market for 4K Videography will increase too. The distinction between still photography and video is already blurred. Most new DSLR cameras make brilliant videos. In future Medium Format cameras will make hi end 6k and 8k videos too!
    Our only limit at the moment is Display panels and Television screens being stuck in 2k resolution range (1920 by 1680). Current HD format will be obsolete as bigger television screens and projectors adorn our living rooms. At that time there will be a surge in demand for GOOD LENSES and high resolution images and videos in 8k range UHDTV2 (7680x4320 or 8K). Large sensors will be democratised and cheap. I predict panels as large as 10 feet by 10 feet adorning one side of our living room wall within 15 years.

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