System to invest in for going digital

Discussion in 'Medium Format' started by srmenon, Jun 4, 2012.

  1. Hello,

    I have been lurking these forums since February of this year ever since I got bit by the photography bug hard after buying a Mamiya c330. However, this is my first post here. My experiences so far with the c330 have been nothing short of exceptional and I have enjoyed it a lot. I think I am ready to take a plunge for the longer term by buying into a system that will eventually allow me to shoot with a digital back. The forums here have been really helpful and have helped me get a clearer picture (a pun!) of what I should be looking for. I am looking for further guidance, especially from people who have experiences with these systems before I lay out a roadmap on how to move ahead with this. So far I have narrowed it down to

    1. Hasselblad (which series?)
    2. Contax (645, which I do not prefer)
    3. Mamiya RB/RZ67 (I am leaning towards this)
    4. Bronica ETRSi with a Kapture Group adapter
    To top it all off, what digital back would you recommend for the system that you prefer?
    I would describe myself as a intermediate amateur and price is a concern. The system I am looking to building will take at least 3-4 years of careful planning to build up and I just want to make sure that I make the correct call starting out.
    Thanks to the community for all the help with previous questions I have found answered in these forums.
  2. IMHO the RZ67 is the most economical way to get into decent MFD capture. A good RZ67 Pro II kit is not too expensive and works well with digital with the proper adapter. Plus, the glass is stunningly good.
    I shoot with an RZ67 and Aptus 22 and it's very impressive.
  3. Given that film equipment is going for pennies on the dollar these days, there's no reason not to go for the best -- Hasselblad. While the Mamiya RB/RZ are very good, most of the MF world revolves around Hasselblad whether you're talking film or digital. But that said, is medium format digital really where you want to go? It is just absolutely obscenely expensive, and the latest Nikon and Canon DSLR bodies give as many megapixels (though smaller pixels) than MF backs of just a couple of years ago. MF digital seems to me to be a very narrow niche for working professionals who absolutely need every last millimeter of resolution, not something to be taken lightly by someone who has recent "got bit by the photography bug." If you can afford it, go for it, but the vast majority of pros who used to shoot MF film (wedding and portrait photographers and many in commercial and advertising) have gone the DSLR route.
  4. Thank you for your replies.
    Point well taken.That is something I have given considerable thought to. The reason I prefer an MF system is because the same system gives me an option to shoot film and digital. which is certainly a plus because I enjoy shooting film and the pause it gives me which composing and setting up a shot. Also, I havent completely ruled out earning some revenue from some form of photography.
  5. I would not advise trying to plan a medium format digital system based on a film system. The current leading digital systems are all 645 or smaller. The lenses required to get the most out of the backs are very expensive. If you are truly serious about this, then your best bets are with the Hasselblad H series, the Mamiya 645AF series lenses (for Phase One and Leaf), or Pentax 645AF lenses. The Rollei 6000 series is also an option, but expensive and not currently supported (much) by any back maker. All of these except the Rollei use 645 film. To clearly see the advantages of MF film, it's nice to have at least 6x6, and often even better to have 6x7 or above (if you don't like the square). Buying a film setup for later digital use is not really the best course of action -- they have such different requirements. The most practical digital medium format cameras are highly integrated -- the body and lenses were designed contemporaneously and have a high degree of integration -- for example the H4 series, the Leica S2 system, the Pentax 645D with the new lenses and the Phase One 645DF with the IQ backs and Schneider lenses. These are also the most expensive. If you are interested in film, you can get a large number of 6x6 or 6x7+ cameras that work superbly well and do not cost an arm and a leg. I know the idea of carefully planning for the future purchase of a digital back is appealing, but frankly, it's like buying Ferrari wheels to put on your used Hyundai while you save up. They are just different things entirely. The back (or body in the case of the Pentax and Leica) is the major cost...the lenses and accessories are usually of minor cost in comparison. Also, if you do not already have a system you are wedded to, you are more flexible and open to better deals. When and if you are ready to switch to medium format digital, you will be unencumbered and can choose whatever is the best deal and combination of features down the road. Heck, if you buy one now, they may not even still be in business in 3-4 years...medium format makers have been dropping like flies in the past years.
  6. Stuart,
    I knew this would be a great forum to ask this question on. Thank you for your input. I am partial to the 6x6 format myself an would like to stay with it. I was not aware of there being lenses specifically designed to take advantage of the digital backs. That throws an interesting spanner in the works. I might just decide to plonk for a nice film MF system for now.
  7. As far as I can tell the cheapest way of doing it, but not by much, is with a second-hand RZ67 (£200 or so), the appropriate adapter (£800), and any number of second-hand digital backs (£1,500 for a very old one). You'll be left with a gnawing empty feeling when you assemble it. You'll stand there thinking "what have I done?", just like in Bridge on the River Kwai. One problem you might not like is the cropping factor. Virtually all medium format digital backs have a 645-style aspect ratio and the sensors are slightly smaller than a 645 film frame, so with a 6x7 RZ67 you'd have a double cropping factor. No wide angle. This might explain why you can pick up RZ67s and RB67s cheaply on eBay. The professionals who once used them have done the maths already.

    Kodak's old DCS Pro Back had a square sensor, but with an even heftier cropping factor (it was roughly the same size as one and a half 35mm film frames stacked on top of each other). Used prices are such that you have to ask yourself if it's worth spending thousands on something that will be unserviceable and unsellable in a few years, and this is assuming you can run it tethered with your modern computer, and ultimately for what? Medium format digital is only rationally relevant in a narrow set of contexts; it's one of those things where if you're not sure you need it, you *are* sure.

    "Whenever there's any doubt, there's no doubt", that's the quote. From Ronin. Do you do a tonne of semi-automated commercial catalogue or portrait work involving fine fabrics? Are you a surveyor? Could you instead spend the money on a really good used film scanner and a huge bag of film? Or put it aside in case you get made redundant or you have to replace the exhaust on your car?
  8. I think you should look only into Mamiya and Hasselblad, as the other systems are marginal and not a good investment for the future.
    Craig Shearman said "most of the MF world revolves around Hasselblad" - I'm not sure that's true anymore. Hasselblad is not showing very good signs, and Phase One/Mamiya/Leaf seems to be cornering the market.
    As far as quality, the HC II lenses are the best, but the newest and equally expensive Mamiya/Schneider lenses are pretty much equal. With Mamiya you have the freedom to get cheap older lenses, and to mix and match backs and bodies with practically no limitations. This is for sure preferable for an amateur, and also many professionals chose Mamiya for that reason.
    As far as "needing" MFDB - this is a good question. I would say MFDB is required if you are shooting in the extreme technical parameters, where lenses suffer the most. If you are shooting object 1m-4m far, in f/5-f/16, then you will not see a huge difference between MF and 35mm. If you want to get good results in any parameter and for any requirement for product photogaphy, then MFDB is a must.
  9. 1. Hasselblad (which series?)
    2. Contax (645, which I do not prefer)
    3. Mamiya RB/RZ67 (I am leaning towards this)
    4. Bronica ETRSi with a Kapture Group adapter​
    Suresh, any reason why the Mamiya 645AFD is not in that list? Considering the total package, I think it comes out best for digital back use:
    - one of the cheapest bodies in digital trim; certainly less expensive than a Contax 645, Hasselblad H series, or RB/RZ67 (once you factor in the cost of the DB adapter for the latter).
    - truckloads of manual focus M645 & 3rd party lenses for $$ to $$$; lots of affordable 1st-gen AF lenses for relatively low $$$; and new D AF lenses for $$$$ if you're feeling spendy.
    - less digital crop factor than any of the 6x6 or 6x7 options; so wideangles remain pretty wide, fisheyes remain pretty...fishy, and viewfinders don't show a lot of unused screenage.
    - the AF system gives focus confirmation with manual focus lenses - not available with the Bronicas, RB/RZ67 or Hasselblad V.
    - well supported by the DB manufacturers; quite a bit of used DB product in AFD mount out there, and it's compatible with the latest 40-80MP backs too. It's a "live" system thanks to the Mamiya-Leaf-PhaseOne relationship; alas the same cannot be said for Bronica or Contax.
  10. Look, lots of people on this forum are going to tell you that there's hardly any point to 645 systems. I'm going to tell you they're all bonkers. Film even in the 1970s and 1980s does not compare to modern emulsions at all. 645 is plenty for 90 percent of all you're ever going to do. It's still well over twice the surface area of 35mm film, which is used professionally for prints up to 16X20 quite regularly.
    But you asked about digital backs. If you truly want to go that route, get a Mamiya 645AFD or similar. It is a great camera, and you'll learn a lot from it. Since you didn't ask about camera movements or architectural photography, I'm assuming you aren't really interested in spending the insane amount of money needed to do that right, just as I'm assuming you aren't shooting birds in medium format at 1100mm at f5.6 with a 26,000 dollar lens that there's only one of in the entire world.
    EXPECT to spend 5-10 thousand for the camera and lenses, and 22 to 40 thousand for the digital back. That's what that path costs. If you don't have that, then you probably don't want to go digital medium format.
  11. All,
    Thank you for taking the time to chip in.One of the two reasons I had for going digital in the medium to longer term was that I want to be a semi pro photographer. The only way I can see to get to that point is to build up a decent portfolio of work as an amateur and reach a level of skill to be able to command a fee. Then use the proceeds to find better equipment to fulfill my creative potential. Right now I am at a good place in my life to invest time into my art and money into my gear . I have not ruled out 35 mm but I want to work both formats (whether both will be digital is the question).
    The other reason is the future of film. My understanding was that film producers are propping up retail film sales using the profit from film used for movies.This might change in the near future. Film prices might not be economical making Digital MF a more cost effective proposition in the time frame I am looking at. In case things dont work out that way, then I love shooting film. But the option to go digital is insurance for the future.
    Does anyone have any further insight into the "Lenses designed for Digital MF" point that was raised ?

    @Ashley P
    I do have a c330 with a v500. I am saving up right now to got to a v700. I am waiting on investing in a SLR MF (film or digital) system based on this post.
    @Nathan B ,Ray B
    The list really should have read Contax and Mamiya (645 which I do not prefer). I have a preference for the 6x6 (love the square) and 6x7 format. But you raise interesting points I am going to try out the 645 format and will keep the Mamiya 645AFD in mind
  12. This maybe of the wall, but I have kept my Linhof Technika V 6x9 for years hoping that a Digital back of reasonable size/price would become available for use with one of those sliding backs designed for digital. I may have to give up on this and sell most of my film gear and invest in a Linhof Techno that is designed with digital in mind (and it will still work with 120 film).

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