Upgrading to Medium Format-- please advise?

Discussion in 'Medium Format' started by charles_ryan_barber, Oct 17, 2016.

  1. Hi there! I am a professional photographer in Los Angeles. Recently I had an accident where basically all of my equipment was destroyed and thus I get a rare if unfortunate opportunity to start completely fresh. For the last 6 years or so I had been shooting with old 80's era manual focus Nikon lenses on a full-frame digital Canon body using adapters, but had long suspected that Medium Format might be more my style. I don't have much money to spend, but I am hoping that I can gather up enough to buy an old used digital back and save a lot by pairing it with a much older film camera/lenses. I have read other posts on this forum and others looking for info, and I realize that "which camera should I buy" questions are discouraged-- but as I have a bit of a unique situation I thought I should post my own question to you guys. I'll take no offense if it gets taken down, but please hear me out. Here's what I am looking for:
    I have zero interest in autofocus. In fact, I prefer not to even have the capability in the body and especially the lenses. The more rugged and "dumber" the lenses and camera, the better. I don't need or want auto-anything, for that matter. I went to school and I know my stuff. I don't need metering or TTL or any of that. I use "dumb" wireless remote triggers and various strobes. I'm okay with not having 2nd curtain sync but being able to use leaf shutters in the lenses would be nice I bet. I don't care about frame rate. I would love to find a body & lenses from the 50's, 60's, 70's or so that would still accept a digital back.
    On the flip side, I do want the highest quality digital sensor I can afford. I realize that on a reasonable budget this probably doesn't include anything made in the last 10 years or so, but still. My photographic philosophy is to pair the beautiful, simple, timeless manual lens look with the digital sensor technology of today for a "best of both worlds" result.
    I need something that doesn't require me to be tethered to shoot. I ride a motorcycle and prefer to travel light. I can get creative and fit quite a bit on the bike, but still, I draw the line at having to bring my laptop too. Also I'd have to adapt from Firewire to Thunderbolt (it's a new Mac) so it wouldn't provide power to the camera anyway, if I understand correctly. This will be used almost exclusively in the field, not the studio, so weather-sealing is also a plus, though not strictly required if i can get away with using an umbrella and taking extra care.
    I'll want to upgrade the digital back down the line, of course, but I would like to have a body and lenses that I could ideally use indefinitely. I'm prepared to "marry into a family" as my professor used to put it, and so choosing that family carefully in advance is important. I'm leaning toward Hasselblad currently but I would love advice on this. Maybe PhaseOne backs? I am worried that the newer digital backs don't seem to want to work with anything that isn't autofocus-- is that correct? Unfortunate if so.
    I think that's about it for now. You can see my work & info on my website: www.charlesryanbarber.com. Thanks in advance for any advice you can give me!
  2. Rugged? Dumb? Have you looked at the Mamiya RZ67? As long as you don't care about weight and/or older backs [which I think reach about 8,000 big clams if you can find them]
    I've heard you can use an RB67 with a digital back also, but it requires a special adapter
    Also, I think the Mamiya 645 has a digital back, worth looking into
  3. Oh wow, those look amazing! I want to try to get my hands on them in person to try them out. I will try to find a place that rents this stuff and use them on my upcoming shoots. Thank you!
  4. If you want to have some real fun--and do it on a very low budget--get you an RZ67 Pro II kit and see if you can find a Sinarback 54M. I just bought one for $800 to replace the one I had to sell when I moved back from London to the US. It has some disadvantages: no battery, card slot or screen, so it has to be shot tethered (not a problem if you keep it in the studio). And it's *only* 22 megapixels. But it's 22 *fantastic* megapixels. The images, if you give the back enough light, kill the 36 megapixel images from my Nikon D810. (The sensor is almost exactly double the area of a DSLR). So even though the back is over a decade old, it's still really, really good. And you can find them stupid cheap.
    Just to give you an idea of what they can do, here are two portraits shot with the back and the extremely sharp (and also very cheap) 180mm W-N lens. Make sure you view them full size.
    The reason I say you have to give the back a lot of light is that it has a nominal speed of 25 ISO. I usually shot it at 50-100 (to get any kind of depth of field with my flash gear) and the images looked fine. If you start going much above that, though, you'll begin to get a bit of shadow noise.
    More modern backs will give you a bit more speed. Thing is, to get this kind of quality on a comparable newer, non-tethered back, you're looking at paying 2-3 times what a Sinarback 54M would cost you. It's probably the dirt-cheapest way to get into proper medium format digital, and it can still hold its own against newer backs, as long as you don't stress it *too* much and can deal with its limitations.
  5. If you plan to upgrade to digital in the future, your best bet is to invest in an Hasselblad 501CM or 503 CW body and lenses. There's nothing automatic about an Hasselblad of that vintage, and there's plenty of gear on the used market. The cheapest digital back is probably a CFV16 from Hasselblad. It came out about 10 years ago, but used backs are between $5K and $7K, if you can find one. The latest version, the CFV50c, has 50 MP and costs under $9K brand new.
    If there is a digital back to fit the RZ67, it won't come close to 7x6 in size. 4x4 is about tops.
    Personally, I've mostly replaced my Hasselblad gear, including the CFV16 back, with a Sony A7Rii mirrorless. It has a 42 MP sensor with a huge dynamic range, similar to the Hasselblad. There's a lot of automation in the Sony, but you aren't obliged to use it. The CFV50c back is tempting, but not in my budget for now. I'm not sure the original lenses are up to 50 MP quality.
  6. I don't shoot medium format much at all, so I'm asking this out of curiosity for now, but I'd like to know if a Fuji 680 wouldn't be a better choice? I mean, you get some lens movements with that camera, built in.
  7. Check out this site: http://www.ludd.ltu.se/~torger/photography/mfdb-guide.html It talks about all the pitfalls of getting an old digital back.
  8. Check Pentax 645D or 645Z, decent price for medium format.
  9. You need to consider that old
    and affordable "medium
    format" digital backs aren't
    really medium format. Most of
    them are barely bigger than a
    full-frame DSLR sensor. Plus
    a few years old is ancient in
    terms of the progress made in
    sensor technology and image

    Given your desire for
    portability, I'd seriously
    consider sticking with a
    full-frame DSLR. However,
    Nikon bodies offer the most
    backward compatibility with
    old (and cheap) manual focus
    lenses, while maintaining a
    fair degree of exposure
    automation and ease of use. A
    36 megapixel D800 for
    example, can be picked up at
    a very reasonable cost.
  10. Charles most people are telling you what they would do, I used to sell cameras "in the 70s" I always told people to go with their "gut". I you think you know what you want you will always second guess themself if they go with another camera.
    I think Edward best answered you question (as you said you wanted a Hasselblad) right?
    You may get one and decide its not really for you.......hope not?
    See if a friend has one you can borrow, heck if you are near eastern NC I could help.
    I myself love everything manual, I switched from Maymaya 645 to Hasselblad in 1980.
    Theses cameras are getting older, and will soon need more service......I would also add a digital camera to the mix for when you have to work faster if possible.

    But pick the camera YOU like best.
    Have fun, and good luck.
  11. Based on what you describe, Hasselblad V series will scratch your itch. Plus you can easily try a few rolls of Portra with a film back.
    But if you are committed to only shooting digital, and never putting film through the camera, I think a Pentax 645D or 645Z makes more sense. Lots of great manual focus 645 and 6x7 lenses out there, and you get a body that you don't have to fuss with, and sensor technology that has advanced beyond those ten-year old backs.
  12. As someone who has basically done what you are considering, here are my thoughts.
    1) Not one single digital back in the past 20 years has been larger than 645 format. So buying a 6x6 or 6x7 camera is ill-advised for two reasons: (1) unnecessary bulk/weight, and (2) lack of wideangle lens options, given the larger crop factor of the digital back vs. the native film format.
    But someone might consider those factors to be less important than other ones, like handling, "dumbness", cachet, or whatever.
    2) Digital back sensors saw very little real performance improvements from 1999 to 2013. They got a little bigger, and they got more subdivided into smaller pixels, but that's about it; the gains in quantum efficiency, readout noise and so on were marginal. There was nothing like the pace of technology change seen with smaller format sensors in that time.
    The step change in medium format digital came in early 2014, with the first CMOS sensors larger than 35mm-format size. So unless you get a new(ish) CMOS back or integrated camera, then anything back to the first "bigger than 35mm-format" Kodak backs of 2001 will give you a dated but nonetheless impressive standard of imaging. The Sinarback 54M recommended above is a good example, although I did notice that you didn't want a tethered-only back. The Phase One P25/P25+ is a portable back using the same sensor.
    I myself use a Mamiya 645AFD and a square-format Kodak Proback DCS 645M back; I got them in 2010 when they were already at least 6 years old. This camera has a nice level of automation, but it can also be as "dumb" as you want it. I use loads of manual focus lenses, and just one autofocus one (a zoom, for convenience).
    The Mamiya 645/645AF ecosystem gives more lens choice than any other in medium format - and that's before you even consider how its short flange distance permits adapters to many other systems' lenses. I like proper wideangles, and the square format, so my Mamiya 24mm fisheye digital images can be "de-fished" to give exactly the same image as the Hasselblad SWC Biogon of old did on 6x6 film. I also like fast telephotos, so my latest acquisition, a Mamiya 300/2.8 APO, is a dream.
  13. Hi,
    There are lots of good advice, I figure I'd throw in my 2 cents anyway. I've been shooting medium format professionally since the 1970's, now I'm shooting 95% digital. There are a few things that some people don't consider when moving up to MF. 220 is no longer available which means your going to have to live with changing a back every 10 or 15 frames. A more serious issue is what are you going to do with your film after you've exposed it. Sure, there are some pretty good photo labs out there, but they are expensive. Dedicated film scanners (not flatbeds) are expensive as well. If that does not matter at least go with a camera that can be upgraded to a digital back in the future, such as a Mamiya or Hassy.
    Since you mentioned owning Nikon lenses, IMO I would go with a Nikon D5 or D810. You will not notice the difference in your images until your well over a 20x30" print. Years back I did a careful field test of 6x7 ektar 100 vs my Nikon D700. The 6x7 only had a very slight edge that would of never been noticed in prints under 24x36".
    As mentioned already, MF equipment is much bulkier and heavier than a DSLR. If this were 1990 then I would definitely be talking you into a medium format camera. But it's not. Unless your shooting the best glass with any system its all irrelevant. Have you looked at the cost of a 40, 50, 150, & 250mm for a Hassy? I'd stick with your Nikon glass. If your starting a business, consider leasing.
    Last word, if you search the web you'll find hundreds of posts like yours asking the same questions. - Read them.
  14. Digital backs have changed dramatically since the early 2000's. By 2005 we evolved from tethered operation to stand-alone, including batteries. The relatively recent migration from CCD to CMOS in medium format digital has allowed higher resolution, much higher ISO ratings and wider dynamic range. Much of the image processing is now done in the sensor, rather than later in the chain. Even a measly 16 MP produces cleaner, sharper results than color film. You need at least 24 MP in a small format camera to get roughly equal results.
    The fact that MF digital sensors are smaller than the comparable film frame has little practical effect on image quality. Even the smallest is 50% larger than a FF small-format camera. The attention spend to achieve maximum image quality is evident, and there's a lot more room to do this processing in-camera. The most noticeable downside is that a 40 mm lens becomes a moderate wide angle (60 mm equivalent), but longer lenses have more reach. It becomes exponentially more expensive to produce larger sensors. Ignoring the economy of scale, a MF sensor with the same pixel density will cost 3-4 times as much as a top of the line small-format camera.
    In a nutshell, that's why it took nearly 8 years before I found a small format camera I liked better than the CFV16 for the things at which MF excels, like portraits, architecture and landscapes. If I could justify a CFV50c back, the clock would start all over again.
  15. Very wise and sage advice, Edward. I have a Hasselblad 500C/M body and got into digital with it when I bought a second-
    hand CFV II 16MP digital back. Given the similarity of my thoughts and gear with yourself, I am interested which "small
    format camera" finally took your fancy in comparison with a 16MP CCD back. Hope that you can share the answer!!

    :) ... MomentsForZen (Richard)
  16. Thank you so much, everybody! I appreciate everyone's advice greatly. Alexander O, that guide was especially helpful. I have decided to hold off on buying a medium format digital back, at least, and instead putting the money toward a Nikon D600 or D800E or so. But I won't sweat the lenses quite so much this time around. Instead, I'll be preparing and looking forward to about 5 years or so from now, hopefully finding a MF digital back from today affordable at that point. In the meantime I will start renting MF for big shoots and get to know the gear more. Possibly I will even buy a body and some lenses and do some film shoots while I wait for a suitable back to be in my range. (Or just try to make more money so I can spend $$,000.00 haha) I can see that I'll always need a DSLR system for a backup, at least, so I'll be smart and invest in that first. Thanks again!
  17. Do you want a different look or a different style for how you work? Your desire for something reliably rugged + old style MF digital backs-- I'd say these are competing priorities and are mutually exclusive. Digital backs of more than a few years ago will be far, far less reliable than anything you're likely used to in 35mm DSLRs. Worsening matters, what may be most affordable today will have the least technical support going forward. There's been wholesale hari-kari in the MF world over the past decade, in no small measure because FF 35mm has become so good.
  18. Your desire for something reliably rugged + old style MF digital backs-- I'd say these are competing priorities and are mutually exclusive.​
    You can put digital backs on a Mamiya RB67. Is that not everyone's definition of a rugged camera? "The tractor of the medium format world".
    Digital backs of more than a few years ago will be far, far less reliable than anything you're likely used to in 35mm DSLRs.​
    Why? That is a bold statement without any supporting evidence. Digital backs usually last and last and last, because they have no moving parts; "shot counts" are available but irrelevant.
    There's been wholesale hari-kari in the MF world over the past decade, in no small measure because FF 35mm has become so good.​
    True; and I've noticed a marked increase in the number of used sub-40MP CCD digital backs for sale in the past year or so. They are being dropped for things like the Sony A7RII and Canon 5DSR, as well as upgrades to the 50MP and 100MP CMOS medium format digital options. But that does not imply there's anything wrong with them; these are still bullet-proof backs delivering spectacularly good image quality in most scenarios, and now they are bargains to the right type of user.

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