Too little, too late – or, rebirth?

CFV-50c, image courtesy Hasselblad.

It’s no secret that Hasselblad has been in much financial trouble lately. And it’s also no secret that the company appears to have lost its direction following a large number of private equity CEOs, who frankly, appear not to understand the photography market at all. So it was with some surprise that I opened my email getting off the plane home from London to find that not only had they made an interesting product, but one that hinted at a return to common sense and a somewhat brighter future, too.

I don’t normally comment on product releases unless the product is exceptionally interesting, or moves the game in some way – the Pentax 645Z, for instance. Hasselblad’s announcement of the CFV-50c is one such product. I for one didn’t see it coming, especially after they announced the official death of the V system last year, citing lack of demand. I suspect that the real truth was lack of demand at the prices they were asking; from personal experience, the secondary market is healthy and very much alive.

The CFV series is perhaps the only digital camera solution that actually leaves you with a camera that feels like, well, a camera; most medium format digital feels clunky in operation with the camera-part (in the body) separated from the digital-part (in the back) or just like a large DSLR (Pentax, Leica) which is great for operational fluidity, but doesn’t do much for the experience – and consequently, we shoot much the same way we always have. I owned a CFV-39 up til fairly recently, having replaced it with the 645Z; other than the fairly limited shooting envelope, I’d always enjoyed the experience because it was the closest thing you could get to shooting a proper mechanical camera in the digital world. It was also an enormous discriminator: either your files looked awesome, or they were utterly irretrievable rubbish.

The CFV-50c uses the same Sony 33x44mm sensor as the H5D-50c, Phase IQ250, and Pentax 645Z. It sits at approximately the US$15-16,000 price point, which puts it at the lower end of the scale, but you must remember it does not include a camera*. Hasselblad claims 16-bit files, which is probably true – but I bet they only have 14 bits of information since the sensor itself doesn’t support 16 bit (and Phase One and Pentax claim 14 bit files). There’s also a supposedly redesigned UI and larger LCD along with live view, which is probably inherited from the H5D-50c. At least the design looks good. The cost of system acquisition, however, is pretty cheap – a body and 2.8/80 kit can be had for under $1000; lenses typically run $800-1000 a piece for good condition, late-model CF glass (excluding the exotics, of course). That means you could put together a workable 50-80-150 three lens kit for about $4,000, and a complete working digital medium format solution – with leaf shutters and 1/500s sync – for about $20,000 by the time you include a few accessories.

*Interstingly, Hasselblad’s official images all show the back with an older non-flagship 501CM and slightly worn CF 50/4 non-FLE – instead of a pristine flagship 503 and 40/4 IF FLE of previous digital products. Maybe there really were none left at the factory. Or maybe they’re trying to send us a different message.

There’s a catch, though. A number of them, in fact, and they’re fairly large. Firstly, the V system has no lenses wider than 38mm – which is 32mm in 35mm-e terms – which isn’t very wide. And you’ll need an SWC body for that, which generally doesn’t play that nice with digital backs (mine didn’t, at any rate, and other owners report the same). Next, there’s effectively no hope of any new lenses. The best lens for digital on the V system is probably either anything above 120mm, or the 4/40 IF FLE – which cost a fortune when new, and is even more expensive today. It’s also enormous and heavy – just for a 35mm-e FOV. You’re also limited to 1/500s, which is great for studio work, but not so good for available light – especially when there are no low ISO pull settings on the sensor below 100. This means very little depth of field control. Finally, you’re going to have to manual focus – and you’ll need a 90deg prism finder if you’re going to shoot portraits, because the sensor isn’t square (or a 33x33mm crop really isn’t that exciting). The V system was really designed to be shot square, and it shows.

I see the back as being useful for a studio shooter, except: you don’t need high ISO in a studio, and the older 37x49mm backs will serve you better because the lenses will be much closer to their real focal lengths. I could pretty much use them as intended without having to go ‘one length down’. Handheld, in the field, it’s going to be a bit of a mess unless you’ve got arms of steel and like telephotos. Remember that the maximum shutter speed for all V lenses (aside from the 200-series cameras using body FP shutters) is just 1/500s. You effectively only have one working handholdable shutter speed for 150mm – and that was on the much lower density CFV-39. Anything longer must have a tripod.

Hasselblad really needs this product to be a success – not just because they need the money, but to rebuild confidence in the brand from the photographer’s point of view. The last couple of years spent detouring into rebranding and overpricing consumer cameras without adding any value has done irreparable damage; this is what happens when you put a specialist brand in the hands of people who clearly understand nothing about their customers or the industry.

And here we come to the crux of the matter: it’s an interesting product, but also at the same time, not. On one hand, it shows us that somebody at Hasselblad is hopefully thinking straight again; I hope we’ve seen the last of the rebranded Sony rubbish. Or perhaps the only reason this exists is because of the rebranded Sony rubbish. I suspect a lot of potential buyers are going to be put off by the rather steep price, which means the product will never be anything more than a niche. Unfortunately, the sensor is really too small to use for technical camera applications, which is again a shame because it’s live view capable and quite a bit cheaper than the only other alternative for this – the Phase One IQ250. I’ve long wanted to use the FlexBody, but never got around the nervousness associated with swapping out the digital back for a focusing screen – especially in less than ideal weather conditions. And we haven’t even talked about the whole shimming/ planarity issue. Honestly, I really, really hope they sell a boatload of these so that it’s clear there’s still demand for the V system, and preferably with a full 6×6 sensor. Perhaps it’ll be their rebirth. I know I’d be first in line for one of these, cost be damned – that’s why we have two kidneys. MT


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  1. ralf weber says:

    Hi Ming, in your recommended gear list the Pentax 645z appears as used in the past and the CFV 50c shows up under current equipment.
    Do you like the sensor better or prefer to work with the classic V system rather than using the plastic stuff? Have you tried any of the high res sensors on a technical view camera? I’m trying to find a good 35/40mm view camera lens which can resolve 80mp or

    • Hasselblad gets more out of the sensor – much the same as Nikon vs Sony implementations of the same sensor. Color is the best I’ve ever seen from any camera, and the highlight dynamic range/ rolloff seems to be more natural than the Pentax.

      Not used any of the high res sensors on a view camera. The main stumbling block is likely to be how precisely you can move the standards – 80MP even on full 645 is going to mean tiny movements result in quite noticeable focal plane changes; worse if those movements are unintended. The cost of something with full geared movements (or the Alpa cameras) and wide lenses to resolve is truly frightening; given complete lack of accessibility to demo such things in this part of the world, and unaffordable pricing, it isn’t going to change anytime soon for me :)

      • ralf weber says:

        Thank you for your quick response! Did you ever consider one of the leaf rotating sensors for the V? Are you shooting a 40mm or 50mm on your CFV and how does it perform?

        • Yes – cost and support were the main issues (zero local support for Leaf in Malaysia), along with the inherent limitations of CCD (I had the CFV-39, too). Love the rotating sensor idea though – it makes the WLF chimney usable again and avoids the bulk of prism and winder grip…too bad Hasselblad didn’t implement it as well. Would be easier with the smaller 44×33 sensor, too.

          I’ve used the 4/40 FLE, 4/50 C T* and 4/50 FLE – the FLEs are very good with the 50 being a bit stronger. The 4/50 C T* is good for portraits because of the way the edges fall off in resolution (at least on 44×33 and 49×37).

          • ralf weber says:

            Can you shoot tripod based in portrait mode using live view on the CFV? Do you think the CFV 50c can be used on a tech camera?

            • If you turn the camera 90deg, why not? I use it with a HC4 most of the time though. Should work fine on a tech camera. Remember there’s live view, too.

              • ralf weber says:

                How does the CCD sensor of the HC4 compare with the CMOS CFV50c? Do you like the new CMOS for wide angles? My understanding is that the CCDs work better with wide angle lenses?

            • Simon Hill / scirebroc says:

              On 1 October 2014, I wrote that: “I suspect we’ll never get a true 6×6 (56mm x 56mm) digital back for the ‘blads. A great shame. When you shoot with a ‘blad you really do feel as if you are working WITH your camera, not just USING a camera.” Unfortunately a 6×6 (56mm x 56mm) digital back for the Hasselblad V system now looks even further from ever becoming a reality. The CFV50 has been massively reduced in price and a Hasselblad rep told me at last year’s Photography Show (in Birmingham UK) that when current stocks of the CFV50 are sold, Hasselblad will not be developing ANY new products to all intents and purposes will completely forget the classic V system. I still have my two 503CWD Anniversary bodies, one CFV39 back and three 120/6×6 film backs. I sold both my CFV50 backs before the current price reduction so, thankfully, made more on each CFV50 sale than the cost of a brand new one. Having used every CFV digital back, I can say with absolute confidence that the CFV39 is the very best of the bunch … that is why I still have that one in my kit bag. The image quality – sharpness, colour neutrality, tone fidelity, etc – is superb. If only the same pixel density and pixel size were spread across a 56×56 sensor! My advice to anyone with a V system camera that they want to keep (and use!) would be to forget the CFV50 and go buy a CFV39 and as many Mint condition CFE/CFi Carl Zeiss lenses as you you can find … there are lots of them out there. The CFV39 is a very good price on online auction or at dealers. The CFE/CFi lenses equally so. Long live the V system with REAL photograhers! Good luck.

              • I think the best we can hope for at this point is a full 645 CFV100C using that new Sony sensor – however I think it’s probably overkill given not all of the lenses are happy on the 50MP 44×33 sensor, let alone even higher pixel densities.

                I’m not sure the answer is quite so clear cut. The CFV39 has the largest sensor for the V series, but also a very small shooting envelope compared to the CFV50C – that one requires some compromises in angle of view (and ideally something else to cover your wide end) but the tonality, color and shooting envelope are massively bigger than the CFV39. My two cents having owned the CFV39, going through a few other systems (Pentax 645Z, Canon 5DSR, Sony A7RII) and now I’m happily back to Hasselblad V with the CFV50C again…

                • Maybe a CFV100C at true 645 format would be a great intermediate step forward BUT, as per one of your previous posts, it would be utterly useless for vertical format shots on a V system, necessitating the use of a prism finder and turning the camera on its side. The V cameras are a pinnacle of camera design: square format, held in left hand at waist level with eye contact to subject, controlled with right hand – the 645 film back never really fitted with that design or functional ethos. Come on Hasselblad, give us a 56×56 square back – we’ve waited long enough. I’ll carry on with the CFV39 for my personal ‘square’ stuff until either of my 503CWDs or my CFV39 give up the ghost, and carry on with my H5D-50c for my pro work. If the Swedes give us what we all really want, I’d be first in the queue to ditch my Leica S, Hasselblad H, and probably even my Leica Ms. The only camera I have ever really enjoyed using is a Hasselblad V on 120/12.

                  • We need them to put in the rotating sensor option Leaf used for a while…that would be quite brilliant, actually. Save a lot of bulk having to use an eye level finder.

                    Realistically though, the cost of designing a new sensor is far too high – and the unit cost of something that large is prohibitive. We’re probably talking a $25-30,000 back if it ever happens, and that makes no business sense on a platform that’s officially discontinued. We can keep dreaming, though :)

                    • Sometimes dreams come true! We live in hope. In the meantime, the H5D is great in so many ways … but “it ‘aint no V”. All the best and keep up the great blog.

                    • Have you seen the Alpa IQ3 100MP?. If they can market a 100MP retro camera at $56k why can’t Hasselbald do a rotating back for the V at around $25k?

                    • Because it would be admitting that they got it wrong with the H, and they shouldn’t have killed the V.

                      As for the Alpa – ignore the base TC, the STC/FPS are what’s interesting because of movements or adaptability. I admit to being very tempted by the FPS and its ability to bring my Otuses and CFV together on more than one occasion…price notwithstanding, of course.

                    • “Because it would be admitting that they got it wrong with the H, and they shouldn’t have killed the V.” VERY TRUE!!!

  2. anyone used the CFV-50c on an Arcbody with original lenses ?

    • I’m wondering the same. But it looks to me as though there’s no way to rotate the back 90deg for vertical movements – either with the ArcBody or FlexBody, which is a bit of a shame. (Understandably, this was not necessary for the original square backs…)

  3. I was ready to order a CFV-50c tomorrow, but then I just read your comments on it and you confirm my major apprehensions about it: lack of wide angles (my widest lens is the Distagon 50mm FLE – a great lens, by the way), smaller sensor size, and the need for a 90 degree finder. The latest price of $9,950 is welcomed, but that is still a lot of dough for a system that has no auto exposure or focusing. But I use the Hassey with a tripod anyway and my approach to MF is a slow deliberate one. I have considered buying a used Leica S body and the converter for the V lenses – there I would at least have auto exposure (A) and use of my Hassey lenses for color work. I do have a dark room and use it for B&W work. The Leica S would allow use of an S lenses as well with their great quality and auto features. Hasselblad(or Zeiss) should come out with a wide angle lens for their CFV-50c buyers so they can have a wider angle option. Thoughts on all of this?

    • I don’t think the S solution is good either – you’ve got an even smaller sensor still, and the S lenses are honestly better than the V lenses for digital use in my experience.

      I had the 50 FLE and older CFV-39 back, with 1.1x crop factor to 645 – and it still didn’t feel wide enough. I suspect even the 40 FLE won’t feel wide enough with the CFV-50c’s 1.33x crop.

      Honestly, if you don’t need high speed flash sync…you might want to look at a Pentax 645Z instead – and there are adaptors from V-P645, too.

      • Jonathan Harkness says:

        Well this not exactly on topic but you might have some insight on what is up with Hasselblad. I received an e-mail this morning that the H5D-50c WiFi is being dropped to $14,500 until 12-24-15. Many of Hasselblad’s other products have had other serious price reductions. Is a new sensor coming out or is there some other reason. I am waiting to go the Pentax 645Z route and decided against the CFV-50c that I contacted you about earlier.

    • I tired the CFV50c back with my large Hassy V system for about a week in August during a demo and loved the way it just fit right in to my in the field workflow. I shoot a lot of black and white film with the V system and much prefer to just use it over bringing a D810/D750 along on digital jobs on location that I also want to shoot black and white fine art on. So when they dropped the price to under 10K, it was a no brainer for me, I bought it last month and have been brining it on a lot more paid jobs. The crop factor is a bit of a challenge as is the top shutter speed, especially with the 180mm or longer and my non IF 40mm FLE CF does only OK on it. But other than that, the other 8 CF and CFi lenses I have for my system do really well with it and I seem to be living just fine with the 50FLE as my widest option.

      So I think they did a great job with it and for my very specific needs, it is doing quite well. One of the other reasons I went for it is because it is hard to say if they will make another back for the V system beyond this one…if this is the last of it’s kind, then it is a darn good one. Count me as a satisfied customer.

  4. Jonathan Harkness says:

    Did you get a chance to put this new back on a SWC camera? I have seen photos of the new back mounted on a SWC. This combination would produce a very portable MF camera. There are statements about some compatibility issues but I have been unable to find any detailed information on what those issues are.

    • The SWC’s lens is not telecentric, and produces color shifts at the corners. The new back won’t correct that because it’s an optical issue inherent to the lens.

      • Jonathan Harkness says:

        Thank you for the information. I find it rather odd that Hasselblad would feature the SWC in their literature for the CFV-50-C. If you cannot correct for the lens aberration why would you even use the back on the SWC. It is not very forthright on their part to infer to those who have the SWC (and considering the purchase of a CFV-50-C) that it is a workable combination.

        • Stranger things have happened in the world of Hasselblad, like the Stellars and Lunars…

          I do recall them saying there would be no more V support in 2013 – and look where we are now. One assumes the color shifts are correctable/profileable, but it won’t be as good as something that’s designed for digital natively. Note also you’re going to have focusing issues as live view is only via Phocus and tethering.

  5. After reading your blog about the CFV 50c and the sensor, r.e. 14 vs 16bit sensor, I wrote off to Hasselblad UK, they said this.

    “The web site that you have been looking at must be getting themselves confused.
    Yes, we do all use the same Sony sensor and we are clear in our literature that the raw file
    will produce a 16 bit Tiff file, therefore 16 bit colour definition. The raw file is a 14 bit file,
    CMOS sensors can only produce a 14 bit raw file. I have attached our data sheet for this back.”

    Now I’m a bit stupid about these things but that says to me up sampling a 14 bit file to 16 bit in software like you would a standard DSLR.

    I think I’ll wait until they bring out 6×6 sensor.

    • Yes, it’s up sampling. Phase One and Pentax use the same sensor and they’re clear that the output is only 14 bit because that’s the limit of the sensor. A 16 bit TIFF is used because there isn’t a 14-bit one, but that’s like putting a smaller object in a larger box rather than a right-sized one – there’s more empty space, but no more object to fill it…

  6. I think it’s not correct to say that Hasselblad lenses don’t live up to the digital back’s resolution. I owned 60 / 80 / 100 / 110 / 120 / 150 FE / 150 CF / 180 / 350 SA. I have tested 60, 80, 100, 120, 180 with a 80 megapixels Leaf Aptus digital back. All lenses are sharp at infinity. In fact Hasselblad’s 100mm is the sharpness of the whole lens range (at infinity) and 120mm actually is much softer at infinity. I don’t think the author’s evaluation is correct.

    Recently I compared the MTF graphs of Hasselblad’s 80mm and 100ms with Schneider’s latest medium format apo digitar lenses designed for digital backs. They compare very favorably. The only down side is chromatic aberration which can be corrected easily in software.

    Oh and by the way I should spread the word that CFV 50C is selling in Japan for $10,000 USD, that’s $5,000 discount from the US or EU prices. See here:

  7. Calvin Chann says:

    I have a 500CM body and loads of Pentax 645 lenses. Why would I buy the Hasselblad back rather than the 645Z and pocket the difference? Hasselblad need to get real with the pricing.

  8. Kristian Wannebo says:

    Or …
    … 6×6 in your (coat) pocket:
    ( Also, shutter speed dial and aperture dial are coupled, you set the EV from the selen light meter.)
    I used mine a lot while I had my own mini lab, now it waits for better times…

  9. If only……those 2 words bring lots of regrets. If only Hasselblad ( I had 4 of them, I’m down to 1 ) had “managed” to come up with the requisite technology of the back they are now offering, in 2002. They would still be #1 for pros and wealthy doctors and dentists ( maybe a few engineers too ). The new technology couldn’t catch up with the old mechanical technology until 2014.

    Too little too late, a slow death is in the cards.

  10. Why doesn’t the Hasselblad 30mm f/3.5 CFi Zeiss Distagon work with the 50C back?

  11. I still dream of shooting digital medium format with an “affordable” (yes Hasselblad, remove the first digit of your five figure, the cost of this sensor produced on a large scale is NOWHERE near what you ask for) 6×6 WHO DOES VIDEO!
    645 format never has been a good format anyway (very limited benefits compared to a technically much better 35mm) 6×6, 6×7, 6×9 or more, then we are talking!

    Why the hell they didn’t enable video on this back? with a system like this, they could surpass everything else!

    Hasselblad, PhaseOne, Leaf, Mamiya, Rollei, Sinar, can’t you hear us ??? if not then go to hell, it would be a tragic but deserved and inevitable loss for photography…

    on another topic, I believe that even if they are beautiful objects, the V line success is mostly because of the Zeiss T* lenses!

    • The only hope on that matter would come from Fuji digital rangefinders…

      • I’m not sure RF is the way to go for focusing, given how fickle it seems to be with 135 digital – let alone medium format. Faster CDAF off the sensor would probably make more sense for accuracy…

    • Video on that Sony 44×33 sensor is actually limited to an area that loses 10% on each side, which means…you’re pretty much back to full frame size.

    • I suspect we’ll never get a true 6×6 (56mm x 56mm) digital back for the ‘blads. A great shame. When you shoot with a ‘blad you really do feel as if you are working WITH your camera, not just USING a camera. There is a reason why so many of us grew up with this brand and mourned its passing. I still have a couple of 503CWDs and a couple of digital-modified 205TCCs. Yes, the H-system, the Pentax MF, the Leica S, etc … are all great cameras but I haven’t found anyone yet that really enjoys working with them in the same way that they enjoyed working with their ‘blads. It will be a long and painful death for the Victor Hasselblad company but it will surely come. The private equity CEOs need to take a walk and hand the reins over to someone who really understands the passion of the brand. We need a 504CWD (with focus confirmation, not AF) and a true 6×6 SQUARE (!!!) digital back of around 40-60MP. If the guys in Sweden can develop that, I’d be first in the queue (well, maybe second in the queue … after Ming!). I’d sell every piece of kit that I own just to buy that set-up … and I’d be a very happy man! Come on Hasselbald … you have one last chance top save yourself.

      • We won’t get it because the cost of production of such a sensor will be extremely high, which makes it uneconomic…ironic, because I suspect the demand is greater than they suspect which would of course crate quantity that skews that equation somewhat.

  12. Agree with title: Too little, far too late.

    As someone who still owns three V-Series bodies and multiple CF lenses, even i cant justify $15K! A far better solution is to by a nice used Hasselblad H1 or H2 and shoot film. The full 645 format scans better than 6×6 since most labs’ scanners have a rectangular chip.

    • Or just continue with film, which is my plan. $15k buys a heck of a lot of film…

      • Let’s see: Japan Camera Hunter has a Heidelberg on sale for a little over $6000. With the remaining balance of $15K, you could get 1000 rolls of Acros, associated development chemicals, and probably still have a few thousands of dollars left … :)

        • I wouldn’t even need the Heidelberg since I’ve already got a scanning solution…

          • Hi Ming,
            Thank you for the article. Long ago you promised to explain your scanning solution as you were putting together a device to help using your DSLR to scan negatives. I’m still very much interested to use your advice. Have 1000s of negatives and have no access to a darkroom anymore. Have you posted that article?
            In regrad of this article, I used a Rollei when I started as a kid to take pictures. My father gave away his Rollei and I still am so enamoured with the square format. I also used my sister’s Kiev camera.
            I’ll be next online to buy a 6×6 decent digital camera. Will sell a kidny and an eye…

            • No, because it was supposed to include some special hardware which now isn’t happening. Too expensive, not enough demand. After sinking in far too much money in prototypes, we decided it didn’t make business sense.

      • Indeed Ming, for you and I, shooting the V-series with the A12 film back, or better yet A16, makes more sense. For someone considering a new MF kit, the H-Series or Fujifilm GX645 is a nice system. I did own one for awhile, but found it to be too similar to shooting a modern DSLR (with its fancy AF and multiple metering modes).

        • Definitely not the A16; the V cameras are ergonomically very poor in portrait mode without the finder and grip – and that makes them enormous, not the sleek little machines with the WLF and 80mm squares. I was always told Contax 645 was the ultimate 645 system, though I’ve never had the chance to use one more than briefly…I can quite easily see why.

          • John Lockwood says:

            Agree the original 500 series was designed to be shot square, unless one uses a 503CW with power winder and 90° prism. For scanning, a rectangular film image is better. Plus, for those of us paying a pro lab to process and scan, much cheaper since they charge by the roll (cost÷16) thus my A16 recommendation. The A16 is a great solution for purely horizontal work too, like landscapes.

            If you think the orphaned Contax 645 was great, why not recommend the H-system since it’s currently produced?

            • Because it doesn’t handle the same, nor does it feel as solid, nor do the lenses render the same way as the Zeisses…I’ve used the H4/5, considered it instead of the CFV, and didn’t get along with the cameras at all.

      • I agree. $15K spent on BW film and process (plus your time on light box scans) @ $13./roll = 13,846 frames.
        But instead of shooting the Hassy you may want to try a Rolleiflex with a 2.8 Planar – even though they tend to cost more than used V system right now.

        • $13 a roll is way too much. At B&H, Acros 120 is about $5.15. Xtol 1+1 at $10 for the mix, and throwing away after each roll is about $0.50/roll (500 mL, $10 for the 5L mix). Ilford Rapid Fixer is about $0.05/roll (500 mL, $10 for the 1+4 mix at 1L, dump fixer after 20 rolls). The total per roll is $5.70 is 2631 rolls or 31578 frames for $15000. We’re assuming free water, but I’m also not counting the discounts one would get buying thousands of rolls of film or large quantities of chemicals.

          If you shoot 10 rolls a week, that’s 263 weeks, or 5 years of shooting every single week. Most people will probably take much longer because they’ll shoot much less, so let’s say 10 years if you shoot half as much or half as often on average (and that is still a prolific film shooter). Revisiting the economics of film vs. digital, $15k will get you 4.5 brand new Nikon D810-class cameras. That’s getting a new D810 every year of the 5-year plan or every other year for the 10-year plan, which seems to be a not uncommon upgrade cycle for many people — lucky dogs!

          One can draw many conclusions from this, depending on your photographic practice (and unfortunately, I’m counting upgrading cameras as a practice):

          5-year film, 10-year digital: digital is cheaper
          10-year film, 5-year digital: film is cheaper
          5-year film, 5-year digital: Yikes, have you seen a doctor about your GAS?
          10-year-film, 10-year digital: they’re about the same price.

          • That math sounds about right. Except – you have to factor in some residual value for digital; film has zero.

            • What is the residual value of digital?
              You mean digital cameras? For how long out?
              I just looked at the Canon 5D (original), BIN on ebay: $545. New: $3,299
              EOS-1Ds Mark II:BIN: $1,099.00 New: $7,999
              Ten years from now what will it cost to buy these two cameras?
              How strong are the used cameras compared to new, or compared to good analog gear?

              In 1989 I bought a Hassy V system technically used, but mint in the box: Body, Metered prism, Lenses: 50mm fle, 100mm, 150mm, 2 backs, acute matte screen, bellows lens shade: $5500.00. Used it for ten years, thousands of rolls of film. Sold it ten years later: $5300.00. Where do you get that type of value in digital -top of the line gear- today?
              btw – That same Hassy V gear today on ebay – BIN: About $3300.00+

              • Short answer: you don’t. That’s what happens when the output image quality is tied explicitly to something in the camera that’s fixed (sensor), as opposed to something replaceable (film emulsions). An F2 and F6 – some 40+ years apart – can have identical image quality if they have the same lens mounted and same film loaded – that’s not the same of the D810 and D800, and they’re successive cameras. Of course, this is a good and bad thing…

                Digital definitely has some residual value, though not through decades. If you’re a working pro who upgrades every iteration or two, you might lose 20% – which is not much, think of it as rental. I remember purchasing my D3 for about RM16,000; I sold it 18 months later for RM13,500. It’d definitely generated more than 2,500 worth of income in that time. Today I traded in a 7-month old D800E for a D810; residual was in the 60-65% range. Not great, but at least not zero. Even if it was zero, it’s a commercially justifiable decision if it helps me to get a shot that pays the bills – though I appreciate this isn’t necessarily the case for everybody.

                • Both image qualities are relatively fixed in any specific camera for sale. That is a false premise. Am I missing something?
                  When a person sells a 30 year old 35mm film camera (let’s say a Leica because their lens line had some of the same or better quality then to now) vs. say a Canon EOS-1Ds (one of the first full frame DSLRs) the buyer is buying into that fixed image quality. Yes, the buyer can use grainier films, or finer grained films, vs photoshop options or removing the filter (IR), or possibly removing the bayer filter in digital. But both cameras are fixed to how they exist and function at the time of sale. Btw – Some of the older emulsions may even be better than today’s emulsions (Panatomic-X, Tech Pan, Agfa25, etc, etc. – certainly far more choices over the years). The Dslrs are sold new at higher original price points and depreciate more. They are often not as robust a camera build either, more disposable. What you’ve been able to earn with your camera has nothing to do with it’s used retail value. Other photographers have gone bankrupt using the same equipment, while still others using much lesser equipment may have earned 100xs more than you.

                  If we skip an iteration of Canon (5D MIII) we are back at the OG 5D (see values above), that is more than 20% loss. It may be the same for Nikon as well. What we have here, are manufacturers with their hooks through the noses of the tech/fanboy consumers. Dragging them along giving a few little nibbles with each *update*. It is like a carrot on a stick. Now if your images (or marketing) are only about the very latest pixel-peeping technology, this might be worth your loss. But are your images getting 20% better (or in the case of say the Canon EOS-1Ds which was released @$8K and is no selling for $600.)1300% difference over twelve years? Has a pros images grown 1300% in quality for that loss? Maybe, if a person new to photography had just bought that camera they might see a increase in skills and output near that level.

                  Even more ironic and out of step. Most people viewing these images are doing so on phones and pads at 72dpi at 600×800 max. Even annual reports are rarely printed today, it’s all digital. So that EOS -1DS at a loss of 1300% may do just fine (overkill even) in most of today’s commercial market – let alone the consumer/hobby utility.

                  How much do you think yours or others ability to create compelling images will improve by constantly dumping money into the latest gear? In the fashion scene they have a word for that (‘victim’).Look at one of the latest finds in amazing street photography: Vivian Maier. Many of her images are on the soft side, much more tech challenged than today, and yet the content of her photography is volumes above most of the work produced today. So if one earns their money selling gear (which you do), participating in this constant purchase train might be worthwhile. But if an image maker wants to create really great images, or possibly earn more money, the upgrades may not produce nearly the benefit of working with existing gear.

                  • I do not earn a living selling gear. I might just about cover the costs of running the site (bandwidth is quite hefty) with the referral fees, but I make a living selling images. If a new tool helps me get the job done more efficiently or deliver something new, then that’s a different consideration entirely. Looking at it from the perspective of a pro vs and amateur is very, very different.

          • Andre – How much (dollar amount) do you value your time? How long does it take you to process a run of film? My tank holds six rolls. Including mixing chemistry, process, hang, dry, and clean up that is a minimum of an hour. That would be $48. for processing at a lab. I’d value my working time higher than $48./hour. Of course I get the privilege of my own developer formula too.
            Many labs charge about $8. to process a roll of 120. I don’t really care for Xtol. I mix up my own developers from scratch – but many people don’t do their own processing.

            btw – then your are stuck with the smaller format of Nikons. It’s not equivalent to MF.
            You also are making a huge generalization about shooting styles. Some film photographers are pretty good at getting their image in a few frames. A Hasselblad, Rollei, or LF camera is a lifetime purchase. Digital gear? “O.o” Not to mention the constant up[grades in computer, software, printers to keep up with you latest cameras. You also probably won’t be buying thousands of rolls at the same time – no discount.

            • Scott, it’s a hobby for me, so the value of my time doesn’t enter into the equation, but even if it does, that kind of analysis assumes that one can productively use your time (ie. bill at more than $48/hour) if you weren’t otherwise occupied processing film. That’s not necessarily true.

              But to answer your question, it takes me 30 minutes to process my film, from loading to wiping down my work area at the end. That’s less than 5% of my waking hours, so it’s not a big deal for me. My local store gives me a discount if I buy the 5-pack of Acros, and it’s lower than B&H’s price. One can buy chemicals at larger volumes for more discount — the 1L prices are the highest.

              And you are right that shooting film is often a different kind of experience than digital. I think many of us here have said that our keeper rates for film are significantly higher than for digital, and that we work slower, so it’s not really comparable, but it was a fun comparison anyway.

              My computer is approaching 6 years old now (late 2008 MBP). Updates have been necessary to Lightroom mainly to support new RAW formats from new cameras, but I’m still using CS4 Photoshop, and I post-process ever shot I keep. I just got a printer, so I can’t say how long that will last, but the ink and paper for that thing will definitely overrun the price of the printer.

              Film cameras are definitely a bargain right now, with few exceptions (damn you, Xpan!), and I have a collection that I have a hard time keeping in regular rotation. In addition to the Nikon F3 and F4, I also have both the 35mm and 28mm eFOV Fuji GW690 “Texas Leica”, the GA645, and the Hasselblad 500C/M.

              • Andrew, I think you’re arguing for your pride right now.
                You can’t buy anymore time. So whether or not you chose to value your time or not, the time still has a cost. I don’t know anyone with a lot of film experience that enjoy’s processing film. It is a chore. Maybe if it’s a newb wow, that will be a thrill for a minute, but it wears out pretty quickly. Printing on the other hand, can be an enjoyable art, much like shooting.
                If it takes you only 30 minutes to develop film you are either missing some steps, have poor hygiene, or are only doing one roll at a time = equals more runs/more time. Your Acros discount is pennies. Chemicals only last so long, take up space, and the discounts are negligible. Especially if buying concentrates and mixing your own working solutions (more time). I make many of my own developers from raw chemicals.

                Even when I kept a full wet darkroom, I did not have a dedicated film loading/developing area. I had to move print trays, and assemble all my film development gear. As I do now in a kitchen. Here is my time utilization. Working quickly at that:
                Assemble changing bag, developing tank, chemistry, mixing flasks, thermometers, etc (jobo): 3 minutes
                Load film (1 minute per roll x6): 7 minutes
                Prewash at consistent temperature: 1 minute prewash, 2 minutes getting to that temp.
                Mix developer, then bring developer to consistent temperature (68º) (up or down) : 4 minutes
                Develop: ( Normal – Acros/Xtol 1:1 @68ºF)10 minutes
                Dump: 1 minute
                Rinse/stop (@ temperature): 2minutes (+)
                Fix (@ temperature): 5minutes
                Wash: 1 minute
                HCA: 1 minute
                Wash: 10 minutes
                Photoflo: 1 minute
                Remove film from reel: 1 minute per roll (x6)
                Clip both ends, hang in drying closet and squeegee: 1 minute (x6) 6 minutes
                Wipe up all chemicals, rinse sink, put up tanks and reels to dry, recycle film backing & film reels, put away changing bag and chemistry. Wash hands: 4 minutes
                Clip film ends and sleeve 1 minute per roll: 6 minutes
                68 minutes total: 6 rolls

                The whole “working slower” thing I keep hearing may be more of a newb experience. Something those that started imaging in digital now have to do to create photographs with real photography media. Those that came up shooting film may have a different style of shooting based on learning and using the original media, possibly for decades. Maybe just more experience with the medium = less slow. More decisive, less trigger happy fluff that needs to be edited/deleted on the post anyway. Although shooting with really large cameras (8×10) is more cumbersome, which does take more time. But MF, not so much. If one is using complex lighting the time is the same for digital or film. If one is sitting waiting for a moment to capture on location – same thing. Some more experienced shooters are single frame shooters, not sprayers. Click. Click. Next!

                A MBP can’t be color calibrated. You either need a desktop and/or a good monitor w/spider. Pretty soon you will start seeing limits of update-ability in your MBP. That is Apple’s version of planned (design) obsolescence, and your unit will start slowing down, and require more maintenance if you use it regularly. My mid 2007 MBP struggles, though I do most of my digital on a desktop set up. Printer life depends on use and how much design obsolescence and use vs continued use of features the manufacturer built in. With Epson, you’ll notice after a couple system updates, sometimes a feature or two won’t be supported. This is Epson’s version of design obsolescence. Ink: about $8,000: gallon. Good printing paper is expensive too. And as you are printing from an uncalibrated monitor (MBP) expect many test prints of every frame to get it right on. Then there are certain printing software and RIPs. In the past, every 4 years or so a completely better system of printing/inks is introduced, so there is that (upgrade) cost too – often to the whole system, not just the printer.

                Any film camera that is portable or fast lens(es), and especially those hyped by the new hipsters are appreciating in price right now. We are no longer at the bottom of the market (2009) Fuji RF 6x– ‘s are still fairly cheap. The Mamiya 7’s are coming up, the P67 are coming up, the Hassy’s too. The RB/RZs are still cheap – they don’t look like SLRs and are bulking, keeps demand down. The Rolleis are going nuts, the Contax is insane now. Large format ditto. Specialty tech cams are way up too. Many 35mm RFs are up, and some select lenses are WAY up. One vintage lens I follow has gone up 10-20x in five years – if you can find a copy in decent shape. All of this stuff is still cheaper (mostly) than original new prices. And many of the older cams and lenses are built to last longer than the new plastic crap.

                • Scott, it appears that you have both a mind-reading machine and surveillance cameras aimed at my house. That’s pretty creepy behavior, but I guess photo enthusiasts are a strange lot.

                  Anyway, you may have noticed last night around 10PM that I was developing a roll of Acros in Xtol 1+1. Only 1 roll, because being an unfortunate n00b, I have trouble pressing the shutter button fast enough.

                  You’ll see that I was pouring out my pre-mixed Xtol concentrate, which I then mix 4+1 with water to make my development solution. That might have taken a minute of your tape? If you’d zoom in a bit, you’ll see that the water temperature I measured was around 28C, so my development timer was set for a bit over 5 minutes. Maybe some 12 minutes later, you’ll see me start the Ilford washing process to get rid of fixer: 10-20-40-40-40 with some PhotoFlo added to the last round of agitation. If you check the timer on your camera, you’ll see that it took me about 25 minutes from start to finish. Sure it took overnight to hang dry, but I actually had something useful to do: mainly sleeping.

                  OK, now you may switch to the camera (or is it a RAT?) on my computer. Note that it’s connected to an external 27-inch calibrated display, and note the various Xrite profiles laying about my disk, including a couple of custom paper profiles. You might see some old ones which were profiles for my laptop’s screen. I’m not sure how those got there since it is clearly impossible to calibrate my computer’s display. I think a unicorn must have left those there. Those spreadsheets? Don’t mind them — I was just finishing up some invoices where I bill out my time at $1/hour. My time is valuable!

                  It appears that your surveillance doesn’t cover my printer very well. Whew! I can stand on top of it when I want some privacy!

  13. Oskar O says:

    Your thoughts about the matter make perfect sense. I would be in the market for such a back, because I like the V system, have the lenses and could use some medium format for certain types of subjects. But the price is too high, it’s apparently higher than that of a Pentax body, which doesn’t make sense. Moreoever, it’s significantly more than a new D800/D810, which for most things is a “good enough” camera. Sure I can pay a bit more for higher quality and a ncihe product, but at the current price point this makes no sense. The only possibilities I see is that advances in manufacturing and sensor design push down prices so much that a medium format back will be viable for a few thousand, even if the volume is not so high.

    About the shutter speed limit, it’s annoying indeed, but would the back work with a the focal plane shutter of a 200-series camera? The 200-series camera is a thing I think about getting every now and then, but it never materializes.

    • plevyadophy says:

      Re 200 series cams, yes the back works with them; it works, as do all CFV backs, with pretty much all the V System cams going back to 1957 (or whatever year it was that the V System was introduced)

    • The D800/810 has more potential than 99% of photographers can consistently deploy. But it doesn’t stop us wanting things :)

      The CFVs work just fine with the 200-series cameras, but finding one that works properly and/or getting it serviced isn’t so easy…

      • I have a 203FE in pristine condition, but can’t seem to find $15K no matter where I look:)

      • Hin Chung Lam says:

        I think it’s a misconception that 200-series cameras are fragile. Many people said so but most likely they never used one. The fact is there’s not many produced and they were expensive so not many people used them. I bought two used (203FE and 205TCC) and both worked flawlessly. In fact they are wonderful cameras. For best deal buy it from Japan, they are sold much cheaper there. For service Hasselblad USA and Hasselblad Sweden still service these cameras.

  14. Just one thing on cost. I know Pentax have undercut everyone, and we get an idea how gouging others’ markup really is, but via a self-indulgent anecdote I’d like to speak on behalf of the makers, actually. I was trained to use a Gamma Spectroscopy imaging chamber and accompanying software in a previous life as an engineer in the nuclear energy sector — I’m sure many Chemists and Environmental Engineers are also quite familiar with this equipment — on one of many seminars I was sent to, I got to meet the American Engineer who pioneered the technology in the 60s/70s and designed the system my company had bought into. We talked a lot about the equipment itself and just like cameras (though I’d never picked a camera up at this time), by far the most expensive component of the machine was the sensing silicon crystal at its core. In fact almost the entire cost of the machine represented the production cost of that crystal. Even under precision controlled conditions and using the best fabrication techniques available, it is a supremely tough exercise to make one of those crystals, and what cements the difficulty is that there was no real way to verify a crystal’s suitability short of placing a finished one in a detection chamber set-up and checking its sensory powers—-the majority are defective in some small way, and the makers have to go back to growing more expensive crystals… So I learnt to think of the Gamma Spec machines we had on site as a kind of treasure, jewels of modern applied science (and not annoying, error prone instruments of boring data sets and work-related ennui!).

    I’m not sure if we’re all familiar with what a camera’s sensing chip looks like at microscopic level, but that is a FEARSOME display of where our materials science and technology is at—the level of intricate, functioning detail is mind-blowing; and like the Gamma spec crystals, I doubt that that’s a simply repeatable thing. I also doubt the cost of production scales linearly. So to get to a 33×44 CMOS chip is a feat of staggering engineering brilliance; to manufacture enough batches of them to service a global market is nothing short of a miracle.

    15K is a hell of a lot. And a weak shot considering Phase are above you, and Pentax below; but on the other hand, it isn’t unreasonable. Unreasonable is what it costs to have the silicon in a D800E, D810, A7r, or most any digital camera out there right now—and that’s unreasonable in a good way!

    • Actually, I wonder if Pentax is selling them at close to cost to build market share – it wouldn’t be the first time something like this has been done.

      As for the rejection rate of sensors – one error is enough to make them go in the bin, and the larger the sensor, the fewer you can fit on a wafer. It’s one of the reasons the cost seems to go up exponentially with sensor size – full 645 is hideously expensive. But it doesn’t explain the difference in pricing for cameras with the same sensor, however. No, I don’t think the Hasselblad price is unreasonable considering the relatively small size of the market, but it’s still double what Pentax are asking. And they don’t even include a camera with that!

      • Tom Liles says:

        Pentax must be cutting it close to the bone, for sure—I guess their play is for volume (goes hand in hand with your point about new users). Judging by (lack of) stocks here in Tokyo, they’ve made a decent start I think.
        I suppose Sony must’ve gone pretty close to the redline with the A7r price; this said, I don’t buy that the extra mirror assembly, shutter parts and proprietary AF tech in a D8xx series is enough to put a thousand dollars of clear water between them and the A7r. This is because those extras in the D8xx — which are a real value proposition over the Sony — are not ground-up things, but simply evolutions of existing Nikon tech. I’d say, out of nowhere and based on nothing, about half of that delta is just Nikon taking its pound of flesh. Fair enough, no-one else makes a full-frame 36Mpx DSLR.

        I’m not in a charitable mood with Nikon today, though, since I took the D2Hs in to see if they could fix up a wonky meter lever (on the prism, where God intended these things) and they initially gave me ~20,000 JPY just to look at it, ~4000 JPY for a new part. The clerk’s explanation was that they don’t make D2 series anymore (oh really!) etc., and the parts may not be in stock, etc., and with that I asked to see a shot-caller because the flipping meter lever on a D2Hs looks to me pretty much EXACTLY THE SAME as the one on the D3, the D3s, the D3x, the F5, the F6, and on and on. As for 20,000 JPY just to look, you bet I gave them the eye-popper; they refused to budge but downgraded to 20,000 JPY if we need to take things apart and do the work, and if the parts are available (oh yeah :) ); otherwise, no charge.
        So OK, but I’m starting to feel the scrooginess and “sales! sales! sales!” vibe from Nikon and worry about them. Taking care of customers is a Japanese speciality and they should never forget it. I shouldn’t have to have a moan and put the angry schtick on in the Nikon Salon to get the price (still way over the odds) they should give me from the get-go. It does make a consumer think… Maybe I won’t buy that next Nikon lens in retribution. This is how Sony has weaseled its way into my life, through the faults of others. And if Sony crack mirrorless autofocus, specifically useable AF-C — and I mean useable like “it matters photo” useable — plus supporting haptics and body interface for that, and be a bit more sensible about RAW data, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Nikon might lose me (as an upgrading customer following their product cycles). I’m at the point now where the camera maker isn’t as important to me as the camera (and lenses) they make. And what they charge for that package. So I’m worried about this rentier mindset of Nikon’s taking over the proud Japanese lens maker / “pro-choice” camera outlook.

        Obviously, there also lies the difference in price between different brands using the same sensor. Some balance it more toward what’s fair to the end user, while making sure they make a profit; some just think about the profits, and the users — who are basically crack addicts, yes we are — can shut up and like it. We know that that identical sensor represents a hefty chunk of the cost of the body, easily more than half, yet the price deltas can run to x2 and more… Not hard to see what’s happening there.

        On the flip side for other things though—I can see the WILL THEY NEVER BE HAPPY!? frustration on the makers’ part: just look at the imaging chip Nikon put in a D3300, for example. And what they ask for for that. And people are still going to complain about it: the spec and the price. And do. In 2008 I bought my wife a D60 as a Birthday present as she likes to take a photo. I didn’t use cameras or take photos then, so we went into Bic Camera and let the sales attendant do his thing and put it on us, and we walked out with the D60 (this arbitrary start was all it took for me to be set as a Nikon guy). And I remember, very well, the first weekend she took it out, we were in Aoyama, and it must have been a photog, but a western guy walked past and said “oh, the new D60! Wow, nice. That is an awesome camera.” And I felt very justified in having pushed the boat out to get it for her. I don’t think that dude was being sarcastic, back in 2008, the D60 was a very, very nice camera. Now look, just six years on, what the D3300 gives us, at a similar price point. Jesus! How could anyone complain. I’m still insanely happy with my wife’s D60! (which she barely uses; she likes the DMC-L1 I bought shortly after in a totally pretentious “me too” buy). Of course it’s not just about what sensor the maker gives us, and with the bottom end D3xxx series Nikon has made sure to leave all the good supporting tech out to encourage upgrades, etc; but honestly, even with the basic AF system and the D3300 as it is—what general and real world photographic pursuit can’t you do? The only reason I don’t have one is they look like sh*t, and like it or not World, it’s my money and I want something that looks good. Because it makes me look good. And if I look good and feel like I look good, I tend to make photos that look good too. At the least enjoy failing. This is a luxury I can afford (that I’ve earned, literally!). But if I couldn’t, a D3300 would be a-OK. It’d be more than OK; on brute IQ, it’s actually be better than all of the digital cameras I own now, except one, maybe two (with caveats). And it costs what it costs. I can feel for makers in this way, though they ought to really think again about their own question, “will you never be happy? What do you want?”

        Right now? Kodak Aerochrome in 120 :)

        • Sony undercut on price because they supply the sensors, and thus enjoy transfer pricing rather than profit centre pricing. But as for what you’re asking before you switch…well, that’s a very big ask.

        • You also forgot Sony needs to buck up on the lens range ;). otherwise prices do seem criminal with FF cameras, but then again I doubt Nikon is making much profit on the D3300. Or they’re just milking their market as they have no clue how to innovate /move forward…

          But speaking of pricing Sony has tried this whole selling at a loss before with the PlayStation 3 as they realised their console was way too expensive otherwise in relation to xbox. I don’t think it was a strategy that fully worked initially but consoles have much longer lives to recuperate the costs.

          Pentax possibly trying this tactic is admirable,but with consoles you had games to get people to buy and lenses are a darn site more expensive.

          I’ve always believed the Hasselblad prices are as such because of the size of the company – anything priced less and just no point in doing business. But that was clearly something of the past. As you say Tom silicon is getting easy and cheaper to produce all the time and I think larger corporations are starting to now to see potential decent profits to turn their attention to the market. On the flip side everyone will realise making quality lenses is horribly expensive and most amateurs will stick with the kit lens as they are broke after spending $10k on the camera!

          • Ah yes, the lack of lenses.

            As for the D3300 and its ilk…I don’t think it’s milking so much as genuinely not having a clue – Canon appears to be doing the same thing. At least there’s no Df-alike billed under ‘innovation’.

            The problem with medium format is even if the sensor is relatively cheap, the rest of the R&D and electronic work isn’t. Last I heard, Phase One wasn’t making money – and they’re supposedly the biggest in the business. Even if they sell 10,000 cameras – that’s seriously optimistic, by the way – that’s probably about 300 million in revenue. Take out direct cost of goods and manufacture, and you’re probably left with a third to half of that before R&D costs and wages – and in the tech world, that’s hardly anything. Realistically, given some anecdotal statistics from interviews and the like – the MF digital market worldwide is more like 5-7,000 cameras per year, for everybody. How does a company justify spending millions on lens or body development when the total returns are tiny? Frankly, if I were the CEO, I’d be looking into other businesses.

            • Sobering numbers. I agree not something I would invest my time in – but maybe there is some irrational love or clearly they’re making just enough money to survive (even if it’s just).

              We also have to think about how much the D800 impacted the medium format guys, must have been a massive blow. The effects of that may only be felt now.

              • I think the D800E was a good and bad thing: firstly, it validated the market for that kind of resolution at the right price, and it also drove the costs of sensor development down. I’d hate to think what R&D costs were like before. But that said, it also took away a goodly sized chunk of the ‘low end’ 30-40MP cameras…

            • Ironically, the APS-C/DX class of cameras from Canikon also have lens problems: there are basically no choices outside of kit zooms and 1 or 2 fast zooms. Sure, you can use the FF lenses, but they’re expensive, bigger, and heavier for no good reason for the APS-C shooter. There were also no good FF fixed-focal length lenses that translated to the classic focal lengths (28, 85, 135). You could use a 28mm to get a 50mm-equivalent FOV, but the fast 28s were quite expensive.

              That was one of the big reasons I switched to mirrorless: I’d been looking for a way to stay with my 40D, but wasn’t willing to put up with that particular set of compromises.

              • Agreed: the prime selection is utterly rubbish. Which is a shame, because I think an APSC system designed from the ground up shouldn’t be much larger than M4/3, and the lenses should be sensibly sized. It’s actually a pretty good compromise all around for most people. Compact and good is certainly doable: look at the GR.

          • Actually, CrazyP, lenses are one of the few things I’m not disappointed with on Sony. Really. To start with they have given us the best autofocus lens ever tested — the 55 FEZA — let me repeat that, the best autofocus lens ever tested, only the Otus and perhaps the Zeiss 135 APO on a D800E put down more perceptual Mpx… along with the 55 Sony gave us a 35mm that only the nittiest of nit-pickers could have a bad word to say about, the 35 FEZA. Not a bad first stroke. I think they deserve some Aretha Franklin ar-ee-es-pee-ee-see-tee. Just a little bit!
            I own both native FE lenses, the 35 has some foibles like vignetting (but this just comes with the territory on full frame) and that’s it—it is pin sharp from wide open at 2.8 and the famous Zeiss bite, the micro contrast, is there in spades; it renders with a reality no other lens I have, except the 55 FEZA, can. The 55 FEZA is just bonkers; way too good for me and I can barely understand all the ways it is my superior; all I know is I’m kicking myself for having procrastinated so long on getting it—it is drop dead gorgeous, awesome, all that, A-list, future classic material. I honestly think it’s worth the price of an A7 series body and the lens, just to use it.

            The FE mount is a new platform so expecting something like the lens lineups of Nikon and Canon out of the gate is unreasonable. Irrational even. Also I guess, like it or not, the A7 series are going to get bought by people wanting to use them like digital backs for legacy lenses… so the lens lineup thing is a strange one to level at the A7: it’s brand new, and unlike almost every single other mount at the time of its launch, you can actually use a HUGE back catalog of lenses with it. The only question with Sony, and where I’d join the chorus* is will they actually execute their roadmap? I took the gamble that they would—though on previous form, odds may be against me.
            [*I often wonder though, how many people who pan the lack of FE lenses are people who actually own an A7 series; that’s not for you CrazyP, of course not; I just have read some real bile online spouted by people who, it always turns out, are only speaking from hearsay, second hand experience and imagination.]
            Legacy lenses tend not to sing, but that’s for two reasons: 1) they were designed and fabricated when dinosaurs roamed the earth; 2) we’re expecting modern cross-frame perfection. I find with a shift in expectation (toward reality), legacy lenses actually work even better on the A7 than their native formats—case in point, I have a battered Nikon Ai 50 f/2 from 1977; on an F2 it is mezzo-mezzo, passable, yeah ok, not bad, but nothing to get excited about. On a D3 about the same. The same lens on the A7 suddenly becomes one of my favorite lenses—it is only sharp where focused (and f/2 is a total write off on any format it’s mounted on) but that’s the beauty of the A7: since the peaking and live-view are based on direct information from the sensor, even if the mount adapter is off, even if the lens is a dog, I can ensure, as I cannot on native mounts, it is focussed to the best possible degree exactly where I want it to be focused in the frame… With that, I found a new degree of sharpness from the Ai 50 f/2 thanks to the A7, and with manual lens corrections for its distortions in Ps/Lr, it is seriously good. This is a lens that costed 7,000 JPY, a bit less than 70 dollars. I don’t have any wide m-mount lenses, and I doubt I’d bother with them on an A7 series — though a photographer who blogs under “Seb Imagery” has shown what is routinely possible with an A7r and m-mount Voigtlaender Heliar if you know what you’re doing with cameras and post processing — but I do have a Nikon 24mm 2.8 Ai-s and that is every bit as good as it is on a D3, though the distortion comes out more for some reason; I don’t get magenta corners or any of the funny business people say you get (as SLR lenses are more telecentric than RF ones, and most of the headaches from Gaussian lens designs passing light rays to perfectly planar silicon imaging sensors goes “poof”)… so same optical performance as on its native mount (D3) and at twice the resolution. That’s good. That also deserves some credit.

            Back to native FE: as I say, I have both native lenses and they are stonking—but the strongest point I want to make is, I can clear 90% of my photographic needs with those two and some ingenuity. My photographic needs are street, portraits, simple product photography. Needing to use some ingenuity makes shooting much, much more rewarding can I add. Yeah I want a short tele prime whenever they bring one out; but if the need were bust up head shots, I can’t see much past getting in close with the 55, at f/2 and getting results that simply kill. Or stopping down and lighting it up with the flashes. A tele would open up more lighting possibilities (from the narrower angle view allowing me to put lights in more places since they’d be out of frame easier), if using lighting, but again—half the joy of lighting models up in ex-studio scenarios is solving the “how am I going to light this guy/girl” problems. I don’t mean to be a Sony apologist, and when you need a tele length, you need a tele length, and for God’s sake Sony get a shift on and get one out to us (but don’t rush it, we want the quality of the 55 FEZA); but what I want to say is, the problem is nowhere near as bad as the internet makes out and I’d even prod a jab at complainers and wonder how good their photographic skills are that they can’t work around these sorts of problems. Or if they really were huge problems to them, what on earth they bought an A7 series for? Again, this is a nascent format. If we want a fully mature lens lineup, the A7 series is not the camera for us.

            So, in a funny old way, the lenses, just those two the 35 and 55 FEZAs, plus the fun with legacy, are the only things that keep me using the A7 (I didn’t get the A7r); as a real world user, what I dislike most about the system is the body! Controls are decent, but not serious enough, especially on things like AF—I get supremely irate at the AF point selection, of course, yes, I know all the shortcuts to access that and such, but even just one custom button press to get to AF point selection and moving the point about with the control dials so I don’t have to take my hand from the shooting position, even that is one button push too slow, and it does feel slow in practice… I need to get there directly like on a proper camera, like a D3… this is a real thing when shooting models, as the slight delay while you get the AF box where you want it is noticeable, and having been a model in my youth I know that from the other side of the camera models will think “oh God, here’s another one…” Format card is hidden away in menus. No metering switch on the body. The battery grip was designed in typical Sony “form over function” manner: the dials are in totally the wrong place, the custom button — which they only put one of, thank God it was the one usually assigned for AF functions — is recessed into the grip. I mean Jesus! So Sony needs to fix up and serious up the bodies a bit. And just stop this three card monte bullshit with the RAWs and give us 14bit lossless compressed or uncompressed, whatever; but actual data, or as close to, please—anything but their compression algorithm which discards actual values for computed ones. Their compression, though very smart, is a needless layer of complexity. Card storage is not a problem, hard disk space is not a problem—why solve a problem that doesn’t exist? Madness.

            So there you have it—the FE problem is not the lenses! :)

            • plevyadophy says:

              Hi Tom Liles,

              What, the Sony 55FEZA is better than the Sigma 50 1.4 Art? Really?!

              • Perceptually, I prefer the 55FEZA – but I suspect the Art will test higher. No question the Otus is my choice of the three though.

              • Tom Liles says:

                Hi there plevyadophy! Please call me Tom.

                Better is slippy word, but for your consideration
                The 55 FEZA, on an A7r, is the highest ranking autofocus lens that DxO have tested. The only two lenses better are manual focus, the 135 APO and Otus. I’d invite you to check the retail prices of these three lenses, in comparison. What Sony have given us with the 55 FEZA is worthy of a thank you.
                I think Sigma have made a similar accomplishment with the Art line. I don’t own an Art myself, but, yeah, of course, I have heard nothing but gushing praise for them. My good pal Peter (Boender) has an Art, the 35 if I recall correctly, and uses it on a D800E and I definitely recall correctly his joy at that lens when he got it. Was blown away.
                DxO have tested the Sigma 50 1.4 Art, but it was the Canon variant—everyone is looking forward to the f-mount results on a D8xxx series. I’m sure it will give the Otus a run for its money, and it might outscore the 55 FEZA, which would answer your question!

                It must be said here though, going back to “better,” this is pretty rarified stuff. The best autofocus lens ever made is not so very different at macro-viewing scale than, say, another lens I love and use a lot, the Nikon AF-s 50 1.8G. My colleagues at work, who I take photos for (all graphic designers) cannot see or explain the difference, even given full resolution files and looking at them on their Thunderbolt displays. They don’t know what to look for. The differences and gains are mostly micro level stuff, that when you get a feel of what to look for and expect become obvious and the departure from expectation start to impress—like sharp corners at 1.8 on the 55 FEZA, for a simple example. But it must be reiterated, it isn’t “I was blind I know I can see!” level differences we are talking about. If my designers can’t see it, I bet you 10 out of 10 laymen wouldn’t have a clue about these differences that we can speak of as though big and obvious.
                I’m still a newbie, it has to be said, but an enthusiastic and extremely keen one. I read a lot about optics and lenses and sensors — I’m sure many of us do — and am comfortable with looking at MTF charts, though I prefer the perceptual Mpx measurement DxO makes as it seems more pragmatic to me (the other thing with MTFs is that is never really plain and clear whether a maker is providing theoretical or bench-tested lens data; DxO perceptual Mpx are a little more reliable in that respect as there is no disconnect between data sets allowing more valid comparison, i.e., no conceptual shifts or background research is necessary as there is when checking a Zeiss MTF or a Canon one, etc, DxO carry out their same test on the different lenses, making life a little easier for us when weighing up their data between lenses and against what we find these optics are like in real life). So while I’m quietly confident I know a few things to look for and be impressed about when it comes to lenses, I don’t know it all; and what I certainly don’t have is years of photographic experience. So I wouldn’t ever write off the balanced opinions of experienced photographers who might say, “I know what I see, and this lens is good” or “this lens is bad.” Opinion about the 55 FEZA, and the 35, is unanimously positive and I’d put credence into that… Likewise opinion about the Art line is unanimously good, so my snap judgement would be, these are two unimpeachable lenses on all the standard qualities we look for. How we judge “better” after that is our own special fool’s errand.
                When it comes to things like bokeh, I have to get off the bus since I’m not really that fond of bokeh in the first place (but invariably people who ask me to take photos for them are) and frankly the obsession with the shape of things that aren’t the focus of the photograph seems like a crutch to avoid the point about the focus of the photograph. So the 1.4 Art has a bit more room for bokeh on the 55 FEZA (1.8); I have no idea how the two bokeh renderings stack up against each other, but it seems too subjective a thing to even talk about in this connection at any rate.

                But anyway, a 55 FEZA on an A7r is a FEROCIOUS combination; and I can report first hand that the 55 FEZA on the A7 is nothing short of amazing. It’s actually the scariest lens I own since slight mistakes in focus are painfully obvious as the rendering is so crisp and true. It’s the only thing I have that makes me seriously consider that I don’t need to shoot anything else. Not for the experience of it in use, remember it’s on an A7 series body!, for the experience of opening up the files on a 27″ display. The Sigma DPMs gave me this same feeling a good while back, a sheer sense of excitement about opening the files up, no matter what they were of, just to see the result on screen. That good. Yes.

                • Peter needs an Otus (and there’s a new one coming…)

                  • Tom Liles says:

                    What Zeiss are doing right now in photography is so good, and I think they deserve some kind of wide-scale recognition. Sales would obviously be Zeiss’ preferred mode for that, of course; but I mean photographic awards, press, what have you. While Zeiss are doing Oti (?) and 55 FEZAs and whatnot, really pushing the game forward; Leica are putting out cynical 100 Jahre stuff and more collector’s edition pimpery.

                    It must really grate everytime Leica get held up as this “real thing” photographic Gold Standard — which they were, and still should be — while Zeiss keeps delivering cutting edge optics.

                    The other lens maker I want to bash over the head is Nikon. They really, really, really need to stop phoning it in on the lenses and show the World that, yes, Sigma are awesome, CV are brilliant, but Nikon, Nippon Kougaku, is the progenitor and Godfather of Japanese optical science and has the pedigree and know-how to make the best, bar none, Japanese lenses out there. This considered, the recent 58 was akin to slipping up on a banana skin. Someone needs a reality check at Nikon HQ.

                    • Check out the LensRentals test of 50mm lenses, which includes the Sigma and Otus and a more complete set of MTF graphs than anywhere else I’ve seen:

                      But first, holy cow, the Leica 50mm AA!! I guess that’s if you’re lucky enough not to get a bad one … I remember that Ming really liked his.

                      Anyway, the Sigma and Otus appear to be similar in the center, but the Otus pulls ahead in the corners. At least for sharpness, the Sigma is doing very well, everything considered.

                    • I did, except for the flare. And that was pre-Otus; I prefer the Otus in every way except size.

                    • Leica are also putting up prices by 10% every year (or more often) seemingly on lenses that frankly aren’t as good as the Zeisses. But people keep buying: why?!

                    • Hey Andre, thanks for that link. Roger Cicala gives a lot back and is a brilliant resource; I learned to understand (the theory and results of) field curvature thanks to him; and like MT he’s a voice I’ll always listen to.

                      I honestly think it’s a minor miracle that Leica pulls stunning results like this out if their hat—the handmade thing is admirable but as you mention, variable results for the same lens go hand in hand. Actually, as RC is often quick to mention most lenses are variable and we users need to modify our expectations a lot… but in the case of a 10,000 USD Leica lens, that is a bold demand to make of customers.

                      I said Zeiss should be getting some props, but that was spectacularly unfair to Sigma—what they’ve achieved with the Art line, at what they ask for the effort, is phenomenal. And makes everyone else look bad.

                      In the midst of this, the camera business in decline… It’s not the lens makers!

                    • Leica boggles my mind. If there is an existence proof of a Veblen good, it is in Wetzlar.

                • plevyadophy says:

                  Hey Tom,


                  For someone who describes himself as something of a newbie, you write so eloquently, forcefully, and cogently on the finer points of camera systems and lenses.

                  I think both you and Ming should join forces to write reviews as they would be akin to poetry for photographers.

                  I have to admit to being something of an anti-Sony individual (first hand experience) and never recommend any Sony system to a potential buyer. However, I think it would be churlish of me to let forth my anti-Sony bile in response to your beautifully written post.

                  I salute you.


                  • He’s not a newbie, Paul. He just pretends to be one ;)

                  • Hiya Plevyadophy,

                    No, I’m comfortable with writing a sentence or two, it’s really not that hard if we just write like we’d talk (there! The secret of copywriting for you in twelve words) but I can’t hold a candle to people like Son of Sharecroppers or Dan Sibley or MT in Shakespearean verse.
                    I think what we have right here is as good as it gets; Ming does all the hard work for free, and we swoop in and have a free for all below the line :)

                    I’m with you on Sony—I mean, I doubt many makers make it easier to be annoyed with them. I constantly look for ways to get out of the A7 I bought, but the lens experience, for now, wins over (as well as the the fact they are basically worthless on the Japanese used market since Sony makes them so scuffable and chippable—I treat the A7 I bought brand new like a princess yet it looks terrible compared to the proper cameras I own which were bought used and have seen about ten times more action). I’m even close to doubling down as I found a very nicely priced used RX1r with EVF for about 600USD less than it should be… Would be a walk-home compact for me. But the fact it’s a Sony and I know about a month in, when the honeymoon has ended, I’d be on here complaining about it stops me. The 35 f/2 on them is special though, and different than the 35 FEZA.

                    My next immediate target, however!, is a Wacom tablet. Was payday today so :)

                    For the next couple of weeks my colleagues at work can enjoy me at the computer, stylus in hand, mouth breathing at the screen, looking like one of those chimps they do cognitive testing on. 10minutes per image, here I come! :)

                    • plevyadophy says:

                      Hi Tom,

                      Don’t forget to try out my anti moire tip and let me know how you got on. Well, let us all know coz I guess it will be useful info for others too.


                    • I shan’t plevyadophy! Perhaps will have a chance to test-run in the coming week—otherwise it’ll be the next season of clothing (’15 S/S, which’ll be exhibited to buyers in October, PR materials generally shot the following month) before I get a chance to really put the principle into action. Cheers!

            • Fair points Tom. I’m so ‘new’ to photography that legacy lenses are not really a thing I take into consideration. With lenses, I’ve just been traveling around with a 70-200 f4 on a D700 and a GR as a two body solution. I guess I’ve been spoilt lately with an outstanding zoom and a cracking wide I’m fairly satisfied.

              I’ve also only heard good things with the 2 FE lenses, but something a bit longer and we would be in business. I have to say though, as a first generation body it’s pretty damn decent (though note to self I really want a D810…)

              • The D700 isn’t pushing that 70-200. You need a D810 and level up shot discipline! ;)

              • Tom Liles says:

                I had my first experience with the 70-200 f/4 in the Nikon Salon (swanky Nikon service center here in Tokyo) the other day and though I’ve been a photographic Catholic — only shoot primes — for all my time since picking it up, that’s the first zoom lens that has taken my fancy.
                There’s also a well liked 70-200 f/4 Sony “G” series lens, native FE mount, which never really gets talked about on the English speaking internet (plenty about it in Japanese and Korean; though I can’t read Hangul or speak Korean so I can only access half of that opinion!) which I was also considering… but I just trust Nikon optics to be better, and the body side of it is Nikon hands down (I have a D3, same sensor as you!). But I don’t think either lens is quite for me right now. I don’t really have anything they’d get heavy use for.

                I have a CoolpixA too, so we’re on the same sensor again there! :)

                There are prime Teles on the Sony roadmap, including Sony-Zeiss ones; and we just have to hope and trust that they will come. In the meantime there is that 70-200G, a-mount Zeiss glass via the Sony mount converter; or legacy lenses via third party converters. I’ve tried the Ai-s 105 Micro Nikkor on the A7 and optically it worked great, but as a camera setup it was hideous—totally out of balance and a pain to carry. Same lens on a D3 and I just walked about with it all day today. So it goes to show, just being lighter is not necessarily better. I recall this was a complaint of Ming’s, body-lens balance, and once again it’s a good reminder to everyone that MT’s reviews are a treasure because he just talks about using the cameras as cameras and not IQ machines. I have to say, the native FE 70-200 G stumbles on this point too, though I use a battery grip which negates the balance issues there; the Nikon AF-s 70-200 f/4 I tried at Nikon was on a D4s, and similarly on an integrated grip body, that was delicious—how do you find it balances on the D700? I’d imagine still good, right?

                The D810 is good CrazyP. I just have some emotional blocker with that camera and though wanting desperately to fall in love with it or its predecessor, I just can’t… and even consider an A7r in weaker, stupider moments. I take a lot of fabrics and the 24Mpx of the A7 seems like a bad spot for this kind of thing—it moires more than the D3; and I’ve heard the D8xx and A7r don’t moire that readily at all (smaller pixels beating the effect at most distances). I’m desperate to try as we were doing a project a work and needed reasonably big output sizes at reasonably high DPIs and the D3 was straining to cope, in steps the A7 and moires up the place, though the resolution was more in tune with output and DPI considerations. I do have a Sigma DP3M which basically doesn’t moire by design, though that’s a toughy for workflow and color correction (we’re talking 400 photos plus for this project, and just the thought of having to do 400 X3Fs gives me a headache).

                Interesting about PS3 by the way! I bought a PS1, import from Japan, while everyone was getting Sega Saturns back in the day and I’ll never forget that startup screen and jingle and the first ever game I’d gotten for the machine: Tekken (鉄拳). I was so smitten by that experience, all I did was play Tekken and its sequels non-stop for the next four or so years… By Tekken-Tag Tournament, I was touring the game centers of Japan looking for someone to give me a challenge as I’d gotten so good I rarely lost. The height of my powers was Tekken3, there were only a handful of people in the UK that could touch me. The last days of PS2 them. I bowed out from gaming just before the PS3; and now, the whole console/gaming thing is lost on me—would be nice to go back to the halcyon days of the NES and Duck Hunt, or the Super NES and Street Fighter II Turbo! I’m hoping my kids will provide a nice excuse to get back into it all someday.

                Hope the on-site photo shoots are getting better for you CrazyP—did you ever solve your lighting difficulties on the rig?

                • plevyadophy says:



                  A little tip:

                  If you can, frame your subject with, as a starting point, a 30 deg tilt ( left-right or right-left ) and crop to straighten the composition later in post production. That should eliminate or reduce to negligible any moire patterning in your images.

                  That is an application to photography of something we used to do in pre-press image assembly back in the litho/Fleet Street days.

                  Give it a go, it should work.

                  Hope my explanation makes sense?


                  • Tom Liles says:

                    Crystal! Thanks Plevyadophy m(. .)m

                    Corrections for things like tilt, etc., in post do rob resolution; but with the alternative a straight but moire’d up, unuseable photo—-I’ll take the slight res hit, seguro!

                    Thanks for that. I’ll give it a go :)
                    (Thus far I’d been changing the camera-subject distance just slightly which tends to work well; the hardest thing for me was being switched on enough to notice I’d got moire’d in the first place)

                    • Hi Tom Liles,

                      Eighteen months have now passed since we last spoke on here.

                      I am just wondering, have you yet tried my tip and if so he did it go for you?

                • I guess for myself mirrorless is just not there for me yet. Though in terms of lens demands I don’t need much!

                  I’m also not really in love with the D810 but its good enough as a natural evolution from the D700.

                  Ming -I’ve set a few ‘requirements’ for myself before I buy a D810:

                  1. Sort out my archives. It’s all out of control at the moment and need to get my act together in catching up on processing! I reckon I have a solid weeks worth, so a fair amount to grind through. In that regards Tom, a Wacom tablet is an absolute eye opener and you’ll wonder how you ever did any digital processing prior to it!
                  2. I’ve also finally signed up to flikr and need to then upload said processed pics!
                  3. After much dithering and um and ah-ing I (think) I’ve narrowed down to two a new instant gratifying ‘toy’. Need to close that out when I’m back in Holland next week.
                  4 (optional) is in a moment of inspiration I bought 3 speedlights and they’re just lying there. I had wanted to experiment with them as well before theD810.
                  And lastly 5, my laptop is I think 4 yrs old now and is going to cry with 36mpx files. May need a new one…

                  Hmm expensive few months ahead!

                  Actually my game of choice was counterstrike Tom! Last console was also the PS3, just no time to enjoy games. But I am enjoying the latest broken sword on my ipad. Nostalgia right there!

                  For the rig, well I was limited to only my camera phone in the end! And to be honest light was sufficient enough. The phone game decent enough images, I reckon I got 12 good ones. I’ll let you know when they are up on the new flikr site whenever I get around to it!

                  • Hi again CrazyP,

                    Yeah, it’ll be interesting to see if we all settle on the idea that the D8xx series was the follow-up to the D700. Though how this marketing and manufacturing decision — to move away from D700/D3 to D4/D800 — was made, and why, is a complete mystery to many. I started photography way after this fact, but it makes even less sense to me in retrospect. I think many people going from D700 to D8xx do it grudgingly, and aren’t exactly over the moon about the proposition; likewise professionals who could formerly have a single digit 3series plus a D700 in the bag, they mustn’t be over the moon about having to buy the single digit body twice, or have a completely different camera as backup… strange, strange strategy. I think Nikon balls this one up, but Nikon being Nikon refuse to make the slightest allusion that they know they effed up, and continue to push this wrongheaded product lineup, ignore the screams for primes and a pro body on DX, and reiterate the CX cameras and eat shit every time. If they could just prize that BSI sensor from Sony, the one in the RX100mk2 and mk3, I’d be first in line for a V-series because there are prettay prettay good. Just need some CLS integration and there it is—almost the perfect family and flaneur camera.

                    I’m not going to compromise on finder and haptics at the kind of money required for a D810 — not that I even have it in the first place! — so am waiting for a high resolution sensor in the single digit body. That I would buy. Three years after its release, when it’s affordable to me. And that’s barely because we’re still talking 2000 USD used!

                    See you on Flcikr CrazyP—come on in, the water’s fine! :)

  15. Summary : Hasselblad is an anachronism…

  16. I’m confused now. I’ve read over on photorumors that live view is only tethered to Phocus and no real live view on the LCD.

    • I can’t think of a reason why they couldn’t implement live view via the LCD if they so choose. However, yes, the official data sheet, downloadable from the Hassy, mentions live view only in respect of tethered use.

    • I read ‘special implementation of live view’ in the press release – unclear whether that’s Phocus only, or on the LCD. If it’s the latter, that’s a bit of a disaster.

  17. Tom Liles says:

    I use a Bronica SQ (6×6) and one time way back had a cursory look about for digital options for it. Not impossible, solutions exist(ed); but far from optimal. Certainly not reliable or serviceable. I then looked at other brands and noticed this crop factor stuff. I followed the 645D then Z, also the D800series and A7r (since true medF wasn’t a digital option, I considered smaller formats just as valid)…

    Ultimately, I think the best medium format digital solution is: shoot film and scan well. I got some SQ negs and pozs back from the developers the other day, and wow. I mean WOW. Digital, even in 2014, would still have to do a lot to justify the outlay—a 6×6 negative scanned well has an AWESOME amount of detail in it; a 6×6 positive is out of this world. I’m considering selling the F2 since I don’t think analog 135 has a lot to offer me anymore. I can only think pros, working very high level jobs, like yourself MT, would have use or need for the workflow benefits medF digital brings. On IQ, I don’t think there’s that much in it, definitely not as much as there is between analog 135 and digital 135.

    If Hassle do well on this brill, but I think the damage they did to themselves with the Sony rebadges was just too great.
    I had a crazy thought that Apple could buy them and make us the first digital camera designed with post-process firmly in mind—but cameras that look cool too. A “cake and eat it too scenario”…

    • ” If Hassle do well on this brill, but I think the damage they did to themselves with the Sony rebadges was just too great.”

      Unfortunately, I think your assessment is correct.

    • I’m glad you have come over to the figital dark side, Tom. :) Were those MF frames scanned on your Epson or done by the lab?

      And yes, 135 film frames look pathetic after you’ve been looking at MF frames. I’m sure the LF guys will say the same thing about MF frames, too. I like my 135 camera because it’s compact and light compared to any of the MFs, and for the few times I need it, it does have at least 2x as many frames. I just ordered a new-to-me 28/2.8 AIS, so I’m kind of doubling down, but I also have a vague dream of picking up a D810 5 years from now when everyone’s gone to the Sony A17 holographic, curved, organic, free-range Foveon MF rangefinders.

      Latest obsession (that I’ll probably do nothing about) is the Polaroid SX-70 after seeing some Andre Kertesz pictures made with that camera. It might be tricky to submit to the Flickr reader pool though … :)

      • The SX-70 is a beautiful and very cleverly designed piece of equipment. Not so easy to get film for locally though.

        • It is and that’s the main reason I like it. And now 24 hours later, I’m over it. :) The Impossible Film is apparently quite a disaster: you have to protect it from light when it first comes out because their light-blocking layer doesn’t work very well, and the archival life is apparently random. People have reported as little as 6 months when stored correctly, which is ridiculous since each frame costs $3. I’ll look at the pretty pictures in the Kertesz Polaroid book instead.

      • Hi Andre, was a mix! I was actually second guessing the Epson again and decided to do a blanket test on just a couple of frames: I got a couple from the lab, I did a couple with the A7 (have an Ai 105 2.8 Micro Nikkor, via f-mount adapter), and I did a ton on the Epson.

        Results were interesting, the lab was the worst!

        The A7 camera scans were absolutely brilliant in terms of acuity and serve to remind again how soft Epson scans are generally, but in particular for positives—I guess the scanner just can’t find the grain to focus on, or something, because E6 is consistently soft from the Epson. But the problem with the A7 scanning is the same as it was with the D3: color correction. One channel of the three always suffers, typically blue, and manually reversing negs in software just kills the data and introduces hideous, unusable honestly, amounts of noise.
        The Epson was an interesting experiment as I tried SOSM (scan one scan many) whereby I tried different routines of scanning the exact same frame. Biggest shock was the exact same frame, same place, same scan area, nothing changed, just scanned repeatedly produced a different file each time; with the growing heat under the scanner backlight the film warped and this affected sharpness, but for some reason things like white-balance changed too. I then tried the same neg in different windows of the film holder; again, different results. The one advantage of this was being able to pick the best of the bunch and having a really pleasing start TIFF to work from, and that’s where my “wow!” comments came from; the disadvantages were obviously numerous, time a big one, but the biggest is just the random factor—when the same neg in the same spot with the same input scan settings produces a slightly different file each time… well, it modifies expectations, let’s say that!

        All in all though, the baseline for Epson scans is “good” and often “great” even sometimes “excellent.” And when you get one of the excellent ones, it’s really an eye-opener for how much detail and tonality is on offer in a negative, how much detail and pleasing color in a positive. In some ways that can’t compete with consistently excellent from a digital body, but I’d posit that the difference is not so marked and may even be in favor of scanned film for things like 120 monochrome. Since we don’t have to scan every frame, only the cream intended for output, then spending 30min to get one good scan as opposed to 15min binning dross from a batch of digital images doesn’t seem so unfeasible for some things—though no way I’d want to shoot a product brochure with film, for instance.

        I’m slowly making peace with the idea that the F2 should go… I have a beautiful F5 which is more my style of camera and good for the few times, as you say, when we just want some rough around the edges 135; and I have a Kodak Retina iiC rangefinder which shoots 135 too, and is good for the I just want a film camera in my pocket times. The F2 has found itself caught in the middle ground.
        The GA645 was really been the death knell for it—it’s really not that much bigger than a 135 DSLR and the huge sumptuous negatives that come out of it! And the ease of shooting it (though the top shutter speed limits envelope a fair bit!)… I just got to thinking why I need a camera like the F2 when the GA645 is almost the same size, but gives quality an order of magnitude better. Interchangeable lenses is the only real answer, but not compelling enough. It’s not like I don’t own an ILC or two :)

        I might be one of the Eloi buying up curved sensor compacts five years from now! Clearing the road for you to that 810—doing my bit :)

        SX-70 is an interesting one! I’ll have to check that artist out; another new one on me. Polaroid backs for the Hassle might be a good stop gap, though not exactly portable like an SX-70. On this topic, you’ll never guess what I dug up in the belongings after our house move: a Polaroid “One600” camera! With, wait for it, one unopened cartridge of polas left over (this was bought in 2006 by me and my wife, then girlfriend to take selfies with, the kind of stomach turning embarrassing things we all do when first smitten!)… I’m not sure if it’ll take modern Fujiroids (the One600 system cartridges had a small battery pack in them which powered the camera, which has no power of its own!), I might get round to looking into sometime—but I have a Pola back for my SQ and use that when I want to do polaroids (which is getting to be less and less often as one cartridge is almost as much as a five pack of 120).

        Hopefully to be a Darth in the Figital Empire won’t require some prerequisite amount of midi-chlorians in my cells to qualify. Say no to Calvinism!

        • Tom, just a short note for C-41 scanning: I’ve been wanting to try my iPad as a backlight for DSLR scanning of C-41, because one can make the color of the iPad screen blue, and the right shade might just make the blue channel come out better. Anyway, just an idea, and I haven’t done anything about it yet.

          For others who might be reading, this is an on-going conversation between Tom and me: the blue channel in C-41 scans by DSLR is absurdly low because of the orange mask, so inversion is always tricky and color correction a crapshoot. Most scanners use some kind of blue light (like the Kodak Pakon I use for 135), hence this idea.

          • That’s quite a clever idea, actually!

          • Neat! Now I just a need an iPad (mini retina please :) ).

            How even is the illumination I wonder? I remember that’s what killed me using a mini light box I bought and tried => at a glance it’s even light, but doesn’t hold up on a 3200DPI or so view (135 frame scanned with D3); with light and dark patches and also some uneven color temp patches…

            After having gone back to scanners, I still think they offer an edge in terms of convenience and workflow (maybe not time) and also effort (a big one to lazy bones). Just wish Nikon could bring the 9000ED out again…

    • Taildraggin says:

      I’ve got a full ‘blad kit and I’d consider it, if it were full frame. As an amateur, film still works very well (better?) for me.


  18. Half my post was eaten….
    Here it is (hopefully) in it’s entirety:
    (delete the one above if you like)

    “Interestingly, Hasselblad’s official images all show the back with an older non-flagship 501CM and slightly worn CF 50/4 non-FLE – instead of a pristine flagship 503 ”

    The 501CM is newer than the 503 series.

    “V system has no lenses wider than 38mm – which is 32mm in 35mm-e terms – which isn’t very wide”

    That’s pretty much the story of digital. If you want full use of lens with aperture – shoot film! (It’ll probably look better too! :) ).

    “The best lens for digital on the V system is probably either anything above 120mm, or the 4/40 IF FLE”

    Why is that true?

    “You’re also limited to 1/500s, which is great for studio work, but not so good for available light – especially when there are no low ISO pull settings on the sensor below 100. This means very little depth of field control. Finally, you’re going to have to manual focus”

    Why not ND the lens?
    Manual focus?!!! Why is that an issue? Most of the most iconic images -virtually defining the identity of photography- were created with manual focus. Have digital image makers gone soft? It takes a tiny bit of effort to create quality images.

    “The V system was really designed to be shot square, and it shows.”
    The V system was designed to be shot upright, with the idea that the final image could be left square, or cropped for portrait or landscape – this point is a matter of history. The cropped sensor presents an issue. Perhaps Hassy needs a rotating back attachment as many LF cameras use (as well as RZ).

    “I see the back as being useful for a studio shooter, except: you don’t need high ISO in a studio”
    If you shot people using window light (north light) as in studios in NYC you might see the value of moderate ISO gains.

    “a body and 2.8/80 kit can be had for under $1000″
    Look again. If you find a good auction and get lucky this is true. But all the popular film camera prices have been rising in price. This back may boost them further.

    ” this is what happens when you put a specialist brand in the hands of people who clearly understand nothing about their customers or the industry.”
    It’s quite possible that the decline in world economies, and certainly that in commercial photography markets (along with competitive market share) have resulted in less spending, smaller budgets. Hard to get the crowd (source) to share that $20K ticket price.

    ” Unfortunately, the sensor is really too small to use for technical camera applications, …”
    Such as?
    I’m thinking large format studio photographers said the same thing about medium format, (and digital capture), and to a great degree they are right.

    • No, there are options down to 18mm for H, phase one and Pentax MF systems.

      • Actually that 24mm is equivalent to 17mm in 35mm context. But the lens isn’t much more than a year old. The history digital image makers have worked within is abbreviated sensors – lengthening lens focal lengths . It’s just one of the constraints with working with the medium. Maybe Daguerreotype whined about the inverse square law, and maybe a next generation 25 years from now will whine about the software interface in their automated imaging robot. (A robot that goes to the location, with digital capture device to capture images – no human required. Game over!). There have always been challenges, those that except the challenges and get to work may have better chance of creating an interesting body of work.

    • plevyadophy says:

      Other than the 500ELD model, the 503CW and CXi are the most modern/recent of the 500 series cams:

      • 1994-1996 503 CXi
        1996- 503 CW
        1997-2005 501 CM

        The 201CM was designed and built later than either of the 503’s
        The 2006 503 CWD was a special edition – which included a Digital back. Using this model in current marketing might be misleading.

        • plevyadophy says:

          And what technology did the 501 bring to the table over and above the improvements made to the CXi and CW variants?

          • Ok. Tell us! What revolutionary improvements did the CXi and CW bring?
            I’m in the market for my third V system right now. None of these (501cm,503CXi or 503CW) are being considered, lol.

            • plevyadophy says:

              Well, Ming was talking of flagship cams.

              Just because a particular camera came to market or was developed later than another doesn’t automatically make it the flagship cam. For example, Nikon can tomorrow introduce an APS-C or even full frame D400 but it still won’t move the D4 from the top of the tree.

              In answer to your question, new Palpas coating in the body to reduce flare, TTL and the auto winding facility. That may not be “revolutionary” but it sure makes a big difference to some users. Here’s the brief history of Hassy models:

              Ming also asked the question as to what message Hassy were trying to send by showing a non-flagship cam attached to their new digital back. My answer to that would be that Hassy want to impress upon those who may either be stubbornly refusing to join the digital age, or who have very old Hassy cams tucked away in a cupboard somewhere that those VERY old cameras can be given a new lease of life (and obviosuly if they work with the very oldest of cams they will work also with the later variants).

              You say you are in the market for another V system cam but are not interested in the 501CM or CXi/CW variants. So what cam is it you are after? Something much simpler or something with a bit more tech e.g. the 205TCC? Or perhaps one of those shift or wide angle things?


              • You mean the Flexbody or Arcbody? The Flex can use all normal lenses, the Arc requires special Rodenstocks, of which there are only three. I would consider it a standalone system because it shares only magazines. The Flex is a bit more useful, but not all of the lenses have much extra image circle to use.

  19. Why is that true?

    “You’re also limited to 1/500s, which is great for studio work, but not so good for available light – especially when there are no low ISO pull settings on the sensor below 100. This means very little depth of field control. Finally, you’re going to have to manual focus”

    Why not ND the lens?
    Manual focus?!!! Why is that an issue? Most of the most iconic images -virtually defining the identity of photography- were created with manual focus. Have digital image makers gone soft? It takes a tiny bit of effort to create quality images.

    “The V system was really designed to be shot square, and it shows.”
    The V system was designed to be shot upright, with the idea that the final image could be left square, or cropped for portrait or landscape – this point is a matter of history. The cropped sensor presents an issue. Perhaps Hassy needs a rotating back attachment as many LF cameras use (as well as RZ).

    “I see the back as being useful for a studio shooter, except: you don’t need high ISO in a studio”
    If you shot people using window light (north light) as in studios in NYC you might see the value of moderate ISO gains.

    “a body and 2.8/80 kit can be had for under $1000″
    Look again. If you find a good auction and get lucky this is true. But all the popular film camera prices have been rising in price. This back may boost them further.

    ” this is what happens when you put a specialist brand in the hands of people who clearly understand nothing about their customers or the industry.”
    It’s quite possible that the decline in world economies, and certainly that in commercial photography markets (along with competitive market share) have resulted in less spending, smaller budgets. Hard to get the crowd (source) to share that $20K ticket price.

    ” Unfortunately, the sensor is really too small to use for technical camera applications, …”
    Such as?
    I’m thinking large format studio photographers said the same thing about medium format, (and digital capture), and to a great degree they are right.

    • You seem to be forgetting that I speak from the point of view of somebody who shoots both more modern MF digital and V system extensively – both film and digital. If you’re working slowly, you can ND tripod etc – but this isn’t always possible, especially for documentary work. The reality is that I cannot shoot V digital like I do film – yet.

  20. “that’s why we have two kidneys.”
    No, that’s why *my neighbours* have two kidneys. And two sets of several other organs. :P

  21. Argh, my post was eaten by the web! Take two….

    I don’t get what one would achieve in buying this over a 645Z – the base cost is still more expensive (though things even out a bit when you consider the two new lenses cost 5k a pop), and you still don’t have a true 6×6.

    I guess if you really need the sync speed then maybe – though thinking about it most ‘medium format’ users are probably using this sort of camera in the studio, so possibly would gain from it….

    Speaking of medium format, how did you get on with the 645Z in the London workshop?

    • The experience. But it isn’t quite there, either; mostly because of the crop factor and lack of ergonomic support for verticals.

      I got on with the 645Z just fine. Found myself using the 55 a lot more than I expected, given my lack of love for 35-40mm equivalents on 135 normally…

      • Not surprising, I guess some focal lengths just work on certain formats. For myself 28mm equiv in aspc is perfect but I really dislike it with FF. Much prefer 35mm for some odd reason. It just ‘looks’ better. Must be the same for 645z – or that you don’t have a 28mm for the Pentax?

        • No 28mm for the Pentax – there’s the 35, but it doesn’t have a great reputation. The 25 – 19 EFOV – doesn’t feel wide; I really like the way it renders. Not so much the size, though. The 55 – 42mm EFOV – is another one I didn’t think I’d like, but have really started to enjoy. I suspect each format has its own ‘natural’ FLs.

  22. Spot on, and the question is of course if it’s really that much more attractive than the original CFV-50 due to the difference in sensor size.

  23. Best last sentence ever.

  24. Oh my God, I want one!

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