MF digital goes mainstream: early thoughts on the Pentax 645Z

Image from Pentax UK.

A couple of days ago, Pentax threw down the gauntlet to the other medium format digital camera makers in the form of the 645Z. It uses the same ~50MP 44x33mm CMOS as the Hasselblad H5D-50C and Phase One IQ250, but with one critical difference: unlike the Hasselblad and Phase One, it’s feasibly within the reach of a whole load more people. And it isn’t just the shocking price – $8,500 plays $29,000 (Hasselblad) or $37,000 (Phase) – it’s the UI and operating gestalt, too. I think what we’ve just seen is an early game changer.

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Medium format digital in the field

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There are quite a number of medium format digital cameras available today; the vast majority are designed to handle like oversize DSLRs, and in some cases, there’s very little difference size- and control-wise between these cameras – take the Leica S, for instance. This makes them both familiar and easy to use, but also somewhat liable to catch out the unweary. My digital field work with medium format is done with a Hasselblad CFV-39, mounted on a 501CM body. The method of operation constantly reminds you that this is most certainly not another DSLR; not least because you have to wind the camera after every shot to recock the shutter and lower the mirror! The intention of this article is to look at the practicalities – or impracticalities – of using medium format digital in the field or while travelling as a DSLR replacement, and more importantly, in a way that lets you actually see enough of a difference to justify it in the first place.

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Photoessay: Borneo seascapes

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Following on from the previous post on my recent acquisition of a medium format digital system, I thought it’d be appropriate to share some of the results from the first serious shoot I used it for a little while back. I found that the system was much more sensitive to camera shake than expected; mirror lockup was an absolute necessity, though the Gitzo GT1542 carbon traveller and Arca-Swiss P0 head both performed very well and offered more than sufficient rigidity. (In hindsight, I should probably have bought the cup feet for the tripod to prevent it sinking into the mud though.) Though you can’t see it at this size, the frames with mirror lockup are distinctly crisper at the pixel level than those without.

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How I landed up going medium format digital…

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Earlier in the year, many of you saw me post the image of the Hasselblad 501CM hanging off a tripod at 90 degrees near the surf line. Several asked why on earth would I need to turn a square format camera sideways; apart from the obvious answer of ‘to shoot vertically!’ there’s definitely more than meets the eye. Firstly, Hasselblad did actually produce an A16 645 format magazine for the V-series bodies; they’re relatively rare nowadays and must obviously be used with the correct focusing screen to ensure accurate composition. In addition to being better suited to the typical print rectangles, you also get 33% more images per roll of 120 (16 instead of 12, as the name suggests). I was using something a little more exotic; though like the A16, it isn’t rotatable and so requires you to turn the camera through 90 to shoot verticals. It’s not very convenient, to say the least.

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