Why is Hasselblad so expensive

Is it worth switching to medium format?

Gadunz Danuser takes photos with the Leica S in the mountains and wants to be able to see the finest details in his pictures. «I want to get away from the cliché. Always blue sky. Always sun. And, if possible, still deeply covered in snow without a trace. " he says. «I am more interested in the individual fragments. Structures. I am waiting for this one moment ».

The question is not new. Even in the analog age, the camp was divided into photographers who only used 35mm cameras and those who preferred the medium format. On top there was another league, namely that of large format photographers with photo formats from 10 × 12 to 20x25cm.

In digital photography, too, we fundamentally differentiate between three format groups:

APS-C and smaller (e.g. Micro Four Thirds), then

• the so-called "Full format», Which at 36 x 24 mm corresponds to the earlier 35mm format ...

• ... and finally that Medium format with sensor sizes of
30 x 45 mm (Leica S),
43.8 x 32.9 mm (Fujifilm GFX, Hasselblad X, Pentax 645, Mamiya Leaf Credo 50) and
53.7 × 40.4mm (Phase One XF and IQ, Hasselblad H, Mamiya Leaf Credo 80), to name the currently most popular formats.

The commonly used designations of the formats make little sense. At APS-C The marketing experts couldn't think of anything better than to remind them of the miserably failed cartridge format from 1996. Full format is questionable because there are much fuller formats and the different ones Medium formats inevitably call for something even bigger, which will certainly never happen in digital photography. (Please also note our humorous article «Grandfather, what is small picture»).

With his Phase One, Valeriano Di Domenico often portrays celebrities, like here the professional cyclist Silvan Dillier with blisters on his hands after the Paris – Roubaix race. “My customers demand the best possible quality - that's why I use the medium format camera for such jobs,” says Di Domenico.

 

The sensor determines the camera size

The larger the image format, the larger, more unwieldy and, above all, more expensive not only the cameras but also the lenses. They are significantly larger than their small screen sisters or even than the APS-C and MFT models. However, the range of medium format lenses is smaller and usually the light intensity is also lower in order to keep them reasonably operable and affordable.

The weight of the equipment also plays a major role, because if you have been taking photos with a medium format camera for a day, you usually have your personal fitness program behind you in the evening. Is it worth the three to six times higher investment for a medium format camera? And who gets one? If you ask the professionals who work with it every day, they will never want to give their best device back. There are three main reasons for this:

Peter Schäublin photographed an ice miracle in the village stream with his Fujifilm GFX. “I am fascinated by showing small things in large dimensions! This not only requires top quality lenses, the data quality must also enable post-processing that corresponds to my ideas and shows the final nuances of this wonderful world. "

 

First: the image quality.

This is not just about resolution, as we will see in the following points. Because the sensors of the 35mm cameras are catching up powerfully: The upper performance limit is currently around 50 megapixels (e.g. Canon 5DS R, Nikon D850 and Sony α7R II) and is also surprisingly close to the medium format in terms of data quality. In the case of medium format, this limit is around 100 megapixels - with peaks of 150 MP with Phase One IQ4 and Hasselblad H6D 400c Multishot with up to 400 megapixels. Peter Schäublin, who works mainly, but not exclusively, with medium format, says: “The larger the sensor, the more leeway the RAW files offer in post-production. Medium format is my first choice, especially for landscape and concept shots, in which I still want to edit some things in Lightroom or Photoshop. It is not just more resolution and sharpness that is decisive, but above all a greater contrast and dynamic range in order to be able to use more details, more drawing in the highlights and especially in the shadows. The better data quality is primarily due to the fact that the pixels on the larger sensor are larger and not so close together.

However, you have to be aware that the larger sensors also produce larger amounts of data, especially in RAW format, where each image quickly eats up 100 megabytes of storage space. This has far-reaching consequences, with a faster computer so that you don't fall asleep while opening and editing files, as well as more storage space on fast hard disks for data management. If you then allow yourself to be seduced by 4K videos, a new monitor in the upper price and performance class may also be added, which can display this quality in full - which also requires a good graphics card.

Another quality factor is the image quality of the lens. Not all of the mass-produced 35mm lenses are qualitatively matched to the sensor, and many of them, especially in the budget classes, never achieve the resolution that would be required for the camera's sensor. Here the medium format lenses play in a different league, which is also reflected in the price in the lower number of units.

Oliver Oettli staged this picture for the “Ensemble Proton - the laboratory for contemporary music” with his Hasselblad. «It makes sense that I photographed the band in a laboratory ... I always allow myself a lot of time for such scenarios so that the result is perfect. The camera simply has to deliver the best quality. "

 

Second: You photograph differently ...

Due to the larger sensor format, you generally work with longer focal lengths. This has an influence on the perspective possibilities of the image composition and results in a lower depth of field - but associated with it a better selective sharpness.

The aspect ratio of the recordings also plays a role. While the 35mm format presents itself in an elongated 3: 2 ratio, the medium format images aim at a square-like 4: 3 and 5: 4 image. This has an influence on the image design and results in a freer approach with regard to the subsequent selection (cropping).

The larger camera often requires the use of a tripod. This allows you to choose the optimal recording location more precisely, you work more calmly and more carefully - all with the aim of achieving the best possible quality. Usually the recordings made with the medium format camera are based on a clear concept or at least a very concrete idea, and you can already see the picture in your mind's eye before you even pick up the camera.

Another step that contributes a lot to more thoughtful photography is focusing. While APS and full format photography rely mostly on the intelligence of the autofocus system, manual focusing is more common in medium format photography. You also take more time for this, knowing that you have a smaller depth of field available with the longer focal lengths and thus less reserve of focus. "Focus peaking" is a great help for manual focusing, although it is state-of-the-art today and enables precise focusing on practically all camera models. You play it safe everywhere, which is characterized by a careful workflow in better image quality.

Michel Jaussi often takes photos with his Hasselblad for industrial customers, here for the “Air Liquid” group. "In industrial photography you never know what a picture will be used for later, which is why the highest quality is required here," explains Michel Jaussi. "In addition, a very high contrast has to be managed in this case, with the greatest possible dynamic range being an advantage."

 

Third, the psychological factor

Many medium-format photographers will only admit that with a smile, but it makes a much more professional impression on the customer if you come along with a medium-format camera than with an APS or 35mm camera, of which the customer may still own the better and more expensive model .

Although the larger and more expensive camera is not a record of performance, it does indicate a certain successful career, which made it possible to invest in more expensive equipment for better quality images. However, the image quality then delivered must also withstand the more expensive equipment, because in many cases today the customer is himself a «photographer», who can judge it very well.

That is why it is not so awkward at all if you show an overview of your equipment on your website. In one case or another, this could be the deciding factor in whether you are awarded a contract.

Micha Riechsteiner works primarily in advertising and commercial photography and uses Phase One most often. “We work a lot with agencies and had to find out that depending on the job, it is expected that you work with a medium format camera,” says Micha Riechsteiner. “We were also impressed by the dynamic range, color depth and color rendering, as well as the central shutter for fast flash times”.

 

Which camera?

Medium format is not just medium format. In contrast to the APS-C and full format cameras, the medium format cameras differ more clearly in terms of design, size, weight and technical performance. Basically, we differentiate between four different designs:

The box shape. It goes back to the ancestor Hasselblad and the 1940s, with a shape that is given by a large mirror box with vertical view and an attached film magazine or digital back. Today's representatives of this type are, for example, the Hasselblad H6D, Phaseone XF and the Pentax 645.

The SLR form. It is a descendant of the classic 35mm SLR camera that has been popular since the 1930s. The mirror box with pentaprism and the two bulges on the side, which originally housed the film cartridge and the take-up reel, provides the basic shape. The housings are usually very ergonomic and suitable for handheld photography, even with longer exposure times. The most important representative of this type is the Leica S.

The mirrorless. Following the trend in APS-C and full format cameras, various mirrorless medium format cameras have recently come onto the market, most notably the Fujifilm GFX series and the Hasselblad X 1D. No mirror box, which is expensive and space-consuming to manufacture, but a display and monitor as a viewfinder. It can be assumed that other mirrorless cameras will also follow in the case of medium format cameras.

The adjustable view camera. It originally goes back to the view camera with bellows and optical bench (Sinar, Linhof, etc.), but the small sensor and the shorter focal lengths made the long extension unnecessary. The horizontal and vertical displacement option of the lens to compensate for perspective has remained and is unique. Today's representatives are Alpa and Arca Swiss. The usual digital backs are used on the cameras.

While the DSLR shape, the mirrorless ones and cameras with the box shape are (to a limited extent) suitable for free-hand use and reportage photography, box cameras and view cameras are mostly used for static photography in the studio or outdoors from a tripod. Here, too, the following applies: the larger the sensor format, the larger and heavier the cameras and lenses, especially those with high light intensities and zoom lenses. The latter are rarely used with these types of cameras. It is mainly worked with qualitatively better optimized and more powerful fixed focal lengths, while zoom lenses for cameras of the DSLR form are still popular because of their more diverse application possibilities and compact construction methods.

Oliver Wehrli prefers to photograph natural landscapes with the Fujifilm GFX 50s. “A printed photo one meter wide is simply different from a photo that is 1200 pixels wide. Such a print is a lot more impressive and only then does the quality of the recording really come into its own. " 

 

Conclusion

The market for digital cameras has changed massively in recent years, mainly due to advances in sensor technology. Today sensors can be produced more cheaply (due to lower reject rates) and larger. This has given full-format cameras in particular, but also medium-format cameras, e.g. Fuji GFX, a boost. The cameras have become cheaper, more affordable and are increasingly being sold in the amateur sector.

Medium format cameras have become cheaper, are gaining more and more acceptance in the market with better image quality and are thus bringing digital photography to an (even) higher level in terms of quality. However, with the increasingly better full-frame cameras and comparable resolution sizes, a frosty wind is blowing against them, with the advantage that they are not only more compact and handy, but also significantly cheaper. The decisive factor here is the number of pieces, because APS-C and full-format cameras are mass products, while most medium-format cameras are manufactured in manual or small series with - in relation to the quantity - very high development and production costs.

Whether you stick with your APS-C or full format camera or whether you switch to medium format is ultimately decided by your wallet or the order situation, as medium format cameras are several times more expensive - quality has its price.

In order to experience the medium format feeling for yourself and to be able to make a qualitative comparison with the existing equipment, it is worth renting a medium format camera for a few days. Should you then decide to buy, then in most cases the rental costs will be waived.

Urs Tillmanns