Like many of you, I enjoyed Bob's take on medium format. For 50 years (actually 48, but who cares?), I was a devoted Nikon shooter, with adjunct camera systems such as 4 x 5 view cameras and Hasselblad digital.
Times change and so does one's photographic journey. I've shot for National Geographic and dozens of publications and often had to shoot fast on deadline. But I've slowed down over the years and I now approach my artistic passion with a different set of eyes. So, about four years ago I made the switch to the medium format (MF) Fujifilm GFX system. I sold every last one of my Nikon bodies and lenses and just jumped into MF full tilt.
It was not a spontaneous decision. I owned Hasselblad MF (H4D) for years and, quite frankly, did not like it for my work, primarily travel, landscapes and wildlife. It was too bulky, heavy and quirky for my taste and often did not perform well at very cold temps.
I tried the Hassey X1D and did not like it for whatever reasons. When Fujifilm GFX was released I tried it for a few weeks and fell in love with it. For my purposes, it is the finest camera I have ever owned in terms of my specific needs. It fits me like a glove. Actually, this is not a blanket endorsement of the GFX, as every photographer has to make the decision on MF based on his or her own requirements, likes and dislikes.
What I want to mention is why I chose MF at all. Here are a few of the reasons, as well as a video I did on YouTube a couple of years ago concerning the Fujifilm GFX 100.
General Pluses of MF
Dynamic Range. I read or talk with people about the difference between 35mm and MF and they invariably mention the greater dynamic range in passing. To me, this is not just a passing issue. DR is important for my art and business. I make very large prints and murals. I don't want to spend inordinate amounts of time post-processing to remove noise from shadows.
Lenses. Fujinon lenses are legendary, with edge-to-edge sharpness, and no discernible color fall-off. Similarly, the Hasselblad and Phase One lenses are wonderful.
Files. In our studio we mostly print big. A 13 x 19" print would be considered small for us. 40 x 60" is common, but we also print a good amount of panos that are up to 30 feet wide (10 meters). The resolution and pixel density of the MF files can carry those fabulous prints. The MF files are quite different from their 35mm counterparts with hugely more pixels and softer gradations so that the "digital look" is non-existent.
Flexibility. I can no longer speak for Hassy and have never owned a Phase One or Pentax, but as far as the GFX MF system, I have never seen a MF system that has the flexibility that the GFX has. I have programmable buttons for everything I face out in the field. Now, I have seen criticism of the GFX for its menu system. Come on now! Every single digital camera on the market has people complaining about the menu system. Cameras today simply can do so much more than any one photographer will ever use, so cameras have to be programmed to cover the entire range of use. That introduces complexity to any and every system. Period. My advice? Stop whining and spend time reading your manuals and practicing.
General Negatives of MF
Heavier. Yes, the systems - camera plus lenses - are heavier, but less so than is commonly believed. If you are currently using a full-frame Canon or Nikon, you will hardly notice the difference in bodies. The lenses do tend to be heavier. Truthfully, I cannot hand-hold my GFX with the 250mm lens attached and get consistently sharp images, even with its excellent 5-stop image stabilization.
Slower. If you are looking for 50 frames per second, fuggedaboudit! You might get 3-10 frames/second with a new MF camera (my GFX gets 5). MF tends to slow you down. But that makes for a more mindful photographer, a net positive in my opinion. It forces you to look around more, creating more Zen moments that, at least for me, translates into pure joy.
Expensive. You certainly have to think twice, and contemplate being served with divorce papers, if you spend a minimum of $20,000 for a Fujifilm GFX 100 system, body and a lens or two included. Go for Phase One or Hassy and $40-60,000 will allow you to enter the palace... back door only until you amass another few lenses.
I know I've only touched on a few issues in my attempt to generalize the MF debate. Please feel free to leave your comments here and weigh in with your opinions, observations and recommendations.
What is clear about this thread is that people have suited their needs to a tee. with all the choices, budgets, pros, amateurs, etc, everyone seems to have gotten what works best for them. I have spent 50 years as a commercial professional, 34 in my own studio, and shot mostly with a 5x7 Linhoff using a 4x5 back. First Hasselblads, then a Mamiya 6x4.5 with everything they had. I still have this, I still use a 6x9 Brooks Veriwide with, a Schnider 5.6 90mm , but a Nikon 810 gets the paid work done. I am mostly retired, but still shoot tires on a regular basis. I have Leicas, Deardorfs, Graphics and more. There never will be one do it all camera
Great article. And interestingly, right now I'm testing a GFX 50s II that Fujifilm was kind on lending for a week. I have the "kit" lens and the macro 120mm. This is 50 meg sensor but it blew me away with the details. And the so called "kit" lens is better than most of my Canon L glass. I too think dynamic range is critical for my work so I'm looking forward to when I will be able to get this nice camera. This is a more affordable entry into Fujifilm medium format.