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How Are Medium Format Cameras Different Than Regular Cameras?

If you’ve always shot with a smaller format camera, like an APS-C, you might have spent a lot of time daydreaming about shooting with a full-frame camera; and for obvious reasons. But full-frame cameras aren’t the last word in photography. Medium format cameras are what many professional photographers crave. In this video, photographer Karl Taylor clears up many of the misconceptions surrounding these cameras and justifies why a medium format camera is a better buy in the longer run, even with the stiff price tag:

Camera Size

Pick up any medium format camera and the first obvious thing you’ll notice is the size of the camera. Medium format cameras give off the feeling of a Humvee parked near an SUV. Comparing with a smaller format camera, well, actually there is no comparison—period. The reason for the bulk is the larger sensor that sits inside the camera. Larger sensors, in turn, require larger lenses to fill up the larger area with light.

Medium format lenses are optically superior.

Advantages of a Larger Sensor

A larger sensor has a larger area to gather light and the pixels are not so tightly packed as in a smaller format sensor.  The larger sensor area means the individual pixels can be larger, too. For example, on a 50 megapixel Hasselblad CMOS camera, the pixel size is about 5.3 microns. Compare that to the pixel size on a standard high resolution DSLR and the size is about 4.14 microns. Thus, low light performance is much better, because the signal to noise ratio is favorable. In plain English that translates to 28 percent greater light capturing capacity.

Medium Format vs. Full-Frame DSLR Sensor Size

But that’s not all. A larger sensor provides much greater dynamic range, which gives a larger transitional tonal value, greater tonal accuracy, and better color accuracy. The dynamic range on a medium format camera is 14-stops more than that of a DSLR! The images shot are true 16-bit.

Dynamic range on a medium format camera is 14-stops higher.

A larger sensor provides room to produce larger lenses, which are easier to make, and thus the optical quality of such lenses is superior. Add to this the benefit that medium format lenses can deliver a shallower depth of field when compared to full-frame DSLRs at the same aperture settings. Even at smaller apertures the quality of the images produced are sharp and devoid of diffraction, thanks to the superior optical quality.

Medium format cameras produce greater depth of field.

Weather Sealing

The medium format camera is an absolute dream to shoot in a studio environment. But what about outdoors and in inclement weather? Taylor reassures us that these cameras are made to be all-weather tools. He takes his Hasselblad to some of the most testing environments.

Taylor’s Hasselblad is a all-weather camera.

Flash Sync Speed

A problem studio photographers have to work their way around on a regular basis when shooting with full-frame DSLRs is the flash sync-speed limitation. You’re pretty much limited to what you can do without any extra tools. With an internal leaf shutter inside a medium format lens, this limitation no longer weighs you down. Meaning, you can be a lot more creative shooting with strobes or flashes.

The leaf shutter in the a medium format lens means there’s no flash sync-speed limitation.

Low Light Performance

The Hasselblad Taylor shoots with has incredible low light performance. The images shot are devoid of grain whatsoever. The image below was shot at ISO 800 and then printed at 6 meters tall with no evident grain.

Images shot with a medium format are practically noiseless.

Pricing

The biggest drawback to upgrading to a medium format camera is pricing. You can’t deny the fact that these cameras are anything but cheap. However, these cameras are designed to deliver images that are truly off the charts. They’re meant to be tools for the professional who needs the ultimate system for delivering the best quality images day after day.

What’s your dream camera?

[via PictureCorrect]

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