What Is A Medium Format Camera And Why You Need To Know About It

What is a medium format camera | Food Photography Blog

What is a medium format camera | Food Photography Blog

At this point, we have 1000’s of camera options available to us. In this post, I’m going to talk about the camera system I use for all my advertising jobs – and it’s not what you think.

In case you’re wondering, this is NOT a sponsored post and these manufacturers are not endorsing me for this post. I’m simply sharing info about what gear I use. Also, images used are from the manufacturers and used with permission.

We actually have several different camera systems now:

  • Point and Shoot – Can’t change lenses
  • DSLR – Digital Single Lens Reflex – you can change lenses
  • The newer Mirrorless cameras – MILC – Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera
  • Medium format cameras – Remember older Hasselblads?
  • Medium format Mirrorless cameras
  • Large format cameras – 4×5 and 8×10 camera (think Ansel Adams)
  • Technical cameras (used by landscape and architectural photographers)

The camera system I use for all my ad work is the medium format camera and occasionally the 4×5 large format camera. I need to break this down though. When using this particular type of system, we now have two different components. You have the actual digital camera body, and here’s the expensive part, the digital sensor is in a separate device called a digital back that latches onto the camera body.

The reason why I have to use this camera system is because many ad agencies and publishers require very large images. Some even go so far as to dictate that you must use a high resolution digital back with a minimum of 39mp. The reason for this, besides a great quality image is your clients want cropping flexibility with your image, so the larger the file, the more cropping options they have.

You need to be aware of this gear in case you want to go after the bigger jobs, with ad agencies that pay a lot more money. Your smaller DSLR cameras will not be good enough, unfortunately for a lot of these jobs. When starting out, it is perfectly fine to rent these cameras from higher end equipment rental houses, and many photographers do this instead of buying one.

Digital Back | Food Photography Blog

Image by Paul Reiffer

We have several options for the medium format camera, and we have several options for the digital back – but not as many options as the DSLRs.

The Medium Format Camera Body

I use two different medium format camera systems, depending on what I am doing. As food photographers, many times we are locked down on set on a tripod, and nothing will be moving on our set. This is one of the easiest ways to take pictures.

When I am on a locked down set, that is when I use a camera system that was designed to give you a ton of lens movement controls (swings, tilts, and shifts). You have to use it on a tripod. It’s huge. It is no longer made though. It’s a Fuji Film GX 680 system. You can get this used on ebay still, and that’s what I did years ago.

Medium Format Camera Behind The Scenes | Food Photography Blog

This is my set up for a still shot, no movement and no people in the scene. This is my Fujifilm GX 680 with a Phase One Digital back.

The other system I use is much newer, but doesn’t have any lens movement controls. I use the Hasselblad H series medium format camera. When I need this camera, I usually rent it from my digital tech.

This system is autofocus and has tons of bells and whistles. So, if I am doing an image with a person in it, I’ll use this camera system and put my Phase One digital back onto it. When I need a second set for images on white, I’ll use this camera as well.

As it doesn’t have lens controls (that means swings and tilts), I will often have to do what’s called Image Stacking in order to get everything in focus. This is where you take several pictures in a row, where you move through the focus of your image. You then use software to stitch all those images together. I like to use Helicon Focus to do this.

Hasselblad H6 Medium Format Camera | Food Photography Blog

The actual camera body is not that much comparatively speaking to the digital back or the lens. And the lenses are pricey too, as much as $8,000 – $15000 and up. I just rent the various lenses that I need when I don’t have what I need.

The Medium Format Digital Back

The digital back is the item housing the huge sensor that you need to take pictures with your camera. There are only a few major players in this field. They are: Phase One/Mamiya Leaf, Hasselblad, and Sinar. Phase One acquired the manufacturer Mamiya/Leaf. Mamiya Leaf do have their own brand under Phase One.

Unfortunately, all this equipment is very expensive. I bought my digital back used several years ago for $10,000. The newest backs are about $45,000 – that’s right, that’s not an extra zero. You can however get great digital backs that are used.

There is only a certain type of photographer that uses these systems, and there aren’t a lot of us. Because of this, the prices are very high for this type of equipment. There just aren’t enough people buying them to bring down the price like the DSLR cameras so buying a used option is always a great choice here.

Phase One Achromatic Digital Back

This is the achromatic back – for black and white images at very high resolution.

In the image above you can see how huge the sensors are.

My digital back is now considered older, but I love it and the images it captures are wonderful. I have the P45+ and it has a 39mp sensor. Phase One’s newest back is the IQ4 with a huge 150mp file size! When you process that file out, it will be about 450mb.

Now, I do need to clarify something here. The large file size is just one perk with these digital backs. What you are really paying for is the quality of the digital file, not just the size.

Phase One IQ3 Digital Back | Food Photography Blog

So that’s just a little introduction into the medium format camera world. Yes, they are pricey. Don’t panic –  keep in mind that you can always rent them until you’ve shot enough jobs to buy one. With advertising jobs they have budgets for equipment rental.

Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below.

The post What Is A Medium Format Camera And Why You Need To Know About It was written by Christina Peters and appeared first on Food Photography Blog - Food Photography Tips & Tricks from a Pro Food Shooter.

What Is A Medium Format Camera And Why You Need To Know About It