“Medium-format Quality” 35mm camera systems? Not really.

Inspiration, Q&A, Teaching point

Not too long ago, 36MP digital sensors were introduced into 35mm cameras.  Not too long after that, many photographers (including some well respected ones) proclaimed that these pixel-rich 35mm cameras could produce “medium-format quality” images.

I don’t subscribe to this view, at least when it comes to portrait photography.

If you examine the images I’ve taken with the Mamiya RZ67 (6 x 7 medium format film), you will note that they look more “true to life” as compared to images from 35mm cameras (digital or film).   The tonal transitions are subtler, the separation of subject matter from the background is more natural, and the overall rendering is somehow “more grand” than 35mm camera images (like these ones from the Nikon D800E + Zeiss Otus – a supposed “medium-format-quality” producing combination).

Even the Pentax 645D, a camera that possesses a digital sensor that is only a little bit larger than the one in the D800E, somehow produces “grander” images (but not as “grand” or true-to-life as the larger 6 x 7 film “sensor” in the Mamiya RZ67).

As I’ve written before, sensor size matters:

 

Sensor Size Comparison - Photographs by Peter Prosophos

So, if you’re looking for a medium format look (at least with respect to portraiture), you will not get it from a Nikon D800E/D810, or Sony A7R, etc.

If you’re looking for medium format resolution, that’s another story…

—Peter.

4 thoughts on ““Medium-format Quality” 35mm camera systems? Not really.

  1. Peter, you always spring a surprise!
    ….And this direct/straight comparing says it all-speaks for itself! Thank you!

    In my humble opinion, we try to copy nature, for example: a good instrument that pleases, has a sound that comes “near” to the natural human voice(= the best instrument ever!)…
    the same with photography: as you mentioned, the MF and here especially the M 67 has this capability to transport more ” true to life”.

    Yesterday, when I saw your photo “the beautiful game-break” i compared it to “seven”. Peter, you know I love my M9 for its qualities and I thought you are also a 35-Wizard/Master-my respect, you did squeeze the best out of it, but I feel/see a little more life in “seven”: the photo is so true, if it would be my son, you want to touch his back of the head and wish him the best for his birthday( I hope everybody understands this in the right meaning) just by looking at the photo by its “truth-fulness” …so true is this photo!

    Very good to have you back with such power!

    I have a lot of dreams: one is: a Leica with 6×7 and CCD: Leica MF, the copy of life..without dreams life would be poorer! 🙂

    best wishes,
    Andreas

  2. A good point, and so graphically made when you see the ‘real estate’. Lenses make a difference of course, but I wonder what difference the medium makes: you are not just comparing formats for portraiture, but sensor v emulsion, ad if CCD v CMOS makes a difference to your eye, could we not put some of that tonal gradation and subject separation stuff down to the medium? All things being equal however, the ‘sensor’ size argument makes sense regardless of medium.

  3. Hi Peter, a small side note, but still related to sensor size – hope you don’t mind me asking in this thread. Have you tried the Fuji X-T1? I have seen some images taken with it and the 56mm 1.2, that look quite spectacular in rendering. What do you think of this combo, although not full frame? I’m seroiusly starting to consider it over a Nikon full frame – can’t afford Leica unfortunately. 😉 The Fujinon 23mm 1.4 is also suppose to be very good, so those to lenses with a X-T1 would make a great light setup.
    Thanks, Mads

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