If the trends in medium format photography have been any indication at all, then the idea of getting a truly large 645 medium format sensor is something to truly aspire to, but what most professional photographers may never accomplish. Years ago, back when film was king in photography, the 645 medium format size was something of a joke in some circles of photography. In photojournalism, it was a format valued for its smaller size yet larger negative than what 35mm film offered. Many professionals tended to want to reach for the 6×7 format instead. At this size, the photographer got a larger negative yet still retained a manageable size to work with. Photojournalistic applications tended to favor the 645 format.
But today, it sincerely seems like we’ve got what I’d like to call a new 645 format in some ways. At least that’s what Photokina 2016 makes it seem like.
You see, the trend in medium format digital photography has been to give you something that can work with medium format film cameras, or something that can work accordingly with a new system camera. They just couldn’t really get a large 645 format sensor and make it profitable for a long time. Very recently in photography’s timeline though, it became possible and the likes of Phase One and Hasselblad have it in some of their cameras. But for the most part, photographers have been stuck with something much smaller.
Is it larger than full frame 35mm? Yes. But it’s not near full frame 645 at all. Instead, digital medium format photography seems to want to emphasize the use of smaller medium format sensors over going larger. It’s still going to be very attractive to photojournalists and professional photographers that don’t work for agencies.
In many ways, it’s also a smart move. Trying to compete in the full frame category is tough right now when Sony, Nikon, and Canon are doing quite well there, and Pentax is now going to also do pretty well according to sales trends. Why then would Fujifilm and Hasselblad try to compete? Still though, even as a Fujifilm customer myself, the idea of a full frame X Trans sensor sounds remarkable and if the Fujifilm GFX 50S had an X Trans sensor at it’s heart, my bank account would be much smaller.
With the announcements of the Hasselblad X1D and the Fujifilm GFX 50S, we’re going to see this continuing trend. We’re going to keep seeing something being billed as medium format–and truthfully it is because it’s larger than 35mm. Though according to the conventional standards of photography, you should consider that even the size of a piece of Fujifilm Instax film is larger.
These new cameras are doing what just wasn’t possible for medium format in a long time. They’re making the camera format accessible while also finding a way to make it compact and mirrorless. By all accounts so far, they’re doing a pretty terrific job. These cameras are targeted at working professionals and also at the high end enthusiast with loads of money to blow. You’re getting something capable of delivering higher quality than a 35mm sensor and continues to add distinction between what phones are capable of and what dedicated digital cameras can do.
By all means, these cameras are sure to succeed where Pentax seemed to fail in terms of acquiring a large enough market share.
What I’d urge all photographers drooling over these cameras to do is to try something else: go pick up a cheap 6×7, 6×6, or 645 film camera body and shoot at least 10 rolls of film. See what you’re missing with an even larger format. Know that its it’s own beast, but also understand that what’s possible with a larger negative is something magical–and if that space were offered in a digital sensor, you’d have something that allows a real creative to do some outstanding work.