Buying a Medium Format Camera? This Is What You’re Diving Into

Those getting a Medium format camera will want to know precisely what they’re dealing with.

Photographers, as we know, are very used to what full-frame cameras can do. But they’re not so used to medium format because it’s not as common. A medium format camera is fundamentally a whole different ball game. For starters, you’re going up in pricing and quality. And a photographer will expect the absolute ultimate performance, but they also probably don’t know how to make the most of it. Medium format cameras traditionally were only used for weddings, documentary journalism, landscapes, and portraiture. In some ways today, that’s still the case, but it’s evolved.

We’ve been reviewing medium format cameras for many years. And some of the significant differences that we’ve found are the following:

  • Lenses are slower, both in autofocus speed and aperture.
  • The cameras and lenses are more immense than full-frame.
  • The image quality is a whole lot better: deeper colors, more detail, sharper output, more dynamic range, better high ISO output.

Just to show you what we’re talking about, check out the infographic below. We created this infographic a long time ago to help photographers understand the format differences. It compares the Fujifilm GF format to full-frame 645 and 35mm. For clarity, the GF format is the same as Hasselblad’s X1D series cameras. They’re indeed larger than full-frame, but they’re not the full 645 format. 645 is a much older format that’s arguably the pinnacle of commercial photography. Many years ago, 645 format was used for weddings a lot. If you pick up a 645 film camera, you’ll really appreciate what it can do.

Another big thing to realize is the reverse crop factor. In fact, much of the differences happen with the lenses. In the 645 format, an 80mm lens is considered a normal focal length. But in a 35mm full frame, a 50mm is normal. That’s different from APS-C, which rates 35mm at around a normal focal length. See what’s happening? As the format gets smaller, the standard gets shorter. This also means that you can get wider focal lengths with shallower depth of field. That’s a look that photographers work hard for. Commonly called the Brenizer effect, it combines a ton of photos together. After stitching them together, you get the look of a medium format camera. It’s very, very fun. And it’s also only a matter of time until a phone’s portrait mode can do that.

Below are images from our Fujifilm GFX 50R review. They were shot with the 45mm f2.8. But if you’ve been shooting for a while, you’ll notice that they look like they were shot a bit wider. They feel almost like a 35mm. That’s what the reverse crop factor does.

The images below were shot with the 64mm f4 lens. But they totally don’t look like a 64mm lens on full frame. They look much wider. Again, that’s what a medium format lens and sensor do together.

Below is an even better example. These photos are from the Fujifilm 23mm f4 lens for the GF format. You’d probably try to equate it to a 24mm full frame lens. But if you know the focal length, then you understand that these images are much wider. They seem almost 18mm. So you have to get up close and personal or further away. It’s a great focal length for telling a story.

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Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.