Here’s Why Modern Medium Format Cameras Need Faster, Better Lenses

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We’ve been saying it for years not, but the current digital medium format isn’t really “true medium format.” At least, it’s not the same as film. In purely digital photography, you can arguably consider the Fujifilm GF system to be a digital large format. However, the camera systems need faster aperture lenses. Luckily, we’ve started to see strides made by Fujifilm and Hasselblad. But I don’t really think it’s enough. The arguments have to do with the traditional medium format.

Medium Format Cameras and Sensors

Here’s a graph we made years ago. Full frame 35mm sensors are fairly small. They’re the size of a single piece of 35mm film. Most mirrorless medium format sensors are pretty small. By all means, they had to be to make them so small overall. But as you can see, they’re only a bit larger than full-frame cameras. Full frame 645 imaging sensors are larger. Even beyond that, true 645 film is even bigger. For the record, 645 is the smallest type of medium format you can get on 120 film.

We’ve already got an 80mm f1.7. That’s wonderful. So what could we get? Well, I looked at the Contax 645 medium format system. And technically speaking, Fujifilm has outdone them already when you look at the 645 world. Contax had an 80mm f2. Fuji has an 80mm f1.7. Contax had a 35mm f3.5, and Fuji made a 30mm f3.5. If you compare and focus on the medium format world, Fuji has got them beat. But they can probably go even further. What’s more, they can also probably take on 35mm full-frame even harder. 

Amazingly, the Fuji 80mm f1.7 is pretty lightweight. It’s under 2lbs, according to our review. Here’s another important section:

“Surprisingly, it’s not as heavy as it looks. Weighing in at 1.75lbs, it actually balanced well on the GFX 100S we tested it with. The lens is roughly 4.5-inches long, and you’ll add another 2.5-inches when you attach the lens hood. In terms of diameter, this lens is roughly 3.75-inches.”

The Future Ahead

Theoretically, faster medium format lenses should be possible. Currently, there are f1.7 lenses with autofocus. But why can’t we get f1.4 or f1.5 lenses? If you’re thinking about this from a traditional medium format, you’d say I’m crazy. However, as you can see, GFX and Hasselblad aren’t really medium format. It gets even more complicated, though. What if you wanted smaller lenses? Well, you can’t have a fast aperture and small lenses together. Unfortunately, these fast aperture lenses are going to have to be big unfortunately. 

However, Fujifilm has been known to do some pretty incredible things. Look at their entire f2 lineup of lenses for the X series. The closest thing in GF format would be the 30mm f3.5 GF lens. But here’s my question: why can’t they all be f2.8 lenses instead?

This would help us keep the ISO levels down, balance out the size, and do a bunch of other things. According to MMCalc, a 30mm f2.8 lens would be like 24mm f2.2 lens in full-frame equivalence. That’s, of course, for the depth of field analysis. However, the lens is still 30mm. And it’s also still an f2.8. 

I think that both Fujifilm and Hasselblad can do it. In terms of autofocus, Hasselblad is still almost a decade behind. But Fujifilm has almost caught up with Sony and Canon when it comes to autofocus speed. Of course, Sony and Canon have far more advanced systems with autofocus and AI. I’d love to see that come to Fuji.

If you’re wondering where this article came from, you folks typed it into our search bar. But more than that, one of our staffers, Brittany, has been considering a switch to the GFX system. And in the past, I too have considered it.

Chris Gampat

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