The DSLR is dead. Let’s be completely, bluntly, a million times honest with that statement. Does it hurt to hear that? Okay, sometimes blunt love hurts. But we’re humans; we recover and move on. When tech experts and YouTubers looking to hype you up with a polarizing headline say DSLRs are dead, they’re referring to APS-C and Full-Frame 35mm cameras. And that’s indeed true. Those kinds of DSLRs are dead. There are some I’m very nostalgic for. Unfortunately, for the most part, they’re on the way out. But, I’m talking about medium format DSLRs.
Medium Format DSLRs aren’t the difference between the Grizzly Bear and the Kodiak. They’re more akin to the difference between a Big Horn Sheep and a Domestic Sheep. The loud clank of their shutters are synonymous to the crash of rams battling over the rights to breed.
Heck, a mirrorless camera capable of using 67 format lenses could’ve surely been made. I would’ve considered buying one.
There are the options from Phase One that I’ve used and liked over the years. Phase One packed a bountiful harvest of fantastic technology into them, but has also remained mostly quiet. Hasselblad has seemingly abandoned medium format DSLRs in favor of mirrorless cameras, and I don’t blame them. But neither of these brands has the cameras I’m truly nostalgic for.
Let’s get into the first one: Pentax. Every time I hear their name, I have mixed feelings. There’s the Pentax Spotmatic camera that lives in my closet and is overshadowed by my Leicas. There’s the DSLR company that somehow refuses to believe that DSLRs are dead. And then there are the medium format DSLRs they made that still make me drool. Those cameras were awesome, and I remember Pentax’s Charge of the Light Brigade to capture the wedding photography world. They ultimately became the Tasmanian Tiger: every now and then people claim to have one but we never see them. That’s because Fujifilm basically came in and dominated the category.
I occasionally look into our archives at photos I’ve shot with the Pentax 645Z and Pentax 645D. Both were fantastic. But both cameras encourage me to go into lots of post-production, which Fujifilm doesn’t really do. I sincerely wish Pentax had continued to innovate or perhaps found a way to use their awesome 67 format lenses. Heck, a mirrorless camera capable of using 67 format lenses could’ve surely been made. I would’ve considered buying one.
Then there’s the odd player in medium format DSLRs: Leica. Have you ever held the Leica S2, Leica S, or the Leica S3? They’re like bigger versions of the Canon 5D Mk II. If you shoot mirrorless cameras and have shot long enough to remember the contour of the 5D in your hands, then you’ll understand what I’m saying. Holding a Canon 5D Mk II made you feel like you could shoot anything that was thrown at you. It inspired confidence the Nikon D700 failed to provide. The Leica S series delivered almost as much of an inflated sense of self.
Add onto that the fact that the S2 basically had the M9’s sensor but much larger. So you’d get the slide film look larger than full frame 35mm.
Then there’s the absolutely crucial thing so many manufacturers overlooked for years. Those viewfinders made it easy for visually impaired photographers to see better. I vividly remember being in one of Canon’s meetings and feeling disregarded because I couldn’t easily see through their viewfinders. Medium format DSLRs didn’t have that issue, let alone the big, beautiful viewfinders of the analog medium format SLR cameras. Peering into those felt synonymous with the Hollywood scene of a mystic peering into a crystal ball. Suddenly, the foggy and cloudy world came into focus and I could see my subject.
In some ways, I still miss that clarity. It was like trying on newer, stronger prescription eyeglasses and being able to read the sign across the street for the first time in years.