Archivi categoria: mediumformat

Review: The Fujifilm GFX 50S is the Lamborghini of Medium Format

Quick history lesson. The original Lamborhini motor vehicle wasn’t the supercar you know today. They were tractors. Yes, tractors. Full-fledged farm-going vehicular tools.

Ferruccio Lamborghini always loved cars and owned Ferraris, but he hated the quality of them. Frustrated, he approached Enzo Ferrari and gave him a piece of his mind and told him how to improve his cars. Enzo’s response went something like, “Leave the car making to me, you stick to making tractors.” Batman now drives a Lamborghini Aventador.

Fast forward and cross universes to cameras. The giants such as Hasselblad and Phase One have been untouchable and left alone to rule the medium format world for some time. Sure, there’s Pentax and Leica, but it’s more like buying a Mazda Miata or a 4-door Porsche — it’s not what you think of when sports car or medium format camera comes to mind. But here we are with Fujifilm, originally a film company, pulling a move like Ferruccio Lamborghini; they’re opening the doors to somewhere that’s otherwise been locked for what feels like all of eternity.

Phase One makes amazing medium formats that few ever touch but all hope and dream of. Hasselblad is quite similar but have introduced something that seemed ground-breaking, a mirrorless medium format in the Hasselblad X1D. Now, just like Ferruccio answered to Enzo Ferrari, Fujifilm has brought out the Fujifilm GFX 50S.

Will this be a classic like the Lamborghini Diablo? Or is this a Mazda Miata in disguise? Well, I’ve got the keys and this is what I’ve learned.

Body Design and Ergonomics

I’ve got mixed feelings on this one. When you look at the X-Pro2, you think rangefinder. When you look at the X-T2, you think old film SLR. When I look at this, I don’t think retro medium format camera. It looks like an X-T2 that got a medium format sensor back permanently attached to the back of it. Now to be honest, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this. This is a professional camera with professional pricing so function should take priority over form. It just feels like an area that didn’t get the attention that it deserved given Fujifilm’s recent history of creating cameras that are as beautiful to look at as they are to use.

But here’s the thing about the looks of this camera: you completely forget about it the moment you hold it and to take a shot. The grip is extremely comfortable with a generous cutout for your middle finger, and don’t even get me started on how good the thumb grip is on the back of the camera. Fully customizable buttons mean this camera makes logical sense to its owner.

Although it seemed awkward at first, the side loading battery is a really nice touch for those times you’re swapping batteries on a tripod; it doesn’t save a lot of time but it’s welcomed. The C setting on the lens is huge plus too. As much as I love the aperture rings on Fujinon lenses, sometimes there is piece of mind knowing you won’t accidentally twist it.

But on to that EVF. To be honest, this is the feature that blows everyone away when I show them this camera. No one expects it to come off because it looks and functions like an extension of the body rather than an ugly appendage after thought. Can’t say the same for other mirrorless cameras with removable EVFs.

Being able to remove the viewfinder completely, add a tilt adapter, or use it in typical fashion allows the camera to be tailored to any situation for size and comfort. I absolutely love using the tilt adapter set vertically so I can get the camera low to the ground. Of course you could use the tilting LCD but at 1PM in the afternoon on a cloudless sky, using any back LCD to judge exposure or focus is near impossible.

My only issue with the camera’s design? The neck strap mounts. This is the one part of the camera that feels retro and I wish it didn’t. While in theory, having a adapter that quick disconnects the neck strap is a great system, two issues arise. Neck straps get extremely twisted because they’re able to spin freely on its post. Secondly, if you’re using a wrist strap and connect it to one post, it puts a lot of tension on that adapter and it seems like after time the adapter is going to bend.

The Sensor

This sensor is huge, there’s no doubt about that. But it’s important to understand why this larger sensor is so awesome. It’s resolution, dynamic range, and highly subjective but always talked about “medium format look”.

Image quality. Larger sensor, larger pixels, and greater signal-to-noise ratio equals sharper images with far more detail than you could ever want. Take a look at the following image. Then take a look at the image next to it that it was cropped from. It’s one thing to make a high megapixel camera, but it’s another thing to make one that looks good when zoomed in way past 100%.

Dynamic range. Unreal is the only word that comes to mind. Really, it feels like you’re cheating. With this camera you’re able to pull out detail from the darkest shadows with no noise at all. What this means is I’m now able to shoot natural light and forego using a light for fill because there is just so much data in these RAW files. Just take a look below and see what bumping the exposure by 5 stops in Lightroom does.

Medium Format Look. Ask four people what the medium format look is and you’ll get five different answers. In my experience with this camera, my subjects look almost as if they’re standing in front of a fake background. The longer focal length lenses used in medium format compress more of the background into a single plane and my subjects “pop” out of the image in front of that background. Moving from X-Series APS-C cameras this difference feels pretty pronounced. From a Canon full-frame camera, not as much so, but it’s still there.

So in a nutshell, that’s the Fujifilm GFX 50S first impressions. Looks good on paper. Results seem to back it up. But cameras are about more than specs, pixel peeping, and this isn’t the first medium format camera. Over the past two weeks I’ve packed my schedule with a wide variety of scenarios to see how it handles and here’s what I’ve learned and experienced in each scenario.

Landscape

No, this isn’t a hardcore purist’s landscape photo but I tend to put people in them so you have a sense of size and perspective. The first thing that I felt was the weight of the camera. Similar to my old 5D Mark II, but drastically heavier than their X-Series line means it’s too soon to get rid of those; they still have a place in my backpack. For this hike I used the Peak Design Everyday Backpack 20L which fits a GFX, GF 32-64mm, GF 63mm, vertical grip, EVF + Tilt Adapter, and tripod with lots of extra space.

Unfortunately, the EVF + Tilt Adapter doesn’t fit in this bag while attached to the body. In fact, it didn’t fit in any bag I had at home. The height of the camera increases drastically and the EVF extends back, lengthening the camera body by a good amount. When it came to using the camera I opted to stick with the EVF just because of the sunny conditions that would make seeing the back LCD difficult. I’ve taken shots at this exact spot on many occasions and it takes a lot of adjustments in Lightroom and creative masking in Photoshop to get someone to standout; they easily become lost in the image as the background tends to consume them.

Not with the GFX though, Alicia seemed to stand out from the image more and so did the road to the right of her. The only way I could describe the difference is that the road feels closer than it used to with the XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 on an X-Pro2. Aside from that, the dynamic range just saves you time. You don’t need to shoot multiple exposures and blend them with luminosity masks or use ND filters to blend exposures in camera. I can easily push the shadows slider without the image falling apart, all while maintaining a really natural image.

Backlit

Due to the lack of phase detection autofocus, this was a little trickier. The GFX really needs a contrasty spot to focus on or it won’t focus at all. However, if face detection works, it locks on confidently, but due to the heavy backlight and lack of contrast it doesn’t always do so. Besides the focus, the greatest strength lies in the shadow recovery. I can easily bump up the shadow slider to + 100 in Lightroom and all of the dark areas come back naturally with no noise introduced. Whereas on a older camera with less dynamic range, it would have shifted the image in an ugly way.

Artificial Lighting

A huge let down to many people was the 1/125th of a second sync speed, everyone said it should’ve been higher, but it hasn’t been an issue for me at all. In fact, I’ve had the opposite problem. Getting the depth of field desired could require shooting at a smaller aperture between f/5.6-f/11. In a dark environment like a forest, that could mean dragging the shutter along at 1/30th-1/50th of a second if you’re trying to maintain base ISO for greatest dynamic range. That translates to this camera needing to sit atop a tripod more often than not when shooting with lighting.

But in this camera’s defense, I’ve been able to handhold a few of those shots and get amazingly sharp images without image stabilization. The above shot was taken in a shady baseball dugout on a bright sunny day and the shutter speed was 1/100th of a second with no ND filters used. Of course if she was out in the sun, the sync speed would be an issue but that’s what ND filters are for. With HSS in the near future and global shutters on the somewhat distant horizon, lenses that lack leaf shutters aren’t that big of a deal.

Lifestyle/Commercial

Focus is so important when you’re blowing up these images large and the face detection does that so well. Similarly to the X-Pro2, I put complete faith into the face and eye detection and it nails it every time. If for some reason I can’t use it, the 425 focus points are amazing as well. I’d rather place the AF exactly where I need it rather than focusing and recomposing. Sure, it’s a lot of focus points and using the joystick on the back can be slow, but that’s where the touch screen becomes oh so handy.

I found that taking my face away from the viewfinder and tapping where I want to focus was quicker than using the joystick and slowly moving across the viewfinder to get the right AF point. However, one issue has carried over from the X-Series bodies. When my subject is just a little wider than the AF point, more often than not, the camera will focus on the background instead of my subject. Zooming in and checking focus is easy with the EVF but it’s one thing I wish I wouldn’t have to worry about.

Do You Drop Used Corolla Cash for this Camera?

I need to print large, I need more dynamic range, I have a ton of old medium format lenses to adapt, I just sold my Mom’s Prius without her knowing and I need to burn this cash before she realizes it’s missing. All valid reasons to buy a GFX 50S. Reasons you shouldn’t? I only post on Instagram, I switched to mirrorless because my SLR was causing back and neck problems, I make my living photographing Supercross, I have $200,000 in student loans from grad school.

I know that photography is about the person and not the camera, but with this camera, to a certain degree, it kind of isn’t. The dynamic range is a huge selling point and it changes the way you can shoot entirely. Being able to pull out all of that detail in the shadows with no noise at all is huge. Not only does it speed up the shooting process, it speeds up the post-processing as well. So if you’re someone who sees value in that, which should be every working professional, I would consider jumping ship from whichever brand you’re currently loyal to.

But beside the ease of use and lack of processing required, that medium format look has been a huge gain. I’ve sent some of the photos to the companies I collaborated with for these photos and they’ve asked what I did differently. Exact words were “something special” and “a different type of clarity than you normally produce”. On my end I haven’t done anything different, so if the medium format system does that much for me, I think it’s a way to differentiate yourself from others in a subtle way. You just need to decide if that difference is worth the entry fee.

Is the GFX 50S a Lamborghini?

Undoubtedly yes, it’s a Diablo. Or a Countach. The Fujifilm GFX 50S is the camera that will start to democratize medium format the same way the Canon 5D Mark II democratized film making. Focal plane shutter means you can adapt medium format lenses or full frame lenses and get crazy thing depth of field. Electronic viewfinder, 425 autofocus points, and face detection are all selling points to pull people away from their full frame cameras or their slow medium format DSLR.

Sure, there are some sore spots to some like the sync speed or lack of phase detection autofocus. But at the end of the day when you’re looking at the images on your computer you’ll still tell yourself damn, I just drove a Lamborghini.


About the author: Allan Higa is a Hawaii-based lifestyle and travel photographer. You can find more of his work on his website, or by following him on Facebook and Instagram. This post was also published here.

The Holga 120N is Coming Back from the Dead

After its launch in the early 1980s, Holga cameras became popular options for people looking to shoot medium format 120 film on the cheap. Production was shut down in late 2015, but now the camera is making a comeback: the classic Holga 120N is coming back this year.

Los Angeles-based Freestyle Photographic Supplies writes that the original 120N camera molds were obtained by a factory that’s working to begin manufacturing again.

“We have found a factory that obtained the old molds that we thought to be destroyed and this camera is available once again,” Freestyle writes. “What was thought to be gone forever is back.”

The Holga 120N shoots 120 medium format film and features 2 shooting formats (12 6x6cm images or 16 6×4.5cm images), two shutter speeds (1/100s and bulb), 2 aperture settings (f/11 and f/8), a hot shoe adapter, a standard tripod mount, a cap, and a strap.

Originally introduced to the Chinese public as a cheap everyday camera, the Holga was quickly embraced by photographers who loved the lo-fi look it produced:

You can buy the camera for $40 today from Freestyle, but delivery of the camera won’t happen until after July 9th, 2017.

The Holga 120N is just one of many film products making a comeback in recent days. Other notable revivals include Kodak Ektachrome and FILM Ferrania P30 films.

10 Things I’ve Learned from 10 Years Shooting with a Hasselblad

This year marks the point at which I have been using Hasselblad cameras for over a decade. My first was a 201F in 2007, before moving to a 203FE in 2011 and adding a 202FA in 2015.

They’re the classic 6×6 V series models, although have some additions on the more familiar 500 series that I will get into later. Over the years I’ve put several hundred rolls of film through the various cameras, not a great deal but enough to appreciate the idiosyncrasies inherent in shooting with medium format.

The odd thing about medium format is that some photographers think, and others will tell you, that its purpose is only for studio shooting, product photography, high end fashion, and commercial work. Nonsense. In the previous decade I have used mine for shooting action, travel and road trips, as a walk around camera, for long term project work, and even above 2,000m in peak ski season. I’m certainly not the only one to do this.

Not once have I used these cameras in a formal studio setting… Yet the Hasselblad often gets left at home because, well, I don’t know why. The models of the camera I have feature built in metering, high shutter speeds, instant mirror return, fast lenses. They’re no less of a walk around camera than most DSLRs. So why do they get left at home?

The 203FE and prints from an eight-years-and-counting work in progress

I think the reason the camera gets left at home is because most of the work I shoot with it is long term projects, which tend to be sporadic in nature for those subjects I am documenting. When I take the Hasselblad to work on those projects it has a secondary function as a general camera for travel shots, and so on.

For a long time I did shoot skateboarding on a regular basis with it, but even then when I wasn’t shooting skateboarding I wasn’t really shooting anything else.

There’s no doubt that the camera improved my photography. When I traded in my Bronica and external lights I was left with one camera and two fixed lenses, one of them a fisheye, and I would use nothing else for almost eight years. It is only recently that I added a secondary body as a backup (with a different lens) and an Xpan.

I am still trying to maintain the discipline of one camera and one lens for one project, although have relented somewhat of late on that constraint.

In an effort to use the camera more outside of project work I have set myself a goal this year of shooting at least one frame a week with the Hasselblad, and ideally a formal portrait. The camera sits permanently on a tripod in my study to remind me to use it. The portraits included here are randoms shot over the past few years.

I thought it might be interesting to go over some of the things the camera has taught me. Medium format is about to become much more known, if not popular, with the release of the Hasselblad and Fuji mirrorless medium format bodies this year. While they do differ in form and function to the classic 6×6 SLR bodies, there is still much that can be learned from them.

So here are ten things I’ve learned from ten years shooting with a Hasselblad.

1. You need to change some habits

For example, thinking you can get away with shooting at approximately 1/the focal length. If you have a lot more resolution you will find some of those rules of thumb don’t hold up so well, like when you have a big mirror or larger focal plane shutter that adds more movement.

I’ll give you analogy—1/250 was seen as the best x-sync while skate photographers were shooting with 35mm. When everyone started shooting medium format then suddenly 1/500 was seen as the best. If you weren’t using external lights 1/1000 was the minimum shutter speed required to freeze action, when photographers started using higher resolution full frame 35mm digital bodies then that advice was changed to 1/2000 as the minimum.

Get used to shooting more at mid range apertures, f/4 to f/8. Although medium format lenses can be as fast as f/2, you usually don’t want to use them that open because a) they won’t be sharp, b) even if they are sharp you probably won’t nail the focus, and c) even if you do nail the focus they have so little depth at close focus that almost nothing will be in focus.

This has an impact on shooting in low light, but you can work around that in other ways. The photo above was shot with the 110mm f/2 at f/4 and on the full resolution scan you can see that I actually missed the focus point.

You are going to (near) miss shots, lots of shots. One of the worst habits I still have is to only shoot one frame of a scene, unless I have reason to think I messed up, I get the photo and move on. Consequently I have a number of photos that are misses because someone blinked, or I missed the focus, or the composition was a little bit off, or someone or something entered the frame and I didn’t notice.

The instant mirror return on the 200 series Hasselblad cameras does alleviate the last potential mistake.

But you don’t want to shoot many frames of a scene because medium format files are big. A reasonable quality scan from a single 6×6 negative weighs in at 150MB, get them scanned professionally and you can have anything up to 1GB per file. If you over shoot you’re going to add a bottleneck in your workflow because of the amount of data you will need to move around and backup.

It takes me about an hour to scan a roll of 120 film (12 frames) and about another hour or two to process the scans, most of which is removing dust and colour correcting. I can understand why some photographers left behind many rolls of undeveloped film, it’s easy to find yourself with a backlog if you shoot a lot.

2. Find at waist level, but don’t focus at waist level

One of the allures of a medium format SLR is a waist level finder. You will see lots of photos on Instagram, videos on YouTube, etc, that are shot through the waist level finder of a medium format camera;—photos of photos in progress, it’s all very meta. You will also see people shooting photos with the waist level finder at waist level.

This seems intuitive, because it’s a waist level finder, right? The problem is that the waist level finder is designed for finding a scene, and once you have found the scene you should bring the camera up to your eye for two very good reasons.

The first is that it’s almost impossible to focus accurately when shooting at waist level, and this is compounded by the focusing screens on Hasselblads not being fantastic. The newer brighter screens still don’t have focus “pop” and even when you are shooting a couple of stops down from wide open you can miss focus—if you’re at the closest focus distance with the 80mm lens you only have +/- 5cm depth even at f/8.

The second is to tighten your composition. If you bring the camera up to your eye you are not distracted by things outside of the frame and you can make sure to move slightly forwards or backwards to tweak the frame and straighten those verticals.

Related to tightening the composition is not pointing the camera up at close distance. If you are shooting a photo of someone, specifically a half body type portrait, and using the camera at waist level you will be pointing the camera up. This leads to an outcome that looks like you or your subject are falling over. Maybe this can be used for creative effect, but most of the time it looks bad. Bring the camera up to your eye and you prevent this.

3. Focus discipline

As I said above, bring the camera up to your eye and use the magnifier in the viewfinder. Make sure you don’t have a correctional diopter in the magnifier if you don’t need it.

BTW, when did you last get your eyes tested? What happens if you have very shallow depth and you move forwards or backwards slightly between focusing and firing the shutter? What happens if you focus and recompose? A lot of these issues are going to be moot with the autofocus systems in newer digital models, but they’re worth keeping in mind.

I struggle with medium format focusing screens as, again stated above, the Hasselblad screens don’t really snap into focus. Even the newer models seem to suffer from this. The nature of medium format having shallower depth of field can fool you into thinking the subject is in focus when they’re not critically in focus.

One of the best investments I made for the Hasselblad is to get a focusing screen with a split prism in it, however the problem with a split prism is that often you have to focus and recompose.

4. The lenses aren’t always that sharp

This shouldn’t surprise you, but there is a myth that medium and larger format lenses are of course sharper than 35mm lenses. In reality it can be either way: there are good 35mm lenses and bad medium format lenses. There are medium format lenses that are made for specific purposes, and there are lenses that offer something that no other lens has—like the f/2 aperture on my 110mm lens, a lens which is not sharp wide open, but is good enough when I get the focus correct.

The photo linked above illustrates an important point. It was shot on Delta 3200; had I shot this on a slow speed film and there had been enough light to get the same exposure then it would not look as sharp. The grain increases the apparent sharpness. What else? The contrast, resolution, calibration of the camera, quality of any tripod you use, the developer, the enlarger (scanner), the post processing.

Barry Thornton wrote a book on achieving optimal sharpness, “Edge of Darkness”, and in it he only devotes a single page to the quality of the lens attached to your camera.

There’s something else I have to address here: that sharp edges don’t exist so much in real life. Take a look around your immediate environment, find something that has a defined edge. A book maybe, your phone, a credit card, a cup, a piece of fruit? Whatever. Imagine how that object would look if rendered in a photograph. It would probably have a sharp edge, even though in reality it doesn’t.

This is the problem in recording something that has atomic definition on a medium that doesn’t, and one of the ways in which photography has changed our expectations of how that definition should be represented.

5. The backs are the worst part of the system

The modular nature of older medium format systems was a selling point: shoot different backs for different sizes and types of film. But the backs were the weakest part of the system, prone to light leaks, frame spacing issues, or jams. They would ruin a shoot without warning and carrying at least one spare was absolutely essential. You could pick one up for less than the cost of having them serviced, but ran the risk that a second/third/fourth/fifth hand back would just develop its own faults.

Light leaks were the most common issue due to the foam seals that are placed at the dark slide slot, and these could be replaced with little effort. You needed to do this at least once every other year depending on how you stored the camera/backs, but they could still suddenly ruin a frame or two without notice in bright light. I developed a habit of storing my backs with the dark slides out as much as possible in an attempt to preserve the foam seals for longer.

This is no longer an issue with new mirrorless medium format cameras, but does make me wonder what the weak part of the systems is going to be? Cameras always have something that causes frustration, so what is it this time?

6. You need a budget (regular service is a must)

I touched on this in covering the problems with the backs above. A medium format camera is not a single time purchase, you’ll need a budget for regular service and maintenance.

Medium format cameras have this myth (another one) surrounding them that they just go on working for decades without ever having a problem. I think part of that myth is perpetuated by people who own them for only a year or two and then sell them on, or who own them and only dust them off for a shoot once every six months.

This is not my experience.

All three of my Hasselblads have required repair, along with sending the 203FE for a general service. The 202FA developed a second shutter curtain issue, which thankfully was a trivial repair. The 203FE is currently very temperamental and needs “warming up” after not having been used for a few days—the second shutter curtain will not close unless I dry fire the camera a few times. My 201F completely jammed up and required an expensive fix, at which point I sold it to cover the cost of the repair and moved up to the 203FE.

Admittedly, this is the nature of the 200 series models which are very complex, over 400 parts in the body alone according to the service manuals, and only Hasselblad will service them. The 500 series are simpler but these still need regular service if you use them over the long term. If you travel with them this should be obvious, parts will loosen up or go out of alignment.

Also, consider if you pick up a ten/twenty year old “mint” condition second hand camera it probably hasn’t been used and therefore hasn’t been serviced.

7. A backup camera is a necessity for any important work

Given what I wrote above, this should be clear. I purchased the 202FA primarily as a backup camera when I started to travel further afield for the long term projects I am working on. Up until now it hasn’t needed to be used as a backup, so has been used instead as a secondary camera with a different lens on it. There has been moments when the 203FE wasn’t functioning, but I managed to get it working again by dry firing the camera enough times.

This is not cheap considering the investment in a single medium format body, but then consider traveling to the other side of the world only to have your camera fail. Not cheap either. Perhaps rent a backup body if you are going on a trip, or even pick up a cheap beat-up second hand body. This is trivial with the older film cameras, you can pick one up for a couple of hundred Euros. The digital versions? Not going to be so easy.

8. The square

Substitute “square” for whatever the aspect ratio your camera shoots in here. 24x36mm, 33x44mm (6×4.5cm), 6×6, 6×7, 4×5” (8×10). 24x65mm (XPan). These are all differently proportioned boxes, so they give you different ways to compose a scene. Sure you can crop, but you will see the scene differently when composing and that will probably start to influence the way you compose.

The square has become prolific over the past few years (thanks to Instagram). I’ve always been fond of it because I don’t feel as constrained to arbitrary compositional devices, or rules that are followed only because everyone says they must be followed. I can shoot a full body portrait and happily put the subject smack bang in the middle of the frame without hearing complaints about the rule of thirds. Having shot with the square for a long time I feel it has influenced the way I compose with other frames.

Ultimately this is a compelling reason to choose one format over another. It’s not about film versus digital: it’s about squares versus rectangles, big cameras versus small cameras, fast cameras versus slow cameras.

This has been a reason I have held off so long on getting a digital camera to replace the Hasselblad, I am too attached to the square.

9. Reactions to the camera

The curious thing about medium format cameras, especially those that you might wander around finding scenes at waist level with, is that people tend to react to them differently. My experience is that there is often a short moment in which the subject seems oblivious to the camera and then when they realize what is going on they become curious.

This reaction is different to the apprehensive or defensive reaction that can happen when you point a large DSLR at them.

I think part of this is because you can’t really hide behind a medium format camera in the way that you would a DSLR. The nature of the shooting process means it’s difficult to get candid shots and extreme telephoto lenses don’t really exist for the format. This means you have to get close if you want to fill the frame, you have to make your intentions clear, you have to relax, and many times it’s just best to ask.

This isn’t going to be the case with the new mirrorless models so I expect reactions to those are not going to differ much to their smaller counterparts.

The curiosity is often a good icebreaker, letting people look through the waist level finder and demonstrating the way the camera is used seems to put people at ease. This is not a fast camera, I’m not trying to catch you out. And, of course, if the subject has any interest in photography, which is often a given these days, this can lead to lengthy conversations.

10. Medium format is more than just “bigger”

It’s not about resolution, microcontrast, colour rendering, dynamic range, sharpness, or any other of those boring technicalities. At least not for me. My reasons for picking up a medium format camera, some thirteen years ago, was to facilitate a different approach to photography. When I ditched the last of my lights in 2008 my approach changed again.

Sure the technicalities matter, but you have to understand that shooting with a medium format camera is different to shooting with a 35mm camera. Just as shooting with an iPhone is different to a 35mm camera, or shooting with large format, or wet plates, or a rangefinder, or whatever. And I’m not talking about slowing down, because slowing down slows you down, I’m talking more about how you see the world through your camera and how the camera allows you to see the world.

“The best camera is the one you have with you” is an oft-repeated platitude that is now a meaningless phrase given we all have cameras with us at all times in one form or another. The choice of the camera informs your approach, and thus the image, and thus the direction you take.

This is important over the long term, and has been a key factor in the projects I have been working on.

So what next?

Part of my reasons for writing this post relate to the photographic cross roads I find myself at. The 203FE is the best camera I have ever used despite all of its quirks, failings, expense, and temperament. However, I find myself tiring of shooting film, not because of the process but rather the frustrating baggage that often associates with it, and I am approaching the end of the long-term project work I have been shooting exclusively with this camera.

I could get myself a digital back for the 203FE, which will involve some conversion work. Yet the cost of that back eclipses the cost of a new mirrorless medium format setup significantly, and I would be left with a camera that still has the quirks and failings. A camera that still needs to be serviced every two or there years, which is in no way guaranteed to be possible.

This is an unfortunate situation that Fuji/Hasselblad have now created. The market for new and used digital medium format backs for V series cameras, those of higher resolution and quality, is now essentially dead. Unless Hasselblad can release one at a much lower cost than the mirrorless cameras, which is unlikely to happen as that will impact the mirrorless sales. The V series in digital form is now over from a development point of view.

Medium format is at a turning point, the release this year of mirrorless Hasselblad and Fuji models stands to introduce a large number of photographers to it. I could sell my current equipment to just about cover the cost of one of those setups, and I have to admit I’m tempted.

The Hasselblad 203FE is the best camera I have ever used, but all good things must end. Maybe I’ll wait for version two or three of the new cameras though.


About the author: Lee Johnson is a Switzerland-based photographer and software developer. You can find more of his work and words by visiting his blog, or following him on Twitter and Instagram. This article was also published here.

10 Things I’ve Learned from 10 Years Shooting with a Hasselblad

This year marks the point at which I have been using Hasselblad cameras for over a decade. My first was a 201F in 2007, before moving to a 203FE in 2011 and adding a 202FA in 2015.

They’re the classic 6×6 V series models, although have some additions on the more familiar 500 series that I will get into later. Over the years I’ve put several hundred rolls of film through the various cameras, not a great deal but enough to appreciate the idiosyncrasies inherent in shooting with medium format.

The odd thing about medium format is that some photographers think, and others will tell you, that its purpose is only for studio shooting, product photography, high end fashion, and commercial work. Nonsense. In the previous decade I have used mine for shooting action, travel and road trips, as a walk around camera, for long term project work, and even above 2,000m in peak ski season. I’m certainly not the only one to do this.

Not once have I used these cameras in a formal studio setting… Yet the Hasselblad often gets left at home because, well, I don’t know why. The models of the camera I have feature built in metering, high shutter speeds, instant mirror return, fast lenses. They’re no less of a walk around camera than most DSLRs. So why do they get left at home?

The 203FE and prints from an eight-years-and-counting work in progress

I think the reason the camera gets left at home is because most of the work I shoot with it is long term projects, which tend to be sporadic in nature for those subjects I am documenting. When I take the Hasselblad to work on those projects it has a secondary function as a general camera for travel shots, and so on.

For a long time I did shoot skateboarding on a regular basis with it, but even then when I wasn’t shooting skateboarding I wasn’t really shooting anything else.

There’s no doubt that the camera improved my photography. When I traded in my Bronica and external lights I was left with one camera and two fixed lenses, one of them a fisheye, and I would use nothing else for almost eight years. It is only recently that I added a secondary body as a backup (with a different lens) and an Xpan.

I am still trying to maintain the discipline of one camera and one lens for one project, although have relented somewhat of late on that constraint.

In an effort to use the camera more outside of project work I have set myself a goal this year of shooting at least one frame a week with the Hasselblad, and ideally a formal portrait. The camera sits permanently on a tripod in my study to remind me to use it. The portraits included here are randoms shot over the past few years.

I thought it might be interesting to go over some of the things the camera has taught me. Medium format is about to become much more known, if not popular, with the release of the Hasselblad and Fuji mirrorless medium format bodies this year. While they do differ in form and function to the classic 6×6 SLR bodies, there is still much that can be learned from them.

So here are ten things I’ve learned from ten years shooting with a Hasselblad.

1. You need to change some habits

For example, thinking you can get away with shooting at approximately 1/the focal length. If you have a lot more resolution you will find some of those rules of thumb don’t hold up so well, like when you have a big mirror or larger focal plane shutter that adds more movement.

I’ll give you analogy—1/250 was seen as the best x-sync while skate photographers were shooting with 35mm. When everyone started shooting medium format then suddenly 1/500 was seen as the best. If you weren’t using external lights 1/1000 was the minimum shutter speed required to freeze action, when photographers started using higher resolution full frame 35mm digital bodies then that advice was changed to 1/2000 as the minimum.

Get used to shooting more at mid range apertures, f/4 to f/8. Although medium format lenses can be as fast as f/2, you usually don’t want to use them that open because a) they won’t be sharp, b) even if they are sharp you probably won’t nail the focus, and c) even if you do nail the focus they have so little depth at close focus that almost nothing will be in focus.

This has an impact on shooting in low light, but you can work around that in other ways. The photo above was shot with the 110mm f/2 at f/4 and on the full resolution scan you can see that I actually missed the focus point.

You are going to (near) miss shots, lots of shots. One of the worst habits I still have is to only shoot one frame of a scene, unless I have reason to think I messed up, I get the photo and move on. Consequently I have a number of photos that are misses because someone blinked, or I missed the focus, or the composition was a little bit off, or someone or something entered the frame and I didn’t notice.

The instant mirror return on the 200 series Hasselblad cameras does alleviate the last potential mistake.

But you don’t want to shoot many frames of a scene because medium format files are big. A reasonable quality scan from a single 6×6 negative weighs in at 150MB, get them scanned professionally and you can have anything up to 1GB per file. If you over shoot you’re going to add a bottleneck in your workflow because of the amount of data you will need to move around and backup.

It takes me about an hour to scan a roll of 120 film (12 frames) and about another hour or two to process the scans, most of which is removing dust and colour correcting. I can understand why some photographers left behind many rolls of undeveloped film, it’s easy to find yourself with a backlog if you shoot a lot.

2. Find at waist level, but don’t focus at waist level

One of the allures of a medium format SLR is a waist level finder. You will see lots of photos on Instagram, videos on YouTube, etc, that are shot through the waist level finder of a medium format camera;—photos of photos in progress, it’s all very meta. You will also see people shooting photos with the waist level finder at waist level.

This seems intuitive, because it’s a waist level finder, right? The problem is that the waist level finder is designed for finding a scene, and once you have found the scene you should bring the camera up to your eye for two very good reasons.

The first is that it’s almost impossible to focus accurately when shooting at waist level, and this is compounded by the focusing screens on Hasselblads not being fantastic. The newer brighter screens still don’t have focus “pop” and even when you are shooting a couple of stops down from wide open you can miss focus—if you’re at the closest focus distance with the 80mm lens you only have +/- 5cm depth even at f/8.

The second is to tighten your composition. If you bring the camera up to your eye you are not distracted by things outside of the frame and you can make sure to move slightly forwards or backwards to tweak the frame and straighten those verticals.

Related to tightening the composition is not pointing the camera up at close distance. If you are shooting a photo of someone, specifically a half body type portrait, and using the camera at waist level you will be pointing the camera up. This leads to an outcome that looks like you or your subject are falling over. Maybe this can be used for creative effect, but most of the time it looks bad. Bring the camera up to your eye and you prevent this.

3. Focus discipline

As I said above, bring the camera up to your eye and use the magnifier in the viewfinder. Make sure you don’t have a correctional diopter in the magnifier if you don’t need it.

BTW, when did you last get your eyes tested? What happens if you have very shallow depth and you move forwards or backwards slightly between focusing and firing the shutter? What happens if you focus and recompose? A lot of these issues are going to be moot with the autofocus systems in newer digital models, but they’re worth keeping in mind.

I struggle with medium format focusing screens as, again stated above, the Hasselblad screens don’t really snap into focus. Even the newer models seem to suffer from this. The nature of medium format having shallower depth of field can fool you into thinking the subject is in focus when they’re not critically in focus.

One of the best investments I made for the Hasselblad is to get a focusing screen with a split prism in it, however the problem with a split prism is that often you have to focus and recompose.

4. The lenses aren’t always that sharp

This shouldn’t surprise you, but there is a myth that medium and larger format lenses are of course sharper than 35mm lenses. In reality it can be either way: there are good 35mm lenses and bad medium format lenses. There are medium format lenses that are made for specific purposes, and there are lenses that offer something that no other lens has—like the f/2 aperture on my 110mm lens, a lens which is not sharp wide open, but is good enough when I get the focus correct.

The photo linked above illustrates an important point. It was shot on Delta 3200; had I shot this on a slow speed film and there had been enough light to get the same exposure then it would not look as sharp. The grain increases the apparent sharpness. What else? The contrast, resolution, calibration of the camera, quality of any tripod you use, the developer, the enlarger (scanner), the post processing.

Barry Thornton wrote a book on achieving optimal sharpness, “Edge of Darkness”, and in it he only devotes a single page to the quality of the lens attached to your camera.

There’s something else I have to address here: that sharp edges don’t exist so much in real life. Take a look around your immediate environment, find something that has a defined edge. A book maybe, your phone, a credit card, a cup, a piece of fruit? Whatever. Imagine how that object would look if rendered in a photograph. It would probably have a sharp edge, even though in reality it doesn’t.

This is the problem in recording something that has atomic definition on a medium that doesn’t, and one of the ways in which photography has changed our expectations of how that definition should be represented.

5. The backs are the worst part of the system

The modular nature of older medium format systems was a selling point: shoot different backs for different sizes and types of film. But the backs were the weakest part of the system, prone to light leaks, frame spacing issues, or jams. They would ruin a shoot without warning and carrying at least one spare was absolutely essential. You could pick one up for less than the cost of having them serviced, but ran the risk that a second/third/fourth/fifth hand back would just develop its own faults.

Light leaks were the most common issue due to the foam seals that are placed at the dark slide slot, and these could be replaced with little effort. You needed to do this at least once every other year depending on how you stored the camera/backs, but they could still suddenly ruin a frame or two without notice in bright light. I developed a habit of storing my backs with the dark slides out as much as possible in an attempt to preserve the foam seals for longer.

This is no longer an issue with new mirrorless medium format cameras, but does make me wonder what the weak part of the systems is going to be? Cameras always have something that causes frustration, so what is it this time?

6. You need a budget (regular service is a must)

I touched on this in covering the problems with the backs above. A medium format camera is not a single time purchase, you’ll need a budget for regular service and maintenance.

Medium format cameras have this myth (another one) surrounding them that they just go on working for decades without ever having a problem. I think part of that myth is perpetuated by people who own them for only a year or two and then sell them on, or who own them and only dust them off for a shoot once every six months.

This is not my experience.

All three of my Hasselblads have required repair, along with sending the 203FE for a general service. The 202FA developed a second shutter curtain issue, which thankfully was a trivial repair. The 203FE is currently very temperamental and needs “warming up” after not having been used for a few days—the second shutter curtain will not close unless I dry fire the camera a few times. My 201F completely jammed up and required an expensive fix, at which point I sold it to cover the cost of the repair and moved up to the 203FE.

Admittedly, this is the nature of the 200 series models which are very complex, over 400 parts in the body alone according to the service manuals, and only Hasselblad will service them. The 500 series are simpler but these still need regular service if you use them over the long term. If you travel with them this should be obvious, parts will loosen up or go out of alignment.

Also, consider if you pick up a ten/twenty year old “mint” condition second hand camera it probably hasn’t been used and therefore hasn’t been serviced.

7. A backup camera is a necessity for any important work

Given what I wrote above, this should be clear. I purchased the 202FA primarily as a backup camera when I started to travel further afield for the long term projects I am working on. Up until now it hasn’t needed to be used as a backup, so has been used instead as a secondary camera with a different lens on it. There has been moments when the 203FE wasn’t functioning, but I managed to get it working again by dry firing the camera enough times.

This is not cheap considering the investment in a single medium format body, but then consider traveling to the other side of the world only to have your camera fail. Not cheap either. Perhaps rent a backup body if you are going on a trip, or even pick up a cheap beat-up second hand body. This is trivial with the older film cameras, you can pick one up for a couple of hundred Euros. The digital versions? Not going to be so easy.

8. The square

Substitute “square” for whatever the aspect ratio your camera shoots in here. 24x36mm, 33x44mm (6×4.5cm), 6×6, 6×7, 4×5” (8×10). 24x65mm (XPan). These are all differently proportioned boxes, so they give you different ways to compose a scene. Sure you can crop, but you will see the scene differently when composing and that will probably start to influence the way you compose.

The square has become prolific over the past few years (thanks to Instagram). I’ve always been fond of it because I don’t feel as constrained to arbitrary compositional devices, or rules that are followed only because everyone says they must be followed. I can shoot a full body portrait and happily put the subject smack bang in the middle of the frame without hearing complaints about the rule of thirds. Having shot with the square for a long time I feel it has influenced the way I compose with other frames.

Ultimately this is a compelling reason to choose one format over another. It’s not about film versus digital: it’s about squares versus rectangles, big cameras versus small cameras, fast cameras versus slow cameras.

This has been a reason I have held off so long on getting a digital camera to replace the Hasselblad, I am too attached to the square.

9. Reactions to the camera

The curious thing about medium format cameras, especially those that you might wander around finding scenes at waist level with, is that people tend to react to them differently. My experience is that there is often a short moment in which the subject seems oblivious to the camera and then when they realize what is going on they become curious.

This reaction is different to the apprehensive or defensive reaction that can happen when you point a large DSLR at them.

I think part of this is because you can’t really hide behind a medium format camera in the way that you would a DSLR. The nature of the shooting process means it’s difficult to get candid shots and extreme telephoto lenses don’t really exist for the format. This means you have to get close if you want to fill the frame, you have to make your intentions clear, you have to relax, and many times it’s just best to ask.

This isn’t going to be the case with the new mirrorless models so I expect reactions to those are not going to differ much to their smaller counterparts.

The curiosity is often a good icebreaker, letting people look through the waist level finder and demonstrating the way the camera is used seems to put people at ease. This is not a fast camera, I’m not trying to catch you out. And, of course, if the subject has any interest in photography, which is often a given these days, this can lead to lengthy conversations.

10. Medium format is more than just “bigger”

It’s not about resolution, microcontrast, colour rendering, dynamic range, sharpness, or any other of those boring technicalities. At least not for me. My reasons for picking up a medium format camera, some thirteen years ago, was to facilitate a different approach to photography. When I ditched the last of my lights in 2008 my approach changed again.

Sure the technicalities matter, but you have to understand that shooting with a medium format camera is different to shooting with a 35mm camera. Just as shooting with an iPhone is different to a 35mm camera, or shooting with large format, or wet plates, or a rangefinder, or whatever. And I’m not talking about slowing down, because slowing down slows you down, I’m talking more about how you see the world through your camera and how the camera allows you to see the world.

“The best camera is the one you have with you” is an oft-repeated platitude that is now a meaningless phrase given we all have cameras with us at all times in one form or another. The choice of the camera informs your approach, and thus the image, and thus the direction you take.

This is important over the long term, and has been a key factor in the projects I have been working on.

So what next?

Part of my reasons for writing this post relate to the photographic cross roads I find myself at. The 203FE is the best camera I have ever used despite all of its quirks, failings, expense, and temperament. However, I find myself tiring of shooting film, not because of the process but rather the frustrating baggage that often associates with it, and I am approaching the end of the long-term project work I have been shooting exclusively with this camera.

I could get myself a digital back for the 203FE, which will involve some conversion work. Yet the cost of that back eclipses the cost of a new mirrorless medium format setup significantly, and I would be left with a camera that still has the quirks and failings. A camera that still needs to be serviced every two or there years, which is in no way guaranteed to be possible.

This is an unfortunate situation that Fuji/Hasselblad have now created. The market for new and used digital medium format backs for V series cameras, those of higher resolution and quality, is now essentially dead. Unless Hasselblad can release one at a much lower cost than the mirrorless cameras, which is unlikely to happen as that will impact the mirrorless sales. The V series in digital form is now over from a development point of view.

Medium format is at a turning point, the release this year of mirrorless Hasselblad and Fuji models stands to introduce a large number of photographers to it. I could sell my current equipment to just about cover the cost of one of those setups, and I have to admit I’m tempted.

The Hasselblad 203FE is the best camera I have ever used, but all good things must end. Maybe I’ll wait for version two or three of the new cameras though.


About the author: Lee Johnson is a Switzerland-based photographer and software developer. You can find more of his work and words by visiting his blog, or following him on Twitter and Instagram. This article was also published here.

Hasselblad Announces 4 New Lenses for Mirrorless X1D: 3 Primes, 1 Zoom

Hasselblad doesn’t want to lose the momentum they gained by being the first to announce a mirrorless medium-format digital camera system with their exciting X1D. Which is why they’ve decided to announce not one, not two, not even three, but four lenses for the new system coming in 2017. One is available today.

The announcement is one fourth real news and three fourths teaser, but we’ll let this one slide. The four lenses announced are the XCD 35-75mm Zoom, XCD 65mm, XCD 22mm Wide Angle, and XCD 120mm f/3.5 Macro lenses, but only the 120mm Macro is getting here any time soon. Here’s a closer look at this lens:

“Providing a new versatility to the X1D user, the lens is suitable for both close-up work up to a 1:2 image scale, and also as a mid-range telephoto lens for portrait or other photography requiring a longer focal length,” writes Hasselblad by way of introduction to the new lens. “Auto or manual focusing goes from infinity to 1:2 without the need for extension tubes.”

Inside the lens, you’ll find an integral central shutter that allows flash synchronization up to 1/2000th of a second, and an aperture that goes from f/3.5 all the way to f/35. More detailed specs such as number of elements and groups, special elements, coatings, etc. were not mentioned in the specs Hasselblad sent us, and the official product page has yet to go live as of this writing.

The 120mm f/3.5 Macro is scheduled to arrive in June, although no price has been provided just yet. It brings the X1D-specific XCD lens line up to 4 lenses, and “by the beginning of 2018” Hasselblad promises to add three more lenses to the line—the aforementioned 35-75mm, 65mm, and 22mm—for a total of 7 dedicated XCD lenses.

Keep an eye on this page for more information about this lens… hopefully soon.

Fujifilm’s Medium Format GFX 50S to Ship in February for $6,500

Fujifilm today finally revealed the pricing and availability of its new GFX 50S medium format mirrorless camera: the 51.4MP camera will start shipping in late February 2017 with a price tag of $6,500.

That means the GFX 50S will cost just $500 more than the Canon 1D X Mark II full frame DSLR ($6,000) and the same price as the Nikon D5 ($6,500). And those are 35mm full frame cameras.

Compared to other “medium format” cameras on the market, the GFX 50S is $500 cheaper than the Pentax 645Z medium format DSLR ($7,000) and $2,500 cheaper than the Hasselblad X1D-50c ($9,000), and $3,500 cheaper than the Leica S-E ($10,000).

Main specs of the GFX 50S include a 43.8×32.9mm CMOS sensor, a weather-sealed magnesium alloy body, film simulation modes, multi aspect ratio shooting, 1080p video recording at 30fps, an ISO range of 100 to 12800, a 117-point contrast-detection AF system, and a 3.2-inch 2.36-million-dot tilting touchscreen LCD. You can find more about the features and specs in the original announcement back in September 2016.

Launching alongside the GFX 50S will be the first 3 Fujinon GF lenses. The 63mm f/2.8 will cost $1,500, the 32-64mm f/4 will cost $2,300, and the 120mm f/4 OIS will cost $2,700. You can preorder the GFX 50S here.