What’s So Medium About Digital Medium Format?

In my early days when I started getting serious of making photography a profession, I know that I needed a medium format camera. At first is was a series of Mamiya TLR that shot 120/200 film producing an image size of 6x6cm or as all the kiddies those days called it “two and one quarter-inches square.” It was a wonderful format and when I graduated to a Hasselblad 500CM it too used a 6x6cm format. I was a real pro—or so I thought at the time.


Well, these days everybody and their cousin it seems is making medium format digital cameras. Fujifilm stole all the buzz from Hasselblad ‘sX1D-50c with its GFX 50S. It would seem that we have indeed entered the golden age of medium format digital cameras or have we?

While I am sure this new breed of digital medium format camera are indeed fine picture taking machines and like the 500CM I paid $666.67 (with 80mm T* lens) in 1976, they are expensive with prices ranging from ostensibly the best buy Pentax 645Z ($6,996.95) to the ‘whoa mama’ Phase One XF ($48,990.) The average price of a new car is $33,560, so I wouldn’t call these cameras medium priced although the Pentax 645Z competes pretty well with a Nikon D5 ($6,496.95,) although my friend Cliff says the more appropriate comparison is with the D810 ($2,796.95) shown above.

fujimediumSo for 500 bucks more than a Nikon D5 you get a 43.8 x 32.8 mm sensor instead of 35.9 x 23.9 mm. Better image quality. I’ll bet. Better low light response? Pretty sure. And get this, a Nikon D5 weighs 3.11 lbs and the Pentax weighs 3.42, although they company states the weight in ounces, so it sounds smaller, I guess.

But a bigger question is: Are these camera really medium format? Look at the list below that shows the sensor size for various medium format digital camera and you decide if they’re medium format or just a little big bigger than the ubiquitous 24x36mm film format that was created so many years ago.

Fujifilm GFX 50S,  sensor size: 43.8 × 32.9mm, “less than $10,000″*

Pentax 645Z,  sensor size 43.8 x 32.8 mm, $6,996.95

Hasselblad X1D-50c, sensor size 43.8 x 32.9mm, $8,995

Hasselblad CFV-50c digital back,  sensor size 43.8 x 32.9, $9,995

Hasselblad H6D-100c, sensor size 53.4 x 40.0mm, $32,995

Phase One XF, sensor size, 53.7 x 40.4 mm, $48,990

hasselblad-500_cmThe 645 format that was embraced by Bronica, among many others, uses 120 film and produced a 45 x 60 mm image. A Hasselblad 500 CM created 6×6 cm or 60 x 60 mm images. The redoubtable and bulletproof Mamiya 6×7 produced images that were 60 x 70 mm, all of which are larger than any of the above digital medium format camera, although the Phase One comes close.

*The price for the Fujifilm GFX 50S was not available as I wrote this but this is one guess and it may be wrong.

photo of Hasselblad 500CM © By デニス モジョ – originally posted to Flickr as Hasselblad 500 C/M, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12370700

Author: Joe Farace

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