Is medium format photography worth it? Here’s what a professional thinks

When you are a professional photographer or you hope to earn money from your photography in any capacity, you will probably be tempted to acquire one of the best medium format cameras (opens in a new tab). This is especially true if you’re a landscape photographer, where capturing maximum detail is traditionally considered very important, as well as for commercial applications, where clients may request very large file sizes.

Of course, as with everything in photography, such equipment comes at a price, both in terms of the initial financial investment and in terms of the increased storage needed, not to mention the demands it places on the processing power of your computer system. . Of course, not everyone needs a big sensor, if not the best camera phones (opens in a new tab) wouldn’t go so well.

• Learn more: What is the medium format look and why is it important? (opens in a new tab)

Paul Sander

Edenbridge, Kent Cameras are heavier, but weigh that against the increase in resolution (Image credit: Paul Sanders)

About Paul Sander

Paul Sander

(Image credit: Paul Sanders)

A former Reuters photographer and image editor for The Times, now an acclaimed fine art landscape photographer, Paul leads photography tours and iPhoneography classes, as well as one-on-one workshops for people with mental health issues. www.discoverstill.com (opens in a new tab)

For some photographers, it’s simply their preferred way of working, because Paul Sander (opens in a new tab) reveals, “Throughout my career I have used medium format cameras; my first medium format was a Bronica SQA – I was shooting fashion at the time in the late 80s. I loved the square format and the incredible quality of the transparent film. From there I moved on to a Mamiya RB67 and a Mamiya 7, both of which I loved. When I started as a press photographer, I was still using medium format for magazine articles. It’s so comfortable to use.

The Cost of Mid-Format Systems

However, there are quite considerable cost implications that need to be considered when dealing with medium format in the digital world. “Since quitting my job in newsreel photography, I had been looking for a medium format camera that would deliver the quality I wanted for my landscape work with the convenience of digital.

The issue for me was cost; a Phase One setup was just too expensive. Having used Fujifilm cameras for five years, when they announced the GFX, I thought it would probably work for me. What’s important to me about gear is the feel – they have to be comfortable to hold, the buttons have to fall in the right places for my fingers and thumbs. Holding the GFX 50S felt like stepping back in time; it handled the way my beloved Mamiya 7 did, the balance and weight were all very similar. Of course, I also tried the mirrorless Hasselblad, but it just didn’t work for my brain and muscle memory.

Paul Sander

Pestera, Romania Good photos come from within – the gear just helps you achieve your vision (Image credit: Paul Sanders)

The resolution

Probably the main reason many are switching to medium format is the resolution potential it offers. “I like to print some of my work very large – two meters wide or more, and to get the quality I wanted I needed a larger file size than what came with my X-T2. ”

However, Sanders cautions against obsessing too much with pixels and comparisons between the resolution of one camera versus another: “The technical aspect of photography doesn’t really interest me; I have no idea what the pixel or diode array does and frankly, I don’t care. Pixel-peeping is a losing game, because you always want what you don’t have – I care how my images feel. The GFX seemed to deliver exactly what I needed in terms of dynamic range, tonal smoothness, and detail. I can honestly say it’s a pleasure to use every day.

I think the best thing about medium format is the speed: I like to work slowly, and with larger format sensors you’re bound to do just that. I take a lot less pictures than I would with smaller cameras, you stop the spray and pray mentality and consider every detail… a bigger camera is believed to make you a better photographer, but these are usually people who have no idea that the photographs are generated by the photographer regardless of the kit used.

Generally speaking, the high end advertising and magazine worlds always love higher resolution files, [but] no one ever asked me to film something and asked me what equipment I was using.

Paul Sander

(Image credit: Paul Sanders)

Height and weight factors

You have to take into account that medium format cameras (and lenses) “are naturally heavier”, explains Paul Sanders. “That said, my bag is no heavier than when I was using two X-T2 cameras with batteries and eight lenses. Now I have a body and four lenses, and the weight is very similar. Medium format shooting lets you gauge what you really need in your bag and what you really use – you’re not investing in a kit you know you won’t use often.

Another consideration with medium format is that it offers a slight reduction in speed. “The shooting action is more difficult because there is a small delay in saving files. It’s small but you have to be aware of it. There is also the issue of depth of field. “It is much narrower on medium format cameras, and this, combined with shooting at slower speeds, can lead to camera shake. However, I don’t see these things as reasons not to shoot in medium format, they help me think about what I’m shooting. I don’t rush my images, everything is done slowly, deliberately and thoughtfully.

Of course, the cost is also an element to consider. “My GFX 50S setup is around £25,000 if you include the necessary batteries, lenses, housing and bits, but I don’t think there’s been any improvement in my work since buying it – the evolution of my work comes from within. A camera is worth money if you enjoy using it and you get the results you want. My kit paid for itself in 18 months, so it owes me nothing.

Read more:

The best professional cameras (opens in a new tab)
The best mirrorless cameras (opens in a new tab)
Fujifilm GFX50S II review (opens in a new tab)

Stewart C. Hartline