Other Reviews

Understanding the Differences between the 35mm DSLR and Medium Format

Originally published: July 17, 2011

In my last post, I started to divulge into a deeper understanding over the differences and advantages between 35mm and Medium format cameras. My following comments apply for film and digital cameras. However it should be noted that the images above for comparison of quality were taken on film cameras. Specifically the Leica M7 and 24mm Summilux with Kodak Ektar 100 (Left) and the Mamiya 645AFDiii and 45mm Sekkor f/2.8 with Kodak Ektar 100 (right).



Medium format has the distinct advantage of being significantly larger and consequently more detailed then 35mm, which is smaller. As you can see by comparing the two test images above the medium format option clearly shows that I has superior detail and color rendition when compared with the 35mm photo. Medium format cameras have considerably more technical capabilities then 35mm cameras. Medium format cameras include panoramic cameras like the Linhof 617 panoramic camera and the ALPA SWA, which uses large format lenses and can be used for very technically difficult images. Also in my opinion 120mm film is considerably easier to handle then 35mm film is. This is because it is significantly less technical in the way it is created. 120mm (Medium Format) film is essentially film (paper backed) spun around a spool. Consequently for me it is much easier to handle. The type of camera I will refer to for the rest of this review, as medium format is the 645 formats since this is the most common format. This is also one of the most interesting components of the medium format offering. There are different cameras that capture different format images. The most common format is 645, which is similar in aspect ratio the common 35mm format. Then there is the 6×6 format, which is of course square as its dimensions denote, this format is also very popular and is the standard in the Hasselblad line-up of V series cameras. Cameras like the 503CW and 905SWC use this 6×6 format. Then there are other cameras like the Mamiya 7 and Fuji GF670 which use the slightly wider format of 6×7 and other cameras which use 6×8 and 6×9 formats. Each of these offers a slightly different perspective, which allows you to get more in the frame and consequently achieve different effects. This is one of the best things about medium format versatility. Digital Medium Format Cameras typically cover the 6×45 and 6×6 offer considerably more then there smaller 35mm brethren. Medium format digital just like medium format film uses a larger sensor and consequently has more megapixels. The standard right now is 40mp with some backs offering more and less then this. PhaseOne currently offers a 80mp version of their latest IQ series lineup. Of course with greater megapixels comes greater cost. However what you get with this cost is of course more pixels. More pixels mean many things. First it means you have the ability to crop the image meaning you if you were further away then you wanted to be you can easily correct your vantage point without sacrificing in final quality. Because of their larger size they also have a higher dynamic range, which is also another attractive quality. Of course all of these advantages come at a cost, which I will outline below.



Yeah so there are also a few disadvantages that might deter some people from entering into medium format. The biggest limiting factor is the price. Making a piece of silicon that is 6×45 (please note all but a few backs are not full frame so they are not all this size) is quite difficult especially when the margin for error is something crazy like .001% or something. If any more imperfection then this exists typically the chip is useless. There are a few medium format digital options that are less then this of course. Typically (sans Leica S2 and Pentax 645D) medium format digital cameras are digital backs. These can be attached to multiple cameras, in exactly the same way film backs could be. This gives greater versatility to the user theoretically being able to use film and digital on the same camera as well as mounting their back on other cameras. I however would be hesitant to do this because doing this means exposing your sensor to the environment where it can get dust on it, which is very hard to remove. So while this is a great selling point for the camera that “you can use film and digital on the same body” in practice its not that particle.  The cheapest digital back on the market right now is the Mamiya DM22 digital back. This is simply a rebranded Leaf back so there is an equivalent Leaf digital back for the same price and so on.  In this price range however, I would ask myself if I really needed medium format because the Nikon D3x or the Canon equivalent (1Ds Mrk III?) are formidable and are around the 8k range for the body only. It should be noted that almost every medium format system particularly when quoted at a price is without a lens. Although Pentax’s beleaguered DSLR and Point and Shoot lines are the butt of many jokes, their medium format offering should not be scoffed at. Many forget that Pentax was a venerable contender if not market leader for the past 30 years. They created the very successful 645 lines culminating in the 645n, which is the closest film substitute to the 645D as well as widely popular Pentax 67 camera.  I mention these cameras because it should also be noted that all of the Autofocus (late 645 line lenses) and manual focus (many 645 series lenses as well as all of the 67 lenses) could be used on the 645D, so if you have these lenses already this option is attractive. Although the 645D does not offer the changeable back option, but if you already have all of these lenses, that’s probably a non-issue for you.

Some other considerations involve functionality (I know right? I thought it was all about the price man).  Namely 645 medium format cameras lack the fast autofocus capabilities of the 35mm cameras. This is why 35mm has been the preferred choice of the sports shooter for decades. Autofocus is important for some photographic applications however these are times when 35mm is the most important. Medium format has select applications. It can sometimes be pushed to the limits, most of the time its applications are not situations where fast function is the most important function. Another issue is their limited ISO range. This is an issue that is that is delegated to the digital side of medium format photography. 35mm and medium format are on equal footing in the film market. However because of the limitations these digital backs have limited ISO ranges typically going up to 1600. PhaseOne has a function called capture plus where the sensor is scaled down and the ISO range is extended to 3200. However for most backs the ISO range is limited. This is because they are typically used at the lowest native ISO setting because this is where the quality should theoretically be the best. Also they are typically used in situations where studio lighting or strobes are accessible if extra light is needed. These are probably the two largest disadvantages. Another slight disadvantage is that they are typically larger and bulkier and heavier then 35mm cameras. This is simply a consideration when deciding which camera to get or when to take it out into the field. Also they are usually less ergonomic then 35mm cameras. This is largely subjective and a matter of personal taste. That said 35mm DSLR’s typically have the same form and ergonomics, medium format cameras are generally much more creative in their design and have significantly different grips and feels which might be more attractive to some users.


Medium format like other formats (ok fine threes really only 35mm and large format) has its advantages and disadvantages. These are often defined by limitations. Limitations define what item you invest in. However before the investment is made, it is important that they understand what they want and what the camera they are looking at can do. I hope this article has helped to clarify the advantages/disadvantages and abilities/limitations of medium format.


Alpa eFinder iOS App Review

Originally published: April 9, 2011

Alpa eFinder iOS App review, electronic viewfinder iPhone 3Gs and 4G

Alpa creates some of the highest quality technical cameras out there today. Their designs (viewable at alpa.ch) combine medium format film or digital backs with large format lenses placed within their own coupling lens boards similar to any large format or panoramic camera. They are also known for their forays into software that applies directly to their products. One of Alpa’s claims to fame are its adaption of wide angle lenses and camera movements (tilt/shift etc). Consequently they attract mostly a landscape and architectural crowd who demand technical quality. They created distortion reduction software specifically for their camera and lens designs.

The Alpa eFinder app however is misnamed. It is a digital viewfinder that works with Alpa cameras, however it also functions (view in app purchases) with any still or motion picture (cine/cinema) camera. Alpa actually has a accessory to mount an iPod Touch / iPhone 3gs/4 adapter to place the device on top of the camera to utilize it as the viewfinder. The app is very useful for visualization especially when using film where there is obviously no instant image preview (alright polaroid backs but who uses those anymore?). Here are some examples:



Alpa eFinder iOS App review, generic 617 6x17 format viewfinder with mask

This example is set up with a Schneider 150mm XL lens which will cover everything up to an 8×10 which means it would work perfectly with a 6x17cm film panoramic camera. As you can see here it crops the the viewfinder to show the angle of view applicable to that lens and film combination. It is fairly simple to know that this is correct since the information about the AOV (Angle of View) and other camera information for the iPhone 4 is available from which you can interpolate the correct information for different sensor and lens combinations.


Nikon D3s D3x D3 viewfinder with masks in the Alpa eFinder iOS App

This example shows the frame lines for multiple lenses on the same camera similar to the way you would see them on a rangefinder camera like a Leica M camera.

As you can see this app is very useful and you are capable of creating any lens and camera combination. The app has a large database of cameras and lenses for you to choose from. You can also select items entitled “generic” for instance rather then selecting a Mamiya 645AFDiii with a Mamiya Sekor 55mm f/2.8 lens you could select a “Generic 6x45cm Film” and a 55mm lens which is the thing however the specific cameras options will give you extra control to confirm that you are composing as accurately as possible. This app is very good and can restore your faith in Humanity and apps. Although other camera aid apps like Light meters are are less then accurate this one is in another caliber of application.



Autochrome History

Originally published: April 9, 2011

The Autochrome process was the first color photographic process. It was created by the Lumiere brothers who were well known for their filmography. The plate utilized died starch grains (Red, Green, Blue) to create a color filter infront of a black and white (silver nitrate) emulsion. This process is very similar to the way that a modern digital camera interprets colors. There are filters (starch grains in Autochrome) positioned in front of the digital sensor (silver nitrate film emulsion) that allow different wavelengths of light (different colors) to pass and create the end image with multiple colors and varying tones. The autochrome process produces a particular aesthetic because of the way that it is created and consequently is of interest.

This is what I have been able to piece together through varying online and physical books and essay of the original makeup of an autochrome plate. Since the technology has long since been extinct it has been difficult to discover the truth about production and physical and chemical make up of the plate. This also creates great difficulty in reference to finding an expert who can aid me in my attempts to improve and modify the process.

An autochrome plate was used in a large format camera to create a picture. The plate itself was glass. The next layer would be the black and white emulsion, typical to any large format glass plate. The black and white emulsion was typically made of silver nitrate or some similar photosensitive compound. The next layer was a non-water soluble layer (required for development) that encased the black and white emulsion layer. From what I have been able to gather this was done via some sort of varnish, it is believed that this was accomplished with dammar resin. Then a layer of some adhesive material was added to prepare the plate for the addition of the colored starch grain color filter. The color filter was made up of deep red, green and blue died starch grains (more so then in the graphic which is for illustrative xpurposes only.) Then a final layer of varnish or other material was used to encapsulate the entire plate, which again was required for the development process. The whole plate was the placed in the camera with the starch grain filter being the first area that light would pass through. The varnishes were as clear as possible so that they would not significantly affect the image. However if you look at an autochrome plate it has the photographic attribute of being “warm” that is to say having more brown and orange overtones, which could have been an impact of the traditional color of varnish.

Layer A is the glass plate. This was simply a piece of clear glass that provides the rigid backbone that they entire structure of the autochrome plate is attached to. Typically the glass plate was in the 4×5 inch category however theoretically it is possible to use the autochrome plate with any sized piece of glass and a large format camera assuming that you can fabricate the required holder for the glass plate.

Layer D is the black and white silver nitrate emulsion. This emulsion is a light sensitive compound like you would find in any other black and white glass plate or piece of film. One of the problems that this original method encountered was that it was, in photographic terms, a slow emulsion. This means that it does not have a high sensitivity to light. In photography light sensitivity is denoted in ISO (previously ASA), which is a numerical value that denotes the sensitivity to light of an emulsion or film. The general standard used in both digital and analog cameras as ISO 400, which has a resolving, power capable of fast shutter speeds and clear (non motion blurred) Images. The resolving power of the emulsion used in an autochrome plate was roughly ISO 1 or ISO .5 which is to say extremely slow. Consequently it was as it was with other photographic processes at the time difficult to take photos because of movement of the subject as well as the camera while the film or glass plate was being exposed to the light.

Layer E is the first layer of varnish that was used. This layer was utilized to encapsulate the silver nitrate photographic emulsion layer. This is required for the development process of the autochrome plate.

Layer F was some form of non-water soluble adhesive that allowed the starch grains to remain on the plate. It is necessary that the adhesive and encapsulating layers be polar because water is one of the items used in the development process of this plate.

Layer B is the most important layer of the autochrome process. This is the layer that is formed by the different colored starch grains as well as the lampblack (commonly known as charcoal to fill the spaces.) The colors used to die the starch grains were Rose Bengal, Malachite Green, Tarrazine, Crystal Violet,  Erythrosin B (Acid Red 51), and Methylene blue. All of these dies used are characterized as triphenlmethane dies because of their chemical structure. They are deep colors that translate into the different tones when the photograph is exposed. Because of their high density and small particle size approximately 10-15 microns.

Layer C is simply another layer of the varnish. This final layer is used to encapsulate the entire plate and make it water resistant for the development process.

Sandisk Memory Cards

The Extreme Pro series comes in 64gb, 32gb, and 16gb flavors. All very capable, and so you don’t spend the time doing this one yourself, 2 32gb’s cost the same as a 64gb

Sandisk memory cards are the gold standard in digital media. They simply work. I have never had a bad experience with them. The 64gb card is simply superb. It gives you the ability to shoot raw files all day and still have room left over. Here is a video from Chase Jarvis using the Extreme Pro series of cards. They are very capable with high read, write speeds. I would not recommend any other brand of memory cards. In fact Nikon specifically recommends SanDisk memory cards with their high performance cameras.

Chase Jarvis TECH

As you can see in this video they are able to keep up with the D3 series cameras without the words “buffer speed” ever coming into your mind. I have tried other brands memory cards, and have been less then fully satisfied. Other companies work fine and the will work with your cameras but not in the same way that SanDisk cards will. They always work seamlessly and are continuously on top of their game.

Gitzo Series 3 6X Carbon Fiber Tripod

Originally published: April 3, 2011

I bought this tripod after discovering that my ultra-light Gitzo Carbon Fiber Traveler tripod couldn’t support support the weight of my Hasselblad behemoth. So I went in search of something better. I have never liked Manfroto tripods, to me the seem to be not the best for a couple of reasons. First I don’t feel that they are that well made. Second the two times I have borrowed them, I had my camera fall out of the quick release clamp. For those who care this was my Nikon F100 and my Nikon D700 both at a beach interestingly. Their quick release system is complicated and anything but quick in my opinion. I’m sure there are others who disagree however, this is my site so I get to say what I want.

Gitzo’s carbon fiber tripods are very well built from the best materials available. The 3 Series easily supports the weight of my Hasselblad as well as my Nikon D3s with all of my lenses. It is superb, couldn’t ask for anything better. Now if you are shooting a camera that doesn’t weigh a lot you might not need to buy something this heavy duty. However it can’t hurt. If you are doing any kind of long exposure photography, especially with a light camera this thing will keep it planted to the ground in any conditions. It is pleasantly light, that said it is fairly heavy, but imagine if it wasn’t made with carbon fiber. All around very good, couldn’t ask for anything better.


Billingham Camera Bags 555 and 355

Originally published: April 3, 2011

Billingham bags are well built and stylish. They are made from high quality cloth and leather. For me the 335 was my first bag when I didn’t carry around a lot. It can hold a Nikon D3s (or Nikon D700 with battery grip) with a Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 and hoot as well as a Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 and Nikon 50mm f/1.4G or Nikon 85mm f/1.4D in the main compartment. I also usually keep a SB-900 in the front pocket. Incase a DSLR isn’t your cup of tea for comparison, the Bellingham 335 could alternatively hold a Mamiya 645 AFD with Mamiya 80mm f/2.8 lens and film back attached, with an extra film back, Mamiya 210mm f/4 ULD Lens and Mamiya 55mm f/2.8 lens in the main compartment. It can also hold a large amount of film and filters in the side pocket when using film. It is a very robust bag. You could use it as your camera bag for a small to medium sized kit or you could use it as a walk around bag for when you are in the field.

The Billingham 555 can fit way more in it. Its the biggest bag that Billingham makes and it can hold a lot. It can hold a Nikon D3s, Nikon D700 with battery grip (or Nikon F100) as well as the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8, Nikon 50mm f/1.4G, Nikon 85mm f/1.4G, Nikon 10.5mm f/2.8 Fisheye as well as my Leica M8, Leica M7, Leica 35mm Summarit f/2.5 and Leica 24mm Summilux f/1.4 with room to spare. In its side pocket it can fit my SB-900 as well as anything else I could think to carry. It is superb and can carry everything I need. Its convenient and it looks good. Although they are a little more expensive then other camera bags, they more then make up for it in craftsman ship and quality.