Medium Format Digital vs. 35mm DSLR Cameras – Which is better?


Hello guys Josh Geiger here. Product
photographer from Atlanta and instructor at photigy.com. Today we’re going to talk
about two types of cameras, 35 millimeter DSLR and medium format DSLR I like most
of you started out on a 35-millimeter system and its really all we’ll ever
need for the majority of our work but sometimes we find ourselves in a
situation where we need to upgrade or we’re looking to upgrade down the road
and when you start talking about systems like this you’re looking at big money
and it’s a good idea to have a little bit more information before diving
straight in when I was looking around online for more information about medium
format systems I found the basic information kind of hard to find if you
root around deep enough you can find you know a whole bunch of technical
information but I was really just want to start at the beginning the basics and
that’s kind of what we’re going to do today we’re going to break down each
camera system to their main parts talk a little bit about them and then we’re
going to dive a little bit deeper and do a pros and cons comparison we’re going
to look at some of the benefits of each system some of the negatives of each
system obviously it cost comparison maybe a little bit of photo comparisons
and you might be surprised at what you don’t get for fifteen to thirty thousand
dollars let’s check these out first we’re going to start with the 35
millimeter system that we’re all pretty familiar with but for those of you who
don’t know everything about these and we’re not going to go over everything we
are going to dive a little bit deeper and break this down so let’s go ahead
and do that alright so here we have a nikon d700 this belongs to a buddy of
mine i’m currently using my d800 making this video so it still gets plenty of
use this is a 12.1 megapixel camera it shoots like five to eight frames per
second and it’s a full-frame camera meaning that it’s chip is the same size
as a full piece of 35 millimeter film but that’s not all there is to this
camera so let’s take a deeper look inside okay
so looking at the 35 millimeter DSLR it’s pretty simple we have two main
parts here the body and the lens I’ll remove this lens cap real quick and a
lens hood and we see our front element our rear element and inside of this lens
we have aperture blades that open and close to varying amounts allowing more
or less light in which is actually referred to as your f-stop obviously the
more that is closed down the less light will come in the more open it is more
light will obviously come in looking at the body you can see inside here there’s
a mirror that mirror actually reflects the image up into the viewfinder behind
that mirror is the shutter curtain and the sensor when you press the shutter
button the mirror flips up the curtain does its thing in the sensors exposed
looking at the back we have our LCD screen which on the majority of new
DSLRs is really great our regular controls for the different functions
which will of course vary depending on the body that you have whether it’s
Nikon or Canon or any other brand that’s pretty simple LCD on the top for just
viewing more information and that’s the basics this camera actually happens to
have a pop-up flash most do and of course slots for memory cards and here
our battery slot very simple hasn’t changed much in a pretty long time with
the exception of maybe you know software options
and that’s it moving on from this we’re going to take a look at the medium
format system okay so now that we’ve seen the 35 millimeter system we’re
going to do the same thing to this here we have a medium format DSLR the body is
a mamiya 645 DF they also make a DF + and you’ll notice too that you see
cameras that look just like this thats a phase one on them phase one I believe
purchased mamaya leaf and so they produce the same bodies with you know
the different name on them I think now they might actually all be phase one but
it’s the same camera here we have the digital bag this is a leaf aptus to 10
it’s 56 megapixels and the chip in this is a little bit wider format then is
typically found in other medium format digital bags also you’ll notice that the
battery on this is external on newer backs a lot of the batteries are
internal which is kind of nice and it also helps with some weather proofing
I’m not sure I think they have some weather proofing digital bags not
positive anyway that said let’s take a deeper look inside this what I’m going
to do first is just go ahead and break these pieces down and then we’ll talk
about them individually so getting started I have here a really right stuff
L bracket on here so I’ll remove that and then I’ll remove the battery so we
can just set this down flat make it easier to deal with if I can manage to
get this piece on here oh that would help wouldn’t it okay so first let’s
take off the lens it’s a little bit different than we’re used to on the 35
millimeter systems normally you’d have a button on either side of the lens that
you would press and rotate the lens off here the button is actually over here
which is actually kind of dangerous because I’m always afraid I’m going to
hit that which is partially do I keep that L bracket on here it kind
of blocks that but anyway moving on let’s take that off for a second and put
the cap on and then our body we will remove our digital back and I’m just
going to put the cap on that real quick while we talk about some other stuff I’m
just a little protective of that to keep the chip clean so looking at this body
obviously it’s bigger than the 35 millimeter body but the first thing we
notice is we can see straight through it it does still have a mirror in here and
actually a focusing screen but when you take off the back it automatically flips
up it really works just like a regular 35 millimeter DSLR the only real
difference is the chip comes off the back there is a shutter in here it just
so happens that this lens is a mamaya sec or d schneider leaf shutter lens and
what that means is is unlike the 35 millimeter lens this not only has
aperture blades it also has its own built-in shutter which has its own
blades they call Leafs and the benefit to this really is just that you get very
high sync speeds on this it actually sinks up to 116 hundredth of a second
which can be quite handy in a myriad of situations but setting that aside again
with the rest of this body we have our LCD screen our control knob
your regular array of scroll wheels and doodads for changing your different
options and then actually i’ll move this over here here we have our digital bag
this is pretty cool because it’s basically a little computer what we have
here is our normal LCD screen on the back which as I said we’ll talk more
about in the pros and cons it is a touchscreen LCD this particular back is
a firewire tethered support back some of them will do USB 3 even some of the
newer ones you’ll get Wi-Fi support for tethering which is really nice but we’re
moving that if we put the battery back on you can see we have an external
battery some of the new digital backs have the bit battery um built in which
is kind of nice it just reduces a little bit of the bulkiness and then let’s just
take a look at this chip for a second look at the size of that bad boy typically a full frame medium format
chip is going to be twice the size of a 35-millimeter chip and without getting
too specific into technicalities here basically what that means is larger
depth of field more sharpness and all-around image goodness but breaking
them down they’re really pretty similar to the 35 millimeter systems biggest
difference being this little computer pops off the back and is incredibly
expensive so I guess now we’ll get into the meat of this situation which would
be the pros and cons where’s one beat the other and let’s do that now okay so
now that we’ve broken down both of these systems and taking a look at their main
parts we’re going to do a little pros and cons comparison let’s start with the
35 millimeter system first it’s got an accurate auto focus it’s fast it’s
accurate there are tons of auto focus points on the majority of these DSLRs
and having the ability to fly around the viewfinder with your selection wheel and
just pick a specific thing that you want to focus on is a real big help
especially if you’re looking through the viewfinder it’s sometimes hard to see
and check focus visually so the electronic focus check is pretty much
imperative if you’re not tethered to something with live view also is OS in
these cameras because of the chip they use the iso range is incredible most of
them come around standard or native a hundred ISO and go upwards of you know
6400 and then ridiculous numbers above that high one high 2 & 2 just crazy
numbers I normally wouldn’t go above 1600 iso I just happen to like it’s
clean of images as possible I know some people like noise especially in black
and white photography but needless to say the ISO ranges in here
are great and you can get some really clean photos with iso s in the four six
eight hundred range and that’s real beneficial in low-light conditions also
the capture rate another benefit to the chips and knees is that they can capture
images faster like I said this camera i think will do five frames or so some of
the higher-end cameras will go upwards of 10 or 11 frames a second which is
just so fast rear displays on these cameras talking about our LCD they’re
great they’re bright they produce color nicely which leads us into the other
thing is that a lot of these you can do video and having a nice screen that’s
got a high resolution is good to have when you’re doing video work easy access
to controls there’s tons of buttons on these cameras everything’s pretty much
right at your fingertips that’s really nice not having to dive down into menus
and select around and find what you’re looking for and make your adjustment it
just speeds up the workflow quite a bit weatherproofing most DSLRs are going to
have some degree of weather proofing I wouldn’t soak them in a tub or anything
like that but I’ve seen plenty of instances where in a light drizzle or
something you don’t really have to worry about it I’ve seen other instances where
somebody left their camera outside in a storm and it was just soaking wet and it
survived I wouldn’t suggest that but I’ve seen it done and they’re not too
expensive for what you get you know you can get upwards of probably seven or
eight thousand dollars on a high-end DSLR body and 35 millimeter format but
really for somewhere between you know one and three thousand dollars you can
get a really nice camera it’ll do pretty much anything you needed
to do and there’s tons of lenses available form a lot of manufacturers a
lot of specialty lenses macro lenses tilt-shift lens is really that kind of
boils down to the markets just so much larger you know when there’s a lot of
people out there with these cameras that’s a lot more customers out there
for companies to create products for I guess that kind of brings us to the
negatives the downsides I don’t really consider it a downside but when you’re
comparing it to a medium format system you could say image quality nowadays the
images you get out of these 35 millimeter systems are incredible but
you do get a little bit more out of a medium format camera they’re difficult
to clean as we saw earlier when you break one of these down and you look
inside you know if you want to clean the sensor you got to lock the mirror up and
then get a light so you can see what you’re doing down there and you know
special tools and there’s oil in there for the mirror to flip up and stuff and
you don’t want to touch anything and smear oil inside and it’s just really
kind of a hassle to get in there and most people actually suggest you just
have them done professionally I’d call that a downside and I guess probably
least of the worries is if you’re dealing with high-end clients or
something like that they’re just not that impressive you know a camera’s a
camera is a camera but if you’re dealing with a client it’s used to walking in
and seeing somebody using you know either large-format cameras or medium
format DSLRs and they come in and they see a 35-millimeter DSLR it doesn’t mean
you can’t do the job right or produce images they want necessarily but it
might make them feel not as comfortable as they were when they originally hired
you for the job but I wouldn’t let that hold you back that’s not reason enough
to upgrade to a medium format system that said I think that’s probably all
the cons that I could come up with on these things they’re just great little
cameras wonderful and I guess we’ll move on to
breaking down the medium format let’s go okay so now we’re going to do the same
thing with the medium format DSLR first the pros I would think that the first
pro that I have with this is if you’re going to work a system like this you
have to have a digital back and by having the digital back you have more
versatility because one thing that we know is you can take the digital back
off and put it on a technical camera that just opens up you know the
possibilities of what you can actually do with the equipment and that’s just
amazing of course the image quality you’re dealing with a sensor that’s
twice a size as a 35-millimeter sensor and that’s going to produce shallower
depth of field it’s going to capture more light it’s going to be sharper and
of course that’s all the stuff we’re going for but what it also does is
provides more color information more accurate color representation larger
dynamic ranges you know from the blacks to the whites you know you’re looking at
12 14 stops of dynamic range and easy to clean you know when you take that back
off that chip sitting right there you just get your swab wipe it clean it up
brand new of course you know it’s impressive that’s just kind of a little
ego driven thing there I guess and you have great lenses available on these
things now you don’t have the range of lenses like you do in here which will go
in the con list but the lenses you do have available for these are superb
they’re sharp they’re crisp you have the leaf shutter options in some of the
lenses they’re just magnificent and of course another thing that’s not
necessarily a benefit of the camera itself but when you get into a system
like this is the customer service you get from the company that you purchase
from I don’t know about all of the you know different companies and plans
available and stuff like that but I know that if something goes wrong with this
camera I can have it taken to the shop I’ll get something to use in exchange
for it it’ll be taken care of in no time and ship back to me I’ve heard some
horror stories of course on both sides and you can’t win them all all the time
but I have heard a lot of bad things about new models and cameras that come
out in the 35 millimeter world my d800 when it first came out had some issues
and luckily I ended up with a model that came out after those issues were taken
care of but I haven’t heard of that many issues out of medium format systems I
would think that’s mostly because when you have a customer forking out that
kind of money the last thing you want is for them to be angry with you because
you didn’t give them a functioning product that said I’m only saying that
because I personally haven’t heard of any of those issues and then I guess
we’ll get to the cons the bad sides and you might be surprised at some of these
a they’re super expensive no kidding no surprise the lenses super expensive
maybe a little bit of a surprise but um I guess it should have been expected
right working with these you have a single focal point unlike these where
you look through the viewfinder and you have a ton of little boxes and a ray to
choose from and you can flick it around in there and get whatever you need in
here you have one circle in the middle of the frame that’s your focusing point
you do have the ability to kind of decide where it’s going to weigh you
know where it’s focusing so I’m like the edges of the focusing circle or the
center of the focusing circle but you can’t move it around the frame and when
you’re shooting something like this with a shallower depth of field that becomes
even more difficult because if you have to say focus and recompose
you got to be really careful doing that because the slight change in your
recomposition can completely blow your focus so it’s not the easiest thing in
the world to deal with of course again if you’re shooting tethered and you have
a live view saying capture one or some other similar program and becomes less
of an issue I so capabilities basically I wouldn’t use this camera on anything
over its native iso 100 if I have to I might put it on 200 but like I said I
like clean images but these things produce a lot of noise I think it might
go up to 800 iso and that’s just completely unusable so you’re not going
to be using these for sporting events low-light situations you know and some
soccer in a field at night of your family you’re definitely not going to be
getting photos with this guy you’re going to want to take something like
this with the long wide aperture lens and just have a blast and capture rate
you know on these we were talking about five frames a second upwards of 10 or 11
frames a second something like this you’re looking at one frame a second
maybe one point zero five frames per second something like that but uh
they’re slow and I think a lot of that has to do is just how long it takes to
process such a large image image file it’s it’s not really that big of a deal
for the kind of work I do if your still life photographer or something like that
but you know if you’re shooting say hi fashion or something and you’ve got a
model that’s there’s just a whole bunch of energy and she’s going through these
tons of poses and you want to be able to capture as much of that as possible this
you’re not really going to be able to do that with you know it’s going to be
click click click and that’s about as fast as it’s going to get the LCD screen
on the back of these cameras I’m not going to say this about the new ones
because some of the newer ones the Krytos and the IQ to
forties or two 80s or 2 60’s or whatever they are probably have really nice
screens on them I haven’t had my hands on one yet but I do know that the older
digital backs or even some of the newer versions of older models like the Aptus
series from leaf the screens just aren’t very good you get a lot of banding and
gradients and stuff like that for color representation and it’s just kind of
difficult to deal with the touchscreen is nice but you end up with fingerprints
all over the screen and I find myself having to wipe it constantly and no
built-in live view some of the newer ones do like I said the sum of the
Krytos and the IQ series from phase have live view built in and I can tell you
that would definitely be at the top of the pro list if I had one of those but
as of right now it’s got to sit on my con list because it’s in the majority of
the older more affordable digital backs that you find the lower quality screens
and accessing some of the controls you know if you take a look at this you
don’t have all the buttons that you had on this I mean it’s just buttons
everywhere on this thing here you’ve got a knob you know your dial of three or
four buttons here and a button here you know what I mean the rest of it is in
your digital back so if you want to change your white balance or your ISO or
any of that kind of stuff you have to go in here route into your menu or whatever
it is go to wherever it is and you can set up a favorites folder that has your
most accessed options and that’s pretty convenient but still it’s not really as
easy as just pressing the button scroll to where it is and you’re good to go I
find with this I don’t have to really look at what I’m doing when I’m making
changes with this I do and complicated custom settings you know over here it’s
pretty easy to set up custom menus and settings but over here when you get into
the customizations nothing’s really named
intuitively it’s like c1 c2 c3 and then there’s all these just different
categories that don’t have even abbreviations that make sense so you
kind of to keep a little cheat sheet with you or something that tells you
what they all mean if you play with that kind of stuff a lot I find myself not
doing that I tend to just keep it in manual hundred iso and then I’m just
messing with you know shutter speed and aperture and even shutter speed not that
often because I’m using you know strobes and I typically keep it a it max ink so
that would be that talking about the lenses again you know I said that with
medium format the lenses that are available are incredible but where you
have a problem is there aren’t that many available at least not in comparison to
35 millimeter there are a couple tilt shift lens available a couple of macro
lenses available but really the choices are fairly limited good news is the
choices that are there are superb they’re also incredibly expensive I
think I say like a 85 millimeter tilt shift lens from Schneider or well let’s
go with Nikon which is pretty much just as good it’s 90 millimeters from
schneider i believe the 85 millimeter tilt shift lens from nikon is going to
run you a couple thousand dollars and that’s expensive but it’s a great lens
and it will do what you needed to do however on medium format the 90
millimeter Schneider tilt shift I’m sorry 120 millimeter Schneider tilt
shift lens is depending on where you get it going to run you somewhere between
five thousand and six and a half thousand dollars that’s pretty expensive
likewise just regular you know leaf shutter macro lenses 120 millimeter from
the same company you’re looking at four grand ish four or five thousand dollars
so it’s very expensive but you do get the quality out of that and that pretty
much wraps up for this pros and cons when I only
had my d800 system when I was dreaming about having a medium format system I
kind of expected that if i was going to fork out that kind of money everything
would just be better that this all the options that you had in this would
transfer to this and it would just do the job better maybe even provide me
some new trickier options that weren’t previously available in this kind of
system that turned out not to be the case actually a lot of the things that
are available here are not available here and when they are available here in
a handful of instances they actually don’t perform as well as they do in the
35 millimeter system so as I said at the beginning of this you might be really
surprised at what fifteen to thirty thousand dollars won’t buy you in a
future part of this series we are going to compare a medium format DSLR system
with this digital back on a cambo Ultima monorail camera and we’re just going to
compare the pros and cons of using both of those systems obviously using the
large format system is going to slow things down a bit but it might get us
some really nice results that we don’t expect to we’ll see I’ve been Josh
Geiger with photo gcom and we’ll talk to you later

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