In the modern camera world there are several types of cameras: hobbiests with sensor size up to 1”, semi-professional with APS-C and Micro Four-Thirds sized sensors and professional cameras, most of which have a full-frame sensor (although some still utilize smaller APS-C). As we know, sensor size plays a huge role when it comes to image quality: usually the bigger sensor is, the greater the color range and dynamic depth it has, and a bigger sensor always has much better ISO performance.
But there are professional cameras even among professional cameras. These are known as Medium Format cameras, and they are the whole different animal. Their sensors are huge, even compared to full-frame DSLRs. Their megapixel count is whooping and the size and weight will make you wish you’d worked out more. They require a very different approach to shooting and are utilized mostly for studio and landscape photography. They also are built on a modular principle, meaning you can change base, sensor, viewfinder, and of course, the lens anytime you wish. Furthermore, the digital sensor can be even replaced with a good old film cartridge and it will still work seamlessly.
These cameras were popular back in the day of film photography, and are still popular among famous photographers who can afford to drop $50,000 on camera today, but since the beginning of the digital photography era they have been falling behind both in market share and relative performance. Before the days of the digital medium format, the playing field had a lot of competitors – Mamiya, Pentax, Fuji, Hasselblad, Contax, Bronica, Rolleiflex, the list goes on. When digital came around, many of these companies were unable to make the transition. So now there are only 4 left: Phase One, Hasselblad, Ricoh and Leica.
Even though they have a much larger sensor than DSLRs, they are lagging behind modern top full-frame cameras, such as Nikon D810 and Sony A7R(II) in terms of both dynamic range and ISO performance. As you can see, even the best of Medium Format sensors tested as of today – Phase One IQ180 Digital Back – don’t even make it to TOP 10 on DxOMark, despite costing 10 times as much as above mentioned full-frame competitors.
But why does this happen? Doesn’t bigger sensor always mean better image quality by the laws of physics as it’s capable of gathering more light? Well, in general – yes, but only if the technology in those sensors is the same. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Given the high cost associated with the production of Medium Format cameras, they are a very niche product, and despite higher margins their manufacturers still make much less money than compared to the more popular Nikon and Canon. Making less money means that the company cannot spend as much on research and development which in turn means their technology doesn’t progress as fast and they can’t release new models with the latest technology very often. And indeed, the best Medium Format camera that is currently on the market was released back in January 2011! At that time it was ultimately the best. In fact, given how rapidly technology progresses today, it’s actually amazing that 5 years later this camera is still in 11th place! Furthermore, even 5 years later, no camera managed to surpass it in terms of color depth and, something medium format was always the king of, resolution (megapixel count) - that is, until this year.
In the beginning of the year Phase One (the number one Medium Format manufacturer) announced it's new camera system, the IQ3, built around a new 100MP sensor developed in partnership with Sony. It was great news in January but today’s news is probably even more drastic.
Because today the second biggest player on the market (Swedish Hasselblad) joined the club and introduced their first new models since 2012: H6D.
They come in two variations but both utilize the same Sony sensor. H6D-50c comes with a "modest" 50 MP sensor whereas the H6D-100c offers a more generous 100 MP. But no surprises here, as 80MP Medium Format sensors were around since 2011. Where these new sensors really promise the golden land, it’s in dynamic range and color depths: Hasselblad and PhaseOne claim it will be "up to 15 EVs". If they don’t fail to prove this in DxOMark tests, it will make these cameras the best by this criteria. As for color depth, just like with all Medium Format cameras, it is expected to be exceptional, claiming a value of 16 bits per channel which means 48 bits in RGB color space! There’s no word about low-light performance (apart of quoted max ISO of 12,800) but it is also expected to improve a lot, even though it only has a hypothetical value due to the specifics of use of such cameras: you must shoot on a tripod to avoid motion blur and harness all the high resolution in any case, so you can always nail the exposure with shutter speed (for landscapes) or strobes (in studio) settings.
Here’s the example of 100% crop at ISO 800 from PhaseOne 100 megapixel sensor:
By the way, the fact that today three out of four Medium Format manufacturers all use the same Sony sensor really shows just how hard it is to develop your own that would withstand the competition from such a mass-market company.
But the most exiting thing about these two new cameras is not their technical specs, but the new mindset that Medium Format manufacturers seem to have adopted. And in the base of it lays connectivity and technology. Thus cameras feature a USB 3.0 for high-speed tethered shooting and as is the case with Hasselblad, even Wi-Fi, that can be used for not only viewing images in detail on a computer or tablet screen after the capture, but also can allow for a live-view to compose your shot as the camera supports 30fps wireless video transmission.
In-camera displays are also high quality. In Hasselblad it’s 3-inches in size and 920K dots in resolution, whereas PhaseOne’s is even bigger at 3.2” and "retina" resolution (company doesn’t quote the exact number). They both feature touch-screens with which most of cameras’ settings are changed. Of course, there are still dedicated physical buttons and dials on the bodies for the most frequently needed adjustments, but most of the settings are now done via touch-screen. This approach is similar to that used by Leica in their T cameras. There are also a couple of very nice software features as well, such as an in-camera time-lapse mode, HDR-oriented bracketing and focus-stacking.
But the similarities between the two cameras ends here and Hasselblad starts leading the way.
Hasselblad features a dual-card slot: one for CFast and one for conventional SD cards. They can be configured via the camera menu to act as a RAID solution or simply to extend your memory capacity.
Fast storage is really important, because Hasselblad H6D-100C is the first camera in the world to have such high resolution that it's able to capture 4k UHD video! Furthermore, it happens in Hasselblad’s proprietary RAW format which can be later easily converted to Apple ProRes given all the benefits of working with RAW data during color grading.
Hasselblad has also released a new set of lenses for the system capable of delivering the details for the 100+ MP sensor. All these new lenses feature a leaf shutter that allows for any time of flash sync and does not distort moving objects.
Given all the specifications, Hasselblad is promising to become a new benchmark for camera performance for the next couple of years and is definitely worth salivating over. But it is just a matter of time before more widely available 35-mm Full Frame cameras will catch up and outperform it, and given how technological progress is going this time it shouldn’t take 5 years.
So, taking this into account, as well as price of new Hasselblad cameras – 23000 euros ($26000) for 50 MP and 29000 euros ($33,000) for 100 MP, excluding taxes – this product will stay a very niche one, being used only by a few top-notch professionals who need the best resolution available today. For the rest of us, I think it’s better to wait 2 years and save 20000 dollars.
|Hasselblad H6D-50C||Hasselblad H6D-100C||PhaseOne XF 100 MP||Leica S||Pentax 645Z|
|Weight||2115 g||2130 g||2045 g||1400 g w/o lens||1555 g w/o lens|
|Sensor size||43.8 × 32.9mm||53.4 × 40.0mm||53.7 x 40.4mm||45 x 30 mm||43.8mm x 32.8mm|
|Resolution||8272 × 6200(50 MP)||11600 × 8700(100 MP)||11608 x 8708 (100 MP)||7,500 x 5,000 (37.5 MP)||8272 × 6200(50 MP)|
|Pixel size||5.3 × 5.3 μm||4.6 × 4.6 μm||4.6 × 4.6 μm||6 µm||5.3 × 5.3 μm|
|Video resolution||H.264 1920x1080 30fps||Hasselblad RAW 3840 x 2160 30 fps|
H.264 3840 x 2160 30 fps
H.264 1920x1080 30fps
|None||4K 4096 x 2160 (with Super 35 window mode) 24 fps|
1920 x 1080 (with Leica Pro Format sensor area) 30 fps
|H.264 1920x1080 (60i/30p)|
1280x720 60 fps
|Continues shooting||1.7-2.3 fps||TBD||n/a||1.5 fps||3.1 fps|
|Flash sync speed||Any||Any||Any||Any||1/125 sec|
|Dynamic range||14 Evs||15 Evs||15 EVS||12 Evs||14 Evs|
|ISO range||100 - 6400||64 - 12800||64 - 12800||80 - 1250||100 - 204800|
|Average RAW file size||65 MB||120 MB||140 MB||72 MB||60 MB|
|Price||$26,000||$33,000||$49,000 w/80mm lens||$14,000||$7,000|