Medium Format Digital Cameras

Some of the most expensive cameras produced are the Leica S-system cameras. The Leica S2 dSLR system with a 37.5-MP CCD sensor that is 30x45mm (which is slightly over 50 percent larger than a full-frame sensor) is more than $20,000. Currently, there are 35mm (28mm/35mm equivalent), 70mm (56mm/35mm equivalent), 120mm (96mm/35mm equivalent), and 180mm (144mm/35mm equivalent) lenses available for the camera. Within the next couple of years, you'll see an ultra-wide, zoom, tilt and shift, and super telephoto lenses. Camera reviewer Steve Huff had this to say about the camera: "While holding it, I felt like I was holding a solid block of steel."1

The larger the sensor on a camera, the better the image will be. A larger sensor takes in more light, enabling your camera to distinguish between color tones and produce more levels of brightness and contrast across the area of your image. You're less likely to get blasting highlights (which occur when you get one color tone over a large area). There is also significantly less noise when the light is low. A larger sensor will pick up subtle light differences better than a smaller one will.

You can get a camera with a large number of megapixels for less than $300, but the sensor will be small, and the picture quality will suffer. You can buy a medium format camera and get a much better image, but you'll pay a hefty sum. Although the sensors on full-frame dSLRs are more than adequate, there are times when medium format sensors work wonders with an image, especially if you are going to blow it up for a billboard.

Although Leica just entered the medium format digital camera market, announcing their first medium format camera (the S2) in 2008, Mamiya has been producing them since 2004 and Hasselblad since 2006. However, both Mamiya and Hasselblad have been making film versions of these cameras for decades. The expensive cameras range in price from $10,000 to $40,000.

Swedish camera maker Hasselblad is devoted to "producing the finest camera equipment known to man," according to its website. NASA has used their cameras for almost 50 years. The pictures taken by Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin Jr. were shot with a Hasselblad 500 EL/70. Three of them were taken along on the Apollo 11 mission, and they used Kodak 70mm film, according to Phill Parker.2 Figure 5.2 shows one of the many pictures that were taken. These images still appear futuristic, even though the event was more than 40 years ago.

Will there be a Mars landing in the future? If so, they'll probably use one of the Hasselblad medium format digital cameras to document it. If President Barack Obama has his way, we'll see a Mars landing in his lifetime. "I expect to see it," he was quoted as saying in an article by Seth Borenstein and Erica Werner of the Huffington Post.3

1 See www.stevehuffphoto.com/2010/02/28/the-leica-s2-digital-camera-review.

2 See history.nasa.gov/alsj/a11/a11-hass.html.

3 See www.hufFingtonpost.com/2010/04/16/obama-on-mars-landing-i-e_n_540302.html.

Figure 5.2

Pictures of the moon landing in 1969 were taken with a Hasselblad 500 EL/70. Image courtesy of NASA.

Figure 5.2

Pictures of the moon landing in 1969 were taken with a Hasselblad 500 EL/70. Image courtesy of NASA.

Medium format cameras are coming down in price, but will that make them the next big camera for the masses? Prices for Mamiya's lower-level medium format digital camera have fallen. The company offers a 22-MP medium format digital camera (48x36mm CCD sensor), the DM22, for just under $10,000—still within the price range only a professional making a lot of money can afford. If the price drops another $5,000, more people will buy the camera, putting the larger-size sensors in the hands of photographers of all levels.

Mamiya cameras are known for producing amazingly sharp photos. Their ISO speed ranges tend to be low to get the sharpest image possible. And because the sensors are big, the ISO ranges tend to be smaller. (The bigger the sensor, the more chance the image will have noise at high ISO speeds.) The maximum ISO speed for the DM22 is 400.

The higher-end Mamiya cameras—the DM33, DM40, and DM56—are named after their sensor resolutions. The DM33 has a 33-MP sensor, the DM40 has a 40-MP sensor, and the DM56 has a 56-MP sensor. The latter has a 56x36mm CCD sensor and costs more than $30,000.

Now that we've covered in previous chapters many of the types of cameras, we can focus on lenses. While point-and-shoots come with lenses attached, dSLRs, rangefinders, and Micro Four Thirds have removable lenses. The lens that comes with the camera is called the kit lens; on most dSLRs, it's usually a low-quality lens you'll want to replace with a better one. You'll also want to look at an assortment of lenses that fit your needs, from wide-angle and telephoto lenses to zoom lenses.

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