5 New and Noteworthy Medium-Format Cameras

NOVEMBER 13, 2012

By Dan Havlik

There weren’t many new medium-format cameras and digital backs announced this year, but the ones that were launched offered powerful, high-resolution sensors and a range of new features. Photographers who demand massive amounts of detail and exceptional image quality in their work might want to consider the following new medium-format products for their most important jobs.

Leica S medium-format cameraLeica S

The Leica S may look a lot like its predecessor—the Leica S2—and it may use the same Kodak-built, 37.5-megapixel, 45 x 30mm-size CCD sensor as the S2, but this DSLR-style medium-format camera offers several changes that improve on an already excellent camera. We’re not just blowing smoke. We named the Leica S2 camera of the year in 2010 and, while we haven’t been able to fully test out the new Leica S yet, we got some hands-on time with it at photokina and liked what we saw. Leica says it’s made over 80 improvements to the Leica S from the previous model. Though some of these are minor, others are significant, such as the doubled internal memory buffer speed, letting you fire off up to 32 RAW DNG images before the camera slows down to catch up. There’s also a new sensor board, which lets the camera shoot at a native ISO 100 with increased dynamic range.

In terms of hardware changes, the Leica S adds built-in GPS, with the GPS module slightly sticking up on top of the left shoulder of the camera. The rear 3-inch LCD display has 920K of resolution and uses the sRGB color space for crisp playback. There’s also hard, protective Gorilla Glass from Corning covering the LCD, which is nice. For navigation, a five-direction joystick on the back helps you zip through the menus and scroll through images in playback. The joystick also lets you navigate within an image while zooming.

There’s a large histogram display option for your images now with peaking indicators and quicker access to the image controls. Other tweaks include a revamped rubber surface that’s softer and offers a better grip; and engraved shutter speeds on the shutter speed dial to give it a touch more class. Speaking of class, the only indication of the model name is on the black hot shoe on top, which has Leica S subtly engraved there. And finally, while it’s the same single-point autofocus system (with manual override) as the previous camera with the same maximum 1.5 frames per second “burst” shooting, a new AF module—an internal optical device—has been added to the Leica S’s autofocus system, that helps focus quicker in low-contrast shooting situations.

Price: $21,950 (body only)

Hasselblad H5D medium-format cameraHasselblad H5D

Some big medium-format news this year was the unveiling of Hasselblad’s H5D camera system, which is the latest in its H System product line. The changes between the H5D and previous H4D system might not seem major, at first, but they are significant. The H5D system comes in three models with different megapixel counts: 40, 50 and 60. There’s also a 200-megapixel multishot version of the H5D. The company has updated the design of its medium-format line with the H5D, giving it a more robust build with new sealing for the digital back, viewfinder and CompactFlash door.

New features include Hasselblad’s upgraded True Focus II technology, which is designed to let you lock in on a subject and then recompose your shot without losing the original point of focus; and the new Hasselblad intuitive focus check, which lets you quickly check the focus of your images at up to 100 percent without interrupting your workflow. Along with shooting high-resolution RAW images, the H5D adds a new JPEG-on-the-fly feature, letting you quickly fire off JPEGs at a quarter of the resolution. Shooting modes include JPEG + RAW along with RAW. The H5D system body adds five programmable buttons for personally configuring the camera; and extensive tether camera controls, including a new Camera Configurator feature in Hasselblad’s Phocus software, which lets you configure H System camera profiles and make them portable and interchangeable. The H5D also adds a battery grip with 50 percent more power.

Prices: Not available at press time

Mamiya Leaf Phase One 645DF+Mamiya Leaf/Phase One 645DF+
Another upgraded shooter that turned heads at photokina this year was the 645DF+, a medium-format camera platform being sold under both the Mamiya Leaf and Phase One brands. Though it looks nearly identical to the previous 645DF model—aside from the added “+” designation—the new 645DF+ camera body has several key improvements. For one, while the 645DF+ has the same phase-detection-based three-point autofocus system with dual focal plane and leaf shutter switching as the previous model, the AF’s electronic algorithm has been completely rewritten and felt a notch faster and more precise during our hands-on time with the camera at photokina.

Another big change is improved battery life. With its new Li-ion rechargeable battery, the 645DF+ can now fire off up to 10,000 shots on a single charge. Best of all, the new battery does not seem to have any significant impact on the weight and design of the 645DF+. Hold both this model and the previous version in your hands and you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference. The 645DF+’s firmware has been rewritten and the shutter’s durability has been upgraded so it will last longer. Again, though none of these changes were immediately noticeable while shooting with the camera, they’re appreciated. Despite the overall upgrade, the 645DF+ is retailing for the same starting price as the previous model.

Price: $5,990

Leaf CredoLeaf Credo
If you’re interested in the Mamiya Leaf/Phase One 645DF+, you’re going to need a digital back to go with it so why not pair it with a Leaf Credo back? The Leaf Credo digital back platform comes in three different models with corresponding resolutions: the Leaf Credo 80 (80 megapixels), Credo 60 (60 megapixels) and Credo 40 (40 megapixels). So depending on how much imaging power you need, there could be a Credo for you. A new 3.2-inch LCD (1.15 megapixel resolution) screen with multi-touch control fills the rear of the back, offering crisp Live View to help you lock down focus on the screen when shooting untethered. The screen also features a wide viewing angle and a built-in bi-directional digital spirit level.

The flagship Leaf Credo 80’s 80-megapixel CCD sensor offers a reported dynamic range of 12.5 f/stops, while the Credo 60’s 60-megapixel CCD sensor offers 4:3 aspect ratio, producing rich color, fine detail and low noise. Meanwhile, the Credo 40’s 40-megapixel sensor offers the fastest capture speed of the trio, at 1.2 frames per second. The Leaf Credo backs are designed to work with the Mamiya 645DF camera, offering shutter speeds of up to 1/4000 of a second and sync speeds of up to 1/1600 of a second via Schneider-Kreuznach-designed leaf shutter lenses.

Prices: Leaf Credo 40, $19,495; Leaf Credo 60, $24,995; Leaf Credo 80, $38,995

Phase One iXA medium-format cameraPhase One iXA
Now here’s a medium-format system for a special niche of photography. The Phase One iXA, launched earlier this year, is designed for aerial photography, and comes in 80-megapixel and 60-megapixel models, in either RGB (Red, Green, Blue) or NIR (Near Infrared) versions. The Phase One iXA is designed to be rugged and durable and, according to Phase One, the camera “incorporates 6061 aluminum alloy to enable a robust solution capable of superior performance under tough aerial conditions, while secured connectors firmly hold cables in place.”

The iXA system can work in either single or multiple camera configurations and is capable of capturing “synchronized images within 100 microseconds of each other and eliminating post-production sync issues,” according to Phase One. The iXA is designed to offer high-dynamic range and detailed image quality when used with Phase One’s line of Schneider-Kreuznach internal, electronically controlled leaf shutters and Phase One digital lenses. Phase One’s SDK software gives you control over ISO, shutter speed, aperture, and capture during aerial photography and adds an interface for custom applications to work with the iXA camera system in a production setup.

60-megapixel version, $53,000; 80-megapixel version, $60,000

HD Pentax D FA 645 Macro 90mm F2.8 ED AW SR camera lensHD Pentax D FA 645 Macro 90mm F2.8 ED AW SR
While we had been hearing that Pentax might unveil a new version of its relatively inexpensive ($9,995) and well-regarded 40-megapixel 645D medium-format camera system, that didn’t materialize (as of press time). Instead, the company took the wraps off a sweet 90mm macro lens for the 645D this year. When mounted on a 645D, this macro gives you a 35mm equivalent focal length of 71mm; or 56mm when connected to a Pentax 645 film-format camera body. The lens has two ED (extra-low dispersion) elements and one glass-molded aspherical element, which should produce excellent, high-resolution image quality while reducing chromatic aberrations.

Along with a new protective HD coating and Pentax’s tried-and-true Aero Bright Coating to reduce reflection while channeling in more light, the FA 645 Macro 90mm is the first Pentax lens to add an SR (Shake Reduction) mechanism right in the barrel. It also has a dustproof and weatherproof construction, and sports a new design with a red anodized ring on the front of the focus ring to mark it as part of the new HD Pentax lens series. Finally, it offers macro shooting at a maximum magnification of 0.5x.

Price: $4,499

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