Unless you’ve been a patron of photography arts for some time, or have had formal education in photography, medium format cameras are typically a bit of an enigma. They’re enigmatic because across the spectrum of photographers amateur and pro, most will hardly ever see or hold a medium format camera, much less shoot or own one. They are the reserve of only a small portion of the professional market, for those who demand the utmost of their imagery, or have the most demanding clientele. So why are they so special, and why would a photographer use them?
To answer that you’d be best to hear from someone who uses them often, and in the video herein Karl Taylor offers about the best short explanation. In a rather broad but not ambiguous way, Taylor explains the primary physical differences between medium format and smaller format cameras like 35mm DSLRs, which fundamentally and foundationally is the sensor.
He then continues to explain why the physical properties of that sensor dictates what the rest of the camera, and accessories like lenses, looks like, and why their performance parameters are so far greater than those of the SLRs most are used to.
There’s been much brouhaha in recent years that the high megapixel sensors found in cameras like the D810, Canon 5dSR, and Sony a7RII make the results of those cameras rival that of medium format, but this is only through certain metrics of measurement, and really, it’s just not the same. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen images I’ve loved, typically fashion or beauty, and tried to recreate the looks with high res cameras, only never to quite achieve the right nuanced look, and that’s because there’s more to a medium format system than the number of megapixels. The sheer physics makes sure of that.
Have a look at the video and Karl will dispel certain myths about these curious systems, and offers up their advantages and their limitations. He says something in the early half though, that’s good to keep in mind, and that is regarding who and when these are typically used. If you or your client are looking for good enough, these aren’t for you, but rather for those who are, “needing to achieve the very best images for perfection driven clients, or for projects where image quality matters, then there will be no room for equipment compromise.”