10 Reasons to Choose a Medium Format Digital Camera

With the release of the Fujifilm GFX 100, there are a lot of questions about why you’d choose a medium format digital camera system like the Phase One IQ4 (or even a previous-generation IQ3 100MP) which costs significantly more for what appears to be similar resolution and capability. For anyone that’s shot with both systems, the difference is immediate and obvious, but for those that haven’t had the chance to demo a medium format camera, we thought we’d highlight some of the differences between a 100MP crop-medium-format system and a similar resolution system in full-frame medium format.

From overall quality, to workflow, to features that can’t be found on lower-end cameras, there’s a reason the top photographers in the world choose to shoot medium format.

1) The Best Color

To start with, all Phase One cameras shoot in true, native 16-bit color, without no upscaling like other smaller medium-format systems. Most smaller-format cameras have, at best, 14-bit color depth, meaning they are doing a little better with 16,384 tonal levels. Some may digitally upscale their files to 16-bits, but information can’t just be made up. Because Phase One digital systems capture at 16-bit natively, you get the marvelous ability to record and distinguish 65,536 tonal levels per channel. 16-bit color gives you smooth flawless gradations of skin tone and smooth open skies.

2) The Best Image Quality

With Capture One processing the RAW files, and the files themselves being shot in 16-bit color, there simply isn’t a better quality image available in a consumer camera system. A big factor that many photographers aren’t aware of is that even the math converting the light energy captured by the sensor into color data can have a huge impact on the final image. It’s no secret that Capture One has the most accurate RAW processing algorithms available, and its native integration with Phase One hardware means you are getting the most accurate color – from rich skin tones to subtle shadow detail often lost in lower-end cameras, it’s a marked difference, and one of the reasons you’ll constantly hear photographers talk about the “look of medium format.” While Capture One provides excellent support for many camera systems, Phase One cameras will always perform head-and-shoulders above the others – one of the benefits of having one company design the entire imaging pipeline, from pixel to print.

3) The Best Dynamic Range

Not all pixels are created equal. A bigger sensor means bigger individual pixels, which means more light is gathered within each pixel, enabling better dynamic range, lower noise, and more accurate color.

And with Phase One’s IQ4 system using a Back-side Illuminated sensor (a first for medium format cameras), you are getting the cleanest image capture available. (For a full breakdown of how a back-side illuminated sensor works and its advantages, read our in-depth article here.)

4) A New Perspective

The big, bright optical viewfinder is a drastically different visual experience for the user as compared to the small constrained viewfinder of a small-format camera or the computer-screen-like EVF of a mirrorless camera. Once you’re used to composing within a spacious and visceral viewfinder it’s hard to live with anything less.

5) Better Lenses

Megapixels don’t mean anything if the lenses aren’t clear enough to resolve the image at that resolution, and Phase One’s investment in lens development has created what is rightly perceived as the sharpest collection of lenses available. Not only are they clear and crisp at 150MP, but they’re designed to resolve at significantly higher resolutions, meaning that a lens investment now will last through multiple generations of camera upgrades.

We did an in-depth test of medium format lenses, which you can read more about here.

6) Speed

Any professional shoot needs to run quickly and efficiently. When it’s your livelihood, time is quite literally money. And as megapixels increase, so do things like file size, transfer time, and image processing. That’s why Phase One has done continually focused on all the details that can slow down a photo studio, from increasing the processing power of their latest digital back (roughly the same power as an iPad), improving connectivity (more on that below), to better file management and batch processing, to create a seamless, continuous workflow during shoots and saving countless hours over the lifetime of camera ownership.

7) Connectivity

The latest Phase One XF IQ4 150MP system has multiple options for tethered shooting like USB-C and wireless, but ethernet is by far the most exciting choice. It not only provides tethering and power over one cable, helping to cut down on the cord spaghetti in your studio, and adding up to 100 meters of tethering distance for full freedom during your shoots. Add to that fully-wireless native RAW transfer, and you have an unparalleled set of connection options at your disposal.

8) Flexibility

Because of the modular nature of Phase One’s medium format system, you have a great degree of freedom in determining how you want to shoot. For tech camera users that rely on movements like rise/fall or tilt-shift, there’s simply no better choice than a Phase One digital back. But even subtler decisions like using a waist-level viewfinder, or the ability to photograph with an electronic, focal plane, or leaf shutter, give you ways to tailor your photographic experience to your unique style.

9) The Most Advanced Features

Medium format generally, and Phase One specifically, tend to lead the industry in bringing new features to consumers and the IQ4 150MP is no different. Advanced features like focus stacking, focus peaking, vibration-delay triggering, dark frame control, best-in-class lossless compression, built-in Profoto strobe light control, and more are things you simply won’t find in lower-end systems, and all add to the many reasons top professionals choose to shoot with Phase One.

10) The Highest Resolution

And finally, yes, the resolution. A 100 megapixel Fuji system provides a lot of detail, but it’s still not the most out there. Phase One’s XF IQ4 camera currently leads the industry with 150 megapixels, which is the most you’re going to find in any digital camera available today. It is literally the highest resolution consumer camera sensor in the world. If you want more detail, smoother tonal transitions, larger print sizes, and an indulgent amount of cropping ability, 150MP gives you all those in spades.

In the end, the inherently personal nature of photography means that it’s an individual’s choice on what features are most important—and most worth investing in—but there’s no doubt that medium format provides superior image as well as more flexibility in how you choose to shoot. If you’d like to experience that difference yourself, contact us to set up a personal, one-on-one demo either in one of our resource centers in New York and California, or remotely through video chat.

*Banner Photo Credit: Rudy Atallah