When digital technology first melded with medium-format cameras and lenses, it was in the form of mounted digital backs
in place of the traditional film backs. It was a natural way to do things since so many of the medium-format cameras were modular. Many photographers will continue using it for years to come, especially because it offers an advantage of being able to use the same body and lenses for both film and digital photography.
That said, recent advancements in 35mm-style digital SLRs—namely in the areas of very high-resolution, full-frame image sensors—give rise to questions about the long-term viability of medium-format digital capture. The manufacturers, however, seem to be answering these questions with a new generation of integrated cameras that are designed from the ground up to be fully digital.
Hasselblad's H1D builds on the H1 body and merges it with an Imacon digital back. Mamiya is coming out with the ZD, a 22-megapixel medium-format digital camera designed to function in much the same way as a typical, albeit larger, 35mm digital SLR. And Pentax is getting into the integrated digital market with the new 645 Digital camera—an all-digital version of the 645 film cameras.
One of the primary draws of medium format always has been the image quality. The larger image size naturally provides more information than any 35mm frame. Seen as an ideal compromise between the portability of a 35mm system and the large film of a view camera, medium format gives you image quality without the bulk of a view camera.
In September 2004, the first all-digital medium-format camera was announced—the Hasselblad H1D. The H1D is built on the Hasselblad H1 chassis and system. That camera was the company's first fully automatic medium-format camera. The H1D, however, incorporates an Imacon digital back to complete the all-digital offering. The camera is compatible with all Hasselblad HC lenses (as well as V-system lenses with an optional adapter) to allow you a relatively painless merger with existing equipment. The H1D's 22-megapixel sensor produces a digital image file far larger than any 35mm digital SLR; it uses a 40 GB Image Bank that stores up to 850 images.
Taking a different approach, the Mamiya ZD is shaped like a bulked-up 35mm SLR. It's a fully automatic medium-format camera with an integrated 22-megapixel image sensor that captures 12-bit images. The ZD is highly portable and incorporates both CompactFlash and SD media slots, so there's no need for a tethered hard drive. At 40-plus MB per RAW image, a card fills up fast, but downloading is quick via the integrated IEEE 1394 FireWire port or a card reader. The ZD utilizes all existing Mamiya 645AF lenses, so if you already have an investment in the Mamiya system, you may need only a new body to make the leap to all-digital medium-format capture.
The new Pentax 645 Digital was announced in March 2005. Compatible with all existing smc Pentax 645 lenses, the 645 Digital uses an 18.6-megapixel Kodak CCD sensor. Further details are pending, but we expect the camera to make a considerable splash when it hits the market.
Medium-format manufacturers are banking on the fact that the high quality of the images that a medium-format system can achieve will continue to appeal to discriminating photographers. It's likely that this is only the first generation in what will be a long line of integrated, all-digital medium-format systems.
Mamiya (MAC Group)