Medium Format As The “One” perfect camera for hobbyist, feat 645Z and GFX50s

I must admit, I have been flirting with this idea for a very long time for my digital preferences. It has been around 2 months now ever since I started my One Camera One Lens restriction on using the film camera for a year. The idea is not entirely new as other people including the popular blogger Eric Kim advocated similar discipline.

You can check out some of the videos here, released on a weekly and bi-weekly interval, ads free and non-sponsored.

Covid-19 threw a big spanner on my plans as travelling even between district is now prohibited in Malaysia as part of the conditional movement restriction order. So with not much opportunity to finish up the 36 shots a week and while immensely enjoying the peace of mind with this approach I looked at my existing digital gears and wondered whats the point of keeping all the gears. If anything after a year, I am probably so sold on this restrictive approach that I wouldn’t ever need them.

medium format fujifilm GFX and Pentax 645Z portratis
Medium format 45 f2.8 / IG : sashaxuan / IG : changelivesimages

I took this discipline one step further and of today, I sold off my favourite EOS-R, Panasonic G9 and dozen of native lenses that worked on them. I kept the films few bodies that can work with exceptional lenses still in my dry box like the Otus 55 and several M mount lenses.

The result? A massive decluttering. Not only is the dry box having spare space, I realize all the spare items that was needed to support the existence of those items are not needed too. I ended up with 4 extra bags, 8 filters no longer needed (should have given it free with the lenses) and the same detoxifying effect on my mind.

I don’t need to think which camera to bring out when I need to shoot. When I need the film experience, 50F2 planar + Contarex. When I need the digital, BAM, here take this medium format camera and this lens.

Medium format 45 F2.8. I am a big fan of candid and realistic representation.

Photography, in terms of its role in our lives can be categorized into (3) three categories. You are either a professional photographers and makes a living in photography 100% (you would need whatever number of bodies and lenses needed for your job and this article would be moot), semi-commercial work of which you could de-clutter and like me, you could be someone who just enjoys photography passionately.

For us, hobbyists that enjoy photography and not so much about collecting gears, having a discipline of going out and producing amazing images while connecting with the community is the ultimate objective. It is what feed our addiction, shutter therapy and the sense of being part of something much bigger in purpose than the routine lives we see daily that are deeply driven by commercial motivation.

medium format fujfilm gfx for hobbyist
Medium format 45 F2.8. Beautiful gradation of a simple indoor scene of a hipster cafe in KL.

Now, here is the thing. I brought those lenses and gears to a contact of mine, Jeff Speaker and told him, “Here i am taking my 1 camera 1 lens further, take these and give me an evaluation” . Having a conversation with Jeff and the difficult situation the camera industry is in (Nikon Malaysia just closed its door), I am am prepared to a reasonable value and have no illusion about their worth being used. This means I would convert all these gears and lenses in my digital inventory into 1 Camera 1 lens.

Jeff came back with a trade in proposal instead. The big but in this trade-in scenario is that I was prepared to just use my existing Pentax 645Z as I still have 2 good lenses with it and it would be contradictory to my goal and direction to acquire more gears. The 645Z I had is the one tool that I would bring out when I need absolute quality and assurance in getting the images I want. I even brought it out to two overseas trip and no regrets on the weight. You can see some of my japan images, a friend I met-up in Tokyo and my wife in Khao Yai sunflowers farm.

Jeff’s proposal however make sense and I brooded over it for 2 days and agreed to it. He has a pristine used Fujifilm GFX50s and a 45mm F2.8 lens traded in by a customer for Leica or something. Bottom line, two bodies, dozen of lenses including some manual ones that I used with the EOS-R gone, a GFX + 45mm in. It dawned upon me, I am now left with just medium format cameras, the 645Z and the GFX50s and in a few months I might reduce them to One altogether when the 52 weeks is over or treat the other as a backup camera given that the sensor is the same Sony 50mp.

Would I have been happy having downsized to just the 645Z?, you bet. The GFX50s brings me closer to my current habit of packing 1 Cam 1 Lens and having no subscription to Photoshop I was eager to just use the Film simulation (cringe worthy but a lot of joy on the similar approach in my film camera experience)

fuji gfx medium format portrait
GFX50s 45 F2.8 – Classic Negative Simulation / IG : sashaxuan (Forbes 30 under 30)
medium format portraiture fujifilm gfx50s
GFX50s 45 F2.8 – Classic Negative Simulation / IG : missjoycelish

Look, I understand Medium format is expensive. I am totally advocating that anyone reading my blog here, if you have a decent camera since 2015, it is probably sufficient for all your use. The entire idea behind #jointherestriction is to move away from reading reviews of new camera gears, click baits in youtubes by influencers that peddles “this camera is the best camera yet”, instead go out and shoot. Spend on experience.

We are in the Era of disposable images and where lifecycle of digital cameras is just 1.5 years and that shiniest object you have in your hands that is worth 10k today is worth 2k tomorrow. Any investor would tell you, that is the worst investment ever. Buy used cameras for your upgrades and spend the extra funds on education, travel and props setup. If you are looking into Medium format digital, the 645D, 645Z and Fujifilm 50s is now available in the used market at prices lower than the latest Full Frame.

digital medium format photography using fujifilm gfx and 645z
GFX50s 45 F2.8 – Classic Negative Simulation, Realistic Skin Textures

Medium format totally works for me. If you are looking for reasons on settling for one, here are my reasons.

Depth Rendition

I love the tonality and quality it produces. The current sensor is just 0.79 bigger than the FF sensor but the results are significant. Images shot have better depth rendition, this is an overused term that can easily be explained. Just take a picture with your phone and at the largest aperture take a picture of say a cup. Notice the background blurring just 2-3 meters away compared to 10 meters are the same, the is absolutely no “transition” of depth between those distances. This is something IPhone’s fake rendition will never solve, neither will Huawai or any of those simulated depth regardless of who sold their soul and publish misleading youtubes on such features, they look absolutely fake and almost like a cut-out board.

Larger sensors allows much smoother transitions between distances. I am not referring to bokeh here but the depth rendition. This is also where i feel that plenty of test images you read on dpreview are totally missing the point by shooting on objects in similar focal plane.

digital medium format photography on gfx and 645z
GFX50s 45 F2.8 – Depth rendition

It is actually harder to produce high quality lenses for m43 like Olympus and Panasonic than to produce one for the Full Frame cameras. If you put in a FF lens into a m43 camera you will notice it does not produce the same excellent results you see on the FF camera when you pixel peep, unless the lens is of exceptional quality. This is why M43 system is at a huge disadvantage. They need to produce exceptionally high resolution resolving lenses while keeping the price low because consumers always compare them to FF. When you view mobile phone photos at 100%, you see the pixel quality are mostly junk but when you view m43 images, they look similar to those you see on FF, this is by no means an easy achievement by the m43 to appease the consumer’s expectations. You can check out the LPM measurements on micro four third lenses like those pro series, they often have to resolve “double” what is expected of a FF.

Now what has that got to do with Medium format? The opposite is true, you don’t really need a very high quality lens to fit the needs of the large sensor to produce very high image quality. The 645Z 75 F2.8 is crazy sharp and beautiful contrast yet it only cost USD 700, the results easily rivals a Summilux costing USD 7000 or more.

645Z 55mm 2.8 / ig : changelivesimages / sashaxuan

Image Pop Quality

This is an observable quality that is closely related to Depth rendition. Often we hear magical stories on how lenses produces images that just pops. Its pretty hilarious if you try to nail down the reasons behind them, personally I feel often it’s just the use of wide aperture and the contrasting colors between the subject and the background but some of my own images, I could not fit that narrative while still being awed by the results.

645z medium format portrait
645Z 55mm 2.8 / mandaa.cme
645z medium format portrait
645Z 55mm 2.8 / mandaa.cme

Ergonomics

As an asian, my hands are not as large as my western friends, but holding a medium format camera just works for me. The 645Z in particular has such wonderful grip and buttons placed perfectly that I don’t need to spend any time looking at menus. The Fujifilm GFX50s grip is superb and I love the simple physical buttons that I could find and use quickly. In a way I am a sucker for ergonomics, that is also the reason why my other 2 late cameras that I sold was the EOS-R and the G9, both are the best in its class for ergonomics in my opinion.

Bigger absolutely works for me, but not when it is as big as say a 67 Mamiya Rz or Pentax 67 both which i once owned and I felt had terrible ergonomics.

What if you don’t need a medium format camera?

I have done some of my best albums on both film and digital on FF and proud of some that I did on the m43. Did I mentioned I used to have tons of gears and been cutting down ever since until now. So you won’t miss anything, whatever you have now whether it is FF, m43, APSC, digital or film you could go out there and produce amazing images and you should be doing just that.

your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s