2016-09-30 Goodbye Full-Frame Cameras

DSLR cameras and their add-ons
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2016-09-30 Goodbye Full-Frame Cameras

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This article is not meant to say I no longer love and use FF DSLRS, but that the writing is on the wall that MF will become available and used by many DSLR users..

Shakespeare said “Parting is such sweet sorrow,” and change comes in strange ways. It was a surprise for me to find the X1D, this harbinger of change, coming from the somewhat conservative Hasselblad, a small mirrorless Medium Format (MF) camera at an almost affordable price. As they say, “Who woulda’ thunk it.” But there it is, out there and almost delivered. More surprising yet was the fact that one day I found myself pushing the button to buy one! For me this took (and is taking) selling a LOT of equipment that I still might use, but probably can get along without.

Why I consider this as perhaps the tip of the iceberg of change in my camera world is something many may not agree with, but it can’t hurt to discuss it. And a lot of it stems from my basic ignorance of MF cameras. It is true that I once had a MF camera (Mamiya RZ67 with a 33 Mpx digital back), but I can’t say that I ever really learned (loved) the system or got that much out of it, aside from getting myself out of it. The interface of the digital back was too primitive at the time for me to put up with. And the lenses (I had eleven of them) were not THAT great, aside perhaps from a couple of them.

Anyway, I have been chomping at the bit for a year or so, waiting for Nikon to stop pussyfooting around and deliver me a high-end mirrorless camera or at least the successor to the D810, one with a 50 Mpx sensor, and preferably 75 Mpx. We all know that has not happened yet, with no hint of when it might take place. For my purposes, Nikon has gone AWOL, IMO.

I suppose I should have seen the writing on the wall when Sony came out with the A7s, a camera with a FF sensor, mostly of interest to video buffs, since each photosite gathers 2.8x more light than the Nikon D810 sensor. The A7s has a pixel pitch of something like 8.32 microns, 71% higher than the pixel pitch of the D810, which is 4.87 µm. However, the size of the Sony A7s sensor was only 12.2 Mpx, while I needed a much larger (in pixels) sensor for my work, so I did not keep it. However, what was beautiful about the A7s is that it had the larger pixel pitch like we find in Medium Format cameras and sensors. It was a sign of things to come for me, but I didn’t grasp it at the time.

Throwing these numbers around only goes so far, because newer sensor are more efficient and generally “better” overall, so a new sensor with a smaller pixel pitch may out perform an older sensor with a larger pixel pitch, etc.

As to why I consider the Hasselblad X1D so significant turns on a mistake that I apparently have been making, the idea that a 50 Mpx sensor on the Nikon system would equal a 50 Mpx sensor on a MF system, as far as the quality of the image. Of course, a 50 Mpx sensor on a 35 mm sensor would have to be squeezed into a smaller sensor than on a MF sensor, which are by nature larger, like 44 mm or higher.

Thus the 44 mm sensor of the Hasselblad X1D with 8300 px equals 5.3u (28.1um2), while the 35 mm FF sensor of the Nikon D810, with 8300 px equals 4.33u (18.7um2), meaning that the X1D has larger photosites, and thus greater light-gathering power. So, the same number of pixels in the X1D jammed into the smaller sensor of the D810 means 40% less light-gathering ability for the D810.

For a while I made the conceptual mistake of thinking I would wait for Nikon to pony-up with a D820 (or some number) camera with a 50 Mpx (or greater) sensor. And I assumed that 50 Mpx on a Nikon would somehow equal 50 Mpx on a Hasselblad, etc. Of course, for the Nikon to continue to be a 35 mm FF camera, a Nikon D820 FF sensor would always have less light-gathering power than an X1D sensor of an equal generation. This was a simple, but stupid mistake on my part.

The reason the X1D is so earth shaking for me is that if this is true, then I see my whole interest in FF DSLRs (not to mention scores of lenses) going out the window and I clearly see that the advent of Medium Format cameras (eventually affordable and small) is coming of age and the X1D is just the tip of the iceberg.

Thus, there is no reason whatsoever to wait for Nikon to respond with a larger FF 35mm with more pixels, because the light-gathering abilities will only continue to shrink as the FF sensor size increases. Unless Nikon issues their own medium-format camera to compete with Hasselblad, in some ways I am done with Nikon except as a way to feature my classic F-mount lenses.

Of course, since I have so many Nikon-mount lenses, I am not about to abandon the brand, but it will have to move to the back burner and be used to feature those particular lenses that I value which work on that mount. Which brings me to my point:

The Hasselblad X1D is not just an anomaly, but the tip of the top of a new wave of “affordable” medium-format cameras that will be compelling in their ability to take some of us forward into the future of our photography. Not everyone will care, but if I know the market, the virtues of the MF quality will gradually insert itself into the minds and hearts of FF photographers and we will be converted.

Providing that the X1D performs, you can count me among the already converted. Of course, I look to the day when I can use my Zeiss Oti lenses on a MF camera. Perhaps the new Fuji MF camera will have a solid adapter that will accomplish that. Meanwhile, to the best of my ability, I see this new generation of small MF cameras not only inevitable, but also compelling.
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