Comparing Medium Format Film to Digital

There is no doubt that digital has surpassed the quality of 35mm film, but medium format film still offers tremendous quality and is significantly cheaper than digital medium format. How does it compare to a modern medium format camera? This great video takes a look at the two and the results you can expect from them.

Coming to you from Negative Feedback, this great video compares the results between a Mamiya RZ67 and Fujifilm 50R. Modern digital medium format produces incredibly detailed images with huge amounts of tonal range, but it is also some of the most expensive camera gear you can buy, and as such, it might not be a practical purchase for most photographers. On the other hand, a good medium format film camera and lens can be obtained for under $1,000. Furthermore, a 6x4.5 negative has about 86% more area than the 44x33mm sensor size found in all but the most expensive digital medium format cameras. And compared to a 35mm sensor, a 6x4.5 negative has over triple the area. It can be a really fun way to experiment with something outside your normal realm (just take it easy on the shutter; medium format film is expensive)! Check out the video above for more. 

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Mark Wyatt's picture

Nice thesis, but then he uses a plain grey background close to the subject so we get no feel for the sharp to out of focus rendering he talked about (the "medium format look", which is hard to see without reference to blurred objects in the background, especially onscreen). Ok, new digital lenses have less character, maybe. He should have just stepped outside with a reflector and shot, or at least put some objects in the background.

Deleted Account's picture

His videos generally are not for technical reviews or for pixel peeping. I've been following the Negative Feedback YouTube channel for quite a while and this one is totally in line with his style of review. I got the feeling that he was more so trying to use a digital camera in the same way he would shoot with his film camera and seeing how he liked the results. He likes the character that analogue automatically gets. He even states that the Fujifilm is complicated to shoot with took him away from being present with his subject. He's approaching photography from a different angle than many reviewers since he's not concerned with technical aspects as much as he is the holistic experience.

Mark Wyatt's picture

Understood, and I appreciate the position on film, but he set us up about the "medium format look", but did not explore it. It would not have taken much effort to include it. I am not concerned about pixel peeping in this case.

Deleted Account's picture

Yeah I see what you mean. The way I took it, he was just making a point about the difference between medium format and 35mm/FF and didn't intent to make it a technical comparison.

Though, anything shot on medium format is by definition "medium format look" no matter how shallow the DOF is.

I do appreciate how he made it clear that Fuji is offering a MF digital option at more affordable pricing. I plan on keeping my eye out for a used Fujifilm 50R when they come out with an updated model.

Tony Clark's picture

I loved shooting E-6 film through my RZProII, it required patience because of the multiple trips to the lab. I would drop the film at the lab, check the clip tests and then return for the processed film. These days, it's instant gratification and time in front of the computer but this can be billed out to the client rather than going toward film stock and lab fees.

Deleted Account's picture

I'd love to get some studio or landscape time with an RZ!

Vincent Alongi's picture

I'm seeing lots of buzz and articles lately on the RZ. The imaging seems gorgeous. For the price, I'm extremely curious and would look to pop for one someday soon. It would intrigue me to use it as a secondary camera in the studio as a "hold on, let's get that look in medium film format too".

Deleted Account's picture

It's becoming a popular camera again. When I got my Mamiya 645 (got it for dirt cheap a long time ago) there were some RZs and Mamiya7s for sale that were a steal in comparison to what it costs now. Had I known how much the value of them would have increased in a few years, I would have grabbed as many of them as I could.

Vincent Alongi's picture

I'll need to educate myself on the format before I pull the trigger. I need to divert money into other pieces of gear first- I don't want to have what is more a recreational camera sit on the shelf while I can utilize other gear for the spring / summer.

Deleted Account's picture

Yeah it can get overwhelming. For the most part you're going to see 6x7 or 6x4.5. Each has its pluses and minuses. I found that portability was something that mattered to me more since I do a lot of walk around photography Also, the number oh exposures by format will be kind of important. I wish I could find Portra 400 in 220.

Vincent Alongi's picture

Observation from what I've seen and read, the RZ67 isn't an ideal walk around camera so much as a studio piece of gear that you're going to want to keep on a tripod (depending on your use). Most definitely not going to be a street camera. lol.

I'm still struck by feedback and the praise thrown to MF film cameras by photographers who have experience in a number of formats. Especially the more seasoned photographers who have shot film in the past.

Really, really want to be in position to pick one up at some point and be able to use it regularly.

Kirk Darling's picture

Well, nearly 15 years ago, I was still a hybrid photographer using a Canon 20D for some of my portrait work, but still holding on to my Mamiya RZ67 cameras for anything I thought might generate large wall portraits--the most lucrative product. But dealing with two different processes was a pain. Hauling two different systems was a pain. And frankly, hauling the big Mamiya was getting to be a pain. Getting it processed had gotten to be a pain--there was only one processor remaining in town, and they processed in batches only a couple of times a week.

I bought a Canon 5D in the hopes that it might--maybe--take up more of the load and allow me to take out the Mamiya a bit less often.

This portrait shoot produced the comparison that allowed me to retire medium format film and go completely digital, back in 2006. If you take a close look, this portrait subject is wearing contact lenses. You can see the lens ID printed at the 7:00 position in each image.

Although the medium format shot is still slightly superior in every way, the 12 megapixel 5D was close enough even then that the differences no longer mattered. And that was 15 years has come a long way since then.

Deleted Account's picture

I shot the same landscape on through my Rollei on Velvia and on my D300 with a 50mm; the Nikon kicked the crap of the Rollei.

Mike Ditz's picture

I am not sure what you are showing here ^ what is RNI?

Mike Nguyen's picture

Really Nice Images. They make LR/C1 film simulation plugins.

Ian Battaglia's picture

Greg, thanks for this. I've been looking for a closer comparison like this for hours now, and this is the best I've found. Did you shoot these images? The digital is X1D, and the analogue is what?

Jozef Povazan's picture

Had been with Nikon for 25 years, yes I am that old :) enough and shot with Pentax 67II for years / purchased brand new with 3 lenses at the times in Europe you could by a brand new car for that price !!! / and sold it in 2004 and went fully digital despite that time digital was not able to compete the quality of it yet but market and clients shifted very quickly towards new trends :) No blame, I have not fired a single frame since that time on film, not effective and not needed for my work or even personal use for our family. Use what you need and want to use as simple as it gets :) Happy shooting guys.

Mike Ditz's picture

Are the film scans $5 scans or $75 scans, that is part of the equation as well as the things other people mentioned.

I don't agree with all that he says but hand holding an RZ is to be respected.
I do agree that the RZ lenses are different than today's digital lenses but even back in the day I sometimes needed a softar filter when shooting people with a Hasselblad and Zeiss lenses as the acutance was higher? more pronounce? than in RZ lenses. The Hassey could be too sharp.
But to "downvote" a camera that you are not familiar with as being "confusing", is weak. Most people shooting either film or digital will set all the menus and settings before shooting, and don't mess with things mid shoot.

Deleted Account's picture

Don't know why we are still talking about this. If its just about resolution, digital can ..and wiil win unless you shoot, carefully, 5x4 or 10x8. And even that will change.

Its like cd and vinyl, its about process. Yes, film compresses tonal range, yes it has grain instead of noise, yes, the larger film formats have more limited depth of field because the standard lens on 6x9 is 100mm against 50mm for FF digital.

But its how it makes you feel, its about how you relate to the subject. I came from 35mm for press, 66,67,69 for studio and plate cameras for architectural. The way you used the tool was different for each format, and having 36 frames, 12,10, 8 or even 1 certainly focussed the mind.

I still have 35mm slr, 6x6 tlr outfits and the superb Mamiya Universal and Press system to cover 6x7 and 6x9 because it's horses for courses depending on the subject.

And of course a deeper understanding of "photography" may be required because you don't get to see the image on the back...yes 25 years of weddings without seeing the picture on the back ...and, no, I never wondered "what if they don't come out!"

Blake Aghili's picture

My Personal likings: MF Digital > MF Film > DSLR

But it is also depends how to SCAN the film? Eposn V-600 or Drum Scan ? Like this below is still FILM with Mamiya RZ67 . But he does drum scan. and these are PRINTED world wide in galleries in huge size prints.

Mike Ditz's picture

"FILM with Mamiya RZ 645 " or 6x7? I figure if it's Brad Pitt then It was not a flatbed scan but it is not my photo so..

Blake Aghili's picture

RZ 67 yes ... fixed the typing.

Brian Carlson's picture

Yes! What type of scanner you use is key. A digital medium format to a non-drum scanned negative isn't a fair comparison. And I'm confident most people aren't getting drum scans of their work. I'm not saying digital isn't better though. Just the way digitize film is more important.

Vincent Alongi's picture

Digital is so much less work to finish. But man, it sounds like the results could be stunning if you scan film with better equipment.

Timothy Gasper's picture

Watched the video, read your comments. I will continue using the Fuji GX680, Hasselblad 500CM and Rollei 6006 for my MF work and digital for other things. Is this ok with everyone? It's just what I like most, but digital DOES have its' place with me and I will use it where I see it to be useful and/or necessary. Been shooting over 55 years I am quite comfortable with what I know best. Have lots of fun exploring and shooting.

Josh Wright's picture

FF medium format digital fails due to the angle of light from the lens into the sensors receptor tubes closer to the edges. Film doesn't really care what angle it hits. Larger sensor doesn't mean better. Just means longer focal lengths and more noise. As for film, size matters for resolution. I shoot fuji x digital and medium format for film.

Donald Schwartz's picture

sure digital might cost more up front, but after you figure out how much you're saving by not buying film, processing and scanning, it becomes much more cost friendly. I'll never go back to film. Love my Phase One back and Leaf back. Can't put my finger on why I feel they are better, but when compared to my D850, they seem to have a look I can't get from FF Digital.

Blake Aghili's picture

I agree .. I have Nikon D-850 too but shoot beauty portraits with Phase ... people look alive and real with it .. but D850 doesn't look like that ... Phase is combination of good things of digital and the alive look of film combined :D

Tim Foster's picture

I owned the RZ67 II for years. I've got the GFX 50S now and the aesthetic is close enough to not want to deal with the hassle and expense of shooting film. A Mitakon 65mm F/1.4 and a Samyang 135mm F/2 render very similar FOV and depth of field to the RZ 110mm F/2.8 and the 210mm F/4.5 when cropped to 4:5. I could never afford drum scans anyway.

Mark Wyatt's picture

Good comment, but I suspect the initial body cost difference in could buy quite a few drum scans. The cheapest I see is around $50, so over a few years, this could compensate. The lenses you mention are reasonable cost, but manual focus. Have you tried Fuji glass? I use manual focus lenses on my Fujifilm XT2, and of course it works, but I appreciate the auto-focus for most of my shooting.

Tim Foster's picture

I bought the GFX lightly used for about $3,000. A decent RZ67 body is still $4-500 so we'll say a $2500 difference. That's only 50 drum scans which is probably about three shoots for me.

I've got the Fuji 63mm F/2.8 which is obviously a little redundant, but I use it in the studio when I'm stopped down to F8 or so and the autofocus is nice. I'll probably buy the 30mm when it comes out.

Blake Aghili's picture

I used to have the GFX 50S . Beautiful colors , great sharp lenses. It is a great system.
Yeah I haven't yet shot anything so special on RZ67 that I can say ok this one is worth of a drum scan price. ... But hopefully someday I shoot something that deserves the drum scan lol ... until then: Noritsu scanners in the lab haha