We’re sitting on the precipice of game-changing year for photographers. 2015 is going to be the year of medium-format. Ricoh (formally Pentax) dropped a bomb this year with a sub-$9,000 medium format camera. There are even rumors about Sony and Mamiya teaming up for a medium format rangefinder of some kind. Yes folks, the competition is heating up, and this version of “king of the hill” is already getting nasty.
Before the days of digital medium format, the playing field had a lot of competitors – Mamiya, Pentax, Fuji, Hasselblad, Contax, Bronica, Rolleiflex, the list goes on. When digital came around, many of these companies were unable to make the transition. Today, we have Phase One, Mamiya (owned by Phase One), Ricoh, Leica (to a degree) and Hasselblad as the only digital medium format companies. But the unmentioned dark horse here is Sony. Their 50mp CMOS sensor is found in Hasselblad, Mamiya and Phase One digital backs as well as the Pentax 645Z.
I love medium format. Besides the detail, the tone and the colors, there’s a certain feel to the images that’s just…better. It’s why I’m so passionate about this. It’s also why I’m so damn excited that more people can finally own one. Putting that quality in more photographers’ hands raises the bar and elevates the quality of what we do. So this is an open letter to the medium format companies. Some of you…keep up the great work. Others…well…I hope you’re ready to compete – not just defend.
Dearest Sony, Ricoh, Hassleblad and Phase One
First, I want to say how much I love and respect what you guys do. You’re the best of the best for working professionals. Some of you are veterans at this medium format game, and some of you are pretty new.
Sony, where would medium format be today without you? You’re the meat and potatoes of the all the other digital medium format systems out there. When are you going to make a strong play in this market? You’ve got more resources than anyone, and this could be what puts you ahead of Canon and Nikon. Isn’t that what you’ve always wanted - working pros dropping everything to get on board with you? I love your A99V…even though it’s showing its age against even some of your own smaller, mirrorless cameras. It feels great, and looking through it for the first time felt like the future. That body with a medium format sensor, great autofocus and Zeiss glass would be nearly unstoppable. Then again, you may have a non-compete agreement with the medium format companies that prevents you from making a camera that would directly compete (hence the rumors that you’re developing a rangefinder). That is, of course, speculation only and if you would like to comment, I would be happy share your response.
Ricoh, bold moves you’re making. This year you put the same sensor that other companies are putting in $30k digital backs in a camera body that you could take into the shower, and you did it for under $9,000. Tip of the cap to you. I hear more conversations about this camera than probably any other. You’re doing a lot of things right for photographers, and we love that. THAT’S how you get a loyal following (something that’s working really well for Fuji). Couple things. First, a 1/125th of a second sync speed is pretty abysmal for anyone that shoots with strobes. Pentax has had leaf shutters in the past, and some people have fitted these older lenses to the 645Z and made them work. How about some new leaf shutter lenses for this thing? I’ll buy a system the day after you release them…if you can keep them in stock anywhere.
Second, a legitimate tethering option is necessary, but asking your customers to pay $250 for a piece of software that should be included with the camera hurts our heart a little. Phase One doesn’t require their camera owners to pay for tethering software. While we’re at it, any chance of this being supported by Capture One?
Finally, you released a product the likes of which the world has never seen. Maybe some fanfare? I’ve hunted hard for examples of this camera in the studio, only finding Lionel Deluy on my own and then only hearing about Anthony Turano when I emailed Ricoh and asked. The Canon 5d MkII blew everyone away in advance because they gave a pre-release version to Vincent Laforet, and he produced some genuinely impressive work with it. I even spent time searching for examples on social media. The #645Z hashtag on Instagram at the time of this writing has less than 350 pictures attached to it – most of them don’t even feature an image shot with the camera. #Phasone has nearly 25,000 images associated, #mamiya has over 50,000 and #hasselblad has over 111,000. Don’t underestimate the power of social media. Personally, I’d be happy to help with this. Shoot me an email. Let's talk.
Hasselblad, what can I say that hasn’t already been said? You produce a fine product and the lenses are astonishingly sharp. The new LCD backs look terrific, too. Since this is a wish list, I’d love a multi-point autofocus in addition to True Focus, and focus tracking in some capacity would be wondrous. While we’re at it, can we please have a faster FPS? Your H5X body is a step in the right direction for competitive price points…how about a reasonably priced digital back to go along with it?
Phase One, I love you. I really do, but I feel like we’re drifting apart. I’m not saying we should break up, but I am considering an open-relationship sort of thing. Your cameras are stellar, and your software is industry standard. I love that you’re giving out test drives to see how great the cameras are. You’re putting them in the hands of educators and instructors, because you know that students buy what they learn on. No one is challenging your position in the industry, which is why I’m a little confused about some things. I was at a Phase One event a few months ago and I remember someone from your company saying that Phase One is something of a boutique camera company, more interested in creating the best possible camera then anything else. Total respect.
First, the focus. It can be a real struggle. Something that makes this easier would be an incredible benefit. I hear Sony is doing some pretty remarkable things with predictive autofocus...
Second, Capture One is my choice for image processing – it’s a beautiful thing. Then I found out that CO doesn’t support medium format cameras that aren’t Phase One or Mamiya Leafs. Most of the new medium format sensors are the same Sony sensor, so I have a hard time believing it’s a technical issue. I do not know if this is because of a decision by the camera manufacturer or Phase One. We’ve reached out to Phase One for a comment, their response is posted below.
If you’re only concerned with being the best, then why these tactics with the competition? Just because someone might buy a much cheaper medium format system, doesn’t mean they would have bought the more expensive system if the cheaper option weren’t available. Purchases at that level are not purchases of necessity; they are purchases of preference. If Phase One is interested in making the best, why not support other medium format makers with your great software? Isn’t revenue from just the software better than no revenue from that customer at all? Please don’t take your ball and go home just because you’d prefer people to be playing a different game.
Sony. Ricoh. Hasselblad. Phase One. You guys have got to be pretty excited about the future and maybe even a little nervous. I get it. The club isn’t as small as it used to be. I’d imagine some of you are feeling a bit like how Canon and Nikon were feeling a couple of years ago when Sony, Fuji, Ricoh and a few others started to encroach on their territory. Well…Fuji is doing pretty well in the compact market and Sony and Ricoh are now…well… competition or making the very sensor for your camera. Resting on your laurels and not being innovative is not going to sell more cameras. The Photo Expo in New York is this week. I can’t wait to see what you all have up your sleeve.
Current and Future Medium Format Photographers Everywhere
Response from Phase One
Is there any intent to ever support [other medium format cameras] with Capture One? Or is it a conflict of interest in the medium format arena?
Phase One's policy is to not comment on future product plans/developments.
As far as not supporting other medium format cameras, is this the choice of Phase One or is it the choice of the camera makers?
Developing a version of Capture One Pro that fully supports a given camera system is -- and always has been -- a collaborative effort between Phase One and the camera designer/manufacturer. Capture One today supports more than 300 different camera models. This fact illustrates Phase One's desire to ensure that photographers have the best resources possible to support their work.
Do the priorities of Phase One lie with the camera division or the software division?
Phase One's priorities lie first and foremost with its customers. This is a very important point! Phase One does not prioritize between hardware and software divisions, rather Capture One Pro is an integrated part of how Phase One develops camera solutions for the world's most demanding photographers, and vice versa. The emphasis is on building the superior imaging solutions for demanding photographers -- not separate hardware and software.
What do you think? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!