An Open Letter to Sony, Ricoh, Hasselblad and Phase One

An Open Letter to Sony, Ricoh, Hasselblad and Phase One

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.

Sincerely,

Current and Future Medium Format Photographers Everywhere

 

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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. 

 

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43 Comments

"Sincerely,

Current and Future Medium Format Photographers Everywhere"

No. Sorry. You do not speak for current and future MF photographers everywhere.

Such arrogance.

Chris Knight's picture

I'd love to know your thoughts if you have any disagreements or opinions!

ummm... Sony is the meat and potatoes of all Medium Format systems? No. Just no.

Sony is a very recent entrant into the MF sensor arena. Every single image you have seen over the years that had the MF "Magic" in it is thanks to the hard work done by Kodak and DALSA. It's quite disrespectful to ignore decades of history and wax lyrical about someone who came into the market a few months ago. Judging by the image samples I have seen, the Sony sensor delivers images that look like "Grown up 35mm" with non of the MF magic (Except from the Leaf Credo 50, but that's mostly thanks to Leaf's incredible color profiles).If you want that magic, go get a Kodak/ DALSA sensor back.

Pentax may have created a 9K MF camera (Actually, you can buy their CCD version for about 4.2K now), but only a few of their legacy lenses are good enough for it. Their new lenses cost 5K up, which makes the system as expensive/ even more than an equivalent Hass/ Leaf setup. There are several Mamiya lenses on the other hand that cost only a couple of hundreds and work just as well on current day backs. Not to mention, the Pentax has a fixed back and thus, is not modular. Sorry, no go for many of us. Aftersales is also pretty dubious.

Let me show you how good legacy Mamiya glass is:

Here's a 35mm I picked up for less than $300: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sandeepmurali/15020813223/in/photostream/

Here's a 210mm I picked up for just over $200: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sandeepmurali/15233459789/in/photostream/

Leaf Credo kits go for 12k right now with an awesome 80mm LS lens. Their 22MP kits (As did Hassy's) went for <10k for months. Any of them are better options for the patient photographer who works in good light over the new CMOS equipped backs.

Also, multipoint autofocus for hasselblad? Do you know how trufocus works? You don't need more than one focus point with that. Focus tracking? Why not just stick with 35mm then? When in its decades of existence has MF been for action photographers?

Lastly, why exactly should phase one support directly competing companies with C1P? The idea is that 35mm users who get familiar with C1P upgrade to a phase/ leaf back to retain the workflow. Is it a crime to have a good business plan? Do you write open letters to Apple to offer OS X on Alienware because you like the hardware?

Your intentions might be good, but Gerald is right. This is a poorly researched and written article that doesn't represent "Current and Future Medium Format Photographers Everywhere".

Chris Knight's picture

Sony makes the sensor that is used in those cameras. You can argue metaphor if you like...but that's a fact. Of course other companies have developed the technology over the years, but at the moment, Sony is selling the sensor they use. That makes them the meat and potatoes. As far as "every single image" that I've seen that has the magic, I appreciate where you might be coming from, but I'm actually a pretty big fan of the images that come from the CMOS sensor. And camera companies must be too, BECAUSE THEY ARE USING THEM.
As far as the Pentax, there is no other NEW system that can come close in price point for a body and lens. Of course I can buy something old and used for less, but that's not remotely relevant to this conversation.
I've used True Focus plenty. It's fine as long as the subject doesn't move. But not everything stands still. Most medium format cameras use an autofocus system based on archaic architecture, and they need to update it. Medium format for action photographers? Not necessarily. People that shoot things that move? Absolutely. Not only that, but why SHOULDN'T it have the capabilities of a lesser camera? This is the best of the best.
As far as CO, I think it would be great to expand their software to support other cameras. Do they have to? Of course not. But they can.

Phase, leaf and hass make one model each with the sony sensor. They still have several current cccd based models priced below and above the sony sensor model that bring in the bulk of their sales (ask any phase rep). It's only really Pentax that's betting the house on that sensor.

The leaf credo kit I mentioned above is brand new. So were the 22 mp kits. For that price, you get a modular system where you can upgrade each part individually. Plus access to leaf shutter lenses. Plus a free license for the industry's best image editing program and tethering tool. All things Pentax cannot offer.

Regarding moving subjects, this is the kind that I deal with. The AF system works just fine. If I had to chase a deer, I would get the nikon out of the bag.

http://flic.kr/p/jZNYF1

Lastly, I would like to know which cmos sensor images you find appealing. I have looked at the cmos backs as a potential upgrade solution, but till date, I haven't found a single one that matches the color fidelity and rendering of my ccd back at base ISO.

I don't need high ISO on my medium format back. A sub 1k camera will do that well. I really wish the industry wasn't so obsessed with making every product do everything.

Aran Y's picture

Man you're an asshole.
Never posted in fstoppers but I had to reply to your sorry ass.

Seriously, you're just one of those people who are up on a high horse and you need to step off.

You're basically saying, having older technology is better for the high end and when I need something that can out do in another genre I'll use a lower end piece of gear. I sure hope that means you don't have a smart phone. I mean, you probably have an old brick phone, as a phone, and if you wanted to play games or social media you must have a separate tablet or something. Because putting it all together into a Smart phone would be terrible according to your philosophy.

I would love a MF camera that can focus and track as good as the best sports camera in the world. WHY SHOULDN'T one be able to take sport photos on a MF? Who ever dictated to the world that MF cameras will never be made to be used to shoot action? Your reasoning is absurd. The exact reason CMOS is the new front line for all these MF companies is the exact reason that one day in the future, your Phase one, or whatever will work like a DSLR of this day. You don't like CMOS color? Fine, no one said you have to, CCD has it's charms, but it's hit its limits. Why the fuck would I not want to shoot high iso on my MF, why should I shoot on a MF that can barely hit past 800 ISO? Maybe you live under a rock or something. You're so sure of your industry, then I hope someone makes a MF camera, that can focus fast action, high FPS, incredible high ISO, affordable and see how it fares against other companies who don't assimilate.

Can't wait for the world of "hack" photographers all have a MF left and right, then maybe you'll be less of a dick since you're not so "special"

BTW, your photos kinda suck, makes it worse knowing you're using a 30K camera. Clearly, spending money doesn't make you a better photographer lol.

But tell us how you really feel...

Bavarian DNA's picture

Do you remember this article dear Chris : https://fstoppers.com/originals/ignorant-offensive-or-over-sensitive-40992

People opinions differ and not only differs, they get offended by opinions or even words that intended to be used in good. People will become lawyers if they have to :).

Don't bother yourself with everything is written, if someone just want to write for the sake of writing.

" Many " before "Current and Future Medium Format Photographers Everywhere" would be appropriate, otherwise Lawyers will rise from nowhere :).

I think this open letter is a good step into the right direction regardless the different opinion now. The CCD will either vanish or will be improved, if not they will come up with a new innovative sensor in the near future. Simply Logic.

Bavarian DNA's picture

By the way this reply should've been for the Gerald Donovan, i replied here by mistake

I don't have an issue with you expressing your opinions Chris (even though, as Sandeep quite rightly points out, many of them don't stand up to much scrutiny). The main thing I have an issue with is your claiming to speak on behalf of current and future MF photographers everywhere.

Why didn't you just sign the article with your own name and be done with it? How many other MF photographers did you speak to to see whether they agreed with everything you wrote? Why didn't they put their names to the letter - it would certainly carry a lot more weight with even just a couple of dozen well known and respected photographers signing it at the bottom.

A day after the article was posted, you only have five people who have given it a thumbs up. Could this be perhaps an indication that you're not quite so in tune with MF photographers' needs as you believe yourself to be?

Such arrogance? Such animosity.

Excellent. I'm glad I managed to get my feelings across succinctly.

I feel that if you're dropping $30k+ on a camera body it should be like driving a luxury car... loaded with all the things you can do instead of hitting speed bumps. Tethering, sync speeds, software, that's all very basic stuff that shouldn't be an issue with their price tags where they are.

Also, it would be nice if there were medium format digital cameras in more reasonable price points. Someone who wants a $50k unit is going to buy it regardless, whether it's the tech aspects or just to brag about their gear (we all know yahoos like this who want something just because it's the most expensive) because even nerds have their status symbols. And pricing a piece of gear insanely high doesn't mean I'm going to buy it because it's the only thing available. Even if I won the lottery I wouldn't buy overpriced gear ($13k para umbrella? Not a chance). Overpricing something just means you're sending more business to the competition, even if the competition makes a lesser product.

You have no idea how the high end imaging industry works, do you?

Yes, I do. And my field of expertise is business and consulting. Sony has a good business model in that they are making the sensors for the other camera manufacturers. But it isn't rocket science to see that if a company makes a product that only a handful of people can buy, when the pool dries up they need to have more things available at different price points with different features.

If it is, you should know that none of these pros are paying full price on these expensive backs. Phase, leaf and Hass has very decent trade in offers for older backs when a new one comes out. Phase even has a 90% value assurance of something new is launched within 12 months of you buying a back from them. The dealers offer even more creative deals. When was the last time canon or nikon did that?

To a pro, this is just a business investment. It is also in the interest of many of them to periodically take up the trade in offer, which also keeps a healthy used back market running.

And no, not all of the backs cost 30k. The cheapest one currently is 12k. You can get as good as new used ones for half that. And so on.

Like I said, the high end imaging scene is very different from the average canikon toting wedding photog's business plan.

Jennifer - I just want to call out one thing to you with regards this statement:

"I feel that if you're dropping $30k+ on a camera body it should be like driving a luxury car... loaded with all the things you can do instead of hitting speed bumps. Tethering, sync speeds, software, that's all very basic stuff that shouldn't be an issue with their price tags where they are."

If someone is dropping that kind of money on a camera body (and I'm going to a take a punt here and assume you're referring to a Phase One body and back), then tethering, sync speeds, and software aren't an issue at all.

Interestingly enough though, if someone is dropping a third of that amount on a camera body (the Pentax), you highlight the exact areas where the Pentax ecosystem is simply unable to compete with the Phase One.

That's not to say the Pentax is a bad solution (and I'm not just talking about the body here, but the entire ecosystem) - far from it. It's just that it's not the best solution if those three points are important to you.

Jasper Verolme's picture

Someone bring back Bronica and make it digital.. That should be a fairly cheep priced MF. :)

Hasselblad deserves to be flogged hard. More than a half Century of "God ordained the Square" and they go digital with a 645 back. Will never buy another Hasselblad product again.

Spy Black's picture

I'm curious if there has been any attempts to compare a full medium format film image, such as you would get from a full frame 6x6 or 6x7 format, to the existing digital crop frame sensors. I would imagine the Sony sensor may have an advantage in higher ISOs, but in the studio how often do you shoot with a higher ISO (unless possibly you simply don't have enough flash power for a given shot)?

It would be interesting to compare something like Velvia 100 chrome and anyone of the new cameras. Regardless if the digital did come out with better IQ, you still have a DOF advantage with film, at least until full 6x6 and 6x7 sensors finally come to be.

I have.

Film doesn't even come close to resolving the details from a >40mp sensor. Not at 6x6 or 6x7.

The 60 and 80mp backs will easily exceed 4x5 sheet film in resolution.

Spy Black's picture

Yeah, well, I kinda imagined that, but there is at least the field of view difference left - for the time being anyway.

The 60 and 80MP backs cover full 645 film area.

Spy Black's picture

Last I checked, 53.9 x 40.4 mm isn't exactly 60x45mm. Visually, that's no 6x6 or 6x7 FOV either. Still, obviously a great system.

Rob Durston's picture

56mm x 42mm is the film size of 645

What Rob said. Considering that you will lose a bit of edge area when making prints from film, the sensors will give you practically the same field of view.

Don't hold out for 6x6 or 6x7 sensors though. There is no modern body that supports either format (except the Hy6, which is either on life support or dead, depending on who you ask) and the back manufacturers are heavily invested in their own 645 platforms.

I fully back the letter. Thanks.

Brandon Adam's picture

I'm glad to see this happening. I can't imagine what a profit margin on a $45,000 camera is. It's not necessary.

If you're not capable of imagining what the profit margin is, then how can you be in a position to judge whether or not it is necessary?

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