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.


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. 




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Previous comments
Brandon Adam's picture

If you're not capable of knowing what a hyperbole is, then how can you be in a position to criticize me?

I own a Hasselblad H5. Even with the cost of quite an impressive H5 system, the camera body paid for itself the first year

Wes Jones's picture

Why must every discussion devolve into a pissing contest about who has the most technical knowledge (or lack thereof). Get a grip.

Get a phase one v-grip while you're at it. Comes with a free built in profoto air transmitter too!

This was a fairly technical article with lots of factual inaccuracies. It's quite clear that the author has been recently taken in by all the MF related news, has no understanding of the history of the format and barely did any research. It's not a crime that those who have working knowledge of the format pointed them out.

Ever since the blogging era started, journalistic integrity has come crashing down and it's a shame.

Anthony Cayetano's picture

There is no REAL advantage between MF and the FF I am currently using (D800e, BTW). Can you really imagine the size of a 24-70mm f2.8 equivalent for MF? With multilayer Backlight tech and newer light isolation techniques from Aptina and Samsung, resolutions would only go higher with FF and improved noise and DR as well. I like to keep my outdoor event systems as compact as possible, thank you.

Cody Edger's picture

I'd like to see an entry level medium format camera. Like… at least in the $2000 range. It doesn't have to be amazing. Some people are very interested in medium format, but cannot--and refuse--to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on a camera.

Don't get me wrong, I've invested probably 4k, collectively, with my Canon dslrs and lenses, but that's because they are at least somewhat reasonably priced.

Bavarian DNA's picture

I doubt that you will see an entry level medium format any time soon Cody. The medium format cameras companies targeting professionals with high clients and ads companies. So for those who are earning a 3-5k $ per shoot or more to own and uses their equipment. Beside that why would you need something like that while you can have the best full frames with the top glass you can afford. Unless you want to print in a huge scale and colors are so critical to you ( i hear that it gives you the best skin tones colors ).

Well if you really want to have one, then i wish you to have it with best of luck.

Like a "digital" Fuji GF670/GF670W? I would get one.

Aleksey Zozulya's picture

This was an interesting read. I've been thinking a lot about my desire to leap to medium for a while and the future seems very promising. The Ricoh/Pentax definitely peaked my curiosity because it appears to be somewhat affordable. Phase one has been a long time wet dream of mine because they have such an amazing social media and marketing presence, it made me want to be one of the cool kids. Until i tried them. I downloaded capture one this week after 2 years of using lightroom and i find it infuriating to my workflow. it may be because i'm used to something, but felt like me (a canon shooter too) using a nikon... Thanks to digital transitions at PPE, I also played with the iQ250 on a phase 645+, but it honestly felt clunky. Compare it to a stroll to the Hasselblad booth and i fell in love with the H5D, H5X and even the CFV. its a true cohesive system with great ergonomics, but may be lacking in modern marketing. I'm not ready to get a camera that costs more than my car today, but i agree that 2015 will be a very interesting year and i'll be keeping my eye on MF.

Hey Chris,

I'm sorry you feel this way, but you're wrong, or at least looking through a glass that is tuned for your eyes.

Sony doesn't come close to meat and potatoes of the dmf space - they're the new kid on the block. Dalsa and Kodak have been the two types of meat around here for a long time. Sony is a new kid even in the area of digital photography - I mean Canon, Nikon, Fuji, Mamiya, and Hasselblad have been around for decades, and Sony didn't ship a DSLR until 2006, and that was with a Minolta partnership. Sony has done amazing things in the last few years, but that doesn't come close to the history of the other companies mentioned.

Hasselblad has 1 focus point and it works great - even compensating for things that you can't do in any other medium format camera. The new CMOS back for the V mount is huge given that they've discontinued the camera. The H5X is huge in the ability to talk film, and be a backup body for other H5 digital backs. To upgrade your standard H5 body to one is really cheap, and I'd love to see it become the standard anyways. To finally get wifi in the H5D-50c back means they're dedicated to making the most of things.

Phase One / Leaf has been huge in the dmf space, supporting a product long after it's been sold. Capture One is a great tool, and anyone shooting FF should give it's workflow a spin. But it's their unfair advantage, and to open it up to everyone else isn't in their best interest. They are the only option for the 1hr exposure and 80MP. I'm fine with what it costs - there isn't a second revenue stream to keeps the company going, they have a premium product, with a premium cost. And their backs from 10 years ago are supported, work great and will last for thousands of shots going forward. Yes, single point AF still, but it works, and that's the key - it works.

Ricoh has a great option in the 645D and 645Z (which I love for specific reasons). First, the weather sealing, which has never been something dmf has really done. Next, 3 fps - it works, and much faster than any other option. The AF is great, but it needs to be teamed up with the right glass. The 55mm/2.8 AW has horribly slow AF, but there is lots of older glass that is much faster. The system is lighter than the Hasselblad H system, partly due to the leaf shutters are heavy and in each lens. The 1/125th flash sync is a trade off, and trust me I wish I had a focal plane shutter every summer day when I'm limited to 1/800th or carrying around 10lbs of extra parts.

Leica needs to be in your discussion, since it's really an option, and their adapter to use all HC lenses on their S line is a huge feature.

To look to Instagram for images is kind of funny - I mean, I post a few images on Twitter, but at the end of the day, the reason I'm using dmf can't be seen on a screen - its all about prints. All of these companies do very limited marketing, and Pentax is almost a ghost. Look to places like LuLa for a MF community.

Digital Medium Format really is a specialty, and it's all about trade offs. Hasselblad and Phase One prices reflect the corporate expenses for investment in R&D, support for existing customers and making a buck in profit. I'd rather the high prices and some amazing things coming rather than a price war where both go bankrupt.


Phase One has a strategy that is cristal clear an makes sense. They have invested in producing an integrated solution that consists of software and hardware. Making the software available for DSLR cameras makes sense: Hey, let us introduce you to the next level. Making it available to the real competition would be commercially hard to understand. I can't grasp that you wpould expect this. By the way; I am one of those just about to move up!

Anonymous's picture

The only thing Pentax needs to make the 645Z a game changing camera is for Pocketwizard to develop a tt1 mini for the Pentax. If I had hyper sync and rear curtain sync capabilities for my current PCB strobes, the 645z would cover 95% of my needs instead of the 45% of my needs it currently fulfills. So if you pen another letter, pen it to Pocketwizard, please!

Robert Bell's picture

Those figures just make my eyes water ; /