Is Medium Format Worth It?

Medium format used to be something that was reserved only for rental houses and a few lucky photographers, but in the last few years, we have seen some medium format options come down in price quite significantly, though they still sit at the upper end of the price spectrum. So, is it worth shelling out extra for that larger sensor? This interesting video compares a modern full frame and modern medium format camera to find out. 

Coming to you from Alex Barrera, this helpful video compares the Fujifilm GFX 100S medium format  mirrorless camera to the Canon EOS R6 full frame camera and discusses if medium format is worth the extra investment. No doubt, cameras like those in Fujifilm's GFX series have made medium format more practical and affordable for a lot more photographers, but that being said, it is still more expensive than most full frame options, particularly when you add in the cost of lenses. A lot of it depends on the kind of work you do and how you are showcasing your images, and you might find that things like the faster burst rates in full frame cameras are a bigger benefit than the larger sensor. Check out the video above for Barrera's full thoughts. 

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31 Comments
Steve TQP's picture

Hi Alex. An excellent article and comparison of FF v. MF! As for your conclusion, I couldn't agree more! Coming from a Fujifilm X-System to the Nikon Z FF System, I do see an improvement in overall image quality when printing to 30" x 40". The Nikkor S lenses are extremely sharp, but so are those from the Fuji XF lens line. For anything less than the very large poster prints, my experience is that the sharpness and detail between the two systems is quite comparable, and you're correct in that for web display, due to compression, there's little between the formats. For my kind of photography (landscape and product), I'm more than pleased with the Nikon Z System, especially when I employ Focus Shift shooting, which combines many dozens of images, each taken at a different focus point. I feel like this technique can equal MF in terms of image sharpness and detail. (That said, of course I'd love to experiment with the Fujifilm MF System. Have a safe and prosperous 2022!

Greg Wilson's picture

As a medium(ish) format shooter (X1D), my answer is yes and yes. The colors are from out of this world, miles ahead and above my R5 and better than any Fuji GFX I worked with, despite the megapixel counts are very similar. It just feels like you can't beat a bigger pixel. The picture is cleaner with more light and more different subtle color varfiations in it. If I had to choose, I'd stick to my X1D and never swapped it for a full frame or GFX, despite the latter has a visibly faster focus.

Lionel Fellay's picture

The GFX 50s and s II have the same sensor as the X1D II I have seen/read some reviews one against the other, the color differences between the 2 are mostly due to the optics style and not the sensor, and it's not a matter of detail or loss of information between the 2.

Tom Reichner's picture

I would absolutely love to have the image quality and depth of field that medium format cameras yield. But for my telephoto wildlife photography, the medium format system is completely impractical.

The 300-800mm f5.6 lens that I currently use weighs 12 pounds and is 24 inches long. To get the same angle of view, and to get full advantage of the larger sensor's DOF capabilities, I would need something like a 500-1100mm f5.6 zoom on a medium format body. Can you imagine how big and heavy such a lens would be?!!!

Also, I need autofocus that is awesome at tracking subjects that are moving rapidly and erratically, and fast burst rates. Sadly, I don't think any current MF body/lens combinations are up to those tasks.

Ray Sheffer's picture

I agree with you. I believe that medium format cameras aren't for sports and wildlife genre. You would get the best results if you use the medium format if it was in landscape, street, portrait etc genres.

Chris Rogers's picture

"500-1100mm f5.6 zoom on a medium format body. Can you imagine how big and heavy such a lens would be?!!! "

lol you'd need a heavy duty, all terrain, wheeled support of some kind for a lens that size XD

Tom Reichner's picture

Yup, I would! And yet that is just the lens I would need in order to do what I do with a medium format body.

When switching to MF is discussed in articles and in posts, I seldom see people talk about the extreme increase that would need to occur in the size and weight of lenses, relative to the "full frame" lenses that people are currently using. And yet this is the most important factor of all. Why don't people discuss this more? Is it because most people are not regularly shooting with 500mm, 600mm, or 800mm lenses?

Chris Rogers's picture

indeed! it's something I never even thought about until i got my MF camera. I bought a pentax 6x7 165mm f2 lens and it's just as long, thicker, and almost as heavy as my nikon 70-200 lol

Benoit Pigeon's picture

With film, no medium format was ever designed for speed or action.

Chris Rogers's picture

Even the digital medium formats are slow. I tried shooting fast like i do with my Nikon but on my GFX100s and i was filling that buffer pretty quickly. I'm having to really work on how i shoot. I got a lot of work to do but i think ill be a better photographer for it and my hard drives might thank me lol.

Tom Reichner's picture

It is unfortunate that medium format systems have these shortcomings, compared to the "full frame" mirrorless and DSLR offerings.

Why can't medium format cameras have world-class tracking autofocus? I would think that with more light entering the camera through a larger lens opening, that they would be able to offer even faster, more accurate autofocus than "full frame" cameras. So why don't they?

And why don't they have much faster frame rates? Many of us don't care about a camera being a bit bigger and heavier ... so why can't they just add another processor and a larger battery so that larger files can be handled more rapidly, allowing faster frame rates similar to what we have with other cameras. I mean, if a typical full frame body can now do 20 frames per second at 40 or 50 megapixels, then surely a medium format camera should be able to shoot at 8 or 10 frames per second ..... right?

Don't the manufacturers realize that there are people out there who would like to step up to a medium format sensor, but don't want to give up autofocus ability or frame rate?

Deleted Account's picture

I am deeply sceptical when people use phrases like "it's hard to explain" and fluff around with intangibles. It tells me buying the camera was likely an emotional decision.

In any case, I'd want to see prints on a wall, and a 20MP FF camera probably isn't what I'd chose; I'd probably go for something like the A7RIV, with G Master glass - just to try and minimise the differences.

I would suggest the difference is negligable, *unless* you are printing very large.

Is it worth it? Probably not. But if we are running into the areas of art where it does matter, where you are making large prints, and telling clients "I use this amazing camera, because it gives me the best output", then I'm probably going for Phase One (that is a financial decision centered around marketing and perceived value of product).

Raphael Vieira's picture

I completely agree with you, and that has been my experience and impressions as well after a lot of research. The two main advantages I saw on these smaller 43x32mm MF sensors over the best FF sensors was: 1) resolution if you need to print really, really large (and even then only on the 100 mp sensors like the GFX 100s); and 2) Better high ISO performance with less noise than FF sensors. But the actual IQ differences such as DR and color depth were negligible if you're shooting raw and doing moderate post processing. It seems like digital medium format only starts to give you tangible IQ improvements when we're talking about the bigger 53x40mm sensors that Phase One and Hasselblad make, but those cameras cost around 40k just for the body, so yea...

Gary Halcon's picture

I went from an a7r3 to the GFX 100 and was disappointed. Sure, its medium format, it shoots slower, requires a more powerful PC. I shoot slow to static portraits and I loved the image quality the GFX 100 gave me, but the focusing system is just a pain to wrangle with. I only post to web and so the difference is negligible.

Chris Rogers's picture

This has been my consensus. I have the GFX100s and while I do really like the camera the times when I would actually NEED something of this magnitude are pretty slim. My dumb thinking before having a medium format camera was that some how it was going to add this 3D kind of look to an image that I heard some people touting medium format provides. In reality the images don't look any different than what you'd get from a FF camera with a sharp lens. The power is in the resolution and bit depth. I pretty much only use it for landscapes and portraits that I'm going to be using color gels with to avoid banding with those 16 bit, uncompressed, planet sized, files. Other than that I use my Nikon. The files take up an absolutely disgusting amount of space lol. I had to buy more ram because 16gb wasn't even close to cutting it. While editing in C1 and Affinity photo these files will easily chew through up to 24gb of ram. One finished pano tiff i took the other day was over 1.5gb. The final jpeg was around 200mb and when I crushed it for web there was no difference in how it would have looked if had shot it on my FF Nikon. The cropping power for landscapes is indeed bonkers though and I find that very useful.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

I can't believe this guy bought the camera knowing he only needs low resolution for the web!

Deleted Account's picture

I wanted to genuinely ask why, but figured it would come across as snark.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

You shouldn’t hold your thought just because people may think you are a negative person. By being afraid of this taboo, you risk empowering groups of people to join and argue just for the sake of finding power and peace even if the subject is totally off, wrong or inaccurate. Let them isolate themselves. Beside, I do my work, searched and found out that this is his second video on the camera with the same conclusion in two days. Nothing but hunting for clicks in my opinion.

charles hoffman's picture

why not just buy what you need

Deleted Account's picture

That's precisely my philosophy, hence the kit I'm using.

Robert Teague's picture

I have both the Nikon Z7 and the Fuji GFX 100S; they are very different cameras. A lot of the difference really has to do with your use case. I use both, side by side, although not interchangeably; my thought patterns when using the Fuji are much more akin to the days when I was shooting primarily 4x5.

charles hoffman's picture

i assume you have a caddy or a sherpa following you around

Robert Teague's picture

I wish .... LOL. I've only had the Fuji for a month or so. Mostly I only carry what equipment I need for the task at hand.

Jamal Mubarik's picture

I am a semi professional Nikon shooter. I have used Fujinon lenses on 4x5 cameras and they are nothing short of amazing. I would wait, from Fuji or Hasselblad, for a full sensor, 6x45 centimeter 100 MP with large pixels for a very wide dynamic range. Hopefully someone will produce one in next 2-3 years.

Lens UpThere's picture

Don’t wait on Hasselblad. Since they were purchased by DJI (the drone company) their R&D vanished.

Chris Rogers's picture

DJI purchased Hasselblad?! Well that's bad news.

MC G's picture

Normal people use Canon. Hipsters use Fuji.

Chris Rogers's picture

I use nikon and fuji what does that make me? a normie hipster?

Benoit Pigeon's picture

A photographer.

Chris Rogers's picture

if you print big, require more color latitude than 14 bit, are a landscape photographer or need immense cropping power then yes medium format is worth it. If your work is primarily viewed on a screen then no you will see almost no extra benefit that is worth the cost of a medium format system.

Thomas Starlit's picture

When was the last time you looked at a digital photo in admiration, only to find out that the photo was great _because_ of the sensor size?