Switching to Digital Medium Format–Is it Worth it?


I've been traveling now for over a year with this beast, the Pentax 645z and I still love it. It's been in India, Cambodia, Indonesia, Australia, and so many more countries in the past two years. Sure, it's big and bulky but trust me, if you really like a camera, that’s not an issue, even when traveling.

Related Street Photography wit a Digital Medium Format Camera

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Should You Switch to a Medium Format Camera?

The first and one of the main reasons why I bought this camera five years ago is…

The medium format look

This is a very controversial topic so, definitely let me know in the comments if you think the medium format look is real and if you like it or not. Now, I don't care too much about technical details and I also can't explain exactly what the medium format look is or where it comes from. I just base my opinion on what I see in a photo.

Pentax 645z medium format camera in India.

Pentax 645z medium format camera in India.


One thing you need to achieve the medium format look is a large sensor. I don't want to go into the technicalities but here's what I've found on the website of Hasselbladt.

“Whilst 35mm maximum aperture settings may be larger on certain lenses, this does not always mean the depth of field achieved will be shallower.”


“Given the different format sizes between medium format and 35mm, we have different magnification, and this results in a different appearance of depth of field.”

And I think that last one is important. I always had the impression that, with my pentax 645z, I can get closer to my subject with a wider lens and still achieve a shallow depth of field that just looks a tad different. Again, maybe it’s just all in my head but I don’t think so…

Dynamic Range

I'm always amazed by the dynamic range of my Pentax 645z, even though it's almost 5 years old. The large sensor means the pixels can be larger too and larger pixels capture light a lot better than smaller pixels.

Pentax 645z medium format in Laos.

Pentax 645z medium format in Laos.

And not only when taking a photo I'm amazed by the dynamic range of medium format. Also when post processing. Here's an example. I can underexpose by quite a lot and still bring all the details in the shadows back.

Low Noise levels

This might have changed by now but back when I bought the Pentax, it's low noise level were out of this world. I can shoot at ISO3200 or 6400 without worrying about noise. That being said, I do think people are a little bit toooooo afraid of noise.

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Is it worth it to switch to medium format?

Those are the three main reasons why I bought this camera five years ago. Would I buy a new medium format camera soon? And should you switch? I'm not sure. I had to sell all my other gear to afford this one and even though the prices will probably drop in the years to come, it's still expensive.

If you have too much money and you don't know what to spend it on, sure. Go for it. But normally, I'd recommend medium format only for people who like to make large prints and also, equally important, if you love the medium format look with its nice and smooth tonal transitions. Because, these days, a lot of cameras are 50 megapixels or more, so large prints are possible with those too.

I don't think it's worth it to buy a medium format camera just because it's medium format. Don't buy one for Instagram photos or if you make photos that you only watch on your screen. It's like buying a supercar and only drive it 10mph all the time.

I'm not sure myself if I would buy a medium format again. Seeing the prices, at the moment, I would go for a camera that's both good at shooting still as well as video instead. Now, if they make a mirrorless medium format that shoots awesome video and has a fast and superior autofocus. Drop the price a bit more... mmmmmm... very tempting!

What do you think? Do you think the medium format look is real? Are you thinking of buying a medium format camera? Let me know in the comments and make sure to hit that like and subscribe button. See you next time...

Photography, GearJoris Hermans