I’ve often written about how modern photography has lost its romance. It’s one of the many reasons why the site’s primary readers (Millenials and Gen Z) love film cameras and care about the ergonomics of cameras. And of any cameras available on the market, this is seen with medium format cameras. Every full-frame camera more or less feels like a variant of another camera. Of course, there are exceptions, but they all follow a very safe and marketable design. But if you dive into the film world, things get different. And it’s evident that the romance of modern photography is gone.
This post is penned as a response to DPReview TV’s video about medium format and there being no magic in the depth of field. Chris Niccolls is a super-smart fellow, and this has been the problem with both Hasselblad and Fujifilm for a while. We’ve told brands that they need faster aperture lenses. There’s no seriously good, commercial reason why we can’t have an f1.2 or f1 autofocusing lens on medium format. Would it be huge? Yes, and we accept that. But it would do something that full-frame can’t. The latest Hasselblad and Fujifilm medium format cameras don’t even use a 645 sized sensor. And the argument goes that if you can get similar image quality from full-frame and you’re not pixel peeping or doing lab tests, then why bother?
I’ll make a strong case for Fujifilm with their film simulations. Most of the time, you literally don’t need to edit your photos at all because you can do everything in-camera. That’s incredibly liberating. It’s also why most of our staff shoots with Fuji. This is particularly amazing and part of the romance of photography (which is done in the field and not sitting behind a computer). You get it more from the GF series than the X series.
But I feel like modern camera manufacturers are missing out on the romantic part of photography they experienced growing up, but we don’t. And you can see it when you look at younger generations and what they do with cameras. Let’s go down the list:
- ASMR around proper camera shutters
- The feel and sound of a film advance. Everything from a Leica M6 to the crank on a Mamiya RB67 is an experience photographers obviously want.
- The beauty products accumulate when they turn old. Brass cameras and lenses look really nice if you’ve held onto them for years. They’ll probably even retain their value if they are sold later on.
- Critically missing experiences such as a TLR or even a Hasselblad 500c style of camera. The top down viewing experience is something that really shouldn’t be missed.
- General good looks on cameras. The Canon QL17 is one of the most beautiful cameras I’ve ever seen when it’s been given new leathette.
Comparatively speaking to full-frame cameras, medium format cameras have a lot more romance ergonomically. The beauty isn’t always in the image quality, it’s in the experience that they give you. This is where I think medium format cameras need to focus. Instead of continuing to design the soul out of cameras while being extra clinical, how about giving them personality? How about doing something no one else is? The camera market majorly lacks originality, and the more this happens the more it’s all going to tank.
I’m predicting that we probably won’t see these changes for another decade. And I say this because of what I notice in similar industries. I mean, look at the watch world. Smartwatches are very popular, and dedicated timepieces have become popular again as pieces of jewelry. The only thing the camera industry has that’s close to that in digital is what Leica makes.
Medium format could be the perfect place for this to happen again. Just imagine the idea of a medium format GF TLR camera. Of course, keep it mirrorless or make it feel and look more like a 500c camera body. People would buy it just because it’s so different. They wouldn’t care about the investment into new lenses: they’d do it because they love cameras. And at the end of the day, there are folks who love photography and folks who just love cameras. People can surely love both, but why not make medium format cameras exciting again?