Medium Format: The Year in Review, 2019

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As the popularity of medium format has continued over the past year, the major players in this arena have continued to innovate throughout 2019 with a handful of new camera announcements, some new lenses, and even the entrance of some of the first third-party lenses for the two main mirrorless systems. While not quite as explosive of a year as in the past, 2019 signaled maturity and stability in the medium format world, and set the stage for continued growth in the years to come.

Cameras

The most noteworthy medium format announcement of the year has to go to Fujifilm’s GFX 100; a 102MP beast of camera that brings not only resolution, but also image stabilization, apt video, and impressive autofocus to the medium format mirrorless realm. The standout feature, obviously, is the incorporation of a 102MP BSI CMOS sensor, measuring 43.8 x 32.9mm, which doubles the resolution of previous same-sized sensors, and eclipses the 100MP barrier for “consumer-available” cameras. Among other firsts, the GFX 100 is also the first medium format mirrorless to have sensor-shift type image stabilization, which compensates for up to 5.5 stops of camera shake. Among other notable features, this camera is also capable of UHD and DCI 4K video recording, with 4:2:2 10-bit over HDMI; has a built-in vertical grip, which holds two batteries for an impressive 800 shots per charge; and includes a removable 5.76m-dot OLED electronic viewfinder. The GFX 100 is an enticing and exciting point in medium format development because it sees a variety of imaging capabilities reserved for the highest end of cameras along with versatile multimedia and convenience features more common to mainstream cameras.

FUJIFILM GFX 100 Medium Format Mirrorless Camera

Looking in nearly the opposite direction of Fujifilm’s offering of the year, Hasselblad also refreshed its mirrorless line, as well as added a second camera (of sorts) to its budding X system. Whereas Fujifilm outfitted its new release with many bells and whistles, Hasselblad’s offerings are decidedly understated and favor a more minimalist and elegant approach to camera design. The X1D II 50C is the successor to their first medium format mirrorless body and serves more as an update rather than a wholly new camera. It is a true Mark II. This isn’t a bad thing, though, since the X1D II addresses essentially all of the issues of its predecessor, which was already a highly coveted and desirable camera. This new model offers faster and more fluent performance by way of an updated electronic platform for quickened startup times, reduced shutter lag and blackout times, more responsive autofocus, and a faster 2.7 fps shooting rate. The other key updates to this camera are the inclusion of a larger 3.6" 2.36m-dot touchscreen LCD and a higher-resolution 3.69m-dot OLED viewfinder. Altogether, it takes everything from the first iteration and makes it just that much better.

Hasselblad X1D II 50C Medium Format Mirrorless Camera

The other major camera news from Hasselblad concerns an entirely new modular camera platform, along with a new digital back. The 907X Special Edition is the first example of this new camera platform, which is based on Hasselblad’s historic V-system platform. Comprising the 907X camera body and CFV II 50C digital back, this camera system melds a bit of the mirrorless X system with the history of the renowned V system. The 907X is the smallest camera body Hasselblad has ever produced, but in reality, this “camera” serves more as an interface between the V-mount CFV II 50C digital back and the X-system lenses. The CFV II 50C, as its name would suggest, is the second generation of the CFV 50C digital back, which features the same sensor as the X1D cameras, but can be used on Hasselblad 500/200-series film cameras or other V-type camera bodies, including technical cameras. Besides featuring essentially the same imaging capabilities as the X1D II, this back now has a tilting 3.0" touchscreen LCD, is able to accept one battery internally (opposed to externally with the previous CFV backs), has dual SD slots, built-in Wi-Fi, and can tether over USB Type-C. It’s an impressive start to a new medium format system and something that will be exciting to watch grow over the coming years.

Hasselblad 907X Special Edition Medium Format Mirrorless Camera

Lenses

In addition to the 100-megapixel monolith, Fujifilm also debuted a pair of new G-mount lenses for its GFX cameras. At the beginning of the year, the manufacturer introduced its first telephoto zoom for the system, and second zoom overall, with the GF 100-200mm f/5.6 R LM OIS WR. This lens covers a useful portrait-length to mid-telephoto range and has a constant f/5.6 maximum aperture for consistent performance throughout the zoom range. Its advanced optical design uses ED and aspherical elements for well-controlled imaged quality and it has a five-stop-equivalent image stabilization system to reduce the appearance of camera shake. It’s weather-sealed, comes with a tripod collar, and also is compatible with the optional GF 1.4X TC WR Teleconverter to extend the focal length to an effective 140-280mm.

FUJIFILM GF 100-200mm f/5.6 R LM OIS WR Lens

On the other end of the lens spectrum, Fujifilm also introduced the petite GF 50mm f/3.5 R LM WR; a slightly wide normal lens characterized by its slim design. As the veritable “pancake” lens of the system—albeit a fairly thick pancake—this lens contributes to the aim of mirrorless medium format in general with its small, lightweight profile that makes a walkaround GFX system very much a reality. Optically, it uses an aspherical element to achieve high sharpness and accurate rendering, and the lens is also weather-resistant, for working in inclement conditions.

FUJIFILM GF 50mm f/3.5 R LM WR Lens

2019 also saw more third-party manufacturers dipping their toes into producing lenses for Fujifilm GFX cameras, namely with Kipon’s delivery of its Iberit 75mm f/2.4 lens with a native G mount and Venus Optics’s wholly new design of the Laowa 17mm f/4 GFX Zero-D. In Kipon’s case, it realized the existing Iberit 75mm lens could cover the larger sensor area of the GFX cameras, so simply adjusted the lens mount to fit these bodies. This beats adapting lenses, since the lens will exhibit greater stability and will be more streamlined. On the other hand, Venus Optics went the more unique route and developed a brand-new lens for the GFX system with its 17mm f/4. Showing this company’s expertise for ultra-wides, this lens offers an expansive field of view, similar to that of a 13mm lens on full frame. And in terms of the optics, it has the usual aspherical and ED elements to help tame distortion and realize a high degree of sharpness.

KIPON Iberit 75mm f/2.4 Lens for FUJIFILM G

Finally, in addition to its two camera releases, Hasselblad also released its first zoom lens for the X system, with the XCD 35-75mm f/3.5-4.5. In Hasselblad’s words, the claim is that this lens offers “prime lens performance” despite its zooming versatility, and it incorporates a pair of aspherical elements to suppress a variety of aberrations throughout the focal length range. Also notable is that this 35-75mm lens has an internal focusing design, which keeps the overall weight down and maintains its physical length during focusing. Like all XCD lenses, this zoom incorporates a leaf shutter, too, which permits flash sync at any shutter speed, up to 1/2000-second.

Hasselblad XCD 35-75mm f/3.5-4.5 Lens

What are your thoughts on the state of medium format in the year 2019? Are you impressed with this year’s offerings? What are you hoping to see in 2020? Let us know, down below.

1 Comments

I've been using the Hasselblad X1D II 50C, along with the XCD 45mm and XCD 90mm lenses. The quality of resolution has been phenomenal. There is almost no noise that I've experienced, in shooting from the last row, of the upper (third tier) of Philadelphia's Verizon Hall. The zoom is just remarkable with the XCD 90mm, and it takes wonderful portraits. I am quite impressed with the medium format, coming from a Nikon D80 ca. late 2006, and a series of iPhones including the latest iPhone 11 Pro Max. Since the physical characteristics are similar to a DSLR, most people pay it no attention. However twice I've heard comments. One - "wow,  that camera went to the moon" and then asked what camera it was, as he couldn't tell... however, he STILL mostly shoots with film on Nikon F4, but was impressed with the look and feel of the Hasselblad. The camera is really easy to use and east to take great photos. 

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