Since I started shooting with a Phase One medium format camera system, I have experienced a series of quite unexpected and interesting side effects. I thought my testimonial might be helpful to other photographers who are considering making the move. Note: you won’t find any of these side effects listed at the end of the XF user’s guide, or on any equipment review of any photography website.
I had been dreaming of medium format for years. Like many others, I have always considered medium format the ultimate system, the holy grail of cameras. Like many others, I thought it was inaccessible, unaffordable, something I could only dream of. Two years ago, I stopped dreaming and made the move. At last! The main reason was that an upgrade of my system was overdue, but at the time I couldn’t see any new 35mm camera on the market worth the investment. Every new generation of DSLR camera comes with better autofocus, better crazy-fast frame rate, better ISO for low light situations, and better video options. That’s all great for photographers who shoot sports, journalism, wildlife, weddings and so on but with the type of photography I do, I don’t need any of those features. I shoot manual focus 90% of the time, I don’t need many frames per second, I work mostly in the studio with strobes, I shoot at ISO 50-200, and to be honest, I have very little interest in video. Instead I’d rather have better image quality, better colour rendering, higher flash sync speed, better lenses and solid tethering features. I do photography for a living, so overall I want to give my clients the best image quality. The answer to that is simple: it’s called medium format.
Many articles can be found online on medium format vs. 35mm, with all specs written down. They compare sensor size, pixels, technical aspects, interface, design, all possible features, etc., but none of them really talk about how shooting with a medium format camera affects you. You. The photographer! You are way more important than your camera. How a camera makes you feel and how it affects your work and your approach to photography is what matters the most. It’s not all about AF points or megapixels.
With that in mind, I realized I have experienced a series of quite unexpected and very interesting “side effects” since I’ve been shooting with the Phase One XF. When I shared those thoughts with colleague photographers, I was very happy to hear they felt the same as I do.
Medium format photography will most likely raise your standards. This is actually the most important side effect I’ve noticed: I feel that I always have to be more than good. It is unacceptable to create an average image with such a high-end system. The image quality is so outstanding and the tool is so precise and advanced that I feel like lighting, concept and composition should constantly improve to honour the top-of-the-line equipment I am working with. To be fair, the skills I just mentioned are required regardless of the system used. The truth is that investing in a medium format system doesn’t make you a better photographer the next day, just as buying a better car doesn’t make you a better driver. Or adding a pedal to your pedalboard doesn’t make you a better guitar player. Getting better requires work. I’m now harder on myself than I was before. Between you and me, I’m still capable of shooting a bad image every now and then. I just make sure no one ever sees it!
Loss of interest in other platforms may occur.I have to admit I have completely lost interest in shooting 35mm DSLR. I’m not saying DSLRs are bad. I’m certainly not saying anything negative about the work of other photographers who shoot 35mm either because I absolutely love and respect the work of so many of them! Truth to be told, amazing photographs have been taken with pretty much every camera that ever existed. All I’m saying is that 35mm is not the best fit for me anymore. I kept some of my old gear though and still use it on certain occasions when it is more convenient (travelling, fast-moving subjects, very low light, etc.), but when I do use it, I use it with less excitement. I’m still focused and dedicated to capturing a great image, but something is clearly missing.
The photographer may gain self-confidence.I cannot think of a single client who wouldn’t be happy about receiving higher quality work. I feel I now bring so much more to the table both in assignments and my personal projects. If I do my part right, I know the camera won’t let me down. As a matter of fact, it will exceed my expectations. With that in mind, I feel more confident every time I start a project.
The photographer may feel humbler.I know, I just spoke about self-confidence, but self-confidence and humility are not incompatible. Here’s the thing: the XF camera system is so advanced it offers many features that are beyond my needs and that I’m not familiar with yet. I still have some serious learning to do. It’s a good thing I don’t feel too bad about my visual and creative skills because I must say that in all technical aspects, my camera is smarter than I am (and so are the people who designed it)!
Upgrades may be required. This side effect might affect the photographer’s bank account more than the photographer himself. Some of the equipment I previously thought was okay wasn’t actually good enough. I replaced my tripod with a sturdier one with higher load capacity. I invested in a more precise tripod head and purchased a better (and well-calibrated) screen for editing plus additional hard drives to store larger files, etc. So unless you’re already set, if you’re thinking in investing in a medium format system, don’t forget to include some of these side expenses in your budget.
There is another common side effect that I have heard about many times, which I didn’t mention. Some people say that medium format would slow them down, in a good way. They take more time with each photo, they think more, they reconnect with the gear and appreciate things more, they don’t rush as much. The reason I didn’t mention this side effect is that in my case, it doesn’t apply. I was already doing that. Because of the nature of my work, I have to be patient and precise. I sketch my ideas before I go on set, I shoot tethered with the camera on a tripod and I take the time to compose, light, stage and style, regardless of the equipment I use. So, in a way, now that I think about it, I was actually using my 35mm camera like a medium format camera!
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