The Mac analogy doesn't quite work. Specialty Macs are basically regular Macs with some cool stuff cobbled onto it. Which is great because it makes it cheaper to build. To make an MF or LF back you need to build a bigger sensor. You can't just cobble together a bunch of >35mm ones. This makes for a VERY expensive device.
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Is medium format a dying breed? I think of several answers, none of which are as flipant as they sound:
answer 1 - yes, but who cares?
answer 2- no, digital backs will save it (maybe).
answer 3 - yes, digital 35 in the 20 megapixel area will replace digital MF.
two years ago if you were buying a professional portrait/wedding/studio camera, it would probably smart to buy a medium format camera. image size/production costs were a good mix of quality/film-processing costs relative to 35mm and 4x5. and, as digital improves its price/performance, someone is going to make a digital back for my medium format camera.
thanks primarily to Canon and its high end digital camera, that answer is becoming less correct. if you're shooting digital, 35mm is beginning to look like a great way to go. quality and price will soon reach a level where it is sharp enough and cheap enough that a Canon is all you'll ever need for wedding photography. wedding photographers don't shoot 4x5 anymore - the increased quality is not necessary and MF wins in terms of ease of use.
since canon will sell far more 1Ds's than Kodak will DCS backs for a Hassleblad, inevitably, the price for a "good enough" (and i don't mean that in a bad sense) canon will be way lower than than the MF with a digital back. at that point, no reason for digital MF to exist, and soon, with no reason for digital MF to exist, then no reason for MF to exist.
But, who cares? I keep coming back to "digital is digital and film is film". the members of this forum understand the difference and judge film to be superior, and perhaps judge that it will always be superior for aesthetic or simply archive reasons.
I went through this scare 4 years ago when Kodak announced it was discontinuing the production of 5x7 film. This, after I had just completed my equipment setup including a new Omega enlarger. Four years later Kodak is still making 5x7 film and I realize that if they don't, someone else will.
Take a worst case, you are a 20 year old student and love B&W film. If you bought a 30 year old Leica M4 or Hassleblad 500CM today, because you couldn't afford something newer, by the time you are 60 the camera would still be repairable and there would be film available for it. For your own work, would you ever need better than an M4 with a 35mm Summicron or a 500CM with a 150 Sonar? Large format will survive even longer!
Be glad you got your beautiful yellow Hassleblad before they stopped making them and just enjoy taking pictures with it.
Well, nothing is sold for giveaway prices in LF. But I can see a back coming from a market entry $25k to "large format" prices in just a few years, can't you?
The thing is I think $25k might be considered normal for a LF back. I'm looking at a webpage for the Shen-Hao which I think is made in China. I bet it doesn't cost them too many big Macs to build the thing. It still sells for over $500.
The other thing is prices don't tend to drop until the tech has basically levelled off. My first DVD player was the DVD-rom in my computer. While it was a pain to get the cables all hooked to watch a movie it worked just fine. In reality once the movie is started you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference between the DVD-rom and my Sony DVD player.
Now think of that back. Some one claimed it takes a few minutes after the exposure to process the image. If instead of lowering the price they give you one that takes 30 seconds? Prices don't really drop until they can't convince people to pay the big bucks to upgrade. Unlike the computer industry which used to sell big buck items to business users then move it down the food chain a LF digital item isn't going to be bought by too many non-pros.
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There may be a solution.... wait a few years, and buy the stuff used. The big depreciation is during the change from new (still in the store) to used (as soon as you walk out of the store). After that, it may depreciate even more because it is "legacy equipment". The tricky part might be the drivers.
MF is NOT a dying breed. Nor is large format. Or even 35mm for that matter. Each format has its place and so does digital. Each does a specific job better than the others.
When television was becoming popular, everyone thought radio was on its way out. Well, 50 years later radio is alive and well.
I am very hopeful that with all the passion about MF, you are all but a small sampling of many, many more people out there who share the same thoughts that MF is here to stay. Honestly, every photographer I have encountered in the commercial fashion and glamour industry has gone 35 mm digital. I know there are more subject areas to photography, but it was shocking to feel that I was a holdout!
Ironically, I'm the farthest from being a technophobe.
You guys are giving me a lot of hope. :-)
You won't find many technophobes here. Several of us are engineers.