Three years ago I attended an architectural photography workshop in Chicago. It was my first opportunity to work with medium format digital and with a modern technical camera. It was immediately the obvious next step for how I wanted to work and where I wanted to take my photography. Since then it's been a waiting game for when I thought I was actually ready, and when I thought the technology was worthy of this level of investment. It's an expensive system, and I only wanted to do this once.
For the last two months I've quietly been working with a completely new camera system. I went with a Phase One IQ260 digital back, and an Arca Swiss R3mdi technical camera. Everything is different. The process of making a photograph in the field is different, it's a slow, measured, more thoughtful process. This is not a point and shoot camera. This is an artist's camera in which you think, compose and then create an image. It's a process I enjoy greatly and I'm ready to talk about it.
Why digital medium format?
1. Image Quality
Even compared to my Nikon D800 this is the easily one the greatest advantages. Lots of important science goes in to this system. A sensor 2.5 times the size of full frame 35mm digital, paired with amazing lenses. It's optics, it's science.
The resulting resolution of a technically well shot image is stunning. For example, take these images below. I wanted to put the camera to work, and my client SmithGroupJJR was nice enough to let me point it at their new DC Office. The original image is on the left, showing the entry and how their building nicely craddles the Corcoran Gallery. The image on the right is a rather large crop—a large crop in the corner of a shifted image. The results were stunning, the cropped image was still 16 megapixels. Plenty sharp and large enough for various usages.
2. Slowing Down
Everything I've done to slow down my photography has resulted in better images. Planning ahead, thinking about what I'm photographing before I photograph it, using perceptive correction lenses, tethering, lighting a scene, etc. These things, while slowing you down, make for better images. Images last forever. Slow down, it's for the better.
3. I did it all for the movements
A DSLR can shift about 11mm up/down/left/right. That's just ok. Clearly, I worked 4 years with DSLRs, so it works. The Arca Swiss R3mdi can shift so much more. 30mm up, 20mm down, 15mm left/right. Because of the way it moves you can stitch those images together far easier than you would on a DSLR. Of course your lens' image circle makes a difference in how much of that you can actually use, but the possibilities are endless.
4. Why Phase? Why ArcaSwiss?
Initially I wanted to go with ALPA tech camera. I used their system in Chicago and thought very highly of it. It turns out when I was demoing systems I went to their only US rep at the time FotoCare in New York. I was so underwhelmed by Fotocare and their lack of service that I could not in good faith give them a penny of my money.
Thankfully, friend and fellow architectural photographer Jeffrey Totaro pointed me to DigitalTransitions. The team at DT was, and has continued to be fantastic. My giant thanks to Jeffrey for being extremely helpful and generous with his time and knowledge.
I went with the Arca Swiss R3mdi for a few basic reasons. You can shift like crazy on it. You can tilt with every lens, something that you can't do on ALPA. Terrific support from Digital Transitions. And last, and least important, I thought the Cambo systems were ugly. Sorry Cambo.
7. Transitioning from Aperture to Capture One Pro 7.
My software workflow has also changed a great deal. I'm moving from a mature, very efficient workflow I developed while using Apple's Aperture to now tackling the learning curve of Capture One Pro 7. To date, for all it's lagging in updates and major new releases, nothing comes close to the amazing organization and workflow tools of Aperture. That said, Capture One's imaging processing is unparalleled. So in the pursuit of image excellence I'm diving in. Slowly but surely I'm getting better and faster at it.