There are many good reasons to use an MF camera, no doubt.
MF makes sense because:
- the high level of competence of the VARs selling and supporting the backs,
- excellent thethered shooting,
- higher resolutions in one shot,
- larger viewfinder,
- the possibility to use the back on different styles of cameras, including large format,
- it delivers a different look thanks mostly to different lenses and a different aspect ratio,
- the ownership of legacy lenses,
- the UI of the cameras is different, not because they are MF, simply because they are different makes,
- the desire to show clients/friends that one uses high end equipment,
A DSLR and its sensor is made for more general use than a MFDB. A DSLR have a wider ISO range with higher ISO capability and a higher base ISO. If that is what you need, then that should be your tool of choice. For ultimate file and image quality at lower ISO, no current DSLR beats current MFDB. The image data from MFDB is amazing in its image quality and how it can be pushed around.
A few obvious points:
- Not all DSLRs are equal, very far from it,
- Not all MFDB are equal either. Although there was probably less progress compared to DSLRs, you will have to admit that the current generation of backs is in a totally different league compared to the 22 and 39 mp generation of backs. An obvious side effect of this is that even if the very latest backs are clearly superior to all DSLRs, this simply not true when comparing a bit older backs to recent DSLRs.
So in essence, a generic discussion about MDFB vs DSLR makes little sense. We need to speak about concrete examples of each and to measure the objective performance of the devices, which can easily be done. When comparing to DSLRS, the current best offering, the D3x, should be used as a reference point. Not because I used to own one, because it has been the highest performance DSLR out there for more than 3 years... and will remain so for another 5 days.
The other part is that the cameras for MFDB are simpler and with much less automation than DSLRs, less buttons to confuse all of which that slows you down in the process of taking an image. Slowing down is good for focusing on how you capture the image and yields in less shots but your keepers are far better.
As a former Hassy H1 and Mamiya ZD owner, I have never found their UI to be simpler than that of the DSLRs I have used, on the contrary. The ergonomics of the DSLRs is overall superior, and I would argue that DSLRs can be set very easily to a full automated mode included finely tuned Auto-ISO that very much reduces the user operation to framing only.
So yes, clunky UIs force you to be slow... but I find it amusing to quote this as a plus.
Being slow is a mindset, I'd rather use gear that enables me to be fast when I need to.
The key is really to have a user experience that makes it possible to focus on image creation. There is a personal preference coming at play here and this really isn't about MF vs 35mm. You seem to prefer the UI of your MF camera, from general comments on this forum you probably belong to a small minority.
There is the larger format which gives a different rendering and DOF. And a LARGER area of sensor to capture more light.
The latest 80MP MFDB from Leaf and Phase One are impressive. It is not first most the pixels that impress, but the accurate and good colors, there are more colors, a finer gradation of colors, a broad DR, amazing recovery of highlights and low lights details. The more pixels helps of course.
Knowing that highlight recovery is in fact only systematic under-exposure by more than one stop, I would actually look at this as a downside since it makes ETTR more difficult to achieve.
Regarding colors, this is a topic worth discussing in depth. It seems obvious that more spatial information (higher resolution) will result in more color information being present at a given print size. But this is just a re-phrasing of higher resolution, the very same phenomenon is at play when stitching for example.
The question is whether there is something else at play. All DSLRs can be measured to be totally color accurate relative to standard charts, so there should be little difference there.
Still, there could
be 2 things happening:
- the ability of the sensor to differentiate real life colors, meaning to associate more or less different RGB values for 2 different colors/illuminations,
- the gammut it can handle.
Do we have factual data showing that the CCD of a given back behaves differently than the CMOS of a given DSLR?
I use latest 80MP Leaf AFi-II 12 digital back on a Rolleiflex Hy6. That camera is of very high preciseness in focus and no more weight than a DSLR, and a 6cm x 6cm LARGE & BRIGHT focus screen in folding waist level viewfinder for seeing large and bright when taking a photo. Same quality go for lenses that are super sharp by Schneider and Carl Zeiss. There is no chance I will switch to any 36MP or higher DSLR and put money in the bank. Though as an amateur I sure could use that money elsewhere I very much value the image quality I get from Leaf. Not only that, you saw the post from "Yaya" Yair above. He is Leaf's product manager worldwide. Leaf has stellar support. None of that from DSLRs... Leaf products are also very durable and built to stand professional and heavy use. They last and do not have problems. Pretty much same should go for the other MFDBs. If at any time a back needs help (or us with it), help is around the corner and FAST.
Some good points here: viewfinder, good lenses, the VAR system is probably the highest value proposal of the MF systems. Now, this only works for city shooting in a small number of places and... you pay for that right? Have you ever tried asking a leading VAR whether they would be willing to support your DSLR usage against a fee. I bet they would be more than happy to help you.
As far as durability goes, I find your comment surprising. The MF platforms are a lot less reliable and durable than pro grade DSLRs. They are not even in the same league. I am sure it has improved, but I can't remember how many times my H1 froze on me... I have never had a single software bug or freeze with any of my nikons over probably in excess of one million frames over the years.
As far as support/availability goes... The best support is not needing support, right? For landscape applications across the globe, the DSLRs have a huge advantage in terms of:
- possibility to buy and use a real back up camera with specs identical to your main one. That is again critical if you engage at all in once in a life time photographic activities where you just cannot afford to stop shooting because your main camera has a problem,
- local support in the unlikely event something breaks down (that has never happened to me in 20 years of using my Nikons in super though outdoor environments with zero pro-active care from me),
- purchase of a replacement in the unlikely event that both your cameras dies. Who will always be able to buy an EOS digital anywhere and still be able to use your lenses and bring images back home,