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Author Topic: Request for advice getting started in digital medium format  (Read 25985 times)

Wolven

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Request for advice getting started in digital medium format
« on: October 14, 2014, 10:37:12 pm »

I posted this in the beginner's section and was advised that I might have better luck posting in this subsection of the forum.. so here goes..

Hello folks!

I am a long time lurker, first time poster/amateur who does landscape photography purely for the love of it. Been shooting for 4 years and have quite a long distance to go.

I'm a huge fan of work by Joe Cornish who uses a Linhof Techno (if I can remember correctly) for some precision tilt/shift work.

I currently use a D600 with a 24mm PC-E lens for most of my landscape photography and complement it with a 200mm F4 Micro Nikkor and a nifty fifty.

I want to start looking at digital medium format.

I'm on a budget when considering the high RRP for medium format in general so I'll end up buying second hand products most of the time.

What would your recommendation be for someone like me? I'm in no hurry to get started and would like some sound knowledge before proceeding.

Some attractive options (for various reasons) seem to be the older Phase One backs with some cheaper alternative to either a Linhof Techno or one of the Alpa 12 line of cameras with a tilt-shift adapter

Then there is the Pentax 645z with Hartblei TS purely attractive from a, high value for money, perspective...

Am I completely off the mark? Please advise.
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BernardLanguillier

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Re: Request for advice getting started in digital medium format
« Reply #1 on: October 14, 2014, 11:30:45 pm »

My personal view is that the 645Z is the best option for landscape if you intend to use your back on an SLR camera.

Michael seems to agree.

Things get a bit more complicated if you consider technical cameras and there is IMHO, no perfect solution. CCD based cameras work better with movements but lack usable live view which can be a problem for critical focusing. The recent Sony sensor based cameras have live view, but they don't seem to work that well with movements on tech cameras.

All in all, a second hand P45+ may be your best bet for technical camera usage at a reasonnable price point if the lack of live view isn't a show stopper.

Cheers,
Bernard
« Last Edit: October 14, 2014, 11:32:46 pm by BernardLanguillier »
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torger

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Re: Request for advice getting started in digital medium format
« Reply #2 on: October 15, 2014, 02:15:43 am »

You sound to be in a similar situation like I was in 2012 when I bought a second hand MFD Linhof Techno system.

My Linhof Techno review could be helpful to you (which talk about tech cams in more generic terms too not only the Techno): http://www.ludd.ltu.se/~torger/photography/linhof-techno-review.html

If you get into MF with the right expectations it can be wonderful, but don't buy too much into the hype. Much of the hype is about studio work, out of focus look and skin tones, something you have little use of in landscape. In landscape much of the hype is related to the resolving power of the most expensive tech cam lenses on the highest resolution backs, something you and I doesn't afford.

That said, if you want a DSLR experience there's the 645Z, there you have the CMOS technology and all features you find in a 135 DSLR, and for being MF it's affordable and there's still a few second hand lenses to be had.

I think it was very worthwhile to go the tech cam way, but then you need to compromise a bit concerning digital back. You can get a Hasselblad CFV-50c with CMOS and liveview, buying it in Japan it's $10k, but wide angles will be an issue as documented elsewhere. If you shoot wide angle it's better with a CCD. P45+ is popular due to its well-documented reliability and long exposure, but is also one of the most expensive second hand backs. I got myself a Leaf Aptus 75 and still today it's very good price/performance (for being MFD), and you can do focus check unlike on the P45+ (most older backs render 100% view so fuzzy you can't know for sure it's sharp or not).

Compared to a D810 you will miss mainly a few things with the CCD backs, 1) they're more noisy, 2) you don't have (any good/usable) live view, 3) most don't have long exposure. Using grad filters is a good idea, and having a post-processing style that's not too much grunge HDR-like, ie don't push shadows 4 stops. If you have a bit more old-school processing you'll find also the older CCD backs to have good DR, a back from 2004 still has better DR than a recent Canon, and noise is well-behaved no patterns and such. Concerning long exposure there are a few exceptions like the P25+ and P45+, but most are limited to about 30 seconds, and at 30 seconds they're quite noisy if the weather is warm. I use my Aptus 75 up to its 30 second limit quite often but shoot often in cold weather too.

Concerning lacking the live view there are two methods, A) ground glass, B) high precision focusing rings on the pancake cameras. In my review I look into ground glass focusing extensively, and yes with training, the right gear (glass and loupe) and not shooting wider than f/11 you will achieve good precision with ground glass.

I recommend a view camera solution like the Linhof Techno I have myself (best landscape camera much thanks to it's compactness, but also rather expensive, but if you find one second hand it can be okay), or Arca-Swiss MF-two or F-Universalis. The Cambo Actus is not so good choice unless you get a CMOS back as the Actus lacks sliding back option. Why do I recommend a view camera? You get about the same type of creative options concerning lens movements as traditional large format, lenses are a lot cheaper as you get them on lens boards, and you have tilt and swing on *all* lenses as it's built into the camera body not an expensive mount. The disadvantages is ground glass focusing and somewhat lower precision (due to more flexible movements), I don't think view cameras should be shot at wider apertures than f/11 as shorter depth of fields both make ground glass focusing overly difficult and also can make precision limitations in the systems visible.

Note that ground glass focusing is not for everyone, if you have problems with your vision it may be impossible to get the good precision I talk about. If that's the case a pancake camera with high precision focusing rings and a laser distance meter can be better. If you're all about sharpness and less about movements a pancake camera is probably also a better choice. You won't get bad sharpness with a view camera but focusing precision is a bit more, well, relaxed.

I think the best way to approach tech cam landscape photography is to think that you want to shoot large format but not mess with film, then you will be most pleased with what you get from a Linhof Techno or similar camera with a second hand back at 33-39 megapixels.

If you're only into MF for image quality and think the rest is just cumbersome and a bit too costly I think you will not be in for long. We've not seen the end of quality improvements of the 135 systems. What you won't get though is the same type of flexibility concerning movements at such wide range of focal lengths as you can get in a tech cam. If you become a bit romantic about old-school mechanical things (like I do) you will also get some extra joy out of the precision mechanical instruments tech cams are. That helps.

I've also noted that there are different type of personalities when it comes to MFD. You have the engineering type like myself that don't see MFD as something inherently special and superior but rather look at the technical aspects of image quality and says it is what it is, which is that it's worse in many aspects than the best CMOS sensors. Then you have those that see special properties in the format size and the fact that it's a CCD and very much dislike anything that looks "DSLR-like", I'm not going to say that it's not real, but I and many others don't have eyes for that and don't see it. How you are in that regard will also affect how pleased you will be with MFD. That said I am very pleased with my MFD despite that I find a little bit better image quality in a D810 in some aspects, so it depends on what your expectations are too. I think that there is such a thing as "good enough" image quality, and if you aim there you don't need to pay a fortune for you digital back. If dynamic range is one of your primary concerns when you make your pictures then there's a warning sign to be raised, you probably won't be pleased with anything but CMOS, and then Pentax 645Z is a good choice, you won't get movements though.

You won't get the same reach as your 200mm F/4 though. The longest lens you can get in the digital lens range is 210mm, which is a bit hard to get now since it's been discontinued due to low sales. If you compromise quality a bit you can get some analog tele lenses which are a bit longer. My longest is 180mm, which corresponds to about 135mm on full-frame 135. So if very long lenses is central to your creative photography tech cam can disappoint.

Do make sure that you have your image clear on the wide angle end before you invest. It's there you have the compatibility issues and potential very high costs buried. SK28 and SK35 is very good price/performance and movement flexibility compared to alternatives, but when shifted only play well with larger pixel sensors (39 or less) and the Kodak 50 megapixel sensor found only in Hasseblad backs. Otherwise you need the more expensive Rodenstock Digaron lenses on the wide end.
« Last Edit: October 15, 2014, 02:33:43 am by torger »
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jerome_m

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Re: Request for advice getting started in digital medium format
« Reply #3 on: October 15, 2014, 02:32:21 am »

I currently use a D600 with a 24mm PC-E lens for most of my landscape photography

And in what advantages do you expect from a MF camera? What are the features you want to get? What are, for you, the limitations of your present system?
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torger

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Re: Request for advice getting started in digital medium format
« Reply #4 on: October 15, 2014, 02:45:25 am »

And in what advantages do you expect from a MF camera? What are the features you want to get? What are, for you, the limitations of your present system?

That's really good questions, and to give an example I can say what features I wanted to get when I got into MFD in 2012. I loved using tilt-shift lenses but lacked focal lengths and some of the available tilt-shift lenses weren't that good optically either. The Canon TS-E 24II I liked (not the least due to its flexible movement design with tilt in any direction and shift decoupled and also in any direction), but not the 45 and the 90 was sharp but limited in movements, the 17 was nice but wider than I needed. And I missed a 35. With Sony A7r and adapters the situation is a little bit better. You can get a 35mm Contax with good optical quality, but then you only have shift not tilt. So 135 is still limited if you want to work "large format way".

I also looked into the future of image quality and thought that the 135 format is too small to make sharp optics for sensors at say 100 megapixels. With the Otus I think I'm proven wrong on that point, but still it's only two lenses and no movements. Wide angle movements may have more precision issues on 135 by the way due to the smaller format and lighter weight mechanics.

That is I got MFD because I wanted to use a view camera and view camera lenses. If tech cameras did not exist and the only options would have been Hassy H or Phase One M I would have stayed with 135. Today I would probably be a bit tempted by the Pentax 645Z because of pricing, if price is reasonable I don't need as much convincing, having a bit more resolving power than the best 135 systems could be enough in that case.

To be fair one reason I got MFD view cam is also because I like to have something a bit different, it's nice to handle this old school precision instrument. One thing can be said for sure, tech cam is very different from a DSLR, 135 or MF.

For me pricing was (and is) very important. Second hand made my MF journey both possible and reasonable. To me it's not only about what I can afford, it's also what I think is reasonable. While tech cam lenses from the Digitar range is expensive compared to consumer DSLR lenses, they are not crazy expensive when bought on lens board. My most expensive tech cam lens, the SK60XL which is the only lens I've bought new so far, is by the way cheaper than an Otus lens, and cheaper than most MF DSLR lenses of course. I have seven lenses to my Techno, all supporting movements, all having very high optical quality, and I think I've paid somewhere in the range $10k in total for all seven lenses. The only bad deal I've made economically is the Aptus back which I had to send in for a costly repair and lost about $4k in repair cost, but on the whole you can afford a setback or two and it will still be a lot cheaper than buying stuff new.

To buy second hand you need patience though, it can take several months before you see a sale of the component you want to have. Building up a system thus takes time, and if you want something of the latest stuff you may need to buy that new, as in the case of the SK60XL for me. These long waits can be okay when you're an amateur like me though, and you can get a quite cost effective system in the end. I think my system is comparable to what a high end 135 system would cost if you bought everything new, and it's cheaper than if I my main photography interest would have been bird photography and I was into super teles.
« Last Edit: October 15, 2014, 03:12:58 am by torger »
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jerome_m

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Re: Request for advice getting started in digital medium format
« Reply #5 on: October 15, 2014, 03:46:20 am »

That's really good questions, and to give an example I can say what features I wanted to get when I got into MFD in 2012. I loved using tilt-shift lenses but lacked focal lengths and some of the available tilt-shift lenses weren't that good optically either. The Canon TS-E 24II I liked (not the least due to its flexible movement design with tilt in any direction and shift decoupled and also in any direction), but not the 45 and the 90 was sharp but limited in movements, the 17 was nice but wider than I needed. And I missed a 35. With Sony A7r and adapters the situation is a little bit better. You can get a 35mm Contax with good optical quality, but then you only have shift not tilt. So 135 is still limited if you want to work "large format way".

I also looked into the future of image quality and thought that the 135 format is too small to make sharp optics for sensors at say 100 megapixels. With the Otus I think I'm proven wrong on that point, but still it's only two lenses and no movements. Wide angle movements may have more precision issues on 135 by the way due to the smaller format and lighter weight mechanics.

That is I got MFD because I wanted to use a view camera and view camera lenses. If tech cameras did not exist and the only options would have been Hassy H or Phase One M I would have stayed with 135. Today I would probably be a bit tempted by the Pentax 645Z because of pricing, if price is reasonable I don't need as much convincing, having a bit more resolving power than the best 135 systems could be enough in that case.

To be fair one reason I got MFD view cam is also because I like to have something a bit different, it's nice to handle this old school precision instrument. One thing can be said for sure, tech cam is very different from a DSLR, 135 or MF.

For me pricing was (and is) very important. Second hand made my MF journey both possible and reasonable. To me it's not only about what I can afford, it's also what I think is reasonable. While tech cam lenses from the Digitar range is expensive compared to consumer DSLR lenses, they are not crazy expensive when bought on lens board. My most expensive tech cam lens, the SK60XL which is the only lens I've bought new so far, is by the way cheaper than an Otus lens, and cheaper than most MF DSLR lenses of course. I have seven lenses to my Techno, all supporting movements, all having very high optical quality, and I think I've paid somewhere in the range $10k in total for all seven lenses. The only bad deal I've made economically is the Aptus back which I had to send in for a costly repair and lost about $4k in repair cost, but on the whole you can afford a setback or two and it will still be a lot cheaper than buying stuff new.

To buy second hand you need patience though, it can take several months before you see a sale of the component you want to have. Building up a system thus takes time, and if you want something of the latest stuff you may need to buy that new, as in the case of the SK60XL for me. These long waits can be okay when you're an amateur like me though, and you can get a quite cost effective system in the end. I think my system is comparable to what a high end 135 system would cost if you bought everything new, and it's cheaper than if I my main photography interest would have been bird photography and I was into super teles.


But what about the pictures? From your text, I understand what features you like to have in a camera, but I don't see how it translates into the pictures you make.
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synn

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Re: Request for advice getting started in digital medium format
« Reply #6 on: October 15, 2014, 04:32:45 am »

Hello,

As someone who made the plunge into medium format a year ago, I might be able to give some inputs here.

Image quality:

I use my gear to make art, first and foremost. while I do read up some lab tests, I don't let that dictate what I shoot with and how. The tools I use are the ones that help me achieve my creative vision best and in that regard, I do consider MF gear to deliver well. Even with much older backs, you will see excellent image quality, when used within the conditions they are good at. The colors are better and the images have a lunch that the clinically boring (IMO) 135 files do not have. Yes, the latter can be post processed heavily to get closer, but MF files look "Right" out of the box. Mamiyaleaf has sample RAWs on their site and Hasselblad has some Tiffs. Do download and try working on them to get a feel (I recommend C1P for Leaf files).

Here's a simple example to show you the difference you can expect from a digital back and a top of the line DSLR. Note that the greens and yellows are much more distinct in the MF file while in the 135 file, they kinda blend in together.

Credo:

Night scene 1 - Credo 40 by Sandeep Murali, on Flickr

D800:

Night scene 1 - D800 by Sandeep Murali, on Flickr

A modern back like the credo will let you do 1 minute exposures at normal temperatures and maybe a bit more in colder ones. Here's a 1 minute shot that was made on a tropical morning (32 degree C).

Walk with me... by Sandeep Murali, on Flickr

Versatility:

Medium format is at the same time, versatile and non versatile. Versatile because if you get a modular system like the Phamiyas or the Blads, you are able to put together just the bits you want. You can invest in a back plus DSLR-type body initially and then add the technical cam solution as and when you have budget. The pentax Z is less of an upfront investment, but it lacks that flexibility.

They are non versatile because they will never be that "Use for everything" system that a 135 kit is. AF is slower and basic, Live view is non existent in older backs untethered and limited in everything but the new CMOS backs (Although still usable. If old man Joe Cornish can use it to make amazing images on location, it's good enough for us lesser beings, right? :) ) and in general, everything is heavier. So please keep this in mind when you take the plunge. Keeping a smaller mirrorless/ 135 system to supplement the MF kit for those situations is highly recommended. I always pack the D800 and a couple of lenses with my MF kit for those times. (Very long exposures, ultra wide angles etc). I personally chose the Credo 40 system as it seemed worth the extra money over the previous generation because of the great display, Live view and better user experience. It is also offered at a great price currently.

Which one to go for?

Unfortunately, I cannot answer this for you. It all depends on your specific needs and budget.  In general, if you cannot invest  <USD 10k at the very least, I recommend not taking the MF plunge. You will regret it.
At the bottom end, the Leaf Aptus backs are definitely the best VFM as they are priced rather well, have (Very basic) untethered Liveview that can be used for focus confirmation and can take a bigger battery for field use. Also, I am a fan of Leaf colors. A good dealer should be able to hook you up with an older back and a DF+ body (Do not get any Mamiya bodies before the DF+. They all have their limitations). There's a thread on getDPI forums called "Fat pixel magic" or something that has some amazing images from the 22MP Aptus back.

Another reason I went with the Mamiyaleaf system is because there are several older lenses for it that are perfectly good even to this day. Here's a sample from the 35mm lens that I got for a few hundred bucks online.

Mamiya 35mm f/3.5 test by Sandeep Murali, on Flickr

Someone more familiar with the Hasselblad ecosystem  will be able to give you more info on them. In short, lenses are expensive, but worth it (And also a better lens spread than Phamiya), anything after H2 is a closed system, so you won't be able to use a different back on those bodies except  the H4x/ H5x that can take third party backs and Truefocus is great for handheld shooting.

Tech cam use:

Can't help you much there, except for the fact that I am also looking at getting into the tech cam arena in a while, probably with an Arca RM3Di. Plan wisely and you should be able to find a modular system that fits into your current kit. For example, something like the Alpa FPS is a big investment initially, but it will enable you to use your current Nikkors with your new medium format back. That by itself will help you save some investment upfront. Then, as and when you're ready to invest more, you can get proper large format lenses and so on.

YMMV

(p.s. Just right click any of the above images and choose "View image" to see them at full res. Please do not use them elsewhere without my consent).
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torger

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Re: Request for advice getting started in digital medium format
« Reply #7 on: October 15, 2014, 06:29:28 am »

But what about the pictures? From your text, I understand what features you like to have in a camera, but I don't see how it translates into the pictures you make.

Not sure I understand your question. Creating landscape images with a camera capable of movements is a well-established genre. The mentioned Joe Cornish is one example, David Ward is another excellent example. Ansel Adams has written classic books about it. As Wolven use a PC-E and like the work of Joe Cornish I assume he know the possibilities.

The movement you use most often is rise and fall, to image trees etc upright. Tilt is also common for increasing depth of field. Sideways shift is less common (unless you're a panorama stitcher), but use it from time to time, especially if there's architecture of some sort in the image, for example you may want a strict head-on perspective of some geometric element but have it to the side. A genre view camera is more suited at than a pancake camera is closeups, in landscape often ground patches, as there you really want to be using the ground glass and often both tilt and swing simultaneously, although you can often get away with only tilt. I like to have the flexibility though.

If the reason you ask is because you want a sample of my own work I must say I'm not so fond of posting that. I'm still very much in a study phase artistically and I still have an ambition to become quite good. I'd like to publish when I reach a level and stability in my style which I feel confident with, but I'm not there yet. As said I bought my system in 2012, only two years of training, mostly weekends as I have a daytime job. Developing artistically takes time. Developing technically goes really fast in the days of digital.

That said here's a couple of basic example of movements in action if someone happens to not know how they're used:

ex1-tilt: ground patch in sharp focus thanks to tilt
ex2-rise: trees imaged upright thanks to rise (actually fall of back)
ex3-fall: special example showing both long lens used (180mm) and fall.
ex4-shift-left: example of when sideways shift is used to keep the perspective of the roof (about) centered over the window

Despite being an amateur at an early stage I might be an interesting example stylistically as I don't really do much of the near-far type of open compositions, but more of intimate shots and use often longer focal lengths.  An advantage of the flexibility of a camera like the Techno is that you really don't need to know for sure where you will go stylistically, as it's a very flexible camera within tech camera space. You won't do action photography with this one...

Your taste in perspectives should match what the system can do well too. With a tripod mounted tech cam you won't do much of slanted perspectives close to the ground with short depth of field and cool lens flares, you shoot mostly at close to normal standing height with and make strict perspectives and rarely work so much with depth of field in any other way than trying to get everything to seem in focus.

I've seen lots of great nature photography made with 135 cameras which allows for different viewpoints, and all sorts of images you can do when you can shoot hand-held with short shutter speeds. You lose that. I've turned that into an advantage, a camera that is good at certain style of photography can make you concentrate more on that style and develop more. In a way I feel more relaxed and focused by having limits. Some take this further and use only one or two lenses. Personally I don't like that particular type of limiting but it works for some.
« Last Edit: October 15, 2014, 06:52:33 am by torger »
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synn

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Re: Request for advice getting started in digital medium format
« Reply #8 on: October 15, 2014, 06:42:57 am »

I like the first image. Nice and simple.
Posting images for C&C is part of growing as an artist. Don't hide them away until you are confident that you've reached a pinnacle because that day will never come. We are all constantly evolving as artists.  :)
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torger

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Re: Request for advice getting started in digital medium format
« Reply #9 on: October 15, 2014, 07:10:22 am »

I like the first image. Nice and simple.
Posting images for C&C is part of growing as an artist. Don't hide them away until you are confident that you've reached a pinnacle because that day will never come. We are all constantly evolving as artists.  :)

I do show my images, just not so much on the Internet... it's true that we all are developing artists and indeed must be (if one have an artistic ambition that is, which you don't must have...), but I think it's also true that we're a little bit too impatient today. Back in the days it was nothing strange to shoot for 10 years before going truly public. The images were shown and discussed before that of course, but more in private.

The most important thing for me as an amateur is to enjoy what I'm doing, today I feel I develop at a decent pace with my own self-criticism and looking at other photographers' work. At some point I need to bring external criticism in but it's not so easy to get good quality. What I would want is a mentor that understands where I'm going and how I can develop within that envelope; on the Internet what you typically get is people that try to convince you into shooting images that look more like their own :)
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Wolven

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Re: Request for advice getting started in digital medium format
« Reply #10 on: October 15, 2014, 07:14:21 am »

Many thanks Bernard for your prompt response. I did read Michael's initial and in-depth review of the 645z but to me the only significant advantage I see with going that route is the larger sensor. Everything else is available in the 35 mm world these days.

As an amateur photographer, my D600 I expect will continue to serve me well and will always have a place in my bag for the solutions it provides (namely the 200mm for the macro and the occasional wildlife / action shot). But my heart very much belongs to landscape photography and pursuing it on a platform that is (for all means and purposes to me) infinitely flexible.

My lust (can't put it any other way) for a technical camera comes from that thought.

Also, thanks for pointing out the lack of Live View as I find it quite useful and sometimes essential even in my full frame photography during tilting. Sharpness is quite important to me and although I don't wear glasses, I wouldn't trust my own eyes to confirm focus on a non-Live View setup.

Please advise if there are other such cheaper second-hand alternative backs that do provide un-tethered live view in the field.

Thanks and regards.

My personal view is that the 645Z is the best option for landscape if you intend to use your back on an SLR camera.

Michael seems to agree.

Things get a bit more complicated if you consider technical cameras and there is IMHO, no perfect solution. CCD based cameras work better with movements but lack usable live view which can be a problem for critical focusing. The recent Sony sensor based cameras have live view, but they don't seem to work that well with movements on tech cameras.

All in all, a second hand P45+ may be your best bet for technical camera usage at a reasonnable price point if the lack of live view isn't a show stopper.

Cheers,
Bernard

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torger

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Re: Request for advice getting started in digital medium format
« Reply #11 on: October 15, 2014, 07:22:49 am »

Please advise if there are other such cheaper second-hand alternative backs that do provide un-tethered live view in the field.

The IQ and Credo series CCD backs do have some sort of live view, but it's very limited in what it can do (it works only in a narrow light condition, is slow, heats up the sensor, drains battery etc). I know some actually use it in the field but most seem to ignore it.

Ground glass focusing, or high precision focusing rings, or getting a CMOS back are more realistic alternatives. The CFV-50c is by far the cheapest CMOS digital back and live view is coming to it, we don't know yet how good quality it's going to be though so I should wait and see if you go down that path, and you really need to think long and hard for the tech wides with that sensor as compatibility ain't that good.

I use ground glass and I think it's perfectly workable, also for advanced tilting. In a way it's faster to use ground glass when tilting than live view as you can move around very fast with the loupe when you need to do back-and-forth refinements. Coming from live view the dim ground glass on wide angles will be a bit of a shock though.
« Last Edit: October 15, 2014, 07:27:31 am by torger »
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ErikKaffehr

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Re: Request for advice getting started in digital medium format
« Reply #12 on: October 15, 2014, 07:43:23 am »

Hi,

My impression is that the most viable MFD option having live view is the new CFV-50C sensor from Hasselblad, the options from Leaf (Credo 50) and Phase One IQ-150/250 are more expensive but may offer better LV.

The Pentax 645Z has all of that at a much lower price and even includes a camera.

It has been suggested to find out your needs and wants. Why do you want an MFD?

- If you want more resolution and DR there will be more options based on full frame 135 pretty soon.
- If you want a larger sensor, the best option may be a second hand CCD sensor, like P45+ or P65+.
- You perhaps need/want a technical camera

Write down on a piece of paper what you want and also what you are willing to pay, than try to find the stuff that matches your needs at a price you can afford.

http://echophoto.dnsalias.net/ekr/index.php/photoarticles/76-my-medium-format-digital-journey
http://echophoto.dnsalias.net/ekr/index.php/photoarticles/77-two-months-of-mfd-looking-back
http://echophoto.dnsalias.net/ekr/index.php/photoarticles/80-my-mfd-journey-summing-up

Actually, I feel it is a time for a fourth instalment, having shot MFD for 16 months. I am quite happy with my MF kit, and it is not probable I am selling it off any soon.

But, right now I am waiting for a decent A series Sony with 46-54MP, a first Electronic First Curtain and a powerful battery and a few Zeiss Loxia lenses.

Best regards
Erik

Many thanks Bernard for your prompt response. I did read Michael's initial and in-depth review of the 645z but to me the only significant advantage I see with going that route is the larger sensor. Everything else is available in the 35 mm world these days.

As an amateur photographer, my D600 I expect will continue to serve me well and will always have a place in my bag for the solutions it provides (namely the 200mm for the macro and the occasional wildlife / action shot). But my heart very much belongs to landscape photography and pursuing it on a platform that is (for all means and purposes to me) infinitely flexible.

My lust (can't put it any other way) for a technical camera comes from that thought.

Also, thanks for pointing out the lack of Live View as I find it quite useful and sometimes essential even in my full frame photography during tilting. Sharpness is quite important to me and although I don't wear glasses, I wouldn't trust my own eyes to confirm focus on a non-Live View setup.

Please advise if there are other such cheaper second-hand alternative backs that do provide un-tethered live view in the field.

Thanks and regards.

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Wolven

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Re: Request for advice getting started in digital medium format
« Reply #13 on: October 15, 2014, 08:01:22 am »

Reading your post makes me feel as if you have telepathically read my mind and have picked out all the hovering questions to be answered one after another. I'm greatly indebted to you for this comprehensive reply!! I'll try to reply inline where I feel its required in a different font colour.

You sound to be in a similar situation like I was in 2012 when I bought a second hand MFD Linhof Techno system.

My Linhof Techno review could be helpful to you (which talk about tech cams in more generic terms too not only the Techno): http://www.ludd.ltu.se/~torger/photography/linhof-techno-review.html

Reading that article twice so far I have barely scratched the surface. It is brilliant in its content and coverage, I'll keep at it until I understand the concepts a bit better

If you get into MF with the right expectations it can be wonderful, but don't buy too much into the hype. Much of the hype is about studio work, out of focus look and skin tones, something you have little use of in landscape. In landscape much of the hype is related to the resolving power of the most expensive tech cam lenses on the highest resolution backs, something you and I doesn't afford.

That said, if you want a DSLR experience there's the 645Z, there you have the CMOS technology and all features you find in a 135 DSLR, and for being MF it's affordable and there's still a few second hand lenses to be had.

After having read your replies I am quite convinced that another DSLR will not do, so it is a technical camera for me. Atleast one decision is out of the way

I think it was very worthwhile to go the tech cam way, but then you need to compromise a bit concerning digital back. You can get a Hasselblad CFV-50c with CMOS and liveview, buying it in Japan it's $10k, but wide angles will be an issue as documented elsewhere. If you shoot wide angle it's better with a CCD. P45+ is popular due to its well-documented reliability and long exposure, but is also one of the most expensive second hand backs. I got myself a Leaf Aptus 75 and still today it's very good price/performance (for being MFD), and you can do focus check unlike on the P45+ (most older backs render 100% view so fuzzy you can't know for sure it's sharp or not).

 How does the focus check on the Leaf Aptus 75 work?

Compared to a D810 you will miss mainly a few things with the CCD backs, 1) they're more noisy, 2) you don't have (any good/usable) live view, 3) most don't have long exposure. Using grad filters is a good idea, and having a post-processing style that's not too much grunge HDR-like, ie don't push shadows 4 stops. If you have a bit more old-school processing you'll find also the older CCD backs to have good DR, a back from 2004 still has better DR than a recent Canon, and noise is well-behaved no patterns and such. Concerning long exposure there are a few exceptions like the P25+ and P45+, but most are limited to about 30 seconds, and at 30 seconds they're quite noisy if the weather is warm. I use my Aptus 75 up to its 30 second limit quite often but shoot often in cold weather too.

Ok, those are very good points. And they have helped me narrow my selection criteria a little:
1. I can skip on not having Live View if other focusing methods are available (More on this later)
2. But, I cannot compromise on long exposure for artistic reasons. The digital back must be capable of doing long exposures. This has brought my interest back to the P45+ and now the P25+
3. I usually shoot at base ISO anyway so an acceptable high ISO performance is not necessary

Concerning lacking the live view there are two methods, A) ground glass, B) high precision focusing rings on the pancake cameras. In my review I look into ground glass focusing extensively, and yes with training, the right gear (glass and loupe) and not shooting wider than f/11 you will achieve good precision with ground glass.

I recommend a view camera solution like the Linhof Techno I have myself (best landscape camera much thanks to it's compactness, but also rather expensive, but if you find one second hand it can be okay), or Arca-Swiss MF-two or F-Universalis. The Cambo Actus is not so good choice unless you get a CMOS back as the Actus lacks sliding back option. Why do I recommend a view camera? You get about the same type of creative options concerning lens movements as traditional large format, lenses are a lot cheaper as you get them on lens boards, and you have tilt and swing on *all* lenses as it's built into the camera body not an expensive mount. The disadvantages is ground glass focusing and somewhat lower precision (due to more flexible movements), I don't think view cameras should be shot at wider apertures than f/11 as shorter depth of fields both make ground glass focusing overly difficult and also can make precision limitations in the systems visible.

Note that ground glass focusing is not for everyone, if you have problems with your vision it may be impossible to get the good precision I talk about. If that's the case a pancake camera with high precision focusing rings and a laser distance meter can be better. If you're all about sharpness and less about movements a pancake camera is probably also a better choice. You won't get bad sharpness with a view camera but focusing precision is a bit more, well, relaxed.

I saw this video about how to focus an ALPA http://youtu.be/kzsDJacjupw?list=UULjwCkIP4gT1jkMzluq61jg so a precision focusing ring with a laser distance meter might be the way for me

I think the best way to approach tech cam landscape photography is to think that you want to shoot large format but not mess with film, then you will be most pleased with what you get from a Linhof Techno or similar camera with a second hand back at 33-39 megapixels.

If you're only into MF for image quality and think the rest is just cumbersome and a bit too costly I think you will not be in for long. We've not seen the end of quality improvements of the 135 systems. What you won't get though is the same type of flexibility concerning movements at such wide range of focal lengths as you can get in a tech cam. If you become a bit romantic about old-school mechanical things (like I do) you will also get some extra joy out of the precision mechanical instruments tech cams are. That helps.

While image quality is a concern, I am intent on moving toward medium format for exactly how you put it "Shoot large format but not mess with film". It is the flexibility that having a bellows based system allows that I'm after. Along with the ability to be able to move the sensor plane. And I'm an engineer by day as well, so all fine mechanical things bring joy in their own way. My other interest is chronometers but that's another forum :)

I've also noted that there are different type of personalities when it comes to MFD. You have the engineering type like myself that don't see MFD as something inherently special and superior but rather look at the technical aspects of image quality and says it is what it is, which is that it's worse in many aspects than the best CMOS sensors. Then you have those that see special properties in the format size and the fact that it's a CCD and very much dislike anything that looks "DSLR-like", I'm not going to say that it's not real, but I and many others don't have eyes for that and don't see it. How you are in that regard will also affect how pleased you will be with MFD. That said I am very pleased with my MFD despite that I find a little bit better image quality in a D810 in some aspects, so it depends on what your expectations are too. I think that there is such a thing as "good enough" image quality, and if you aim there you don't need to pay a fortune for you digital back. If dynamic range is one of your primary concerns when you make your pictures then there's a warning sign to be raised, you probably won't be pleased with anything but CMOS, and then Pentax 645Z is a good choice, you won't get movements though.

I expect my entry into medium format will be a deliberate and slow process primarily due to the costs involved but also due to my lack of knowledge.

You won't get the same reach as your 200mm F/4 though. The longest lens you can get in the digital lens range is 210mm, which is a bit hard to get now since it's been discontinued due to low sales. If you compromise quality a bit you can get some analog tele lenses which are a bit longer. My longest is 180mm, which corresponds to about 135mm on full-frame 135. So if very long lenses is central to your creative photography tech cam can disappoint.

My requirement is quite the opposite. I am hoping to find very wide lenses to use with in a technical camera. I will retain my DSLR for all other photographic needs

Do make sure that you have your image clear on the wide angle end before you invest. It's there you have the compatibility issues and potential very high costs buried. SK28 and SK35 is very good price/performance and movement flexibility compared to alternatives, but when shifted only play well with larger pixel sensors (39 or less) and the Kodak 50 megapixel sensor found only in Hasseblad backs. Otherwise you need the more expensive Rodenstock Digaron lenses on the wide end.

 Could you please provide me with some links to view these SK28 and SK35?

Also how important is the digital sensor's size when it comes to using them in technical cameras like the Linhof Techno? I am not too worried about the megapixel count but I think the sensor size will surely play a part besides the focal length calculation

Thanks again for your time.
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jerome_m

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Re: Request for advice getting started in digital medium format
« Reply #14 on: October 15, 2014, 08:02:19 am »

Not sure I understand your question. Creating landscape images with a camera capable of movements is a well-established genre. The mentioned Joe Cornish is one example, David Ward is another excellent example. Ansel Adams has written classic books about it. As Wolven use a PC-E and like the work of Joe Cornish I assume he know the possibilities.

The movement you use most often is rise and fall, to image trees etc upright. Tilt is also common for increasing depth of field. Sideways shift is less common (unless you're a panorama stitcher), but use it from time to time, especially if there's architecture of some sort in the image, for example you may want a strict head-on perspective of some geometric element but have it to the side. A genre view camera is more suited at than a pancake camera is closeups, in landscape often ground patches, as there you really want to be using the ground glass and often both tilt and swing simultaneously, although you can often get away with only tilt. I like to have the flexibility though.

If the reason you ask is because you want a sample of my own work I must say I'm not so fond of posting that. I'm still very much in a study phase artistically and I still have an ambition to become quite good. I'd like to publish when I reach a level and stability in my style which I feel confident with, but I'm not there yet. As said I bought my system in 2012, only two years of training, mostly weekends as I have a daytime job. Developing artistically takes time. Developing technically goes really fast in the days of digital.

That said here's a couple of basic example of movements in action if someone happens to not know how they're used:

ex1-tilt: ground patch in sharp focus thanks to tilt
ex2-rise: trees imaged upright thanks to rise (actually fall of back)
ex3-fall: special example showing both long lens used (180mm) and fall.
ex4-shift-left: example of when sideways shift is used to keep the perspective of the roof (about) centered over the window

Despite being an amateur at an early stage I might be an interesting example stylistically as I don't really do much of the near-far type of open compositions, but more of intimate shots and use often longer focal lengths.  An advantage of the flexibility of a camera like the Techno is that you really don't need to know for sure where you will go stylistically, as it's a very flexible camera within tech camera space. You won't do action photography with this one...

Your taste in perspectives should match what the system can do well too. With a tripod mounted tech cam you won't do much of slanted perspectives close to the ground with short depth of field and cool lens flares, you shoot mostly at close to normal standing height with and make strict perspectives and rarely work so much with depth of field in any other way than trying to get everything to seem in focus.

I've seen lots of great nature photography made with 135 cameras which allows for different viewpoints, and all sorts of images you can do when you can shoot hand-held with short shutter speeds. You lose that. I've turned that into an advantage, a camera that is good at certain style of photography can make you concentrate more on that style and develop more. In a way I feel more relaxed and focused by having limits. Some take this further and use only one or two lenses. Personally I don't like that particular type of limiting but it works for some.

"I want to take landscape pictures in the style of Joe Cornish or David Ward and I need tilt for increasing depth of field and shift for correct perspective on upright trees" would have been a sufficient answer. What I was trying to do is to get the o.p. to express what features of a technical camera he used and how he expected them to influence his final pictures.

Even if one restricts the subject to landscape, there can be various pictorial reasons for choosing a particular camera. I'll give some examples:
-one can indeed want perspective control, so that trees look vertical
-one can want extremely large prints and need the necessary resolution
-one can want to play with limited depth of field and want a particular rendering of the out of focus elements
-one can want extreme focal lengths (very short of very long) and the associated perspective
-etc... the list is not limitative.

I think that this thread would be more useful if the o.p. would tell us what are his reasons, that's all.
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jerome_m

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Re: Request for advice getting started in digital medium format
« Reply #15 on: October 15, 2014, 08:09:06 am »

My requirement is quite the opposite. I am hoping to find very wide lenses to use with in a technical camera.

Be aware that very wide lenses often cause color shifts and vignetting on technical cameras. They can be made to work, but a large part of this forum is devoted to people asking questions on how to make them work...  ::)


Quote
Could you please provide me with some links to view these SK28 and SK35?

http://www.schneiderkreuznach.com/photo-imaging/produktbereiche/fotoobjektive/produkte/fachkamera-objektive/digitale-objektive/apo-digitar-xl/. This is the manufacturer site (in German).

Quote
Also how important is the digital sensor's size when it comes to using them in technical cameras like the Linhof Techno?

Be aware that smaller MF sensors usually incorporate micro-lenses and that causes problem with wide angle lenses designed for technical cameras.
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Wolven

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Re: Request for advice getting started in digital medium format
« Reply #16 on: October 15, 2014, 08:22:51 am »

And in what advantages do you expect from a MF camera? What are the features you want to get? What are, for you, the limitations of your present system?

Hello Jerome,

I believe torger covered most of what I want from medium format but I will answer your specific question.

I have viewed several of Joe's work and videos to have an appreciation of what the movements of a technical camera can do for photographs.

While the 24mm PC-E Nikkor is an excellent lens, you may already know that out of the box it comes with the tilt and shift movements perpendicular to each other. To have them parallel to each other would require me to send the lens to Nikon who would then make another permanent change to realign the movements. Canon TS lenses have a better implementation but my lens would have to go under the scalpel every time I wish for a different configuration (so the costs would add up). In essence, at any given time I have to make do with one set of functions while a bellows system with an adjustable sensor plane has (in theory) no such limitations.

I'm interested in furthering my photography with less restrictive near-far type of focusing capabilities and felt that while I'm at it, I might as well get into medium format for all the obvious benefits.

To answer your latest post, while large prints are not in my mind, playing around with depth of field and pursuing extremely short focal lengths is certainly on the agenda. Also of interest to me is creating panoramic photographs. While the 24mm PC-E allows me to do that, it quite limited and I feel that there is more to be experienced.

Here are two examples where I have used tilt. I expect to use a technical camera in a similar fashion. The falls was one of my first photographs using a tilted lens and the rock is one of the latest. Apologies if the photographs are not up to scratch but I continue to learn. Any and all criticisms are welcome.



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torger

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Re: Request for advice getting started in digital medium format
« Reply #17 on: October 15, 2014, 08:25:56 am »

Let's see, let me try to answer one question at a time;

How does the focus check on the Leaf Aptus 75 work? You shoot the image, wait until the preview appears on the screen and then tap on the screen (it's an old-school touch screen) where you want to zoom to 100%. If it's sharp you'll see it. Beware it's slow though, takes 4 seconds or so to get into 100%. The Aptus-II should be considerably faster. But if you're not in a hurry significant money can be had with essentially the same image quality if you get the older generation.

As you need long exposure you can forget about that. You need a P45+ or P25+. I think you can get decent time out of the older P45 too but they're not so easy to come by. With the P45+ you can see how the composition became, but you can't really see if it got sharp. You don't really need it even with ground glass focusing, but dropping both live view and 100% sharpness check can be a bit tough. I surely like to have it.

With high precision focusing ring on Alpa or Cambo, or using RM3Di system (which is even higher precision, overkill if you ask me) it's easier to be without 100% sharpness check. With Cambo (which is more economical than Alpa) you buy HPF rings from Alpa and attach them to the Cambo lenses.

I make no secret out that I'm a fan of the Schneider Digitar range and also like the SK28 and SK35 wides. But Rodenstock Digaron wides are sharper when shifted and have less compatibility issues with small pixel sensors. The more sharpness-oriented tech cam users generally use Digarons on the wide end.

The SK28 and 35 should be good for the P45+, but if you want to upgrade to higher resolution after that and still be able to shift a lot with them the only real option is Hasselblad 50 megapixel backs (not the CMOS ones, but the one with the Kodak sensor). On the other hand you could sell the lenses then if you need to change to Digarons.

Personally I think the 48x36 / 49x37mm sensor size is optimal for 90mm image circles, it gives a movement range similar to what you are used to from the PC-E, also makes the SK35 like a 24mm on 135 which is a good field of view to work with I think. The full-frame sensors give a bit less movement range. The 44x33 size gives overkill movement range I think, while still a bit small range on 70mm Digaron-S. But that's just my personal opinion. The 48x36 & 49x37mm sizes will probably disappear, it's only Hasselblad that is using it in current products (the Kodak 50 megapixel sensor). In second hand space it will be relevant for many more years though.

I look into samples for you...
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Bart_van_der_Wolf

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Re: Request for advice getting started in digital medium format
« Reply #18 on: October 15, 2014, 08:45:15 am »

Hi,

The OP is coming from a smaller than medium format experience. He desires more perspective control and higher resolution capabilities, and a wide angle of view capability.  So there will be a learning curve to get a grasp of perspective control, although the upright trees seem to be a rather simple goal (more is possible, like (de-)emphasizing foreground/edge features).

I'm not trying to spoil the fun of exploring (with) a new type of camera, but it makes me wonder if 'Stitching' has ever crossed the OP's mind. Stitching allows to use the same camera one is already accustomed to (or swap with a different camera, even a MF-sensor based one, but with fewer color cast issues because mostly the center of the image circle is used). It allows to adjust perspective in many more sophisticated ways than a view-camera can, it allows to create huge files, it allows to create a huge field-of-view with much higher quality than with a single WA-lens , it can be done at a fraction of the cost of investing in a new platform. The only thing it cannot do directly, is tilt the focus plane like a tilt lens can (unless one stitches with a T/S lens). There may (although rarely) be issues with capturing moving subject matter.

Just adding some food for thought.

Cheers,
Bart
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Wolven

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Re: Request for advice getting started in digital medium format
« Reply #19 on: October 15, 2014, 08:46:19 am »

Hello Sandeep,

Thanks a lot for your replies. I have made up my mind to go with a technical camera and not a DSLR format. For reasons you have clearly articulated, I also am of the feeling that I will be left wanting with a less flexible system that the 645z will be in comparison to a technical camera when it comes to movements. Although, it needs to be mentioned that a friend of mine has a Mamiya 645 Pro with a film back which I could borrow anytime I like. I wonder if a P45+ back can be mounted on that with an adapter.

In any case, the Alpa FPS system is quite a bit more than what I'm willing to spend and probably overkill for my requirements at this  stage.

I do intend to keep my full frame system and will continue to shoot with it but I want to slow down my field work with the equivalent of large format photography without messing with slide films and a technical camera would allow me to do that. I just need to narrow down the selection and hope that they come on to the second hand market.

Also, nice pics in your flickr stream by the way.

Cheers.

Hello,

As someone who made the plunge into medium format a year ago, I might be able to give some inputs here.

Image quality:

I use my gear to make art, first and foremost. while I do read up some lab tests, I don't let that dictate what I shoot with and how. The tools I use are the ones that help me achieve my creative vision best and in that regard, I do consider MF gear to deliver well. Even with much older backs, you will see excellent image quality, when used within the conditions they are good at. The colors are better and the images have a lunch that the clinically boring (IMO) 135 files do not have. Yes, the latter can be post processed heavily to get closer, but MF files look "Right" out of the box. Mamiyaleaf has sample RAWs on their site and Hasselblad has some Tiffs. Do download and try working on them to get a feel (I recommend C1P for Leaf files).

Here's a simple example to show you the difference you can expect from a digital back and a top of the line DSLR. Note that the greens and yellows are much more distinct in the MF file while in the 135 file, they kinda blend in together.

Credo:


D800:


A modern back like the credo will let you do 1 minute exposures at normal temperatures and maybe a bit more in colder ones. Here's a 1 minute shot that was made on a tropical morning (32 degree C).


Versatility:

Medium format is at the same time, versatile and non versatile. Versatile because if you get a modular system like the Phamiyas or the Blads, you are able to put together just the bits you want. You can invest in a back plus DSLR-type body initially and then add the technical cam solution as and when you have budget. The pentax Z is less of an upfront investment, but it lacks that flexibility.

They are non versatile because they will never be that "Use for everything" system that a 135 kit is. AF is slower and basic, Live view is non existent in older backs untethered and limited in everything but the new CMOS backs (Although still usable. If old man Joe Cornish can use it to make amazing images on location, it's good enough for us lesser beings, right? :) ) and in general, everything is heavier. So please keep this in mind when you take the plunge. Keeping a smaller mirrorless/ 135 system to supplement the MF kit for those situations is highly recommended. I always pack the D800 and a couple of lenses with my MF kit for those times. (Very long exposures, ultra wide angles etc). I personally chose the Credo 40 system as it seemed worth the extra money over the previous generation because of the great display, Live view and better user experience. It is also offered at a great price currently.

Which one to go for?

Unfortunately, I cannot answer this for you. It all depends on your specific needs and budget.  In general, if you cannot invest  <USD 10k at the very least, I recommend not taking the MF plunge. You will regret it.
At the bottom end, the Leaf Aptus backs are definitely the best VFM as they are priced rather well, have (Very basic) untethered Liveview that can be used for focus confirmation and can take a bigger battery for field use. Also, I am a fan of Leaf colors. A good dealer should be able to hook you up with an older back and a DF+ body (Do not get any Mamiya bodies before the DF+. They all have their limitations). There's a thread on getDPI forums called "Fat pixel magic" or something that has some amazing images from the 22MP Aptus back.

Another reason I went with the Mamiyaleaf system is because there are several older lenses for it that are perfectly good even to this day. Here's a sample from the 35mm lens that I got for a few hundred bucks online.


Someone more familiar with the Hasselblad ecosystem  will be able to give you more info on them. In short, lenses are expensive, but worth it (And also a better lens spread than Phamiya), anything after H2 is a closed system, so you won't be able to use a different back on those bodies except  the H4x/ H5x that can take third party backs and Truefocus is great for handheld shooting.

Tech cam use:

Can't help you much there, except for the fact that I am also looking at getting into the tech cam arena in a while, probably with an Arca RM3Di. Plan wisely and you should be able to find a modular system that fits into your current kit. For example, something like the Alpa FPS is a big investment initially, but it will enable you to use your current Nikkors with your new medium format back. That by itself will help you save some investment upfront. Then, as and when you're ready to invest more, you can get proper large format lenses and so on.

YMMV

(p.s. Just right click any of the above images and choose "View image" to see them at full res. Please do not use them elsewhere without my consent).
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