Not too long ago, the best medium format cameras were incredibly expensive - not to mention very bulky. If you wanted premium performance you had to have very deep pockets, but perhaps the biggest cost was how inflexible these cameras were.
However, lots has changed in recent years and the best medium format cameras of today bear little resemblance to the unwieldy studio systems of even a few years ago. From being cameras that had to be locked down, with limited application in carefully controlled studio situations, now they are smaller, more portable and more ergonomic.
The end result are cameras that are more portable, more practical and more powerful than ever. Whether it's the rangefinder-style Fujifilm GF 50R or the beautifully sculpted Hasselblad X1D II 50C, these medium format marvels handle much like the best mirrorless cameras.
Indeed, with the likes of the mighty 100-megapixel Fujifilm GFX 100, the hugely successful GFX bodies are among the best Fujifilm cameras. However, while the 50MP systems are now as affordable as a high-end DSLR, mega-resolution beasts like the GFX 100 and Phase One XT still carry the traditionally high medium format price of entry.
Medium format = ultimate image quality
Still, this raw resolution and ultimate image quality means that medium format cameras are among the best cameras for professionals. And while full frame cameras like the Sony A7R IV, Nikon Z7 and Canon EOS R5 are squeezing more sensors than ever onto a 35mm sensor, nothing can match medium format for pristine photography.
There's one more thing: 'medium format' sensors come in two main sizes. There's the 'full frame' medium format size, used by Phase One and Hasselblad's H-series cameras, which corresponds closely with the old 645 film format. And there's a smaller size, midway between this and full frame sensors, which is used by the Hasselblad X-D, Fujifilm, Pentax and Leica cameras.
Taking all that into consideration and these are the best medium format cameras you can buy right now.
The best medium format camera in 2020
Hasselblad 907X 50C might share the same 50MP resolution and range of XCD lenses as the X1D, but it enjoys a clever modular design. Along with the CFV II 50C digital back which handles the image capture, there's a new 907X body that's so thin it looks like a lens adapter. This is the physical and electronic bridge between the digital back and the lens, but what's really impressive is that the CFV II 50C can breath new life into your old Hasselblad 500cm (if you're lucky enough to have one) as it'll take the place of the film back. There's a large 3.2-inch tilt-angle touchscreen at the rear, but no EVF, while the AF performance can bit a touch sluggish. The quality of finish though, including the lovely black leatherette trim and chrome edging, is classic Hasselblad, while the results are gorgeous. Many may be better served by the X1D II 50C or Fujifilm GFX 50R, but this has bags of appeal for those after a pure photographic tool.
Read more: Hasselblad 907X 50C review
The GFX 100 is expensive compared to regular cameras, but in the world of medium format photography (sensors larger than 35mm full frame), it's a positive bargain. It's also a groundbreaking camera that changes our expectations about what medium format cameras can do. Its 100-megapixel resolution challenged our own testing procedures, its in-body stabilisation is a medium format first, and its hybrid AF (thanks to a recent firmware update) is a huge step forward. On the downside, the in-body stabilisation is valuable extra insurance, but you'd be unwise to rely on it, and while the body is relatively compact, when it's matched up with Fujifilm's medium format glass, the combination gets quite tiring for prolonged handheld use. But this camera's image quality is simply spectacular, and once you've seen what it can do, any handling quibbles are instantly forgotten.
Read more: Fujifilm GFX 100 review
The ‘R’ in Fuji’s latest 50R model, first unveiled late-September 2018, stands for ‘Rangefinder’, though actually this means 'rangefinder style' (it doesn't actually have rangefinder focusing). Like the 50S before it, the weather-sealed 50R boasts a 51.4MP medium format image sensor. However, Fujifilm has managed to make the 50R 25mm slimmer this time around and lighter by 145g, its maker leading the pack when it comes to ever more portable, affordable and accessible medium format cameras. Hasselblad has reduced the price on its X1D II 50C, but the GFX 50R remains considerably cheaper. Indeed, Fujifilm was pitching the 50R as a ‘super full frame’ camera on launch, pitting it against recent 35mm frame sized sensor-based rivals from Canon, Sony, Nikon et al. We love the GFX 50R because it's relatively compact, very much like a conventional camera to use, and while it's easily the cheapest route into medium format photography, the design, build quality and finish feel absolutely first class.
Read more: Fujifilm GFX 50R review
Most professionals will choose function over style every time, but the X1D feels like it's aiming at a very different, design-conscious market. It's a much more minimal 'statement' camera than the Fujifilm GFX 50R, despite sharing the same dimensions and sensor specs. It's also more expensive. The Hasselblad lenses, however, are superb, as is the image quality – especially the dynamic range. We've just finished testing the latest X1D II 50c, which comes with a host of performance and operational improvements, including faster startup, a larger, higher-resolution rear screen and an improved electronic viewfinder. The leisurely contrast-based autofocus remains, though, and while the image quality is quite superb – you can thank the sensor and Hasselblad's excellent lenses for that – this is not a camera that likes to be rushed. It is, however, beautiful to handle and, frankly, to look at!
Read more: Hasselblad X1D II 50C review
Fujifilm rocked the medium format world when it announced the GFX 50S. Files boasting a whopping 50 megapixels from a medium format sensor were now within reach of those (pros or otherwise) who couldn’t alternatively afford a £20K Hasselblad, while the GFX 50S’ robust body was of weather proofed magnesium alloy construction. The GFX 50S easily copes with the large 117MB files its sensor and resolution generates, while the combination of an eye-level viewfinder boasting a life-like 3.69 million dot resolution, and a tilting 3.2-inch touchscreen at the rear, as well as a small top plate window displaying key settings, makes for both convenience and a level of user friendliness that ensures the camera rapidly becomes an extension of your own arm/eye. So why is it not at the top of the list? The GFX 50S is an excellent 'sensible' buy, but it's upstaged by the resolution of the GFX 100, the GFX 50R is smaller (just) and cheaper, and the Hasselblad X1D II has an extra dose of style.
Read more: Fujifilm GFX 50S review
We tried the Leica S3 as far back as Photokina 2018 and thought it was wonderful... but we had to wait until March 2013 for it to become officially available. It's essentially the size of a conventional DSLR, but this latest iteration boasts a 64MP sensor measuring 30x45mm, bettering the Fuji 50S and 50R in terms of headline resolution, if not the GFX 100. The Leica S3 promises 4K cinema-quality video capture with stereo sound via built-in microphone or optional accessory mic, a maximum ISO sensitivity of ISO 50,000, a Live View mode with 60fps refresh rate. We've got this at number 5 in our list because it's such a beautiful thing, but its price means that its appeal will be limited to high-end pros and very well off Leica enthusiasts.
Five years is a long time in the digital camera market, and that's how long ago the Pentax 645Z was launched. Revolutionary for its time, the 645Z is solidly built and weatherproof, easy to use and at the more affordable end of the medium format camera market. On top of this, images are excellent, even by current standards. Replacing the older Pentax 645D, the 645Z has a Sony CMOS sensor at its heart and has had its resolution boosted from 40 to 51 million pixels. The maximum shooting speed sounds modest at 3fps, for up to 10 raw images or 30 highest quality JPEGs, but this is fine for a medium format camera. With the same AF system as found in Pentax’s own K-3, the camera boasts 27 AF points, 25 of which are the more sensitive cross type, enabling it to capably work down to the equivalent of -3EV. The only worry with the 645Z is that things move slowly in the Pentax world, so it's hard to predict what lenses and what upgrades might come in the future.
Obviously the PhaseOne IQ4 system is way outside the scope of regular photographers, but for high-end commercial photographers with well-heeled clients who demand the highest standards, it's a very sound commercial proposition to either buy or rent. The XF IQ4 needs careful handling and considerable investment. It’s not a walkaround camera you can stuff into a backpack. But this, and high-end medium format cameras like it, can achieve a level of quality, precision and control you wouldn’t believe. Hasselblad (below) can claim 400 megapixel capture with its multi-shot H6D-400c, but the PhaseOne XF IQ4 150MP has the highest single-shot native resolution of all.
Read more: PhaseOne XF IQ4 150MP review
With a price tag running into tens of thousands (around £40K at the time of writing), this obviously isn’t going to be your entry point into medium format photography. We're including here as an example of the current pinnacle of the medium format world (there’s always the option of renting it out!) and what medium format photography used to cost until the latest camera releases. The H6D-400c features a 100MP CMOS sensor, with its maximum effective resolution of 400MP being achieved via six-shot image capture. The process involves the sensor being moved one pixel at a time for the first four shots to achieve real colour data – the capture of red, green and blue colour information – before being returned to its starting point. It's designed for tethered shooting with the aid of a Mac or PC.
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