The best medium format cameras today are almost unrecognisable compared to the unwieldy studio cameras of just a few years ago. They have advanced in practically every way – size, image quality, portability, affordability, performance – and in a very short space of time.
What really shook things up was the arrival of the Fujifilm GFX 50S and the Hasselblad X1D 50C, two 50-megapixel medium format cameras that handled almost like a regular mirrorless camera. Since then we've had the mighty 100-megapixel Fujifilm GFX 100, the extraordinary but hyper-expensive Phase One XT and – at last – official confirmation of the Leica S3.
Medium format cameras are still very expensive by regular camera standards, but the gap is closing, and for many commercial photographers, fine art photographers and rich hobbyists, they are the next logical step.
The fact is that even the best mirrorless cameras struggle to approach medium format image quality, and while the best cameras for professionals will typically be full frame DSLRs or mirrorless cameras, medium format cameras are gaining ground.
Medium format cameras have larger sensors and generally higher resolutions than full-frame cameras. There are some full-frame cameras that set out to give full-frame equivalent quality, like the brand new Sony A7R IV, but the appeal of bigger medium sensors is strong. Either you get the same resolution but bigger photosites (less noise, more dynamic range), or you get a bigger sensor and more megapixels – like the amazing Fujifilm GFX 100 or Phase One IQ4 150MP.
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 mid-way between this and full frame sensors used by the Hasselblad X-D and Fujifilm models.
Hasselblad and Phase One make 'full frame' medium format cameras, Hasselblad, Pentax, Fujifilm and Leica use the smaller medium format option – but these sensors are still much larger than 35mm full frame.
The best medium format camera in 2020
1. Fujifilm GFX 100
The GFX 100 brings modern mirrorless imaging to medium format
Sensor: Medium format | Megapixels: 102MP | Lens mount: Fujifilm G | LCD: 3.2-inch touchscreen, 2.36 million dots | Viewfinder: EVF, 5.76 million dots | Max continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 4K at 30fps | User level: Professional
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
If the GFX 100 is too big and expensive, what about the GFX 50R?
Sensor: Medium format | Megapixels: 51.4MP | Lens mount: Fujifilm G | LCD: 3.2" touchscreen, 2.36 million dots | Viewfinder: 0.5" OLED, 3.69 million dots | Max continuous shooting speed: 3fps | Max video resolution: 1920x1080 (Full HD) | User level: Professional
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
New, improved, faster and slicker – the mirrorless Hasselblad has style
Sensor: Medium format | Megapixels: 50MP | Lens mount: Hasselblad X | LCD: 3.6" touchscreen, 2.36m dots | Viewfinder: Electronic, 3.69 million dots | Max continuous shooting speed: 2.7fps | Max video resolution: N/A | User level: Professional
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
A great camera slightly overshadowed by recent releases
Sensor: Medium format | Megapixels: 51.4MP | Lens mount: Fujifilm G mount | LCD: 3.2" touchscreen, 2.36 million dots | Viewfinder: Hybrid (optical and electronic) | Max continuous shooting speed: 3fps | Max video resolution: 1920x1080 (Full HD) | User level: Professional
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
It looks wonderful, but we've waited a long time for this!
Sensor: Medium format | Megapixels: 64MP | Lens mount: Leica S | LCD: 3", 921,600 dots | Viewfinder: Pentaprism type with illuminated LCD bar | Max continuous shooting speed: 3fps | Max video resolution: 4K at 24fps | User level: Professional
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.
6. Pentax 645Z
It's like a supersized Pentax K DSLR, and affordable too
Sensor: Medium format | Megapixels: 51MP | Lens mount: Pentax 645AF2 | LCD: 3.2", 1,037,000 dots | Viewfinder: Prism type | Max continuous shooting speed: 3fps | Max video resolution: Full HD at 30fps | User level: Professional
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.
7. PhaseOne XF IQ4 150MP Camera System
This is the highest resolution camera you can get
Sensor: Medium format | Megapixels: 151MP | Lens mount: Phase One | LCD: 3.2" | Viewfinder: Eye-level or waist-level viewfinder options | Max continuous shooting speed: N/A | Max video resolution: N/A | User level: Professional
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 PhaseOne XF IQ4 150MP has the highest single-shot native resolution of all.
8. Hasselblad H6D-400c
For those with megapixel mania, this is the ultimate
Sensor: Medium format | Megapixels: 400MP (from 100MP CMOS sensor) | Lens mount: Hasselblad H system | LCD: 3.0", 920K dots | Viewfinder: Eye-level or waist-level viewfinder options | Max continuous shooting speed: N/A | Max video resolution: 4K at 25fps | User level: Professional
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.