Advantages of the Mamiya ZD medium format digital camera back.

After practice using the Imacon/Hasselblad, Leaf Valeo, MegaVision, and Phase One P 30 medium format digital backs, we can “speak from experience” about medium format digital cameras. The Mamiya ZD back has many quality features, namely the quantity of buttons. With other more expensive medium format backs you have to use minimalistic buttons for several different tasks (the same button serves different tasks depending on which menu you are in). I much prefer dedicated buttons the way Mamiya offers (in part because I have to switch cameras every several months, as they come in for review and evaluation). For example, the Mamiya has a clearly marked Cancel and Ok button.

For buttons, I would rate the Mamiya as tops: missing is only a one-click gray balance button. The Canon EOS 5D has the worst gray balance system of any camera attempting to claim itself as professional. Its waste of time in doing a gray balance with the Canon is exceeded only by the Nikon D100. Seemingly the engineers who design 35mm digital cameras live on another planet. Clearly they are not professional photographers and they don’t show much knowledge of what a pro faces when out on a shoot.

If I had a Mamiya ZD back available to test and evaluate, I could better judge how quick and easy it is to do a gray balance and apply it.

We admire Mamiya for not releasing their ZD camera prematurely

Kodak shot themselves in the foot by releasing an imperfect 14n camera. This caused the subsequent collapse of the entire Kodak 35mm camera division.

Contax prematurely released an imperfect N Digital camera circa 2000, an attempt to have a full-frame 35mm CCD sensor. Contax never recovered from the lost investment and imploded last year.

Minolta made excellent cameras, but simply could not compete with Canon or Nikon. Minolta gave up last year and transferred what was left of their photographic assets to another company.

The executives, managers, and stockholders of Mamiya in Japan surely must be aware of all these market trends. Bronica was a name brand for decades: but failed to adapt to digital reality and ceased to exist. Imagine all the lost jobs? What kind of pension plan do you have if your company ceases to exist? Bronica had no digital product and no digital partners. Bronica simply disappeared about two years ago.

Mamiya in Japan has dropped their photography business unit and sold it to Cosmos Scientific Systems. We sincerely hope this venerable line of Mamiya cameras continues. But successful companies don’t sell successful business units. Business units tend to be disposed of before they are totally worthless. Mamiya’s parent probably wanted to extract what little value they could before the Mamiya camera division faces the same reality as Contax, Bronica, and Kodak professional cameras (both Kodak medium format which evaporated circa 2004 and Kodak 35mm pro, which imploded circa 2005).

I would estimate that one reason for Mamiya being sold off was the continued problems with their innovative ZD model. Both Mamiya and Pentax are trying to rewrite camera history and create a medium format digital SLR. I am not sure Pentax will survive long enough to see their version to market. Mamiya showed their ZD digital back and ZD integrated camera back at Photokina 2004. But it has been plagued with reviews that report noise is unacceptable at ISO above 400. And if noise is bothersome at 400, or more troubling, at 200, then pros will be skittish.

“Better late than never” except that a 22 megapixel camera was hot stuff two years ago but has been surplanted by 31 and 39 megapixel digital backs from Hasselblad, Leaf, Jenoptic/Sinar, and Phase One. Even MegaVision will shortly offer backs with the larger chips.

Camera stores are already claiming to offer the Megavision DC, but it’s bait-and-wait: “coming soon” is the message you get. Yeah, so is Bird Flu coming soon.

If the Mamiya ZD is actually functioning, it would behoove the company to get the camera into the hands of reviewers for several reasons. Reviewers will get the camera sooner or later; if the reviews will be bad, better find out now and start bailing out while you can still find a parachute.

If the reviews are good, even if the camera is not quite finished, the good reviews can keep photographers interested long enough for the camera to be finished.

But it is not very reassuring to see “coming soon” on the Mamiya America website.

FLAAR is currently evaluating a Phase One P 30. We tested a MegaVision back earlier this year. We would gladly evaluate a Mamiya ZD medium format back: we already have experience with the nice Mamiya 645 AFD. Naturally the Mamiya ZD camera is a more intriguing item: the world’s first integrated medium format camera. A successful Mamiya ZD would be a serious challenge for Canon’s increasing attempt to obliterate medium format cameras (by claiming their Canon EOS cameras are so good that you don’t need a medium format camera).

Well I have a Canon EOS 5D camera and it is the worst camera purchase I have made in 40 years of buying cameras. Medium format camera backs produce professional quality of a level that Canon simply can’t get close to. But a non-functioning ZD is precisely what makes Canon executives happy.

Comparing prices of the Mamiya ZD medium format camera with $35,000 prices of competing medium format backs, would make thousands of professional photographers around the world want to buy the ZD. But first reviewers need to be convinced that the camera can take pro-level digital photographs.

If you need a medium format digital camera NOW, and can’t wait until Mamiya has cameras available to be evaluated, you can rent Hasselblad-Imacon, PhaseOne, Leaf or Sinar-Jenoptik digital backs from Global Imaging Inc. This is where FLAAR gets its medium format backs. We like the company because they are also a large-format inkjet printer dealer: Epson, HP, and UV-curable flatbed printers: ColorSpan, Dilli, and Zund.

The advantage of renting a medium format camera are many: you can write off the cost as a business operation expense (not as a capital expense that has to be depreciated). Plus, you can charge the rental cost to your client as part of the expense of the photo shoot.

ost busy pro photographers don’t buy their cameras, they rent them when needed. Call today and the camera is delivered tomorrow. That’s how we got our Phase One. It arrived as we were walking out the door to catch our flight to Guatemala, Central America (where we do most of our testing of digital cameras). Their telephone # for information is 800 787-9802. An additional number is 800 787-9801.

 

First posted June 15, 2006.

Gitzo Tele Studex Tripod
Available by october 2008
Gitzo Tele Studex Tripod
Available by octuber 2008
Gitzo Tele Studex Tripod
Available by october 2008
Gitzo Tele Studex Tripod
Available by october 2008
Gitzo Tele Studex Tripod
Available by october 2008

 

Nicholas Hellmuth’s Medium Format Digital Camera Initiative

For over 40 years Nicholas Hellmuth has used Rolleiflex and Hasselblad cameras to record the flora, fauna, and archaeology of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico. Now for several years he is extending his medium format experience to digital photography.

Since FLAAR works both in a studio as well as out on location, we are an ideal focus for judging portability. We have experience with large format digital scan backs (the excellent BetterLight) and we also use Nikon and Canon digital cameras. A full-service digital pro should have at least one medium format digital system and should consider large format digital options as well.

Although we started with a Leaf Valeo 22 coupled with a Mamiya 645 AFD body and lenses, we are open to showcasing all bodies as well as other digital backs. Indeed we have tested an Imacon 4-shot back on a Hasselblad H1 body. Then (February 2006 onwards) we are evaluated a MegaVision black-and-white dedicated back for fine art photography. Next we are testing a 33-megapixel Phase One P 30. Since 2008 FLAAR has used a Phase One P25+ (a great way to update an aging Hasselblad ELX body with its excellent Zeiss lenses).

Camera resellers or manufacturers who wish to have their cameras, lenses, and backs included in this initiative are welcome to send their equipment for evaluation.

FLAAR is the de facto source of information because we have been university based, independent, blunt, and we are one of the few review sources that dares to review advertising specs, advertising claims, and advertising hype. We can afford to reveal all the pros and cons because FLAAR is a research institute. Photographers feel they can trust a university research professor who has devoted years to understanding the pros and cons of each aspect of a digital camera system and workflow.

Notice you are not blinded by blinking, flashing, or pesty ads for low-bid camera stores on a FLAAR photography review. I am always amused by a pseudo-review that obviously is simply paid to send you to a camera store.

You can download our colorful FLAAR Reports on our medium format digital camera initiative.

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