Medium Format Manufacturers Cling Together For Survival

mamiya leaf image
Cameras like the Mamiya Leaf are becoming increasingly difficult to justify

Medium format camera makers are clinging together for survival in an increasingly competitive digital photography marketplace.

Phase One A/S announced that it’s merging Mamiya Digital Imaging and Leaf into a combined company called Leaf Imaging Ltd. The new entity is entering into an intellectual property license agreement with Kodak, which likely means the new medium format cameras will be sporting Kodak sensors and color processing technology under the hood.

“We are committed to exciting future developments for the Leaf brand of products through innovative engineering, worldwide marketing and customer service,” said Henrik O. Håkonsson, President and CEO, Phase One. “Leaf customers will benefit from the many synergies with Phase One.”

While there will certainly be efficiencies gained by merging the two companies, the underlying motivation is simple survival. With cameras like Nikon’s new D4 costing $6,000 it becomes increasingly difficult to justify spending $40,000 for an 80-megapixel Phase One and Mamiya 645DF combination.

This is perhaps a good moment to remind readers that not all megapixels are created equal. When it comes to picture quality, there is very little correlation with the absolute number of megapixels. Color and tone are far more important from a technical standpoint for determining the quality of an image. Now, if you’re making extremely large print copies, then absolute resolution can make a difference.

Yet even that market segment is changing in these days of vector images which can scale to colossal proportions without a noticeable degradation in image quality. Every year image processing software gets better at scaling bitmap images like JPEGs and the need for medium format in photography becomes less acute as software gets better and better.

Even the comparison between sensors is not a linear relationship, it’s geometric. For a physical image sensor to make a noticeable change in resolution, it needs to nearly double in size, which translates to quadrupling the number of megapixels. Doubling the megapixels, all other factors remaining the same, makes, at best, a marginal improvement in image quality; most of the time it’s completely irrelevant.

Didn’t it strike you as odd that with Nikon rumored to be working on a camera with a 36-megapixel resolution, the newest flagship in their line, the D4, is 16.2-megapixels? If it was a meaningful comparison, Nikon would have found a way to run that number up for the D4.

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