Digital medium format is the shit. I love it. Why?

1. Simple:

NYC, 2017. Pentax 645Z

I’m shooting the Pentax 645Z, and surprisingly— it has actually simplified my life. Why? The JPEG images out of camera look awesome (I use the color film JPEG preset in-camera). This means, I literally don’t touch or process the pictures. I shoot, and they already look awesome. I just directly upload them, without having to adjust exposure, contrast, or anything. I love this because it allows me to shoot more, spend less time editing my pictures, and more time to live life.

2. The color pictures look awesome:

Red and yellow storefront. NYC, 2017
Red and yellow storefront. NYC, 2017

Digital Medium format makes better pictures because there is more “dynamic range” in the pictures. That means, if you photograph a bright sky, it won’t “blow out” and become totally white. There is more gradation between the darks and lights of an image. That makes a smoother, more aesthetically pleasing image. The biggest reason I liked to shoot color film (Kodak Portra 400) is because of this dynamic range. Now that I can get the same dynamic range (or at least similar dynamic range with digital medium format)— I honestly see no reason to go back shooting color film (for myself).

3. The joy of shooting with an optical viewfinder:

Korean veteran. American flag. NYC.

The Pentax 645Z has the most beautiful optical viewfinder I’ve ever seen. Why? It is massive. I can see the ENTIRE WORLD like how I see it with my human eye. I feel less obstruction between me, the camera, and the world. Strangely more Zen. I like NOT having the lag of using an LCD sceeen, or an EVF (electronic viewfinder) or “live view”. In terms of physics, you will never be able to “beat” an optical viewfinder, because no matter how good the refresh speed of an electronic viewfinder, there will always be a small lag.

4. Detail:

Man cleaning display. NYC, 2017. Pentax 645Z

When I photograph Cindy, textures, or things with a lot of texture and depth— the pictures look more textured, and detailed. To me, I love this. Why? I feel like I can touch the textures in my pictures. The pictures bring me more aesthetic joy— especially when photographing nature (trees, rocks, and skies).

5. Shooting small JPEG:

Man with hands in prayer. Wisconsin, 2017. Pentax 645Z.

I am anti-megapixels. More megapixels, more problems. I’ve shot all the pictures on the Pentax 645Z in small JPEG. Why? I hate the stress of having to backup massive digital files. And the small JPEG images on the Pentax are big enough — 20 megapixels, and around 5000px wide. I don’t want to wait forever for the images to upload— because unfortunately, internet speeds in the world are still pretty slow. Smaller files means more digital flexibility.

6. My digital medium format workflow

In terms of workflow, I just shoot small JPEG, transfer them to my iPad via the default Apple lightning SD card reader, and then upload them directly. I flag the pictures I like with the default Apple photos app. Super fast and efficient. This is what helped me quickly edit and process the pictures I shot of my friends wedding on digital medium format.

7. Slowing down:

Cindy by water. Madison, Wisconsin.

The Pentax is big and heavy, so it forces me to slow down… to be in the Zen zone, and just focus. Funny enough, the big size and weight has actually been an advantage— because it is so big, heavy, and cumbersome, it ENCOURAGES me to shoot more pictures.

Blue window and reflection.

Why? Because it is such a pain to carry around, I might as well make pictures with it because I am going through the pain of carrying it around.

Should I buy a digital medium format camera?

Eric kim selfie. Pentax 645z

It’s pretty awesome— you can buy a used digital medium format Pentax 645D (older version) for around $2,500 USD. To me, that is a fucking bargain.

All new digital cameras are technically superior than most digital medium format cameras, because with digital medium format high ISO isn’t great. I don’t like to shoot above ISO 3200 on the Pentax 645Z. And with digital medium format, the autofocus is very slow. And it is bigger, heavier, and more bulky than almost all modern-day compact, mirror less cameras.

Cindy looking at masters books

Shooting digital medium format photography won’t make you a better photographer. Only way to improve your photography is to learn composition, conquer your fears, attend workshops, travel, learn, study philosophy, study aesthetics, and know WHY you make pictures.

But shooting digital medium format will give you a different aesthetic look to your pictures. I personally like it, but it isn’t for everyone.

On the Pentax 645, the aspect ratio is NOT the traditional 3:2 aspect ratio we know and love. It is more boxy and square like. Some people hate it, personally I like it. I shoot more horizontal landscape oriented pictures, and shoot fewer vertical pictures (because there is more space vertically in the pictures).

I also personally like how I think and shoot differently with digital medium format. How? I look for more colors, textures, details, and I stop, look back, and look at the whole picture. I slow down, and take my time.

Wallpaper.

Ultimately, my two favorite cameras (as of writing this) include the RICOH GR II and the Pentax 645Z. My life philosophy is to embrace the EXTREMES— either super small and minimalist, or big and powerful.

Skyscrapers. NYC, 2017. Pentax 645Z

And of course, make your own decision. Don’t listen to me. I’m only sharing my VERY SUBJECTIVE experience and thoughts. Your lifestyle, budget, and subject matter is different from what ERIC KIM shoots and thinks. So please please please, don’t go into debt trying to shoot digital medium format or whatever. If you cannot afford to buy two digital medium format cameras (in cash) I recommend not to buy it. I call this the “two camera rule”.

Be creative every day!

CREATIVE EVERY DAY by HAPTIC
CREATIVE EVERY DAY by HAPTIC

At the end of the day, once again— just shoot. Make pictures that bring you joy.

Buying a new camera won’t inspire you to make new pictures. I recommend you to buy books, not gear instead. Invest in HAPTIC TOOLS to re-inspire your creativity (see our new book: “CREATIVE EVERY DAY”)

CREATIVE EVERYDAY Spread

Learn more photography with my PHOTOGRAPHY 101 series, and STREET PHOTOGRAPHY 101 series.

To elevate your photography to the next level, invest in an ERIC KIM EXPERINCE.

Also join the supportive and vibrant ERIC KIM FORUM.

BE STRONG,
ERIC

DIGITAL MEDIUM FORMAT PHOTOGRAPHY

Articles on Digital Medium Format Photography

Cindy in front of colorful mural. Madison, Wisconsin