Medium Format vs Full Frame Cameras – Here’s What You Need To Know


Let's talk about medium format vs full frame cameras. In case you don’t know what a medium format camera is, we’ll explain it briefly. Nowadays, the term applies to film and digital cameras that record images on media larger than 24mm × 36mm, but smaller than 100mm × 130mm, which is considered to be large format photography.

To put it simply, medium format cameras have bigger sensors than the ones found in full-frame cameras and because of that, they are capable of capturing more detail and tonal range, which results in smoother tonal transition and better color accuracy.

There used to be a huge price difference between high-end DSLRs and medium-format cameras, but nowadays this difference isn’t so dramatic thanks to the arrival of lighter and smaller medium-format bodies, such as Hasselblad’s X1D-50c.

Photo by Dllu on Wikimedia Commons

Before committing to buying a medium format digital camera, you should think about whether you really need it. Weighing up medium format vs full frame cameras is particularly personal to your photography situation. If you’re a professional photographer who’s into fashion work or product photography, you might consider buying a medium format camera because it can cut your photo editing time in half. On the other hand, if you’re just a hobbyist, you probably won’t need this type of camera.

In this article we’re going to cover a few of the most important advantages of medium format cameras and how can they affect your photography.

Bigger Sensor, More Light

Size is the most obvious difference when comparing medium format vs full frame cameras and their sensors.

The use of a larger sensor means more light, and therefore more information is available when converting captured light into an image. With greater light-gathering power, finer and more detailed tonal information can be produced, delivering more information in the final file. This gives more choice and creative freedom in post-production, which is really important for every professional photographer.

In addition to bigger sensors, medium format cameras also have larger pixel size – the size of the pixel makes a big difference in image quality. Larger pixels improve light sensitivity – the larger the micron number, the better. For instance, the pixel size in microns for Hasselblad’s H4D-31 (medium format) is 6.7 microns, while the pixel size for Nikon D800 (full frame) is 4.9 microns.

Photo by Alexander Andrews

Better Dynamic Range

Dynamic range refers to the range of light intensities present in a photo, from the darkest shadows to the brightest highlights. Dynamic range is measured in stops and an increase of one-stop equals a doubling of the brightness level. For instance, the human eye can perceive about 20 stops of dynamic range.

Medium format sensors with larger pixels, in comparison to the traditional 24x36mm full-frame sensors, offer a better dynamic range that preserves the details that typically get lost in shadows and highlights. The dynamic range of a medium format digital camera can be up to 15 stops as opposed to the standard 10-12 stops expected from full-frame cameras. The fact that both the deepest shadows and brightest highlights can be captured by a medium format camera in a single image reduces the need for exposure bracketing or shooting multiple images. This can save you a lot of time and produce images that are quite detailed and stunning!

For many photographers looking for digital camera system, this is the deciding factor in acquiring a medium format digital camera over a full frame camera.

Photo by Janko Ferlic

No Flash Sync Speed Limitation

Flash sync speed is the fastest shutter speed you can use with your flash. It’s an important parameter because the fast sync helps stop motion – typically, we need to shoot at 1/500th of a second or faster to stop action. However, the maximum sync is still 1/250th of a second for the majority of full-frame cameras, which poses a problem for certain genres of photography.

When it comes to medium format cameras, their shutters can synchronize with flash up to 1/2000th of a second without any specialty equipment. This provides amazing creative options in the studio and outdoors too!

This is possible because medium format lenses often have an internal shutter which removes the common flash sync speed limitation. This construction also minimizes vibration! 

Photo by Raphael Schaller

Great Color Reproduction

When comparing medium format vs full frame cameras it should be noted that medium format cameras are well-known for their accurate color matching to what the human eye sees. Thanks to this advantage, selecting a specific color profile in order to capture colors correctly becomes unnecessary in case of medium format cameras. These cameras deliver rather smooth tonal transitions thanks to the sensor’s 16-bit color data.

When it comes to Hasselblad cameras specifically, they have has developed the Hasselblad Natural Color Solution (HNCS) in order to enable photographers to achieve the utmost color accuracy, which resembles analogue image quality straight out of the camera.

Photo by Gaetano Cessati

Weather Sealing

Medium format cameras aren’t meant to be used in studio environments only – they can be used outdoors in inclement weather too.  For instance, Hasselblad’s X1D is fully weather-sealed and dust-sealed, which makes it an excellent camera for any kind of environment  – it can withstand dust, water, snow and humidity!

Photo by Aileni Tee

If you want to learn more about differences between medium format and full-frame cameras, check out the links below!

Further Reading:

  1. Medium Format Redefined – The Future Of Medium Format
  2. Where Are They Now? The Medium Format Heavyweights Of The Film Era
  3. Medium Format vs Full Frame
  4. FAQ: What Is A Medium Format Camera?
  5. Opinion: Thinking About Buying Medium Format? Read This First
  6. What Is Medium Format And Why Do You Want It For Your Next Camera?

About Author

Jasenka is a photographer with a background in web design. You can find out more about her on her website, see some of her newest images at 500px or get to know her better here.

Very odd to not mention Fujifilm GFX 50S and 50R in an article about digital medium format. Cheaper, more functional than Hasselblad, which is a great camera but With less range. And Fuji has made most of their lenses!

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