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Author Topic: PhotoPlus impressions of the "big three" MF systems...  (Read 9066 times)
Dan Wells
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« on: October 27, 2008, 08:25:07 AM »
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I'm contemplating the switch from 35mm digital to MF digital, and I left my home in rural VT to come down to PhotoPlus and play with all the present MF systems (as well as attending some very useful seminars). As I had thought from reading about them, they all have some significant pluses and minuses - I'm thinking probably Hasselblad for my specific uses (landscape photography at a variety of scales), but it's a really close call between all three, and minor variations in uses could make the calculations come out in favor of any of the three (plus Leaf, who has a very nicely priced Leaf/Mamiya system, and a very expensive - much more so than Sinar - system based on the Hy6/Afi body)! I did not compare image quality, because only Hasselblad had the LARGE prints one would need to see the differences. I did compare image quality (especially shadow dynamic range) between Hasselblad and the Sony A900 (the present low-ISO DR champ among 35mm class cameras) - Sony also had large prints taken by capable photograpers at their booth, and the A900 impressed, until compared with a Hasselblad (or, presumably, a Phase, a Leaf or a Sinar)! The Hassy had at least an extra stop of shadow DR - neither one had a shot with meaningful detail in the far reaches of highlights, so I really couldn't tell if it was holding more highlights as well. In addition to the extra stop into the shadows, the Hassy had much cleaner lower midtones - the Sony didn't look muddy unless compared with something better, but it was noticeably muddy in lower midtones and shadows when compared with the Hassy... Note that even on huge prints, the Sony had a lot of resolution - the issue was dynamic range...

Anyway, with medium format having beaten 35mm soundly on image quality (and with all three manufacturers saying that the various backs are essentially equal in image quality at comparable resolution), here are my observations between the MF players.

Body - Sinar (and Leaf Afi) 1, Hasselblad 2, Mamiya 3
      I love waist-level finders, and the Sinar offers the only one in the medium-format game (discounting Hasselblad's "lose the meter" option). The Sinar's grip is also very nice indeed. Both the Sinar and the Hasselblad seem much better built than the Phase/Mamiya. The Phase/Mamiya grip is not terribly comfortable with my big hands,  while both of the others have longer grips that accommodate my hand.

Controls and displays - Hasselblad 1, Sinar (and Leaf Afi)2, Mamiya 3
      Hasselblad has a clear lead here - the menus and grip display are superb, the dot-matrix display in the finder is a great addition that allows for many settings to be made with the camera at eye-level. The Hasselblad is also incredibly configurable to the photographer's preferences - the control scheme is where Hasselblad's decision to close their system paid off - everything is set from one set of controls, and there is no line where the body ends and the back begins. The Hy6/Afi has the best placement of its main control dials, followed closely by the Hasselblad and at a distance by the Mamiya, but is hampered by buttons that are unmarked and too easy to hit by mistake. The Mamiys's setup feels like a consumer-level 35mm DSLR, and critical functions including ISO are set from an unrelated interface on the back,  while the other two, with their configurable controls and better displays, are much more elegant.

Lens selection - Hasselblad/Mamiya tie, Sinar and Leaf behind
       Both Hasselblad and Mamiya have fairly complete, current production AF lens lines (each has some advantages, but I could certainly live with either one). Mamiya lenses have historically been cheaper, but the D series are closing that gap - conversely, the Hasselblad lenses are better built, but that gap, too is closing with the D series. Mamiya has practically sized zooms for field photography, which Hasselblad lacks - the Hasselblad zoom is huge. Hasselblad has a dedicated teleconverter, which Mamiya lacks. The Hy6/Afi system relies on a lot of older, manual-focus lenses (some out of production) to make up important gaps in focal length, and, even counting older lenses, has no lens shorter than a 40mm... The other disadvantage to the Afi/Hy6 lens lineup is that there are more large/heavy lenses - certainly not all of them, and no system is without pudgy lenses, but there seem to be more in the AFi/Hy6 system.

Lens cost  - Mamiya 1, Hasselblad 2, Sinar/Leaf 3
      The comparatively inexpensive older-design lenses bring the overall cost of the Mamiya lens lineup down, although the newer ones are comparably priced to Hasselblad glass. The Afi/Hy6 lenses carry a significant premium.

Lens quality (from charts found online) - Sinar/Leaf 1, Hasselblad 2, Mamiya 3
     The same older lenses that bring down Mamiya's cost bring down their quality as well. The Hasselblad lenses do pretty well, and the Schneider and Zeiss glass for the Afi/Hy6 is superb.

Features - Hasselblad 1, Sinar/Leaf 2, Mamiya 3
     The Hasselblad body is little short of amazingly full-featured - fully programmable, every imaginable adjustment. Some of them are useless, of course, but there are also very useful ones in there - the Zone mode allows readings of the dynamic range in a scene using the spotmeter. The Sinar/Leaf is also fairly feature-laden, while the Mamiya's basic design is showing its age - it feels like one of the early N80-based 35mm DSLRs with adequate but not superb controls and poor integration between camera and digital back.

Accessories - Hasselblad 1 (by a mile), Mamiya 2, Phase 3
    Hasselblad has two unique accessories that no other player can match, and they, more than anything else, cause me to be favoring Hasselblad. The first is the integrated GPS. A tiny module that attaches to one side of the body and weighs no more than a couple of ounces adds location to every picture's metadata. The second is the upcoming HTS 1.5 - providing tilt and shift adjustment in a compact 1.5 lb contraption that uses existing lenses. While expensive, it is much cheaper than any conventional view camera solution, and 25% of the weight. Mamiya can't match these exotic accessories, but offers a full line of standard accessories, while Sinar/Leaf lists items as basic as extension tubes and a grid focusing screen as "coming soon".

Batteries - Sinar/Leaf 1, Mamiya 2, Hasselblad 3
       The Sinar/Leaf camera is powered by a single battery, which is a standard, easily available, cheap camcorder battery (the newest Sinar solution requires only one at a time, while other backs require two identical batteries). Both Leaf and Phase backs on the Mamiya body take camcorder batteries, but the body requires AA cells in addition (however, lithium-ion AAs will last essentially forever in this application and don't weigh much). Hasselblad's rechargeable grips are a racket - essentially a camcorder battery with a rubber coating and some plastic to form it into a grip, but a nonstandard size available only from Hasselblad, and costing over $200 apiece for a $30 battery. This may not matter to indoor shooters, but the half dozen needed for extended landscape work cost well over $1000. Hasselblad's overpriced charger is also primitive compared to what is available for camcorder batteries - a $200 charger that charges one battery at a time! Camcorder battery chargers cost $50 and charge two batteries at once...

Software - Mamiya (Phase) 1, Hasselblad and Sinar/Leaf 2
      Capture One 4.5 is worth the wait, at least on the Mac - great tools, works with 35mm files as well as Phase files (I'm not concerned with tethering), offers lens correction. I'm a little concerned about the revision schedule, because it took them so long to move from 3.7.9 to 4.5.  Phocus has a very comprehensive toolset, including lens correction and correction for the HTS tilt-shift adapter! The downside of Phocus is that it works only with Hasselblad files, requiring workarounds to integrate with any other system - if I were to shoot ONLY Hasselblad (no small-format), Phocus offers full library management. Sinar and Leaf take the opposite tack in that their newer systems essentially forego dedicated software, outputting in standard formats that Aperture and Lightroom can read - no dedicated lens correction, but no-hassle integration...

The score (3 points for first, 2 for second or a tie, 1 for third, 2 bonus points to Hasselblad for the HTS) - Hasselblad 22, Sinar 18, Mamiya 16. Not quite fair to Mamiya/Phase, because Capture One should perhaps get some extra weight, but that body costs them compared to the more flexible bodies offered by their competitors. The body issue exists with any Mamiya-based solution, including the new Mamiya/Leaf as well. Upweighting Capture One by 2 or 4 points would allow Mamiya to catch the Afi/Hy6 system, but, for my uses, Hasselblad is well out in front. With the new pricing, Hasselblad is also the price leader, and their factory folks were very helpful at PhotoPlus...


                                                        -Dan

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Paul2660
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« Reply #1 on: October 27, 2008, 08:30:54 AM »
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Nice review,

Did you get to see much of the P65+ on Mamiya Phase?

Thanks
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Paul Caldwell
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Sean H
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« Reply #2 on: October 27, 2008, 08:41:04 AM »
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Thanks for taking the time to do this report Dan. I'm in the same boat  as  you are and going mildly crazy trying to make a final decision. I wish that  I could have been at Photokina or Photoplus. Do let us know when you make the switch and what your experiences are like with that.

Sean
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BJNY
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« Reply #3 on: October 27, 2008, 09:26:26 AM »
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Quote from: Dan Wells
Mamiya has practically sized zooms for field photography, which Hasselblad lacks - the Hasselblad zoom is huge......The other disadvantage to the Afi/Hy6 lens lineup is that there are more large/heavy lenses - certainly not all of them, and no system is without pudgy lenses, but there seem to be more in the AFi/Hy6 system.

It would have taken me a week to write your opening post      Good job, Dan.

Some precisions  :I stole Thierry's line:
The hasselblad zoom is larger than the Mamiya zoom because it has a built-in leaf shutter,
and the Hy6/AFi lenses are larger because they cover the larger 6x6 format, and some of them are a full stop faster.

My only addition to your post would be that my aging eyes find the Hy6/AFi easiest to manual focus.
« Last Edit: October 27, 2008, 09:36:03 AM by BJNY » Logged

Guillermo
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« Reply #4 on: October 27, 2008, 09:43:06 AM »
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I wonder if there might be a "Big Four" soon.

Did anyone take any Nikon reps out and get them hammered, and overhear any loose lips about this MX camera?

My overall feeling is that none of the Big Three offer a total solution that covers all my needs. There are gaping holes in all three.
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Doug Peterson
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« Reply #5 on: October 27, 2008, 10:00:40 AM »
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You might want to confuse your decision making process by leapfrogging all of the SLR designs and looking at a tech camera. A technical camera plus a 35mm large format lens which can be stitched in-image-circle for a higher resolution image nearly the same FOV as the 28mm (with two stiched images) and will actually be sharp at the edges and maintain good micro-contrast throughout and little or no need to apply lens correction or panned-stitching which inherently lowers the sharpness of the final image.  Often, an initial setup (body+35mm) can be had for the same ballpark price price as a 28mm Mamiya or 28mm Hasseelblad.

If you're really a landscape shooter there is no comparison between a system like that and ANY MF or dSLR in the wide angle range. Especially when adding the 2nd image stitched-within-the-image-frame shot, but even when comparing single frames.

Of course I DO have a dog in this race as the Phase One back does a spectacular job of integrating with these tech bodies as the back-battery allows fully autonomous operation and the long exposure ability (up to 1 hour) blows away any other back. So don't take my biased word for it; try a tech body and the quality will speak for itself. These large format Rodenstock and Schneider lenses (which is what you use on a tech camera) don't require a retro-focus element because the body lacks a mirror-box and provide absolutely unparalleled wide angle performance.

More info on tech cameras: http://www.captureintegration.com/solutions/wide-angle/

Doug Peterson,  Head of Technical Services
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« Last Edit: October 27, 2008, 10:01:33 AM by dougpetersonci » Logged

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BJNY
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« Reply #6 on: October 27, 2008, 10:11:27 AM »
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One other advantage of the Hy6/AFi Rollei lenses is that they can be used on a view camera or technical camera (Alpa, Linhof).

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Guillermo
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« Reply #7 on: October 27, 2008, 10:12:47 AM »
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Quote from: gwhitf
I wonder if there might be a "Big Four" soon.

Did anyone take any Nikon reps out and get them hammered, and overhear any loose lips about this MX camera?

My overall feeling is that none of the Big Three offer a total solution that covers all my needs. There are gaping holes in all three.

gw,
How 'bout a Big Five.
Don't forget Leica S2
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Guillermo
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« Reply #8 on: October 27, 2008, 11:43:30 AM »
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Quote from: BJNY
gw,
How 'bout a Big Five.
Don't forget Leica S2

You don't really think Canon will let Nikon and Leica steal the cake ?

I would say big six ;-)
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usathyan
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« Reply #9 on: October 27, 2008, 12:34:45 PM »
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Thanks for taking the time to post this extensive review. Good article. will bookmark for future. I did go to Photoexpo to do the same evaluation...however - i couldnt spend as much time with each of the vendors - with all the distraction of the rest of the exhibitors....and freebies (those stupid lanyards...need to figure out what the heck to use them for).
« Last Edit: October 27, 2008, 12:36:43 PM by usathyan » Logged

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« Reply #10 on: October 27, 2008, 02:41:39 PM »
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i am really wondering after reading this if anyone actually bases their buying decision on anything listed here....these are only very basic specs.....and some of them not even correct...
i really don't want to get into it here but the sinar system is BY FAR the most diverse and by far the largest out of all listed here...the mamiya would probably be second and hass last....the sinar allows interchange of pretty much everything including lenses and bodies including their own X-act..everything except phase of course:)....the mamiya has the RZ and 645 option...

but anyway all this means absolutely nothing if you haven't worked with any of them...the prettiest screen won't do you any good if it does not do something you might have to use 5 times a day and it is a pain to accomplish....

and that is the major problem with all of them...they all have some major drawback somewhere....all of them....

canon and nikon have little inconveniences that are much more easy to put up with which is why they will be so much more dangerous to the others once they join in.....and they adapt a lot faster to changes and to customer requirements....
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bcooter
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« Reply #11 on: October 27, 2008, 06:54:33 PM »
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Quote from: pss
i am really wondering after reading this if anyone actually bases their buying decision on anything listed here....these are only very basic specs.....and some of them not even correct...
i really don't want to get into it here but the sinar system is BY FAR the most diverse and by far the largest out of all listed here...the mamiya would probably be second and hass last....the sinar allows interchange of pretty much everything including lenses and bodies including their own X-act..everything except phase of course:)....the mamiya has the RZ and 645 option...

but anyway all this means absolutely nothing if you haven't worked with any of them...the prettiest screen won't do you any good if it does not do something you might have to use 5 times a day and it is a pain to accomplish....

and that is the major problem with all of them...they all have some major drawback somewhere....all of them....

canon and nikon have little inconveniences that are much more easy to put up with which is why they will be so much more dangerous to the others once they join in.....and they adapt a lot faster to changes and to customer requirements....


I wonder how photoplus would have been received if there had been a nikon or canon announcement similar to the leica s2, but with cmos, higher iso, 40 something megapixels and under $10,000?

what if it had high def or even 4k movie mode?

of course all of this is pure speculation, but it does make you wonder about where medium format is at the moment.  

with all the medium format cameras, except for the sinar 65 which offers a good lcd and in camera processing, it seems that medium format is still just a slight variation of the current theme, which is film cameras that have been adapted for digital use all employing  ccds from the same two makers.

also it seems all of medium format's software seems to be a work in progress.

I would think the time is very close for nikon, canon or sony to stun the world with a new camera system, but it seems the Japanese don't say much until it's ready to ship.

right now everyone in the world is talking money, or lack of money and it seems the perfect time for someone to come in and steal the show and the market.

we have all heard that the medium format market is not large enough to draw the attention of the japanese makers, though maybe they don't view medium format in the traditional sense.

maybe the next format of digital camera is just that a new format of digital camera with no real film camera roots in lens sizes, or limitations.

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Don Libby
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« Reply #12 on: October 27, 2008, 07:12:32 PM »
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Quote from: dougpetersonci
You might want to confuse your decision making process by leapfrogging all of the SLR designs and looking at a tech camera. A technical camera plus a 35mm large format lens which can be stitched in-image-circle for a higher resolution image nearly the same FOV as the 28mm (with two stiched images) and will actually be sharp at the edges and maintain good micro-contrast throughout and little or no need to apply lens correction or panned-stitching which inherently lowers the sharpness of the final image.  Often, an initial setup (body+35mm) can be had for the same ballpark price price as a 28mm Mamiya or 28mm Hasseelblad.

More info on tech cameras: http://www.captureintegration.com/solutions/wide-angle/

Doug Peterson,  Head of Technical Services
Capture Integration, Phase One Dealer
Personal Portfolio


Doug has a point here regarding using a TC for landscape; and Im not saying that because I just added a Cambo RS to my landscape kit.  On second thought yes I am.  I started shooting landscape with 35mm before switching to MF (Mamiya AFD II and P30+) before upgrading to a P45+ and adding the Cambo RS.  I now consider the RS as my main landscape kit and the 645 my backup.  One of the reasons for moving to the Cambo was the better/higher lens resolution, the other is the ability to do multiple shifts on the back leaving the lens stationary thus giving me much better files for merging into panoramas.

The point of this response is to take a look at a TC before making a decision; I failed to adequately look into a TC when I made the move to medium format if I had I think I would have chose that route first.

don

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BernardLanguillier
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« Reply #13 on: October 27, 2008, 07:25:22 PM »
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Quote from: bcooter
I would think the time is very close for nikon, canon or sony to stun the world with a new camera system, but it seems the Japanese don't say much until it's ready to ship.

right now everyone in the world is talking money, or lack of money and it seems the perfect time for someone to come in and steal the show and the market.

Well, the perfect timing was 2 months ago... now the Yen has become 50% stronger compared to the Euro... good for me, bad for Nikon and Canon (worse overall for Canon who is producing from Japan while Nikon is producing mostly from Thailand).

The impact is less compared to the US$ with only a 10ish % increase.

Cheers,
Bernard
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bcooter
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« Reply #14 on: October 27, 2008, 07:36:53 PM »
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Quote from: BernardLanguillier
Well, the perfect timing was 2 months ago... now the Yen has become 50% stronger compared to the Euro... good for me, bad for Nikon and Canon (worse overall for Canon who is producing from Japan while Nikon is producing mostly from Thailand).

The impact is less compared to the US$ with only a 10ish % increase.

Cheers,
Bernard


I'm not on the board of lehman bros. (I guess there is no board of lehman bros) but I doubt seriously if any company the size of nikon or canon are would base coming out with a new format of camera on current world currency calculations, because it can all change in a moment.

the point, if there is a point of my statement is that with medium format attempting to lower their price structures, the fact that most tech heads seem to think that 20 something megapixels is the top end for any 35mm camera, it would be the time for nikon, or canon to offer something new.

maybe not, maybe wherever we are today will be the same in 4 years, but i seriously doubt it.

the canon 5dII seems to be the example of where canon might be going.  why give the same or better image quality to a sub $3,000 camera compared to the flagship $7,000 camera without a plan for another top end product.

of course this is all speculation, but the rumors of the nikon mx don't seem to go away and I don't think canon will allow nikon to steal the show.  

I have the feeling that when the leica s2 ships, it might sell as the red dot carries a lot of bling, but I also think that when it does ship canon and nikon will have passed it in image quality and functionality and at a lower costs.



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« Reply #15 on: October 27, 2008, 08:38:04 PM »
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I think Canon and Nikon probably make more money on the high volume consumer products than they do on the 1Ds III for example and probably they will make even less on a MF system were they to build one.  But having a high end system might help drive sales on the consumer product line.  btw - haven't seen any thing further on the MX or whatever it was Nikon was rumored to be working on?


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« Reply #16 on: October 27, 2008, 08:40:19 PM »
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Quote from: pss
i am really wondering after reading this if anyone actually bases their buying decision on anything listed here....these are only very basic specs.....and some of them not even correct...
i really don't want to get into it here but the sinar system is BY FAR the most diverse and by far the largest out of all listed here...the mamiya would probably be second and hass last....the sinar allows interchange of pretty much everything including lenses and bodies including their own X-act..everything except phase of course:)....the mamiya has the RZ and 645 option...

This was from another thread, related to David at Hasselblad, but ironically, the new Sinar 65, and the older Sinar Emotion 75, will both mount onto the older Hasselblad 203FE body. The only downside, it requires a cable. But they promise it will work.

So, ironically, the Sinar back works with no modification to the Hasselblad body, whereas, if you buy the Hasselblad back, you've got to send off the Hasselblad body all the way to Sweden to have it modified. Try to figure that one out.

Sinar is a truly impressive company. At least their engineers. If only their sales, marketing, and support could catch up. And they've got those sexy James Bond villain accents, and stylish eyewear. They could be true players, especially in the USA.

It seems that ALL of these companies have a few strong traits, but also, all of them have major downsides too. So what I advocate, right here right now, is a giant Merger between all of the MF companies, in order to compete with Canon and Nikon. We'll take all the good traits from each company, and throw out all the bad traits, and then everyone will be happy, and photographers will complain no more.

And then I woke up...
« Last Edit: October 27, 2008, 08:44:31 PM by gwhitf » Logged
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« Reply #17 on: October 27, 2008, 08:48:16 PM »
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I would like to add an impression here:

It seemed to me that the Hassy guys were having a good time at their booth.  Rock and roll music was blasting, all the employees seemed to be engaging and interacting with the crowd very well.  On the other hand, the guys at the Leaf booth looked pretty gloomy and stressed, maybe because there wasn't much of a crowd??  There were a few PhaseOne employees working at the Digital Transitions booth, wonder why Phase didn't have their own booth??  Hassy definitely seemed the best represented with not only their own booth, but also employees manning at least three other dealer booths that I could see.

It seems to me that Hasselblad seems to be on a bit of a roll!
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« Reply #18 on: October 27, 2008, 09:43:18 PM »
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Quote from: gwhitf
This was from another thread, related to David at Hasselblad, but ironically, the new Sinar 65, and the older Sinar Emotion 75, will both mount onto the older Hasselblad 203FE body. The only downside, it requires a cable. But they promise it will work.

So, ironically, the Sinar back works with no modification to the Hasselblad body, whereas, if you buy the Hasselblad back, you've got to send off the Hasselblad body all the way to Sweden to have it modified. Try to figure that one out.

Sinar is a truly impressive company. At least their engineers. If only their sales, marketing, and support could catch up. And they've got those sexy James Bond villain accents, and stylish eyewear. They could be true players, especially in the USA.

It seems that ALL of these companies have a few strong traits, but also, all of them have major downsides too. So what I advocate, right here right now, is a giant Merger between all of the MF companies, in order to compete with Canon and Nikon. We'll take all the good traits from each company, and throw out all the bad traits, and then everyone will be happy, and photographers will complain no more.

And then I woke up...

That was quite funny! But perhaps you are just being prescient...such a merger might have to happen if Nikon does bring out this fabled MX. They can subsidize its price and accessories for a while, perhaps a year or two, and watch and see what happens to the market. Wasn't its release supposed to be sometime in November? That's not far off. Should be an interesting Christmas season.
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« Reply #19 on: October 27, 2008, 10:35:58 PM »
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Quote from: gwhitf
This was from another thread, related to David at Hasselblad, but ironically, the new Sinar 65, and the older Sinar Emotion 75, will both mount onto the older Hasselblad 203FE body. The only downside, it requires a cable. But they promise it will work.

So, ironically, the Sinar back works with no modification to the Hasselblad body, whereas, if you buy the Hasselblad back, you've got to send off the Hasselblad body all the way to Sweden to have it modified. Try to figure that one out.


are you sure it will work with the FE lenses?
mounting to sync up with CF lenses is one thing, syncing up with the focal plane shutter is another issue...
« Last Edit: October 27, 2008, 10:43:49 PM by jing q » Logged
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