Best Digital Alternative to Medium Format Film Graphic Overlay

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Digital Options/Alternatives to Medium Format Film

In this article, to provide you with digital options to medium format film, we'll discuss:

  • Our top medium format digital picks

  • Our top full-frame digital picks

  • Lens options for each

We Shoot Film For Good reason, But...

Film possesses a special look in the right lighting conditions. We're huge fans of shooting film and shoot it regularly. In fact, you can read more about that in our article about why we think brides and grooms should consider hiring a film wedding photographer.

However, we are very open to embracing other options besides film for a couple reasons:

* Wanting to have digital backups that match our film as close as possible
* Cost of film, developing, scanning, etc

With that said, we think that there's very few options that give us the depth, feel, and overlook of our medium format film cameras. But those that do are slowly convincing us that we’d be happy shooting without film in most if not all cases.

Why Use Digital Alternatives to Medium Format Film?

Maybe you're looking for a setup to match your medium format setup.

Or maybe you're wanting to get the look of the 80mm f/2 on Contax 645, but without spending thousands upon thousands on film costs per year.

If you shoot a lot of film, switching to digital could save tons in time. We calculated that, when shooting only 10 rolls per wedding at 30 weddings a year, we'd save about $7,500+ per year on film, developing/scanning, shipping, etc. by switching to digital.

And if that's you, you might be encouraged knowing, that you're investing in valuable goods--you can sell your gear at some point and still recover cost. With film, you shoot it and there's no object that you can sell/use to recover your initial investment.

The problem is, we love the look and overall experience of shooting film! And digital can sometimes, if not often, fall very short.

Sensor Size Matters

"The look" of the medium format perspective is unique and interesting, and there are but a few digital options which proivde that "look" or something pretty close to it.

BUT, keep in mind that film 645s shoot a negative that is 56 x 42mm. Many digital backs or "digital medium format" 645s are a different crop than film 645s.

The largest sensor size at the time of this writing for digital 645 is 53.9 x 40.4mm for a "CCD" sensor and 53.4 x 40.1mm for a "CMOS" sensor. Though slightly smaller than "true" 645, these are very close to their film counterparts.

Or, if you're not ready to spend a huge chunk of cash, there are some pretty convincing full-frame/a little bigger than full-frame options that offer very compelling results when paired with the right lens.

Fuji GFX 50S or Fuji GFX 50R vs Contax 645

Pros: 

  • Large sensor helps add “atmosphere” to the look of images

  • Amazing detail and dynamic range

  • Great in low-light/High ISO capabilities

  • Can accommodate many lenses

  • Can use Speedbooster to achieve more shallow depth of field

  • Has focus peaking for simple and easy manual focusing

  • Clear viewfinder

Cons: 

  • Expensive up front cost

  • Battery life isn’t the best

  • Not great for video

To check out this body and average cost to getting into the system, view the Fuji GFX 50S on Ebay and Amazon

Best Lenses for GFX to Match Contax 645 with 80mm

These are the lenses that we believe match the classic look of the Contax 80mm on the Contax 645, and are therefore the best digital alternatives for matching with medium format film. It should be noted that these lenses are manual focus only lenses.

-with the Schneider Cinelux f/2 (various focal lengths)

We are absolutely in love with this combo. From the bokeh to the overall classic rendering, this lens + camera combo doesn’t disappoint.

You can purchase your Cinelux Lens from The Boutique Lens.

Pros:

  • Classic rendering with lots of character

  • Ver, very nice bokeh

  • Beautiful color rendition

  • f/2 aperture is the same as a f/1.58 lens on a full-frame/35mm camera

Cons:

  • Fixed aperture at f/2 (some at f/1.7, or some a little smaller at f/2.1, 2.3)

  • Will need to be custom made/modded to fit, either by your own mod, or by The Boutique Lens

-with the Voigtlander 58mm f/1.4 (Nikon Mount)


This is probably one our favorites for rendering a classic look similiar to the Zeiss 80mm f/2. If you’re going to mount the 58mm 1.4 on your GFX you’ll need an adapter such as the K&F Concepts Nikon F to GF mount.

When mounted on the GFX, this lens ends up up being about a 45mm f/1.1 in terms of 35mm equivalent. Personally, we find this perspective to be a bit wide for our taste when it comes to many facial features and body types in terms of portraits.

Pros:

  • Classic rendering very similar to Contax 80mm of Contax 645

Cons:

  • A little wide for some facial/body types in terms of portraits (personal opinion)

  • Bokeh can be a bit busy to some

-with the Mitakon 65mm f/1.4

The Mitakon 65mm is another great options for your GFX. It doesn’t have quite as classic of a rendering as some of the other options, but it is a true 50mm (about 51.35mm, technically), so it has that as a positive. Some have described the bokeh as being a bit more sterile/not quite as pronounced as the Zeiss 80mm f/2 on Contax 645.

Pros:

  • 50mm perspective (full-frame/35mm equivalent) making it a great all-around lens

  • f/1.4 for all your shallow depth of field and low-light needs

Cons:

  • Many people have reported issues with quality control. This will hopefully improve as time goes on.

  • Bokeh is very smooth and uninteresting to some

  • Some do not like the clickless aperture.

  • A little more “sterile” in terms of other options

To check out the Mitakon 65mm f/1.4 Lens view it on Ebay!

-with the Voigtlander 75mm f/1.8 Heliar

With an image quality very similar to the Voigtlander 58mm, the 75mm Heliar is a great option. It’s full-frame/35mm equivalent when mounted on your GFX is about 60mm, making it a little better in terms of portraits than the 58mm with it’s 45mm full-frame equivalence. To mount this lens, you will need a Leica M to GF adapter like this one from Kipon.

Pros:

  • Classic rendering, like the Voigt 58mm

  • Plenty shallow depth of field at f/1.8

Cons:

  • Bokeh can be a bit busy looking to some

Sony A7Riii vs Contax 645

The Sony A7Riii is quite the amazing little camera. It has great dynamic range, lightweight, good battery life, and the list goes on.

Pros:

  • Small

  • Lightweight

  • Great dynamics range

  • Good battery life

  • Can accommodate many lenses, including third party options

  • Fairly cheap, comparatively speaking

  • Has focus peaking

  • Great for video, as well as stills

Cons:

  • Doesn’t have built-in changeable ratios

  • Some people really complain about the menus

To check out this body and average cost to getting into the system, view the Sony A7riii on Ebay and Amazon

-with the Zeiss 80mm f/2 + Speedbooster

Pros: 

  • Smaller body and weight

  • Can use Kipon Baveyes C645 Speedbooster adapter effectively

  • Has a look very close to Contax 645/80mm when using Speedbooster

Cons:

  • Speedbooster may affect image quality to some degree; minor distortion may occur in certain parts of the image including some effect to the bokeh which might be described as some loss to "buttery-smoothness" and added "jittery-ness"

-with the Mitakon Zhongyi Speedmaster 50mm F/0.95 Lens for Sony E-mount

Pros: 

  • Classic rendering

  • Great bokeh

  • Very low-light capable

  • Very shallow depth of field

Cons:

  • Many people have reported issues with quality control. This will hopefully improve as time goes on.

  • Some do not like the clickless aperture

To check out the Mitakon Zhongyi Speedmaster 50mm F/0.95 Lens for Sony E-mount, view it on Ebay and Amazon

 More Expensive/Harder to Come-by Options for Digital alternatives to medium format film

The nice thing about the Sony and Fuji options mentioned above is that they are relatively “cheap” to get into, especially compared to how much you’d spend on film otherwise. With that said, there are some options that are quite amazing when it comes to image quality, but will cost a good amount more than the Sony and Fuji options, with drawbacks of their own.

One thing to note about these options is that, from our understanding, none have focus peaking. Since most of the lenses that resemble the look of the Contax 645/80mm combo are manual focus, the GFX and Sony options are nice because they do have focus peaking. With that said, they do have a bit larger sensors and should be similar to manual focusing on your Contax 645.

Contax 645 with p65+ Digital Back

Pros:

  • Perhaps slightly cheaper than some of the modern digital bodies

Cons:

  • p65+ for Contax 645 mount is VERY hard to come-by

Phase One XF or DF+ w/ IQ260 w/ Contax 80mm f/2, Cinelux, etc.

Pros:

  • Large 53.7 x 40.4 sensor size.

  • Since you're investing in valuable goods, you can sell your gear at some point and still recover cost. With film, you shoot it and there's no object that you can sell/use to recover your initial investment.

Cons: 

  • Expensive

  • Have heard images referred to as a bit "crunchy" compared to film

Phase One XF w/ IQ1 100mp Digital Back w/ Contax 80mm f/2, Cinelux, etc.

Pros: 

  • Large sensor size of 53.4 x 40.1 (which is about as big as you get at this time

  • 15 stops of dynamic range (wow!)

  • Since you're investing in valuable goods, you can sell your gear at some point and still recover cost. With film, you shoot it and there's no object that you can sell/use to recover your initial investment.

Cons:

  • Expensive

  • Difficult to find used

  • Have heard images referred to as a bit "crunchy" compared to film

Phase One XF + Leaf Credo 60 w/ Contax 80mm f/2, Cinelux, etc.

Pros: 

  • Large sensor size of 53.9 x 40.4

  • Handles light a lot like film, in my opinion.

  • Since you're investing in valuable goods, you can sell your gear at some point and still recover cost. With film, you shoot it and there's no object that you can sell/use to recover your initial investment.

Cons: 

  • Expensive upfront cost.

  • If your workflow is heavily dependent on your lab providing you with scans that look exactly how you want them, switching to digital may cause unwanted editing stress.

  • I still love film : )

Closing Remarks

While nothing may ever "completely" replace the look/feel of real film, these options are definitely cost effective ways to really bring your digital images to a place where they resemble film. For the shooter who's film costs approach $10k a year, switching largely to legitimate digital options could be a wise business option, if your clientele isn't built on a film-photography niche. 

We'd love to hear from you!

What other cameras/lenses would you recommend? Comment below!


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