Not long ago, most serious photographers dreamed of joining the elite club of pros who shot with 6x4.5cm or 21¼4-inch medium-format cameras. Why? Nearly all top wedding, portrait, and nature shooters favored medium format for its ability to produce higher-quality photos than the lightweight 35mm SLRs carried by photojournalists. But the image quality gap narrowed in the '90s as 35mm slide and print films improved dramatically, showing clearly that good 35mm lenses surpassed most medium-format glass in sharpness. The digital SLR onslaught has further eroded the mystique of medium format, as most DSLRs to date have been designed to
accept 35mm lenses. In this digital world, can medium-format systems survive?
Mamiya says "Yes!" and plans to steal back the hearts of pros with its new ZD digital SLR. (While no retail price had been set by press time, we estimate $12,500 street, body only.) The ZD is the first SLR that has an integrated, large-scale CCD sensor with 21.5MP effective resolution, and full compatibility with current AF and older manual-focus Mamiya lenses. But it shares many of the features, and even the looks, of a 35mm DSLR.
Due to the size of the sensor (36.1x 48.1mm), Mamiya claims the ZD has a 1.2X lens factor in comparison with 6x4.5cm film, so a normal 80mm lens on the ZD delivers approximately the same field of view as a 95mm lens on its film cousin. (Because 6x4.5cm film is larger than 35mm film, an 80mm lens on a 6x4.5cm film camera captures the same field of view as a 50mm lens on a 35mm film camera.) This relatively small lens factor means that the popular Mamiya Super Wide Angle 35mm f/3.5 lens ($1,379 street) behaves more like a 42mm lens (about the same FOV as a 24mm lens on a 35mm SLR).
The secrets are out
Under tight security, we got an exclusive look at a preproduction ZD. While Mamiya assured us that most of the features on this unit have been locked in for final production, its image quality, metering accuracy, AF performance, and battery life were still in flux. So we'll have to wait for a production unit to run through the Pop Photo Lab. But what we found so far, plus the potential for ultrahigh image quality captured by a 21.5MP sensor, should have medium-format film shooters lining up.
Mamiya says the overall design of the ZD was influenced by the Mamiya 645AFd, a medium-format film/digital SLR with removable backs. Its body construction includes a die-cast aluminum-alloy internal frame, a magnesium-alloy top plate, and glass-reinforced polycarbonate outer covers. The new ZD also uses the same 645 AF lensmount as the 645AFd body, and is compatible with all 10 Mamiya lenses (including two zooms and the manual-focus 300mm f/2.8 APO lens). Other external similarities include the dedicated flash hot-shoe that supports TTL direct metering with Metz SCA3002, SCA3000, and SCA300-series flashes (adapters required).
At 2.6 pounds, the ZD body is lighter than the 645AFd, thanks to the lack of a film-winding mechanism and use of a lighter weight lithium ion battery. It also has its own personality in terms of exposure controls, dials, and buttons. On top, there's a nicely designed (and illuminated) semicircle LCD window with a single mode button under it. The window serves a dual purpose, displaying exposure settings, battery life, and shots remaining when turned on. Press the mode button, and you can set exposure modes while rotating the front control dial that's behind the shutter button.
On the menu
On the other side of the viewfinder prism housing, three buttons let you control meter patterns, lock images in playback, or move rapidly through menus on the ZD's 1.8-inch LCD-which is way too small for a camera of this nature and sophistication. But the fonts and icons on the LCD are readable. (Perhaps the smaller screen size will prevent pros from previewing, or "chimping," their images.)
Other controls and features on the ZD's back include a monochrome data LCD located under the color LCD that displays file formats, ISO, white balance setting, and remaining exposures. It also indicates which type of memory card is in use at the moment-either a CompactFlash Type I/II card (up to 8GB, including Microdrives) or an SD card. Easy-to-reach buttons let you quickly set ISO, image quality and formats (RAW, JPEG, or RAW + JPEG), and white balance (auto plus five presets, two custom settings, three-step fine adjustment, and color temperature in degrees Kelvin). If you shoot using the RAW + JPEG setting, the ZD lets you store the JPEGs in a separate folder on a CF card-a very useful timesaver. However, it doesn't look like the camera will be able to switch from CF to SD card automatically while shooting if the CF card fills up. Turning the camera off and on should switch it over, or you can do so through the menus.