photokina Special Coverage; Medium Format: “The Reports Of Its Death...” Page 2

In fact, ALPA had surprisingly many other introductions, including a new APO-Switar lens and an adapter to allow the use of Rollei 6000 series/Hy6 lenses on their cameras--an intriguing example of the way in which high-end cameras are increasingly cross-compatible even when they are not financially related.

ALPA Tele-Rollei

Then again, ALPA were both lucky and clever in that the 12 series was the first (and best) of a new kind of ultra-simple, ultrahigh-precision camera that turned out to be ideal for digital use. Similar cameras have since been introduced by Wica, Silvestri, Cambo (their new Cambo Wide at 1100 euros, $1400, is an "affordable" ALPA), and in stitching-camera form by several others.

Linhof, meanwhile, is one of the fixed stars of photokina. While their product line (and their stand, for that matter) changes, always for the better, everything stays reassuringly the same. They now have a shift option for the improved 617 S III 6x17cm camera and, ingeniously, the shift mechanism (with darkslide) fits between the lens cone and the body and can therefore be retrofitted to older cameras, thereby allowing use of the new T617 ground-glass back. The 110mm f/5.6 Super-Symmar XL is now available as an option for this camera: one of my favorite wide angle lenses of all time. Again, this retro-compatibility was one of the trends at the show. Unless incompatibility is forced on them, more and more manufacturers are stressing continuity, reparability, and quality.

Linhof T617 shift system

This is exactly what Zeiss did with their three "Classic" lenses for the V-series Hasselblad (500C and descendants): a 50mm f/4 Distagon, 120mm f/5.6 Makro Planar, and 180mm f/4 Sonnar. These are sold through Zeiss, not Hasselblad, and mark a resurgence in Zeiss marketing; Zeiss also introduced four new Nikon-fit manual-focus lenses, 35mm f/2 and 85mm f/1.4, and 50mm f/2 and 100mm f/2 macro.

Linhof 617 with 110mm lens

Horseman has a new 6x17cm camera bearing a close resemblance to the now-discontinued Fuji 617. Mr. Komamura of Horseman has long enjoyed a close relationship with Fuji, which explains both the Horseman 617 and the Horseman 35mm stereo camera. The latter remains in uninterrupted production despite the discontinuation of the Fuji/Hasselblad XPan with which it shares many components.

Fotoman, meanwhile, progresses in leaps and bounds. When we reviewed the original 617 we found that while it did an excellent job at a very reasonable price, it was pretty basic. Since then, everything has improved: most of all the viewfinder, but also the focusing mount and indeed the fit and finish of all components, so that everything with the Fotoman label on it now has a much more "quality" feel.

Interestingly, though, they have decided to stay with the red-window film advance system, despite making prototypes with automatic film counting. This is because they advocate counter-tensioning the film, using the knob on the feed spool, and retaining this feature (which improves film flatness) would be a good deal more difficult with automatic counting. There probably are slight gains in film flatness, and it is cheaper, but I have never noticed any real problems with automatic counting and the latter is undoubtedly more convenient, so it is a matter of choice.

Zeiss 50mm f/4 Distagon

The rollfilm model is now available in 6x9cm (8-on-120), 6x12cm (6-on-120), 6x17cm (4-on-120), and even 6x24cm (3-on-120), plus variable format, and a stereo 6x9cm (4 stereo pairs-on-120) is under development.

Finally, for film, the 6x17cm Widepan has (like the Fotoman) benefited from a number of "tweaks" and (again like the Fotoman) now looks and feels like a significantly better-made camera.

Jumping back to digital, though, there was the Seitz scanning-back 617. Seitz, of course, makes the Roundshot revolving panoramic cameras, and they suddenly realized that the sensor they use in the digital versions of these could be mounted on a linear track and induced to scan a 6x17cm format in about a second. This is about 20 or 30 times faster than most of the competition, and explains why scanning backs aren't more common. The price--just under 30,000 euros, or pushing $40,000--also explains why this one is unlikely to be very common either. You could even, just about, hand hold the thing, though if you did, your arms would get tired very quickly: it's huge and heavy. On the other hand, it delivers a mind-boggling 160 megapixels.

All in all, for a market sector that many have written off, medium format is surprisingly buoyant, and the new Rollei in particular is extremely worthy of note. Film and digital seem to coexist quite happily, at a wide variety of price points, and whether your tastes run to retro or the highest of high tech, there is still a lot of choice.