If you've had us photograph a medium to high end architectural or interiors project over the last couple of years, you've likely noticed that I'm often using a slightly crazy-looking camera outfit: Cambo Wide DS and Phase Medium Format

This is a technical camera, with a medium format digital back made by Phase One. If you've been around the photography world for awhile, you'll recognize this as the direct descendent of what used to be one of the standard tools for architectural photography: the 4x5 view camera.


Yes, that's a younger me underneath that darkcloth making use of one, and yes, I still own and maintain that setup though it's largely collecting dust. I did end up pulling it out a few years back for a project for Iredale Group Architecture, and then again for a workshop at Vancouver Photo Workshops. It produces lovely images, and if you want me to use it on your project, just ask--but be willing to wait a lot longer and pay a good chunk of extra change to cover film, development, and scanning costs (hey, vintage goodness is pricey!). The lovely thing about the medium format digital rig is that you get even better quality than on the 4x5, with the speed of digital. It's still big, expensive, and cumbersome...but it's usually worth it.

So Why Use Such A Beast Of A Camera?

Get photographers together, and the talk inevitably turns to gear; but as anyone on a construction site knows, the equipment is there ideally to support one's ability to do Really Excellent Work. For architectural photography, medium format digital is one of the current best tools for the job as far as giving you high resolution, amazing dynamic range, the most flexibility to use your images, and a particular lack of distortion that you'd get working in smaller formats.


Dynamic Range

Dynamic range is all about maintaining detail in both the light and dark areas of an image, where the brights are really bright and the darks are really dark. This situation happens a lot, particularly when photographing daylit interiors. Our eyes and brains have a much greater dynamic range than any camera, which means that if you've tried to shoot an interior with a daylight view, you've probably gotten an unhappy compromise like the top image, when you really wanted something that looks like the bottom:


There are a half dozen or more ways to deal with this problem, and we use just about all of them. However, often the best way is to start with better materials: namely, a camera that gives you more dynamic range to begin with. In a couple of shots, you've captured what you need and can work with it to pull out the detail you need. We recently photographed this stunning modern beauty for Kerr Construction, and it featured an entryway with a piece of stained glass that, in bright light, lights up the architectural concrete floor: Medium Format Digital Vancouver Modern

This is a tough shot to pull off because the bright colours of the window and the subtle colour detail on the floor, both so important to the project, don't photograph as well in any other medium; and here, they captured beautifully and realistically.

Extending Twilight

We love twilight exteriors and interiors, and we bet you do too. From a photographer's point of view, one of the big problems with twilight is that it doesn't stick around very long. In summer, it's a lovely almost full hour of gorgeous light, during which we can run around and get fine photos. But in winter, twilight lasts for nary more than a few minutes at best. Medium format digital is great at pulling colour and detail out of dark areas, like dark skies at the end of twilight. This sky was almost black to the unaided eye when we photographed it, but the camera happily pulled in the detail we needed to make the shot work:

Yunesitin First Nation Health Centre Williams Lake wood architecture


The medium format digital rig, as a good camera for architectural photography should, has the ability to shift the lens so you can look up or down while keeping verticals vertical--and if you're running a one-point perspective, keeping your horizontals horizontal. But there's also something more subtle going on here.

You've probably had the experience of seeing the final images of an interior (particularly in inexpensive real estate photography, a genre in which this is usually considered a feature) and exclaimed "Wow! That tiny bathroom looks as big as BC Place!"; and then later on, someone who experienced your project from photos first probably said "Wow! That big bathroom is actually pretty tiny!" That's wide angle distortion (or if you want to impress your friends at cocktail parties, volume anamorphosis), and it's a particular bane in very large and very small spaces. On a medium format digital camera, there's a lot less of it because the sensor is larger and the focal length of the lens can be longer, which means you get a "flatter" look. It's still present, but it doesn't jump out at you in the same way as it does in smaller formats. Look here:

medium format perspective

These two images were taken at the same position a few minutes apart, and are unretouched except for cropping and matching the colour temperature between them. The image on the left is off my full-frame Canon 5D Mk II, and the one right is medium format digital. It's subtle, but you'll notice that the one on the right looks less stretched. You'll also notice, once again, the extra detail on the ceiling wood and the stained glass light on the floor.


One of the great things about having lots of resolution and lots of detail is the ability to crop your images for various uses and pull more photos out of a single image. Let's take this patio, renovated by Rembrandt Renovations last year, and see this in action:

Exterior Patio Vancouver Spa

The builder of this project was justifiably proud of the woodwork on the pergola. So, let's take a crop of just the pergola and see what we see:


And there we go, the pergola...in all its lovely wooden detail.

Getting the advantage

That's the easy part: call us, and you get all the wonderful advantages of this format as part of the photos we deliver, without the five-figure-plus investment required to buy, maintain, and run all the specialized equipment. You'll get images that are cleaner, closer to the reality of being there, and give you more flexibility across your various marketing channels. Since it's technically demanding, it does mean that things sometimes take a little longer to shoot on location, but the results, as you can see, speak for themselves. You're getting more value from your project photography, as well as a look you can't get elsewhere in town. We're also one of the few (if not only) local photographers to be using this gear on the majority of our projects, so you'll get work that definitely stands out from the pack, just like you!