Hasselblad broke our test chart

Full-frame is for wimps, medium format is the future. According to our resolution chart, at least

We're not sure it's ever been done before – five medium-format digital SLRs under one roof at the same time and subjected to the same battery of tests we inflict on regular DSLRs and compact system cameras.

Full-frame sensors are not the biggest – they're just a rung on the ladder. Medium-format cameras have sensors around 1.7x larger, typically measuring 44mm x 33mm. The term 'medium format' is just a hangover from the days of film, when there were larger film formats still.

They are designed for pros and have price tags to match, but are they really better than the best full-frame D-SLRs, like the 36-megapixel Nikon D810?

We found out soon enough. We carried out a visual resolution test on cameras using our regular enhanced ISO 12233 test chart which can reveal resolutions up to 4000 line widths/picture height – a standard measure of resolution across the camera industry. Most compact cameras can resolve around 2000 line widths, while DSLRs and compact system cameras are in the 2500-3000 range – or sometimes higher.

The D810 pushes our chart close to its limits, but the Hasselblad clears it with a single bound.

Nikon D810 test chart

The 36-megapixel D810 has no anti-aliasing filter, so it delivers exceptional fine detail, right down to a pixel level. But the lines in our test chart are starting to merge at a resolution of approximately 3,800 line widths/picture height. Click here to see the full-size chart.

Nikon D810 test chart

Here's an enlargement of the area we usually test. Click here to see a larger version.

Hasselblad H5D 50c test chart

The 50-megapixel Hasselblad doesn't show the same level of sharpness at a pixel level, but it is a 50-megapixel sensor and easily resolves the finest lines on our chart. The resolution is in excess of 4,000 line widths/picture height, visibly better than the D810 and well clear of other D-SLRs. Click here to see the full-size chart.

Hasselblad H5D 50c test chart

Here's an enlargement of our usual test area, just to the right of centre on the main chart above. Click here to see a larger version.

So why test cameras few of us are ever likely to buy? Because it puts the performance of regular cameras in perspective, and because we all like to read about Ferraris even if we're only ever going to buy a Ford.

Besides, medium format cameras are slowly coming down in price and in some cases (Leica S-E, Pentax 645Z) getting more and more like D-SLRs to look at and to use.

The five medium-format cameras on test are the Hasselblad H5D-50c, Leica S-E, Mamiya 645DF+ (Leaf Credo 50 back), Pentax 645Z and Phase One 645DF+ (IQ150 back), and we'll bring you the full results just as soon as testing is finished.