Bela Raba

Fashion and advertising photography with medium format and DSLR

Bela Raba is a German-based photographer, specializing in fashion and advertising photography. She has worked around the globe for more than 20 years and has a studio in Munich. Bela’s father was a successful freelance fashion photographer in the 1970s. Inspired by him, she began taking pictures herself at the age of 15. By age 19, Bela had enrolled in a three-year photography course before working in the USA for a fashion catalogue photographer for some years. After which she followed up with a Master’s Grade in photography and proceeded to pursue her own work.

In this series about why photographers opt to use medium format in addition to DSLR, we explore Bela Raba’s point of view.

What’s in your camera bag and why that equipment choice?

My equipment consists of:

– Phase One IQ2 50MP Digital Back

– 80mm, 55mm, and 35mm Schneider Kreuznach leaf shutter lenses

– Canon EOS 1 X

– 24-70mm 2:8, 50mm 1:2, and 100mm macro lenses

– Profoto 7 series light equipment (7a, 7s, and 12 lamp heads)

– Profoto B2X

“We all know that the photographer takes the picture in first place, but obviously working as a professional today requires the best equipment available. Especially when you are on a job in a foreign country where there is no camera store around, you need very reliable equipment. Back in the 70s, my dad used a minimum of 3 Nikon bodies for an important analogue shoot. I can still remember him saying: “There is always one breaking down, that’s for sure.””

Why do you use both medium format and DSLR?

“Quality first of all! Of course, the Canon is faster and sometimes I would like to make my life easier and just use the DSLR camera for a shoot. But anyone who compares the RAW files out of a Phase One Digital Back and out of a DSLR knows what I am talking about. The medium format quality is just so much better.”

“The amount of detail in the Phase One pictures is just out of this world! And right now, I am just using the IQ2 50MP Digital Back with 50 megapixels. The sharpness, Bokeh and dynamic range put medium format in a different league.”

When do you use medium format and when DSLR?

“I use the central leaf shutter on the Phase One a lot. It allows me to make use the full light situation when I am shooting outdoors with flash by choosing a very short exposure time. That also means I don’t always need to travel with heavy but powerful flash generators. My Profoto B2X with its 500 WS is the perfect combination for that technique.

Also, I use the Phase One for image campaigns, where a high resolution is requested, of course. For some shooting, l like fast movements of models, or, in people reportages, a medium format camera is simply too slow.”

“Medium format and DSLR is like comparing a speed bike with a monster truck. But if you have a wider range of shooting challenges like me, you simply need both systems.”

How important is high resolution in your photography?

“I work a lot in fashion photography and to be able to show the detailed structure of fabrics, I especially need the medium format quality. Some online shops work with a strong zoom function. In this case, you’re lucky to work with a medium format system.

For some billboard campaign shootings, I also need the high resolution as well. And with critical colors like neon and green the Phase One does a much better job than any other system I know.”

How is your workflow with medium format compared to DSLR?

“The easy answer is that the Phase One perfectly synchronizes with the Capture One Software, especially when shooting tethered. The Capture One software also combines the best RAW converter on the market with a very important library and its tree structure. For me this is especially important, for example, when shooting for catalogue clients with endless reference numbers. I cannot think of a more convenient software right now.

“But there is something else I would like to point out: Using the Phase One makes me shoot slower but at the same time I am more focused on the actual image. I always have the feeling I have to measure up to this camera and it makes me a better photographer in the end.”

How do you feel about the investment you made in medium format?

“The devaluation of a medium format is way less than that of a DSLR system. But for me this is not the only aspect that matters. Shooting medium format simply makes me a better photographer.

When you shoot medium format, you can also position yourself as a photographer in a higher league and justify better wages for your work. There are not so many competitors playing in the medium format league.

“I did compare Phase One to other systems and always came to the conclusion that this system is still a bit ahead of the others in most of the important technical aspects.”


For more information about Bela Raba and her photography.