PhaseOne P65+ and PhaseOne 645DF

Originally published: April 3, 2011

Wow, this is one heck of a camera. I have been looking to replace my Hasselblad lately and I Demoed this one at Digital Transitions in NY. I would have to say that this is the best digital back on the planet. With that moniker it also carries one of the heaviest price tags in digital cameras weighing in at around $32,000 for the back alone. Of course for this amount, you get 60.5 megapixels. Many would argue that this is 48.5 megapixels than anyone ever needs. However with it you get an extraordinary amount of data to work with. The dynamic range according to DxO mark is the highest of any digital back. It is simply superb.

It can be purchased with just about any mount out there. It is available currently for the Mamiya 645 (PhaseOne 645 is the exact same camera), Mamiya RZ, Hasselblad V and other mounts. As of last week, PhaseOne won (haha alliteration) a law suit against Hasselblad closed system H mount.

Hasselblad’s H mount 645 camera was the industry standard for many years, until they closed their system. Before this their H camera (also produced by Fuji as the GX645 same camera) had been closed. However PhaseOne won the antitrust proceedings and will now, along with other digital back manufacturers be able to build cameras with the H mount. This was a major victory for PhaseOne and a significant defeat to Hasselblad. Also in a cruel twist of fate, Hasselblad was ordered to pay the legal costs of the (I believe) 6 year long case. Anyway the purpose of this paragraph was mostly to say, you can get it for just about any medium format camera system that you own.

One interesting feature that really astounded me was its ability to shoot fewer megapixels and higher ISO as well as frame rates. Ingeniously PhaseOne has figured out who to create a system where their digital back shoots at 15 megapixels and is able to shoot up to ISO 3200. Of course this is nothing for most of the current DSLR’s on the market however it is a big feat for the medium format digital back industry. I marveled at the fact that this was able to be done and thought it was really cool. Of course ISO 3200 is not useable at all. However 1600 becomes tolerable under extreme situations or where the grain might be aesthetically pleasing.

The Screen on this camera is the best of any digital back I have seen except the Leica S2. The screen is decently clear and responsive. It no where near is good as a computer screen, the first iPhone’s screen or even a $500 Nikon’s. However in medium format digital back’s screen quality is something that has fallen by the wayside. The manufacturers have always been more focused on the sensor then trivialities such as the screen. This is easily explained, these backs are usually shot in studios and tethered; at least in the manufacturers eyes that is. Many professionals use them outdoors for either fashion or fine art landscape photography. The latest batch of screens are decent enough however little can be gained by looking at them in all honesty. That said PhaseOne’s screens are leaps and bounds above the competition, especially Leaf.

Side note: Leaf and PhaseOne are shareholders in Mamiya, this is why the PhaseOne 645AFD cameras and Mamiya 645AFD cameras look hauntingly similar, your eyes do not deceive you, they are exactly the same.  PhaseOne is the majority shareholder and are able to decide the direction for the company. Leaf is a major shareholder though and the Mamiya branded backs are nothing but rebranded Leaf backs. Which are well, not that great to be perfectly honest. I say this in terms of my needs, they may be perfect for some other people. This topic is covered in my Leaf Aptus-II 10 Article. Anyway back to my camera industry background…The PhaseOne 645AFD is truely an “open source” camera body. It will accept any digital back without prejudice. A similar thing happened with the Hy6 camera system. Lens maker Jenoptik created a design for a medium format camera body; the Hy6. They then commissioned Rollei (Rolleiflex) to make the camera. They did. It caught on and for many years Leaf, as well as Sinar had their own branded Hy6 cameras.

I Digress. On Build Quality these things are unstoppable. If you look at PhaseOne’s youtube channel (PhaseOne DK) you can view videos of them supporting jeeps, being frozen, cooked, dropped from balloons, off the backs of speeding cars, oh yeah and stood on by elephants. So they are pretty damn tough. They are solidly built and are weather sealed. It feels like a solid hunk of metal in your hand, a solid hunk of metal worth more then some BMW’s. Quite frankly they should all feel this way but they don’t (cough cough Leaf cough cough). After holding it and shooting with it, I proclaimed that it was “the Leica of medium format interchangeable digital backs”. I stand by this, it is ridiculously well built.

Shooting Tethered and with Strobes are seamless with the PhaseOne 645AFD (yes, and the Mamiya). When shooting tethered you easily slide the Firewire cable into a designated and protected port on the back of the camera, and it is quickly recognized by the computer without having to do anything on the computer or back. Shooting with strobes is equally pleasurable, simply plug a flash sync cable into the body et voila, strobes. Everything works perfectly, this system is truly at the top of its game.

I Shot this camera at the same time as a Leaf Aptus-II 10, you can see my full review and comparison in my Leaf Aptus-II 10 review. However one item of note the PhaseOne automatically recognizes the camera profile. This means without pressing any buttons it knows that camera body you just put it on. This is one of the many features that make it a more refined machine, worthy of respect.

In conclusion, one must ask themselves, is this the camera for me? Well if you don’t need ridiculously good low light performance then thats a check. If you do go check out a Nikon D3s or Leica M9 with Noctiulux depending on your style. Do you need 60.5 megapixels? the answer to that one is a resounding NO for 95% of photographers. Do you want 60.5 megapixels? the answer to that is a resounding YES from 95% of photographers. Except for hipsters who only shoot film and Ken Rockwell. This system is wonderful nothing short. The PhaseOne camera body and lenses are equally excellent to the digital back that they compliment. If you need this, or want this and you have an income to match, its a great buy. I have been told that they will be rolling out an 80 megapixel version soon just like Leaf (Mamiya Digital Backs) and Hasselblad already have. Since those are heading into uncharted territory sensor wise, I think this will remain the premiere digital back for a few more years. PhaseOne has created a true “City on a Hill” with which all lesser companies should compare themselves. I do not know if this is the back that I will choose, I must do some soul searching and pixel peeping to decide that; but P65+ is definitely a man among men.

Scroll Down for Sample Pictures, Tech Specs, and Real life Pictures of what the camera looks like.

SAMPLE IMAGES

Full Image

PhaseOne P65+ with Schneider 45mm LS lens on tripod at f/2.8 1/60 ISO 100

Profoto Acute with Softbox to the left of the lizard.

33% Center Crop

PhaseOne P65+ with Schneider 45mm LS lens on tripod at f/2.8 1/60 ISO 100

Profoto Acute with Softbox to the left of the lizard.

100% Center Crop wow.

PhaseOne P65+ with Schneider 45mm LS lens on tripod at f/2.8 1/60 ISO 100

Profoto Acute with Softbox to the left of the lizard.

 

 

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