Initial Impressions: Leaf Credo Announcement
You may or may not be aware that PhaseOne and Leaf (as well as Mamiya) are now all owned by PhaseOne, so there really isn’t any discrepancy between the brands. Until recently when Mamiya and Leaf announced their merger to form the consolidated MamiyaLeaf Group, the lines had been blurred slightly as to who was making what. Since the Mamiya ZD camera, all of the Mamiya branded digital backs had been Leaf backs with the Mamiya brand name painted on them, and lacking the confusing (to me) Leaf naming system for their backs. Now that the merger has taken place (see press release) the Mamiya kits sold at B&H have been re-named to match their “proper” Leaf names for the various camera models. Now the only confusion remains between the brands “PhaseOne” and “Leaf”. People have to understand that these brands are no longer Denmark and Israel duking it out for the lions share of the interchangeable MFDB industry. In reality, at this point they have subdivided their products based on quality to meet the demands of different market segments.
In my opinion, prior to the announcement of the Leaf Credo the lines had been clearly drawn between PhaseOne who were certainly on the “Higher-End” and Leaf who were on the “Lower-End” (Of course, all is relative). As I have made clear in my feelings about the Leaf Aptus backs, based on MY prior experience and how they compared to the Hasselblad H and PhaseOne P+ and IQ series digital backs. Others, especially those who typically use them in studios, and tethered have different opinions then myself, which they have kindly made abundantly clear to me since the release of my Leaf Aptus II 10 review. Since then my knowledge of the industry and technical side of cameras has grown as a whole and I can better appreciate Leaf’s place in the world, but during that same time I have had little to no more exposure to Leaf Aptus backs, so my opinions of them have remained the same. Simply put, still based on my personal experiences, I believe they are subpar to equivalent Hasselblad and PhaseOne models. That said, people who are actually paid to take pictures use Leaf and find it to be an acceptable shooting experience for them.
Both PhaseOne and Leaf also have special models which are used for specific purposes. Leaf released a UV/IR model which offered the possibility to customize an existing back as well as the “R” series of Aptus backs (the 80mp Leaf Aptus-II 12R and the 56mp Leaf Aptus-11 10R) where the “R” stands for rotating. In these models, the sensor could be oriented either horizontally or vertically. This offers many advantages for various applications including regular photography but also scientific and reprographic applications. For photographic purposes this is most useful with technical cameras when shooting with your MFDB, since you are shooting with a (in the case of an IQ180 or Aptus-II 12) 53.9×40.4mm or 53.7×40.3mm (no actual difference) chip at a size significantly smaller then the full 4×5″ (101.6x127mm) coverage of most large format lenses you have the option of orienting your back either horizontally or vertically based on your desired composition. With the 6×6 cameras like the Hasselblad 503CW you still have the option of utilizing your sensors full 6×4.5 coverage and then cropping later in post if you still desire a square image. Since shooting vertically with a Hasselblad 503CW is a possibility normally because of its controls (a stretch at best utilizing the motorized hand grip) and not to pointless with a square frame (think about it, if you have to…Hint: it’s a square…) the orientation of the back (if using a Hasselblad back in square crop mode a la CFV-16/39/50) or film plane was a non-issue. However, if using a 6×6 camera with a digital backs 6×4.5 coverage, a rotating sensor can certainly be a useful tool in your arsenal especially during composition of a shot. PhaseOne has the Archromatic+ which is a fully black and white sensor with the Bayer color filter array completely removed which provides an artistically interesting as well as highly technical solution for industrial applications which we will not get into here. It should be noted however that in this one area (the rotating sensor) Leaf does have an “edge” or at least a feature which PhaseOne does not.
Enter Leaf Credo, it is something significantly different from past Leaf digital backs, and a step closer to the design, ergonomics and functionality of the PhaseOne IQ180 series of cameras. My dealer Digital Transitions in NYC has cleverly posted a FAQ about the Leaf Credo based on the questions they have been receiving about it, which I gather have been rather a lot of they have been driven to this point . So, I though I would address some of the questions they have answered and give me thoughts on them:
What camera mounts are available?, Is the H4X supported?, Is the Hy6 supported?
The camera mount options available for the Leaf Credo and its compatibility is something interesting and worth commenting on. It has all of the mounts that you would expect, PhaseOne/Mamiya, Contax, Hasselblad H and Hasselblad V. A side comment, it is still impressive to see that people are still firmly loyal to their Contax 645 systems with it’s unquestionably superior Zeiss optics which yield very special images including two lenses within the range which have amazon f/2.0 maximum apertures (fasted for Mamiya is the 80mm 1.9 C/N lens which is only Manual Focus/Aperture). But I digress, this is what you would expect in this day and age based on the cameras and certainly the mounts people are using most. It is good/expected/important to note that the H4X camera is fully supported as you would hope it would be. If for whatever reason you do not know the H4X camera is a camera upgrade from the H2 for H2 owners (correct me if I am wrong, last I checked you couldn’t straight buy an H4X without an upgrade) which offers the same open platform compatibility of the H2 with the ability to use modern Hasselblad software and lenses (latest versions) with OEM backs. The Hasselblad H4D series of cameras were closed and would only accept and communicate with Hasselblad backs, a move that angered many in the MFDB community and caused them to switch out of the Hasselblad system because they felt wronged.
Interestingly the Hy6 camera platform is not supported with the Leaf Credo which is a de facto death blow to this ambitious platform since it was only ever supported by Sinar and Leaf in terms of digital back compatibility. I do not know if Sinar will continue to make backs for this system but it doesn’t really matter since certainly in the SLR style medium format digital back market their market share is very small. I cannot comment on the build quality of the Hy6 or Sinar backs, since quite honestly I have never been in the same room as either of them ever. Users of the Hy6 ardently love it and the excellent Rollei/Schneider Optics available for it especially including the Rollei Macro 90mm f/4 Schneider Apo-Symmar Makro PQS Lens which many will say is one of the best and sharpest lenses ever made due to its superior optical quality and its effectively 0% distortion. Personally it seems to be a bit awkward to me just from looking at it and knowing the way I shoot (but again everyone who uses it seems quite comfortable and always says good things about it) and the Sinar back’s I have never heard anything especially good or bad about and assume they are adequate and certainly good if you wish to use them with the rest of Sinar’s well integrated electronic shutter systems. All of that said, Leaf’s decision to not support the Hy6 camera system with their launch of a new flagship line of cameras certainly delivers a clear message about the future support (or lack of) for this system.
Is there a rotating sensor version?
As I addressed above, the rotating sensors which are available on two of the higher-end Leaf Aptus-11 models (again, 80mp 12R and 56mp 10R) serve a specific function for certain applications which are specific to certain cameras and workflows but certainly has more then a “limited” application like exclusively scientific or reprographic work. As Digital Transitions explains ” any V-mount Leaf Credo can be mounted both vertically and horizontally.” which effectively means the same thing with a few caveats. Firstly, the major drawback or difference to this is that the back must be removed and mounted in a different orientation. This isn’t an issue for the user experience per se due to the accelerometer (I think thats what I mean) in the back which senses its orientation and adjusts the display appropriately. However, the only danger/concern/drawback to this is that you must remove the back, which while in a studio is largely perfectly safe….but in the field, especially in many landscape situations enters of a myriad of things such as dust or moisture which can damage a sensor or simply impede the image quality of captured images. As I said for studio work this is less of an issue, since safely removing and re-orienting the back is a non-issue. But in the field it may be a little bit more difficult, however, it can certainly be done with a bit of care. Of course if you know you tend to shoot in one orientation or the other then you can just set it up before hand and be good to go with you Hasselblad V. This feature being only available for the Hasselblad V is alright since this is the camera where the operation is most prescient and also many technical and 4×5 digital back solutions are offered with the option of a Hasselblad V mount for a digital back. I think it is clever that they include this feature, since it is certainly more pragmatic not to mention cheaper swell as involving much less R&D time and money then creating a fully integrated rotating sensor technology. Shows that little bit of extra thought, creativity and problem solving that went into the design of this camera, and is certainly something that I like to see from Leaf’s engineers.
Where does the battery go?
Many people, including my friend and owner of Hartblei.de (which produces the Hcam B1 reviewed here) Stefan Steib, were ardent supporters of one of my most loathed features of the Leaf backs (and their marketing and product photography teams). Leaf Aptus backs all have an externally stored battery which is IMHO negligibly absent from product shots. This is simply because it is not sexy that the battery sticks out of the bottom of the camera like a sore thumb. While this feature is not titillating as relates to the industrial design of the camera, it is so as relates to the possibilities for batteries with the system. The system used Sony batteries (Stefan Corrected me, Leaf Backs are Samsung SBL160 compatible ~ April 25, 2012) which came in many different sizes, which means that while they accept the standard PhaseOne battery, they could also take larger capacity batteries for extended use. I believe that having the battery internal like the PhaseOne IQ series or now the Leaf Credo is certainly a good thing since it is kept safe and protected from the elements when in the field, and certainly out of the way when shooting in the field or in the studio. So for me its good riddance to the external battery and glad the internal battery is becoming a trend shared by both PhaseOne and Leaf leaving Hasselblad’s CFV series of backs alone with their external batteries awkwardly standing in the corner.
Is there a Fan?
The response form Digital Transitions is “The Leaf Credo uses sophisticated heat-sinking and other forms of passive cooling. No active cooling was required. Therefore no air vent or fan is present.” which certainly seems to be exciting. In the past my key complaint about the Leaf Aptus backs was its loud and fully-externally exposed fan which I believed could only lead to trouble due to its exposing the insides of the camera to dusts, liquids and so on. Having no air vents would have been good enough. But, if I understand this correctly there is no fan at all, and the camera is capable to cool itself, which is rather good, which means no fan = less moving parts = less to break if dropped or bumped which can only be a good thing and is certainly something that I would love to see in more medium format digital backs if I understand it correctly from this description.
Will Leaf Capture support the new Leaf Credo?
I have heard others complain about it, and in my past experiences as related in my review of the Aptus-II 10, I found this software to be buggy and generally slow and certainly lacking in the user interface department. The Leaf Credo’s use of CaptureOne is a good step in many ways. Firstly, it means Leaf Capture is being phased (excuse the pun) out and while still being supported for Aptus-II and older backs will not received any new updates other then to ensure its compatibility with newer operating systems and computers (as Digital Transitions explains). Secondly it shows the synergy between PhaseOne and Leaf and that they are in fact working together cohesively on product development, which again is a good sign for the future of their companies. In case I was not clear above, the Leaf Credo is only supported in CaptureOne NOT in Leaf Capture.
Is there a Credo similar to the Aptus II 10?
I don’t really care about this, and Digital Transitions (go read it on their site if you want to) discusses the different sensor sizes of the different Leaf Credo 80/60/40mp versions and explains the differences in their sensor sizes. If it matters to you, the information is there, but for most of us it really shouldn’t if you ask me.
How is the Credo related to the IQ?
Digital Transitions description of this is rather good, but I will still give some of my thoughts. Firstly, and interestingly the same 40/60/80mp sensors are used in both the Leaf Credo 40, Leaf Credo 60 and Leaf Credo 80 as are used in the PhaseOne IQ140, IQ160 and IQ180 digital backs. As DT explains, simply put utilizing the same sensors means they have increased buying power which makes components cheaper for them to purchase and will certainly increase their profits which may result in better prices for the end user if we are lucky. Interestingly again the same metal and basic structure is used for the Leaf Credo back’s external housing as is for the PhaseOne IQ series of cameras. This is good since it is a very robust, ergonomically sound, and aesthetically pleasing design which is highly functional. Another key difference, which is a hold-over from the Aptus series is the full touch screen available from the Leaf Credo. Although not explicitly stated I believe that it is implied that the screen quality is the same on both the Leaf Credo series and PhaseOne IQ series which again is certainly a good thing since the IQ180′s screen is superior and the Aptus-II’s were certainly lacking in my opinion. A difference however is the Leaf Credo also has touch sensitive strips outside of the image area allowing users to pan and zoom without having to touch the area where the image is. This is another one of the really great features of the Leaf Credo which means that there are fewer ways to smudge the screen and degrade the viewing quality. Interestingly, the Leaf Credo is entirely devoid of hard buttons, while the PhaseOne IQ series still maintains 4 hard buttons around the frame of the screen as well as for the power button.
The backs also offer different user interfaces which will appeal to some more then others. I am sure the Leaf Credo’s UI is also very much improved. Again, I found the Leaf Aptus-II’s UI to be very difficult and excessively complex to use compared to the aptly described “Leica-esque” simplicity and minimalism of PhaseOne’s user interfaces which make them a joy to use. I am sure the Leaf Credo’s UI is much improved over the Aptus’s while not compromising features that Leaf is known for. Some key software differences exist including Leaf’s proprietary Profiles and Curves which effect the way an image is captured and processed even for RAW images. The Leaf Credo also does not include PhaseOne’s excellent Sensor+ which extends the ISO range of the IQ series. The Credo does not contain focus masks, auto-horizon and auto-keystone features which are trade marks of the “higher-end” nature of the PhaseOne digital backs.
And of course as Digital Transitions notes, they are offered at different prices with different warranty options, as well as different service/support channels. And also, interestingly Israel is still managed to remain relevant since the Leaf Credo is manufactured in Israel and not Denmark, althoughI suspect this is liable to change as PhaseOne consolidates MamiyaLeaf, but I could be wrong and have no hard evidence to suggest their leaning one way or another.
I am very excited to see the Leaf Credo back since, while a step down from PhaseOne’s IQ series, offers many great improvements which in my opinion were essential changes to the Leaf Aptus series of cameras. While I have no interest or plans to change to this back, it will certainly be interesting to play with. I have talked with my guys at Digital Transitions as well as my (very few) friends at MamiyaLeaf about possibly getting me a copy of one of these backs to review, since it is very new and exciting. Digital Transitions offers some upgrade paths through Leaf from the Aptus II series and of course will give you an upgrade discount (like they did with my Hasselblad H3Dii-39ms) I purchased my PhaseOne IQ180 from them. You can contact them through their website http://www.digitaltransitions.com via E-mail, by Phone or in person and I can assure you that they will respond in a timely manner to your inquiries.