Hands on Experience: Leaf Credo 80 with Full Resolution Sample Images
Last week Digital Transitions was nice enough to host me all day while they had an event at which their Mamiya Leaf rep brought a Leaf Credo 80 digital back. Throughout this day, I was able to shoot with the camera for extended periods of time, and observe how it performed on both the PhaseOne / Mamiya Leaf 645DF but also on the Cambo Wide Anniversary Edition technical plate camera.
As you may have seen in my Initial Impressions Report I had some high hopes for this camera, after having been previously let down during my personal experiences with Leaf digital backs. This camera offers a number of improvements (and even a few little innovations) which certainly make it a big improvement over the previous designs. Its good to see that Leaf was able to learn a thing or two from PhaseOne and still apply some of their technology to the camera. It will has specific characteristics which will allow it to appeal to different people then those who would be shopping for a PhaseOne IQ180. That being said, it also has some limitations on features which the PhaseOne IQ180 has; this has allowed them to create a place for this camera in the PhaseOne / Mamiya Leaf lineup of cameras.
At the bottom of this article, there is a link to the dropbox folder which contains the full RAW images from the Mamiya Leaf Credo 80 discussed in this article, as well as the comparison files from the PhaseOne IQ180 and PhaseOne P65+ which are referenced.
The camera shares some of the same parts as the PhaseOne IQ series, that is to say an all aluminum body, and if you put them side by side, you see on the mount side of the back they are identical. That being said, the Leaf Credo is still built in Israel, and of course the PhaseOne IQ is made in Denmark. Leaf has distinguished their Aptus line of digital backs by their touch screens. They were not as high quality as the smaller screens on the PhaseOne P+ line of backs and offered a different interface. They have kept the touchscreen capabilities on the Credo line of cameras. They have used the same screen technology as the PhaseOne IQ series which means that they have gesture controls. However, Leaf has taken it a step further then Phase did and have gotten rid of the buttons all together from the back of the camera. The back is now one sleek sheet of glass. There are still the four corners which are now icons instead of the 4 button set up established by Phase. The power button and the status light have now been moved to the top of the camera. The power button is sort of irrelevant in its positioning because of the fact that you have to press it either way and as long as its not excessively difficult there isn’t going to be an issue. However, placing the status light, which lets you know if the Credo back is processing your files, ready to shoot, and so ons position can make a difference. Especially if you are a PhaseOne shooter you are used to looking at the digital back’s screen for everything. Leaf’s decision to move the status light to the top still works based on my experience. This is because, I found that the times when I was interested to see what this light was indicating were also when I was fiddling with dials or something like that, at which point the camera was not right up against my face. So, in this way looking at the top versus the back, although minor, may offer some improved functionality which could also help when using it on a tripod or with technical cameras depending on how you have the camera set up. This was one of the more minor changes to the system.
The removal of buttons from the back is interesting, and might not be something that everyone likes. Personally, I don’t mind the buttons on the IQ180 and honestly don’t think that there is any advantage to one over the other. That being said the Leaf Credo is certainly a bit cooler in this area. The icons are backlit which certainly would help with seeing them in darker environments. This is something that I absolutely love about my Nikon D4 since I am usually shooting it in excessively dark conditions being able to light up the controls is certainly a feather in the cameras cap. Again, whether this is a bonus depends on you, but I think it is nice to have a camera out there which offers this feature in medium format digital. The icons are also intelligent. By this I mean that they are only illuminated when there is something that you can do with them. A perfect example of this is the icon in the lower right hand corner of the Credo screen surface. This icon, is the contextual menu’s icon and it is only illuminated when there are sub-options for you to access.
The backs touch screen functions in exactly the same way as on the PhaseOne IQ series. However, they do not use the same software. For the Credo, Leaf has developed their own firmware which handles functionality slightly differently then the PhaseOne IQ’s software. I had always found the Leaf Aptus software to be cumbersome and counter-intuitive to getting anything done. I appreciate that like anything, once you learn it is easy, but it certainly has more of a learning curve then other cameras out there. Again, this has been totally changed with the Mamiya Leaf Credo, you can see this right away when you look at the new home screen. It again, steps forward by introducing an entirely new user interface for quicker and more efficient access to everything. It has been greatly clarified and functions in many ways like the IQ series’ software. Its changes are actually, slightly better if you ask me. Here Mamiya Leaf has innovated. Instead of scrolling up and down menus, Leaf’s software engineers have embraced the touchscreen display and created a system, not unlike Apple’s iOS system, in which you scroll to the side to access the different panes of the menu screens. An added benefit of this of the pagination of the menus rather then a system where you scroll up and down is that without pagination you are scrolling up and down and menu times don’t have a set or specific location that can be memorized. It is much easier to direct someone in the use of the camera, because you can say “scroll to the 4th page” instead of “scroll down until you it”. This works really well and helps more then anything else to make this camera as useable as others on the market. Here, Leaf took a cue from Canon’s multiple utility menus. As an aside, they also have created backgrounds to the pages which have lightly watermarked labels for what menu you are in. As you can see in the Youtube Video that we made when you are in the White Balance menu, there is a light “WB” watermarked on the background and this carries through to other means like the ISO screen (which is much more accessible in Leaf’s new software) as well as others. Another change is that, when you look at a picture on the back of the PhaseOne IQ series, the Histogram, Roll and Pitch, and Highlight warning are on the right side of the screen, on the Leaf Credo, they are now on the left side All and all the user interface has been totally overhauled and is now something that is not a strike against the camera but a point in the cameras favor.
Other then that the body of the Mamiya Leaf Credo back is pretty much what you would expect and set up like the IQ series. Another one of the major grievances I had with the Aptus series digital backs, and a bit of a gripe I have had with Leaf is that they had made it virtually impossible to find a product shot of the camera which illustrates the fact that the battery hangs off of the bottom of the camera and is fully exposed, along with its electronic contacts to the world. Obviously, this means that this is someplace where dust and moisture could have gotten into the body and messed with your thousands of dollars of electronics. Also on a bit of a digression, the thankfully got rid of the open grilled fan on the side of the camera, opting for the passive cooling technology of the PhaseOne IQ series, which allows for better weather sealing. Aside from its obvious benefits to the help of the back, the internally stored battery is considerably more aesthetically pleasing and unquestionably increases its usability because of the battery’s repositioning. My gripe with Leaf was also resolved in this, and anecdotally when I questioned someone with the company about why they didn’t show the external battery attached to the Leaf Aptus digital back, their humorous response was “would you have?” which of course, could only be answered with a simple “no.” on my part. Also, now that the battery has been moved internally, instead of being on the bottom, covering the firewire port, the Credo is less prone to voltage issues which have been a problem in the past when shooting digital backs tethered. Even though there is an IEEE standard for firewire, like any standard, just because it exists doesn’t mean that it is met by manufacturers. Mac’s haven’t had the best track record with firewire voltage, and when using a Leaf Aptus digital back with PC’s you had to use a powered firewire hub. The Leaf Credo fixes this with its internal battery.
The camera features the same Firewire connection as the IQ series as well as the USB 3.0 port on the left hand side of the back placed below the card slot door and sync ports like the PhaseOne IQ series. USB 3.0 would seem to be the technology of the future. It is the type of USB connection which is featured on Apple’s new line of MacBook Pro’s along with their proprietary thunderbolt ports. While the PhaseOne has included USB 3.0 in the IQ series, it has not yet been enabled in firmware. I am told that we will be hearing about USB 3.0′s future with the IQ series later this summer. Although, not to fear because there is a Firewire to Thunderbolt dongle available so you can still shoot firewire tethered on the latest generation of MBP’s. The battery in the new Mamiya Leaf Credo also acts as a regulator for the Firewire and USB connections. It will trickle charge the battery, however if you are running on a better powered laptop you can disable this function in the menus, and simply carry more batteries. Conveniently now the Credo uses the same batteries as the IQ series with a small exception. Unlike the PhaseOne IQ series, which shipped with 2600 milliamp batteries, the Credo will be shipping with 2900 milliamp versions of the battery…..or so my sources tell me.
The serial number on the bottom of the camera that we had for testing at DT was number 000025 which shows where it stands in the production line, and it is in fact only the second Credo body to be brought to the United States. While it is still pre-production we were given the go-ahead to publish images taken with it for analysis of its performance and comparisons to other medium format digital backs out there, specifically its competition from PhaseOne.
Leaf has always been known for the special profiles which, through clever programming, have allowed for their files to become renowned for their skin tones by some. Personally, for me this sounds sort of gimmicky and like people have drunk the cool aide on it. But, that being said when looking at the sample images below, and as we discuss them, judge for yourself which you like better.
Mamiya Leaf Credo 80 (Left) and PhaseOne IQ180 (Right)
PhaseOne 645DF with Profoto D1 lights and PhaseOne SK 80mm f/2.8 LS D at f/11 1/200th and ISO 50