New PhaseOne XF Camera Body Announced

PhaseOne XF

It’s finally here, after all the years, after all the rumors, and after all the late breaking leaks, the new PhaseOne XF body has been announced. The new PhaseOne XF body replaces the aging 645DF plus platform and replaces it with a truly modern medium format digital platform for those who need that. The last model of Mamiya 645 based cameras, the 645DF+ didn’t differ that much from the original Mamiya 645AF which was released in September of 1999. Yes improvements were made and compatibility added for Digital Backs and Leaf Shutter lenses, but the fact of the matter is this system (as well as the Hasselblad H released at Photokina in 2002) have remained substantively unchanged for over a decade. As digital backs have become more advanced and as users have come to expect more out of their modern cameras (due to rapid advancements in ILC’s and DSLR’s), the MamiyaLeaf / PhaseOne 645DF+ and Hasselblad H bodies could not keep up. It should also be noted, that the XF camera body will be exclusive to PhaseOne, and will not be offered in a MamiyaLeaf variant.

Before beginning to comment on this camera, it should be noted that I have not handled it, but I hope to as soon as possible, and hopefully also be able to produce a video showcasing some of its features. For more information, head over to Digital Transitions website to read more about new features on the PhaseOne XF.

After seeing the basically the same camera body on all PhaseOne cameras for the past decade, it is refreshing to see a new design on the PhaseOne XF. Other then for aesthetic reasons, this camera is necessarily physically different because of all of its new features. I like the design, its reminiscent of more robust earlier film cameras like the Mamiya M645 as well as others. The PhaseOne XF takes design cues from the PhaseOne IQ series of digital backs and seems to flow as an extension of this.

The design is much more then a pretty face, and it has modularity, and customizability at its core. The most notable design feature, and one that was noted as lacking on the 645DF+ (compared to the Hasselblad H System) was a waist level viewfinder (WLF), which has been added on the PhaseOne XF camera body. Even with added modularity (which could create weak points), PhaseOne has beefed up the camera to make it significantly more durable and robust. This comes at a price, of a slightly heavier camera body. I can only speak for myself, but I am happy to carry a bit more weight for a lot more durability. Another interesting physical feature is that all ports are now covered like the firewire port on an IQ series digital back without the need to worry about loosing the small rubber covers that plagued the 645DF+ (and earlier models).

In terms of physical added modularity, there are two big changes. The addition of a modular viewfinder has opened up new doors in creative uses of the PhaseOne platform. Medium format photography was created with the Hasselblad V system, with the idea of modularity and this is something that has carried through to today allowing photographers to create a camera that works for them for their applications. The waist level viewfinder will be a great addition to the system that many photographers across different types of photography have requested. Hasselblad V series users have enjoyed this feature for 60 years, and Hasselblad H users, and Contax 645 users have also had access to WLF viewfinders for years. One slight bummer with the WLF is that you will not be able to see exposure information when using the WLF the way you will with the normal 90 degree viewfinder. Speaking of the 90 degree viewfinder, it is supposed to be much brighter then the 645DF+ which should allow for some interesting improvements in the uses of slower lenses including my Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO and Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lenses.

More exciting (also in the vein of manual focus lenses), as the addition of interchangeable focusing screens on the PhaseOne XF camera body. You can now choose between Matte, Split, and Center Prism screens on the XF camera body. I am sure that others like Bill Maxwell will also offer focusing screens for these cameras in different flavors. One of the problems with the Mamiya 645AFD and PhaseOne 645DF platforms was that, while their screens were interchangeable it was a much more difficult process (I am not the foremost expert on this but I will try and explain as best I can). Basically, the way the 645DF (and earlier) bodies were made, the focusing screens would be warped during manufacturing, this wasn’t a problem because calibration of the sensors was done after this process occurred, this meant that despite an individual body/screens warping the camera would be correctly calibrated. However, this also meant that if you swapped out the focusing screen for a new custom one, the camera would have to be recalibrate. This is because the new focusing screen would be flat, and this is not what the Mamiya/PhaseOne bodies were calibrated for. So while these screens were interchangeable, they were not easily interchangeable because of the re-calibibration that was necessary. I assume the modular PhaseOne XF will feature a focus screen changing system similar to the Hasselblad V and Hasselblad H series cameras, which is very easy taking mere seconds.

The PhaseOne XF camera body brings in amazing new customizability thanks to its many user programmable buttons, as well as its new touch control panel on the top o the camera. This means that users will be able to decide what they want where, and more interestingly how they want it to act. You will be able to customize not just the feature that the controls access, but also how the controls function. If you like you shutter speed or aperture dials to rotate in a particular way, you will now be able to do that. This is great customizability that the 645DF+ was lacking due to its confusing and arcane menu system. One feature that I am particularly excited to be able to map to a specific button is the Automatic Hyperlocal Focusing mode, which does exactly what it sounds like based on the lens attached. This is great and will allow for “mystical”  hyperfocal focusing to be done with ease.

Speaking of focusing, the PhaseOne XF camera body has a new, in-house autofocus system that they are calling the Honeybee focusing system (don’t ask me why). I’m not the best person to explain the intricacies of this focusing system, but the fact of the matter is it should be much better then the current focusing system which isn’t always the best. I believe it does this through a small new CMOS style AF sensor that should decrease focusing errors. While this is all very exciting, one thing that users have cried out for is movable auto-focus points, unfortunately we will have to keep waiting. While more accurate, center point focusing only is a great disappointment. I don’t really care what reasons (excuses) are offered for this, its a extremely important feature that all DLSR’s have, and would be a defining feature of a modern medium format camera body. As far as I am concerned, this is really the biggest blunder of this camera.

But now to something much more exciting! The PhaseOne XF camera body will now use the same rechargeable batteries as the PhaseOne digital backs! This is huge, and awesome and makes life much easier. An independent company and then PhaseOne released a different rechargeable battery solution for the 645DF+ camera body, however this was a pain since it meant another charger, and an oddly shaped battery to carry. So I am quite pleased with this improvement since the PhaseOne DB batteries are very easy to carry and use. Also, the XF and IQ3 series will be able to share power when put together, which is one of the interesting new features of the IQ3 series (discussed below).

More of a line-item then anything else, yet still worth talking about a Profoto wireless trigger is now integrated into the PhaseOne XF camera body with a 20m range. It seems as if they may have done away with the V-Grip Air, which is a bit of a bummer. Yes, one part of the V-Grip Air was the added Profoto wireless integration, but the biggest things for me were the additional battery compartment and the added ergonomics of the shutter release, the V-Grip basically lives on my 645DF camera body. Hopefully this is something that they will bring back.

Update: I have been told that, if there is enough demand a vertical grip solution of the new XF camera body will be provide, so make sure you tell your dealer that you want one! I sure do. 

The PhaseOne XF also features an accelerometer and 6-axis Gyro. Which I understand will become powerful tools as new features are added to this body through firmware upgrades. At release, an interesting feature resulting from these components is the “Seismographic mode”. This mode, uses mirror lock up (MLU) + a timer, with the aforementioned sensors to reduce vibrations when taking long exposure images. It does this by monitoring vibrations until they are reduced and then fires the camera shutter at this optimal moment. I believe this feature may only work with Leaf Shutter lenses, but I will update when this has been confirmed for me. Either way, really cool feature that takes advantage of these fancy new components, it will be exciting to see what else they will be able to do in the future (maybe tracking motion, so that a image-stabalization like de-blur feature can be used in C1?, after all once you have the movement data, its just math SEE BELOW).

Update: Seismographic mode can be used with all lenses, however it will be most effective with leaf shutter lenses, given the vibration reduction inherent in not using the focal plane shutter. 

Also, we should be very excited about the possibilities of the accelerometer, at the time of my initial writing I was not aware of this, however a US Patent #US6747690 B2 entitled Digital camera with integrated accelerometers filed by PhaseOne a number of years ago suggests in its abstract that “Data relating to static and dynamic accelerations are stored with recorded image data for further processing, such as for correcting image data for roll, pitch and vibrations … Data may also be used on-the-fly for smear suppression caused by vibrations.” There are other  PhaseOne patents that deal with the accelerometer, but this one would suggest that what I alluded to above could very much be on the menu in the not too distant future, and would certainly be a modern feature!

Along with the large degree of user customizability in the physical features, the Firmware of the PhaseOne XF will also be easily upgradable as new features are enabled. While details of future features are scarce at launch, there are a number of exciting possibilities given the large degree of integration between digital backs and the camera body that the XF platform offers.

CaptureOne 8.3, will also feature much more integration of camera body controls (as you would expect) with the PhaseoOne XF body. This is great since it opens up new possibilities for remote control of the camera for stability as well as creative image making where the camera controls might be inaccessible.

The PhaseOne XF camera body will be compatible with the new PhaseOne IQ3 series cameras (launched with the XF) as well as with IQ2 and IQ1 series digital backs. P+ back compatibility will not be included, which I imagine has more to do with their being less useful given their lack of potential for integration into the XF then anything else. IQ3 series backs will be fully integrated into the PhaseOne XF, which (to me) is hauntingly reminiscent of the Hasselblad closed system that started with the H3D under similar auspices. However, will tighter integration is offered, it is still very much an open system. IQ2 series digital backs will be able to access most of the integrated features that the IQ3 will enjoy through a firmware upgrade. The IQ1 series of digital backs will not be able to enjoy this integration, however will still be usable on the PhaseOne XF, and will be able to enjoy the new features of the camera body.

Two new lenses have been announced. A Leaf shutter 120mm f/4 macro lens (which has been a long time coming), as well as a new leaf shutter 35mm f/3.5 wide angle lens with a new optical formula. I’m sure people will love the LS ability on the 120mm lenses, but I am most excited about the new design 35mm lens which should be a nice upgrade to the aging Mamiya 35mm f/3.5D lens (which I have been using a lot more recently). An exciting new feature of the PhaseOne XF camera body is that it will have new, lens specific focus calibration that is user customizable. For these two new lenses, it will be based on serial number, allowing for the greatest customization possible for optimal focusing. With older lenses, these features will be available but they will be focal-length specific rather then lens specific, great new feature to help improve image quality if you ask me.

As mentioned the PhaseOne IQ3 will offer higher integration with the PhaseOne XF camera body. This will be done mostly through the greater control given to the entire system through CaptureOne. There will also be a new power share feature allowing for the back and body to power each other which is also nice to allow for extended shooting if one runs out of power. I will be following up in much greater detail about the IQ3 series digital backs later today (and will link to that here).

To conclude, I will say that the PhaseOne XF camera body offers many neat new features that we have wanted for a long time. It is the most modern medium format digital camera body, however it is still far off from the most lame DLSR. That being said, its the best we’ve got (re-modern features) so thats something. I will be interested to see how some of the new features discussed above work (particularly the autofocus with AF lenses as well as how it helps in Manual Focus only lens focusing). All of these new features are all well and good, but lets see what they are going to cost…

First, according to Lance Schad (link to direct email) of Digital Transitions, there will be an upgrade program for PhaseOne 645DF and 645DF+ users, with more information to come on this in the near future. For the moment, pricing stands as follows:

  • XF Camera Body, Prism Viewfinder, 80mm LS Lens -$8,990.00
  •  XF Camera Body with Prism Viewfinder – $7,990.00
  •  XF Camera Body (no viewfinder) – $6,490.00
  •  XF Prism Viewfinder – $2,490.00
  •  XF Waist Level Finder – $790.00

You can also find a full summary of the PhaseOne XF camera body’s features below courtesy of Digital Transitions my preferred PhaseOne Dealer:

PhaseOne XF Featurese

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