Mamiya Cameras

PDN PhotoPlus Expo 2012 and ShootNYC 2012

Welcome to my PDN PhotoPlus Expo 2012 (and ShootNYC 2012) coverage. This year did not bring too many shocking changes however there are still some noteworthy products, especially from lens makers Carl Zeiss and Schneider Optics (as well as others) which highlight good trends in photography for the next few years. It also features interviews with Multistitch, Nikon, Cokin Filters, Olympus, PhaseOne, and Hasselblad (ShootNYC).

PhaseOne

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I will be doing a full and In-depth review of PhaseOne CaptureOne 7 Pro in a week or so. However, until then, Doug Peterson from Digital Transitions introduces and goes through some of the key features and improvements in C1 7 Pro.

Carl Zeiss

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At Photokina 2012, Carl Zeiss announced a number of new products, and most notably two new series of lenses for markets that that they had not previously addressed. They also announced the 135mm f/2.0 APO-Sonnar lens which is available in both ZE (Canon) and ZF.2 (Nikon) mounts. This lens had only previously been available in the CP.2 cine series of lenses and is now re-housed like the rest of their prime lens series for 35mm cameras. Next, Carl Zeiss announced (at Photokina) the production of lenses for the Sony NEX mount as well as the Fuji X mount (for the X-Pro 1 and X-E1 digital cameras). These are in fact, all metal lenses, with superior optics as well as autofocus. Carl Zeiss’s 35mm lenses (excluding designs for Sony) have all been manual focus and this is a pleasant change. It is in fact good that they are recognizing that a) not everyone wants to shoot manual focus 100% of the time and b) that manual focus is sometimes less practical on smaller format cameras. The final and most interesting new series of lenses that Carl Zeiss has announced are their new line of high resolution lenses for digital cameras. The first lens they have announced in this series is the Distagon 55mm f/1.4 ZF.2 lens (which I believe will also be available in Canon mount). This is an outstanding lens, and I look forward to it as well as the other lenses that they will produce in this series. All of these lenses are excellent and show us that serious lens manufacturers are starting to see the potential in smaller formats, and are now producing lens for them like they have in the past. To a sceptic of the smaller formats like myself, this is an interesting development (especially in sub-35mm formats) because considering the pedigree of these companies and lineage of lenses they have produced, their nod of approval can be seen to offer confirmation of the quality of these smaller cameras. Of course, it could also be a directive from the business office to boost profits, but hey I guess I am an optimist. 

I have always enjoyed the 135mm focal length when I have had chances to shoot it. I say when I have had chances to shoot it because, I have not owned a 135mm lens ever. I have eyed the Nikon, Canon (and Leica) lenses of this focal length, however have not committed to them. The Nikon 135mm f/2.0 DC AF lens is outdated and due for an update with newer lens coatings, autofocus, and overall build quality. The newer Nikon 85mm f/1.4G is superior to the 85mm f/1.4D (I still have both but thats another story) and the change between these two lenses (the 85mm f/1.4D is comparable to the 135mm since they were from the same time period) is enough to make me wait for Nikon’s updated version of this lens. Canon has had an autofocus 135mm f/2.0 lens for some time and by all accounts it is supposed to be absolutely amazing performance wise and I would have to agree. Of course these lenses have Autofocus, something that this Carl Zeiss 135mm lacks. However, the control afforded by manual focus (something which is executed excellently by Carl Zeiss) combined with the accurate focus confirmation systems of newer DSLR’s makes it a wholly usable lens, and not a significant inconvenience. The lens is built excellently (of course) and preforms very well (as you can see from the samples below taken on the Canon 5D MrkII).

My first introduction to the Carl Zeiss telephoto lenses was the 100mm Macro, which preforms excellently both optically as well as functionally with a smooth and long focus throw which is pleasant to use. This 135mm preforms very similarly in terms of its functionality and its optics are no slouch, when this optic becomes available later this year, It will definitely be coming home with me.

Carl Zeiss only offered prototypes for viewing at PDN PhotoPlus Expo 2012 showing the final designs for the lens bodies which are all metal and come with screw in metal lens hoods. These touches are very nice considering that the majority of smaller-format lenses lack these touches. The lenses also have autofocus which is a pleasant change from their manual focus lineups of lenses. I have no doubt that they will preform very well and am curious to see their performance as well as what other focal lengths they will announce in the future. These lenses are a pleasant and realistic change compared to the Carl Zeiss lenses which are provided for the Sony system which are manufactured by Sony and not Carl Zeiss. However these lenses are produced in Germany by Carl Zeiss and I have no doubt that this difference will show in their performance. I am slightly disappointed that Carl Zeiss has not announced any plans to produce lenses for Micro Four-Thirds cameras (which you would assume would be an easy thing to do considering they have developed these lenses for the NEX and X-Pro 1 systems already) but I am willing to bet (and this is 100% conjecture) that this may happen in the future.

The Carl Zeiss Distagon 55mm f/1.4 is an entirely new design produced by Carl Zeiss for newer high-megapixel 35mm cameras (specifically like the Nikon D800 and D800e) which are considerably more demanding on lenses then older smaller megapixel count sensors and cameras. The lens is exceptionally well built and has a very very nice rubber focusing ring which is silky smooth to touch and operate. One concern that I have however is that the focusing distance “screen” does not seem to be weather sealed which can be an issue when taking this lens outdoors (where you will be wanting to use it). Considering the exceptional built quality of this lens, and the fact that it is not obviously a studio lens, I am willing to be that this lens is in fact either weather sealed or will be before it ships. The staff at the booth, were not briefed about this subject and could not offer any insight into whether it was currently weather sealed or would be prior to launch.

 f/2.8

 f/1.4

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However as we can see, optically it preforms great. These sample shots were taken with my Nikon D3s and were shot at f/1.4 and f/2.8, and even on the D3s which has a lower megapixel count (then the newer D4 which I was shooting the videos with, and the D800/D800e) the excellent sharpness and overall performance of this lens can be seen.

Multistitch

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Multistitch is accessory/tool/solution for use with 4×5 cameras and digital capture. It allows for every conceivable medium format digital mount as well as 35mm cameras to be used with it (or course on different versions of the plate). The Multistitch is essentially a plate which is attached to the back of a braflok back 4×5 camera (almost every 4×5 camera) after focusing and composing and removing the ground glass focusing screen. The premise is by flipping the orientation of the digital back 4x times you can cover a larger image area (with overlap) to extend the usefulness of older digital backs (a 22mp will become approx. a 75mp effective resolution) through stitching in photoshop (or other software). The video demonstration above demonstrates this tool rather effectively, and I will be getting my hands on both the 35mm version (most likely Nikon mount) as well as the PhaseOne 645DF M-Mount versions for review since it seems to be an interesting solution for using full view-camera movements in the studio (and possibly the field?) from a 4×5 camera with digital capture technology.

 Nikon

Nikon was not terribly interesting for me this year, considering they did not announce anything of any terrible significance to me this year. They did just announce (and show for the first time) the new Nikon V2 camera, the successor to the V1, which I am only pleased with in the sense that it is good that it gets back a real grip, and some of the practical form factor of DSLR’s. I believe that the most serious small-sensored cameras are those which do not abandon the SLR / DSLR form factor. One lens that I would be interested in experiencing on this camera was the also newly announced development of a 30mm (32mm?) f/1.2 lens for the Nikon mirror less system. Mirrorless systems afford great low-light opportunities with a slew of f/1.4, f/1.2, and f/0.95 lenses which offer all sorts of creative possibilities. While in this case, this one lens does not sell a system to me, if they continue with some ultra-fast autofocus lenses, it could have some potential, however knowing the larger camera manufacturers, they live to disappoint. Micro Four-Thirds has considerably more fast lenses available which makes it a considerably more attractive system since it has a number of native f/1.8, f/1.4, f/0.95 lenses across a number of focal lengths, not to mention the ability to accept Leica M lenses (via adapters) which are generally f/2.0 or faster. Anyway they had these two mirror less products, as well as my favorite part, the ultra-telephoto section where they had all of their extreme telephoto lenses mounted on D4′s to play with. Included in these is the spectacular 800mm f/5.6 (their longest production autofocus lens) which will unquestionably be accompanying me on safari if I ever so choose to go on one.

 Olympus

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Olympus has been doing a considerably good job of late surprising me with the quality of products they are putting out. The OM-D EM-5 is the closest I have come to date to buying a Micro Four-Thirds camera. It preforms very well and has a number of very interesting and high quality lenses available for it. Olympus has made some absolutely and insanely impressive Four-Thirds lenses, which can be used on this camera (with autofocus via adapter) as well as a number of Micro Four-Thirds lenses which do not disappoint. They have released a series of high quality metal bodied lenses, which are a step up from their normal Micro Four-Thirds fare in the past which has been quite pleasing. Now, they have shown to me for the first time the outstanding new 75mm f/1.8 and 60mm  f/2.4 Macro lens which are exceptional to say the least. Unfortunately, I forgot an SD card, so you will have to believe me that these cameras and lenses offer exceptional image quality.

 

The 75mm f/1.8 is Olympus’s high-quality / fast / telephoto solution  which is a very substantial lens. It is heavy, all metal and can be felt to contain some serious glass. While it is large, it does surprisingly fit very comfortably in the hand, and on the camera when being held and is not oppressively big like a Leica Noctilux on an M9. Olympus has done a very good job of balancing the weight of this large lens with the diminutive weight of the OM-D EM-5 body. The lens offers very quick autofocus, as well as buttery smooth manual focus, which is atypical of lenses for this system, however should be expected of this ~1000 dollar beast of a lens. Bokeh is nothing short of astounding and focused areas are rendered beautifully sharp. If you plan on doing street photography, or any kind of portraits with this camera, the 75mm f/1.8 lens is THE lens to get. If I get a Micro Four-Thirds camera system, this will absolutely be one of the lenses that I buy. The lens also offers silent focusing for both still and more relevantly movie recording. (I am not sure if this lens is weather-sealed but I would assume so)

 

The 60mm f/2.4 Macro is another exceptional lens for the Micro Four-Thirds system. It is built just as excellently as the 75mm f/1.8 lens and offers the possibility of 1:1 macro photography. This lens is fully weather-sealed and features a clever autofocus control dial on the left hand side of the lens barrel. It offers close-focus, full-focus, and far-focus switches as well as a clever fourth switch which sets the lens to its closest 1:1 macro focus setting. This then allows for the user to move the camera closer and further from the subject until it is in focus. This may sound tedious or confusing, and I may have poorly described it, but it is a good feature which makes macro work easier, and certainly faster which can be essentially when photographing things like insects.

 Schneider-Kreuznach

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Schneider is currently doing the same thing as Carl Zeiss in terms of diversifying their lens portfolios. To me, Schneider is personally the finer of the two companies, considering they still make Large Format lenses etc. They also happen to make the excellent series of Leaf Shutter lenses for PhaseOne/MamiyaLeaf. At Photokina Schneider announced plans for expending their 35mm lens line from just Tilt-Shift lenses to regular lenses as well. They also announced plans for Micro Four-Thirds lenses as well (which makes sense they are part of the Micro Four-Thirds consortium). Both of these series of lenses seem to be very high quality, and I was able to get some hands on time with one of the lenses in their new 35mm line up, the 85mm Makro lens in Nikon mount. They will also be producing a normal and wide lens in this series which will be manual focus exactly like the Carl Zeiss lenses. The lenses are amazingly superbly made, and I slightly prefer them to the Carl Zeiss lenses however they are are all excellent in terms of built quality. Unfortunately they did not their Micro Four-Thirds lenses on display at PDN Photoplus. but hey they did have the iPro iPhone lens and case system, lol. 

Schneider had two new lenses that they announced at Photokina 2012 on display. They had a new 28mm f/4.5 perspective control lens in Nikon, Canon, Sony or Pentax mounts. It features 8 degrees of tilt and 12mm of shit and offers the same fully rotatable design feature like the companies other perspective control lenses. The other and more significant series of lenses they announced are a new line of standard lenses for 35mm cameras. The lens that they had on display (still a prototype) was the 85mm Makro f/2.4 Symmar lens. This series is also announced to have 50mm f/1.8 and 35mm f/1.8 variants which are very high quality lenses for DSLR’s. They offer electronic integration for control of the aperture with Nikon (and possibly Canon) mounts. As you can see from these samples, the lens is very however seems to suffer from chromatic aberration (purple/green) but this seems to be something in the coatings which will be worked out before the lenses are shipping, this I have no doubt. However as can be seen in the second shot, the lens offers very nice out of focus elements, and sharpness which are quite pleasant and this lens is a pleasant focal length to have for macro especially if you want to take advantage of it for creative portraiture at close working distances. I am pleased to see these lenses as well as the the other lenses in the series and these along with the new Zeiss lenses may compliment each other nicely for a high quality lens set.

Schneider’s Micro Four-Thirds lenses are a very good sign, because these are some high quality optics which offer autofocus and excellent built quality. There are a ton of very high quality optics which can be used on Micro Four-Thirds however many of them are not purpose built (e.g Leica lenses et al.). There are some higher quality and unique optics available for Micro Four-Thirds like those offered by Voigtlander (manual focus f/0.95 lenses) and SLR Magic’s less high-quality and more creative lens solutions. So Schneider’s lenses will be welcome additions to the line-up of high quality optics like the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 and 60mm f/2.4 and other m4/3′s lenses. Again, do not doubt that they will be excellent, and certainly if I decide to purchase a Micro Four-Thirds these will also be coming home with me.

Cokin Filters

Hidden away in a distributors both (notice I say A distributor to hide the fact that I don’t remember which one) were these new Cokin UV MCUltra-Slim screw in filters. These are absolutely categorically the thinnest filters I have ever seen. You cannot believe how thin these are and pictures do not do them justice. They will be available around January and I am very eager to get my hands on these. If when tested they do not degrade image quality in any observable way (only the worst quality filters do this of course) then they will be unquestionably going on all of my lenses (except PhaseOne but that’s a different story too). It’s always great to find these little things that do in fact make a difference, however are almost never covered by anyone and consequently never noticed, but areundeniably still gems.

 

[Vulture Camera Straps]

Shoot NYC / Hasselblad 

Hasselblad announced the H5D, and the world sighed because they also released the Lunar which we will not even honor by discussing. However the H5D, like the PhaseOne 645DF+ also launched this week with CaptureOne Pro 7. The Hasselblad H5D offers slightly changed esthetics which were partially required for the technological changes which took place. However, we can all agree that it would have looked significantly better in all black. Officially, I was told that the camera looked “too small” in all black (which was done as a prototype) to which I sardonically replied “oh god, who would want a camera to look smaller!”. It would have looked better in all black like everyone else, but oh well we can’t have everything. The user interface which has remained virtually unchanged in the H series camera since its creation has finally been giving a 21st century re-vamp. The bottoms on the digital back portion of the camera (I pause before saying digital back because if its a closed system, is it originally a back?) have been changed and now function considerably better then they did before. The GUI on the back of the camera has also been improved and is much more responsive and fluid then the previous version, although maintaining the same design it is entirely new and much better then previous versions. The camera’s weather sealing has been improved and a number of small places where water could get in have now been sealed. The CF slot door, is no longer a flip open, but must be slid back to be opened and has silicone/rubber weather. The viewfinder has now had the seam treatment (since it is removable from the body) and the contact areas between the back and the camera have also been given this treatment. The camera also runs off a battery that is 50% more powerful, since the new electronics in the camera require more power. However the new battery can also be used on previous generations of H series cameras giving them a longer lasting battery.The camera’s top controls have been rearranged. However most importantly, the back of the camera can now be scrolled through using the two wheels available to the right hand when gripping the camera. These can be used to pan through images (which is considerably more responsive and does not need time to buffer on the higher quality screen on the back) as well as to zoom in and around an image which makes shooting with the camera considerably more pleasant. These controls can also be used when accessing the menus on the back of the camera to make selections.

The firewire port has also received a bit of a revamping which could be a curse or a blessing depending on how you look at it. First the firewire port has a protective door which can be slit back (and will snap back into place when released) which is part of the weather sealing improvements on this camera. The firewire cable itself has also received some improvements. Firstly, it should be noted that any FIrewire 800 cable can still be used with the camera, however Hasselblad has

produced their own cable with a few unique features. Rather then sticking directly out of the camera, Hasselblad has introduced a Firewire cord with a 90 degree bend in it, which helps to manage wires. If this was the only reason for this unquestionably expensive Firewire cord, it would be ridiculous however, it also features a proprietary mechanism (known to us lay folk as a groove) in it, which allows for it to be locked into the camera when inserted. This means that the cord cannot be accidentally pulled from the camera during shooting. Conversely as Hasselblad acknowledged, this means if the cord is pulled, the camera is going down with
it…..So you decide for yourself if this is an improvement or a poor idea. However this new connection is quite strong, another thing which Hasselblad was eager to point out, and demonstrate by inserting the cable and then tugging on it, while smiling, nodding its head and  saying “ah yes see it is quite strong!”. However, a comment was then made that the cable could support the weight of the camera entirely. Of course, being a bit of a sado-masochist I then encouraged/berated the gentleman helping me into holding the camera by the firewire cord in the air. At first he sheepishly did it holding his hand under the camera (not supporting it). However, I now fully engaged in this experience goaded him into removing his hand. Which, to his eternal credit he did in fact do, and the camera’s weight was in fact entirely supported by the cable. So Hasselblad (a term which I have used both to describe the company and the representative helping me) gets a few points for this, but again whether it is useful or not to you is an entirely different matter.

The next time you are in the Kandahar Valley in Afghanistan standing on the precipice of a extremely high cliff creating some fine art landscape images and are ambushed by the Taliban’s crack karate team, and within the tussle, your camera is thrown off the ledge and you are only able to grab the firewire cord right before it slips over the edge and into the abyss, you can feel safe in the knowledge that the camera will be safe and remain firmly affixed to the Firewire cable. 

In all seriousness though, the camera does offer some minor improvements over the older generation of H series cameras which may make it an attractive upgrade, however not as attractive as the H4x since the H4x is in fact an open system camera (meant to appease H1, and H2 owners who were pissed about Hasselblad’s closed and proprietary H3D and H4D systems. The sensors and image quality from the H5D are exactly the same as those within the H4D series of cameras, and the changes are entirely in the body of the camera. And while I, like may others dislike Hasselblad for a (growing) number of reasons, this camera does offer some improvements to those already invested in its system.

Hasselblad also had a few other announcements for us. They have released a new macro extension tube type device, which accomplishes closer

focusing not through adding distance between sensor and lens, but by adding optical elements which decrease the size of the adapter (which is

 

pleasant) making it much more comfortable to use on the camera with almost all of the lenses to allow closer focusing. To me, simply hearing about the idea, and not commenting on its image quality and optical performance, this seems like a very good idea, since I always like to be ableto have the option to get closer to a subject (thinking like when I am using the 80mm, 100mm, or 150mm lenses etc). Hasselblad also released a 24mm f/4.8 lens. It is a 1/3 or more stop slower then the Leica (Super-Elmar-S 24mm f/3.5 ASPH) and PhaseOne (Schneider-Kreuznach 28mm f/4.5 LS D) equivalents which are going to be discussed further in my PhaseOne 28mm lens review which comments on both its namesake and these other newly released medium format ultra-wides. But anyway, the Hasselblad 24mm accepts huge 95mm filters, which is sort of an inconvenience but necessary evil for this lens. It is built and functions in the same was as all of the other Hasselblad lenses, which is to say excellently.

 

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.

Design

 

Mamiya Leaf Credo 80 Digital Back

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.

Performance 

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.

PhaseOne IQ180 and Mamiya Leaf Credo 80 Comparison Sample Images

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

Here are our first two sample images from the Leaf Credo 80 and PhaseOne IQ180. They both use the same 80 megapixel Dalsa chip, and the files were taken on the same camera with the same settings for both shots. This means that any differences are in the profiles and processing which the cameras did while recording the data captured when the photograph was taken. They were processed through capture one with absolutely no corrections to white balance, sharpness, contrast or anything else.
As we can see these images a very close. Certainly in terms of resolution and sharpness there is absolutely no difference. The PhaseOne IQ180 (right) seems to me to be a to have a tiny bit more contrast and a slight bit of saturation in the colors. For reference, I am looking at the eyes, scales to the right and carpet in the background when making these assertions. All and all very very close and nothing that couldn’t be changed in one to make it look like the other, so here we see no real difference.
Our next test images, were shot using a live subject’s hand to show off the skin tones capabilities of these cameras. This test was done for someone who came in, a PhaseOne P65+ user who works in fashion and wanted to compare the P65+, IQ180 and Leaf Credo 80. He knew he wanted the upgraded resolution offered by an 80 megapixel sensor but was now unsure as to whether he should be a PhaseOne or Leaf 80mp back. For me it would be a no-contest, however as he mentioned, he had heard things about the way that the Leaf digital backs handle skin tones and wanted to have some shots for reference to see if this was correct. Leaf made their name with their ICC profiles released for digital backs in 1992 with Leaf DCB. They have always focused on creating a range of profiles to accommodate and accurately render different skin tones.
PhaseOne P65+ and PhaseOne IQ180 and Leaf Credo 80 Sample Image Comparisons
PhaseOne IQ180 (Left) PhaseOne P65+ (Middle) Leaf Credo 80 (Right)
PhaseOne 645DF with SK 80mm f/2.8 LSD and Profoto Lights at ISO 50 f/11 and 1/200th
As you can see the 80mp files beat the 60mp PhaseOne P65+ in hand. They are more then acceptable files and of course all beat anything else out there in terms of resolution, dynamic range and so on. When looking at the 80mp files up against the P65+ we can see that they are worlds ahead. Looking at the joint above the ring we again can see that the Leaf and the PhaseOne are very close. As we observed above the PhaseOne seems to be slightly more contrasty and saturated then the file from the Leaf Credo 80. The Leaf Credo 80 seems to have recorded the skin tones in a much more neutral way which I suppose might make it more accurate and give you a blank slate to work from. Personally, having never compared a Leaf and PhaseOne file side by side would have been that the Phase and the Leaf results would have been flipped. I like to start with the a file when I am editing as natural as it can be and then work my way up to the results I want, the Leaf would certainly allow me to do this, but the PhaseOne IQ180 is right up there and certainly the Credo 80 File could be made to look like the IQ180 file and the IQ180 file could be made to look like the Credo 80 file with a little bit of work. That being said the Leaf certainly has a bit of an edge in the accurate skin tone reproduction category.  The P65+ isn’t even in contention here, seemingly possessing a slightly greenish hue to it.
Mamiya Leaf Credo 80 Sample Images ISO Series Performance
As you can see from this ISO series the Mamiya Leaf Credo 80 handles its entire ISO range very very well. This is not surprising since the PhaseOne IQ180, also handles its ISO range very well. Of course, by very well, I mean better then the higher ISO’s on previous MFDB’s. But since I own and use the IQ180 I can say with some confidence that these files look a little better coming out of camera then the IQ180 files do in noise performance. This could also be attributable to the fact that the cameras process the images differently as we talked about above. This is also a good transition into our next section, looking at the differences between the Mamiya Leaf Credo and the PhaseOne IQ series of MFDB’s. Especially if you look at the complete file (again, dropbox link below) you can see that, although there are significant impacts on the image quality at the higher ISO’s, if you step back and look at the file as a whole, its very impressive the way it these backs are still able to handle subtle graduations and shadows; of course not as well as the lower ISO’s. And it should be noted that this is still pre-release firmware so it is possible that in subsequent updates they will improve the cameras handling of high ISO’s before the camera starts shipping.
Compared to the Competition 
PhaseOne owns Leaf and is a majority shareholder in Mamiya. It seems that they will eventually merge them into one company (starting with Mamiya + Leaf becoming “Mamiya Leaf” which they have now decided to market jointly ) but no matter what they do the fact remains that these companies are not exactly competing anymore. This is more then apparent in the fact that they Mamiya Leaf Credo 80 and the PhaseOne IQ180 share the exact same sensor and more or less the same body work. However, there are still differences in the cameras, which will make one or the other appealing. On the surface, the differentiating factor between the PhaseOne and the Leaf is the price. So, what do you get for your extra ~$5,000. One major feature that should be noted is that the PhaseOne IQ series, includes the focus mask (which you know from Capture One) on the digital back itself. This is extremely helpful for checking focus in the field. This is especially helpful when using technical cameras, because you lack the ability to check focus through a viewfinder like on SLR style medium format cameras.
Another key difference is Sensor+. Sensor+ is PhaseOne’s technology, which allows for the use of the entire sensor, at lower resolutions to allow for an extended range of improved ISO performance. It lets the IQ180 get up to ISO 3200 at 20mp and significantly increases the shooting speed of the system. This feature is not included on the Mamiya Leaf Credo series of digital backs. The feature, may not be useful to some, especially if they are only shooting the camera in a studio where they will almost always be using the lower ISO’s. However, there are times when I have been caught in situations where I had the wrong camera, and it was nice to be able to pop the camera into Sensor+ and be able to still create useable shots in the ISO 800 to ISO 1600 range.
Now, going the other way, there are some things that the Mamiya Leaf Credo has that the IQ180 does not. The Mamiya Leaf Credo, as we discussed changes the button layout, and entirely removes them from the back of the camera. It also has a USB 3.0 connection on the left hand side of the camera, which is something that the PhaseOne IQ series does not have. Another interesting development, for the Hasselblad V mount version of this camera, is the ability to mount it vertically or horizontally, which had previously only been possible with the Aptus-II 12R with its internally rotating sensor. The Credo on the other hand can either be mounted in one direction or the other, which can be helpful depending on how you use your camera. I see it as less of an advantage when using a Hasselblad V series camera, but more so on technical cameras and for scientific applications where the cameras orientation can effect workflows and results.
There are also some features absent from the Credo which were available on the Aptus series of digital backs, other then the aforementioned rotatable sensor available on the V/AFi mounts of the Aptus. The flip up screen is also gone from the AFi interface, so if this helped you, you may be missing it. Unlike the Aptus series, the Credo cannot apply profiles in camera, i.e the ability to add metadata and so on. Another feature, one that will not be missed, is the old Leaf .MOS format is now gone. The Credo now uses the same format as the PhaseOne IQ ( IIQL/IIQS) and with that Leaf Capture is no more, and and the Credo is fully supported by PhaseOne’s excellent Capture One and it is also supported by Adobe Lightroom and ACR.
Conclusion
All and all the Mamiya Leaf Credo is a much better camera then its predecessors from Leaf. If you had been previously put off of Leaf for some of the issues addressed above, then it might be worth another look, since they have fixed some of the main gripes against the camera. Mainly, its all around exposure to the elements through its open fan on the side of the camera, and externally mounted battery and its poor user interface which had lead the Aptus series of digital backs to be considered by many as studio cameras. The Mamiya Leaf Credo 80 is certainly just as capable of being taken outside like PhaseOne’s digital backs, which have become known for their strength and physical durability.
Deciding whether this camera is for you, now comes down to features and price. The prices for medium format digital cameras are very high, Leaf’s less expensive option for a serious 80mp back for less money will help to open it up to those who had been put off by the slightly higher price of the PhaseOne IQ180, especially if they did not need its added features . If you do not need the features available for the extra money from PhaseOne’s IQ series, then the Leaf is worth a look. Certainly, if you like the way your Leaf back makes images at the moment the Credo is worth a look simply for its improvements ergonomically and functionality wise.
RAW Files
This is a link to the raw files used in this article which were captured with the Mamiya Leaf Credo 80 (also PhaseOne P65+ and PhaseOne IQ180). These files are for private use only and cannot be re-published anywhere else without written consent. By click on the link, you agree to these terms.
https://www.dropbox.com/sh/uziquezt32yhrjy/z4PGro1cGv


 

Initial Impressions: Leaf Credo Announcement

Leaf Credo Digital Back 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?

Leaf Aptus-II 10R Medium Format Digital Back Rotating SensorAs 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?

PhaseOne IQ Versus Leaf Credo

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.

Digital Transitions Logo

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.

In-depth review of the Hartblei Hcam B1

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The Hartblei Hcam B1 is a unique fusion of different formats and photographic ideas, which brings together some of the best elements of each. The Hcam body itself, is essentially the shutter, and aperture control. Various removable and customizable parts do everything else. The Hcam comes with a a Hasselblad V mount for its viewfinder. This allows you to use any viewfinders you have in this mount. This is especially useful if you already own a V system (I own the 503CW with two viewfinders) since you have access to some great, viewfinders. The camera comes native with a Canon EOS mount, with full aperture communication with the lens. You don’t have autofocus, but this is ok because of the way that the camera functions. With adapters (notably those from Novoflex), you have the opportunity to use lenses like Nikon’s F mount (and G with a specific adapter with aperture control) Leica R, Pentax 67, Pentax 645, Mamiya M, Hasselblad V and many other lenses with the plethora of adapters out there.

Also please note, the areas which are intended like this, include comments from the creator of the camera Stefan Steib of Hartblei (Hcam.de). These are direct quotes from conversations that I have had with him, which I think bring extra information to the review, which I was unaware of, but are indeed comments from the creator and sell of the camera.

The main purpose of this camera, is to allow you to use your medium format digital back with 35mm lenses for even wider perspective then that achievable with standard lenses within your system. Leica’s widest lense currently for its S system is a 30mm (with wider planned), PhaseOne/Mamiya/Leaf have a 28mm and Hasselblad as well has a 28mm lens. However, there are times, especially when shooting Landscape and Architectural scenes, that you may desire wider. Typicaly this would mean transferring to a view camera, with large format lenses, or a plate camera (if you are less concerned about camera movements). However these offerings from companies like Arca-Swiss, Cambo,  Linhof, and Alpa among others, are expensive in terms of the body price as well as the prices for the excellent Schneider or Rodenstock optics that these cameras accept. These systems have a few draw backs, mainly their mechanical nature, and price point. The Hartblei Hcam addresses these two points.

While the Hartblei Hcam B1 commands a similar price to a Plate / View camera body (€6295, or $8275 on February 5, 2012), it has some unique offerings. First, it lets you use 35mm lenses. This drastically shrinks the price of the system, especially if you are already a Canon or Nikon user and have ultra-wides or tilt shifts, then you can use them with your digital back to achieve great wide-angle results. It also offers you the opportunity to use faster lenses then those available for medium format. The fastest lenese currently available for medium format include the Mamiya C 80mm f/1.9 and the Hasselblad 110mm f/2 (for focal plane shutter cameras). These lenses are limited in their usage because of their systems and focal lengths. Lenses for 35mm cameras go (typically) from f/1.4 up for most focal lengths. The Hartblei Hcam B1 is most ideally suited for Tilt-Shift lenses because these have larger image circles, to accommodate for tilt and shit, which means that they can cover the full 53.7 x 40.4mm of my PhaseOne IQ180’s sensor. Other lenses, as you will see, can be mounted on the camera and achieve wonderful results, with wider angle lenses typically covering more of the sensor then telephoto lenses. The areas not covered by the Lens, will result in a black region around the image circle projected on the sensor. This is easy to crop down to whatever aspect ratio you wish. Especially when using higher megapixel count digital backs, like the 80mp PhaseOne IQ180, this loss of data due to the image circle is easily overcome, because even if you have to crop out 25-35% of an image because of this effect, you are still left with a 50 – 60 megapixel image which is still much greater then anything you’d get on a 35mm system. Of course this only takes into account the megapixel count, and not other features, like low noise and dynamic range which also contribute to excellent results with this camera.

Note from Stefan Steib: With the 17mm we keep the wideangle worldrecord for any (built and freely available, there have been similar military special cameras) Camera on this planet. The image angle of the 17mm with the IQ 180 is 126,3 degr diagonal which no Rodenstock or Schneider lens can achieve. We are even having less Light falloff, close to none colorfringing and no color cast for wideangles as the viewcameras show now with the 80 Mpix backs. This is becaus we use retrofocus lenses with a longer flange focal distance that do not exhibit these problems. The shorter 23/24mm/28mm and still 32mm real wideangle lenses from Schneider have only 9,7 millimeters of distance from the back lense to the chip and do cause heavy problems With color cast and  light falloff, they need Centerfilters which remove another 2 stops of light sensitivity from the camera. Rodenstock is better, they changed to retrofocus designs Some years ago the start at 22mm flange focal distance, but even this reaches a limit now with the actual 80 Mpix technology and the Microlenses hit slanted in the corners and borders of a Large 645 chip .

This is true, the 17mm provides an insanely wide image from this camera. I did not personally use this lens with the camera, but tried the camera withs some extreme wide angles like the Canon 8-15mm f/4 and the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 and found that it preformed very nicely at the wider settings. I frankly, found them to wide for my purposes, but that really depends on your applications. I would say that light fall off and color fringing would be more determined by what lens you are using, and what conditions from my experience; garbage in garbage out and all that. The point about center filters is especially valid, because center filters are used to balances and corrects for light fall off in the corners of an image taken with lenses from Rodenstock and Schneider (among others), which will make the image darker, and take away from the capabilities of the camera in certain situations. This fact, combined with the already faster apertures of 35mm DSLR lenses compared to large format lenses, is certainly an advantage of this camera system.

History and Design 

Front and Logo of the Hartblei Hcam B1

Attaching 35mm lenses to a medium format digital back is not a new concept. Horseman had created the Digiwide and the Digiflex. The Digiwide, was very similar to plate cameras like those from Alpa or Arca. It was fairly well received. The Digiflex, was very similar in that it also took Nikon lenses, however this solution had a reflex mirror that made composition easier to visualize. Kapture Group had also created the TrueWide which was specially adapted for older Nikon perspective control, tilt-shift lenses. These solutions filled the niche market to some extent, but lacked the polish and over all appeal that the Hartblei Hcam brings to the table.

Hartblei Hcam B1 Features including illuminated Displays, spirit levels, and a Hotshoe

Through my discussions with Stefan Steib about the camera, I learned that these cameras were not really considered when the Hartblei Hcam was being conceived. The camera is truly a modern solution. It house sophisticated electronics that these other solutions could only dream of. One of the most notable features of the camera is Mamiya designed shutter. The shutter is the same shutter used in the Mamiya 645DF camera, which is to say it is very accurate. And because there is no mirror to influence vibration, it is virtually vibration free, making long exposures a breeze. The cameras Canon EOS mount, is very robust and well built. Its as study as anything from Canon, and easily accepts adapters for other lens types. When placing a Canon lens on the camera, there is no question that the lens is on there, like you would expect. The camera also features two different screens. The one on the top of the camera is for controlling the aperture of the lense, when you have a Canon mounted lens on it. This is because the Hartblei Hcam, is fully integrated with the electronics of Canon lenses. This means you can control the aperture, which is very convenient, especially since there are so many great lenses now that do not have manual aperture rings. This screen is very bright, and visible in any conditions. Next to it are two buttons, which control the aperture of the camera. They are well placed, and are used to open the lens wide open for composition and then stop it down when your ready to shoot, just like the same concept as a view camera, which the Hartblei Hcam shares a lot of shooting technique with. The rear screen, controls all of the other functions of the camera including shutter speed. One of the most unique features of the camera, which I will give my opinion on later, is it’s motorized back. I have been told that this was done to ensure the best alignment with the back and lenses, and it’s a pretty cool feature, you hit a button and it moves to and from shooting position, like other manual sliding backs for Technical and View cameras. The camera also has some other standard features including a hotshoe and two integrated spirit levels. The hotshoe allows you to use things such as pocket wizards for triggering lighting set ups. One of the best things about this camera is the illuminated back display, but also the illuminated spirit levels. This shows a little bit of extra thought and is especially useful when attempting to compose in darker conditions. The battery for the camera is placed on the front, into a sliding holder which is very easy to use and operate and not finicky or difficult, which again speaks volume to the thought that was put into the design of this camera. Also the parts of the back include the Hasselblad V mount viewfinder, and the mount for the digital back.

Design and Functionality, my opinion

 Hartblei Hcam B1 Top showing aperture controls

The build quality of this camera is superb; all metal construction makes you feel like you are holding something very substantial. Of course you will never really be holding it since its always used on a tripod. As I said above I think that there are a lot of really well thought out features. Everything on the camera is designed so that it is an asset in the studio, but also in the field. All of the buttons are easily useable with gloves, and are firm enough that you can get the result you want by pressing it once, but not difficult to the point that you will have to go out of your way to press a button. The aperture is controllable, as discussed from the top of the camera, but there is also a +/- button on the back of the camera where the aperture can be controlled from again. Also very convenient depending on how you are using the camera, one of the selectors might not be as easily accessible, so redundancy is good. The back of the camera also contained the “Time” setting which will determine the shutter speed of the exposure. The system for controlling the major functions of the camera works incredibly well, and is very precise, and there is nothing to complain about. Again, the integrated spirit levels, which are also illuminated, along with all of the displays, shows the thought that was put into this camera, which makes it so much more interesting and enjoyable to use.

Hartblei Hcam B1 Triggers and Cable Releases Wired and WirelessThere are two different ways of triggering the camera. The digital back, is connected via its sync port, to a cable which connects with the camera body, and allows for precise timing of the shutter and digital back firing. This is of course; the same way things are done on technical cameras with large format lenses. The cables provided with the camera contain a shoot off from the cable, which ends in a very simple single button shutter release. This was my preferred method for triggering the camera. The button provides a solid click, and is large enough to be pleasant to use with or without gloves. It also is very easy because it allows you to simply let it drop, and you don’t have to worry about it being a separate part coming out since its integrated into the cable.  The other, more unique accessory is the integrated radio trigger. This trigger allows for you to remotely control the camera. It has a simple design and offers two functions. The first is to control the camera, and the second is used as a release for longer exposure shots based on how you wish to use the camera. This accessory is nice, especially if you are using the camera indoors since it adds convenience if you are doing a still life or similar work. Again a nice feature, but not as useful for me personally when using it in the field, because it just became one more thing to carry around with me, and eventually lose.

 

As I have said, this camera offers a motorized sliding back. The concept of the sliding back is nothing new, and is most often seen in technical large format cameras. It is a system, which allows you to compose, and then slide the digital back into position for image capture. On large format cameras, you are typically focusing on a nice big ground glass, which is a unique experience, that I have never seen replicated in any other form of photography. Because of the precision and extra thought needed to compose in this manner (bending over, moving in the opposite direction of where you want it to go because of the lack of a reflex mirror etc) large format photography, has lent itself to a more methodical and deliberate approach which is a nice thing to have at times, to make you slow down and think more. This camera replicates this experience exceptionally well. The viewfinder is very similar to the Hasselblad V viewfinder, mostly because it is has the same mount and operation. You can mount all forms of Hasselblad V viewfinders to this camera. There are 90 degree viewfinders (what is shipped with the camera is a Hartblei version of this), as well as 45 degree viewfinders among others. The one which I found to be most useful however, was the standard flip-up viewfinder from my 503CW. This viewfinder is the most compact, lends itself to use outdoors, has a self-contained magnification accessory and allows for easy access to the digital backs CF card slot and sync ports. While I cannot speak to other backs, on my back the PhaseOne IQ180, but I believe most (possibly excluding the Hasselblad’s) the CF card slot and the sync ports are on the left side of the camera. And this area can get a bit cramped with the other viewfinders like the Hartblei viewfinder or my Hasselblad PME45 viewfinder combined with the addition of the sync cable into the port which remains directly in-front of the CF card slot. For me, the flip-up Hasselblad viewfinder worked best, but I can certainly see how other viewfinders could be well applied for different uses.

Hartblei Hcam B1 Viewfinder - Hasselblad 503CW

All and all I had a very positive experience with the camera ergonomically, and functionality wise. Nothing to complain about, it is as advertised and it works. However, one of the features that I found the most unusual was the motorized sliding back. Most sliding backs, are simply mechanically and user positioned into place. When they are for smaller formats, they typically have a stop, or marker in place so you know when the digital back is properly aligned for image capture. However, Hartblei, has done something different. As can be seen in my video review, they offer a motorized sliding back. This would be a fine feature if there were still the option to manually position the back into place, but in fact there is not. I do not know why, on a camera that was so well thought out, this feature was included. First of all, It eats battery, I don’t know exactly how much, and never had an issues with battery life (since it takes the same batteries as PhaseOne digital backs, and in fact can take larger versions of these). Second, it takes time, and is kind of annoying if you like to have rapid succession between composition and capture, especially when working in the field. When I asked Stefan Steib about this feature, I was told that it was done to ensure optimum alignment with the back and the lens for best results. To this, I say ok fine, that makes sense for including the feature, and is certainly marketable, but why not include a manual override. What happens if the motor fails? Especially since the sliding back is integrated into the camera, simply putting a stop in the slider, where it would be perfectly aligned, would seem to me, to be just as accurate. This feature did not exactly fit my shooting style, because I found myself always waiting for the back to slide into position, and wishing I could just push it along myself.

Note from Stefan Steib: About the motorized Slider. The problem with making an override to this would be loosing calibration of the positioning stop which is also electronically Achieved. Also the Motor and the Belt are directly connected, so without using a lockable gearbox, which would make the camera more complicated and prone to defects We would not be able to do it manually. The battery on the Camera lasts longer than the battery on the backs, when you use a larger 4800mHa battery mostly for the whole day, So battery consumption is also not a point to worry about, this is valid for temperatures down to 20degr. Celsius (and less) but then the back gets a problem!

While this explains why it isn’t possible to have both with the current system I believe it should be something to be considered. Yes, with the ability to use larger batteries this does help things, but I would still continue to point out, its still using power and so on. Stefan also mentioned later that there is a possibility that on a later version of the camera it is possible that there will be a manually sliding option. I think many, especially those who plan to use the camera in the field, will greatly appreciate this feature.

Desmond Arca Swiss AdapterOne other negative feature of the camera is the fact that it only has a Arca-Swiss dovetail mount for tripod use. This is a very nice, large and accommodating dovetail mount, but not helpful if you are like me and don’t use an Arca-swiss mount tripod quick release system. So, for the first day I had the camera, I was unable to use it because I had not been aware that this was the ONLY mount that the camera has. Of course, I understand that having an integrated Arca-Swiss dovetail mount is a wonderful feature, and their quick release system is arguably the best in the world, but it is strange that this is the only mount. I would certainly recommend a standard tripod screw if not for use with other quick release systems and tripods, but also as a back up. For me there was a bit of extra difficulty. I ordered a cheap 20 buck adapter off of Amazon, simply because it was the only Arca-Swiss adapter to fit a standard screw that I could get overnight, ah the wonders of Amazon. But I digress, this adapter, however was slightly too big for the quick release plate. Since Novoflex, which has a very good reputation, makes the quick release plate I believe it was the adapter I had purchased which most likely not made to the strictest standards. To rectify this situation I cleverly, cut some strips of paper, and inserted them into the adapter between it and the Novoflex plate on the camera. Shimming the adapter in this way, allowed for me to get a very tight lock on the camera, and it was not an issue for the rest of my time shooting with the camera.

Correction from Stefan Steib: About the tripod mount: You can of course remove the Novoflex Q-PL 4 / Arca style rail and use whatever you want. The camera has 2 standard drilled large Tripod mount threads that can attach any Manfrotto, RRS, or whatever you have plates.

I was unaware of this during my time with the camera, and while writing the review.

Image Quality 

Now this is really the $60,000 question, can 35mm lenses resolve enough resolution for a high-resolution 80mp sensor? And I am here to tell you that they can. That being said, I was using some of the best optics in 35mm photography, so it is reasonable to assume that lesser lenses would have less performance, just like you’d expect on a 35mm DSLR. Since the camera has a native Canon EOS mount, I rented a Canon 24mm f/3.5ii lens from lensrentals.com, which was one of the best performers. I also borrowed a Canon 17-40mm f/4 USM and 90mm f/2.8 Tilt shift lenses from a friend. The 90mm also worked incredibly well and was I believe sharper then the 24mm on medium format digital. I also rented a Novoflex Canon EOS to Nikon G Adapter ring from lensrentals.com, which I used for my Nikon Lenses. I talk about and demonstrate the finicky nature of the design of this adapter in my video review, but I will say again, that it is not that functional with this camera. And for this reason I would mostly recommend sticking to Canon lenses or lenses, which have aperture rings for overall ease of use. Nikons lenses used include my 50mm 1.4G, 85mm 1.4G, 24-70mm 2.8, 70-200mm 2.8, and 14-25mm 2.8. The lenses I will illustrate below are the 50mm and the 24-70mm simply because these were lenses which I got the best shots with from my time with the camera.

Obviously a medium format digital sensor is significantly larger then a 35mm sensor. Just like large format lenses, which have an extremely large image circle to accommodate for camera movements (titl and shift, etc), Tilt-Shift lenses for 35mm cameras also have larger image circles. This makes them the best lenses to be used with the Hartblei Hcam. This is because they are capable of movements, and full coverage of the medium format sensor. Other lenses require cropping of the image to make an image from within the image circle. As discussed above this is a non-issue when working with ultra-high resolution backs where loss of a certain percentage of the image will not greatly impact image quality. Please note all of these images were processed using standard settings in Capture 1.

Hartblei Hcam B1 Sample Image 1 from my review This one was of the first images I took once I had acclimated myself to the use of the camera. This image was taken with the Canon 24mm tilt-shift lens mounted on the Hartblei Hcam with my IQ180 digital back. As you can see here, this image is very sharp from corner to corner and no significant vignetting occurs. There is not even that much distortion, or at least not more then would be expected from a 24mm lens on a medium format camera, which provides an effective focal length of 15mm on a full-frame 35mm sensor provides a very wide field of view. This image was taken stopped down and exhibits excellent depth of field and sharpness.

Hartblei Hcam B1 Sample Image Nikon 50mm 1.4G

This image was taken at the same time as the first image but in a slightly different location. It was also taken with my Nikon 50mm 1.4G using the Novoflex adapter ring on the Hartblei Hcam. While this image was stopped down, as you can see this is a very useable image from a lens, which has possibilities to be, stopped all the way down to f/1.4 which is like nothing possible on medium format. While this camera is a bit bulky to be used for portraits, if you demand the highest quality and desire shallow DOF effects, this could be a solution for you. This image, was cropped, from the image seen below.

Hartblei Hcam B1 Sample Image with Nikon 50mm 1.4G Uncropped

This was the original image that was taken straight from the camera without being cropped. As you can see, this lens was not made to cover the full frame medium format sensor. Consequently you get the black edges, which show the end of the image circle. This is a perfect example of how you must crop when using lenses like these, and how it does not affect the image. Cropping here, does not loose significant quality as can be seen from the final image proving the viability of the Hartblei Hcam for all 35mm lenses. And again, it should be noted that the PhaseOne IQ180, did not out resolve the Nikon lens.

Hartblei Hcam B1 Sample Image Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8

This image was taken with my Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 mounted on the Hartblei Hcam, again with the Novoflex adapter ring for Nikon G lenses. It is nice having the zoom range available to you as an added tool for composition of images, and it makes life easier. I would have personally expected the zoom lenses, even the highest quality, to have preformed worse then their prime counter parts, since any small differences in image quality on a full-frame 35mm sensor would be multiplied that many times larger on a full-frame medium format sensor. However this was not the case, and this image yielded me possibly my favorite image from my time with this camera. Again providing tack sharp results, and an extreme wide angle.

Hartblei Hcam B1 Sample Image Canon EOS 24mm f/3.5 TS-E II

I believe this picture may have been my favorite image taken with this camera setup. It demonstrates so many of the capabilities of this camera. This image was taken, out in about 15-degree weather. The camera preformed all of its functions beautifully in this situation, and the only limiting factor was my ability to withstand the cold. This image was taken with the Canon 24mm tilt-shift lens, tilted towards the extreme still providing tack sharp results.

Hartblei Hcam B1 Sample Image Canon EOS 90mm TS-E

This image was taken with the Canon 90mm f/2.8 Tilt shift, and exhibits excellent quality wide open at f/2.8. The Shallow Depth of field provided this wide, combined with some minor although aesthetically pleasing vingetting in this shot makes for an interesting image. As you can see from this crop, this lens also provides tack sharp results, which I believe are some of the sharpest I got with this lens.

Hartblei Hcam B1 Sample Image Canon EOS 90mm f/2.8 TS-E

This still life, of a ceramic basket of vegetables, demonstrates the capabilities of the Hartblei Hcam combined with tilt-shift lenses for product photography. Utilizing the perspective control features of the Canon 90mm f/2.8 tilt-shift lens, I was able to extend and control the DOF of this image to allow for a greater portion of the subject to be brought into focus. This image was left unsharpened in post work, because it was so sharp straight out of the camera. This image especially solidified in my mind, 35mm DSLR lenses abilities to preform with the highest resolution medium format digital backs.

Conclusion

This camera does a lot of things really well. I believe that if you are shopping for this camera, you know it will work for you. Especially if you need wide angle, and are using a medium format digital back, and happen to have a 35mm kit, like most photographers, this can provide a compact solution for you without too much of an investment. That said, The Hartblei Hcam runs about $8500, However this is pretty reasonable considering other options, and the situation you would most likely be in if you are looking to purchase this camera. You will most likely already have the digital back, which is the most significant investment to build a kit with this camera. You will also more then likely have lenses which you can use on the camera, which again takes out another major cost center. That said, 35mm lenses, even the most expensive that you would use on this camera, are still cheaper then larger format lenses. Building an Alpa kit for example will run about 14k for one or two lenses, a body and back adapter and viewfinder, if not more depending on what you need, and pricing will similarly run above the 10k mark when looking into many other systems including one lens. In this way the versatility and unique niche of this camera is exposed. If I were to ever to be doing architectural photography, either interiors or exteriors, I would certainly add this capable camera to my kit. It can also be very well utilized for fine art landscape and general photographic applications. It is also very well suited for studio and technical applications. The things, which differentiate it from its competitors, will either make you love it or hate it, namely its extensive use of electronics which for some may be a deal breaker in one way or another. I would certainly recommend anyone looking to ad an extreme wide-angle solution to their kit to consider this camera.

***DISCLOSURE****
For the sake of full disclosure, it should be noted that I was sent this camera to review, at the request of Stefan Steib, after conversations I had had with him about it. I did not receive any financial compensation from Stefan Steib or Hartblei.de in exchange for my review of the camera.

 

Leaf Aptus II 10 on PhaseOne 645DF

Originally published: April 3, 2011

My review of this camera is going to be much shorter then that for the comparable PhaseOne P65+. That is because this camera quite frankly didn’t work when I demoed it. I tried twice well technically 3 times to get one of these guys to work the way it should. First time was at PDN Photoplus 2010 at the digital transitions booth, I tried to use it on a PhaseOne 645AFD Body and it wouldn’t recognize any of my Sandisk memory cards ranging from 64GB to 8GB, so thats one strike against it. Then I tried another one at PDN Photoplus that Digital Transitions had attached to an ALPA TC (very cool camera by the way). This one wouldn’t even turn on, so thats now two strikes. Of course since then I’ve had a bad taste in my mouth about the Leaf digital backs. My feelings were further confirmed when I demoed it side by side with a PhaseOne P65+. Needless to say by this point you can figure out this review is going to me complaining about the short comings of the Leaf Aptus-II 10 and your right, because its awful.

So, to my first gripe. Google Leaf Aptus, go ahead do it right now. Look at all those pictures! doesn’t it look great? like a PhaseOne with a giant touch screen on the back! ha. ha. ha. you fell for it. Let’s start debunking these guys. Well for starters lets talk about that battery. Those press shots make you think that batter goes on the inside or something, however it doesn’t. It sticks out the bottom as you can see in the picture I put on the top of the page. Well this angers me for a plethora of reasons. First I will tell you the reality then, I shall rant. The reality is that battery is required if you are not shooting tethered (oh thats a great story when we get to it too). This makes me quite angry because they are marketing their cameras as something they are not. They need that battery, without that battery, that back won’t give you the time of day. It needs it and they don’t show you that anywhere. Why would they do this? Oh, I don’t know, maybe because every other company has managed to integrate that battery except them? PhaseOne, Hasselblad, they got it. Heck the Hasselblad draws its power from the body. It really enrages me that that they blatantly lie about this in every one of their advertisements, so much for truth in advertising.

Build quality is not applicable to this back. Let me say though, I think that PhaseOne 645AFD (and the Mamiya) are the best built 645 camera bodies on the planet. They are solid robust, and sturdier then other comparable cameras. Read my Hasselblad H3Dii-39ms review to find out more about this. This is a plastic piece of garbage. If it doesn’t feel solid in my hand, thats another strike against it. Its plastic and cheap feeling. Its funny because this supposed to be comparable to a PhaseOne. Let me tell you a PhaseOne wouldn’t be caught dead in the same room as a Leaf. They don’t physically show up to Mamiya board meetings, they video cast the whole thing so there is no chance they can be directly associated with each other (background on that one, Leaf and PhaseOne are shareholders in Mamiya Corp. Japan). Also as you can see there is a fan on the side of the camera to help cool the camera down because these things get hot. Now thats Ok, however theirs is totally exposed, meaning this thing is not weatherproof at all. So another strike against it.

Now to the screen, ugh what a drag. So it sounds like its an iPhone screen but on a camera when you say “touch screen” ha yeah right. This thing could be one of the worst camera screens ever. Its awful even for medium format, who’s screens are notoriously sub-par. Touch screen thing also sounds nice, you have a little stylus and you touch the screen. I hope it comes with about 100 extras and they send you 100 on the first of the every month. Because you will loose those suckers. Thankfully I found out you can use your fingernails to use the screen for when you drop the stylus down the fjord your photographing in Iceland, before your camera freezes. So yeah now off to the user-interface.

In my PhaseOne and Hasselblad interviews, I am able to acknowledge the user interface in one sentence. I am able to say they are exactly what you would expect from a $30,000 camera superb. Same applies to the Leica S2 which took the PhaseOne Design cue for 4 buttons. Well, it pains me to even remember dealing with this. For starters I plugged it into a mac and it spent a solid 20 minutes doing a mandatory update that we couldn’t bypass. This meant the back and the computer were tied up and unusable, and we were helpless. Damn the robots. Anyway, so that was one awful thing. Now Phocus and CaptureOne are formidable, superior tethered shooting programs. The Leaf Capture software looks like it was designed by a part time IT consultant. It’s very spartan, nothing fancy just what you need. Haha, yeah no its awful. Not very good at all. Oh yeah and adding to the comedy of errors, it crashed the computer and we had to restart. Remember in my P65+ review when I said the back automatically recognized the camera? thats right you guessed it this back was clueless. You have to navigate from the main menu first to a settings menu called CAMERA and then from there monotonously scroll through a list of options to find CAMERA PROFILE or whatever its called. Then you have to scroll through a list to select the camera you want which is inevitable at the bottom of the list. Then you have to manually exit this menu and go back to the main menu you. Oh so you want to take a picture? well you have to select SHOOT from the main menu. OH NO you selected the wrong ISO, your shutter speeds wrong, guess what you have to do now. You have to exit shooting mode go back to the main menu, select CAMERA go find ISO and select the proper ISO then get yourself out of that menu and back to the shoot menu. I’m crying right now even thinking about it. Also it wouldn’t recognize my cards for a while, which is to be expected at this point right? There were also numerous errors with communication between the digital back and the camera body. All and all an awful experience.

One word to describe this camera is awful. It really is. I don’t actually care if your shooting in it a studio, tethered, in the field, or in space. Its awful. Its shoddily made nothing about this camera is good. The only thing it has going for it is its a few thousand dollars cheaper then the PhaseOne’s and Hasselblad’s. Percentage wise, I believe it would be comparable to a Canon v.s Nikon price difference. It’s User Interface is subpar, its build quality is subpar, its software is subpar, absolutely nothing good to say about this camera, it has left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I cannot believe that anyone would ever seriously consider buying this system.

 

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.

 

 

Mamiya 645AFD

Originally published: April 3, 2011

This camera was my first really foray into film photography. It is well built, easy to use, and produces some very good results. I have something against buying new film cameras at this point in time. It just doesn’t seem ride to spend a ridiculous amount of money on a aging technology. This is why I wait and I pick my shots for film cameras that are either demo’s or have never been shot but pre-owned. This one I got for a very good deal from my camera store, Camera Wholesalers in Stamford, CT. I got it with the 80mm f/2.8 lens, the 55mm f/2.8 lens and the 210mm f/4 lens so I had all focal lengths covered. Prime lenses are traditionally optically superior to zoom lenses. This is because in theory, prime lenses do one thing (one focal length) very very well; and thats all. However zoom lenses have to compensate for multiple focal lengths and consequently, although they are many excellent zoom lenses, if you pixel peep you will see that the prime lenses best zoom lenses in a side by side comparison and comparable focal lengths and apertures. This camera is well built and feels sturdy in the hand. This is one of my gripes with my Hasselblad H system, the grip just doesn’t feel sturdy; more on that in my Hasselblad H3Dii-39ms review.

Shooting film is an interesting experience. You can create some very nice images with digital cameras, in some cases better then film. However there is still something to be said for film photography. It just captures things in a way that digital cameras don’t. Shooting film on this camera is a breeze. Things couldn’t be simpler. You pop open the back with an easy dual direction button and take out the spindle. Then you load the film into a clearly marked space and wrap it around the pressure plate to the other spindle. Then you close the back, whip out the dark slide and you are good to go. Simply apply a little pressure to the shutter release and the camera will automatically confirm that the film is loaded correctly and that everything is ok. A word on changing the ISO, this is something that can be a little tricky, since with medium format 120 film there are no contacts for the camera to us DX coding to confirm the film speed automatically. What you must do is hold the right button on the film back (the up button) until the ISO number on the film backs display screen starts flashing. Then you use the arrow buttons to get to your desired ISO. All and all very easy and I haven’t had a single issue with it.

This is basically the camera that is the PhaseOne 645AFD, actually its exactly the camera. There area  few different iterations the 645AFD, 645AFD II, and the latest 645AFD III. In the end they all do the same basic thing while changing the ergonomics as well as allowing for new technologies like leaf shutter lenses. Anyway they are all very very well built and feel like they could survive a beating or two. They are of course weather sealed. and very sturdily built. All of the buttons feel quite solid and are very easy to use. Switching backs as well as film on the go is very easy to do, if you were using a neck strap (not really practical) you could change the film without having to put the camera down. For more comments on the build quality of this camera please view my PhaseOne P65+ and PhaseOne 645AFD Article.

All and all this is the most pleasurable film camera I have shot with. It lenses are well built, as well as its body and accessories. It opens up a whole range of different opportunities photographically. The great thing about the modular nature of this camera is that you can shoot digital and film on the same camera. This is one advantage that this system has over the Pentax 645AFD camera (rolling out in the US this friday) or the Leica S2. It has the ability to shoot film and digital on the same camera! if thats not magic I don’t know what is. Also I paid less for this camera, lenses and film back then a Hasselblad film back alone would cost! This is because I got a very good deal from my camera store. However I am happy that I purchased this system instead of a Hasselblad film back for a couple of reasons. One of these is I believe that this system is superior to the Hasselbald H system at this point. Another is that my digital back has never been removed from my Hasselblad. This means a few things, it means that it has never been exposed to the outside environment which guarantees that the sensor is in excellent condition. It also means that there is no chance of there being damage to the body as or the back alone. All in all this is my favorite medium format film system at the moment and I would say the best in the world.

Mamiya 645AFD, 55mm f/2.8 and Fujicolor Pro 160 S