Mamiya Lenses

Field Report: Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO and Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO Lenses in Costa Rica

Image taken with the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens with the Mamiya M645 2x N TC Teleconverter and PhaseOne IQ180 of a Tucan in Costa Rica

Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO + Mamiya M645 2x N TC @ 1000mm f/9 on PhaseOne IQ180

First of all, I would like to thank all of you who have tuned and read my website making the past 4 months all record setting months for my website. I will also update you on what to expect in the near future. This review will be a field report looking at practically shooting the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO and my newly acquired Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lenses along with extension tubes, and the Mamiya M645 2X N teleconverter in Costa Rica. The next review which will more then likely pop up will be a look at the new PhaseOne Schneider-Krueznach 2x Teleconverter which we will look at on the 3 recommended PhaseOne lenses as well as on the hallowed telephotos which are the subject of this report; we will judge whether this new SK engineered 2x Teleconverter is worth the ~$2,000.00 USD price tag and how it compares to the M645 2X N. After this I hope to have two or three more reviews coming in the next couple of months. The first of these will be a full review with sample images and aperture series of the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens in the style of my Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO lens review. Then there will be comparison between all of the Mamiya 300mm telephotos lenses, these include the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO, Mamiya 300mm f/4.5 645-AF, Mamiya 300mm f/5.6 ULD N, Mamiya 300mm f/5.6 C and the Mamiya 150mm f/2.8 with the 2x TC to make another more compact 300mm f/5.6 option. There will also be a comparison looking at the Mamiya 500mm lens options which include the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO, Mamiya 500mm f/5.6 C, and the Mamiya 500mm f/8 Reflex lens. This will round out all of the Mamiya telephoto options and hopefully make my website the internet leading source of information on these particular lenses. Along with a few other minor articles this should then bring us to PDN time, and if I can acomplish all of this in that time I will be shocked, but pleased. For now however, we will turn our attention to my shooting experiences with these two title lenses in Costa Rica…

Mamiya-500mm-f/4.5-APO-Lens-Review

The Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO is possibly the rarest of the Mamiya lenses (if you don’t count the 500mm f/8 Reflex and 110mm f/2.8 “N” which most people don’t) it holds the title as the undisputed heavy weight champion of the Mamiya lens lineup past and present. However, it is vastly different to the experience you will get from strapping a 500mm lens to the front of your 35mm DSLR since this is a 500mm lens for medium format. This 500mm lens equates to a 320mm lens on a 35mm camera system making it the baby end of the telephoto spectrum by 35mm standards but enormous by medium format standards, if you add the Mamiya M645 2x N TC then you work your way up to a 1000mm lens which is equivalent to a 642mm lens on 35mm . Though, admiralty there are at-least a few lenses which best it which include the somewhat manageable Pentax 67II 800mm f/6.7 ED (IF), the super-human Pentax 67 800mm f/4 Takumar, and finally the Carl-Zeiss 1700mm f/4 telephoto lens which warrants its own 2 ton Mercedes-Benz G-Wagon to carry it around. But I digress, we return to the world of Mamiya where we have the wide-apertured Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO and the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO.

First, I will discuss some requisite peripherals for embarking on an adventure such as this with these two lenses and a PhaseOne IQ180. Unfortunately, some of these peripherals I did not bring along, and this made shooting slightly more difficult, though not impossible it is without a doubt that they could have improved this process greatly. Most obviously, you will need to support these lenses, so I brought along my sturdy Gitzo carbon fiber tripod and monopod. It is very practical to shoot the 300mm f/2.8 APO with the monopod, though it is near impossibly to achieve this with the 500mm. The 300mm f/2.8 APO has a decently close minimum focus distance and this is aided significantly with the use of extension tubes (we will address this below) which makes it feasible to use with a monopod. For use with the 300mm f/2.8 APO, I already had purchased a Wimberley Head for some reason I opted for the side-mount version, though truthfully I have absolutely no idea why since it makes mounting the lenses significantly more difficult and dangerous. Frankly, now that I think about it I really should order their adapter kit to make the side-mount into the regular mount. But anyway, This worked excellently with the 300mm f/2.8 APO and it works just as well with the 500mm f/4.5 APO balancing it and making it very easy to shoot and lock down. Unlike most other larger telephoto lenses the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO relies on a single threaded tripod mount. This makes finding an Arca-Swiss style adapter plate to work with it very difficult. What I wound up doing was purchasing a RRS AS mounting rail, placing one screw in the hold on the lenses tripod collar and then using two small brackets (which slide into the RRS A/S mounting plate)  on the front and back of the lens foot to secure it in place. This was a capital idea and it held the lens sturdy throughout my adventures with it. The other most notable accessory that you will need to have is the shutter-release cable. Though in good light situations you certainly can get away without needing it; when you use the 2x TC and are at 1000mm or at slower shutter-speeds locking down the head and using the shutter-realease cable are absolutely required for getting sharp images, along with using mirror-up mode along with these precautions round out the proper long lens shooting technique for this lens.

Now we will address the things which I neglected to bring along with me for this adventure. The economic principle / phenomenon / assumption of non-satiation suggests that we always want more then we have, and if we have the ability to get more then we always will. I knew this going into my medium-format digital telephoto adventures and began to devise a plan to prepare for this. I knew, ,with my PhaseOne IQ180′s 80mp full-frame 645 sensor that I could crop to 40mp, 30mp or 20mp and still have a tolerably clean image. This essentially told me that I had some extra teleconverters “built-in” to my sensor and that I should plan for that. I devised a plan to have a special focusing screen made with an etched outline for a 40mp crop and then I would use the Mamiya 2x Viewfinder magnifier to account for this and, when looking through the viewfinder compose everything presuming this 2x crop (or so I thought). As it turns out to get to 40mp is less then a 2x crop (do the math you’ll figure it out) and the 2x magnifier only magnifies the center of the viewfinder image and does not offer full coverage at 2x.Through the process of looking into these items I learned from Bill Maxwell, that it is possible for you to create a focusing screen which is specially formulated for telephoto lenses within a certain focal length and aperture range. Unfortunately I did not do this, though I am considering either buying a used 645AFD or DF body and having this conversion done (it also requires recalibrating the focusing system of the body), I did not have it done for this trip. This was no big deal, but it is possible that this could have helped me with my efforts to make clean, sharp, in focus images with these lenses. After dismissing this idea I discarded the 2x magnifier to sit at home with other accessories thinking that it could offer me nothing on this trip. However, I did not consider the fact that its still a 2x magnifier and it could have greatly helped me with achieving sharp focus, especially with far-away subjects. But alas you cannot have everything. Now we will look at some sets of images taken in varying locations and of varying subjects and see what they can reveal to us about these lenses.

First we will look at some applications for the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO lens along with extension tubes to see what it can and cannot do;

Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO lens shooting a Poison Dart Frog in Costa Rica with Extension Tubes

Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO with Extension Tubes on PhaseOne 645DF + PhaseOne IQ180

The shot above is a crop (see below) of an image taken with the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO and extension tubes of a Poison Dart Frog in the rainforest. This image exemplifies a critical failure in the use of this lens. It was in no way suited to this task for a number of reasons and the resulting image demonstrates that. This image was taken with the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO lens, extension tubes, and monopod. This was in a very dark rainforest, the lens could not focus close enough so the extension tubes ate light and the shallow DoF and tiny subject made it very difficult to achieve any sort of tolerable quality shot with it. The best lens that could have been used in this situation would have been the Mamiya 120mm f/4 D Macro lens (Preferably MF since it offers precise control which would have inured to my benefit over the newer AF version in this case)  on a tripod since it would supply close focus and a decent aperture. Another way that this could have possibly been saved was using the M645 -> Nikon camera adapter (a desperate move I concede) along with the 2X TC and a high-ISO on the Nikon D4 which might have yielded a higher-quality image. This resulting image is an extreme crop of the original image;

Screenshot from PhaseOne CaptureOne of an image taken with the PhaseOne IQ180 and Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO lens of a poison dart frog in the rainforest of Costa Rica

The camera was decently stabilized and surprisingly the shutter speed of 1/80th of a second was not the primary issue with this capture. The 200 ISO combined with a crop (which will show any flaws of a high-iso shot) killed the image. It was also initially fairly underexposed so compensating for the exposure also further helped to bring out the noise and loss of sharpness due to the ISO. Admiralty as much as I can run down this image, I do like it since, hey, I haven’t shot poison dart frogs. It was very fun and definitely a learning experience.

Moving onward and upward we will now look at a series of images, again taken with the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO lens with varying combinations of extension-tubes and teleconverters to capture different perspectives of the first (of many) lizards I will now bring to your attention.

Image taken with the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO lens and PhaseOne IQ180 in Costa Rica Rainforest

Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO lens with extension tubes and Mamiya M645 2x N TC @ 1/200 – f/5.6 -ISO 200

This image is also a crop, taken at ISO 200 with the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO lens. This first image employed both the teleconverter and extension tubes to allow me to get in tight-enough to the subject (framing wise) and allow me to have a close focus distance to work in tandem with the TC for attempting to achieve the framing that I wanted. The full image, is actually rather decent as well, though this crop is my preferred rendering of the image. Even though there is noise, because the image was taken at ISO 200, and it is a crop this is not an issue since the majority of the image is taken up by the lizard which has a great deal of sharply rendered micro-detail in its skin which eats up most of the apparent noise. The Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO lens proves here once again, that it is an absolutely stunningly sharp lens even when being shot wide open and under the intense scrutiny of a cropped image. Noise is a small issue in the background, though at least for me it is not overwhelming and frankly I am distracted by the large beautiful bokeh. Some noise is apparent in the darks of the foreground, though I suspect if this image is printed the background noise and foreground shadow noise will be non-issues.

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Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO lens with extension tubes and Mamiya M645 2x N TC @ 1/250 – f/5.6 -ISO 200

This next image further goes to show the ISO quality of the PhaseOne IQ180 when being shot at a relatively “high” ISO for medium format. Again, this image was shot at ISO 200 however it is very low in noise and very high in detail. I do not mean to say that there is no noise present, but certainly it is not an issue. When I purchased my first MFDB, the Hasselblad H3Dii-39ms basically for anything other then a black and white shot, as far as I was concerned anything above ISO 100 (i.e ISO 200) was unusable and unacceptable. This image, again utilized both the Mamiya M645 2X N TC and the extension tubes on the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO lens. As we can see at this constricted FoV achieved with a 600mm focal length the bokeh is even more gorgeous then it is when this lens is shot at 300mm and f/2.8 and I am very pleased with this image.

The next image that we are going to look at were taken with the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO lens and all three of the extension tubes in the set which means that we are able to get very, very close to our subject. However it also brings in its own set of difficulties to work with as a set-up.

Image taken with the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO lens on my phaseOne iq180 of a lizard in Costa Rica

Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO Lens with All 3 Extension Tubes @ 1/250 – f/2.8 – ISO 200

This image was taken using all three of the Mamiya M645 extension tubes on the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO lens. This means that the already very thin depth of field when shooting this lens at f/2.8 becomes even more pronounced since you are working at closer focusing distances. Obviously, with this many extension tubes focus at infinity has already flown out the window but, really, that does not matter since why would you need extension tubes if you were going to be focusing at infinity (hint: you wouldn’t). To get to this final image there were easily 100 shots of this same scene (Lizards don’t really move very rapidly or often if unprovoked) to get an image where critical focus was on the eye of the lizard. In the field it was very difficult to determine whether I was achieving critical focus at my desired point.These images were shot on the monopod, which is much, much easier and comfortable then carrying the lens on a tripod for obvious reasons. However, the tripod (which was approximately 20 feet behind me in the car) would have helped greatly since it would’ve taken my movement out of the equation. This was an issue I discussed when shooting the Mamiya 80mm f/1.9 N in my last review and the same issue arises here as well. This was a situation where I wished I had the 2x magnifier for the viewfinder so I could get a better idea of my critical focus. It should also be noted that there is no significant vingetting or any real issues resulting from using the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO with all of its extension-tubes at once. It may just be me, but it seems that the Out of focus part of the foreground and the near background seem to be swirling a little bit but this might be something that I have not noticed about this lens since this is using it very tightly as almost a long macro lens. All and all I am still very happy with this image. The eye is the point of critical focus and if you zoom in on it you can see me and the car in the background ;).

Now we will depart from the world of the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO and its accessories and travel for a time through the world of the Mamiya 300mm f/4.5 APO autofocus lens. Shooting difficult lenses like the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO and 500mm f/4.5 APO with only having the option of manual focus really makes you appreciate that novel photographic innovation; autofocus. Its refreshing to take a small respite from the give and take battle of wide-aperture medium format telephoto manual focusing and just use an autofocus lens, and as we know the Mamiya 300mm f/4.5 APO is a stunner at that.

Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO lens with extension tubes on PhaseOne 645DF and PhaseOne IQ180 in Costa Rica Rainforest capturing lizard

Mamiya 300mm f/4.5 APO @ 1/100 – f/4.5 – ISO 200

Unfortunately this image is a little bit blurry since the Lizard was moving and a slightly slower shutter-speed was utilized, however I like this image in-spite of its flaws. It is in my opinion wonderfully composed showing the branch that our lizard is climbing on and even though the Mamiya 300mm f/4.5 APO has a smaller aperture, the background is wonderfully blown out and adds to the sense of curiosity and other-worldliness which the cocked head of the lizard is displaying as he hesitates for a moment with his left front and back feet raised. At normal viewing distances and for a smaller print, I have no doubt that the slight motion blur of the image will go unnoticed.

image of a lizard shot in guanacaste national park in Costa Rica

Mamiya 300mm f/4.5 APO @ 1/160 – f/4.5 – ISO 100

Before I went all out and broke out the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO for this little guy I tried some shots with the 300mm f/4.5 APO, this was, in fact handheld and the image still came out excellently, so go me I guess. Of course we can see, this is about as close as we could get with the Mamiya 300mm f/4.5 APO’s close focusing distances (more or less I’m guessing since I don’t remember but it seems about right) and I was able to get a nice composition of the lizard within the “V” shape of the two trees with some background and a large part of his body. Again we seer that this lens has some very pleasing bokeh and is a top performer in the image quality arena. It offers perfectly sharp results in as far as I can tell zero instances chromatic aberrations (CA). There isn’t even any CA in the region on its head where the sun is brightest which is excellent considering the situation. In my opinion the Mamiya 300mm f/4.5 APO is one of the best AF lenses for the MamiyaLeaf / PhaseOne 645DF platform.

image of an adorable white faced monkey taken in Costa Rica's Gaunacaste national park with the PhaseOne IQ180, PhaseOne 645DF, and Mamiya 300mm f/4.5 APO lens

Mamiya 300mm f/4.5 APO @ 1/400 – f/4.5 – ISO 200

First, lets just take a moment to appreciate how adorable this little guy is, runny nose, pensive look, and penetrating eyes. It was very difficult to decide which image to upload and write about because of their overwhelming cuteness, while I chose my absolute favorite of the series, fret not I uploaded the rest to my Flickr for your viewing pleasure. This image is a minor crop of the original which was shot with the Mamiya
300mm f/4.5 APO lens handheld. At decent shutter speeds, because of the relatively light weight nature of this lens, it is very possible to hand hold this lens. It is not possible to shoot this lens with a monopod when you have the V-grip air attached to the camera. Of course you could screw the monopod into the larger sized hole on the bottom of the V-Grip Air, however in the moment I did not have time to either think of this or preform this modification of my set up. Though, as we see it was in no way an issue in this well lit situation. The Mamiya 300mm f/4.5 APO preforms splendidly and renders the white-faced monkey’s face perfectly and provides pleasing out of focus bokeh, again showing how absolutely wonderful this lens is. And I mean come on, look at that face, zoom in on that runny nose, look at that little hand, with those little fingers, how do you not just love this mini humanoid?

Okay now we can get to what you are REALLY interested in the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO. Again, let me clarify this is not my formal review of the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens, this is simply a report on field use. Anyway moving on,

Image taken with the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens with the Mamiya M645 2x N teleconverter of a bird in Costa Rica

Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens with Mamiya M645 2x N Teleconverter @ 1/160 – ISO 100

We will now start, somewhat inauspiciously with the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens at the beginning of my trip. When beginning with this lens (or really any telephoto lens IMHO) I seem to have over estimated its capabilities for “reach” as it were and was somewhat to ambitious which meant that I was, shooting from distances too far from a subject and expecting a crop from my 80mp sensor to yield a tolerable image, getting to close and not having extension tubes, misjudging how easy it was to manual focus this lens wide open and so on (its not easy). Though these are all common things when beginning with a lens, I found it to be more the case since  it was the longest lens I had shot with for any extended period of time on any system (at that time) and on top of getting used to something this telephoto, I was also having to deal with stability and focus issues which arise from using a lens like this on a MFDB. Eventually I got the hang of it and was able to use it with a degree of success, just like the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO. The 2X TC helped me realize some of my more creative ambitions, and the extension tubes helped me with some of the other limitations of this lens. This lens operates in an entirely different world then the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO lens; this lens is longer and slower, which brings infinitely more challenges into the equation. With the 300mm, Mirror-up mode was not essential at reasonable shutter speeds, a monopod could be easily used, and teleconverters and extension tubes generally had focus confirmation even in reasonable light since they were below the f/5.6 focus confirmation threshold of the PhaseOne 645DF body. With the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO (and everything I say goes double for the Mamiya 645 2x N TC), mirror up mode was almost always essential (except for in very bright light), a tripod with a Wimberely Gimbal head was essential, and though the teleconverter and extension tubes could be used just as effectively without degrading image quality, focus confirmation was generally out the window except for in the brightest lighting conditions. The image above shows a early, successful execution of stability and focus though, my composition was too aggressive, since “ya know” there was stuff in-front of the bird.

Image taken with the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens in Costa Rica of a Turquoise-browed Motmot with my PhaseOne IQ180

Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens @ 1/200 – ISO 100

This next image of a Turquoise-browed Motmot (which is apparently somewhat rare) shows some of the good and the bad. This image was made with the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens on its own. The image was taken on the tripod with gimbal head. It was taken at damn near close to the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO’s minimum close focus distance. On the plus side, this image has decent stability and was probably taken at a moderately wide aperture if not wide open. 1/200 of a second is enough to let the image be generally stable without having to lock down the lens in the gimbal head, use mirror-up, or a table release and so on. However, because we are at close focus, with a fairly wide-aperture telephoto lens, as we can see the focus is perfect on the tail of the bird, while the body of the bird begins to be slightly out of focus. This is a shame since its a very pretty bird. Though at-least I have an image of it where its most interesting feature is highlighted and it is tolerably executed. It shows again, the issues of shallow-DoF with these Mamiya telephoto lenses combined with their fast apertures and large digital sensors on focusing which can lead to some issues.

Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens in Costa Rica on PhaseOne IQ180 taking pictures of a rare three-toed sloth

Images showing my support system, and shooting technique with the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO and Mamiya M645 2x N TC on my PhaseOne IQ180

The next couple of images you will see will show the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens at both 500mm and 1000mm and I think its important to take a moment and look at the shooting technique required with this lens. Here we are taking pictures of a three-toed sloth up in a tree. The left hand image is included to provide some idea of how far away the subject is from the lens. The Left hand image depicts proper medium format digital long lens shooting technique in its entirety. Luckily the subject for this particular image wasn’t really a fast mover so I could get everything locked down and make a good image. As we see, the tripod is completely locked down with the lens in place, the camera is in mirror-up mode and the cable release is attached to reduce vibrations when releasing the shutter. This is a more practical mode of shooting then using the mirror-up mode with the camera’s self timer since at least with the cable release, I can take the picture exactly when I want to while observing changes in the scene within the area I know comprises the frame I gave composed.

Image of a three-toed sloth in Costa Rica with the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens on my PhaseOne IQ180

Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO @ 1/320 – ISO 100

Image of a three-toed sloth in Costa Rica with the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens on my PhaseOne IQ180 at 1000mm

Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO with Mamiya M645 2x N TC @ 1000mm – 1/160 – ISO 100

These next two images allow us to show a direct comparison between between the 500mm and 1000mm focal lengths which can be achieved with the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens. These images of the three-toed sloth were taken (with the above set up) and show off the image quality of this lens with and without the teleconverter. As we can see the image without the teleconverter which is of course, at 500mm is absolutely perfect even though the scene is somewhat challenging and backlit. The next image at 1000mm, shows some slight uncorrected chromatic aberrations in the lower left hand corner of the image where more or less blown out highlights meet the edge of the leaves. This is something which could have been expected from just about any lens when under these conditions with a teleconverter. Though not corrected here, I believe that with the latest update of CaptureOne 7 (CaptureOne 7.1.4) we will be able to correct the CA from this lens since as was announced there is now “Lens Support” for the Mamiya 200mm f/2.8 APO, Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO, and Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lenses inside of CaptureOne.

Image taken with the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens with the Mamiya M645 2x N TC Teleconverter and PhaseOne IQ180 of a Tucan in Costa Rica

Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO with 2x Teleconverter @ 1000mm – 1/160 / ISO 100

Now we come to one of my absolute favorite images from the trip. Of course, as we can see this is an image of a Toucan, and Toucan’s are just pretty awesome on their own. This image was made with the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens and the Mamiya M645 2x N TC, it was probably shot open, if not slightly stopped down.  The light coming in from behind the Toucan was relatively strong even though the grey clouds out that day, consequently I was shooting at a tolerably fast shutter speed and was able to stop down to allow myself some room to focus. Unfortunately, this meant slightly less then pleasing bokeh in the technical sense, however I like it for this particular image since the light coming through the trees in the background makes for an interesting pattern and the Toucan itself is still relatively isolated. The image was taken with the full procedure, mirror-up, cable release, locked down tripod and all. What this image does not show however is the place I was forced to stand to take this image. While compositing this image and waiting for the Toucan to get into the correct positioning etc, I unknowingly wound up standing on top of nest of some fire-ants who were none too pleased to have my foot enter their mound. Thankfully, I was wearing my rather high white tennis socks (a wonderful look with navy shorts, sneakers, and a a long-sleeve teeshirt btw) and my father who accompanied me was close at hand knock them off of my leg while I got the images. I think it was worth it, even though this final image was a crop, and because of the post-processing noise is apparent, it should still make a good print, though I plan to spend a good amount of time before printing it working on recovering some of the black of its chest.

Image taken of a Great Blue Heron in Guanacaste National Park, Costa Rica with the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens with Mamiya M645 2X N TC Teleconverter and PhaseOne IQ180

Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO with 2x Teleconverter @ 1000mm – 1/800 – ISO 200

Our next few images will come from Guanacaste National Park in Costa Rica and picture the movements of a cooperative Great Blue Heron. Here we see the Great Blue Heron wading out precariously close a crocodile  lurking in the foreground. The image was taken in fairly bright sunlight and was made using the Mamiya 500m f/4.5 APO lens with the Mamiya M645 2x N TC, however because of the extremely bright conditions, even stopped down somewhat an exceedingly fast stutter speed was being used and while the lens was mounted on the tripod, it was not locked down before every shot, and nothing bad happened to the resulting images. Some CA is visible on the rocks on the shoreline, but again this is only shown for purposes of this article, and especially in this example the CA is easily correctable within CaptureOne.

Image taken with the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens and Mamiya M645 2x N TC Teleconverter in Guanacaste National Park Costa Rica of a Great Blue Heron

Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO with 2x Teleconverter @ 1000mm – 1/1000 – ISO 200

As we can see, critical focus was completely achieved in this image which was shot in the way described above and was taken after the Great Blue Heron had advanced further out into the waters and we had moved somewhat closer. The image, which shows the crane cleaning or scratching itself in the water displays one of those classic posses of the Heron. One thing you might nor realize about the Heron however is that this creatures head and feet are extremely skinny. Now, you might assume that stopped down it would be easy to get the narrow head and feet into the plane of focus…and you would be wrong. Considering the DoF produced by the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens @ 1000mm with the Mamiya M645 2x N Teleconverter and the PhaseOne IQ180′s sensor size we are still (even when stopped down) left with a relatively narrow focus plane to work with.

Image taken with the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens and Mamiya M645 2x N TC Teleconverter of a Great Blue Heron eating a fish in Guanacaste National Park in Costa Rica with the PhaseOne IQ180

Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO with 2x Teleconverter @ 1000mm – 1/640- ISO 200

To round out this set of images we will finish with a fun little image of the Great Blue Heron eating a little fish. In this picture we see the fish right after it was caught by the Great Blue Heron. Even though this image is 50% the size of the original we can still zoom in and see the detail in the expression on the fishes face after it has been plucked from the water and is about to be consumed by the Great Blue Heron. It provides us with a reminder of both the resolving power of this lens and the detail which can be produced by the PhaseOne IQ180′s 80mp sensor. Though stopped down, the background in this image is less obtrusive the in some other images even though it is not exceedingly out of focus.

Image of a Great Egret taken with the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens at 1000mm with the Mamiya M645 2x N TC Teleconverter in Costa Rica with the PhaseOne 645DF and PhaseOne IQ180

Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO with 2x Teleconverter @ 1000mm – 1/400 – ISO 50

Our next two images were taken at an abandoned aquaculture Tilapia farm in Costa Rica. Some of the pools are still filled with water and have developed a small eco-system around them including fish, insects, and birds which made for some very interesting sightings. Other then this egret there were many, many ducks, some small fowl, as well as a hawk (or eagle type thing), and a few of this Great Egret. This image is a fairly significant crop (see below) however it holds up excellently thanks to the very low-noise ISO 50 and the superbly sharp rendering of the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens even when paired with the Mamiya M645 2x N. As we have seen multiple times in this article, when you achieve critical focus (no small feat), and use the proper long-lens technique and camera settings you can achieve some great results. Again we see he background, which is tolerably blown out, however because of a fairly significant distance between the camera and subject, we do not have a significant level of subject isolation thanks the bokeh but the sharp focus helps to bring the subject out of the partially distracting background, which can be a great quality of this lens in certain situations.

Screenshot of an image of a Great Egret taken with the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO and Mamiya M645 2x N

As we can see the image is a very aggressive crop and it is a wonder it came out as well as it did. One of the unfortunate psychological effects of using this lens along with the PhaseOne IQ180 for me was a certain level of non-sechalnce about composition and framing assuming that I could crop in post to give myself “super-human” reach with this 500mm and 1000mm combo. Though it is possible, its much better to not get into this frame of mind and frame your images and take advantage of your sensor’s full resolution (DUH, but not apparent in the heat of the moment).

Image of a Great Egret taken with the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens at 1000mm with the Mamiya M645 2x N TC Teleconverter in Costa Rica with the PhaseOne 645DF and PhaseOne IQ180

Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO with 2x Teleconverter @ 1000mm – 1/250 – ISO 50

This next image was taken in the same lighting of the same Great Egret when it came to the ground. For this image, also at 1000mm, we have the lens stopped down at least a stop (judging from the shutter-speed while the ISO is held constant) and we can see the background has degraded significantly. This image is a similar crop to the pervious image. However, here even though there is decent if not perfect focus, the background doesn’t help things. The dried grasses that are in focus and out of focus blend together and the far out background is not any better and as we see this image is much weaker for it. It’s important to show the lens in different settings to see when it can be used effectively and when it is not advisable to apply the lens.

Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens review Iguana Guanacaste National Park Costa Rica

Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO with 2x Teleconverter @ 1000mm – 1/320 – ISO 50

Here we can appreciate the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens near its close focus distance and we can appreciate both how sharp and how nicely it can isolate a subject when it is wide open. We can see that a large amount of the Iguana is rendered nicely in focus, and in this close-to full resolution image (i.e no crop) we can appreciate the beauty and smoothness of a nice ISO 50 shot out of the PhaseOne IQ180 which really lets this lens show off its stuff.

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Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO – 1/640 ISO 100

In another un-cropped image we see the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens on it’s own without the 2x TC at a relatively close distance again and it continues to perform excellently to capture this silly iguana licking his chops. When we look at the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO in my formal review we will of course consider the differences between 300mm and 500mm and what changes between these these two focal lengths. I can definitely say that these are two superior lenses, both with and without their teleconverter so we can truly not have to worry about image quality between the two lenses and can focus on their focal lengths and apertures to see which would be the ideal lens in certain situations. Being able to know you have two superior lenses to choose from makes it a lot easier as a photographer being able to select your tool based on its focal length and its abilities to render your subject is a wonderful feeling since we don’t have to consider “300mm vs 500mm which has better image quality?”.

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Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO with 2x Teleconverter @ 1000mm – 1/200 – ISO 200

For our penultimate image we will look at this crocodile lounging around on the banks of the river in Guanacaste National Park, Costa Rica. The light was exceedingly bright, and I wasn’t entirely aware of my ISO since I was so heavily involved in taking pictures so when this scene came up with very bright light I elected to stop down my lens in order to get a lot in focus which I could do since the camera was giving me a very fast shutter speed when shot wide open. I was curious what would happen when heavily stopping this lens, and as we will see from the final image (a crop) it does very well.

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Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO with 2x Teleconverter @ 1000mm – 1/200 – ISO 200

This crop from the pervious image shows some very interesting characteristics. This image was taken at either f/11 or f/22 on the lens, so double that for the teleconverter and consider the total absence of diffraction and degradation of quality from the teleconverter. Its utterly remarkable (to me). I absolutely love how the animals teeth were rendered you almost have to wonder how it can be comfortable for him (her?) to have them like that because the way that they are seemingly sinking into its jaw is so vividly rendered. Absolutely stunning. And again even here at such a small aperture, when the lens is used correctly we can see decent isolation from the background (at least in the crop) which I believe is thanks to the insane sharpness of the lens.

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Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO – 1/125 – ISO 200

Our last full-image to discuss comes more for its ecological intrigue then its photographic significance. This little White faced monkey was charged by his group as being the lookout while they at some fruit or nuts or berries or whatever monkeys eat. He however, through his own negligence failed to alert the group of our coming. The rest of the pack (group?) perceived us as a threat and in an interesting moment of social awareness decided that they would attempt to kill this poor little guy for slacking on the job, or at least give him a good scare. My wonderful guide, who I have had before and used multiple times on this trip, explained to us the social structure of these monkeys and how this was a very serious thing since it was imperative to the monkeys survival and we should imagine what would have happened if we were not friendly. Though this little monkey was not killed, we were told that usually they are given a good scare, however in serious cases they will either be banished by the group, or killed. On the photographic side of things, as we see here at 1/125th of a second without the tripod locked down completely if there is any movement it will be apparent.

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Our subject from before hides by the bank of the river

Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO – 1/500 – ISO 200

And now, we come to the end of our trip and must conclude our time in Costa Rica with the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO and Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lenses. I learned a lot about both of these lenses and I hope my experiences educated you as well, dear reader.  Having had the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO for some time now, I feel I was able to proficiently use it to execute some nice images with and without the Mamiya M645 2x N TC. On this trip however, I was able to begin to appreciate how powerful this lens can be when it is combined with the Mamiya Extension Tubes. This effect is even further seen when using the teleconverter and extension tubes in tandem which can yield some very interesting images. With its max. aperture of f/2.8 we can use TC’s and Ext. tubes together and still have a reasonable amount of light hitting the sensor which is most excellent. This being my first trip with the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens (and in fact I had only received it about 3 weeks before the trip) I had to learn this lens, like you do with any lens. This lens is certainly unique, since it is on the longer side of medium-format telephoto lenses and requires different techniques and conceptual understandings of image making; which again I hope I have begun to unfold in this practically based article.

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Montage of Mamiya Telephoto lenses, Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO, Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO - 

Mamiya M645 2x N TC, Mamiya Extension Tubes, and me staring off into the distance at birds

Thank you for your time, and please comment if you have questions, or well comments! Don’t forget to give me a like on Facebook and check out my Tumblr to keep up with all of my latest news on future articles and photographic adventures, and small executive summaries of articles. Also if your so inclined, you can check out many sets of sample images on my flickr page. You can also watch YouTube reviews and interviews on my channel and keep up with my latest coming and goings (photographically speaking) by following me on twitter if you are so inclined.

Mamiya 80mm f/1.9 N Lens Review

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Mamiya 80mm f/1.9 N @ f/1.9 1/160s at ISO 50 on a [Prototype] PhaseOne IQ260

The Mamiya M645 80mm f/1.9 N lens is an absolute hidden gem in the Mamiya M645 series of lenses. This is in no way a rare lens like the hallowed Mamiya M645 APO’s (Mamiya 200mm f/2.8 APO (review coming soon), Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO, and the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO (review coming very soon)), in fact it is a very common, though often dismissed lens which offers some very unique characteristics for a medium format lens. This lens is often termed the “Noctilux” of medium format lenses, and this is an apt comparison in a number of respects. The Noctilux is lauded as the fastest lens in the Leica M series line up (as well as the world), as a new standard in image quality at wide apertures, and being a king of bokeh (amongst other things). The Mamiya 80mm f/1.9 N lens can have many of these same epithets applied to it as well, it is the fastest lens in medium format (barring something I don’t know about), it is exceedingly sharp, even wide open. Interestingly on a full-frame 645 piece of film (or digital sensor) the Mamiya 80mm f/1.9N at f/1.9 has almost the same (if not identical) depth-of-field  to the Leica M Noctilux 50mm f/0.95 on a full-frame 35mm format camera. Of course there are a few ways of judging this and, when venturing into the world of digital sensors others factors are brought in when calculating the Circle-of-Confusion to determine DoF; these include the pixel pitch of the digital sensor as well as any anticipated effect of AA filters and so on. That being said there is one critical difference between these two lenses, which are leaders in their class: their price. Of course we all know the Leica Noctilux was released as a $10,000.00 USD lens and has now climbed to over $12,000.00 USD while the Mamiya 80mm f/1.9 N comes in at around $200 dollars. These are two vastly different numbers. Surprisingly when looking for this article, it was very difficult to find the 80mm f/1.9 N version of this lens with the few versions available being the 80mm f/1.9 C which we will also discuss later. When shooting for this article (admittedly it was about 6-8 months ago) I was lucky enough to have a willing model, and a Prototype PhaseOne IQ260 mounted on a PhaseOne / Mamiya 645DF+ and my Mamiya 645AFD to run some 120mm film through. If you read no further, walk away from this executive summary knowing these few things: this lens is optically awesome, it is comparatively and relatively inexpensive, and you should probably buy one.

Also, a special shout out goes to Digital Transitions for letting me shoot a then prototype of the PhaseOne IQ260 with this lens.

Image 1

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Mamiya 80mm f/1.9 N @ f/1.9 1/160s at ISO 50 on a [Prototype] PhaseOne IQ260

When taking pictures with the Mamiya 80mm f/1.9 you have to consider a number of things, and at-least to me, forced me to think differently. You have to consider the models positioning and where you want the image to be focusing, because with DoF this shallow. Especially if you are shooting fairly close, your focus point is going to be readily apparent in the final image and should be considered from a technical and artistic perspective to decide what you want to achieve. One of the more difficult things to conceptually grasp, and that a number of my images in this set fail to do, is to understand how the FoV and the focus point (plane) are linked. By this I mean, if you look at the above image, the first thing you are struck with is that you are being drawn to the models left eye, dragging you deep into the picture. This was the intention and it was achieved. However, the failure in this image is to consider the rest of the focal plane. If you think of focus as a point like we sometimes do (or at-least I generally do since thats all I need to for most of my work) then you are not concerned with the focal plane. As we know, when focusing it is not on a point but a plane and DoF address how big this plane is. With a shallow DoF (possibly especially with) and close focus this can become a greater issue especially if you are not perfectly centered with the model straight at you in one plane. As you see the failure in this image is that, Though the majority of this image is beautifully out of focus except for the point of critical focus (the eye), there are some other places where the focal plane intersects the face again, most notably in the hair and can be distracting and was very difficult to attempt to mask out in Photoshop, so I gave up on trying to do this. I like the above image, though this point can become a bigger issue in some situations (shown below). Of course you also have to ensure your focus is spot on so good camera work is required you have to judge your movements, your focus spot, your subjects movements, and your hands ability to manual focus in-sync with these other factors all at once and let these four things exist in harmony because without them being exactly timed you will not succeed in achieving critical focus.

Image 2

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Mamiya 80mm f/1.9 N @ f/1.9 1/160s at ISO 50 on a [Prototype] PhaseOne IQ260

In Image 1 above, there were enough redeeming characteristics to make its failures not the focus of the image, and consequently not totally ruining any potential for the image. However in this image, there are again, some of the same failures present and a few others. To knock the obvious ones out of the way immediately, critical focus on the face was missed, its somewhere around the bridge of the nose and the eyes where intended but it was not a direct hit. Either Me and the camera or the model moved slightly which is all thats needed to throw you off with this lens. However, if we pretend that the image was focused correctly, which again it kind of is but also kind of isn’t. We see a few other things distracting in the composition. Because of the angle of the camera to the model and the angle of the model’s face it is distorting her face and consequently not a good image. Further and most salient to our discussion is again, the focal plane. Since we know where the intended we can again see the issue in the hair. There is a plane through which focus passes where the hair is in focus with out of focus hair all around it. This creates a very confusing image to look at which confuses the eye as it tries to get a grasp of the image. This was one of the key challenges that I faced when using this lens and it is something unique to shallow depth of field work. Using a wide-aperture lens on medium format is something wholly different then using a 50mm f/1.4 or an 85mm f/1.4 on a DSLR since the mode of thinking when using a MFDB vs. DSLR is something which is wholly disparate in many respects.

Image 3

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Mamiya 80mm f/1.9 N @ f/1.9 1/200s at ISO 50 on a [Prototype] PhaseOne IQ260

When all of the stars aline this is an absolutely killer lens. With a close focus distance of .7m (27.56″) this lens lens you get decently close to your subject and allows for a very intimate feel to the images when the lenses shallow depth of field capabilities are used to their fullest ability. In the image above all of these things come together. Critical focus was achieved (near cheek / eye) and the focal plane was placed correctly so that you cannot see where the plane intersects the models hair, though if you look closely you will spot it….it is well hidden. We have noted in some of the above images the superb optics of this lens which render and incredibly sharp image and can further see this here. We see excellent sharpness and detail, pleasing bokeh an no chromatic-abberations like we might expect to see in a lens such as this. Of course, if you use any lens improperly it will have things like CA appear, though when used correctly it’s non-existant in this lens. This multi-coated N-version lens (there were two versions C and N, which we will discuss in our conclusion) provides shockingly good performance.

Image 4

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Mamiya 80mm f/1.9 N @ f/1.9 1/200s at ISO 50 on a [Prototype] PhaseOne IQ260

Now we will engage in a brief (and incomplete) history of Mamiya M645 lenses compiled from varying sources to understand the difference between C, S, N, and A (?) lenses from Mamiya’s legacy lenses. As far as we are concerned in this discussion Mamiya medium format lenses began with the “C” series (there were earlier cameras but those don’t matter here). These are the first lenses released and they were and are very capable lenses. They feature all-metal construction and are as sturdy as anything out there. However, like any lens line-up they had some weak spots; one notable example was the 35mm f/3.5 C which possibly either did not have the best quality control, manufacturing, or optical design. It should be noted that even today,the 35mm f/3.5 D lens is apparently hit or miss between a quality copy and a dud. The M645 mount lenses were introduced in 1975 when the M645 camera was released. Sometime after their release, re-formulated “S” series lenses were released (possibly in 1985 with the release of the Mamiya 645 Super?) which updated the weaker lenses in the line, though “S” versions do not exist for all of the lenses (such as the 35mm f/3.5). After the “C” lenses, come the “N” series lenses. I believe that the “N” series lenses were launched with the release of the Mamiya 645 Pro in 1993 (Hooray I was born). The “N” lenses seem to have proffered the biggest changes in the M645 mount lens line up. They were modern, their coatings shown the improvements of 20 years, their optics were improved, though many of the optical formulas stayed the same it is understood that the specific optical elements changed between the lenses. For example, the 300mm f/5.6 C lens became the 300mm f/5.6 N ULD introducing a ultra-low dispersion lens element though the optical formula remained unchanged (correct me if I am wrong, this is what I gathered from research). By all accounts, it seems that the N seem to be the most ideal for use with digital sensors since they offer the most “modern” coatings available in a M645 mount lens. The “N” series lenses also changed the aesthetics of the lens slightly, they become sleeker (and frankly better looking) and remain mostly metal though their aperture rings become plastic. Though in real life this is not something you would notice since they still click firmly and confidently. I own the 55mm f/2.8 N, 80mm f/1.9 N, 150mm f/3.5 N and the 150mm f/2.8 N (reviews coming soon) and they are all shockingly superb.

Now, some of the most impressive and unique lenses in the Mamiya line up are their APO or apochromatic lenses. These are premium telephoto lenses which offer relatively fast apertures and superior optics. The lenses (as mentioned above) are the 200mm f/2.8 APO, 300mm f/2.8 APO, and the 500mm f/4.5 APO. Some say these are the lenses with the designation “A”. However, I have read of instances where the 150mm f/2.8 lenses will say “A” on them. I have one theory about this, tho it is by no way a confirmed answer. In discussions with various people both online and in real life (I do do that occasionally) it seems that the 150mm f/2.8 lens was designed at the same time and by the same people as the 200mm, 300mm, and 500mm APO lenses. The 150mm f/2.8 N as well as the newer autofocus 150mm f/2.8 D lenses are possibly two of the sharpest lenses in the Mamiya system and this rumor would not be surprising to me. Its possible that the 150mm f/2.8 may harness an apochromatic element or simply have been considered by Mamiya as in the same lens line as the APO’s which gave it its designation even though it is not a white barreled lens.

Image 5

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Mamiya 80mm f/1.9 on Mamiya 645AFD with Ilford Pan F Plus ISO 50 film

This lens is also a very strong performer on film. Considering how well it holds up to a 60mp sensor (as well as 80mp though not shown here) we can assume its also an excellent lens on film. This assumption is correct, though frankly my use of this lens with film has been far more conservative in terms of composition considering how I know that there are a litany of things which could go wrong (discussed above) to cause the image to be less then successful and frankly its much more comforting shooting digital where I can immediately check focus (especially with PhaseOne IQ series backs like my IQ180 or the IQ260 used here).

One thing which should be noted is that this lens generally is not sold with a lens hood. When it is it is a Mamiya rubber lens hood which doesn’t seem satisfactory to me at all. There are a few solutions available for this problem. There are a number of companies that make screw in lens hoods for varying filter sizes. Schneider-Kreuznach’s B+W makes one that matches the anodizing of the metal of the Mamiya 80mm f/1.9 N almost perfectly though their “standard” length lens hood is slightly too long and creates a small vignette in the corners of the image since of course, it is blocking them. This can be rectified by filing it down a bit and then it would be perfect. However, there are also a number of companies, which you can find through Amazon which sell screw-in lens hoods and their “standard length” metal lens hood does the job and is the proper length.

In conclusion this is a very wonderful special purpose / portraiture lens which should not be dismissed when looking to create your line-up of lenses even when shooting a MFDB since as we have seen this humble lens, which costs under $500.00 USD and is from the 20th century can perform exceptionally well on the most demanding modern $40,000.00 USD+ medium format digital backs. When you consider the difficulties I experienced when shooting this lens, there are a number of things which might make you shy away from it; simply put it is difficult to use. However if you use it properly and develop good technique it can deliver some absolutely stunning images.

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.

 

Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO Lens Review with Sample Images and Comparisons

*Update* – I know this article pops up when you google the “Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO Lens”, well I also happen to own this lens and have begun review it starting with my Field Report from Costa Rica of the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO and Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lenses (click to view).

Image taken at f/5.6 with the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO Lens

Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO @ f/5.6 on the PhaseOne 645DF with IQ180 

Telephoto lenses are not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of medium format cameras. Initially you think of their resolution, advantages and disadvantages in certain situations, and of course with the advent of digital, their price. However there is a long tradition of medium format cameras having telephoto lenses in their line up. The standard telephoto focal length for medium format is 300mm which is equivalent to approximately 200mm on a full-frame 35mm camera (specifically 193mm). However some companies have pushed the limits by creating 500mm lenses. Mamiya has made two, the 500mm f/4.5 APO and the older 500mm f/5.6 lenses. They have also made a 2x Tele-converter which works with their MF telephoto lenses. In this review we will look at the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO, Mamiya 300mm f/4.5 APo, and the 300mm f/2.8 APO with the 2x Tele-Converter.

Of course as we know, telephoto lenses are used for photographing wildlife, so I thought it would be funny to use an animal as my subject for the images in this test. And as it turns out, it is really really hard to make an owl not move for an extended period of time, so I went the taxidermy route. So a special thanks to the Connecticut Audubon Society for providing this ~100 year old owl for testing.

Physical Comparison

Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO vs Mamiya 300mm f/4.5 APO Lens Size Comparison

As we can see here, there are some major physical differences between these two lenses. Most obvious is their size. The Mamiya 300mm f/4.5 APO is quite a bit smaller. After having hiked with it in Oregon, I can say that it is very carry-able for an extended period of time. The same cannot be said for the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO which weighs about 6.4 lb on its own. Also, theoretically the 300mm f/4.5 could be handheld, however the same cannot be said for the 300mm f/2.8. Both lenses are provided with tripod collars which like other telephoto lenses allow for them to be mounted at a position which places the center of gravity at a point which will make the lens and camera more balanced and stable. The Mamiya 300mm f/4.5  offers a slide out lens hood which is the same design as the Mamiya 210mm f/4 ULD lens. The Mamiya 300mm f/4.5 is also an autofocus lens and this should be considered when comparing these two lenses.

Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO Lens Review

The Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO lens has a much more substantial lens hood which screws into the front of the lens (starts where the first black band is) and provides a significant amount of glare protection and is coated with black felt on the inside to decrease reflections. It also has some unique features. The Mamiya 300mm f/4.5 APO lens is Autofocus but it also has electronic aperture control. Mamiya does not make a teleconverter with electronic contacts so it is not possible to use the Mamiya M645 Teleconverter 2X N with the Mamiya 300mm f/4.5 lens. The Mamiya M645 Teleconverter 2X N is very well built and as we will see preforms very well optically when paired with the 300mm f/2.8 APO. The Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO, like all of the M645 lenses has a manual aperture ring. On the side of the lens there is a switch which can be flipped and then the aperture can be controlled via the aperture ring. The aperture ring is very solid and large and easy to use even when not looking at it.  Like many modern telephoto lenses, the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO lens has drop in filters and the original set was sold with filter pouch and standard filters. It accepts 52mm filters. The Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO can be used with the PhaseOne V-Grip AIR which makes it very easy to use in portrait orientation making it even more comfortable to use. For this review the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO was mounted on a Wimberly WH-200-S head which I purchased for use with the lens and mounted on my Gitzo Series 3 legs.

Functionality

The Mamiya 300mm f/4.5 operates as you would expect, it is an autofocus lens which also offers manual focus. You put the lens into manual focus the same way that you do on many of the other Mamiya Lenses by sliding the focus ring up or down. Of course the autofocus speed does not lend itself to action like sports or wildlife (most applications) photography but it does work well for nature, still life etc.

The Mamiya 300mm f/2.8′s aperture ring and tripod collar have already been commented on. Like many of the purpose-built manual focus lenses the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 has a very nice focus ring. It is covered in rubber which makes it easy to control. The focus throw is not very long, which is good if you are trying to focus on a moving subject, but at the same time the focusing ring offers enough resistance that it is possible to fine tune focus without too much of an issue. The f/2.8′s minimum focus distance is 3.5 meters or or around 11.5 feet. One of the great things about the PhaseOne 645DF is it’s focus confirmation feature. I have already addressed the usefulness of this feature in my initial report on the 645DF and IQ180. It works exceptionally well with the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 allowing for accurate focusing however as you stop down the camera it will eventually become to dark for the camera to be able to confirm focus through the lens. This means that when shooting still subjects that you will have to focus at a wider aperture and then stop down. This also means that if you are shooting under changing lighting conditions and with moving subjects that it is possible to not realize you have stopped down past the point at which the camera can focus which can lead to errors in focus.

Image Quality

Image quality is what everyone really cares about. It will decide for you which lens better fits your needs. Full aperture series (f/2.8-f/22, f/5.6-f/45, f/4.5-f/22) are available on my Flickr page with 100% center crops of each of the images provided and labeled. Here we will look at examples which illustrate the different qualities of these lenses. All of these images were taken in M/UP mode to decrease vibration.

Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 Aperture Comparison

Images taken with the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO at f/2.8 and f/4 (Left and Right Respectively)

Full Image

Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO Aperture Comparison 100% Center Crop

Images taken with the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO at f/2.8 and f/4 (Left and Right Respectively)

100% Center Crops

As would be expected, the 300mm f/2.8 has some significant vignetting at f/2.8 however one stop down at f/4 there is significantly less vignetting. Looking at the two files, it would appear that the f/2.8 file is underexposed if looked at quickly, however exposure was kept constant for these shots and the darkness is entirely attributable to vignetting. f/2.8 also offers excellent bokeh which is pleasing to the eye and very good at isolating the foreground subject. Another effect of the 300mm f/2.8, just like with the Mamiya 80mm f/1.9N is the very shallow depth of field. When you look at the 100% sample of the f/2.8 file you can see that the center is very sharp (point of focus is around the beak / forehead / nose area of the head of the owl) and then the shallow DOF makes the sharpness fall off very quickly. Again, when stopped down to f/4 there is already an increase in the in-focus area along with vignetting being controlled and still pleasing bokeh which helps to isolate the subject.

Now we will compare the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO to the 300mm f/4.5 APO:

Mamiya 300mm lens comparison at f/8

Images taken with the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO and 300mm f/4.5 APO at f/8.0 (Left and Right Respectively)

Full Image

Mamiya 300mm Lens Comparison 100% Crop

Images taken with the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO and 300mm f/4.5 APO at f/8.0 (Left and Right Respectively)

100% Center Crops

Both of these images were taken at f/8. When comparing the two images you can see that the 300mm f/2.8 is more contrasty then the 300mm f/4.5. While very similar to my eye the 300mm f/2.8 exhibits more pleasing bokeh at f/8 then the 300mm f/4.5 APO. When looking at the 100% center crops of the f/8 comparisons, it becomes apparent that the 300mm f/2.8 is slightly warmer in its rendition of colors then the 300mm f/4.5 which is slightly cooler.  As far as I can tell, the 300mm f/2.8 is also sharper then the 300mm f/4.5. While the difference is very slight, it seems to me that the 300mm f/2.8 APO does a better job at rendering fine details then the 300mm f/4.5 APO at f/8.

The next set of images will look at the Mamiya M645 Teleconverter 2X N on the 300mm f/2.8 APO

Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 Teleconverter Comparison

Images taken with the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO and M645 Teleconverter 2X N wide open (f/2.8 and f/5.6 Respectively)

The Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO with the M645 Teleconverter 2X N yields of a focal length of 600mm which is approximately equivalent to a 400mm lens on a 35mm full-frame camera (exactly 386mm). As commented on before the effects of the vignetting on exposure are again apparent when comparing these two images where the image taken with the M645 Teleconverter 2X N where wide open vignetting significantly darkens the image. However as we will see just like without the TC as the lens is stopped down the effects of vignetting disappear. The TC does however maintain the sharpness and optical quality of the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO and as far as I can tell does not significantly effect image quality. It’s biggest disadvantage is in function where at smaller apertures it is too dark for the camera to accurately confirm focus (discussed above) which can create an issue for some field use.

Mamiya M645 Teleconverter 2X N with 100% Crop

Images taken with the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO and M645 Teleconverter 2X N at f/11 with 100% crop on right

When stopped down to f/11 (f/5.6 + TC) the vignetting issues experienced at smaller apertures are all but gone. As we can see here in this example, especially when looking at the 100% crop, the image is very sharp and there has not been any degradation in the image quality with the addition of the teleconverter. This shows how well designed the teleconverter is, which can also be used on other lenses, like the Mamiya 150mm f/2.8 N to yield a 300mm f/5.6 (if you need it in an emergency).

Conclusions

Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 Owl Final Image

Edited image from the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 with M645 Teleconverter 2X N shot at f/5.6

The Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO is capable of producing some stunning images in certain situations. It excels as a as a telephoto lens for portraits when shot wide open at f/2.8 where the subject is isolated in a dream like world because of the vignetting and shallowed depth of field. It is also excellent for applications where a significant telephoto magnification is needed because of its ability to work with the teleconverter without any noticeable differences in image quality. These make the 300mm f/2.8 a very versatile tool when applied correctly.

The 30mm f/4.5 APO has some advantages over the f/2.8. Firstly, its size lends itself to use in landscape photography since it is significantly more practical to carry. Secondly, its autofocus capability makes it all the more appealing. Also, its electronic aperture control should not be overlooked since it helps to keep your hands on the camera when shooting and not fiddling around with the lens.

I like the 300mm focal length on medium format cameras, as I have discussed before when reviewing the Hasselblad 300mm f/4.5 HC and for this reason both of these lenses have a place in my kit. They can both technically excellent images, however I will give a slight edge to the 300mm f/2.8 APO in terms of its renditions of fine details at smaller apertures.

Full aperture series from the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO with and without the M645 Teleconverter 2X N and the 300mm f/4.5 can be seen here on my flickr.

As an aside the 300mm f/2.8 APO can be used with adapters on 35mm cameras. There are some examples of it with an adapter on my Nikon D4 here.


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


 

PhaseOne IQ180, a love story

PhaseOne IQ180 mounted on the PhaseOne 645DF camera body

When writing a review about the highest resolution consumer camera in the world, it is really hard to come up with a good opening. There really isn’t anyway to get around it, this camera is, as of the writing of this review the best camera in the world*.

Of course there is the caveat that this is a full-frame sensor sized medium format digital back, it is very different from any other type of camera. You can’t expect to get high-resolution images of sports or fast moving wildlife; the autofocus speed isn’t there. You also cant expect great high ISO performance, if you want that, then you should get a D3s like I have, which would also cover the first condition.

PhasOne 645DF Camera Body

This camera is the best not only in terms of resolution, but also in terms of optics, ergonomics and functionality. The optics are superior Schneider Optics which have been specially designed for the PhaseOne 645DF. Not only are they made to a higher standard then the Mamiya lenses (still not anything to be scoffed at) and they also have leaf shutters, which allows for higher shutter speeds with strobe or off camera lighting. Ergonomically, I believe that the PhaseOne 645DF is far superior to the other widely used systems, the Hasselblad H series (currently H4 and H4X) and the Sinar/Rollei/Leaf Hy6 which apparently people use. Of course there are other cameras out there including the Hasselblad V series (most modern being the 503CW) and slightly older systems like the Contax 645 system (which has autofocus and vertical grip and most comparable in terms of accessories but no longer made). Again, this is only counting cameras, which are Medium format Digital Back DSLR’s meaning they have a mirror box, and removable digital backs. So this analysis excludes the Leica S2 and Pentax 645D, if you are interested in these cameras, you can read extensively about the Leica S2 here, and in brief about the Pentax 645D.

It is true, the PhaseOne 645DF camera body, is most similar to a 35mm DSLR, in terms of feel, form, and functionality. It feels good to hold, it feels sturdy, albeit plastic, and you wouldn’t feel terribly out of place picking it up coming from professional grade DSLR’s since the control scheme is fairly straightforward and similar. The shape of the PhaseOne 645DF body has every element that a 35mm DSLR body would have. It has a flash sync input, cable release input, and tripod screw mount. The On/Off function of the camera is achieved by placing the dial around the shutter in the (L) position, meaning lock. Now interestingly, here, there is also an (S)(C) and (M.UP) option. The (S) is, single shot, the setting that you will most often use. (C) Is the continuous setting that lets you blast away at 1fps with the IQ180 (smaller resolution backs are faster but not significantly.)  I like the positioning of the Mirror up function on this camera. On others it is sometimes hidden, or slightly confusing to find, however here it is right on the dial and easily and quickly accessible. If you do not know what Mirror up means, it is a way of decreasing shutter vibration when making exposures. The difference wont really be noticed or significant until you get below 1/30 of a second and are invariable on a tripod. This means it is mostly for work where the highest resolution and focus is desired, like Landscape, Architecture or reprographic work. Normally, in an SLR, when you release the shutter, the mirror box goes up, the shutter opens (shutter speed), the sensor is exposed, and then the shutter is closed and the mirror reset. When the mirror is up, this is the time that you cannot see through the viewfinder. This is the step that mirror up takes away. It is very difficult to control the vibration of the mirror moving so quickly. In Mirror up, the first time the shutter is pressed the mirror goes up but the shutter remains closed. This means at this point, you cannot compose through the viewfinder, which means you must have pre-focused and all that. Then the second press of the shutter will open the shutter (you will notice this is significantly quitter because there is no mirror going up and always remember, sounds is vibration…) and then after the exposure has finished it will close itself. This significantly reduces shutter vibration, which will be especially noticeable with finely focused subjects and an 80mp digital sensor, which is not very forgiving. Adding another degree of separation from the camera and vibration, the very good Mamiya/PhaseOne shutter release is a must accessory.

Vertical Grip (V-Grip AIR)

PhaseOne V-Grip Air for the 645DF Camera BodyOne of my favorite features of this camera is that is the first PhaseOne camera to be offered with a vertical grip. This is something I sorely missed with my Hasselblad H, and envied about the Contax 645 and Leica S2. When deciding on what camera system to finally purchase, it came down to the Leica S2 and PhaseOne IQ180 with 645DF body. I did not consider the Contax, even though it fit the requirement of a vertical grip because its not longer made or supported so really, there won’t be anything new for it ever (until the impossible project decides that the world sorely misses it or something). In the end the price of a Leica S2 system, coming in close to the cost of upgrading to the IQ180, was not justifiable because the Leica sports a 40mp sensor and the PhaseOne is rocking a 80mp sensor. One of they key things I considered was the vertical grip, since it something I use quite a lot on my D3s. The PhaseOne V-Grip Air, not only allows you to add an extra battery (same as the back but can be used to power the body as well if your AA’s fail) but also has a Profoto Air remote built into it. This means when using equipped Profoto lights, you have can trigger the lights without needing to use a Pocketwizard or other trigger. When I discuss the back, I will have a more in-depth decision about my process for deciding on the PhaseOne.

Honestly, there really isn’t that much else to say about the PhaseOne 645DF camera body. It should be noted that it is very similar to the Mamiya 645AFD (I, II, and III) in form and basic functionality. Some noted differences include a more robust construction as the option to use Leaf shutter lenses, which is not available with the older Mamiya 645AFD camera. The PhaseOne 645DF is the perfect camera for anyone wishing to do portraiture, landscape and some other types of photography. The great thing about the modular design of PhaseOne (and leaf, and some Hasselblad’s) camera system is that you can remove the digital back and mount it on various other technical cameras for higher precision as well as complex tilt shift abilities.

 

Lenses (Schneider-Kreuznach 80mm f/2.8 LS D,  Mamiya 120mm f/4 Macro MF D and others)

Close-up of PhaseOne Schneider-Kreuznach 80mm f/2.8 LS D Leaf shutter lens and Mamiya 120mm f/4 Macro MF D

What is a camera without its lenses? Pretty depressing actually, you just get blurry pictures of the colors of a scene if you’ve ever tried it, anyway lenses really matter, and with 80mp you can tell the difference. Lenses designated by a “D” somewhere in their title, are inherently better then those without this moniker. Examples of these are the Schneider-Kreuznach leaf shutter lenses, the 75-150mm, 120mm Macro D, and some others. These lenses were designed with digital backs in mind (not just for film backs) and you an really notice the difference.  The camera body kit, comes with the Schendier 80mm LS, and this lens is absolutely perfect. It is built to high quality German optical specifications. This lens is solid rubber and metal, unlike many of its Mamiya cousins. The 80mm is the most similar to a 35mm full frame camera’s 50mm lens. Consequently, this lens could possibly be the only lens you ever need if you want superior optical performance as well as a fast aperture (for medium format anyway). There are also 55mm, 110mm, and new 150mm variants of leaf shutter lenses, that I do not doubt are stellar optically.

An interesting feature of note, and one I was negligibly unaware of, was it’s focus confirmation. I had assumed that when using a manual focus lens on the camera, like with the still produced Mamiya/PhaseOne 120mm f/4 Macro MF D and the popular 80mm f/1.9 C lens, or the 25mm Fisheye lens, you had to do your best using the focusing screen and viewfinder which would generally be inconvenient. However, two details that I neglected were that of course, the MF lenses, were purpose built to be manual focus (not to the same standards, but a similar concept of Leica’s M lens focusing mechanism), which makes lenses like the 120mm f/4 Macro MF D a pleasure to use. But also, the focus confirmation feature makes these manual focus lenses quite usable. Within the viewfinder, three symbols will appear. (>) and (o) and (<) to determine whether you are focused in front of, perfectly, or behind what the AF system would have focused on. This makes it quite easy to use these lenses on the PhaseOne 645DF body. Also, it should be noted especially with the 120mm f/4 Macro MF D, which the lens extends quite a bit when you are focusing close. Of course, this is similar to a bellows system, in that it extends and closes to change the focus and the lens elements distance from the film plane allowing close focus. If you are coming from Nikon macro lenses, like the 105mm f/2.8 Macro-Nikkor you will not be used to this side of the equation, however you will be aware of the changing minimum aperture (as the lens internally focuses, changing distances and lessening light). As the distance of lens elements, changes in relation to the film or digital sensor (Think other lenses like the Zeiss 100mm f/2 Macro), there is a fall off of light, which is why the minimum aperture will change, to effectively compensate for this with the meter. The 120mm f/4 Macro MF D lens offered from Mamiya and PhaseOne is a latest generation lens designed for digital photography (hence the “D”) designation. It produces wonderful images that are quite sharp and has no noticeable CA or diffraction in the situations I have tested it in (Albeit limited so far).

Also this lenses is superbly built, it has been pointed out to me, that a lot of the lenses are built out of metal, some particular examples of this are the Mamiya 105-210mm f/4.5 and the 35mm f/3.5 D lens which incorporate significant metal construction into their designs. However a lot of the other lenses I own, while still having metal barrels, tend to feel a bit plastic-y and overall like normal Nikon lenses instead of superiorly built Hasselblad or Leica lenses. However the Mamiya 120mm f/4 Macro MF D is amazingly well built, and heavy in the hand. You know you are holding a good lens when you hold it. You can feel the optical elements in it and know that this lens has been well built.

**Note about the Mamiya 105-210mm f/4.5 ULD**

This lens, has been produced for a number of years now, and it has been, because it is well built, well designed lens, comprising Ultra-Low Dispersion (ULD) elements, allowing for superior resolving power when combined with digital backs. The lens was originally released, to work with Mamiya’s 645AFD (i, ii, iii) cameras, this lens requires slight modification to work with the Mamiya/PhaseOne 645DF camera body. Since some of the contacts have changed between the Mamiya AFD and 645DF, to allow this lens to work with the 645DF, you must send it back to Mamiya to be upgraded. This upgrade, is relatively inexpensive being about $250, which to modify a $3400 lens which I purchased, new for less, from my dealer Camera Wholesalers in Stamford, CT all and all not a bad proposition.

Without this upgrade, the contacts will not fully touch, and you will receive, at best intermittent aperture control, and not autofocus what so ever. Making this lenses useless to use without the upgrade.

PhaseOne IQ180 Digital Back ~ Build

PhaseOne IQ180 80mp Medium Format Digital Back view of the rear of the camera and touchscreen

This is of course the most important, and equivalently priced, part of a PhaseOne 645DF camera system. This is where all the money is, and what really matters. The stunning, full frame 80mp sensor in this digital back, at times, defies words. However, I will do my best to address some important parts of it.

PhaseOne has been one of the biggest innovators in digital medium format photography. Leica has even adapted their iconic 4-button layout for their S camera system. I personally, as many others do as well, use Leica as a benchmark for quality in photographic imaging. They are iconic, recognized by everyone whether they know a lot about photography, or only the most cursory knowledge. Most people who also know that Leica is known for their minimalistic, simplified, and streamlined design. In this case, imitation is the most sincere form of flattery and a major compliment to PhaseOne’s design team to be emulated by Leica, instead of the other way around. This does not happen often and should be noted as a unique and important event.

Of course, the elephant in the room, is that this camera has a TOUCHSCREEN. Yes, Leaf has had touchscreens for a while, but IN MY PAST EXPEREINCES, they have been less then acceptable for my purposes. PhaseOne however has introduced a scree, that rivals an iPhone retina display in quality and functionality. Of course, this is what PhaseOne keeps touting about the IQ series, and I can definitively say that this is true. While it does not have as complex a multi-touch system of the iPhone, its quality and speed of functionality are superior. The menu system is for the first 20 minutes a little disorienting. This is because some of the functions are controlled through scrolling and touching gestures, while others are run through the hard buttons on the camera. But, within the first half hour, you will have mastered this system and it will be second nature.

The screen. The screen is bright and responsive. Using your finger on it is a breeze and everything happens when you click it, no lag, or significant load time. If you have used a PhaseOne P+ back or Hasselblad back, you know that when you press buttons on the back, things happen immediately. This is what happens, and this is the way that it should be. The screen is miles ahead of other digital medium format back screens, which are generally atrocious, or at least not relative to their cost. I would go so far as to say, it is one of the best screens on any professional camera right now (including 35mm DSLR but not consumer P&Ss’ and m4/3 cameras which I don’t know enough about to comment on).

Other then this, the back is built like a tank. As I previously commented on the build quality of the Mamiya 120mm f/4 Macro MF D, in that you know it has presence when you hold it, the same applies to the IQ180 digital back. It is a solid chunk of metal. Nothing on it feels flimsy, and it’s a stunner aesthetically. All metal construction with no holes or anything for fans or such sticking out (making it better for some outdoor applications where there might be sand, salt, or water if you ask me). The battery cover, and the door where you insert the CF card are also made of metal, and feel quite sturdy.

Also, just a side note of something I found entertaining….the back comes with a cover, for if you take it off your camera to switch it to another or whatever. This cover for the digital back, feels like a blast door. When it is on the camera, it feels as if it couldn’t be pried off if you had industrial strength tools. Of course this is what you expect, when this is your last line of defense between the outside world and your precious sensor. Now, of course there is a glass over in front of the sensor, so there is a chance that only this would be scratched or damaged, but even this costs like $3500 dollars or more to replace. Suffice it to say, you don’t want this getting scratched at all and PhaseOne does a wonderful job of providing you with the means to protect your back.

 PhaseOne IQ180 Digital Back ~ Performance and Image Quality

PhaseOne IQ180 Medium Format Digital Back ~ Town Plot Clothing Photoshoot

Amazing. Simply amazing. I have posted in the past, my thoughts on the PhaseOne P65+ and Hasselblad H4D-50, and this back obviously trumps that. Now the PhaseOne P65+ is also a full frame back, I believe the H4D-50 is not full frame (again I could be slightly wrong). While this fact isn’t a direct commentary on the image quality of the sensor, it does directly effect the effective focal lengths of the lenses; just like on DSLR’s crop factor must be taken into account with most digital backs except these and a few others. It allows for wider wide angles, and the proper focal lengths, which in most situations is desirable. Exceptions to this are some sports and nature applications where you want to get closer to the subject. But then again you probably wouldn’t be using medium format for these applications, so it is indeed better to have focal lengths be what they say they are.

A full frame, medium format digital sensor, is quite large. Which means that it will have improved dynamic range, particularly over smaller sensor-ed digital cameras (think m4/3 and 35mm). While straight OOC it is possible that empirically some of the results when comparing dynamic range in terms of color are similar, as you starting beating up your files in post/Photoshop, you will see the difference. You will see that a lot of what has happened to smaller files has been things the camera changed, in terms of saturation and what not which effect color. Seeing the colors that an 80mp file is capable of producing, straight OOC, but also with some gentle massaging is truly amazing.

Something else, which should be noted, is the amount of light and detail it captures. A comparably exposed image taken with say my Nikon D3s and the IQ180 would look fairly similar in terms of exposure. However, if I start to futz with levels or something, you will see I can bring back incredibly large amounts of detail from in particular shadows, but highlights as well, which on a smaller sensor would not have been recorded. While you should always attempt to do as much right in camera as possible, this is one of the elements which allows for greater flexibility when fixing/editing.

The elephant in the room, in terms of performance, is of course having 80mp of cropping flexibility. While, again this shouldn’t be your primary motive for using a camera like this, you do have the incredible ability to take a picture, crop it and still be able to print huge files. Of course a 50% crop will retain 40mp and this can be done 2-3 more times and still have an acceptably sized file, which will still out resolve a 10mp camera (assuming you cropped it to 50% its size 3 times). The extra detail an IQ180 file will hold, allows it to endure even more abuse, when put through something like Perfect Resize 7 (formerly Genuine Fractals) as you can see in my review of the Hasselblad 300mm f/4.5 HC lens on my H3Dii-39ms and the PhaseOne P65+ on Hasselblad H. The flexibility provided in all forms is definitely a selling point for these high-resolution medium format digital cameras.

 

PhaseOne IQ180 Digital Back ~ ISO and Long Exposure

PhaseOne IQ180 Astrophotography at ISO400 long exposure test Traditionally, medium format digital backs have had poor ISO performance. This is the second point of irony in medium format digital, beyond the previously unanimous presumption of god-awful screens. However more recent cameras have greatly improved this. The PhaseOne P65+ was ok, not exceptional but not god-awful. The H3Dii-39ms wasn’t usable above ISO400 and the H4D-50 had similar results to the P65+ in terms of noise, while exhibiting other shortcomings. My personal favorite, was the Leica S2 which I felt had pleasant results at almost all of its ISO’s while of course the higher end was less usable, it was still useable for certain applications, where the aesthetic of grain can be accepted (See this Flickr Gallery for Leica S2 ISO Samples).

The IQ180, preforms nice with high-ISO’s as well as long exposures of up to 1 minute (its recommended maximum). I tested both of these in my IQ180 Astrophotography Flickr set. At this point in time, I had a sever chest virus and some other ailments which precluded me from leaving the house. So I had someone else take my camera, and tripod outside for me (which I was incapable of carrying independently) because I had read a Luminous Landscape forum post about people and their results doing it, and it seemed like good fun. The results were not surprising. Straight out of camera, all ISO’s were usable, while of course the last two stops of ISO are the worst of the series. Now, with the P+ series of backs, PhaseOne introduced one technology, which changed ISO on medium format digital greatly. Their proprietary Sensor+ technology, allows for the utilization of the full sensor, at a smaller resolution, in the case of the IQ180, 20mp and it consequently extends and improves the ISO range and performance. The range is extended to 3200, meaning that 3200 and 1600 are less acceptable with ISO’s before that being very nice. Sensor+ is really only important for the higher ISO’s, although I believe it goes down to 400, and possibly 200 because you can get an increased capture rate, when asking the camera to process less data per image file.

Backs like PhaseOne’s P45+ have long exposure times rated at 1 hour, which is quite long. However, for whatever reason, which I cannot explain, but yet sort of makes sense conceptually, is that this is not possible with the cutting-edge IQ180, whose recommended for best results longest exposure is 1 minute. Now usually this is no problem, because even if you want to make waterfalls silky smooth, you typically don’t need over a minute. And if you desperately need more, then you’ll just have to sacrifice some megapixels. My tests, consisted of using the camera continuously over about a 12 minute period of time doing exposures from 10 seconds to 60 seconds in rather cold New England weather. When using a camera for an extended period of time, especially for long exposures, where the sensor is active for long periods of time, the sensor can get got. This will cause heat spots, and possibly lateral banding (although simply poor high ISO performance can be directly attributed to this phenomenon) of images. These will effect Long exposure images, although they are correctable. For heat spots, you can take a “dark slide” which consists of placing your lens cap on your lens, and making an exposure. This will only record the heat spots because no other light will hit the sensor. Then, in post, you can transpose these two images and cancel out the heat noise.

In my tests, the least desirable effect caused by the camera was lateral banding. I attribute this, to what I have said about, being a combination of extended use in a difficult (all is relative) fashion for the sensor and short comings in high ISO performance. However, in post, I found that using levels it is possible to simply get rid of all of this noise, and what not when making the sky black, which is what I did in one of the images. This way the only things visible are the points of light (starts) that you recorded, which I like, since I was photographing a constellation (Orion’s belt) and not trying to contextualize it with interesting foreground elements.

I’m pleased by the high ISO performance, and not bothered by the short-long exposure time, which isn’t usually an issue for my shooting style. Usually I wont ever have an exposure longer then 30 seconds, while 99% of the time I don’t drop below 1/30 of a second.

Where to Purchase?

Deciding where to purchase your medium format digital camera system, is actually an important decision you have to make, because you are not just buying a camera; your are buying service as well. Various companies offer various levels of service with the purchase of a camera from them. Initially, I had done some basic web searching, and had found Digital Transitions in NYC. I e-mailed them and dealt with Jeff Lin, who was very good about answering questions, and in the end, making the deal. PhaseOne as a whole is very good about converting to their system and offers very competitive upgrading options that Leica and Hasselblad do not. In fact, Hasselblad’s upgrade paths are downright awful. Also I’m pretty sure, that Leaf offers very similar options to PhaseOne for their cameras (go figure they are both owned by the same people). Anyway, if you have some other digital back, like a Hasselblad and say it was an H3Dii-39ms (yes, we are talking about me here), this is a 39mp back and consequently, you receive a 39% discount on the price of your new PhaseOne camera. Obviously, if you have an older but, high resolution back, this will amount to a significant gain over attempting to sell your camera on your own to fund a new purchase.

Digital Transitions, also offers 24/7 E-mail (and maybe phone?) support. Especially when starting out with the camera, you may have questions, and calling PhaseOne is not an option, when you buy a Mercedes, you don’t call Germany every time something goes wrong, you call your cars service department. And seeing how as the IQ180 costs more then a Mercedes-Benz C-Class (Sedan or Coupe) it is a fitting analogy. You really rely on your dealer; and Digital Transitions is not slouch. I have at times, e-mailed my sales representative with questions, which are promptly answered. They also have a support department, which is your main source for technical support with your camera or any of PhaseOne’s offers, whether it is Software or Lenses. They always respond quickly and in detail and are happy to hold your hand through whatever problem you may be experiencing. Digital Transitions, also offers a 2hr private lesson with your camera, where you can go over anything you want, whether it is with the camera, or PhasOne software. The latter, is what I wanted to focus on because, the Mamiya 645AFD is fairly similar to the 645DF in form and function. And the IQ180 is of course painfully simple, and not really something which needs much further understanding, that you wouldn’t receive by simply using it more. As a Photoshop CS5 Extended user, not a Lightroom user, I have a feeling that the switch to using Capture 1 in my post processing has been notably awkward. While I don’t plan to use it for my archiving and editing, I know it has more then the very simple things that I am doing with it and it is what I wanted to learn more about.

Conclusion

While not practical for the 99% of photographic enthusiasts, the IQ180 demonstrates the future and offers outstanding image quality. As DSLR’s gain larger chips, especially with the next round of DSLR’s likely to have sensors pushing 30+ megapixels, people question medium format digitals relevance in the perpetually and infinitely improving world of technology. However, there are things that matter more then megapixels, and medium format has quite a few of these. Chief among these attributes would be, to me dynamic range and flexibility. Medium format digital backs, don’t typically lock you into One body, One camera, One system. With the IQ180 it is possible to use your back on scores of technical (think Sinar or Arca-Swiss) and plate cameras (Think Alpa or Cambo) , not to mention other medium format systems (with adapter plates of course) like the Mamiya RZ/RB series of 6×7 cameras (cropped to 645 of course) or the Fuji GX680 series of cameras, all of which offer different styles of shooting and features, which some may want to use for various applications within their  bodies of work.

Is it worth the investment? If you want, or need the best, yes. The IQ180 is the premier digital camera on the market today, until tomorrow when something new will come along and seize the throne and drag the then pathetic IQ180’s body through the streets. Of course, I jest, but the fact remains that technology is always improving and what is the best today, will be second best tomorrow, and even worse the day after that. However, some things can outlast this trend. The Nikon D3 is still a relevant camera, and the PhaseOne P65+ is still very much a capable and not obsolete. I believe, the IQ180 holds a certain place, in terms of ergonomics, built quality, functionality, and image quality which will remain capable for many years to come. Although, I’m sure I’ll still upgrade when something new comes out, but that is the Kool-aide I have drunk and it tastes goood ;)

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Couple of unrelated side notes, all of these images were taken with my Nikon D3s and 105mm f/2.8G Macro shot at f/22 and 50mm f/1.4G at f/16 on a tripod, with the self timer. Then they were all processed through raw software and edited. Finally they were processed through JPEGmini ( http://www.jpegmini.com/main/home ) which I think is absolutely amazing, it can take a 6.2MB image and make it into a 450KB image with no significant loss of detail. For all intensive purposes it is exactly the same image, and it is very hard to tell the two apart, they are the same dimensions, resolution etc. The software is great, free, and entirely internet based. Definitely something useful to know about for when you are working on pictures to go online to decrease load times. And side note, it retains exif data if your curious.

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 Sekor 210mm f/4 ULD

Originally published: April 3, 2011

This is another well built lens from Mamiya. It is my telephoto lens and it fills an important role in my kit. However it is a little slow, it is f/4. I don’t own any other lenses this slow, however f/2.8 medium format telephoto lenses are quite large. I enjoy this lens and it is very useful. And with faster speed B&W films like the Ilford 3200. Very useful lens and definitely worth considering with the Mamiya 645 AFD.

This lens is great for portraits as well as for when you need a little extra pull. When taking portraits outside it is nice if you want a little bit of distance between you and your subject. Its equivalent to a 120mm lens in 35mm terms. One of the best focal lengths for portraiture is the 135mm focal length and this lens is basically that. It yields very nice results with good image sharpness and bokeh.

 

Mamiya Sekor 55mm F/2.8

Originally published on: April 3, 2011

This is a pleasantly fast wide angle lens. It is equivalent to a 35mm focal length lens on a 35mm camera. It produces bright wide open images even when its opened up all the way to f/2.8. Its well built and weather sealed. All around a good wide angle buy.

the 35mm focal length is one of my favorites. This lens does not disappoint. It takes very sharp images even at f/2.8. It produces a nice bokeh for close focus shots. Using medium format films lets me get much more detailed higher quality shots then 35mm film. Because of the large film size there is more area to record detail.