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.


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.


Mamiya Sekor 80mm F/2.8

Originally published: April 3, 2011

This lens is decently fast for medium format. In fact there is only one other lens faster the Mamiya Sekor 80mm 1.9 C lens which someone somewhere called “the Noctilux of medium format”. Basically what I’m saying is that this lens is comparable in every way to a 50mm 1.4 lens. It has an equivalent focal length and a fast aperture. Its very good and a must have in any Mamiya 645AFD Kit. Or any 645 camera kit.

When buying a Mamiya 645AFD this is usually the lens that they include with purchase. This is because an 80mm lens is the best focal length for the camera. The Film area of a 645 camera is appropriately 6×4.5cm. If you draw a line from corner to corner and find the hoptenuse of that line, you would find that it is 75mm. People much smarter then me figured out that 80mm works a little bit better, but thats where the name “Standard Comes from”.


Mamiya 645AFD

Originally published: April 3, 2011

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

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

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

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

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