Other Reviews

PDN PhotoPlus 2014 Coverage

Last weekend, I attended PDN PhotoPlus 2014, and recorded a number of videos with various manufacturers that interested me. These include, Digital Transitions (PhaseOne, MamiyaLeaf, Arca-Swiss), Cambo, Alpa, and Arca-Swiss as well as Blazing Editions a print making service. Don’t really have much of a set up for this but I think the videos give a nice look at some of the new products that were announced at Photokina 2014 that we haven’t gotten to see in the flesh yet. If you weren’t able to make it to NYC for PDN PhotoPlus 2014 then I hope these videos will help you get to see and better understand some of the products that where on display.

Capture One 8 Pro Tips from Digital Transitions

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My PhaseOne dealer, Digital Transitions (http://www.digitaltransitions.com) and my friend Doug Peterson present 6 tips for the new CaptureOne 8 Pro software from PhaseOne. CaptureOne 8 produces a lot of important workflow and efficiency improvements as well as introducing a updated user interface to Apple’s refined interface in OS X Yosemite. Aside from the features highlighted above some tools have also been improved, however you will come across most of these in the course of your use of the software which can be downloaded here (http://www.digitaltransitions.com/page/capture-one-downloads).

A couple of other notable features are the improved Shadows/Highlight and HDR features as well as the new Black and White / Grain features. Shadows/Highlight controls in capture one have had their algorithms refined to produce more realistic and natural looking results. This is especially apparent when there are bigger exposure differences between the foreground and background (like you might encounter with a landscape).

Generally regarded as a joke, pieces of software that attempt to introduce grain into a digitally converted black and white image (or even a monochromatically captured one) fail to produce anything resembling the true character of the real silver-nitrate grains that make up actual film. Now, don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you that PhaseOne has cracked the code for this in their latest software but they have created a very nice feature. Getting overly obsessive about minor details as PhaseOne is want to do, they chose to attempt to create a better, more realistic model for grain in CaptureOne 8. They started by studying the physical grains of film under microscopes, and eventually wound up researching the way that those grains behave in gradients and different lighting situations. From this they created an algorithm that produces much more realistic grain. That being said, its not real grain, and it never will be. However, there are a few situations where I can see this feature being very helpful. For starters, one of the cameras I own and use is the Leica M9 Monochrom, at low ISO’s this camera produces files that are almost “too” clean for certain applications. The way that I generally get around this is that I simply shoot the camera at higher ISO’s where there is some grain introduced, since it is rendered very differently in a monochromatic image and generally gives me the results that I want. However, I am going to be interested in testing out this new feature to see if it yields more pleasing results. Pleasing results in the sense that the image looks more natural, not that it looks like film, but that it looks more natural. This is a very important distinction and is also the other situation where I think that this feature may come in handy. If we have converted a color image into black and white and want to make it look more pleasing and natural this feature will help (I believe) in making interesting results and nice images, but not replicating actual film grain which is entirely different and not something that to date a computer has been able to replicate.

Alpa Switzerland

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In an exciting change of pace for the PhotoPlus, Alpa was here again and showing off their full line or products. At Photokina 2014, they presented a number of potentially very interesting mounts for the Alpa FPS (which can be used in conjunction with all of their Alpa 12 cameras including the TC, SWA, SWC, STC, MAX and XY or on its own as a separate camera). These mounts are for a number of different medium format digital lenses. Alpa has had adapters for Canon and Nikon lenses, and the Canon Tilt-Shift’s have been particular favorites of owners of Alpa FPS’s particularly because of the Canon 17mm TS-E’s ability to cover a full medium format digital sensor. These new mouths include Hasselblad H, Rollei 6000, and Contax mounts with electronic communication planned for them in the future to allow for some potentially very interesting control of these electronic lenses which could lead to stepping which would be great for focus stacking.

Cambo

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Rene Rook from Cambo (and also my host when I toured the Cambo factory in the Netherlands) presents the new Cambo Actus miniature view camera. This is an extremely small, extremely rigid view camera platform for both 35mm and medium format mounts. Here it is shown with the Sony A7R and a medium format digital back, both of these configurations are interchangeable on the same camera as well as a number of lenses, there are a number of interesting options for using this camera in conjunction with the Sony A7R since you can use medium format and large format lenses to get a lot of area out of the image circle of larger image circled lenses. And further as a miniature view camera, with a medium format digital back and digital lenses from Schneider-Krueznach and Rodenstock this presents a very compact and portable option for using movements on the go, very tempting in both configurations. I hope to get a sample of this camera soon to review.

Digital Transitions (PhaseOne, MamiyaLeaf, Cambo, Arca-Swiss)

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My preferred PhaseOne dealer, Digital Transitions (digitaltransitions.com) was showing the full line of PhaseOne and MamiyaLeaf backs. I asked Lance to help go over some of the differences between the PhaseOne and MamiyaLeaf models, especially since now we have the IQ1 series (including the new CMOS IQ150), the IQ2 series (new CMOS IQ250) as well as a CMOS censored camera from MamiyaLeaf (as well as standard CCD models). Its important to understand the differences between these models to help decide which camera is right for you.

PhaseOne has also relatively recently released the PhaseOne 40-80mm LS f/4.0-5.6 Zoom lens which is an absolutely massive zoom lens that is not to far off in size from the Hasselblad 50-110mm f/3.5-4.5 HC AF Zoom Lens. Hopefully I will be able to do some testing soon, but I have been told that this lens preforms very nicely, this is something that I will be interested to see since zoom lenses are particularly difficult to make. Hasselblad has had some real winners, especially with the Hasselblad 35-90mm f/4-5.6 HCD lens which was one of my favorites for the system when I owned it. 

Arca-Swiss

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Arcs-Swiss released a number of extremely exciting products at Photokina 2014. Most excitingly they announced a number of new electronic accessories including two new shutter modules that work with all of their cameras! Arca-Swiss released a number of new products that I will detail below;

- The Arca-Swiss Central Shutter (CS) this is a direct replacement for Copal mechanical shutters which are the industry standard though no longer being made. The Arca-Swiss CS can take Copal 1 and Copal 0 lenses (which covers almost all modern digital lenses) and is controlled by their dEx Controller. The CS can go up to 1/250th of a second with a Copal 1 lens, and higher with a Copal 0 lens (since the opening is smaller). The CS can be used with all Arca-Swiss cameras, including the new Universalis, all R-series technical cameras, and all Arca-Swiss view cameras through their proprietary screw mount used on all of the lens boards for these various cameras.

- The Arca-Swiss Focal Plane Shutter (FP) mounts between the digital back and the camera, and thus can be used on all Arca-Swiss cameras up to 6×8 (possibly 6×9) and tops out at 1/3000th of a second which is very impressive as well. This allows for shutterless lenses to be used like older “vintage” lenses as well as the potential to start being able to use 35mm lenses like Nikon and Canon’s tilt-shift lenses (among others with lens mounts coming soon).

- The Arca-Swiss Cloud DM Wireless Distometer (DM) is a much more compact (and wireless) followup to the eModule Cloud and helps you find the distance you should focus the camera (its effectively a rangefinder). This becomes a powerful tool when coupled with a few of Arca-Swiss’s other new products.

- The Arca-Swiss dEx which includes the Arca-Swiss Remote Control Unit (RCU) and Micro Power Unit (MPU) allows for wireless control of devices attached to the dEx system and will display information from the DM module as well as the FP and CS shutter modules. The MPU is a better pack that will power the whole system, Arca-Swiss is selling a special mount with an AS plate on the bottom so that they system can conveniently be mounted to the bottom of a camera next to the tripod head where it is accessible and out of the way. This system, again, can be used on the Arca-Swiss R-Line, M-Line, and F-Line system cameras as well as the new Universalis.

- The Arca-Swiss Focus Rail Readout (or trolley) is probably my favorite of the new products because of its implications for use with the system as a whole. This is a small item that mounts on the rail of a rail system camera like the M-Line or F-Line and most importantly the new Universalis. It then will communicate with the dEx command module and display the distance that the camera is focused at digital allowing for precise focusing when combined with the DM module.

- The Arca-Swiss Universalis is very similar to the Cambo Actus (though the Universalis is slightly larger, and the Cambo is impressively robust for its smaller size) and also very compact. However a defining difference between these two cameras (for me anyway) is the ability of the Arca-Swiss Universalis to communicate with all the new goodies detailed above from Arca-Swiss. Arca-Swiss’s new products have radically changed the medium format technical market with their modularity and complex set of features which combines for endless possibilities and the most digital control in a sector that was caught between the analog and digital world. Now the Universalis brings all of these benefits in a small package that is compatible with both 35mm cameras as well as medium format digital backs. I actually think that there is a place in the world for both the Cambo Actus and the Arca-Swiss Universalis since they will appeal to people who want different things (as well as those who are already committed to one system or another). I’m very happy about these cameras, because while technical plate cameras are very nice, versatile, and compact nothing beats the control or tactile feedback of a rail camera, and now that these have been effectively miniaturized they allow for themselves to be much more user friendly.

Blazing Editions – Metallic Printing

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Immediately behind Digital Transitions Booth (where Arca-Swiss was housed as well) was Blazing Editions (Blazing.com) who offer a number of printing and photographic services but also interestingly a wide array of printing options on Metal. Metal can produce some very interesting effects (which some may see as kitschy) however Blazing Images also offers printing on a metal substrate without the metal showing through and their process (explained in the video) yields some extremely detailed results. Digital Transitions had provided a number of medium format digital files for Blazing Editions to print and show off at PDN PhotoPlus 2014 and the files looked amazing printed. Anecdotally a fun little detail is that Blazing Editions can CNC Machine a photographer’s signature onto the print for a very interesting (and I think very fun affect).

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I hope you have enjoyed my PDN PhotoPlus 2014 conference, it was very exciting because there were a number of medium format players there in force and ready to show off their new products that we all lusted after from Photokina 2014. If you have any questions please feel free to leave them in the comments.

The Story Behind “Bliss” the Iconic Background for Windows XP

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I’ve been very busy lately and I didn’t have time to share my thoughts about this when it launched, but this video points out a number of very interesting things about cameras. The Image was taken with a Mamiya RZ67 and Fuji Film on a tripod, near the photographers home, and was never was delivered without any retouching or editing.

The photographer Charles O’Rear believes that possibly the most recognizable image and most viewed image in the world, wouldn’t have been possible if he were using a 35mm SLR. While there are perpetual debates about the value of medium format photography in todays digital world, we can certainly all agree that in the world of film, bigger is always better, and that the larger film size of a 6×7 negative yielded the incredible detail, clarity and dynamic range present in this iconic image.

For some reason, people often forget in the digital age, that larger sensors still have more dynamic range and an innate ability to take better pictures in certain situations. People compare the Nikon D800(e) to $60,000 cameras from PhaseOne which is not right. In a setting where the the PhaseOne is capable of taking a good picture, it will outperform the D800 100% of the time, I will tell you that right now. However, you’ll notice a big caveat to that statement being “[where the camera] is capable of taking a good picture”, yes medium format digital cameras have a lot of limitations both because of their sensor and the relatively outdated camera bodies that they are mounted on. The Nikon D800 shouldn’t be compared to the PhaseOne IQ280, because really, it compliments it. If one were to draw a venn diagram and look at areas where the two cameras overlap, the IQ280 will take a better picture. However, if you look at what the IQ280 cannot do, you see that the D800 offers the most resolution. If you want to use f/1.4 glass for portraits or lowlight, well then the Nikon D800 is your resolution king, if you want to just shoot in low light, it has the most resolution in a camera with high ISO capabilities, if you want to shoot telephoto images with the most resolution, these are all areas where a medium format back, whether it be from PhaseOne, MamiyaLeaf, Pentax, Leica or Hasselblad falls short, and for the foreseeable future will fall short.

I think this video serves as a nice reminder, that different formats exist for different reasons and that there are times when you want to use one format versus another. People certainly become polarized with discussions of modern cameras of different formats because they are expensive purchases, the person who bought a D800 wants to defend their purchase to themselves, and so does the person with the medium format digital back, and it is unlikely that either of these people will concede that the other side is correct. Well in reality, they are both wrong, it depends on the situation and what you are trying to accomplish. Interestingly, this argument doesn’t exist around film, no one is going to question that a 8×10 negative trumps a 4×5 negative which is better then a 6×45 which is better then a 35mm and people used the camera which allowed them to take the best image possible under the circumstances given the strengths and limitations of different film formats, camera brands, and camera systems, and aspect ratio’s based on their situation and this is something that we all need to remember still holds true in the digital world, despite wider differences in price and fewer sensor formats.

Stitching with the Cambo Wide WRC-400

Cambo WRC-400  with Schneider-Kreuznach 43XL RS

Smith Rock in Redmond, Oregon - Stitching with the Cambo WRC-400, Schneider-Kreuznach 43 XL T/S, and PhaseOne IQ180

For my most recent trip to Bend, Oregon, Digital Transitions was nice enough to lend me a Cambo WRC-400 technical camera along with Schneider-Kreuznach 43 XL lens mounted in Cambo’s proprietary tilt-shift mount. When I was in The Netherlands this winter, I had the chance to visit Cambo’s factory. I was very excited for this since I’ve never had any extended shooting time with a technical camera to speak of and this was a great opportunity to learn more about these cameras, and understand their strengths and weaknesses. My normal shooting, does not generally involve still-lifes or landscapes so I’ve never had any reason to purchase or further look into a technical camera. One of the two things that everyone knows about technical cameras, is that they are highly-customizable. The other, is of course that they offer superior image quality, originally harnessing large format lenses with huge image circles allowing for the smaller digital sensors to utilize the center of the image which is of course, where a lens is sharpest. Since this trip was the first time that I traveled with a technical camera, I will treat this review as initial impressions, thoughts, and comparisons.

The day before my trip to Bend, Oregon was a very eventful day for my PhaseOne IQ180, it was the first time, since my purchase of the camera (immediately after its launch) that it had been removed from my 645DF and placed on another camera. Mounting the camera is very easy, once you have the proper adapter plate for the rear of the camera, you simply place the back on the camera like you would on an MF SLR. Initially on the trip, I was planning on shooting a bunch of landscapes and so on, which would be the easiest way to shoot this camera. Landscape shooters love technical cameras because, they offer superior image quality (partly because of the quality of the lenses, and partly because the quality of the digital back), also because they don’t have a mirror, they offer very little vibrations (frankly non-existant) when firing the shutter of the camera to make an exposure. Focusing is done using the lenses helical mount, the lenses are mounted by Cambo into their proprietary mount and calibrated for use with their bodies and digital backs (as you can see here). However, generally speaking focusing isn’t really an issue (though we will address this again later) since with landscape photography more often then not things are set to infinity and shot at small apertures (for maximum sharpness).

Smith Rock, Bend, Oregon, Capture One

Screenshot from CaptureOne

As you can see from this focus mask applied to the IIQ files in CaptureOne, at f/11 and focused at infinity, pretty much everything is in focus. That makes this camera particularly suited to this application. And, like everyone knows technical cameras on the whole acquit themselves of this task with particular acuity. However this is not what wound up happening. I wound up decided to relax I wound up shooting photographs around my friends house where I was staying. Now you might say, well technical cameras are also used for architectural photography, and you would be correct. However, as it turns out I wound up being very aggressive with my compositions and wound up even taking the same images at different focusing distances and compositing them later using Photoshop’s auto-align and focusing stack functions. But for now, we will take a look at the Cambo WRC-400 as a camera and then discuss my main application for this camera on my trip.

Cambo WRC-400 Montage

Cambo WRC-400 at Smith Rock – Redmond  / Bend, Oregon

For its diminutive size and weight (120mm x 145mm and 500 grams) this camera offers a class-leading 20mm of Fall (or Shift depending on the back orientation). Arca-Swiss’s comparable offering, the Factum though weighing and being negligibly larger (137mm x 150mm and 640 grams) the Arca-Swiss factum only provides 15mm of Fall or Shift, five less then the Cambo WRC-400. Alpa’s smallest model the Alpa TC (Travel Compact) offers no tilt or shift and is 109mm x 109mm though their next model up, the Alpa STC (Shift Travel Compact) offers 18mm of Fall or Shift and is again larger, though negligibly (146mm x 140mm and 580 grams). Bythe numbers, the Cambo WRC-400 slightly edges out the competition in dimensions and weight, it does offer a larger possible stitch then the competition. All of this information, as well as a wealth of other information can now be found on Digital Transitions ‘Technical Camera Overview” and their DT Visualizer Tools are also extremely helpful allowing you to see the amount of shift possible with various lenses image circles and various sensor sizes.

However, this is not necessarily a product that you buy in and of itself. You buy this camera, because you are thinking about investing in a tech cam system, or you already have a tech cam system and you want a smaller model for hiking around or testing things out before pulling out the big guns if you need them. Of course, the only differences between different models will be their rise, fall, tilt and shift capabilities they offer since they are simply plates which act as a conduit between lens and sensor. The Cambo (like all technical cameras) offers a high degree of customizability, though it is not overwhelmingly so and focused on functionality rather then supreme customizability like some other systems. All four edges of the camera offer the same mount which means that grips, tripod mounts, and viewfinders can be mounted on any of the four sides, they simply screw in and out very easily, though securely. While I was traveling one of the mount screws on the iPhone viewfinder adapter

Schneider-Krueznach 43XLcame loose and it was a bitch to put back in because of the positioning of the rest of the mount. However, the image to the left displays a small issue which can be encountered during field use. If you decide to change the orientation of the camera, and consequently accessory positions of the camera. If you were to do this properly you would need a table to remove, place, and then re-apply the accessories on to do it in the safest way, however this isn’t a luxury afforded to us when shooting in the field and consequently it can lead to some awkward situations like the one in the picture. The screw in for the shutter release on the Schneider-Kreuznach 43mm XL is no placed so that it is twisting the release cable around. To correct this situation, you would have to remove the grip, unscrew the cable release, remove the cable release from the grip, and then place it correctly in the grip and the finally re-apply the grip, however this is a long process for field shooting and would certainly be a pain, and then thus leaves you in an awkward place. Other then these small details, the system works very well and is secure and allows for the camera to be used in lots of different ways, especially when you combine the body with the tilt-shift lens mounts that Cambo offers.

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Speaking of the iPhone viewfinder adapter, it is the most utterly useless and kitschy accessory possible. It is a very nice mount, which will take the camera of the iPhone and with a wide-angle adapter allow for wide-angle use with Alpa eFinder for iOS (Now known as Viewfinder PRO). While the app and adapter both work as advertised, there is no possible reason for you to ever need this item (by my humble approximation). When using the camera it is far faster to take a test shot and then view it on your digital back to check composition, which is the only thing that that this app can do for you. Consequently it is a bit clunky and is good for nothing else other then draining your iPhone or iPod Touch’s battery, which is absolutely wonderful if you are photographing in a remote location where you might need to contact someone in an emergency, or alternatively if you need to play Words With Friends after (or during) a shoot.

Now, lets look at some of the images;

Cambo WRC-400 Article, Smith Rock

This is the image, alluded to in all of the supporting materials for this article above. It was taken at Smith Rock at the appropriately named Smith Rock National Park in Redmond Oregon, outside of Bend, OR. This was the most straight forward of all of the images I will be showing. The camera was set up on a tripod, focused to infinity, a light reading was taken, settings were adjusted and then the most complicated part simply involved taking the 5 stitched images and their LCC”s. This is not a fast process to be sure, but it ensures ultimate image quality. The general consensus seems to be that it is better to take the LCC exposures at the same time as the normal exposures. Though, I have been told that you can take the images later if you ensure even, and similar lighting / exposure time and use the same focus distance and aperture. Having tried both methods, I can say that taking them on site is certainly better, though if you make a mistake or omit something you can work with a LCC that was taken after the fact, it may just take some extra tweaking. Once you import the file and convert it to an LCC in CaptureOne (right clicking and selecting the option from the drop down menu) and apply it to the base image you have some options to tweak how strongly the LCC corrects the image and this generally seems to be an effective substitute in a pinch.

Please observe this series of images;

Cambo-WRC-300-Focus-Stack

Image 1

Cambo-WRC-300-Focus-Stack-BackFocus

Image 2

Cambo-WRC-300-Focus-Stack-BackFocus2

Image 3

Image 1 is a focus stack of image 2 and image 3. Images 2 and 3 are both stitches of 5 images taken with the tripod in the same place, with every setting in camera and in CaptureOne being exactly the same except for focus. Obviously in image 2 the focus is on the panther and in image 3 the focus is on the background of the image, the fireplace and the painting. Now, the key difference between these two stitches is most notable in the lower left hand corner of the two images. As you can see, the amount of table between the lower left hand corner of the panther sculpture’s base and the bottom of the frame changes. In image two, focused on the panther there is less, and when the image is focused on the background there is more. Now, when I was making these images this was not something that I noticed, I assumed that there would be no difference in the composition of these images. The issue in this, of course lies focus stacking, focus stacking aligns the two images based on their similarities and then determines what is in focus in the two images, and then combines and blends those areas to increase the apparent DoF of the image, i.e to have more in focus. When there are areas that do not align, this creates an issue, this issue will either result in an awkwardly blended area, or it will result in an area which needs to be cropped out of the image which will then change the composition. This is a phenomenon which is called focus breathing, or breathing. What occurs, is that while you are shifting focus, the Angle of View (AoV) of the lens changes. Many DSLR lenses do this, and it is one of the things that makes them less then desirable for videography since this is not an effect that you expect and can be an issue if you attempt to rack focus. Some higher-quality DSLR lenses, as well as of course, cinema lenses correct for these issues. Focus breathing is certainly an issue for cinematic purposes, however here, with technical cameras, it is a surprising minor annoyance. Considering the high level of precision which is one of the defining characteristics of technical cameras, one would assume that this would have been something that would have been thought of and correct for when developing the lens mount. That said I certainly do not believe that this is exclusive to Cambo or a slight on their system. And frankly for most individuals this might not be a problem, but when engaging in a fairly aggressive composition AND focus stacking it is certainly something that must be considered. Now, using the PhaseOne IQ180′s live view (which we will discuss later on more) you can see the changes in the AoV and composition of your image as you shift focus from point to point and can correct for it before taking a series of exposures and investing a considerable amount of time  in the capture and editing of these images.

Cambo-WRC-400-Focus-Stack-Fina

This final image that I made from the basic idea behind the shots above corrects for focus breathing and also ads a few other images focused at different points to make the DoF even greater then it was when I was stacking two images. Also the exposure times were increased slightly from 22 seconds at ISO50 to 25 seconds at ISO 50. While this doesn’t sound like much, considering the long exposure process with the PhaseOne IQ180, it does add a significant amount of time. For one exposure to be made, there are 25 seconds of the shutter being open, and then 25 seconds for a dark frame to be made to reduce the heat noise from the sensor on the image. This means that each single exposure takes 50 seconds. 50 seconds for 5 images becomes 250 seconds. Then this number must be doubled since not only do you have to take the 5 images, you also have to take their resulting LCC’s, meaning that we are now at 500 seconds for one stitch. Then these 500 stitches must be multiplied by the 5 different planes of focus which were used to create this final image. This means for the in camera time used to create this image we are now at 2500 seconds, or around 42 minutes. Suffice it to say, a chair was involved in the making of this image. That is a lot of time, and also a lot of time for a mistake to possibly be made, and trust me mistakes were made. However eventually the 42 minute dance was complete and the image was created. The overall sharpness of the image combined with the excellent exposure which was eventually achieved make me very happy, and for me, it was worth it to spend all of the time going through various iterations and changing the composition of the image to make it.

Cambo-WRC-400-Vertical

This last image I only really include to reiterate the point that this system is extremely versatile. You can position the camera, and sensor in any position you want to allow you to make any image that you want. When you stitch 5 images for a total of 40mm (of stitch) you will yield a native image area of 53.7mm  x 80.4mm (IQ180′s image sensor is 53.7mm x 40.4mm) This allows for an aspect ratio slightly shorter then that of 6×17 medium format (120mm) film format.While people laud the errors of using 6×17 or panoramic formats vertically (and I am right there with them), certainly stitching vertically like what is done in this image, can provide an interesting image making area to allow you to get everything you want into a scene.

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wrcimage5

Guest Post: Evolution is Revolution (Leica M240 Review)

Leica M240 Sample Image

Evolution is Revolution
And yes: Things they are changing!

Note from BH: Stefan Steib is an avid photographer and the owner of Hartblei.de (and on Facebook here) which produces the Hcam B-1 (reviewed on this site here), and a series of three unique Zeiss manufactured tilt-shift lenses, which are by all accounts excellent. He enjoys using legacy lenses on new bodies, and this is shown in some of his products as well, like a unique adapter for Mamiya RB67 / RZ67 lenses on the Mamiya M645 Mount (I.e PhaseOne 645DF or Mamiya AFD  camera bodies) and a special adapter for stitching with the Canon TSE lenses. Since my initial review of the Hcam B-1 I have become good friends with Stefan and now he joins us for a guest post on the new Leica M 240 which he had the opportunity to shoot for an extended period of time. 

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The day I got my test set of the new Leica M 240, I was kind of astonished first, although I have used some M’s over the last 35 years, I had forgotten how small it really was. Even smaller: the lenses accompanying my demo – a Leica M 35mm f/2.5 Summarit, and a Leica 90mm f/2.5 Summarit. Previously, I have to admit, I had never been a real fan of the Leica M. The form factor was just not for me, and my work as an advertising photographer took other gear to get the work done. When the Leica M’s were still analogue I had checked out the rangefinder, I never grew fond of it. So I was curious, would the addition of the LV (Live view) function really change my perception of the Leica M series?

I was skeptical.

Leica M240 Sample Image
Leica has done some more tweaks and improvements since the original first digital M, the Leica M8 and later the Leica M9. Resolution may be the most obvious thing, but for me as a non-permanent user the different iterations of the digital M look pretty much the same.  The Leica lenses have always been on high praise, but until the arrival of the Leica M240 nobody could really test their full range on a high-res 24x36mm digital sensor. Yes there were adapters to the Sony NEX 7 where the Leica glass performed beautifully, but the smaller NEX chip only uses the center of the lenses image circle, limiting to some extent a full proof of their superiority.

And the Leica M Monochrome, albeit showing the highest net-res of all Leica M´s to date is  – well – monochrome – not showing the possible chroma or other negative color effects that may influence color quality of the digital Leica M’s output.

So I decided to push the little Leica M as far as I could and eliminate all possible quality degradations that I could – means working from a stable tripod, using a cable release and further testing the sensor with well known and proven lenses of mine with adapters aswell. I also wanted to look into Macro photography down to 1:1 with the Leica M system.

This approach is actually against the generally proposed usage of Leica M’s, their “Rangefinder Heritage“ and the light and easygoing idea of a small camera with great results.

So I went out for my first shooting at Friedrichshafen Klassikwelt- one oft he largest vintage shows for cars and planes in Europe.

Leica M240 Sample Image

After some shots it was pretty obvious that the new CMOS chip of the Leica had changed the camera into something remarkable, in a quite unexpected way. This Live view is Perfect! In accordance with the Focus peaking you can stop down to a working aperture and shift the indicating red edge markings as a cloud (focus peaking) right through the image, showing EXACTLY where the focus range will be at a given aperture and focus point. The Live view provides an image that is constantly bright and colors are shown on the display somewhat decently allowing a pretty good idea of what you will capture.  The new C-MAX sensor´s DR is big enough to allow live view under nearly all lighting circumstances, even when there is not so much light. This is probably also a result of the new, flatter circuitry architecture that is introduced with this chip made by Belgium fab CMOSIS.

This technique is not superfast and also not something that you may do with the camera handheld (though you can), but what is most important, for me is that it changes the character of this camera completely. Working with this M, is like using a medium or even large format device, a very calming and comfortable “slow motion“ but “deep thought“ photography that enhances my awareness of the motive and centers around a very well known solid mechanical touch and calming workflow.

As all things in life, there is always a little bitter in the sweet. Why Leica has decided to center the zoom in of the live preview and not allow shifting it around will be a well-kept secret of its firmware developers. I can only hope they fix this soon as this is around the only negative point throwing a light shadow on an otherwise sparkling performance.

Leica M240 Sample Image

History is obviously an important thing for Leica (and for their fans), the body still looks pretty much like any Leica of the last 50 years since the M4 (though it is actually a few millimeters thicker then the M9). This has some not so fun side effects, e.g. the base body plate is still working exactly like with analogue Leica M’s, mimicking the film compartment where there is none, but this results in really bad accessibility of the battery and SD Card slot, especially when you use a tripod/quick-release adapter plate you have to unscrew the whole setup to even change the SD card (???).

Also that aesthetically nice historical look takes another victim: the poor grip (in my opinion). Of course you may answer, there are plenty of 3rd party makers of grips, thumb rests, and camera cases, which improve the grip of the camera. Good. Even Leica offers 2 grips, and one of them features GPS.  But couldn´t they just throw this into a full package, I mean the price is high and this wouldn’t it really make sense for ANYONE using the camera?

It is a bumpy ride to get ready to love this Leica, but always when you doubt, there is a light guiding you…. I was able to use the final version of Lightroom 5 with it. I am pleased to say that the decision of Leica to bundle it with the Camera is an outstandingly good one! As Leica even says on their website, they have been cooperating with Adobe to get the best results for this Camera, Lens, Chip and Software combination. I will not talk about the lenses, this means carry owls to Athens, nor much about the digital features of the camera menus, Lightroom is also probably very well known. I would like to talk about the CMOSIS Chip. If you dig a little into the web you will find that there is a close connection to Fill factory, the company that did the chips for Kodak DSLRs and indeed the chips seem to show similarities to the CCD designs of the Kodak 14n. Lets take a look at some of the tech specs for the Leica M240’s chip.

Leica M240 Sensor

 

The chip is manufactured at STMicroelectronics (STM) in Grenoble/France for CMOSIS:

It is a fully European product. It´s 6×6 µm² Matrix reaches linear Full-Well-Capacity of ≥40.000 electrons and a linear Dynamic Range of 76dB. Pixeldata is digitized in patented Low-power/High-speed 14-bit Column AD-converters. This sensor uses a digital electronic Bladeshutter with global reset and noise suppression by analogue and digital

Correlated Double Sampling. CDS is a reason for the very low temporary and spatial noise and very good uniformity.
(For those who want to read more here is the source in German-sorry : http://www.elektronikpraxis.vogel.de/themen/hardwareentwicklung/bildverarbeitung/articles/378725/ ) In short- the new lower profile stack and the strongly curved Micro-lenses of the chip are resulting in a very low usable angle of incoming light, allowing the use of the full range of Leia M lenses from telephoto to the widest wide angle lenses. It even further dismisses an antialiasing filter, improving the usable resolution of the system even further. So in a sentence: Leica had them make a special chip for usage in an M style camera with short flange focal distance.

Leica M240 Sample Image

Sorry for that much tech speak, but that is no less than groundbreaking and it shows in the files. I have rarely seen such files from a 24x36mm chip. The Nikon D800/E may reach the resolution, but misses on the enormous smoothness of even the darkest shadows the Leica M240 resolves. Overall I would say the files look and feel like CCD medium format, I have uploaded a full Leica DNG file of my shooting to give you an impression which you can find here  http://www.hcam.de/upload/L1001064.DNG
In this article here on Brian’s page I show some images and from them the message is clear: Leica has crossed a bridge with the Leica M system in the M240. By the immense quality they pull from that combo, the meaning of a classic light M system camera has changed. It still can do what it has become known for, no doubt and watching the forums around the long term M users who are doing this (with a growing interest on the electronic finder, mainly because it opens up a chance to finally get longer lenses and also allow users with glasses (e.g. myself !) to get the full sharpness monty from a once harder to use “specialty“ camera.
There is a heritage of Leica M’s for Medical, Repro or Aerial Photography (+ some more).
Now the time has come that Leica can revive this heritage and sell plenty (at least when their new fab is finished and production ramped up) of M240’s for exactly this stuff.
Good news, the old fans will still love them as always and now they get back another piece of the cake to produce volume.

Congrats Leica, You won my heart with this little black camera. Probably not as I expected it or maybe not even as you may have hoped it, but you did!

I wish you many years of success to come with this spirit, you deserve it!

Greetings from a fellow German

Stefan Steib

~

BH: You can check out more images that Stefan took with the Leica M240 in full-resolution on his Flickr page here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hartblei/sets/72157634182792842/

Shooting Color with the PhaseOne IQ260 Achromatic [Prototype]

Color image taken with PhaseOne IQ260 Achromatic Prototype

The announcement of the PhaseOne IQ2 series introduced a clear functionality based stratification of the IQ line up of digital backs. The PhaseOne IQ280 still reigns supreme providing the highest resolution single capture of the bunch. The bigger and more interesting changes however, are within the IQ260 “series” of backs. Now there are two different versions of a 60mp full-frame medium format digital sensor; both of these two versions offer their own vastly different “skill sets” for different types of photography. Firstly, the IQ260 version introduces exposure times of up to one hour (the same as on the oft lauded P45+) in a 60mp variant housed within the superior chassis of the IQ series. This development could be said to be somewhat expected since there had to be an eventual successor to the P45+ and although it took a while, early results show that it was worth the wait.The other more curious version of the IQ260 is the new PhaseOne IQ260 Achromatic housing a fully monochromatic full-frame medium format sensor. It is, with a bit of irony, worth noting that imaging which started as grains silver-nitrate yielding black and white images has progressed through color films, back to black and white digital (a la early cameras), through color digital and is now seeing a resurgence in interest in digital black and white imaging. We have certainly come full circle seeing within the last year the Leica M9 Monochrome, Red Epic-M Monochrome, and now the IQ260 Achromatic. The first “modern” digital back of note for monochromatic imaging was the PhaseOne Achromatic+ (based on a 39mp chip) produced for Bear Images. PhaseOne now brings a far more versatile offering to the table for all fields from photographic to scientific the new IQ260 Achromatic can and will have some far reaching implications. However, none of this is the purpose of this article. This article, is in fact (as the name suggests) about color.

This may seem to be a peculiar subject to be discussing with regards to a monochromatic sensor like that housed in the PhaseOne IQ260, but in fact it is a subject which this camera can open up some new possibilities in. Monochromatic sensor harken back to B&W film in that they allow for the use of colored filters in front of the lens and sensor to achieve varying effects both stylistically and technically with their varying filtration. Early color images were created by taking black and white images filtered through Red, Green, and Blue filters. In this form, the process desired to create a perfect still image in color and was achievable with subjects who were capable of standing still for a long enough time for all three filters to be utilized. A Difficult task to say the least. Other examples show what happens when the subject moves and causes the 3 images to be mis-aligned when combined, in these images the differing colors of the filters will show through as colored “ghosts” around areas where there is movement in the image between frames or filters. Robert S. Harris invented a device called the “Harris Shutter” for Kodak. This video shows a some-what simplified version of this device. This gave rise to the “Harris Shutter Effect” which has been popularized through facsimile’s of the process which digital cameras and Photoshop have allowed us to make. To truly complete this process, images must be taken with the varying color filters in front of a black and white emulsion or sensor and then processed for the desired effect. I mention the Harris Shutter Effect because it is exhibited in the image above, and the images that we will be looking at further and discussing.

There is a link to a Dropbox at the bottom of this article which contains the RAW PhaseOne IQ260 Achromatic IIQ files, labeled as to which filter was used with them. This images are my property and for personal use only and may not be used in print or online for any other purpose.

When you look at the channels of any RGB color image, you will naturally see Red, Green, and Blue channels respectively. Each of these channels, as you can see is its own black and white image. The Bayer pattern on the a digital color sensor acts as the three different colored filters which are required to filter the incoming beam of light properly so that all of the information is there for the camera (or in our case Photoshop) to create the resulting color image. For this test, three different circular-threaded color filters were used to create the Red, Green, and Blue filtered images. These were a Red R25A filter, Blue B47 filter, and a Green 58 filter. Filters of varying strengths will yield differing results. The back is inherently sensitive to UV / IR light which is typically filtered out by the IR filter in front of a digital sensor. However, the PhaseOne IQ260 Achromatic is totally devoid of any filters and consequently some of this light sneaks through. This was one of the problems with the Leica M8, and it was why you had to purchase UV / IR Block filters. The more technical name of this filter is a “hot mirror” filter (Tiffen makes one, among others) and like you have by now guessed it blocks most (if not all) of the UV / IR spectrum. Theoretically this would mean that using the colored filters, along with a hot mirror filter you would be able to very accurately reproduce color similar if not identical to that of a color digital sensor. Unfortunately for this preliminary test, I did not have a hot mirror filter so the tests were done with this UV / IR light effecting the filtered black and white images being captured. As we will see, this accounts for the color caste present in our images. Also all of these images were taken with the same exposure of 1/15th of a second, this resulted in images with different brightnesses.

There are a few different parts to the process of compiling a color image from a monochromatic black and white digital sensor. First, the RAW files must be processed through CaptureOne, then the images will be placed into their respective color channels in Photoshop, and finally the image will be colored balanced to further hone the color image that has been created.

Raw Processing: Once the images are imported into CaptureOne, there is at least one step that must be done to ensure that the best possible resulting color image is achieved. Under the “Color” tab (denoted as ) we must select the “Linear Scientific” gamma correction curve. If you are not familiar with what the gamma curve is, then this Wikipedia article can shed some light. In its most simple form, for our purposes, we only have to understand that the “Linear Scientific” curve selection, means that our processed image will be as close to what was captured, and straight from the camera without the software editing it at all.

Photoshop: Now that we have the images out of CaptureOne we can open them in Photoshop. Then we will make a new document with the same dimensions as the pictures. This can be achieved by copying the entire area of the image (command+a then command+c) and then creating a new document. This will transfer the dimensions of your monochromatic sensor’s generated image into this new file.

With this new file created. We will then go and copy the individual Red, Green, and Blue images and place them into their respective folders. You will begin to set the image come together and once all three of the channels have been copied into the new file, you will have a color image. As an aside, you must make sure that your Photoshop file is the RGB mode for the channels to be available to paste the images into.

Now that we have compiled the color image we will have something that looks like the above image. We have our color image and there are a few different things that we can do to tweak it. Firstly, we can correct the color balance to attempt to get the reproduced colors to be as accurate as possible. If you do not want to get involved in this you can use the “Auto Color” feature which does a pretty good job of correcting the color. You can also utilize the “Channel Mixer” to play with the way the channels are mixed (duh); this can also allow you to adjust the colors, and especially when objects have moved and the Harris Shutter Effect is present it will allow you to control the prominence of the colors of the ghosted moving objects. Now we will look at three different methods of CaptureOne processing and the resulting images.

(Click on image to view larger)

The matrix above shows what happens when you process the files differently through CaptureOne. Shown left to right are the Red, Green, and Blue filtered black and white images from the PhaseOne IQ260 Achromatic. Then, the color images shown are the resulting images after having “Auto Color” applied in Photoshop. “Auto Color” corrects the images white balance by analyzing the color channels and then remapping the channels to correct for proper color as it believes it should be. Each of these three different processed versions has a red caste to it “straight out of camera” (replace camera with processing in this case). The files processed with the standard gamma correction curve of “Film Standard” still exhibit a very strong red caste. The Linear Scientific gamma correction curve gives my preferred rendition, though it is slightly under-exposed. As noted above each of these images was taken with a shutter speed of 1/15th of a second. This is not the proper exposure of all three of these filters since they are of different filter factors (or strengths) and some eat more light then others. Consequently, balancing them to be approximately the same exposure results in not only a “better” exposed image but also a more accurately colored one.

“Auto Color” is very good and of course you can continue further with your color balancing after it or without it. The above image was taken and processed with the “Film Standard” curve and the manually corrected in Photoshop using “Color Balance” and “Channel Mixer” functions. Using the PhaseOne IQ260 Achromatic for color imaging is one of the many scientific and artistic niche applications of this monochromatic medium format digital back which make it a very interesting and versatile tool.

If you follow this Dropbox Link (https://www.dropbox.com/sh/a5dv7gl0kcepzv1/jxbhscqfr8) you can download the RAW files discussed above. Again these images are for personal use only and by downloading them you agree to the terms set above in this article. If you do not already have CaptureOne you can download a demo of it here.

In-Depth Look at Multistitch for 4×5 Cameras

A bunch of weeks ago I was able to interview Myko of Multistitch (http://www.multistitch.com) at Fotocare in NYC and got to take a closer look at and better understand his product Multistitch which I was first introduced to during my coverage of PDN PhotoPlus 2012. Multistitch offers solutions for various 4×5 cameras and adapts FF-35mm DSLR’s and medium format digital backs to create a high-resolution capture system. The article is featured on Photo Rumors (http://www.photorumors.com) available online now and viewable here. 

Everything on the Cambo Wide RC400

Digital Transitions Vimeo Cambo Wide RC400

http://vimeo.com/63916039

In this rapid high-paced video, befitting of its soundtrack, Douglas Peterson from Digital Transitions (http://www.digitaltransitions.com), presents a stop-motion look at a cornucopia of different combinations and set-ups possible with the Cambo Wide RC400 technical camera (digitaltransitions.com/page/cambo). See if you can spot all of the different pieces of equipment used, pay special attention to the digital backs and comment below with what you think!

For more of your Cambo fix, check out my tour of the Cambo factory in the Netherlands.

Cambo Factory Visit

Cambo-Photographic-Industry-Factory-Holland

Exterior of the Cambo Photographic Industry (Cambo) Factory in Kampen, The Netherlands

This winter, I was lucky enough to be able to get a tour of the Cambo Facotry in Kapem in the Netherlands. I was visiting a friend in Amsterdam, and Lance Schad from Digital Transitions (a Cambo Dealer and my PhaseOne dealer of choice) suggested that I visit the Cambo factory while I was there. This turned out to be a very interesting experience for me, and I hope that it will be an interesting behind the scenes look at the production of Cambo’s cameras for you.

In this review, I will be covering the vintage cameras, as well as the factory and production process of Cambo cameras, I also made some images of their newer offerings (released at Photokina 2012) which include the WRS-5000 (a slightly improved version of the WRS-AE) and the compact WRC-400 which are fully integrated into the current system of adapters and plates that Cambo makes. Pictures of these cameras can be seen in the Set I uploaded to Flickr here. Some other items can be found there which are not discussed in this review.

Kampen is located between an hour and an hour and a half outside of central Amsterdam, where I was staying. Rene Rook from Cambo (who Lance put me in contact with) was nice enough to pick me and my friend up form the train station and drive us the short distance to the industrial park which houses Cambo’s factory and headquarters. From the outside it is fairly unassuming, which was helped by the fact that it was a very overcast day when we went, however inside the lights were on and everyone was busy at work. They had just returned from their holiday break and were back in production.

Cambo-Vintage-4x5-Cameras

Upon entering the building you are immediately struck by a display, showcasing some of Cambo’s Heritage. Cambo was founded in 1947 and began its life producing 4×5 cameras before branching out into other cameras (which we will see later). Cambo still produces three solutions which cover the 4×5 image. First there is the Cambo SC-2 Basic which Cambo asserts is “tried and proven” as well as built in “traditional Cambo robust, metal construction” which are two hallmarks of the brand. Looking at these cameras from the companies past, the SC-2 Basic’s heritage is clear (I believe this camera can be used with Cambo adapter plates with MFDB’s but do not quote me). Then there is the higher end Cambo Ultima Series Ultima 45 Camera which is designed to be a hybrid camera functioning in both the film and digital realms. The Ultima features far more precise gearing then the SC-2 Basic, allowing for it to be precisely focused to the standards of demanding modern digital backs. Both of these products are compatible with the majority of Cambo’s accessories including focusing hoods and lens boards, which can also be adapted from other brands such as Sinar. Finally, and most interestingly, there is the Cambo Wide DS Series WDS Camera which is familiar in form and design to MFDB technical cameras like the others offered from Cambo but uniquely offers coverage for 4×5 film and features an insert for a ground glass with traditional graflok back. This solution was created, as its name suggests for use with wider angle lenses and still allowing for coverage of the 4×5 frame. Again this camera is capable of taking Digital backs (with the proper adapters) and allows for hybrid use in the same way that the Ultima 45 camera does while not sacrificing its capabilities as a traditional 4×5 camera. The Cambo WDS is the most interesting to me, since I have been looking for a compact 4×5 system for a while. Movements are not essential for me, I do not use them in my photography on smaller formats and see no reason to change this. Consequently compact solutions like the Cambo WDS and the Arca-Swiss RL3D(i) are ones that I have considered and am still considering to let me get that big 4×5 negative or transparency in a compact package. With the end of the era of the Copal shutter, the WDS will be capable of using the Schneider electronic shutter system.

Cambo-Vintage-Heritage-Cameras

Vintage Cambo Cameras displayed in the Factory Show Room

Walking further into the factory, you are faced with the showroom, which contains cabinets containing the current line up of products and then the very interesting display cases that you see above which house some more of the companies heritage (which they are clearly very proud of) showcasing some of the rare-r cameras that the company has produced.

I was not sure how to do this next part of the review, but have decided to link to the Flickr page containing the camera I will be discussing about and the continue the discussion here while we look at some of the interesting cameras in this case:

The Cambo Passport Camera (shown in the upper right hand picture above) took four images simultaneously allowing for four copies of the passport image to be recorded identically on the same piece of 4×5 film. Even rarer then this model, is the one which sits directly to its left. This model, was produced by Cambo and branded for Kodak, however, Kodak had its own liscening issues and very few examples of this camera were every produced (**Update** I may have led you astray and it may have been produced by Cambo for Polaroid and then they got in trouble with Kodak, I will confirm).

The Cambo Mugshot Camera  is another rare and unique piece housed in Cambo’s small “museum” if you will. This camera may look similar to some of the old TLR-style 4×5 cameras, and you would be right in making this assumption, since after all it has two lenses. However, this very special and unique camera was produced at the request of Police forces so that they could observe the subject while they are taking the picture….you have to keep your eyes on those convicts….the mechanisms on the side of the camera allow for the two lenses to be focused simultaneously without having to close the top lens for the making of an image. In this way the process was more efficient as well as safer. I found this camera to be one of the most entertaining vintage cameras shown by Cambo.

Cambo also had a Special 4×5 50th Anniversary Edition in Gold on display which was fittingly produced for their “Golden Anniversary”, a nice touch which added to the sense of pride in the company and its products felt throughout the production process of Cambo’s cameras.

Cambo-Factory-Floor

After viewing the current Cambo line up, including thier releases from Photokina 2012 (which can be viewed at the Flickr link above) which I will be reviewing with the help of Digital Transitions later this month, we entered into the Cambo factory floor. Entering this large industrial room, you are immediately hit with the contrast between modern CNC machines and traditional metal precision metal working equipment. The picture above, highlights rather well which of these two types of equipment is being used today.

Cambo-New-CNC-Machine

Here we see a Cambo Technician preparing a newly acquired CNC machine for the production of Cambo’s products. Each of those holders sitting on the bench to the right will be fitted with a block of aluminum which will then sit in waiting (the part of the machine that says indumatik light) until the Bridgeport CNC machine is ready to work tis magic on it. This new machine allows for further efficiency since it can be programed with the a job and then left to run independently.

Cambo-CNC-Machine-Aluminum

While CNC machines fascinate and perplex me with wonderment in their precision and complexity, I found what we see in the above photo, all the more fascinating. Here we see the raw aluminum before being shaped into precise photographic instruments. To me, it is truly fascinating that from these raw blocks of metal will come the wonderful and detailed products which Cambo is known for. Inauspicious beginnings as it were.

Cambo-CNC-Marchine-Montage

Left to Right: Computer controlling CNC Machines, Raw-CNC WRS Rear, and Raw-CNC WRS Front

Click to view links above to view the images larger on Flickr

Continuing with the CNC machining process, we get a behind the scenes look, as well as a look at the final product in these next three photos. On the left we have one of the computers controlling the CNC machines which were busy blasting away metal to form the final products you see on the right. While being mesmerized by CNC machines, I have some idea about the back end. I used to fool around with 3D modeling and played with 3D printing in its early days (think like Shapeways) and further find it fascinating for people to be able to model things so precisely on the computer and then have them magically appear in a physical form in front of them. This magical physical form is what you see before you in the center and right images. The Right image presents the front of the body of the WRS which has been closely machined along with the holes and threading for the screws which will hold the few other parts of the body together after assembly. These two images show the metal in its raw post CNC-ing state. I was highly entertained when I learned that I could put the pieces together (3 in the case of the center) and they would fully fit together and more or less function before being buffed and coated. This speaks to the high level of precision possible with Cambo’s CNC machines, which they measure and quality check using this ultra-precise measuring device.

Cambo-Factory-Manufacturing-Buffing

In another room away from the main Factory floor, Cambo buffs their own products, allowing for the sharp edges of the CNC production process to be smoothed out and the product to become closer to the finished product that will be shipped out. This machine oscillates and contains (I believe ceramic? maybe silicon?) triangular tiles which are soaked in a lubricated fluid and buff the product while it passively oscillated around the machine. When it comes out of here, a piece of the WRS body will only need to be coated (in black) and have its designations and markers applied.

Cambo-Factory-Manufacturing

Cambo also posse this machine which forms for them the plastic parts that they need for certain parts of their products. This again, shows the economic efficiency of Cambo. Rather then having these parts made someplace like China, and then having them shipped, they have their own machine. Other then this obvious cost saver, Cambo produces small batches of plastic products as they need them, and no supplier would want to supply at the small quantities that Cambo requires. All of the one-of-a-kind molds are housed in a special fireproof vault which can be seen here. Along with the Coating (Blackening) process which is similar to the DLC or PVD coating on black watches, which is also done in the Netherlands, this plastic machine allows for Cambo to proudly state that their cameras are a “Made in The Netherlands” because as we can see, it is almost if not entirely produced in the country.

Cambo-Logo-Montage

Finally, we come to the assembly process where the finished parts are put together into the final products:

Cambo-Factory-Assembly

At this bench, the cameras will be assembled, checked, re-checked and confirmed to be functioning. The assembly and stock room is almost as large as the main room of the factory. Cambo stocks a large number of their products including their studio stands (which can be custom ordered to desired heights) as well as their cinema equipment, which they also make a large part of in house. They do stock a number of lenses, which they have mounted into their proprietary helical mount (and checked using this machine) however stocks of these and their camera bodies are lower because they are always in demand. Dealers generally have a very good stock of bodies as well as lenses. Cambo is known for their customer support and they will work with customers to get them the lenses they need in the quickest possible manner. They are also very helpful and approachable to discuss the gear if it needs to be serviced, or remounted (possibly into the new tilt-swing mount) although this does not happen often, since Cambo’s products will last for many years if treated properly while functioning perfectly. That said, Cambo also has a large stock of parts for their current and passed cameras dating back all the way to 1947.

It was an absolute joy to be able to get this intimate look at the production of Cambo’s cameras, and I would like to thank both Lance Schad and Rene Rook for helping me to make this happen. I hope that it has been as enjoyable for you to read this as it was for me to visit the Cambo factory, again more images of current Cambo products, as well as some other shots of the factory are available on my Flickr page here.

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

..

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.

 

In-depth review of the Hartblei Hcam B1

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

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

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

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

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

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

History and Design 

Front and Logo of the Hartblei Hcam B1

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

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

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

Design and Functionality, my opinion

 Hartblei Hcam B1 Top showing aperture controls

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

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

 

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

Hartblei Hcam B1 Viewfinder - Hasselblad 503CW

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Quality 

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

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

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

Hartblei Hcam B1 Sample Image Nikon 50mm 1.4G

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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