PhaseOne

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.

 

PhaseOne IQ180, a love story

PhaseOne IQ180 mounted on the PhaseOne 645DF camera body

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

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

PhasOne 645DF Camera Body

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

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

Vertical Grip (V-Grip AIR)

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PhaseOne IQ180 Digital Back ~ Build

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 PhaseOne IQ180 Digital Back ~ Performance and Image Quality

PhaseOne IQ180 Medium Format Digital Back ~ Town Plot Clothing Photoshoot

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

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

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

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

 

PhaseOne IQ180 Digital Back ~ ISO and Long Exposure

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

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

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

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

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

Where to Purchase?

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

PDN Photoplus 2011

Originally published: November 2, 2011

Featured on Photorumors: http://photorumors.com/2011/11/01/pdn-photoplus-show-2011-report/

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Left: Inside the Javits Center. Right: A poor representation of the scene outside the Javits center since the image fails to capture the blizzard of snow and ice whipping by every second with the wind.

Saturday October 29, 2011 was a day to remember. Leaving my house in Connecticut at around 11:30 with flurries falling I wasn’t to concerned about the weather; I was going to PDN Photoplus after all. Around Greenwich when the snow intensified I continued on but started to question my resolve. Nonetheless I made it into the city and to the Javits Center. Usually when I attend these sort of shows, I take with me some significant camera either my D3s or my M9 because I like to have a nice camera for me for the rest of my time wherever I am. Of course they don’t hurt your credibility when asking to see expensive gear. This year however I only took my D-Lux 4 point and shoot tucked away in my pocket. As a whole I was pleased with the way I was treated and glad to confirm my suspicions that it wouldn’t affect my credibility if I was clearly knowledgeable about different products. I didn’t address Leica in this review because, as always they are amazing, they let you play with everything, and love talking about it. And of course again much to my torment, they have all of their glass their, all of that rare glass that is impossible to get new from a dealer. They had M9P’s which look great. I will have mine converted when the demand or the conversion is lower and the back order isn’t at January for the conversion. It looks good and adds to the camera’s aesthetic and functionality by making it that much more subtle. The only new thing with the S system was the 30mm Lens which no one really cared about anyway. They need more lenses there is no denying that, and I harp on that many times in the reviews below. But they are a great company with great service and that’s undeniable, even more importantly they make the best optics in the world (if you ask me, which you did since you are reading this). There are pictures of some lenses and the M9P and S2 on my Flickr page. I should add that these are as much my opinions as well as coverage of the show since I really only talks about things that I found interesting and because I’m a narcissist how they relate to me. This should be noted before giving me too much grief in the comments section although I welcome corrections and criticism in a friendly and proper manor icon wink 2011 PDN Photoplus show report For more pictures see http://www.flickr.com/brianhirschfeldphotography.

COOL THINGS THAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED – SCHNEIDER-KREUZNACH PC TS SUPER ANGULON’S

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It would’ve been very easy to walk by the Schneider booth at PDN Photoplus simply because its kind of intimidating. Its German, and its not Leica. They make great optics, most of which you’ll never use because they are large format. And they are pretty damn expensive since they are pretty damn good. Not to mention there are D3’s, 1D’s and Leaf Backs being shown with GIANT TILT SHIFT LENSES on them. Since most people (myself included to a slight extent, although I’m getting better) don’t entirely grasp the concept of tilt shift lenses. All of this leads to a pretty quite, although quite large booth.   First off, these lenses are amazing, they really are. They are built so well they almost defy explanation. They can’t be compared to Leica’s because they are not. They are Schneider’s. Leica’s lenses are very simply; straightforward and streamlined like the brand. This lens is big, bulky and high in functionality and all metal. It has so many moving parts it defies description and I won’t even endeavor to explain all of them. It’s a fully manual lens, no communication with the camera, you set your aperture and everything on the lens and set your exposure on camera and bam there you go. It’s a perspective control, tilt shift lens on steroids. Its mostly similar to Nikon and Canon’s tilt shift lenses in that they tilt and shit. Schneider’s is inherently bettered designed because of the optics house it hails from. This goes without saying. What doesn’t go without saying are the different an amazing ways this camera interacts with cameras. Most interestingly to me is the mount to the camera. It is possibly by turning a nob at the back to have 360 degree rotation of the camera, but not the lens. The lens will stay in a fixed position but the camera can be repositioned. This is an amazing feature for stitching. Although I don’t remember the dimensions exactly, its possible to take an image, flip the camera mount upside down, so the camera is upside down, take another exposure, merge them together and have it was either a 6x17or a 6×24 image. I thought this was great. Combined with many other perspective modifying features of this lens its really amazing for architecture and landscape work. While less relevant to me in the Nikon and Canon mounts because these are quite small and don’t benefit a huge amount from lens/camera movements, I was more interested in the PhaseOne mount version which has all of the same features of the Nikon Canon models which apparently also have interchangeable mounts according to the sprite and chipper German Schneider rep who clearly knew what he was talking about. I was really pleased with this lens as well as the service delivered by the Schneider rep by his in-depth knowledge and eagerness to talk about the product to someone. I will definitely try and find an excuse to buy this lens.

IOSHUTTER

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Despite appearances, ioShutter had a rather prime location at the end of an isle and right next to borrow lenses; this product may have been overlooked by some. It is a fairly simple idea that you would’ve expected to come about by now. The App is currently available for download in the app store but it won’t really do you much good without the cable which will be available in December according to their website. Also I THINK NOT SURE it might just be for Canon at the moment and will be available for Nikon and I think Hasselblad was mentioned and PhaseOne in the pipeline. Anyway it’s a shutter release cable driven by your iOS device. It has time functions as well as interval release functions useful for time-lapse photograph. While I don’t know if only as a shutter it is that useful since how much room does a cable release really take up anyway? But with the added time-lapse and easy locking features combined with the fact that almost every person on the planet has an iOS device, and the ones that don’t are currently in-line to get one, and so many people have DSLR’s and pro-sumer models that might benefit from this feature, I really hope this concept succeeds.

GIGAPAN SYSTEMS GIGAPAN EPIC SMALL UPDATE

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First of all, my first victory in my crusade for the underrated 300mm f/4 lenses! There’s one mounted on a canon on a Gigapan Epic. Second since my primary interest is in medium format photography, anytime I see anything cool and techno-gadgetry as relates to camera’s I ask, does it work with PhaseOne 645DF? What about a Hasselblad H? So often the answer is no, but here the answer was YES! Kind of. Works with Hasselblad which is great, except I’m trading that in for a PhaseOne. The rep pictured left, explained that they are currently working with PhaseOne to get the cable right to communicate properly between the Gigapan Epic and the Phase 645DF body, just an interesting note, no real thoughts on it one way or another.

FUJI

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Fuji has come a long way in the last year, and I am very impressed with them. They released the X100 and its ridden a wave of hype to almost being widely available a year later. It’s a great little camera, really vintage looking, and kinda sorta opening up peoples mind to the arcane but magical world of rangefinders once again. After holding the X10 and being able to directly compare it to the X100, I have to say I walked a way with a very favorable impression of the X10. That is not to say the X100 isn’t a pretty cool camera but it isn’t that valuable of a tool to me as an M9 shooter. It is a very fun camera and certainly has some novelty value masking its true potential as a camera. But anyway back to the X10 I thought it took everything that was good about the X100 and added in some useful point and shoot features like, smaller size and zoom lenses. Again being an M shooter as well as a fan of prime lenses the X100’s lack of a zoom lens was by no means a deterrent from it in my mind. All that said about Prime lenses, the lens most often on my D3s is my 24-70mm 2.8 because it is the most convenient for general and most travel photography for me. The X10 adds a nice little zoom lens into the equation and it preforms admirably. The X100 had a pretty fast autofocus speed and the X10 seemed to be faster to me. In terms of functionality the X10 seemed on par if not better then the X100. The X10 however, excelled in the size war. I felt that it really did take the good things about the X100 and put them in a smaller, more point and shoot, sized body. It clearly can compete with the big pro-sumer model’s from Canon and Nikon The G12 and P7000 respectively. It does beat them if you ask me, it looks better, it is faster, it has better controls and its manual zoom lens is nicer if you ask me. It gets you more involved in the photography. While you loose the fun and total involvement of an aperture ring it does get both of your hands on the camera and gets you more into being a photographer which I like and think will do wonders for those who use it and photography as a whole if more cameras follow this trend of reverting to the basics (so well exemplified in the M series) and bringing thought and understanding back into mass photography. Again, that said it’s a double edged sword you get all these really cool, back to basic features, but you still wind up paying a premium, not Leica insane but its still kinda like buying a Porsche GT3 where you pay more to have them take stuff out of the car. A note about the upcoming Fuji interchangeable lens camera system. I after fondling the X100 and X10 in silence and not acknowledging the presence of their rep since there really wasn’t any need to talk to him, surreptitiously snuck in an out of no where question, catching him completely off guard, which I hoped would lead to him slipping up and revealing something. “So when will this new interchangeable model with an M mount be announced?” rep “Uh Hi, well it will be out in the spring [I already knew that part] and I should add no one said anything about it being an M-mount system.”. And this guy was really no fun at all so I didn’t bother mentioning about the m-mount patent being up and all that stuff. At the same time I would and wouldn’t be surprised if this new system was a modified m mount to allow for autofocus and a like while accepting all Legacy M lenses. But that’s not a prediction, that’s a hope.

NIKON

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Left: Red Rock Mirco with an appropriately blue styled DSLR rig with large LCD finder and Nikon’s Microphone Right: Zacuto HDSLR rig with their new-ish electronic viewfinder solution which I thought was really great. It can be used with or without the hood and give a really nice BIG electronic viewfinder for precise focus control with the attached follow focus.

Oh Nikon you wonderful behemoth the things you give us are so great. You even Dane to support other brands that compliment your system, how wonderful! I was really intrigued to see that Nikon had a Zacuto and Red Rock Micro DSLR video kit available to be fondled to advertise not only their cameras and lenses but the viability of their cameras as a HDSLR solution. I had never held one of these contraptions before and as the eager sales rep pointed out “they take a little while to get used to” but once you have figured it out they become fairly natural and easy to use. Both setups are pictured with a Nikon D7000, 85mm 1.4G and Nikon Microphone attached.PDN PhotoPlus Show 2011 New York7 2011 PDN Photoplus show report1

Nikon had a really great display of a lot of their future concepts for the mirrorless system including of course lenses as well as some very nice viewfinders and LED lighting setups for photography and video; not to mention a almost tasteful myriad of color options that totally blew Pentax’s mind since some of theme even seemed tasteful. Pictures of these can be seen with many others on my flickr page. I thought the Camcorder design pictured above was one of the best. It adds a side handle, which has a built in continuous light source for easy video recording. It also featured a hot shoe mounted large viewing screen for control over the various options while recording video. Not to mention it does this all off of one body and with interchangeable lenses. I wouldn’t ever really consider it since it isn’t my thing but I can really see this catching on if they can implement enough different accessories that it lens itself to creativity as well as convenience for the less creative consumer segment. Also its really great that they feature all of these different lenses as future concepts and describe who they will be useful for on the description cards for each but they decidedly aren’t working prototypes since they aren’t touchable or even if they are working no one would know it since you cant touch them. I understand Nikon is having a tough time at the moment but wouldn’t have been better to wait and have a fully developed lenses line when the camera launched? For the moment Canon is still without a mirror less system and there haven’t been any leaks of a Canon mirror less prototype, which suggests they, are either holding the designer’s and production staff’s families hostage or it doesn’t exist. Nikon probably could’ve waited, designed, and produced a few more lenses and released them with it, but then again that’s kind of like back seat driving since I’m sitting on my bed and not in the Nikon boardroom. But seriously if Pentax could do it, couldn’t Nikon? (and I know the Pentax lenses feel like you got them out of one of those gumball machines with the prizes but still you get the point.PDN PhotoPlus Show 2011 New York81 2011 PDN Photoplus show report 1

Continuing my purely scientific interest in Nikon and Canon’s 300mm f/4 telephoto lens offers, and confirming that no one has every actually used one by talking to multiple Nikon reps, I investigated the Nikon Offering. It is certainly better built then the Canon equivalent in terms of weather sealing and overall build. It’s a true Nikon lens through and through. That said I liked the way the Canon version felt more, honestly. They both autofocused about the same speed (very unscientific test) with a slight favor towards the Nikon in this respect. They both seem to be really nice compact lenses and I don’t know if people buy them but are ashamed of it or if they haven’t been deemed to be worth anyone’s time to review? But I’ve decided to make it my personal crusade to do these lenses justice!

PENTAX

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After being acquired by Ricoh I was curious to see what Pentax would bring to the table. See that was funny to me since all Pentax really had were to tables, albeit very nice open wooden ones with a nice aesthetic. I was expecting a heavier focus on the Ricoh product line, but there was only one camera present. One that frankly I was a bit remiss in not investigating further, the A12 M mount cartridge for the Ricoh GXR. The rest of the combined Ricoh/Pentax space other then the limited corner of the table the Ricoh GXR M mount was on (it had its own sales rep though) was taken up with Pentax Products. Essentially one of the whole tables was devoted to the new and amazing Pentax Q the cutest damn little camera I’ve ever see. From what I’ve seen its images haven’t been that impressive, but look at it! Its so Tiny and cute and you can fit all the lenses (including the zoom), and optical viewfinder in a small-medium sized pocket! And don’t even get me started on that cute little faux leather case, it just makes it look so quant and old fashioned!PDN PhotoPlus Show 2011 New York10 2011 PDN Photoplus show report1

All joking aside though, it is tiny. I mean tiny. I mean I’m pretty sure a PhaseOne battery weighs more. And better yet (all other manufacturers should note this) IT WAS ANNOUNCED WITH A FULL RANGE OF LENSES granted collectively I’m pretty sure they use as much glass as a 20 fl oz plastic coke bottle but they are all there, in the flesh, and touchable. They aren’t carefully protected from the public behind glass like the Nikon V1 / J1 concept lenses, or promised like Leica S lenses, they exist. They are there, and they are damn cute. The Jury is still out on this camera, I don’t expect it to be that great image quality wise, but hey its tiny, its complete, and its got all the buttons, who am I to badmouth it. Did I mention its absolutely adorable?PDN PhotoPlus Show 2011 New York11 2011 PDN Photoplus show report1

Pentax 645D – I’ve always had a bit of interest in this camera. It’s the closest I can come to saying that a reasonably priced new medium format system exists. Of course like the S system from Leica, it is a closed system, the back cannot be removed. But especially for Pentax this is less of an issue since they have all of the legacy 645 lenses a large number of which have autofocus. It can also use Pentax 67 lenses with an adapter that expands the lens range even wider. It seems like a nice entry point considering its cool 40mp and weather sealed body for more then half the price of a Leica S2 (don’t give me crap I’m being a jerk, of course the S is superiorly designed, built, and has better although limited optics.) At Photoplus, the camera wasn’t on display. I asked the sales rep who had shown me the Q about this and he said that it was because the 645D rep had left the day before, awkward. Anyway the Pentax sales rep did give me an interesting line which I thought may be obvious but anyway….He said that Pentax is treating the 645D as a response to Pentax users who want a step up from the K-7. This make sense although I did want to point out that there is a major gap in their pricing structure between the price of a K-7 and the 645D. But I guess if you can afford a D3x category camera you can afford a ~10k medium format system alternatively. I think the 645D does a lot of what the S2 doesn’t that is to say, be affordable. It really does a good job of this. It has all the buttons of, controls, and functionality you want in medium format, it has nice (not superior) build quality, a developed system of lenses and some cool features like the tripod mount hidden by my thumb in the below picture. Pleasing entry-level system (although this has an awful awful stigma [stigma not sigma, sigma does have a stigma attached to it] it shouldn’t) or an amazing go anywhere backup to a large mp sized medium format system. Honestly, I think the S should be more in the 15k range and that would convert more people to Leica and competitively compete with a system like this.

CANON

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Frankly in stark contrast to the jumpy and excited Nikon floor staff the Canon staff were all seated in chairs and look unenthusiastic. This doesn’t lend itself to inspire you to engage these people. But being the brave soul that I am I dared to disturb them and once you broke the ice they were more then happy to talk with you about any aspect of the camera and eager to let you put different lenses on it. OMG OMG it’s the Canon 1Dx have you seen those videos of the 12 FPS!!! CRAZY!!! And the 14 FPS in mirror lock-up WOWZERS. Pretty cool stuff but its hard to get to excited about it. It’s pretty amazing to operate the camera in motor drive at 12 fps but not life changing. I liked the 1984 F-1 Canon High Speed Motor Drive which had 14 fps a long time ago. Anyway the most important development I noted was in talking with a Canon rep. That is, that the limit on video length has been raised and will not be limited like on the IDs Mrk IV. This is important since more and more these cameras are being used on film sets. One thing I made a point of looking at at the show were the Canon 300mm f/4L and Nikon 300mm f/4 because I had never had any experience with them or read anything coherent about them. I found the Canon version to be nicer actually, pretty nice and an interesting, compact fairly fast telephoto lens. Overall this was really all that Canon had to offer, frankly the show as a whole didn’t present that many new products, but it did showcase some of the latest and greatest which have been announced over the past few months. A little disappointing but I’m not one to complain.PDN PhotoPlus Show 2011 New York13 2011 PDN Photoplus show report

A BRIEF VISIT TO POLAROID

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Frankly one of the stranger booths in the room was Polaroid’s. It kinda sorta seemed like they pulled some stuff from storage, threw in some of their new products and put some poor sales reps in for good measure. They had some strange things there, like legacy polaroid land cameras and other peculiar eclectic treasures. They also had some I assume new to them reflex-mirror lenses which I don’t understand since these are typically now a days made by second-rate manufacturers and I think that these may mean that Polaroid has gone off the deep end. They had there new little pocket printer thing in a case with some sample images printed from it which weren’t very impressive. I don’t really see the point to this item, I guess its supposed to make it like a polaroid addition to digital since it prints it on the scene? I don’t know or really care. The most interestingly strange part of the already peculiar Polaroid booth was the new camera flashes and LED hybrid. I guess its cool and a good concept. Why carry around an LED continuous light for when your doing video and a strobe with your HDSLR. It works as a concept. But I question whether anyone can feasibly put all this into a cohesive package that works, especially Polaroid. But who knows brands like quantum exist so go figure. Maybe Polaroid will be the next great camera peripheral maker, who knows, with Lady Gaga on the team (she still is right?) the sky is the limit and nothing can go wrong.

DIGITAL TRANSITIONS ~ PHASEONE AND ARCA SWISS

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Arca Swiss RM3Di Technical Camera

Tucked away in the far corner of the convention area was the Digital Transitions booth. They are PhaseOne, Arca Swiss, and Schneider dealers among others. After finishing up a deal to trade in my H3Dii-39ms for a IQ180 I explored some of the other wares they had there. They had the other IQ series backs there (IQ140 and IQ160) and they preformed just as nicely as the IQ180, no complaints about any of them.

PhaseOne 645DF and V-Grip Air – Of course they had the PhaseOne 645DF and V-Grip Air which are a wonderful combination that I think is one of the most comfortable out there for medium format.

Lenses – They also had some of the newer PhaseOne (some Mamiya and some Schneider lenses). The Schneider LS lenses are beautifully made and are definitely a step above the focal plane shutter Mamiya rebranded lenses. Now, don’t get me wrong a good sample of a Mamiya or PhaseOne 645 lens preforms very nicely, I don’t mean to cast them in a bad light by saying that they are Mamiya lenses rebranded. The Schneider lenses other then being built like tanks are of course optically better. This is a fact that may be overlooked when seeing their headings as “Leaf Shutter” lenses.

1. PhaseOne 120mm AF Macro Another highlight of the PhaseOne lens lineup present was the new 120mm AF Macro. I am sure there are some macro diehards and persnickety people who will suggest you don’t need autofocus on a macro lens. To which I will present the following. I own a Nikon 105mm f/2.8G macro; I don’t do that much macro photography. Since it is not my main area of interest I don’t use for its intended purpose that often, and when I do it is more as a novelty. But rather it is a close focusing short telephoto portrait lens (its also weather sealed and the 105mm f/2 DC is not). And this IS something that needs autofocus for convenience. This is where the 120mm AF Macro will really shine. As a fashion and portrait lens allowing the photographer different working distances with the subject. Also like the new Schneider 110mm and 150mm LS lenses, the 120mm AF Macro has a really nice new non-fluted bayonet hood. It is made of metal I believe and very solid and capable of protecting the lens. This is a feature I have disliked on many of the Mamiya designed lenses, their lens hoods are too plasticky. The 120mm AF Macro will definitely be a lens that I will be adding to my lineup in the near future.

2. Schneider 110mm f/2.8 LS lens Unfortunately as my time with Hasselblad winds down, I have come to appreciate one of its lenses in a new light. The 100mm f/2.2 has become one of my favorite lenses recently preforming admirably wide open and stopped down. Aside from its optical performance, I have found, the focal length (which is exactly 78mm in 35mm format but effectively 85mm) is my favorite focal length. I don’t leave for any shoot without either my 85mm 1.4D or 85mm 1.4G, more recently the 85mm 1.4G because of its G series weather sealing. Anyway I digress. The 100mm f/2.2 has been great and yielded some of my favorite images of all time in the past few months. The Schneider 110mm f/2.8 while lacking the widest aperture of the Hasselblad 100mm f/2 retains the focal length that I enjoy and will also be coming home with me in the near future if I have my way. It is a superiorly built lens and a real stunner optically.

Arca Swiss RM3Di – While not my main area of expertise by any means and I know there are certainly others better versed in this field, I was interested in this technical camera. It is a competitor to the Alpa series of cameras and is also in a category of non-bellows technical cameras. I like the way Micheal Reichman called it this subset of technical cameras “The Worlds Most Expensive Point and Shoot” specifically referring to a Cambo in this case. Again, anyway I digress. Having handled Alpa’s in the past (actually at PDN Photoplus 2010), I would say the Alpa’s have an edge on build quality. However I have heard from a dealer that they are rather slow in sending out simple part requests for replacements and orders. Apparently Arca Swiss is better and this should be a noted consideration. Also because of its modular nature, I understand that a lot of other Arca accessories can be used in Tandem with it. System development should be noted and is important when considering a camera, one of the clear advantages when choosing a PhaseOne over something like the Leica S2. The Arca Swiss uses a different focus system then these other technical cameras which usually use a focusing system that is on the lens which is arguable more imprecise. The Arca uses the silver knob on the front, which is more precise and takes many turns to rack the focus from minimum to infinity or visa versa which is beneficially to typically OCD landscape photographers (the OCD is one of the reason they are so good, not an insult). The RM3Di also has a full line of its own accessories like viewfinders, reflex hoods and so on and uses many large format lenses (pictured with a Schneider). The RM3Di also accepts either film backs or digital backs like those from PhaseOne. Something interesting that should be noted about the

IQ Series backs is that they have a special mode, which allows them to detect when the shutter on a view camera has been released, and an exposure made. This means that you can use view cameras without a sync cable, which is very nice, if you work outdoors or in conditions where a sync cable would get in the way (or you just hate wires like me.) For the most precise work and long exposures, I understand that it is better still to use a camera-lens sync cable anyway though. The RM3Di is a very nice camera and through my limited knowledge of the niche, I see no major complaints with it other then size issues and some lackluster build quality (everyone else uses wood why did you choose resin grips Arca?). I personally would lean towards Alpa in these matters because of finish and build quality. But in the end these systems are all about facilitating the use of typically ultra-wide but also regular large format lenses on medium format sensors with the theory that they large image circle will yield a sweeter sweet spot on the smaller medium format sensor. It should also be noted that they allow you to shit and tilt the lens and back for stitching possibilities.

 

Leaf Aptus II 10 on PhaseOne 645DF

Originally published: April 3, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

PhaseOne P65+ and PhaseOne 645DF

Originally published: April 3, 2011

Wow, this is one heck of a camera. I have been looking to replace my Hasselblad lately and I Demoed this one at Digital Transitions in NY. I would have to say that this is the best digital back on the planet. With that moniker it also carries one of the heaviest price tags in digital cameras weighing in at around $32,000 for the back alone. Of course for this amount, you get 60.5 megapixels. Many would argue that this is 48.5 megapixels than anyone ever needs. However with it you get an extraordinary amount of data to work with. The dynamic range according to DxO mark is the highest of any digital back. It is simply superb.

It can be purchased with just about any mount out there. It is available currently for the Mamiya 645 (PhaseOne 645 is the exact same camera), Mamiya RZ, Hasselblad V and other mounts. As of last week, PhaseOne won (haha alliteration) a law suit against Hasselblad closed system H mount.

Hasselblad’s H mount 645 camera was the industry standard for many years, until they closed their system. Before this their H camera (also produced by Fuji as the GX645 same camera) had been closed. However PhaseOne won the antitrust proceedings and will now, along with other digital back manufacturers be able to build cameras with the H mount. This was a major victory for PhaseOne and a significant defeat to Hasselblad. Also in a cruel twist of fate, Hasselblad was ordered to pay the legal costs of the (I believe) 6 year long case. Anyway the purpose of this paragraph was mostly to say, you can get it for just about any medium format camera system that you own.

One interesting feature that really astounded me was its ability to shoot fewer megapixels and higher ISO as well as frame rates. Ingeniously PhaseOne has figured out who to create a system where their digital back shoots at 15 megapixels and is able to shoot up to ISO 3200. Of course this is nothing for most of the current DSLR’s on the market however it is a big feat for the medium format digital back industry. I marveled at the fact that this was able to be done and thought it was really cool. Of course ISO 3200 is not useable at all. However 1600 becomes tolerable under extreme situations or where the grain might be aesthetically pleasing.

The Screen on this camera is the best of any digital back I have seen except the Leica S2. The screen is decently clear and responsive. It no where near is good as a computer screen, the first iPhone’s screen or even a $500 Nikon’s. However in medium format digital back’s screen quality is something that has fallen by the wayside. The manufacturers have always been more focused on the sensor then trivialities such as the screen. This is easily explained, these backs are usually shot in studios and tethered; at least in the manufacturers eyes that is. Many professionals use them outdoors for either fashion or fine art landscape photography. The latest batch of screens are decent enough however little can be gained by looking at them in all honesty. That said PhaseOne’s screens are leaps and bounds above the competition, especially Leaf.

Side note: Leaf and PhaseOne are shareholders in Mamiya, this is why the PhaseOne 645AFD cameras and Mamiya 645AFD cameras look hauntingly similar, your eyes do not deceive you, they are exactly the same.  PhaseOne is the majority shareholder and are able to decide the direction for the company. Leaf is a major shareholder though and the Mamiya branded backs are nothing but rebranded Leaf backs. Which are well, not that great to be perfectly honest. I say this in terms of my needs, they may be perfect for some other people. This topic is covered in my Leaf Aptus-II 10 Article. Anyway back to my camera industry background…The PhaseOne 645AFD is truely an “open source” camera body. It will accept any digital back without prejudice. A similar thing happened with the Hy6 camera system. Lens maker Jenoptik created a design for a medium format camera body; the Hy6. They then commissioned Rollei (Rolleiflex) to make the camera. They did. It caught on and for many years Leaf, as well as Sinar had their own branded Hy6 cameras.

I Digress. On Build Quality these things are unstoppable. If you look at PhaseOne’s youtube channel (PhaseOne DK) you can view videos of them supporting jeeps, being frozen, cooked, dropped from balloons, off the backs of speeding cars, oh yeah and stood on by elephants. So they are pretty damn tough. They are solidly built and are weather sealed. It feels like a solid hunk of metal in your hand, a solid hunk of metal worth more then some BMW’s. Quite frankly they should all feel this way but they don’t (cough cough Leaf cough cough). After holding it and shooting with it, I proclaimed that it was “the Leica of medium format interchangeable digital backs”. I stand by this, it is ridiculously well built.

Shooting Tethered and with Strobes are seamless with the PhaseOne 645AFD (yes, and the Mamiya). When shooting tethered you easily slide the Firewire cable into a designated and protected port on the back of the camera, and it is quickly recognized by the computer without having to do anything on the computer or back. Shooting with strobes is equally pleasurable, simply plug a flash sync cable into the body et voila, strobes. Everything works perfectly, this system is truly at the top of its game.

I Shot this camera at the same time as a Leaf Aptus-II 10, you can see my full review and comparison in my Leaf Aptus-II 10 review. However one item of note the PhaseOne automatically recognizes the camera profile. This means without pressing any buttons it knows that camera body you just put it on. This is one of the many features that make it a more refined machine, worthy of respect.

In conclusion, one must ask themselves, is this the camera for me? Well if you don’t need ridiculously good low light performance then thats a check. If you do go check out a Nikon D3s or Leica M9 with Noctiulux depending on your style. Do you need 60.5 megapixels? the answer to that one is a resounding NO for 95% of photographers. Do you want 60.5 megapixels? the answer to that is a resounding YES from 95% of photographers. Except for hipsters who only shoot film and Ken Rockwell. This system is wonderful nothing short. The PhaseOne camera body and lenses are equally excellent to the digital back that they compliment. If you need this, or want this and you have an income to match, its a great buy. I have been told that they will be rolling out an 80 megapixel version soon just like Leaf (Mamiya Digital Backs) and Hasselblad already have. Since those are heading into uncharted territory sensor wise, I think this will remain the premiere digital back for a few more years. PhaseOne has created a true “City on a Hill” with which all lesser companies should compare themselves. I do not know if this is the back that I will choose, I must do some soul searching and pixel peeping to decide that; but P65+ is definitely a man among men.

Scroll Down for Sample Pictures, Tech Specs, and Real life Pictures of what the camera looks like.

SAMPLE IMAGES

Full Image

PhaseOne P65+ with Schneider 45mm LS lens on tripod at f/2.8 1/60 ISO 100

Profoto Acute with Softbox to the left of the lizard.

33% Center Crop

PhaseOne P65+ with Schneider 45mm LS lens on tripod at f/2.8 1/60 ISO 100

Profoto Acute with Softbox to the left of the lizard.

100% Center Crop wow.

PhaseOne P65+ with Schneider 45mm LS lens on tripod at f/2.8 1/60 ISO 100

Profoto Acute with Softbox to the left of the lizard.