PhaseOne Cameras

New PhaseOne XF Camera Body Announced

PhaseOne XF

It’s finally here, after all the years, after all the rumors, and after all the late breaking leaks, the new PhaseOne XF body has been announced. The new PhaseOne XF body replaces the aging 645DF plus platform and replaces it with a truly modern medium format digital platform for those who need that. The last model of Mamiya 645 based cameras, the 645DF+ didn’t differ that much from the original Mamiya 645AF which was released in September of 1999. Yes improvements were made and compatibility added for Digital Backs and Leaf Shutter lenses, but the fact of the matter is this system (as well as the Hasselblad H released at Photokina in 2002) have remained substantively unchanged for over a decade. As digital backs have become more advanced and as users have come to expect more out of their modern cameras (due to rapid advancements in ILC’s and DSLR’s), the MamiyaLeaf / PhaseOne 645DF+ and Hasselblad H bodies could not keep up. It should also be noted, that the XF camera body will be exclusive to PhaseOne, and will not be offered in a MamiyaLeaf variant.

Before beginning to comment on this camera, it should be noted that I have not handled it, but I hope to as soon as possible, and hopefully also be able to produce a video showcasing some of its features. For more information, head over to Digital Transitions website to read more about new features on the PhaseOne XF.

After seeing the basically the same camera body on all PhaseOne cameras for the past decade, it is refreshing to see a new design on the PhaseOne XF. Other then for aesthetic reasons, this camera is necessarily physically different because of all of its new features. I like the design, its reminiscent of more robust earlier film cameras like the Mamiya M645 as well as others. The PhaseOne XF takes design cues from the PhaseOne IQ series of digital backs and seems to flow as an extension of this.

The design is much more then a pretty face, and it has modularity, and customizability at its core. The most notable design feature, and one that was noted as lacking on the 645DF+ (compared to the Hasselblad H System) was a waist level viewfinder (WLF), which has been added on the PhaseOne XF camera body. Even with added modularity (which could create weak points), PhaseOne has beefed up the camera to make it significantly more durable and robust. This comes at a price, of a slightly heavier camera body. I can only speak for myself, but I am happy to carry a bit more weight for a lot more durability. Another interesting physical feature is that all ports are now covered like the firewire port on an IQ series digital back without the need to worry about loosing the small rubber covers that plagued the 645DF+ (and earlier models).

In terms of physical added modularity, there are two big changes. The addition of a modular viewfinder has opened up new doors in creative uses of the PhaseOne platform. Medium format photography was created with the Hasselblad V system, with the idea of modularity and this is something that has carried through to today allowing photographers to create a camera that works for them for their applications. The waist level viewfinder will be a great addition to the system that many photographers across different types of photography have requested. Hasselblad V series users have enjoyed this feature for 60 years, and Hasselblad H users, and Contax 645 users have also had access to WLF viewfinders for years. One slight bummer with the WLF is that you will not be able to see exposure information when using the WLF the way you will with the normal 90 degree viewfinder. Speaking of the 90 degree viewfinder, it is supposed to be much brighter then the 645DF+ which should allow for some interesting improvements in the uses of slower lenses including my Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO and Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lenses.

More exciting (also in the vein of manual focus lenses), as the addition of interchangeable focusing screens on the PhaseOne XF camera body. You can now choose between Matte, Split, and Center Prism screens on the XF camera body. I am sure that others like Bill Maxwell will also offer focusing screens for these cameras in different flavors. One of the problems with the Mamiya 645AFD and PhaseOne 645DF platforms was that, while their screens were interchangeable it was a much more difficult process (I am not the foremost expert on this but I will try and explain as best I can). Basically, the way the 645DF (and earlier) bodies were made, the focusing screens would be warped during manufacturing, this wasn’t a problem because calibration of the sensors was done after this process occurred, this meant that despite an individual body/screens warping the camera would be correctly calibrated. However, this also meant that if you swapped out the focusing screen for a new custom one, the camera would have to be recalibrate. This is because the new focusing screen would be flat, and this is not what the Mamiya/PhaseOne bodies were calibrated for. So while these screens were interchangeable, they were not easily interchangeable because of the re-calibibration that was necessary. I assume the modular PhaseOne XF will feature a focus screen changing system similar to the Hasselblad V and Hasselblad H series cameras, which is very easy taking mere seconds.

The PhaseOne XF camera body brings in amazing new customizability thanks to its many user programmable buttons, as well as its new touch control panel on the top o the camera. This means that users will be able to decide what they want where, and more interestingly how they want it to act. You will be able to customize not just the feature that the controls access, but also how the controls function. If you like you shutter speed or aperture dials to rotate in a particular way, you will now be able to do that. This is great customizability that the 645DF+ was lacking due to its confusing and arcane menu system. One feature that I am particularly excited to be able to map to a specific button is the Automatic Hyperlocal Focusing mode, which does exactly what it sounds like based on the lens attached. This is great and will allow for “mystical”  hyperfocal focusing to be done with ease.

Speaking of focusing, the PhaseOne XF camera body has a new, in-house autofocus system that they are calling the Honeybee focusing system (don’t ask me why). I’m not the best person to explain the intricacies of this focusing system, but the fact of the matter is it should be much better then the current focusing system which isn’t always the best. I believe it does this through a small new CMOS style AF sensor that should decrease focusing errors. While this is all very exciting, one thing that users have cried out for is movable auto-focus points, unfortunately we will have to keep waiting. While more accurate, center point focusing only is a great disappointment. I don’t really care what reasons (excuses) are offered for this, its a extremely important feature that all DLSR’s have, and would be a defining feature of a modern medium format camera body. As far as I am concerned, this is really the biggest blunder of this camera.

But now to something much more exciting! The PhaseOne XF camera body will now use the same rechargeable batteries as the PhaseOne digital backs! This is huge, and awesome and makes life much easier. An independent company and then PhaseOne released a different rechargeable battery solution for the 645DF+ camera body, however this was a pain since it meant another charger, and an oddly shaped battery to carry. So I am quite pleased with this improvement since the PhaseOne DB batteries are very easy to carry and use. Also, the XF and IQ3 series will be able to share power when put together, which is one of the interesting new features of the IQ3 series (discussed below).

More of a line-item then anything else, yet still worth talking about a Profoto wireless trigger is now integrated into the PhaseOne XF camera body with a 20m range. It seems as if they may have done away with the V-Grip Air, which is a bit of a bummer. Yes, one part of the V-Grip Air was the added Profoto wireless integration, but the biggest things for me were the additional battery compartment and the added ergonomics of the shutter release, the V-Grip basically lives on my 645DF camera body. Hopefully this is something that they will bring back.

Update: I have been told that, if there is enough demand a vertical grip solution of the new XF camera body will be provide, so make sure you tell your dealer that you want one! I sure do. 

The PhaseOne XF also features an accelerometer and 6-axis Gyro. Which I understand will become powerful tools as new features are added to this body through firmware upgrades. At release, an interesting feature resulting from these components is the “Seismographic mode”. This mode, uses mirror lock up (MLU) + a timer, with the aforementioned sensors to reduce vibrations when taking long exposure images. It does this by monitoring vibrations until they are reduced and then fires the camera shutter at this optimal moment. I believe this feature may only work with Leaf Shutter lenses, but I will update when this has been confirmed for me. Either way, really cool feature that takes advantage of these fancy new components, it will be exciting to see what else they will be able to do in the future (maybe tracking motion, so that a image-stabalization like de-blur feature can be used in C1?, after all once you have the movement data, its just math SEE BELOW).

Update: Seismographic mode can be used with all lenses, however it will be most effective with leaf shutter lenses, given the vibration reduction inherent in not using the focal plane shutter. 

Also, we should be very excited about the possibilities of the accelerometer, at the time of my initial writing I was not aware of this, however a US Patent #US6747690 B2 entitled Digital camera with integrated accelerometers filed by PhaseOne a number of years ago suggests in its abstract that “Data relating to static and dynamic accelerations are stored with recorded image data for further processing, such as for correcting image data for roll, pitch and vibrations … Data may also be used on-the-fly for smear suppression caused by vibrations.” There are other  PhaseOne patents that deal with the accelerometer, but this one would suggest that what I alluded to above could very much be on the menu in the not too distant future, and would certainly be a modern feature!

Along with the large degree of user customizability in the physical features, the Firmware of the PhaseOne XF will also be easily upgradable as new features are enabled. While details of future features are scarce at launch, there are a number of exciting possibilities given the large degree of integration between digital backs and the camera body that the XF platform offers.

CaptureOne 8.3, will also feature much more integration of camera body controls (as you would expect) with the PhaseoOne XF body. This is great since it opens up new possibilities for remote control of the camera for stability as well as creative image making where the camera controls might be inaccessible.

The PhaseOne XF camera body will be compatible with the new PhaseOne IQ3 series cameras (launched with the XF) as well as with IQ2 and IQ1 series digital backs. P+ back compatibility will not be included, which I imagine has more to do with their being less useful given their lack of potential for integration into the XF then anything else. IQ3 series backs will be fully integrated into the PhaseOne XF, which (to me) is hauntingly reminiscent of the Hasselblad closed system that started with the H3D under similar auspices. However, will tighter integration is offered, it is still very much an open system. IQ2 series digital backs will be able to access most of the integrated features that the IQ3 will enjoy through a firmware upgrade. The IQ1 series of digital backs will not be able to enjoy this integration, however will still be usable on the PhaseOne XF, and will be able to enjoy the new features of the camera body.

Two new lenses have been announced. A Leaf shutter 120mm f/4 macro lens (which has been a long time coming), as well as a new leaf shutter 35mm f/3.5 wide angle lens with a new optical formula. I’m sure people will love the LS ability on the 120mm lenses, but I am most excited about the new design 35mm lens which should be a nice upgrade to the aging Mamiya 35mm f/3.5D lens (which I have been using a lot more recently). An exciting new feature of the PhaseOne XF camera body is that it will have new, lens specific focus calibration that is user customizable. For these two new lenses, it will be based on serial number, allowing for the greatest customization possible for optimal focusing. With older lenses, these features will be available but they will be focal-length specific rather then lens specific, great new feature to help improve image quality if you ask me.

As mentioned the PhaseOne IQ3 will offer higher integration with the PhaseOne XF camera body. This will be done mostly through the greater control given to the entire system through CaptureOne. There will also be a new power share feature allowing for the back and body to power each other which is also nice to allow for extended shooting if one runs out of power. I will be following up in much greater detail about the IQ3 series digital backs later today (and will link to that here).

To conclude, I will say that the PhaseOne XF camera body offers many neat new features that we have wanted for a long time. It is the most modern medium format digital camera body, however it is still far off from the most lame DLSR. That being said, its the best we’ve got (re-modern features) so thats something. I will be interested to see how some of the new features discussed above work (particularly the autofocus with AF lenses as well as how it helps in Manual Focus only lens focusing). All of these new features are all well and good, but lets see what they are going to cost…

First, according to Lance Schad (link to direct email) of Digital Transitions, there will be an upgrade program for PhaseOne 645DF and 645DF+ users, with more information to come on this in the near future. For the moment, pricing stands as follows:

  • XF Camera Body, Prism Viewfinder, 80mm LS Lens -$8,990.00
  •  XF Camera Body with Prism Viewfinder – $7,990.00
  •  XF Camera Body (no viewfinder) – $6,490.00
  •  XF Prism Viewfinder – $2,490.00
  •  XF Waist Level Finder – $790.00

You can also find a full summary of the PhaseOne XF camera body’s features below courtesy of Digital Transitions my preferred PhaseOne Dealer:

PhaseOne XF Featurese

PhaseOne IQ250 does Christmas @ Rock Center (with Sample Files)

20141204-CF005390

Crop – Digital Perspective Correction

Schneider-Kreuznach 28mm f/4.5 LS @ 1/100s – f/4.5 – ISO 1600

To all of those out there celebrating, Merry Christmas!

Before starting this article I should note, for some reason the uploaded pictures didn’t show so you can view them on flickr here. So please download the full-resolution sample files (See below) before jumping to any conclusions or thinking I’m out of my f-ing mind with what I’m saying.

I was lucky enough to be able to be on the ice for the 2014 Rockefeller Christmas Tree lighting, but even more excitingly, my good friend Lance Schad from Digital Transitions was nice enough to lend me the very special PhaseOne IQ250, and a Schneider-Krueznach 28mm f/4.5 LS for the event which meant I was able to get some hands on real world experience with this digital back, and the results absolutely blew me away. For the purposes of this particular article, I’m not going to get terribly involved in reviewing this camera. Basically, all you need to know that this is a killer crop 50mp Sony CMOS sensor housed within PhaseOne’s IQ2 series digital back housing meaning that you get everything that you love about your IQ series digital back, with the wonders of a medium format digital CMOS sensor. The results are absolutely stunning.

As you will see the results from this camera are absolutely insane. ISO 800, ISO 1600, ISO 3200 are all highly usable, and even the results at ISO 6400 are amazingly usable as well (albeit with some qualifications). The absolutely amazing thing about the results out of this camera AT ALL ISO’s is that there are is almost no color noise. At ISO 3200 and ISO 6400 is there noise? Of course, but because it is not color noise it is shockingly inoffensive. There is some loss of sharpness / smudging of details which is only apparent when zoomed in at ISO 3200, and even at ISO 6400 zoomed out fully you would be hard pressed to notice it.

While there are a number of cameras out there now with the Sony crop censored 50mp CMOS medium format chip, I believe that the image processing skills of PhaseOne really shine through here. FULL-DISCLOSURE: I have not been able to review sample images from the Hasselblad H5D-50c or CFV-50c, or the Pentax 645z or other PhaseOne owned variants of this camera. However that being said, I believe if compared to the competition with the same sensor the PhaseOne IQ250 would wildly out class them because of Phase’s image processing abilities.

A Few of the sample images might suffer from a little bit of camera shake, because well, I was hand holding at relatively slow shutter-speeds…and it was cold out….and I may have had a little to drink…..so give me a break. But the point remains that these images are exceedingly clean, especially from a technical perspective. Below I will show some sample images as well as a couple of ISO series. But….

Please download through this dropbox link the full JPEG and .IIQ files of these images for your edification. I’m making these images available for you free for personal use and not to be republished anywhere without my permission. If you don’t have CaptureOne, you can download it here.

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/3g3fgjxwbq13yq2/AACTph7C5tjxGQZDOCV8JPBla?dl=0

To all a happy holiday and a happy new year, thank you for making this year so great for my website. I know I am behind on posting a number of articles, but look at it this way, you have some fun stuff coming your way in January!

High ISO Series Taken with the PhaseOne IQ250

Just Announced: PhaseOne IQ250, The Rise of CMOS

the all new just launched PhaseOne IQ250 medium format CMOS digital back

Its been common knowledge since the second half of 2013 that 2014 would be the year of medium format digital CMOS sensored cameras. It was announced on January 21, 2014 that Hasselblad was developing the H5D-50c, which they did giving Nikon D4s levels of detail about their product. To be fair, at least Hasselblad’s press release sounds like it was written by a person (unlike Nikon’s)…who was rushed. And now we see why that is, as was uncovered via info within Photoshop CC , which peaked the interest of many (okay well at least myself).  Hasselblad, currently only has a sensor for their CMOS camera, though they have not developed a fully functioning digital back. Their announcement was basically that they have conducted research into CMOS and will eventually be producing a product. PhaseOne has countered with the announcement of their IQ250 CMOS MFDB, based on the same Sony made 50mp 1.3x crop CMOS medium format digital sensor, which is now in production and will be shipping on Monday, January 27, 2013.

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You can check out information about the new PhaseOne IQ250 in a series of videos launched today along with the product. 

First lets look at some of the knowns between the PhaseOne and Hasselblad versions. Aside from the fact that PhaseOne actually has a production digital back and Hasselblad doesn’t, we come to the issue of live view. In the Hasselblad press release they already state that their live view will be coming through the live video feature of their Phocus software and not be available through the digital back. Where as PhaseOne’s IQ250 CMOS digital back will be an improved version of the live view feature already available on the IQ series. Currently, on backs like my PhaseOne IQ180 the CCD based sensor is not the best for live-view, though in good lighting conditions it works relatively well, though the refresh rate is still relatively slow.  However, with the IQ250 there is an improved refresh rate thanks to the CMOS sensor, which provides a refresh rate between 20-24 frames per second, with very low latency. Of course the improved ISO sensitivity of the sensor means that it will perform much much better in weak lighting (and apparently better in high-contrast and bright light as well. This could be very helpful, especially with view cameras but we will get to that.

The IQ series have great rear screens. We all know that, and I have always felt that the quality of live-view did not do justice to the quality of the screen that the IQ series has. This is simply an affect of having milked the CCD technology to allow some semblance of live-view. Which as we have said, has some merits but also could be vastly improved in the medium format arena.

Further the IQ250 will feature an improved CPU and RAM to handle the extreme data load of the 20-24 FPS refresh rate (this is not to be confused with the shutter of the camera which will still be the ~1.x FPS that is currently is). This could help when inserting big cards into the camera (which you may want to do now if you are planning on shooting a time-lapse with the greater flexibility of this platform).  Personally, I like big cards. Especially when I am out for a day of shooting I much prefer to keep a backup card or two in my pocket but not much more then that. With cards larger then 32GB my PhaseOne IQ180 and other PhaseOne digital backs take a little while to start-up when using 64GB cards and up. Especially when I’m shooting my Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO and Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO (i.e a nature / wildlife setting) this can sometimes be annoying. Consequently I tend to just leave the camera on which then hurts battery life. This is something else which the IQ250 promises to improve.

One of my first thoughts when I learned about this project was that it would be an absolute drain on the digital backs power supply. However, I have been told that this is not true since apparently CMOS sensors are much more efficient energy users, which could make this really great, and possibly a boon.

One of the main uses of live-view on the CCD based IQ series cameras (all of them up until this point) has been for focusing and composition when using technical cameras. Since its more efficient (and safer) to leave you back on the camera, if you want to precisely focus you would generally look to ground glass on your large format camera. Since technical cameras were spawned by medium format digital backs, while most feature some small ground glass attachment, it is not practical on a number of levels. Foremost of these being that you don’t want to be taking on and removing your expensive medium format digital back in the field. Thus PhaseOne’s CCD based live-view was a great thing. However, I have been told that the Sony based 50mp MFD sensor in the IQ250 (and the Hasselblad H5D-50c) has very strong microlenses on the sensor, which will be a problem when shooting wide-angle lenses and when utilizing camera movements. This will undoubtedly be upsetting to some since the improved live-view sounds great on paper for technical cameras. I will report back once I have gotten to use a IQ250 on this issue.

Image showing PhaseOne's IQ series open platform on Hasselblad V-series cameras like the 500EL (pictured) and 503CW, Mamiya RB67 / RZ67, Contax 645, Hasselblad H1, H2 and H4x as well as the PhaseOne / MamiyaLeaf 645DF platforms latest iteration the 645DF+

Moving on from live-view we come to the elephant in the room. ISO range. As we have all whispered about a CMOS medium format digital sensor for a few years now we have all talked about the endless possibilities of the increased ISO performance of CMOS over CCD. It seems that the IQ250 will feature excellent ISO performance, which is said to be usable up to the top of its range at ISO 6400. Of course, as of yet I cannot comment on this, however I can say that it will be very interesting to see where this goes. My general rule for medium format digital back ISO range usability is you take the top number and subtract to stops from it. So if the back is rated to ISO 6400 then the usable ISO would end at 1600. This isn’t a bad thing, it just seems to be a universal fact of life that I have discovered. In fact this is a good thing since backs like the my IQ180 and the IQ2 series top out at ISO 800 at full-resolution and ISO 3200 in sensor+ mode. It seems that the IQ250’s lauded ISO range obviates the need for sensor+ in a CMOS PhaseOne back.

Another improvement on paper of the IQ250 is that it should feature very good long exposure performance. It is rated to the same 1-hour max long exposure as the PhaseOne IQ260 which is currently class leading for a 60mp medium format digital back, and now the IQ250 looks to set a new standard. While it does not feature a longer “max” exposure time, it looks to improve noise performance at all ISO’s. Thanks to the IQ250’s assumed high-ISO performance long exposure times will be able to be dropped increasing the chances of getting usable results by decreasing sensor heat which generates noise in long-exposures. The most important addition that goes hand in hand with this is the ability to do long exposures at all ISO’s. For the long exposure mode the IQ260 raised the base ISO from ISO 50 to ISO 140. With the IQ250 you will be able to shoot long-exposure pushing an 1 hour with the full ISO range of ISO 100-6400.

Other then these (major) improvements this medium format digital back is typically PhaseOne sitting in their industry leading IQ series body and featuring the same great firmware etc. Also coming soon will be some firmware improvements (available to IQ2 series backs, and IQ1 series backs as well). This features, moveable guides on the digital back for composition purposes, which is a nice touch and will make live-view composition that much better on the IQ250. Also coming to IQ2 series and possibly the IQ1 series is GPS logging via the iOS Capture Pilot app. This last feature sounds cool, but again I see some problems with it. Namely battery life, whenever you ask the IQ series digital backs to do anything beyond taking pictures (i.e Live-view or wireless tethering) it sucks an incredible amount of battery. I have also found that the Capture Pilot app is very battery intensive as well. So as far as I can tell this feature will not only drain your MFDB batteries but it will also drain your cell-phone’s batteries since not only will you be using the Capture Pilot app but you will also be accessing and updating GPS information constantly. Of course, they may have implemented some amazing new system, which makes this a non-issue, but I doubt it personally. Still it’s always nice to have more features available, and I certainly wouldn’t ask for less in a system like this. And for a digital camera costing tens of thousands of dollars there should be as many features provided as are humanely possibly that could possibly be useful.

Hopefully I will be getting my hands on this back to play with very soon, and of course I will report back with my thoughts along with RAW and sample images for your pleasure.

If your interested in this digital back you can head over to my PhaseOne dealer of choice Digital Transitions to read more information on the PhaseOne IQ250 medium format CMOS digital back and get pricing and trade-in info here: http://www.digitaltransitions.com/blog/dt-blog/phase-one-iq250-11-things-to-know

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Our subject from before hides by the bank of the river

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

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

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

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

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

Shooting Color with the PhaseOne IQ260 Achromatic [Prototype]

Color image taken with PhaseOne IQ260 Achromatic Prototype

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Click on image to view larger)

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

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

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

Press Release: PhaseOne IQ2 Series Digital Backs

 The New PhaseONe IQ280, IQ260 and IQ260 Achromatic Digital Backs

Rather unexpectedly, PhaseOne soft released the new IQ2 series digital backs in an e-mail press release (which you can see here, if you are not on the PhaseOne mailing list). In this move, other then releasing a few new products, they did us all a favor by demystifying why the IQ series had that “1″ before the mp count of the backs…..so thank you PhaseOne for that. The full press release can be downloaded here from the PhaseOne website.

These backs offer a few small improvements, and offering some interesting accompanying news about the much anticipated (if your into that sort of thing) USB 3.0 tethering option which has yet to be enabled. As Digital Transitions explains in this blog post, USB 3.0 tethering is in Beta testing, and essentially if you ask nicely you can receive this firmware for you IQ back.

These backs are physically identically similar to the IQ1 series digital backs, however they have a new locking mechanism for the digital back to the camera where the sliding lever must be pushed forward and held in place while the button is then pressed to allow for the release of the back. This function makes it slightly less convenient to remove the back from the camera, but this small sacrifice in convenience adds to the safety of the camera by ensuring that the back is always locked on the camera.

The IQ2 series is fairly well covered on the PhaseOne website, but I will highlight a few of the key points. Firstly and most prominently, the IQ2 series digital backs feature wireless remote control and “wireless check” through the Capture Pilot iOS App which will be updated to communicate with the IQ2 series digital backs over the wireless connection that the IQ2 will transmit for itself from internal components built into the camera. This field generated by the camera (which is totally safe by the way, and if you are afraid of it, then are you also afraid of cell-phones???) will be functional for a small to medium radius around the camera, and should do fine for most shoots, however a repeater is recommended if you wish to use these features at distance.

the PhaseOne IQ280 is now the flagship product replacing the IQ180. It has been upgraded with the wireless connectivity discussed above. It also will feature USB 3.0 Connectivity at launch. Also, interestingly, through the retooling of all of the electronics including the A/D converter, the firmware and supporting electronics the IQ2 adds an extra half-stop of dynamic range to the camera bringing it from 12.5 stops of dynamic range in the IQ1 series to 13.0 stops (+0.5 stops) in the IQ2 series. This is certainly a nice little boost to the camera, although not something that you will sorely miss in most applications if you have an IQ180.

PhaseOne 645DF+ and IQ260 Digital Back

The more interesting additions to the IQ2 series line-up are the IQ260 and IQ260 Achromatic digital backs. These backs, offer all of the improvements and added features discussed above, plus a few extra things. the IQ260 digital back now offers long exposure capability of up to an hour, like its forerunner the P45+ which also featured this capability. Now, in the IQ260 the Dalsa sensor is specially used in a mode where it utilizes the outside of each pixel allowing for heat to escape through the center of each pixel. This allows for the sensor to stay cool long enough to yield usable exposures for extended periods of time just like on the P45+. Because of the way that this special use of the sensor works, the base ISO is raised to ISO 140 when using this mode. I am unsure whether the mode is usable with ISO’s other then ISO 140, but more to come on that in the near future   **Long exposure mode works from ISO140-ISO800**. Updating another interesting model in the PhaseOne line-up the IQ260 Achromatic replaces the aging P-series Achromatic+ digital back. The IQ260 Achromatic captures images in the same was as the Achromatic+, i.e with a dedicated monochromatic sensor. However, the IQ260 offers a couple of improvements over the Achromatic+, namely the 60mp resolution (as well as the full-frame size of the sensor) and the IQ series digital back interface. An issue with the Achromatic+ was that it suffered from missed AF because of the added IR sensitivity of the sensor which resulted in focus shift, this was not easily identifiable in the field with the P45 based Achromatic+ back, where now on the IQ260 Achromatic back you have the ultra-high resolution screen of the IQ series to allow for you to check focus. I suspect that this camera will be very popular because of the recent resurgence in interest in monochromatic digital imaging. It is sort-of ironic that all digital imaging (35mm and medium format) started with black-and-white monochromatic sensors, and now we are again going that way for the aesthetic. With the overwhelming popularity of the Leica M9 Monochrome (I love mine) and the announcement of the insanely popular Red Epic with a monochrome sensor (Epic-M), the IQ260 fits in very nicely so that there are options across 35mm, medium format and motion pictures for true monochromatic imaging.

 

Unfortunately though, the IQ260 Achromatic does not offer the up to one hour long exposures of the regular IQ260 camera. I’m sure that there is some technical reason why this feature is not possible with the monochromatic sensor in the Achromatic but I do not know what this is.

Personally, the IQ280 doesn’t offer any compelling reason for me to personally upgrade since I do not shoot tethered that often and .5 of a stop of dynamic range, while nice is not a earth-shattering revelation in this upgrade. Its unfortunate that it could not just be done through firmware, which would have been a nice little surprise for IQ180 (and IQ160 and IQ140 owners out there). The IQ260 Achromatic with a hot mirror filter could be a very interesting option for some monochromatic imaging, as well as IR with differing filters. The IQ260′s long-exposure capabilities are certainly a boon for it and certainly make it an even more marketable camera then it already is, considering its jump in MP over the P45+ while maintaining the same long exposure abilities. The only thing that I regret, as mentioned above is that the Achromatic does not have the long exposure feature, but I guess we can’t have everything. All and all this is a nice little unexpected release surprise from PhaseOne which brings some new backs to market with some unique features. To me the stars of this release are the IQ260 Achromatic and the regular IQ260. The IQ280 will be a great camera, I know this because the IQ180 is a great camera, and the features it adds are certainly great improvements for new users but may not be compelling for current users to upgrade. I believe that for a limited time there is an upgrade path for IQ1 owners to IQ2 backs at a discount.

I’m sure that Digital Transitions will be one of the first to have the new IQ280, IQ260, and IQ260 Achromatic backs, and a slew of used/refurb IQ1 series backs in the near future, so head over there for more info on pricing and availability. 

 

PDN PhotoPlus Expo 2012 and ShootNYC 2012

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

PhaseOne

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

Carl Zeiss

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

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

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

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

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

 f/2.8

 f/1.4

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

Multistitch

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

 Nikon

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

 Olympus

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

 

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

 

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

 Schneider-Kreuznach

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

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

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

Cokin Filters

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

 

[Vulture Camera Straps]

Shoot NYC / Hasselblad 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Physical Comparison

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

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

Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO Lens Review

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

Functionality

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

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

Image Quality

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

Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 Aperture Comparison

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

Full Image

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

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

100% Center Crops

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

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

Mamiya 300mm lens comparison at f/8

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

Full Image

Mamiya 300mm Lens Comparison 100% Crop

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

100% Center Crops

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

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

Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 Teleconverter Comparison

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

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

Mamiya M645 Teleconverter 2X N with 100% Crop

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

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

Conclusions

Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 Owl Final Image

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

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

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

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

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

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


Initial Impressions: Leaf Credo Announcement

Leaf Credo Digital Back Announcement

You may or may not be aware that PhaseOne and Leaf (as well as Mamiya) are now all owned by PhaseOne, so there really isn’t any discrepancy between the brands. Until recently when Mamiya and Leaf announced their merger to form the consolidated MamiyaLeaf Group, the lines had been blurred slightly as to who was making what. Since the Mamiya ZD camera, all of the Mamiya branded digital backs had been Leaf backs with the Mamiya brand name painted on them, and lacking the confusing (to me) Leaf naming system for their backs. Now that the merger has taken place (see press release) the Mamiya kits sold at B&H have been re-named to match their “proper” Leaf names for the various camera models. Now the only confusion remains between the brands “PhaseOne” and “Leaf”. People have to understand that these brands are no longer Denmark and Israel duking it out for the lions share of the interchangeable MFDB industry. In reality, at this point they have subdivided their products based on quality to meet the demands of different market segments.

In my opinion, prior to the announcement of the Leaf Credo the lines had been clearly drawn between PhaseOne who were certainly on the “Higher-End” and Leaf who were on the “Lower-End” (Of course, all is relative). As I have made clear in my feelings about the Leaf Aptus backs, based on MY prior experience and how they compared to the Hasselblad H and PhaseOne P+ and IQ series digital backs. Others, especially those who typically  use them in studios, and tethered have different opinions then myself, which they have kindly made abundantly clear to me since the release of my Leaf Aptus II 10 review. Since then my knowledge of the industry and technical side of cameras has grown as a whole and I can better appreciate Leaf’s place in the world, but during that same time I have had little to no more exposure to Leaf Aptus backs, so my opinions of them have remained the same. Simply put, still based on my personal experiences, I believe they are subpar to equivalent Hasselblad and PhaseOne models. That said, people who are actually paid to take pictures use Leaf and find it to be an acceptable shooting experience for them.

Both PhaseOne and Leaf also have special models which are used for specific purposes. Leaf released a UV/IR model which offered the possibility to customize an existing back as well as the “R” series of Aptus backs (the 80mp Leaf Aptus-II 12R and the 56mp Leaf Aptus-11 10R)  where the “R” stands for rotating. In these models, the sensor could be oriented either horizontally or vertically. This offers many advantages for various applications including regular photography but also scientific and reprographic applications. For photographic purposes this is most useful with technical cameras when shooting with your MFDB, since you are shooting with a (in the case of an IQ180 or Aptus-II 12) 53.9×40.4mm or 53.7×40.3mm (no actual difference) chip at a size significantly smaller then the full 4×5″ (101.6x127mm) coverage of most large format lenses you have the option of orienting your back either horizontally or vertically based on your desired composition. With the  6×6 cameras like the Hasselblad 503CW you still have the option of utilizing your sensors full 6×4.5 coverage and then cropping later in post if you still desire a square image. Since shooting vertically with a Hasselblad 503CW is a possibility normally because of its controls (a stretch at best utilizing the motorized hand grip) and not to pointless with a square frame (think about it, if you have to…Hint: it’s a square…) the orientation of the back (if using a Hasselblad back in square crop mode a la CFV-16/39/50) or film plane was a non-issue. However, if using a 6×6 camera with a digital backs 6×4.5 coverage, a rotating sensor can certainly be a useful tool in your arsenal especially during composition of a shot. PhaseOne has the Archromatic+ which is a fully black and white sensor with the Bayer color filter array completely removed which provides an artistically interesting as well as highly technical solution for industrial applications which we will not get into here. It should be noted however that in this one area (the rotating sensor) Leaf does have an “edge” or at least a feature which PhaseOne does not.

Enter Leaf Credo, it is something significantly different from past Leaf digital backs, and a step closer to the design, ergonomics and functionality of the PhaseOne IQ180 series of cameras. My dealer Digital Transitions in NYC has cleverly posted a FAQ about the Leaf Credo based on the questions they have been receiving about it, which I gather have been rather a lot of they have been driven to this point ;) . So, I though I would address some of the questions they have answered and give me thoughts on them:

What camera mounts are available?, Is the H4X supported?, Is the Hy6 supported?

The camera mount options available for the Leaf Credo and its compatibility is something interesting and worth commenting on. It has all of the mounts that you would expect, PhaseOne/Mamiya, Contax, Hasselblad H and Hasselblad V. A side comment, it is still impressive to see that people are still firmly loyal to their Contax 645 systems with it’s unquestionably superior Zeiss optics which yield very special images including two lenses within the range which have amazon f/2.0 maximum apertures (fasted for Mamiya is the 80mm 1.9 C/N lens which is only Manual Focus/Aperture). But I digress, this is what you would expect in this day and age based on the cameras and certainly the mounts people are using most. It is good/expected/important to note that the H4X camera is fully supported as you would hope it would be. If for whatever reason you do not know the H4X camera is a camera upgrade from the H2 for H2 owners (correct me if I am wrong, last I checked you couldn’t straight buy an H4X without an upgrade) which offers the same open platform compatibility of the H2 with the ability to use modern Hasselblad software and lenses (latest versions) with OEM backs. The Hasselblad H4D series of cameras were closed and would only accept and communicate with Hasselblad backs, a move that angered many in the MFDB community and caused them to switch out of the Hasselblad system because they felt wronged.

Interestingly the Hy6 camera platform is not supported with the Leaf Credo which is a de facto death blow to this ambitious platform since it was only ever supported by Sinar and Leaf in terms of digital back compatibility. I do not know if Sinar will continue to make backs for this system but it doesn’t really matter since certainly in the SLR style medium format digital back market their market share is very small. I cannot comment on the build quality of the Hy6 or Sinar backs, since quite honestly I have never been in the same room as either of them ever. Users of the Hy6 ardently love it and the excellent Rollei/Schneider Optics available for it especially including the Rollei Macro 90mm f/4 Schneider Apo-Symmar Makro PQS Lens which many will say is one of the best and sharpest lenses ever made due to its superior optical quality and its effectively 0% distortion. Personally it seems to be a bit awkward to me just from looking at it and knowing the way I shoot (but again everyone who uses it seems quite comfortable and always says good things about it) and the Sinar back’s I have never heard anything especially good or bad about and assume they are adequate and certainly good if you wish to use them with the rest of Sinar’s well integrated electronic shutter systems. All of that said, Leaf’s decision to not support the Hy6 camera system with their launch of a new flagship line of cameras certainly delivers a clear message about the future support (or lack of) for this system.

Is there a rotating sensor version?

Leaf Aptus-II 10R Medium Format Digital Back Rotating SensorAs I addressed above, the rotating sensors which are available on two of the higher-end Leaf Aptus-11 models (again, 80mp 12R and 56mp 10R) serve a specific function for certain applications which are specific to certain cameras and workflows but certainly has more then a “limited” application like exclusively scientific or reprographic work. As Digital Transitions explains ” any V-mount Leaf Credo can be mounted both vertically and horizontally.” which effectively means the same thing with a few caveats. Firstly, the major drawback or difference to this is that the back must be removed and mounted in a different orientation. This isn’t an issue for the user experience per se due to the accelerometer (I think thats what I mean) in the back which senses its orientation and adjusts the display appropriately. However, the only danger/concern/drawback to this is that you must remove the back, which while in a studio is largely perfectly safe….but in the field, especially in many landscape situations enters of a myriad of things such as dust or moisture which can damage a sensor or simply impede the image quality of captured images. As I said for studio work this is less of an issue, since safely removing and re-orienting the back is a non-issue. But in the field it may be a little bit more difficult, however, it can certainly be done with a bit of care. Of course if you know you tend to shoot in one orientation or the other then you can just set it up before hand and be good to go with you Hasselblad V. This feature being only available for the Hasselblad V is alright since this is the camera where the operation is most prescient and also many technical and 4×5 digital back solutions are offered with the option of a Hasselblad V mount for a digital back. I think it is clever that they include this feature, since it is certainly more pragmatic not to mention cheaper swell as involving much less R&D time and money then creating a fully integrated rotating sensor technology. Shows that little bit of extra thought, creativity and problem solving that went into the design of this camera, and is certainly something that I like to see from Leaf’s engineers.

Where does the battery go?

Many people, including my friend and owner of Hartblei.de (which produces the Hcam B1 reviewed here) Stefan Steib, were ardent supporters of one of my most loathed features of the Leaf backs (and their marketing and product photography teams). Leaf Aptus backs all have an externally stored battery which is IMHO negligibly absent from product shots. This is simply because it is not sexy that the battery sticks out of the bottom of the camera like a sore thumb. While this feature is not titillating as relates to the industrial design of the camera, it is so as relates to the possibilities for batteries with the system. The system used Sony batteries (Stefan Corrected me, Leaf Backs are Samsung SBL160 compatible ~ April 25, 2012)  which came in many different sizes, which means that while they accept the standard PhaseOne battery, they could also take larger capacity batteries for extended use. I believe that having the battery internal like the PhaseOne IQ series or now the Leaf Credo is certainly a good thing since it is kept safe and protected from the elements when in the field, and certainly out of the way when shooting in the field or in the studio. So for me its good riddance to the external battery and glad the internal battery is becoming a trend shared by both PhaseOne and Leaf leaving Hasselblad’s CFV series of backs alone with their external batteries awkwardly standing in the corner.

Is there a Fan?

The response form Digital Transitions is “The Leaf Credo uses sophisticated heat-sinking and other forms of passive cooling. No active cooling was required. Therefore no air vent or  fan is present.” which certainly seems to be exciting. In the past my key complaint about the Leaf Aptus backs was its loud and fully-externally exposed fan which I believed could only lead to trouble due to its exposing the insides of the camera to dusts, liquids and so on. Having no air vents would have been good enough. But, if I understand this correctly there is no fan at all, and the camera is capable to cool itself, which is rather good, which means no fan = less moving parts = less to break if dropped or bumped which can only be a good thing and is certainly something that I would love to see in more medium format digital backs if I understand it correctly from this description.

Will Leaf Capture support the new Leaf Credo?

I have heard others complain about it, and in my past experiences as related in my review of the Aptus-II 10, I found this software to be buggy and generally slow and certainly lacking in the user interface department. The Leaf Credo’s use of CaptureOne is a good step in many ways. Firstly, it means Leaf Capture is being phased (excuse the pun) out and while still being supported for Aptus-II and older backs will not received any new updates other then to ensure its compatibility with newer operating systems and computers (as Digital Transitions explains). Secondly it shows the synergy between PhaseOne and Leaf and that they are in fact working together cohesively on product development, which again is a good sign for the future of their companies. In case I was not clear above, the Leaf Credo is only supported in CaptureOne NOT in Leaf Capture.

Is there a Credo similar to the Aptus II 10?

I don’t really care about this, and Digital Transitions (go read it on their site if you want to) discusses the different sensor sizes of the different Leaf Credo 80/60/40mp versions and explains the differences in their sensor sizes. If it matters to you, the information is there, but for most of us it really shouldn’t if you ask me.

How is the Credo related to the IQ?

PhaseOne IQ Versus Leaf Credo

Digital Transitions description of this is rather good, but I will still give some of my thoughts. Firstly, and interestingly the same 40/60/80mp sensors are used in both the Leaf Credo 40, Leaf Credo 60 and Leaf Credo 80 as are used in the  PhaseOne IQ140, IQ160 and IQ180 digital backs. As DT explains, simply put utilizing the same sensors means they have increased buying power which makes components cheaper for them to purchase and will certainly increase their profits which may result in better prices for the end user if we are lucky. Interestingly again the same metal and basic structure is used for the Leaf Credo back’s external housing as is for the PhaseOne IQ series of cameras. This is good since it is a very robust, ergonomically sound, and aesthetically pleasing design which is highly functional. Another key difference, which is a hold-over from the Aptus series is the full touch screen available from the Leaf Credo. Although not explicitly stated I believe that it is implied that the screen quality is the same on both the Leaf Credo series and PhaseOne IQ series  which again is certainly a good thing since the IQ180′s screen is superior and the Aptus-II’s were certainly lacking in my opinion. A difference however is the Leaf Credo also has touch sensitive strips outside of the image area allowing users to pan and zoom without having to touch the area where the image is. This is another one of the really great features of the Leaf Credo which means that there are fewer ways to smudge the screen and degrade the viewing quality. Interestingly, the Leaf Credo is entirely devoid of hard buttons, while the PhaseOne IQ series still maintains 4 hard buttons around the frame of the screen as well as for the power button.

The backs also offer different user interfaces which will appeal to some more then others. I am sure the Leaf Credo’s UI is also very much improved. Again, I found the Leaf Aptus-II’s UI to be very difficult and excessively complex to use compared to the aptly described “Leica-esque” simplicity and minimalism of PhaseOne’s user interfaces which make them a joy to use. I am sure the Leaf Credo’s UI is much improved over the Aptus’s while not compromising features that Leaf is known for. Some key software differences exist including Leaf’s proprietary Profiles and Curves which effect the way an image is captured and processed even for RAW images. The Leaf Credo also does not include PhaseOne’s excellent Sensor+ which extends the ISO range of the IQ series. The Credo does not contain focus masks, auto-horizon and auto-keystone features which are trade marks of the “higher-end” nature of the PhaseOne digital backs.

Digital Transitions Logo

And of course as Digital Transitions notes, they are offered at different prices with different warranty options, as well as different service/support channels. And also, interestingly Israel is still managed to remain relevant since the Leaf Credo is manufactured in Israel and not Denmark, althoughI suspect this is liable to change as PhaseOne consolidates MamiyaLeaf, but I could be wrong and have no hard evidence to suggest their leaning one way or another.

~

I am very excited to see the Leaf Credo back since, while a step down from PhaseOne’s IQ series, offers many great improvements which in my opinion were essential changes to the Leaf Aptus series of cameras. While I have no interest or plans to change to this back, it will certainly be interesting to play with. I have talked with my guys at Digital Transitions as well as my (very few) friends at MamiyaLeaf about possibly getting me a copy of one of these backs to review, since it is very new and exciting. Digital Transitions offers some upgrade paths through Leaf from the Aptus II series and of course will give you an upgrade discount (like they did with my Hasselblad H3Dii-39ms) I purchased my PhaseOne IQ180 from them. You can contact them through their website http://www.digitaltransitions.com via E-mail, by Phone or in person and I can assure you that they will respond in a timely manner to your inquiries.

In-depth review of the Hartblei Hcam B1

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

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

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

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

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

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

History and Design 

Front and Logo of the Hartblei Hcam B1

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

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

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

Design and Functionality, my opinion

 Hartblei Hcam B1 Top showing aperture controls

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

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

 

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

Hartblei Hcam B1 Viewfinder - Hasselblad 503CW

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Quality 

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

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

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

Hartblei Hcam B1 Sample Image Nikon 50mm 1.4G

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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