Guest Post: Evolution is Revolution (Leica M240 Review)

Leica M240 Sample Image

Evolution is Revolution
And yes: Things they are changing!

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

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

I was skeptical.

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

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

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

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

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

Leica M240 Sample Image

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

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

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

Leica M240 Sample Image

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

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

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

Leica M240 Sensor

 

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

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

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

Leica M240 Sample Image

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

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

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

Greetings from a fellow German

Stefan Steib

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

Shooting Color with the PhaseOne IQ260 Achromatic [Prototype]

Color image taken with PhaseOne IQ260 Achromatic Prototype

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Click on image to view larger)

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

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

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

In-Depth Look at Multistitch for 4×5 Cameras

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

Everything on the Cambo Wide RC400

Digital Transitions Vimeo Cambo Wide RC400

http://vimeo.com/63916039

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

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

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. 

 

Cambo Factory Visit

Cambo-Photographic-Industry-Factory-Holland

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

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

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

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

Cambo-Vintage-4x5-Cameras

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

Cambo-Vintage-Heritage-Cameras

Vintage Cambo Cameras displayed in the Factory Show Room

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

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

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

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

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

Cambo-Factory-Floor

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

Cambo-New-CNC-Machine

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

Cambo-CNC-Machine-Aluminum

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

Cambo-CNC-Marchine-Montage

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

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

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

Cambo-Factory-Manufacturing-Buffing

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

Cambo-Factory-Manufacturing

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

Cambo-Logo-Montage

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

Cambo-Factory-Assembly

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

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

PDN PhotoPlus Expo 2012 and ShootNYC 2012

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

PhaseOne

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

Carl Zeiss

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

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

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

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

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

 f/2.8

 f/1.4

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

Multistitch

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

 Nikon

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

 Olympus

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

 

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

 

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

 Schneider-Kreuznach

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

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

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

Cokin Filters

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

 

[Vulture Camera Straps]

Shoot NYC / Hasselblad 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Physical Comparison

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

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

Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO Lens Review

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

Functionality

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

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

Image Quality

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

Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 Aperture Comparison

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

Full Image

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

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

100% Center Crops

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

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

Mamiya 300mm lens comparison at f/8

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

Full Image

Mamiya 300mm Lens Comparison 100% Crop

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

100% Center Crops

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

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

Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 Teleconverter Comparison

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

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

Mamiya M645 Teleconverter 2X N with 100% Crop

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

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

Conclusions

Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 Owl Final Image

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

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

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

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

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

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


Hands on Experience: Leaf Credo 80 with Full Resolution Sample Images

Last week Digital Transitions was nice enough to host me all day while they had an event at which their Mamiya Leaf rep brought a Leaf Credo 80 digital back. Throughout this day, I was able to shoot with the camera for extended periods of time, and observe how it performed on both the PhaseOne / Mamiya Leaf 645DF but also on the Cambo Wide Anniversary Edition technical plate camera.

As you may have seen in my Initial Impressions Report I had some high hopes for this camera, after having been previously let down during my personal experiences with Leaf digital backs. This camera offers a number of improvements (and even a few little innovations) which certainly make it a big improvement over the previous designs. Its good to see that Leaf was able to learn a thing or two from PhaseOne and still apply some of their technology to the camera. It will has specific characteristics which will allow it to appeal to different people then those who would be shopping for a PhaseOne IQ180. That being said, it also has some limitations on features which the PhaseOne IQ180 has; this has allowed them to create a place for this camera in the PhaseOne / Mamiya Leaf lineup of cameras.

At the bottom of this article, there is a link to the dropbox folder which contains the full RAW images from the Mamiya Leaf Credo 80 discussed in this article, as well as the comparison files from the PhaseOne IQ180 and PhaseOne P65+ which are referenced.

Design

 

Mamiya Leaf Credo 80 Digital Back

The camera shares some of the same parts as the PhaseOne IQ series, that is to say an all aluminum body, and if you put them side by side, you see on the mount side of the back they are identical. That being said, the Leaf Credo is still built in Israel, and of course the PhaseOne IQ is made in Denmark. Leaf has distinguished their Aptus line of digital backs by their touch screens. They were not as high quality as the smaller screens on the PhaseOne P+ line of backs and offered a different interface. They have kept the touchscreen capabilities on the Credo line of cameras. They have used the same screen technology as the PhaseOne IQ series which means that they have gesture controls. However, Leaf has taken it a step further then Phase did and have gotten rid of the buttons all together from the back of the camera. The back is now one sleek sheet of glass. There are still the four corners which are now icons instead of the 4 button set up established by Phase. The power button and the status light have now been moved to the top of the camera. The power button is sort of irrelevant in its positioning because of the fact that you have to press it either way and as long as its not excessively difficult there isn’t going to be an issue. However, placing the status light, which lets you know if the Credo back is processing your files, ready to shoot, and so ons position can make a difference. Especially if you are a PhaseOne shooter you are used to looking at the digital back’s screen for everything. Leaf’s decision to move the status light to the top still works based on my experience. This is because, I found that the times when I was interested to see what this light was indicating were also when I was fiddling with dials or something like that, at which point the camera was not right up against my face. So, in this way looking at the top versus the back, although minor, may offer some improved functionality which could also help when using it on a tripod or with technical cameras depending on how you have the camera set up. This was one of the more minor changes to the system.

The removal of buttons from the back is interesting, and might not be something that everyone likes. Personally, I don’t mind the buttons on the IQ180 and honestly don’t think that there is any advantage to one over the other. That being said the Leaf Credo is certainly a bit cooler in this area. The icons are backlit which certainly would help with seeing them in darker environments. This is something that I absolutely love about my Nikon D4 since I am usually shooting it in excessively dark conditions being able to light up the controls is certainly a feather in the cameras cap. Again, whether this is a bonus depends on you, but I think it is nice to have a camera out there which offers this feature in medium format digital. The icons are also intelligent. By this I mean that they are only illuminated when there is something that you can do with them. A perfect example of this is the icon in the lower right hand corner of the Credo screen surface. This icon, is the contextual menu’s icon and it is only illuminated when there are sub-options for you to access.

The backs touch screen functions in exactly the same way as on the PhaseOne IQ series. However, they do not use the same software. For the Credo, Leaf has developed their own firmware which handles functionality slightly differently then the PhaseOne IQ’s software. I had always found the Leaf Aptus software to be cumbersome and counter-intuitive to getting anything done. I appreciate that like anything, once you learn it is easy, but it certainly has more of a learning curve then other cameras out there. Again, this has been totally changed with the Mamiya Leaf Credo, you can see this right away when you look at the new home screen. It again, steps forward by introducing an entirely new user interface for quicker and more efficient access to everything. It has been greatly clarified and functions in many ways like the IQ series’ software. Its changes are actually, slightly better if you ask me. Here Mamiya Leaf has innovated. Instead of scrolling up and down menus, Leaf’s software engineers have embraced the touchscreen display and created a system, not unlike Apple’s iOS system, in which you scroll to the side to access the different panes of the menu screens. An added benefit of this of the pagination of the menus rather then a system where you scroll up and down is that without pagination you are scrolling up and down and menu times don’t have a set or specific location that can be memorized. It is much easier to direct someone in the use of the camera, because you can say “scroll to the 4th page” instead of “scroll down until you it”. This works really well and helps more then anything else to make this camera as useable as others on the market. Here, Leaf took a cue from Canon’s multiple utility menus. As an aside, they also have created backgrounds to the pages which have lightly watermarked labels for what menu you are in. As you can see in the Youtube Video that we made when you are in the White Balance menu, there is a light “WB” watermarked on the background and this carries through to other means like the ISO screen (which is much more accessible in Leaf’s new software) as well as others. Another change is that, when you look at a picture on the back of the PhaseOne IQ series, the Histogram, Roll and Pitch, and Highlight warning are on the right side of the screen, on the Leaf Credo, they are now on the left side  All and all the user interface has been totally overhauled and is now something that is not a strike against the camera but a point in the cameras favor.

Other then that the body of the Mamiya Leaf Credo back is pretty much what you would expect and set up like the IQ series. Another one of the major grievances I had with the Aptus series digital backs, and a bit of a gripe I have had with Leaf is that they had made it virtually impossible to find a product shot of the camera which illustrates the fact that the battery hangs off of the bottom of the camera and is fully exposed, along with its electronic contacts to the world. Obviously, this means that this is someplace where dust and moisture could have gotten into the body and messed with your thousands of dollars of electronics. Also on a bit of a digression, the thankfully got rid of the open grilled fan on the side of the camera, opting for the passive cooling technology of the PhaseOne IQ series, which allows for better weather sealing. Aside from its obvious benefits to the help of the back, the internally stored battery is considerably more aesthetically pleasing and unquestionably increases its usability because of the battery’s repositioning. My gripe with Leaf was also resolved in this, and anecdotally when I questioned someone with the company about why they didn’t show the external battery attached to the Leaf Aptus digital back, their humorous response was “would you have?” which of course, could only be answered with a simple “no.” on my part. Also, now that the battery has been moved internally, instead of being on the bottom, covering the firewire port, the Credo is less prone to voltage issues which have been a problem in the past when shooting digital backs tethered. Even though there is an IEEE standard for firewire, like any standard, just because it exists doesn’t mean that it is met by manufacturers. Mac’s haven’t had the best track record with firewire voltage, and when using a Leaf Aptus digital back with PC’s you had to use a powered firewire hub. The Leaf Credo fixes this with its internal battery.

The camera features the same Firewire connection as the IQ series as well as the USB 3.0 port on the left hand side of the back placed below the card slot door and sync ports like the PhaseOne IQ series. USB 3.0 would seem to be the technology of the future. It is the type of USB connection which is featured on Apple’s new line of MacBook Pro’s  along with their proprietary thunderbolt ports. While the PhaseOne has included USB 3.0 in the IQ series, it has not yet been enabled in firmware. I am told that we will be hearing about USB 3.0′s future with the IQ series later this summer. Although, not to fear because there is a Firewire to Thunderbolt dongle available so you can still shoot firewire tethered on the latest generation of MBP’s. The battery in the new Mamiya Leaf Credo also acts as a regulator for the Firewire and USB connections. It will trickle charge the battery, however if you are running on a better powered laptop you can disable this function in the menus, and simply carry more batteries. Conveniently now the Credo uses the same batteries as the IQ series with a small exception. Unlike the PhaseOne IQ series, which shipped with 2600 milliamp batteries, the Credo will be shipping with 2900 milliamp versions of the battery…..or so my sources tell me.

Performance 

The serial number on the bottom of the camera that we had for testing at DT was number 000025 which shows where it stands in the production line, and it is in fact only the second Credo body to be brought to the United States. While it is still pre-production we were given the go-ahead to publish images taken with it for analysis of its performance and comparisons to other medium format digital backs out there, specifically its competition from PhaseOne.

Leaf has always been known for the special profiles which, through clever programming, have allowed for their files to become renowned for their skin tones by some. Personally, for me this sounds sort of gimmicky and like people have drunk the cool aide on it. But, that being said when looking at the sample images below, and as we discuss them, judge for yourself which you like better.

PhaseOne IQ180 and Mamiya Leaf Credo 80 Comparison Sample Images

Mamiya Leaf Credo 80 (Left) and PhaseOne IQ180 (Right)

PhaseOne 645DF with Profoto D1 lights and PhaseOne SK 80mm f/2.8 LS D at f/11 1/200th and ISO 50

Here are our first two sample images from the Leaf Credo 80 and PhaseOne IQ180. They both use the same 80 megapixel Dalsa chip, and the files were taken on the same camera with the same settings for both shots. This means that any differences are in the profiles and processing which the cameras did while recording the data captured when the photograph was taken. They were processed through capture one with absolutely no corrections to white balance, sharpness, contrast or anything else.
As we can see these images a very close. Certainly in terms of resolution and sharpness there is absolutely no difference. The PhaseOne IQ180 (right) seems to me to be a to have a tiny bit more contrast and a slight bit of saturation in the colors. For reference, I am looking at the eyes, scales to the right and carpet in the background when making these assertions. All and all very very close and nothing that couldn’t be changed in one to make it look like the other, so here we see no real difference.
Our next test images, were shot using a live subject’s hand to show off the skin tones capabilities of these cameras. This test was done for someone who came in, a PhaseOne P65+ user who works in fashion and wanted to compare the P65+, IQ180 and Leaf Credo 80. He knew he wanted the upgraded resolution offered by an 80 megapixel sensor but was now unsure as to whether he should be a PhaseOne or Leaf 80mp back. For me it would be a no-contest, however as he mentioned, he had heard things about the way that the Leaf digital backs handle skin tones and wanted to have some shots for reference to see if this was correct. Leaf made their name with their ICC profiles released for digital backs in 1992 with Leaf DCB. They have always focused on creating a range of profiles to accommodate and accurately render different skin tones.
PhaseOne P65+ and PhaseOne IQ180 and Leaf Credo 80 Sample Image Comparisons
PhaseOne IQ180 (Left) PhaseOne P65+ (Middle) Leaf Credo 80 (Right)
PhaseOne 645DF with SK 80mm f/2.8 LSD and Profoto Lights at ISO 50 f/11 and 1/200th
As you can see the 80mp files beat the 60mp PhaseOne P65+ in hand. They are more then acceptable files and of course all beat anything else out there in terms of resolution, dynamic range and so on. When looking at the 80mp files up against the P65+ we can see that they are worlds ahead. Looking at the joint above the ring we again can see that the Leaf and the PhaseOne are very close. As we observed above the PhaseOne seems to be slightly more contrasty and saturated then the file from the Leaf Credo 80. The Leaf Credo 80 seems to have recorded the skin tones in a much more neutral way which I suppose might make it more accurate and give you a blank slate to work from. Personally, having never compared a Leaf and PhaseOne file side by side would have been that the Phase and the Leaf results would have been flipped. I like to start with the a file when I am editing as natural as it can be and then work my way up to the results I want, the Leaf would certainly allow me to do this, but the PhaseOne IQ180 is right up there and certainly the Credo 80 File could be made to look like the IQ180 file and the IQ180 file could be made to look like the Credo 80 file with a little bit of work. That being said the Leaf certainly has a bit of an edge in the accurate skin tone reproduction category.  The P65+ isn’t even in contention here, seemingly possessing a slightly greenish hue to it.
Mamiya Leaf Credo 80 Sample Images ISO Series Performance
As you can see from this ISO series the Mamiya Leaf Credo 80 handles its entire ISO range very very well. This is not surprising since the PhaseOne IQ180, also handles its ISO range very well. Of course, by very well, I mean better then the higher ISO’s on previous MFDB’s. But since I own and use the IQ180 I can say with some confidence that these files look a little better coming out of camera then the IQ180 files do in noise performance. This could also be attributable to the fact that the cameras process the images differently as we talked about above. This is also a good transition into our next section, looking at the differences between the Mamiya Leaf Credo and the PhaseOne IQ series of MFDB’s. Especially if you look at the complete file (again, dropbox link below) you can see that, although there are significant impacts on the image quality at the higher ISO’s, if you step back and look at the file as a whole, its very impressive the way it these backs are still able to handle subtle graduations and shadows; of course not as well as the lower ISO’s. And it should be noted that this is still pre-release firmware so it is possible that in subsequent updates they will improve the cameras handling of high ISO’s before the camera starts shipping.
Compared to the Competition 
PhaseOne owns Leaf and is a majority shareholder in Mamiya. It seems that they will eventually merge them into one company (starting with Mamiya + Leaf becoming “Mamiya Leaf” which they have now decided to market jointly ) but no matter what they do the fact remains that these companies are not exactly competing anymore. This is more then apparent in the fact that they Mamiya Leaf Credo 80 and the PhaseOne IQ180 share the exact same sensor and more or less the same body work. However, there are still differences in the cameras, which will make one or the other appealing. On the surface, the differentiating factor between the PhaseOne and the Leaf is the price. So, what do you get for your extra ~$5,000. One major feature that should be noted is that the PhaseOne IQ series, includes the focus mask (which you know from Capture One) on the digital back itself. This is extremely helpful for checking focus in the field. This is especially helpful when using technical cameras, because you lack the ability to check focus through a viewfinder like on SLR style medium format cameras.
Another key difference is Sensor+. Sensor+ is PhaseOne’s technology, which allows for the use of the entire sensor, at lower resolutions to allow for an extended range of improved ISO performance. It lets the IQ180 get up to ISO 3200 at 20mp and significantly increases the shooting speed of the system. This feature is not included on the Mamiya Leaf Credo series of digital backs. The feature, may not be useful to some, especially if they are only shooting the camera in a studio where they will almost always be using the lower ISO’s. However, there are times when I have been caught in situations where I had the wrong camera, and it was nice to be able to pop the camera into Sensor+ and be able to still create useable shots in the ISO 800 to ISO 1600 range.
Now, going the other way, there are some things that the Mamiya Leaf Credo has that the IQ180 does not. The Mamiya Leaf Credo, as we discussed changes the button layout, and entirely removes them from the back of the camera. It also has a USB 3.0 connection on the left hand side of the camera, which is something that the PhaseOne IQ series does not have. Another interesting development, for the Hasselblad V mount version of this camera, is the ability to mount it vertically or horizontally, which had previously only been possible with the Aptus-II 12R with its internally rotating sensor. The Credo on the other hand can either be mounted in one direction or the other, which can be helpful depending on how you use your camera. I see it as less of an advantage when using a Hasselblad V series camera, but more so on technical cameras and for scientific applications where the cameras orientation can effect workflows and results.
There are also some features absent from the Credo which were available on the Aptus series of digital backs, other then the aforementioned rotatable sensor available on the V/AFi mounts of the Aptus. The flip up screen is also gone from the AFi interface, so if this helped you, you may be missing it. Unlike the Aptus series, the Credo cannot apply profiles in camera, i.e the ability to add metadata and so on. Another feature, one that will not be missed, is the old Leaf .MOS format is now gone. The Credo now uses the same format as the PhaseOne IQ ( IIQL/IIQS) and with that Leaf Capture is no more, and and the Credo is fully supported by PhaseOne’s excellent Capture One and it is also supported by Adobe Lightroom and ACR.
Conclusion
All and all the Mamiya Leaf Credo is a much better camera then its predecessors from Leaf. If you had been previously put off of Leaf for some of the issues addressed above, then it might be worth another look, since they have fixed some of the main gripes against the camera. Mainly, its all around exposure to the elements through its open fan on the side of the camera, and externally mounted battery and its poor user interface which had lead the Aptus series of digital backs to be considered by many as studio cameras. The Mamiya Leaf Credo 80 is certainly just as capable of being taken outside like PhaseOne’s digital backs, which have become known for their strength and physical durability.
Deciding whether this camera is for you, now comes down to features and price. The prices for medium format digital cameras are very high, Leaf’s less expensive option for a serious 80mp back for less money will help to open it up to those who had been put off by the slightly higher price of the PhaseOne IQ180, especially if they did not need its added features . If you do not need the features available for the extra money from PhaseOne’s IQ series, then the Leaf is worth a look. Certainly, if you like the way your Leaf back makes images at the moment the Credo is worth a look simply for its improvements ergonomically and functionality wise.
RAW Files
This is a link to the raw files used in this article which were captured with the Mamiya Leaf Credo 80 (also PhaseOne P65+ and PhaseOne IQ180). These files are for private use only and cannot be re-published anywhere else without written consent. By click on the link, you agree to these terms.
https://www.dropbox.com/sh/uziquezt32yhrjy/z4PGro1cGv


 

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.