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01/25/14 Phase One IQ250 Arrives and Changes the game in a big way

CMOS Medium format Phase One

The new addition to the Phase Digital Back Line–IQ250 CMOS

It was hard to miss that this announcement was coming sooner than later, and photo rumors tagged this correctly.  On Friday the 24th of January 2014 with the IQ250, Phase One has set the wheels in motion that will change Medium Format Digital forever with the introduction of a CMOS Medium format back.

There are several good reviews up, but most of these are sponsored by the Phase One corporation and they rightly so are keeping this back close to home.  I am sure they have made a huge investment in bringing this technology to market, and also by having the back available to ship on Monday the 27th of January.  This is unheard of with any previous Phase One back announcements.

One of the best overviews I have seen so far is the blog post by Digital Transitions which shares the 11 most important things you need to know about the IQ250 which can be found here: Phase One IQ250.

As a photographer who has owned several Phase One backs since 2008, I have to agree this is probably one of the most important announcements that Phase One has made in that time frame.   The reason is that with this announcement, Phase One is beginning to shift to CMOS for their chips.  In this case the chip partner is Sony not Dalsa.  However I would not rule out Dalsa in the future from coming out with a new medium format CMOS chip line.  Dalsa gave Phase One a bridge to this point with the new chip that was developed for the IQ260 and brought to the market in mid 2013.  However this chipset (which brought back the ability to have 1 hour exposures again) still has some of the basic limitations of all CCD technology.  Example of this are severe Live View limitations and lack of high iso support in full resolution.

Sony shocked the world in January of 2012 with their announcement of the Nikon D800 at 36MP.   The results of this chip in a 35mm camera were most impressive.  Simply stated, you now had the ability to push a photo taken a base of 100 as much as 2.75 stops and at times 3.25.  This advantage was made clear to me once I worked with a few Nikon files.  The range that these files have is impressive and when pulling up shadows for the first time you don’t see the color noise and banding that was common with earlier CMOS chips from both Canon and Nikon.  The ability to do this is a combination of the 36MP chip and Sony’s exmoor  processor.

Now Phase One has taken this up a notch and brought this same technology to the world of Medium Format.

Phase One IQ250 sensor size comparison

Size comparison between the Phase One IQ250 and a normal full frame 35mm digital sensor

Notice the difference in overall dimensions between a 35mm full frame chip and the IQ250.  You are gaining over 1/3 more image area.  In this case the largest 35mm digital sensor currently is the Nikon 36MP chip and now Phase One has produced a back with 50MP and with CMOS.

What are some of the benefits that are immediately apparent?

  1. Live View will work as it does on all 35mm cameras.  Phase One claims 24fps on theirs and this should be enough to allow the user to zoom into 100% to check focus.  I only hope that Phase One implements their version of Live View so that your get a stop at 100% magnification.  Nikon’s Live View Magnification zooms seems to zoom past 100% and makes the user have to back it off a bit before it’s possible to really see anything of usefulness.
  2. High ISO capability should now be vastly improved.  Phase One limits this back to 6400 ISO, which for me is plenty.  I have yet to see any file from any camera rated higher that is really worth that much.  In the past Phase One allowed a very good ISO 1600 and decent ISO 3200 on their CCD backs by using sensor plus which utilized pixel binning.  The result gave a much cleaner file but also cost the photographer 3/4 of the overall resolution.  Thus a 60MP back output became 15MP.  The only back where I saw this as a true advantage was on the IQ280.
  3. 14 stops of dynamic range.  Most impressive and 1 full stop better than what Phase One claims for both the 60MP and 80MP backs.
  4. A faster frame rate and 2GB of on board memory to assist with processing and Live View generation
  5. Long exposures of up to 1 hour are available at any rated ISO.  However I would also assume that as you approach ISO speeds past 400, noise will start to degrade the image just as it does with 35mm digital.  A 1 corresponding dark frame is still required.
  6. Ability to work with all the current line of Phase One/Mamiya Medium format 645 lenses, including the more advanced LS (leaf shutter) Schneider lenses sold exclusively by Phase One.

As is shown in this image, the overall size of the new IQ250 is smaller than the older 60MP and 80MP backs, by about 30%, but it should still offer some great new opportunities for photographers in the near future.  When Phase One brings out their replacement for the DF+ camera body things will really start to get interesting for sure.

Phase One sensor sizes

Phase One diagram showing the 3 IQ2 backs and respective sensor sizes.

More information about the new IQ250 can be found in either of the links below:

Phase One Corporation

Digital Transitions

 

 

 

 

 

 

01/22/14 Phase One to announce IQ250 with 50MP CMOS Date Uncertain

Phase One IQ260 in Box

Phase One IQ260 in Box

01/23/14–Just a bit more information.

Phase one obviously has a camera done as briefly yesterday they has some image posted on the main Denmark website from the IQ250.  So at least the name is certain.

It will be interesting to see if this back is full frame or 1:1 like the old P45+ or even 1:3 like the IQ140.  Hopefully Phase will be able to continue some development to the IQ260.

The latest rumor is that the Phase One sensor may be made by Canon.  To me this would be even more shocking by far as Canon has yet to bring anything new to their 35mm lineup in about 4 years.  I don’t count the 5dMKII as that was just a refreshed 21MP sensor that is also in the 5D MKII and 6D.  Canon has yet to cross the 24MP barrier and as it’s taken them so long it’s very possible that they do it in great style by bringing a larger 35mm sensor out at the same time Phase One brings the IQ250 (name is a guess and more than likely it won’t be called this since photo rumors already leaked this).  I would love to see Canon pull out such a rabbit from their hat and thus allow themselves to become a leader again.  My only concern would be that Canon has made some form of revolutionary chip development that allows them to get the same DR at base ISO as Sony did for Nikon’s D800.  The Nikon D800 at base ISO of 100 was a major game changer for me.

Original Post Begins Here:

If you believe in large scale rumors, and in reality most rumors are from leaked from fact, then Phase One is set to announce a 50MP CMOS back, the IQ250 soon.  Hasselblad may have beaten them to the punch so Phase One may hold off the announcement for a while so that they won’t be seen as a “me too”.

Here is the Link to Photo Rumors.

It was always pretty clear that Phase One was headed this way and I had assumed since around late 2011 that a CMOS back was coming from Phase One, but I also did expect to see 50MP in a medium format chip for another year.  Sony has been rumored for months now to be creating a 54MP 35mm chip for a new Sony DSLR and a version of this chip was going to the Nikon D4x.  Neither of these have showed anything more than a distant rumor, but now with the Hasselblad, then Phase One news, it’s pretty clear the Sony has been busy.

As the owner of an IQ260, this news from Phase One is a bit disconcerting in that it followed so close on the heels of the IQ260.  The main advantage the to the IQ260 was the fact that it would allow for exposures up to 1 hours in length, same as the older P45+.  Still the only CCD Medium format backs that allow this.  Most other backs in this range will only go to 60 seconds, IQ160 and 1:45 seconds IQ280.  Now with a CMOS chip, Phase One or any camera company should be able to have 1 hours exposures or even longer than 1 hour exposures due to the nature of a CMOS chip.

Anyway, the IQ260 possibly  took a considerable hit.  It may turn out to the be the shortest lived back on the market, as if you have a Sony chip in the this upcoming Phase, then it’s fair to expect:

  1. Amazing DR at base ISO.  This should be the same as the DR of the Sony 36MP chips out currently in the A7r and Nikon D800 family.  These chips show an impressive range of DR at their base iso of 50 (Sony) and 100 (Nikon), which allows the photographer to have as much 2.75 stops of exposure.  Shadows details that are the most impressive I have seen when pulled up 2 stops and the ability to handle highlights much better. 
  2. Long exposures at 1 hour or longer at the user’s whim, no need to dial in a special ISO 140 like on the IQ260
  3. Potentially no longer a need for sensor plus which is Phase One’s pixel binning technology on the 60MP and 80MP backs to allow for higher iso shooting.  Instead if you extrapolate up from the current 36MP Sony chips on the market today, it would be fair to assume ISO 1600 and maybe even 3200 at full resolution of 50MP with a useable file instead of having to drop down to 1/4 of the total resolution which is how it works with sensor plus.
  4. Color rendering differences between a CCD and CMOS.  This seems to be one of the only remaining advantages that CCD’s have over a CMOS chip.  Many photographers seem to feel that the CCD can render tones better i.e. skin tones or green hues.  I actually have not personally seen any measurable differences between the Nikon 36MP CMOS and IQ160 or 260 in my work.  I also feel that most of not all of the “implied differences” are going to be lost when the image is printed or even worse placed on the web.  To me this is a moot issue.
  5. The perceived gap between 50MP and 60MP will not be that great especially since the newer CMOS back most likely will have a workable live view from the back’s LCD, which on an IQ back is stellar.
  6. Will Phase One continue to improve the image quality of the IQ260?  This was one of the main reasons I moved to the 260 vs staying on the 160

As the owner of a IQ260 purchased in August of 2013, am I concerned by this announcement?  In two words, YOU BET!.

Financially, the value of the IQ260 just took a hit.  If a 50MP CMOS back with the same features that all current IQ backs have is brought to the market, I dare say it will be the end of the IQ260.  If this same technology had been brought out in a 40 to 45MP size, then that may to be as true.  CMOS should actually work better for both types of shooters, tech camera and Phase One DSLR bodies in that you should expect to see these types of improvements:

  1. Faster frame rates, so the user of a DF+ body or follow on body would enjoy the ability to possibly shoot some action photography
  2. Real Live View from the back’s LCD, if you are the user of a Tech camera like I am, then you already know just how important this will be
  3. Much better AF since most new CMOS chips are starting to incorporate a phase detect AF system on the actual chip so both fast and more accurate AF may be possible
  4. Considerably cleaner files at base ISO and I can’t state just how important it would be to have a medium format back with the shadow range of the Nikon D800
  5. Possibly faster activation times on the back i.e. on/off, loading of images on the screen, faster write times to the card
  6. Better overall use in colder weather

I can’t blame Phase One for this announcement as a company they have to stay competitive.  However I do tend to fault the lack of overall information that seems to be passed down to the average user.  This can be pointed to both Phase One and the dealer channel.

I don’t understand why both Phase One and dealers can’t use a non-disclosure type of agreement, and they might but it seems only in limited offerings.  This type of decision is a huge one for a company of my size and knowing that such a product would announced inside of 9 months from the delivery of my IQ260 would have been most helpful.

But more importantly what does this say for any more development to the IQ260 and image quality.  In the past with the P45+ and P65/IQ160,  Phase One made many firmware updates that provided better image quality from the first ship date.  In fact Phase One has been one of the only camera companies I have seen that has continued to improve on a back/camera after the first ship.  Nikon and Sony both are pretty much done at ship, I have never seen any firmware updates from them that improve image quality, where as Canon has made some impressive updates, notably on the 5D MKII, 7D, and 6D.

I bet with my purchase that Phase One would give at least one more firmware update to the IQ260 that allowed for a bit cleaner files at base ISO.   So far nothing like this has occurred and now with the launch of the IQ250, it may never happen.  Phase is a small company with limited resources and a new CMOS back will take a lot of their focus.

I would expect to see this 50MP CMOS out sooner than later as Hasselblad has taken a lead and there are only so many qualified customers at this price point.

 

 

 

01/21/14 Hassleblad shakes up/wakes up the Medium Format Digital world with new 50MP CMOS back

With this announcement on Hasselblad’s main site, they have just rocked the world of Medium Format Digital.  Yes, in one quick paragraph, Hasselblad has taken the possible lead and stolen the thunder from Phase One on this technology.  Not much has been written so far on this on the Hasselblad site only that more information will come with pricing in March.  It appears to be a 50MP CMOS medium format back, the first of it’s kind.  There is mention of Live View, however it does seem that at first to gain Live View you have to be tethered and using phocus (the Hasselblad photo software).   For Live View usage this will be a major step forward since for the first time maybe the photographer will have the ability to see the subject without the constant blooming and other issues that occur when using Live View with a CCD MF camera, tethered or non-tethered.

The other area that will interest me will be the higher iso range.  Currently with any CCD Medium Format back, you have only a couple of true iso stops, beyond that you start to get into some issues.  The exception to this is Phase One’s sensor plus technology, which allows pixel binning from 4 to 1.  This cuts way down on the final resolution, but still gives the photographer a big advantage in situations where a fast shutter speed is required.  This becomes an even greater issue when you are using a tech camera.  Here in most cases the the optimum F stop is around F11 to F16 especially if you are using Schneider lenses.  So many times the base iso of 50 or base iso plus one stop to 100 just won’t get it done.  CCD technology doesn’t really keep giving increased gains as CMOS does so pushing a CCD chip much past max 2 iso stops from base begins to become a negative process.   With CMOS chips, which add increasing processing power to the chip itself (very basic description), you can expect to get a much larger high iso range.

I am also very curious as to who makes this chip.  Odd’s are favorite is that it came from Sony.  This also means that Sony’s rumored 54MP chip for 35mm format may be closer to reality than some think.  Sony has shown excellent leadership in CMOS chip technology the the necessary on board processors to work with such high MP output chips.  Sony also has produced some very very clean chips recently for Nikon.

No mention was made about tethering cables.  If Hasselblad is using a tethered solution via phocus for Live View, hopefully they will have a USB3 or thunderbolt connection.  Thunderbolt is not the way Phase One went for a high speed connection, instead they moved to USB3 and they have given a successful implementation of USB3 across all their IQ series of backs the their latest firmware.  I am also curious if there will be a Wi-Fi solution for this new back.  Phase One has Wi-Fi on their latest IQ 2X backs and it’s gradually being to show some very real advantages, especially in the field where you need to be able to check your focus on a tech camera using a screen larger than the one provided by the IQ back.

Much is more to come on this for sure, however it’s exciting to see that CMOS technology has finally come into the world of Medium Format Digital.

01/05/14 A bit of trouble for my IQ260–WiFi top plate loose

Top of an IQ260 showing the WiFi cover plate

Top of an IQ260 showing the WiFi cover plate

If you own a IQ260 or IQ280 and you purchased it early in the product life cycle, you may want to see about having the top plate (WiFi cover) replaced.  There is a possibility that the plate may loosen up and start top pop up.  This will create an gap in the top where the plate has lifted up and out of place.  In the long run I am assuming that it’s possible for the plate to loosen up enough that it might totally pop out.  The WiFi card for the IQ back sits directly below this plate and this could cause some damage to the internals of the back.

The good news is that Phase One has realized that this plate can loosen and pop out and they apparently re-designed the plate or the method that is used to fasten the plate to the top of the back.  If your back is showing signs of this, you need to contact your dealer and see about having the back returned to Denmark.

You can read about this in more detail here. Link to my Article on the WiFi plate issue with early model IQ260 and IQ280 digital backs.

01/04/14 It’s offical Sam’s Throne is now a full featured Forest Service Campground.

Sams Throne rock climbing campground

THE ENTRANCE TO SAM’S THRONE CAMPGROUND IN ARKANSAS

This actually happened in Mid 2013, but I never got around to writing about it.  They finally finished the improvements and created a formal campground status for Sam’s Throne.  This spot is a climbers paradise and for me a photographic wonder.  I work this area year round and love to work the bluffs of Sam’s after dark.  If you have not ever been here, it’s worth the trip up Hwy 7 to the Hwy 123 Junction.  Take Hwy 123 for about 10 miles north and then start looking for this sign.  You won’t find a bunch of RV steps here, and it’s a very informal campground, but it now has facilities and that’s a big improvement.  Sam’s Throne is one of the most famous climbing spots in Arkansas and is featured by a over 1 mile long bluff line made from primarily sandstone.  You can also look off the bluff to to the rock prominence that is the actual throne.   The road down to the bluffs has been dramatically improved since the early day’s when it was just a logging road.  Sam’s throne campground is pretty much on top of the bluff and you can get a great nighttime sky from there.  Once you get down to the bluff line looking northward you get a great shot of Red Rock and the valley of Big Creek.  Looking south towards the throne gives you a great view of the rolling hills moving off into the distance.

I have photographed Sam’s in pretty much all types of weather and as I mentioned above love to work it at night.  It’s not a bad compromise as you won’t be too far out from your car.  This area does get some rough folks driving by at times during the week, and I would not consider leaving a car alone at the trail head after dark unless there are some folks camping near by.  During the summer months and peak climbing season you can expect to have people there.  At the Bluff line you can walk along the top of the bluff in either direction and find great subject matter for your photography.

This shot is one taken during the night after the moon had set at the campground.  There was a group that had started a huge bonfire and the way it was lighting up the trees really caught my eye.  This shot was taken as single long exposure for about 30 minutes and during the time I had the shutter open a group of people walked by with head lamps on, and I really liked the effect they created.

Sam’s is a great spot to take the family and spend the entire day, be aware that there are sharp drop offs everywhere so if you are taking young children be careful.

Star trails over Sam's Throne in Arkansas

Star trails over Sam’s Throne in Arkansas