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02/24/14 Silver Fleet purchases 60% of Phase One–what may happen

This is old news now and has been hashed back and forth in various discussion forums for the past 2 weeks.  The net of the announcement is that Silver Fleet a venture capture firm purchased the controlling share of Phase One.  Phase One based in Denmark, was a privately held corporation, with all the shares of stock being held as preferred or private stock.  In the past it had been Phase One that was busy buying up either entire companies or purchasing a part of a company.  Deals such as Phase One’s purchase of the Leaf corporation and their investment in Mamiya Corp (a Japanese based medium format company which manufactures Phase One camera bodies and lenses) and possibly Schneider Corporation.  This last example is only speculation on my part, but the relationship between Phase One and Schnieder in the past 2 years has become very close since Schneider manufactures all of the Leaf Shutter lenses that Phase One sells.

Here is the link to the announcement.

I read over this announcement and then talked to a few friends of mine that are much more knowledgeable about these maters and came away with a few talking points.

No company would do this unless pressured by some force, in this case more than likely financial.  By giving up 60% of the company, Phase One can no longer control it’s direction, instead only make suggestions.  There is no mention about any of the company leaders being given their walking papers.

Silver Fleet’s history is not to hold on to a company for a long period of time.  Phase One shows up as a company with between 55-99 total employees, so it’s not that large.  I am not sure if this number includes the Phase One office in New York City and their Mellville NY location where some repair services are done.

If one reads into the announcement, it does seem to appear that Phase One’s liquidity ratio was in trouble.  Here is a quote from one of the reviews about the purchase that caught my eye.

“If the report and the figures are correct then Phase One was valued at about $180 million USD / £110 million GBP, which seems incredibly low if all the previous profitability reports were to be believed. Based on figures from www.proff.dk/firma/phase-one-as/frederiksberg/fremstilling-af-optiske-instrumenter-og-fotografisk-udstyr/13477705-2/ , though their net operating profit and return on assets looked good, the liquidity ratio** did not. If true, this could explain why Phase chose to sell out sooner rather than later.

** the liquidity ratio expresses the company’s ability to meet its short-term financial obligations, and is calculated as receivables plus cash as a percentage of short-term debt.”

From reading this, it appears that Phase One may have needed this influx of cash to help pay off short term debt.  Phase One’s recent roll out of the new IQ250, the first Medium Format Digital Back in existence may have created a larger debt position than Phase One was willing to accept.  This could be debt to Sony corporation, who makes the chip or costs from the development and production of the new camera.  However those costs should not have been that great since Phase One already had the camera back body, LCD screen, and other shared components in production with other backs.

What does this mean to a user of a Phase One camera system?  (That is the real question)

After looking over this announcement and other reviews, I do take a bit of concern over this and here are some reasons.

Phase One is no longer the same Phase One corporation that I have known since early 2008.  Phase One is now being run by a Venture Capital company, and their goal more than likely will not be customer driven.   They are focused on only one issue, make a profit and sell the company to retain that profit level.  I don’t think that Silver Fleet is interested in being a Medium Format Camera company long term.

1. What will happen to current Value Add contracts in place.  The Value Add warranty is one of Phase One’s selling advantages where they extend the base warranty from one year to 5 and offer a loaner back if yours has to be serviced.  In my location of Arkansas, there is no dealer closer to me than Atlanta GA, and they are not my current dealer.  So if my back goes down, (which every Phase One back I have owned has done) will I be able to get it serviced? and will this new company still honor the Value Add contracts that are in place currently.  Since Silver Fleet now runs Phase One, it’s anyone’s guess.

2. Will Phase One continue to develop on their current backs like the IQ260 and 280?  Also will they continue to develop towards a full frame CMOS back in the 60MP to 80MP range?  This will be a directive by Silver Fleet now as they own the controlling shares.

3. What about the new Phase One 645 camera?  The current DF+ is pretty long in the tooth and the cost of it at $4995.00 is pretty extreme when compared to the feature set it offers.

4.  How will Capture One, which is Phase One’s excellent raw software and tethering solution for both Phase One cameras and other brands be effected.  I feel that Capture One is one turn away from being a really excellent software platform, but the new companies direction may be to follow what most companies do and outsource the further development of the software.  Or even worse sell it off.

5.  Will Phase One keep it’s New York Office open, along with the Mellville service location?  It seems that Phase One’s sales volumes are growing, but growing how fast.  If you grew 1% over last year, you are growing, but possibly not keeping pace with your industry.  I believe that Phase One’s largest customer is the far East, Japan and China.  These are growing countries with a great amount of potential  Due to this, Silver Fleet–Phase One may decided to close their New York offices.

You have to remember that Phase One is 90% or more dependent on their dealers for U.S. sales.  Yes, Phase One has an inside sales force but in the past I have never been too impressed with this group in either follow through or product knowledge.  The dealer channel in the U.S. is still pretty small but they can offer demo’s, rentals and support.  In fact, the dealer channel is the primary place to go for support on a Phase One back as attempting to contact Phase One in New York, is next to impossible.  This is true for either software or hardware support.  Hopefully Silver Fleet–Phase One will continue to understand this and offer the same level of contacts, support and communication to their current dealer channels.

Much is still be to brought out and I am sure that it will be shown over time just what Silver Fleet is planning to do with their controlling interest of Phase One.  I keep mentioning this as it’s very important to understand that Phase One is no longer Phase One, but now Silver Fleet–Phase One.  Having a 40% share of a company is about the same as having 1%, you don’t have control over any decision making.  Sure you can make recommendations, but that is all.  Of course the other thought that comes to mind is that the select group of owners of Phase One were ready to move one, and choose Silver Fleet to make this possible.  This thought continues to make me wonder what the future will bring.  The only financial details that seem to stand out is that the Phase One liquidity ratio was in trouble and that definitely would effect Phase One being able to borrow to continue to develop new and existing products. This large influx of cash should cover both the outstanding debt and possibly cover new development of products.

02/15/14 News from the CP+ Show in Japan–Pentax 645DII CMOS 50MP Camera

Pentax 645D 2014

A view of the Pentax 645D 2014 from the back showing new LCD design

CP+ the Japanese eqvilent to the U.S. CES (Consumer Electronics Show) is going on through tomorrow. and one of the highlights as far as larger camera systems goes, is the information about the upcoming Pentax (now Ricoh) 645D2014.  Instead of calling it the 645DII, it seems for now that the camera will be just called the 645D 2014.  Interesting name indeed.

From looking at the announcement literature by Ricoh, this will be a pretty significant camera system for Medium Format users.  Here are some high points that I gleaned from the overview.

  1. The camera will have a larger sensor in total Megapixels than the current 645D (which is 39-40MP) and will be CMOS.  The CMOS chip is more than 98% going to be supplied by Sony, but I have not seen anything in print on that.  Based on the testing I have seen on the Phase One IQ250 which does use the Sony 50MP CMOS chip, the results should be impressive.
  2. Pentax/Rioch have totally redesigned the body, and have given it a much larger/higher pixel count LCD that has a tilt feature.  To me a bit plus.
  3. The camera will have USB3 support, so it’s highly possible it will tether.  As to if Capture One (Phase One’s premier imaging software) will allow it to tether is a different story.   However I will assume that there will be support provided by Pentax/Ricoh.
  4. Pentax is working on improving the current lens offerings for this camera and a new wide angle zoom is also mentioned in the press releases from CP+
  5. WiFi is still a question, as the only mention is a FLUCARD and I am not familiar with that.  It may be some form of WiFi enabled SD card which would imply that WiFi will not be built into the camera.
  6. As it’s CMOS, it’s far to expect Live View support and very clean images at up to 1 hour in length or possibly longer.
  7. From conversations held at CP+ the price being talked about for just the body is one million yen (9811.00 U.S.), which if this happens will be a significantly lower entry point for a 50MP CMOS chip.
  8. First deliveries will be April 2014, not sure if this is U.S. or Japan.
Pentax 645D 2014 50MP

Side by side shot showing the original 645D and the new 645D 2014

Pentax first shook up the Market 5 years ago, when they first started listing a new 645D Digital camera, that would be based on the Film Pentax 645II.  I was originally excited by this announcement but Pentax did little more than talk about it for several years and showed mock ups.  I owned several good Pentax 645 lenses, that I was using on my Canon system with a Zork adapter, so the 645D would have been a perfect fit for me.  However the long delay, pushed me to the Phase One camp and I purchased the P45+.

Pentax did finally ship the 645D about 1 year later, with a similar sensor to the one in the P45+ (it’s my understanding it’s not the exact same sensor) and they brought out basically the body with no new lenses.   About 1 year before the actual ship date of the 645D, Pentax had a pretty good lineup in their primes and zooms for the 645II in the FA lenses.  I had both the 35mm FA (excellent) and the 55mm FA, and had been thinking about the 35mm to 55mm zoom.  Since Pentax still had a manual aperture ring on all the FA lenses, you could stop them down on other camera systems, like the Canon with a Zork adapter.   However by the time the 645D shipped Pentax was no longer selling the 35mm FA in the U.S. (it’s my understanding that this lens is still sold in Japan).  Also there was not much of a dealer network in the U.S. so anything that involved service would be possibly a bit of an issue.  All repairs were still done in Japan, and there was only a 1 year warranty.  Phase One at the time had their 3 year (now 5 year) value add warranty and I found that I preferred that type of warranty, even though the cost of the 645D was much less than the P45+.

Now with the 645D 2014, Pentax is showing that they have listened to the photography market and it seems that they are bring out this new camera with some much needed refinements. For studio photographers, the lack of a tethering solution on the 645D was a big issue.  I am assuming that the 645D 2014 will have tethering since it’s shipping with USB3 support.  The LCD on the camera is significantly larger, has more resolution and provides more information to the photographer, not to mention it has a tilt option which allows the camera to be used at waist level (a big plus to me).  The CMOS sensor should be 50MP, not a huge jump over 39MP from the first 645D, but if it’s the same sensor that’s in the Phase One IQ250 or a similar Sony design, then I think you can expect some great things from this camera.  The IQ250 (see this article I wrote on the IQ250) has shown to have an amazing dynamic range and this should cross over to the 645D 2014 when it ships.

What’s key here is that Pentax ship this camera on time i.e. April of 2014.  If they miss their dates and push it back then they will loose momentum and photographers will look elsewhere.  I don’t think they will have any problem showing good quality images, as I don’t think this chip can take a bad picture.  I also hope that Pentax steps up with their dealer support in the U.S. and possibly offers a similar program to the Phase One Value add warranty.  Time will tell on this.  If the price does come out at under 10K U.S, I expect that it’s possible the flood gates may be opened in the U.S. since this chip is showing to be such an excellent performer and is definitely changing the game in the world of medium format digital.  One thing that Pentax does not have here in the U.S. is a strong dealer channel pushing the product to the market, and allowing demo’s for both landscape and studio shooters.

Here are two translated links that give more detailed information from the press conference at the CP+ show in Japan.

Google translation for first information from CP+ show

Google translation for Ricoh imaging new from CP+ show

I have no idea how long these links will stay up, but hopefully they are kept in good order as they contain quite a bit of details on this new exciting MF camera.

 

 

 

 

02/14/14 Why I didn’t purchase a Sony A7r–Thoughts from a Nikon shooter

Sony A7r 36MP sensor view

Sony A7r viewed from the front showing full sized sensor

When Sony Announced the A7r I was very impressed.  In the past Sony has produced some very impressive camera solutions and I was almost moved enough by the A99 DSLR to purchase one.  However my local dealer, Bedford Photo in Little Rock Arkansas, pointed me toward the fact that Sony was working on a full frame Nex style camera.  A camera that was going to revolutionize the market.  It was enough to make me wait a bit.  

It’s now been about 4 months since the initial roll out of the A7 family of cameras.  Sony ended up producing the A7r without a low pass filter at 36MP and the A7 with a low pass filter at 24MP.  Both cameras are mirrorless and were put into a very compact mostly all metal body.  I was in line at Bedford’s when they had their Sony day in late December 2013 and was able to work with an A7r.  My reaction was different as I did not purchase one.  Instead I backed off to evaluate the entire A7r solution and after giving it some consideration, I found for me it did not make much sense.  Here are the main reasons:

  1. Sony FE lens support current and future
  2. Concerns of current Sony Alpha (A) lens support for the A7r
  3. Nikon lens support issues on the A7r
  4. No on Chip image stabilization on the A7r
  5. Concerns with non-Sony lens adapters
  6. Sony history of 1 and done firmware updates
  7. Weight of body with larger lenses
  8. Lack of intelligent remote or intervalometer

Let me give a bit more detail behind each of these.

Sony FE lens support current and future: 

With the new Nex A7r, Sony also announced a new line of Full Frame lenses, the FE lineup.  Currently there are 4 lenses announced with more to come. 

  1. Sony FE 28-70mm F3.5-F5.6
  2. Sony FE 35mm F2.8 (Zeiss optics)
  3. Sony FE 24-70 F2.8 (Zeiss optics)
  4. Sony FE 55 F1.8 (Zeiss optics)

This is a start but only one of these four lenses has OSS (image stabilization).  With a 36MP sensor in such a slim body, there are going to be situations where vibration may cause some overall sharpness issues.  I used the Sony Nex-7 for over 2 years with many of the older E lenses before moving to the Fuji X cameras.  The E mount lenses are mainly plastic bodies and on the Nex-7 they were not the best solution.  Fine for video work, but detailed sharp landscape images, I was not impressed.  It seems that Sony is moving up in overall quality with their newer FE glass, but however these lenses will only work in full mode on a Sony A7 family camera body.  They won’t work on a Alpha body even though they are full frame.  I also don’t see much movement in the ultra wide solution for this camera.  In the field for my work, I most often lead off with a 14mm lens and so far I have not seen anything from Sony showing a platform with a 14mm in the native FE mount.

Concerns of current Sony Alpha (A) lens support for the A7r

With my Sony Nex-7 I used the Sony LA-EA2 adapter which allowed me to have the ability to mount standard Sony Alpha lenses.  This adapter had the translucent mirror technology that Sony uses in the A99.  Of course Sony puts OSS on the sensor on their DSLR bodies which is a great idea.  So all of the Alpha lenses I used would not have any OSS (image stabilization).  The AF with the Sony LA-EA2 adapter was good, a bit slow but most times accurate.  The adapter added a lot of mass to the Nex-7 but with the Alpha 16-80mm lenses it was a good solution.  When I demoed the A7r I used this same adapter and the Sony Alpha 16-80mm lens.  I found that with AF on, almost all of the shots were just a bit out of focus, but when I switched to manual focus and peaking I was able to produce some very sharp images.   AF is important in my work and many times I would prefer to lead with AF instead of a manual focusing option.  My medium format solution is a Arca rm3di which is always manual focus so I when I work with cameras like the Sony A7r, I want a rock solid AF solution. 

Sony also announced a new Alpha lens adapter when they brought the A7r to market, the LAE4.  I was not able to try this adapter to see if it produced more consistent results with AF. 

Nikon lens support issues on the A7r

I should have listed this closer to the top.  With Nikon lenses, there is no current adapter that allows for AF or VR.  This is a huge deal for me since most Nikon lenses really aren’t designed with precision manual focus in mind.  This is especially true with the new G lenses.  It’s possible the the manual focus rings are just not that well calibrated and just a tiny amount of movement can make a major change.  Since Sony did not put any stabilization on the A7 cameras sensor,  you will need to rely on the stabilization in the lens.  Several of Sony’s new FE lenses will have OSS (Sony lens stabilization), however all the Nikon lenses I have with VR, the VR and AF will not work.  This is only true with Nikon lenses, as Metabones makes an adapter for Canon that allows the use of both IS and AF on the Canon lenses.  If I was still heavily invested in Canon lenses, the Sony A7r would make perfect sense especially since Canon has yet to announce any new full frame DSLR with any more than 21MP. 

A view of the Sony A7r showing the tiltable LCD screen

A view of the Sony A7r showing the tiltable LCD screen

No on Chip image stabilization on the A7r

Many users of the A7r are reports issues with vibration from the focal plane shutter on the A7r.  It appears that the A7 has a different shutter design that does not cause this problem.  However depending on the lens and selected shutter speed, the A7r can impart a slight blurring that may or may be able to be recovered in post.  This oversight should have been expected with such a high megapixel count sensor in such a lightweight body.  Some photographers are bothered by this worse than others, depending on the equipment they are using and shutter speed ranges selected.  It’s a bit of a disappointment since Sony has such a good implementation of the sensor based image stabilization on their pro DSLR bodies, like the A99.  I don’t see this being fixed via a firmware update.

Concerns with non-Sony lens adapters

Currently there any many different brands of adapters on the market to allow the use of non-Sony lenses on the A7 family of cameras.  These range from exotic Lecia lenses to more common Canon and Nikon.  The problem with many of these adapters is that they don’t seem to maintain the correct tolerances so that within a brand two of the same adapters may not reach the same degree of focus accuracy.  Also it seems that some of the adapters can create either reflection issues or contrast issues when shift lenses are used.  These issues may be worked out over time, but currently it poses just another problem that may or may not be correctable in post processing.   For example the Metabones adapter for Canon lenses has shown definite problems contrast shifts when any of the Canon TS-E lenses are used, especially the excellent 17mm and 24mm TS-E2 lenses.  Some people are fixing this by gluing a non reflective material inside the adapters, which is not an easy task due to the interior layout of the Metabones adapter. 

Sony history of 1 and done firmware updates

Sony has a history of not releasing any major firmware updates to a camera once it ships, similar to how Nikon operates.  This implies to me a pretty closed system and is unlike Fuji, Canon or Phase One.  An example of this is the Sony Nex-7 which was shipped in early 2012.  This camera had a huge issue for most shooter, myself included, where the video button was just too easy to engage while shooting stills.  It took Sony at least 9 months to release a firmware to allow the user to change the button from always on.  Sony seems not to release firmware updates that have any effect on image quality.  The Nex-7 was a great camera in the ISO range of 100 to 400, however after than the amount of noise that developed became destructive to the image and by ISO 1600, the files were so noisy to make them only equivalent to 16MP images.  I had hoped that Sony would add some firmware enhancements that would allow for some improvements on the higher ISO ranges for the Nex-7, but it never happened.  Canon and Fuji both have had several major firmware enhancements to several of their camera lines that allowed for major improvements in image quality.  I like to see a company continue to develop a camera’s capabilities after the initial announcement, and this is not a practice of Sony.

Weight of body with larger lenses

The body of the Sony A7r is so light that most modern 35mm lenses seem to unbalance it.  If you are only using a older prime lens this might not pose much of a problem, but try placing the Nikon 14-24 on the A7r!.  The weight of the lens totally outweighs the camera’s small mass and it makes it pretty much impossible to just shoot by holding the camera.  So both hands are occupied in holding the lens/camera and you really don’t have a free hand to switch a setting once you are lined up for a shot.  If you are using the camera/lens combination on a tripod, then most definitively the lens will need a tripod mount (which none of the current FE lenses do) or the lens adapter (like a Metabones or Novoflex) will also need a tripod foot.  The lens mount flange on the Sony A7r cannot handle the sheer mass of many of the lenses you might want to use and long term you will either bend the flange or pull it out of alignment.  Either way the fix will be out of warranty and depending on how the mount flange is installed may or may not require an entirely new A7r body.

Lack of intelligent intervalometer for A7r

As with all Sony DSLR’s and Nex cameras, there is no intervalometer for this camera.  Sony once again is depending on a app called Timelaspe that will run on the iOS or Android OS.  This tool limits you to the power left on your phone and since it requires the phone to be on for an extended period of time, it will drain the phone’s battery.  The timelaspe app is designed to give the user the ability to create the actual video on the camera so for the night photographic use I would need it’s not a tool I could use.  I much would prefer to use a cabled intervalometer that will let me set the time of the necessary exposure and the interval needed, removing all of this from the camera.  I have also not found any built in timelaspe tool that will let you take a shot longer than 30 seconds since they all are dependent on the camera’s built in set shutter speed of 30 seconds.  This is the longest shutter speed that most cameras will allow.  Sony once again has used their proprietary port for a wired remote so that none of the third party intervalometers will work.  This limits tremendously the use of the camera in night photographic applications and even limits it in the more traditional timelaspe applications.  Personally I don’t want to be tied to my iPhone for any type of intervalometer use.  The amount of heat that may build up in the Sony A7r may preclude it from night photographic operations anyway.

The Sony A7r is a great concept and for many photographers, it’s a great way to reach the 36MP threshold, especially a Canon shooter.  In my situation, I already have the Nikon D800 and find it’s mass/weight are a benefit in keeping everything in sharp focus.  I love the idea of a EVF that allows 100% magnification at the viewfinder level like Sony has along with the excellent focus peaking that Sony has had for several generations of DSLRs and Nex series cameras.  However the inability to use my current lineup of Nikon lenses (with AF and VR) is a huge issue for me.   This is a first round release for Sony and no doubt they will follow up with a more refined product either later this year or early 2015.  I can also hope that Nikon improved their Nikon1 lineup of mirror-less camera to include either the Sony 24MP or 36MP sensors as then I should be able to use all of my excellent Nikkor lenses to their best capabilities.

02/13/2014 The First Testing of the IQ250 on a tech camera–More details on my testing of Digital Transitions files

As posted on this site and many others, Phase One, about 2 weeks ago, announced the IQ250, the worlds first CMOS digital Medium format back.  The announcement also stunned quite a few folks out there when it was discovered that Sony was the chip being used, not a Dalsa.  Dalsa has been the main chip company that Phase One has used since the announcement of the P65+ about 4 years ago.  I saw the announcement and also noticed the mention of Sony and I had a suspision that the results when posted from the various dealers out there, would be pretty revealing.  I have used the Sony 36MP chip in the Nikon D800 since May of 2014 and believe me I saw the light early.  Enough that I sold pretty much all my Canon Digital gear save for 1 6D which I use  for night photography.

Digital Transitions, my Phase One dealer based out of NY, just released a huge test where they shot the IQ250 with a very good selection of current Tech camera lenses.  This was an indoor shoot in the Morgan Library in NYC so the subject matter was a bit different for me, but the results from the tests are very impressive.  I just finished downloading and comparing the IQ250 and IQ260 shots taken with the Rodenstock 32mm.  To be honest, after shooting the D800 for so long and seeing what it can do with 1 frame at base iso 100 in regards to total range, I was pretty sure what I would find.  However I did try my hardest to make the 260 images come close with all the tricks in Capture One that I have learned over the years, and the net is, you can’t!

You can download and read more about the testing that Digital Transitions did here:  DT Tech Camera tests IQ250 and other MF backs.

In my landscape work, I tend to focus on shifting 3 images to create a short panorama.  So for me, the rise and fall results were not that important, but if you interested DT (Digital Transitions) did post these as well.  I took the 3 shifted images from the IQ250 and IQ260 on the 32mm Rodenstock.  I don’t own this lens, but have the 28mm Rod and 40mm Rod.  The shifting characteristics of the 32mm and 40mm Rodenstocks are pretty close.  After completing work on the images in Capture One, I went ahead and combined the IQ260 stitches into one image, them went back to the IQ250 images to compare certain parts of the files to see how the 2 cameras reacted.  In the four images I have in the article, I will explain the areas that stand out the most to me.

Morgain library IQ250 and IQ260

Left corner comparison of IQ250 and IQ260 Morgan Library

NOTE web conversions really don’t do these files justice, if you are interested in my results, please visit the DT website and pull these files down to get the full effect.  Capture One is free for all digital back users you can pull the latest version which is 7.2 from the Phase One Website.

IQ 250 is on the right in this comparison. In this image you see a part of a large panel that runs vertically in the left most portion of each test.  At first when I looked at the panel with the IQ260 shots, I thought it was made from wood, however when I looked at the IQ250 shot, I realized that this panel was in fact covered by fabric and the IQ250 actually showed the detail of the fabric.  If you look to the right edge you can see that this panel is part of hinged setup and is covered which red (appears to be red) fabric.  The iq260 shot is too noisy to really tell very much.  The only thing that really translates between the two are the two scratches that show up.   The IQ260 was shot at a base iso 50 for 6 seconds and you will see that even at that ideal setting the darker parts of the image are pretty much pure noise and not worth recovering.  It should be be noted here that the shifts were made without a Center filter on the Rodenstock 32mm.  The center filter would have helped to balance  out the IQ260 shift exposure an possibly bring out less noise giving a better final result, but it would have also benefited the IQ250 also, so it would have been even cleaner!!

Also noticed the amount of aliasing form the Metal X bars over the front of the book cases.  You can clearly see red, blue, banding on these parts of the IQ260 file.  The IQ250 is clean from aliasing and I have to assume it’s an advantage of the smaller pixel pitch of 5.3 microns over the large 6.0 micron pitch of the IQ260.

You can notice that the books definitely are different colors, and I could only guess at the correct WB in this room.  The IQ250 seemed to want to go more to a red favored tint and I had warmed up the IQ260 image in Capture One.  WB is selective and is something that can easily be adjusted once the correct value is known.

comparison of IQ250 and IQ260 moderate light

Comparison No 2 of IQ250 and IQ260 in moderate light

What is most striking here is the depth of the details the IQ250 pulled out of the balcony railing supports.  IQ250 is on the right. Zooming in you can make out the details on the base of the railing support much more clearly on the IQ250 shot, also notice the wood grain and patina on the edge of the balcony.  (I am not sure if this wood or metal, I am assuming metal since the finish matches the railing and railing supports).  There is a red hue to the IQ250 shot and that was also in the IQ260 shot, but I took it out with a local adjustment in Capture One.

Other areas of interest are the 2 rows of beaded material on the outer face of the balcony.  You can see the individual details of each bead much clearly with the IQ250 shot.  But most telling is the detail underneath the balcony.  Zooming into 100% you can see all the grain of the material on the bottom and the details are still very clear.

On this shot what caught my eye over and over was just how much of the notching around the based of the railing support standout as well as the head of the two bolts holding the plate in place.

Comparison of IQ250 and IQ260 in low light

Comparison No 3 IQ250 and IQ260 back center of center image

In this comparison the IQ250 is on the right.  This is a crop taken from the back center of the center frame of the three stitches.  This image should have the best exposure opportunity from both cameras as not shifting was done.  Quickly, notice the curved portion of the balcony, again the material’s patina is just so much more clear on the IQ250, where as with the IQ260 it’s pretty featureless.  But what really stands out is the the very back underneath the balcony.  They are watching you!!.  Yes there is a small camera mounted next to the white box on the right.  This camera did not catch my eye on the IQ260 shot, but when looking at the IQ250 image I saw it immediately.  Notice here again the amount of details under the bottom of the balcony, again you can clearly make out the lighter material of the light shades and black piece on the middle balcony support.  You can also make out the grain in the material of this same piece of material.  The base of the railings also look much much better to me.  Yes the IQ250 is still showing a red tint, but again that is because I saw no need to take it out since I was looking for DR range improvement.  WB/color casts on this image are very hard to know without a true grey card shot to assist in WB.

Comparison IQ250 and IQ260 right shift

Comparison No 4 IQ250 and IQ260 lower right corner

In this comparison the IQ250 image is on the right.  This is a crop from the lower right corner.  You can see two things quite clearly here, the base of a glass box stand and the back wood wall.  Here again the shifted IQ260 has suffered quite a bit, not as bad as on the full left shift, but still the details just fall apart.  The two things that are most telling are the insert of darker material on the box and wood grain of the outer section of the box.  Working up the IQ250 image you can make out grain in the wood with no problem but on the IQ260 shot you are losing the wood grain by the time you add enough noise reduction to get the image workable.

Here you can also see a lot of stuck pixels in the IQ260 image.  In looking at all of the test shots from the IQ260 stuck pixels show up in any of the more underexposed parts of the files.  This was very surprising to me as I would have expected the mandatory dark frame to handle this.  The dark frame is taken immediately after the regular exposure.  In my experience with CCD cameras and long exposure, I owned for about 3 years a Phase One P45+.  This camera was also rated to 1 hour exposures and I did use it for quite a few.  I can state that I never saw this many uncorrected stuck pixels in a 45 minute exposure as I am seeing in a 6 second exposure with the IQ260.  As the owner of a IQ260 I find this alarming.  You can remove some more of the stuck pixels by using the “single pixel noise” reduction slider to 100% in Capture One, but normally this is not needed unless a dark frame was not taken immediately after the long exposure.   With a Nikon D800 which I regular use for up to 5 minute exposures for stacking in my night photography actions, you will see some stuck pixels, but no where as many as seen in the IQ260 shot.  With the Nikon I am not using long exposure noise reduction in camera since it would not allow me to operate the camera for a corresponding amount of time, in this case 5 minutes.  However using Capture One in post processing I can always get a clean file by using the single pixel noise reduction slider.  In the case of the IQ260,  a dark frame was taken as you have no options with Phase One, so the vast majority of the stuck pixels should have been removed.

The back wall however is even more telling  Here you can see the details in the engraving of the back wall much better on the IQ250 shot and the base board is full of rich details.  The crop I took also shows the floor clearly has more details in both the tile around the fireplace and the actual wood floor.  The IQ250 file is so clean it almost looks like I needed to add a bit of grain, as the bottom of the stand is very smooth, but that may be how it is in real life also.

Conclusions from these side by side tests:

  1. The CCD chip of the IQ260 was pressed harder than it could deliver on this test series of exposures and the results show both excessive noise (especially on shifts) and any area of the image not being stuck by artificial illumination.
  2. The 6 second exposure of the IQ260 contains a lot of stuck pixels, mainly blue, that were not removed by the dark frame exposure that would have followed the exposure on the back.  The IQ250 is clean of all stuck pixels with the Capture One defaults of noise reduction loaded.  I had to increase the “single pixel noise reduction” slider to 100% on the IQ260 image and it still did not get all of the stuck pixels out.
  3. Clearly the IQ250 image has much more room in the shadows.  This is shown over and over by looking at pieces and parts of this test.  The IQ260 in the darkest parts of the image (mainly the left shift) became too noisy to really use in a print larger than say 13 x 19.  The IQ250 has a much cleaner transition between the light and dark parts of the image allowing things like patina and wood grain to stand out much more clearly
  4. The IQ260 suffered from very harsh aliasing, mainly on the metal X bars that cover the books.  I was able to remove the worst of it with a local adjustment layer in Capture One on the IQ260, but on the IQ250 there is really none to start with.
  5. Yes the 1:3 crop factor size is important.  Just from looking at the sides of the completed stitches you can see that the IQ260 pulled in about 3 more feet of image on both sides.  This image is also pretty badly distorted by the time the IQ260 makes the extreme shift (as would be expect on a ultra wide shift).  As the owner of a full frame digital back, I am a huge fan of the full frame size chips as I tend to work in close in Arkansas landscape shooting and the crop factor will make a composition/framing consideration.

As the owner of a IQ260, I was impressed by these results.  I already knew the Live View worked and it even works well in low light as test by Alpa and now DT.  I had hoped with my investment in a IQ260 that Phase One could somehow work magjc on the the CCD one more time since the IQ260 had a totally new chip.  However based on these tests at iso 50 and some I have seen at iso 140 (the being of the long exposure noise for the IQ260, I am not seeing any improvements between the IQ160 and IQ260.  I was hoping that the IQ260 would allow for a useable image at iso 400 in the long exposure mode so I would not have to drop down to sensor plus, but so far I have not see that result in my work.  The shadows when pushed on a IQ260 pretty much appear to have about the same amount of range as my IQ160 had.

Seeing these results from the IQ250 and knowing just how good the Sony 36MP chip is in the D800, I have to make a decision to stay with the IQ260 or attempt a downgrade to IQ250.  I don’t see Sony coming out with another full frame medium format chip anytime this year or early next year.  They seem to be working on a 54MP chip for the 35mm camera world as they have announced it and are planning to bring it to the market in 2015.  This leaves Dalsa who is Phase One’s main chip supplier, and boy I hope they are looking at these results.   If any company is going to bring a full sized CMOS chip to market in 2014 or early  2015, I figure it will Dalsa.  But they are also unproven in this space, only have CCDs.  Sony has been working on the Exmor processor and their high dynamic range CMOS chips since around 2012 now have a fab process setup so that they can replicate this technology across many fronts.

02/12/14 My testing of some Phase One IQ250 raw files on a tech camera–Most impressive

IQ250 dynamic range increase

Comparison of IQ250 and IQ260 showing the dramatic increase in dynamic range of the IQ250

Over the past week Digital Transitions , my Phase One dealer based out of New York, NY, has been doing some series comparison testing of the IQ250 and IQ260 with various tech camera lenses.  The scene was the Morgan Library Room in New York City.  This was an indoor test with very difficult lighting and no flash or strobes were used.  Digital Transitions (DT) used a series of different tech camera lenses on both the IQ250 and IQ260, at 50MP and 60MP respectively.  These tests included shifting at 0 rise and then shifting with various degrees of rise.  I only looked at the images that were shifted at zero rise as I felt that was closest to the work I do.  Here is link to the DT blog where their testing was reported: DT Tech Camera Testing

The results were very impressive when comparing just the IQ260 and IQ250 and I have published an article on my website which goes into much more detail and my observations from looking at just the images from the 32mm Rodenstock, it’s very apparent that the IQ250 is going to have much greater dynamic range than the IQ260, even though the IQ260 is a larger chip, with larger photocells.  The IQ250 is a 5.3 micron back and the IQ260 is 6.0 micron, and I had hoped to see a bit more room coming from the IQ260.  You can read more details here:   Impressive results from IQ250 low light testing.

On shifts it quickly became obvious that the IQ260 just could handle the shifts without excessive noise.  The noise was so great in fact on the left shift that most of image captured was destroyed by noise.  Whereas the IQ250 image showed fine details of fabric on the large room partition that is a large majority of the left shift image.  But it’s not just shifts as you can clearly see much more detail extending into the shadows on the center image also.  Features like wood grain and patina of metal just really start to stand out better on the IQ250.  The IQ260 also had a much bigger issue with aliasing and I point to areas of this in my article.

As the owner of a IQ260, I was impressed by these results.  I already knew the Live View worked and it even works well in low light as test by Alpa and now DT.  I had hoped with my investment in a IQ260 that Phase One could somehow work magjc on the the CCD one more time since the IQ260 had a totally new chip.  However based on these tests at iso 50 and some I have seen at iso 140 (the being of the long exposure noise for the IQ260, I am not seeing any improvements between the IQ160 and IQ260.  I was hoping that the IQ260 would allow for a useable image at iso 400 in the long exposure mode so I would not have to drop down to sensor plus, but so far I have not see that result in my work.  The shadows when pushed on a IQ260 pretty much appear to have about the same amount of range as my IQ160 had.

Seeing these results from the IQ250 and knowing just how good the Sony 36MP chip is in the D800, I have to make a decision to stay with the IQ260 or attempt a downgrade to IQ250.  I don’t see Sony coming out with another full frame medium format chip anytime this year or early next year.  They seem to be working on a 54MP chip for the 35mm camera world as they have announced it and are planning to bring it to the market in 2015.  This leaves Dalsa who is Phase One’s main chip supplier, and boy I hope they are looking at these results.   If any company is going to bring a full sized CMOS chip to market in 2014 or early  2015, I figure it will Dalsa.  But they are also unproven in this space, only have CCDs.  Sony has been working on the Exmor processor and their high dynamic range CMOS chips since around 2012 now have a fab process setup so that they can replicate this technology across many fronts.

 

02/06/14 Low light viewing of Live View on the Phase One IQ250–most impressive

Live View IQ250 Phase One

A view provided by Alpa camera corp of the Live View at night on IQ250

From some night photography testing that was done by Alpa, maker of fine Tech camera solutions for Medium and 35mm format, it appears that the Live View Screen of the IQ250 is going to work exceptionally well in low light.  This is a huge deal!!.

Currently the only other DSLR with Live View in the 30MP or greater size is the Nikon D800/D800E and to be honest their Live view implementation suffers here..  Nikon is working with a 36MP CMOS sensor and in normal or bright light, you can see the image fine to get a good sharp focus.  However in low light or near dark, the screen is covered up with noise and it’s really impossible to see anything well enough to focus the image.  I have tried many different solutions, but no matter what you do the image will be covered up in large banding and noise.  I have tried increasing the gain by temporarily increasing the ISO to around 3200, which makes things much worse, and by opening up the camera to the widest aperture, but you still can’t really get enough information.  The other issue is with many Nikon lenses, you will see a bit of focus shift from say F2.8 to F 5.6.  So what may look in sharp focus when focusing with Live View at F2.8 will be out of focus enough not to get a good image.

What Alpa noticed during their testing is that when using Live View on the IQ250, in low light or even dark conditions (see image above taken after dark), is that the Screen almost becomes a night vision device.  This is really a nice feature and one that is not getting much notice, which surprises me.  This is truly a revolutionary feature for sure.

With Canon, I have found that starting with the 5D MKII, and up, it seems that Canon developed a way to buffer out the noise when using live view in low light.  For my night photography working with a 3/4 moon or more, most times I can still use Canon live view with my lens wide open to help frame the shot.  Not really as much to focus as the image will not be that sharp.  But if you tried the same thing with a Phase One IQ250, it seems that you would be able to not only see the entire subject clearly, but be able to gain full focus on it.  I am sure that Alpa was using one of their tech camera for the testings not a Phase One DF+ camera body so no AF was used.  Since the image can be seen so clearly it would be most interesting to see just how well Auto Focus does work!

This is not a cheap camera by any means, but it’s clear that Phase One thought ahead on this one and designed a way to allow the photographer to best utilize the IQ LCD in all lighting conditions.

Here is close up of the same shot showing a bit more of the details that can be captured from a totally dark scene.  This reminds me of some of the middle of the line Sony all in one cameras, like the Sony Cybershot F828,  which some people felt actually did have a night vision system since you could see so well at night with it.  Of course that was a 8MP solution from 2004, and now Phase One seems to have something similar in a 50MP solution.

IQ250 live view night

Alpa test shot showing Live View very low light capabilities

Photo credit goes to Alpa camera, of Switzerland

Read the entire Alpa Blog post here: Alpa Blog post on IQ250

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

02/05/14 Capture One 7.2 is released to the field

Capture One 7.2 is out

The newest version of Capture One is 7.2

If you are using Capture 7.x, look for the latest version of the software which is 7.2.  Capture One has finally released this newest version to the general population, about 1 week after they announced their latest digital back, the IQ250.  It looks like no new tools were added, sigh!!.  I keep hoping to see the ability to have noise reduction in a local adjustment along with the ability over lapping color adjustment levels that don’t cancel each other out.

Here are the main improvements in 7.2, besides support for the new IQ250 are:

  • Improved live view frame rate on Mac.
  • Improved live view alignment between Mac and Windows.
  • Fixed a number of live view issues.
  • Improved tethered stability on Mac.
  • Fixed some XMP syncing issues.
  • Improved importer performance on Mac.
  • Fixed a stability issue related to collapsing of stacks on Mac.
  • Fixed a stability issue related to reordering jobs in the batch queue on Mac.
  • Fixed some LCC issues.
  • A number of other bug fixes.

In my workflow, I don’t see too many things that make me want to upgrade my main production machine to 7.2.  I am going to check out 7.2 on my MAC and see if any new tool sets were added or if anything else was modified.  Obviously, if you purchase a new IQ250, you will have to have this version as there will be no support in prior versions of Capture One.

From looking over this list, it seems that most of the bug fixes were around Live View, but this must all be about Live View on the PC or MAC while tethered, again not anything that will help me in my outdoor workflow.

However there is mention of “fixed some LCC issues”, I am wondering if this might have fixed an issue I had with 7.16 where somehow my LCC processing was corrupted.

I work in session mode. After I started to working with 7.16 during some processing of IQ260 and IQ280 files a strange issue occurred.  When you process an LCC in Capture One, you process the LCC image, and then Capture One allows you to save the processed LCC as a preset.  Once the LCC is processed, you will see the check boxes of 1, color cast, 2. Dust removal, 3. light falloff selected by default.  I noticed that all of a sudden even though the saved LCC showed these defaults selected, when I applied the LCC to the image, nothing happened.  So the color casts and light falloff that was visible in the image did not change.  I could go back to the saved LCC and all three check boxes were now unchecked, and greyed out.  I could not select anything.

To fix this I tried first to delete the current LCC, and re-create it.  This worked as it should but as soon as I tried to apply the LCC, the check boxes greyed out again.  I closed Capture One and re-opened it which fixed nothing and then I rebooted my PC, and still it was broken.  Not a good deal as all my images are from tech camera.

What was interesting was I could could go to another folder of images and the LCC’s worked like they should.  It only seemed to apply to this one folder of images.  The only thing I had done differently was move some IQ280 raw files into the same folder as my IQ260 raw files as I was working up a comparison.

The only way I could fix the problem was to delete 7.16 from my PC and reinstall 7.15.  Then all thing worked correctly.

Hopefully this fix mentioned in 7.2 addresses this problem.  But I will wait a bit longer to load 7.2 on my production machines.