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03/04/13 Big Day for Phase One–New IQ2x backs are announced

Phase One IQ260 backs new for 2013

Phase One IQ260 backs new for 2013

What a surprise to open my email and find that Phase One has announced a new series of IQ backs, the 260 series.  I received a very informative email from Doug Peterson at Digital Transitions this morning in regards to the new Phase One IQ260 backs.  In a nutshell it seems that the following features have been added:

  1. Wifi to any iOS device, at 1st ship playback, later to follow live view.  I am assuming this means ipad or macbookpro.
  2. Up to 1 hour exposures with the IQ260 @ iso 140 (interesting but I like this as it definitely should improve overall gain for late evening or night shots) I don’t know what the outdoor temperature range is as on the P45+ your 1 hour was limited to 69 degrees F.
  3. Slightly higher overall Dynamic Range with both the IQ260 over the IQ160 and the IQ280 over the IQ180.  About 1/2 a stop so now 13 for the IQ260 over the 12.5 on the IQ180
  4. Geotagging via GPS, I assume this is through the attachment of a Garmin or similar unit to the back.
  5. A new Archromatic back which offers B&W capture, with no color interpolation which should provide a very sharp file at 60MP.
  6. Remote operation of the camera and the ability to attach the camera to a TV for image review
  7. A new physical chip is being used in the IQ260, not sure if the IQ280 has a new chip or just some tweaks to get the 1/2 stop of DR

I feel that the base iso performance of the IQ260 will be better than the IQ160 as a new chip is being used for the IQ260 over the IQ160 and

It looks like the first actual units will ship sometime in June 2013 and some customers might be getting a few units a bit earlier.  Digital Transitions is having open houses in both their New York and and Dallas locations, where the new backs will be displayed and hopefully attendies can have some hands on with all three backs.  Pricing has been announced and will be handled in the U.S. by Phase One authorized dealers, like Digital Transitions.  I have seen that there are many upgrade paths available:

  1. P65+ to IQ280 $17,500
  2. P65+ to IQ260 (seems to be a more specialized offer)
  3. P45+ to IQ260 $22,500
  4. IQ160 to IQ260 $13,990
  5. It also appears that an existing value add warranty will carry over if you upgrade from a 160 to a IQ2x back.  Example, I have a 5 year value add warranty on my IQ160 with 3 3/4 years left.  If I upgrade in June 2013 what is left of my Value add will move to the IQ260 giving me about 3.5 years or so. That’s fair!

What all this means will vary depending on the needs of the photographer in question.  Everyone will have an opinion and I of course have mine.

Personally I moved from a P45+ to a IQ160 back in the fall of 2011 and still feel it’s one of the best decisions I ever made.  The increase in overall dynamic range between the P45+ and the IQ160 was huge.  For my landscape work, the ability to most times just take once shot and then work it for both shadows and highlights instead of having to bracket as I did with the P45+ made a huge difference in my workflow.  At the time I made the move to an IQ160, I also moved from a Phase One DF body and all Mamiya lenses to a Arca rm3di and several Rodenstock and Schneider lenses.

For my workflow, the one issue that has come up over and over is live view.  Since Phase One is using CCD’s instead of CMOS, it seems that it’s impossible to get a balanced image on the live view screen, especially in normal to bright outdoor light.  This is not new information to anyone using a Phase One back/tech camera solution, net it’s not going to look like live view on a Nikon, Canon or other DSLR.  I had hoped that the next refresh from Phase One would have fixed this or somehow found a work around.  They found a way to get back to 1 hour exposures!! surely some type of buffer could be figured out.  I feel it must not be a big priority for them which is a surprise to me.

For me with a Tech camera, the sweet spot is the IQ160-260 camera.  I don’t want to make the added investment in tech camera lenses that a IQ180-280 takes (Rodenstock 32mm, 40mm).  The cost of the 32mm Rodenstock with physical CF in an Arca mount is around 10K U.WI also found that in the few times I was able to shoot in the field with a IQ180, that it’s shadow noise was considerably more noticeable past iso 35.  In my work, being able to shoot at iso 35 is rare since the available shutter speeds will be too low as I have to take into account wind and stopping motion.  So now with a IQ260 on the table things get very interesting.   I feel that I should be able to get a better noise coefficient in all of my iso ranges, 50 to 800 before having to to use sensor plus, and then better for 1600 and 3200 with sensor plus.  The IQ160 does a very good job with Dynamic range in my shooting allowing me easily 2.5 stops of room in most shooting situations.  I have never worried about slightly overexposing my highlights to give my shadows a bit more reach.  With the IQ260 this may now stretch to 3 stops or more which would be impressive.

The ability to shoot clean exposures up to 1 hour again with all the features of a IQ series can only make me say I am glad I did not attempt to purchase a used P45+.  Sure Phase backs are well made but I would hate to send in a P45+ for a repair if Phase can even repair it now.  This new feature really won’t do much in daylight as I have often taken my IQ160 to exposures of 45 seconds to 1 minute with very good results at iso 50.  However for night photography, this is a bit deal.  You can now attempt to stack with a IQ260 and stacking is the way to go.  You will still have to tolerate the dark frame which will create a gap in a star series but there is software out that that will join the gaps and I have often joined gaps longer than 2 minutes.  The fact that you are starting at iso 140 to me a plus for night photography.

Geotagging, not a big deal to me. Even though I am in the field 98% of time I don’t use it with my DSLR’s as it’s just something else to keep up with.

Wifi, may be in the future but I don’t see wanting to add complexity to an already pretty complex setup with a tech camera.  Electronic firing of the shutter won’t be a factor on a tech camera as all the controls are manual and in the lens.  If Phase had implemented a more useable Live View option, then I feel this would be a bigger deal for me since you could gain more knowledge about your shot on a ipad or ipad mini.

USB3 will be working with these new backs when they ship (and it’s supposed to be coming very soon to the older IQ140/160/180 backs.  This will let you tether in the field, with a smaller laptop or possibly to a ipad.  Being able to tether to a macbookair 13″ has been a feature I would like to do.  My macbookair only has usb2 but I should be able to still run to a usb3 IQ back.  I only have 4mb of ram on this mackbook air and I know that is way low, so I may to come up with a upgrade in the future.  This is one feature I would like to see at any open house I attend, solid tethering oriented to the field not studio.

This is largest Phase One announcement I can remember since the rollout of the original IQ backs in 2010.  The fact that there is a somewhat competitive upgrade path for a IQ160 user is commendable for Phase One as this announcement has  overnight just killed the residual value of my IQ160.

Many thanks to Doug Peterson at Digital Transitions for his help in answering my questions.  You can read more from Doug here: