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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.




06/15/13 Phase One failures using Silver vs Black batteries

Silver vs Black Phase One 7.2 volt Lithium Ion Batteries

Silver vs Black Phase One 7.2 volt Lithium Ion Batteries

As many Phase One users may know the main battery used in most modern Phase One Digital backs, is based on a Canon Video camera battery.  In fact in the older Phase One cameras which had the battery external to the back, like the P45+, P65+ etc. you could use Canon’s AC adapter/battery setup on Phase One cameras which gave you a much longer life in the field.  This all ended however when Phase One decided to place the batteries inside the case as in the newer IQ series of backs.

One issue I have had with all Phase One batteries, is that they don’t’ tend to last very long in the field.  The older batteries were 2600 millamp hours and in most cases with a IQ160 I would get about 2 hours or less in the field.  When Phase One announced the IQ backs, they also increased the millamp rating on their batteries to 2900.  In a nutshell millamps tells you how long a battery will last at charge i.e. 2600 will last a shorter period of time than 2900.  However as I also moved to a tech camera setup with my IQ 160, I found that my battery use increased considerably.  Since the IQ backs don’t really have a very good live view I tend to do a considerable amount of checking after a series of shots.  In the past 6 months, I have found that some of this review is no longer necessary as I have gotten much more confident with my tech camera and focus.  The ultimate solution is still a better live view but as long as Phase uses CCD technology, I have been told this will not happen.

So what do you do when you know you will be in the field all day or maybe two or three days?  You carry a bunch of batteries.  About the time I was introduced to the Phase One IQ series of digital backs, I also discovered that there was a much cheaper battery alternative.  Ebay and some U.S. Phase One dealers sell a silver battery which looks and feels just like the black Phase One branded cells.  They are all 2600 millamp but at 1/2 the price.  My thoughts were  to just purchase more of the silver cells and then carry them on trips.  They don’t weight that much and charged up with the same Phase One charger.  In fact I designed a battery sleeve that I could carry over my shoulder, based on a hunters belt.  The Phase One batteries will fit into the same size as a 12 gauge shotgun shell!

At first, I really noticed no differences and pretty much stopped using my older Phase One LI batteries.  Lithium cells in theory should not have a “battery life” issue but I noticed that my batteries that dated back to 2008 and 2009 where definitely getting shorter run times.  There is no way to “re-condition” a lithium cell like you can with Ni-Mh cells.  However in early 2013 I started to notice some strange issues with the Silver batteries, on my IQ160.

I had been shooting with the Arca rm3di, with various lenses, for about 1 hour.  The battery installed was starting to get low, not blinking yet.  In the past I have seen an error where the camera will tell me “no storage available” when I have plenty of room on the card left, and that has que’d me into looking at the battery level.
 On this day, I got that same error, looked and the battery indicator was on the last indicator.  So I powered off the back, and replaced the battery.  Here is where the strange behavior starts.
  1. The first silver battery I installed, did not power the back up.  I double checked that it had locked and it did.  This battery had come straight from the Phase charger, and showed 100%, one of the silver batteries.    I went back and pulled the 2nd silver battery from the charger, which also showed 100%
  2. The 2nd fully charged silver battery did power up the back.  All seemed fine so I continued to shoot.  However after each shot, I noticed that the battery indicator would drop from full, to 1/2, to the lowest indicator while the back was writing the file.  As soon as the file was finished writing the battery indicator would return to 100%.
  3. When I attempted to zoom to 100%, the zoom went to over 200% and locked.  I could not go back down to normal view with a double tap.  I had to power off and power back on.  This series of errors happen several times, then I noticed on the right side, where the histogram should be there was nothing even though I could double tap the histogram to view it at 100% and then it showed up. Also both focus mask and the highlight warning would not engage when tapped.
This all went on for about 5 minutes as I tried to work the back.  I finally took out the 8GB scan disk ultra card and tried a different card, but the same things happened.  In frustration, I powered off, went back and pulled yet a 3rd battery this time a black Phase One cell, which had been charged up a couple of days’ ago.  This time all the functions came back and the back seemed to work correctly.
All of this strange activity happened in about 20 minutes, the outdoor temperature was about 92 degrees and I was working in the sun.  I finished up the testing with the black Phase One cell, but contacted my dealer Digital Transitions on Monday about the problems.  I was concerned that something might be going wrong with the back and it needed to be sent off to Phase One.  Digital Transitions took a different tack and asked me to try out the back in the same conditions but only to use the black Phase One cells, which I did, in fact  on 3 separate shoots total hours 12 to 14.  No problems and no repeats except  for the low storage warning when the Phase One cells shows low.  NO other problems which was a relief.
All of this strange activity happened in about 20 minutes, the outdoor temperature was about 92 degrees and I was working in the sun.  I finished up the testing with the black Phase One cell, but contacted my dealer  Digital Transitions  on Monday about the problems.  I was concerned that something might be going wrong with the back and it needed to be sent off to Phase One.  Digital Transitions took a different tack and asked me to try out the back in the same conditions but only to use the black Phase One cells, which I did, in fact  on 3 separate shoots total hours of back usage 8 to 10 hours.  No problems and no repeats except  for the low storage warning when the Phase One battery indicator shows low.  NO other problems which was a relief.
Silver vs Black Phase One 7.2 volt batteries no 2

Silver vs Black Phase One 7.2 volt batteries no 2

Out of curiosity I went back to the silver cells and worked with them in the IQ160.  I had two of them that had been in my pack which had been sitting in the sun.  The batteries were at 100% full charge, and when I placed one of them in the IQ160, I noticed that it was not fully engaging the brackets that hold the battery in place.  When a new battery is placed in the IQ160 back (or older P series backs) the back always powers up.  What happened when I placed the silver battery inside was that the back powered up, briefly then the screen went blank and the back powered off.  I double checked that the battery was still locked into place and it was.  However even locked in place you could still move the battery around and as I did this the back powered back on again.  It seems that over time the outer casing material of the silver batteries, may expand, and contract and as it contracts it slightly deforms the shape of the battery enough that the slot where the battery fits on the IQ160 does not hold the battery firmly.  I have also had several silver batteries that did not want to come out of the back after they were used.  I first noticed this about 6 months ago, on silver batteries I had been using for about 8 months.  This behavior implies that as the silver battery is used it gets hot (normal for a LI battery during discharge) but the silver case is also expanding and contracting causing deformations.  Over time these deformations can cause the silver batteries to either:

  1. Stick inside the IQ back, and become very hard to remove
  2. Not fit snug enough in the case and allow movement which will either not give the correct voltage to the back and cause errors.

With the older P series backs where the battery is external to the back, this issue is moot since the battery is held in place by a hard metal sleeve and it can’t slide around.

I have not noticed any cracks in the silver batteries, but as a safety measure, I have stopped using them.  I would not have any issues using them on a older P series back however like  P45+.

These are the results of one person’s usage of a IQ160 and the silver batteries that are sold to replace the standard black Phase One cells.  If you have using these silver batteries and are experiencing any of these issues, before you send your IQ off to Phase One, try working only with the black Phase One batteries and see if your problems persist.

07/28/12 Screen protection options for Phase One IQ Series Digital backs (IQ140,IQ160, & IQ180)

One of the most impressive features of the Phase One IQ Series of Digital backs, (IQ140, 160 and 180), would have to be their LCD screen.  This screen, which has been compared to the quality of the Apple retina displays, is a vast improvement over the LCD screens that were used on the older Phase One backs like the P45+.  With the IQ series, you have a screen that gives the photographer 100% positive feedback during the image capture processes.  The most critical piece of feedback being the ability to quickly zoom in to a 100% view of your image and check for focus.  The LCD size on the Phase One IQ series backs are 3.2 inches.  The screen on the IQ backs is a touch screen and thus allows you to move around the information being displayed without having to hit any physical buttons.

The ability to zoom into 100% to check the image for critical focus is one of the most important features for my work since I use a Tech Camera.  Anyone using a Tech Camera knows that obtaining critical focus is one of the most challenging aspects to their use.  Phase One’s sensor does not work well with “live view” so most people myself included will take the shot based on focus settings they think are close, then view the captured image on the screen and from there fine tune the focus if needed.  The touch screen design of the Phase One IQ back lets a photographer do this in seconds rather then minutes.  If the LCD screen is damaged, scratched, or has had some of the anti-reflective coating rubbed off, this process of zooming to 100% and checking the focus can become much more difficult.

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