From the BlogSubscribe Now

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.




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: