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09/23/16 Fall is starting a bit early in Arkansas–Buffalo River Trip

Late afternoon light creeping along Roark Bluff on the Buffalo National River

Late afternoon light creeping along Roark Bluff on the Buffalo National River

Another example of the amazing Dynamic range of the Phase One IQ100 digital back.  This is one exposure and I was still able to hold my shadows and keep the highlights in line.  This camera still continues to amaze me. What an amazing improvement over the CCD technology of the past.

On my recent trip to the Buffalo, I was surprised to see that the fall colors have already started to display.  This shot was taken on the upper end of the Buffalo River at Steel Creek featuring Roark Bluff.  The water is low, as expected for this time of year, but I was surprised by the amount of color already starting to show.  Along with several tree species that have just turned brown.   In this shot you can see that the Sycamore tree on the right side has a nice golden brown color and the trees to the immediate right edge are also showing some color.

The trees on the left are all Maple and Gum trees and since the sun was setting through them, I really could not see enough to tell what the colors might be.  But looking upstream you can see that several oaks are getting the same yellow look.

This is tough shot to take in the late afternoon, since the sun will set right at your left side.  But the reward is that the entire bluff will be lit up briefly by the sun.  In the summer months, the effect is more pronounced since the sun is higher in the sky, but in the fall you can still catch a nice yellow tint to the rocks.  I love to see the transition from yellow to grey on the bluff.

If you are lucky, you will not have any wind and can catch a wonderful reflection.   This shot is also an excellent photographic study in the morning as most times there will be some fog on the river.  You can catch the reflection and the fog both.  I opt for the other solution which is to climb to the top of the bluff and catch the same shot but from the top of the bluff.  Either way you can expect to find excellent shots.

This part of the Buffalo also is close to the Boxley Valley, which offers Lost Valley, and Elk among other great things to photograph.

08/15/16 Phase One Cable Release–New product announced

Recently Phase One finally announced the “final solution” for a cable release for the XF camera.  Not what I had hoped for but this is it as shown in the photo below.

Phase One cable release

New Phase One Cable Release Bob

Back in the June 2015 time frame, Phase One announced their new XF camera body, which replaced the aging DF/DF+ bodies.  The only difference in the DF and DF+ was improved AF performance.  But as all who follow Phase One know, the XF, was a big announcement and a all new camera body.  The features of the XF are endless and since the announcement, Phase One has continued to add more features via firmware updates.  But one little issue was either overlooked or just not important enough and that was the remote release.

In the past, the DF/DF+ and for that matter all previous modern camera bodies made by Mamiya all took a standard 8 pin coiled cable release.  This was a basic simple design, that allowed the remote shutter button to fire once or lock down.  Period.  But it worked and was pretty darn hardy.  I have dropped mine in the water several times, and once the pin outs were dry, it worked fine.  Phase at the announcement of the XF did not make any statements about a remote, only that the camera could be fired remote via Capture Pilot/iPhone etc.  But there are times that you don’t either want to carry the additional gear or just don’t want to mess with the wifi issues so a basic cable release is a nice feature.  I have also heard from plenty of studio shooters who also prefer having a true cabled remote release.

Briefly during early 2016, Phase One did release some of the older Mamiya 8 pin cable releases, modified with the 12 pin connection.  These were from what I have been told only made in limited numbers since Phase One had something else in mind for a cable release.  My thoughts went to a modern intervalometer, so something with a digital readout like all modern cable releases, but instead Phase One came out with the Bob.  See in the above picture the basic Bob.  Note also the cost is $399.00 U.S. Yes, I said $399.00.

The basic Bob, is just what you see in the picture.  Note that it has two addition ports towards the bottom.  These can accept a older style cable release (Mamiya 8 pin) and the new and still not released XF external power supply.  In the picture below you can see all of this put together.

Phase One remote Bob and various connections

Phase One remote Bob and various connections

Now you can see where all this was heading.  Which is great for power users.  There is no information on the XF Power supply that I can find, i.e. NiMh or Lithium battery.  Hopefully the later.  But you can now see the why Phase One put 12 pins on the XF for the remote connection, so that the power can be transmitted via the 4 additional pins.  There is also no information as to if the IQ100, or IQ350, or IQ380 all of which have the Phase One Power Share feature, can also be powered when the XF Power supply is attached.  This would be a nice feature.

So I guess when all is said and done, more than likely you will be out around 700.00 for the whole solution.  Only you can state if this is all worth it.

Photographer’s Notes:

I am disappointed that this all that Phase One will now offer.  And I would have much rather had the offering to just purchase the old style Mamiya DF cable release modified to the 12 pin layout.  These were briefly available in the US, but not by my dealer and I waited too long to purchase this cable release as I was under the impression that “more were coming soon”.  Live and learn, when you see it if you need it buy the damn thing.  I find it very surprising still that nothing was available when the XF was announced.  But even worse Phase One knew that they were not going to make many of the modified Mamiya remotes, (8 pin to 12 pin) and should have allowed those of us who know that they would have gained considerable use from this order one while the limited supply was out there.

This is overkill for a photographer working the field, outdoors as look at the total number of cables that will be hanging around if you use the XF power supply.  And if you don’t you still have a lot of non weather sealed connections on the Bob as it appears that all three ports are just standard pin outs.

There may be some great new yet to be announced feature still coming, but it still can’t justify the $399.00 cost for this type of solution, when the basic Mamiya 12pin Phase One solution was $139.00.

In my work, I would still prefer to have a cable release, but one with the button style that the older Mamiya release had as it will be a lot easier to hold in the hand.

Old style Mamiya Cable Release

Old style Mamiya Cable Release

If there is any good news from this, at least you can add the old style remote to the Bob on the right side as the Bob also seems to have a shorter straight cable instead of the coiled one.  But you are still out the $399.00 or so and there is still no date as to when any of this equipment will start to ship.

01/03/16 Phase One announces 100MP Camera in full frame Medium format and its shipping now here–a first

Phase One 100MP camera

 

NOTE, this picture was obtained from the Digital Transitions website, if you need all the details, they will have them along with raws to download, www.digitaltransitions.com.  You can also expect Capture Integration to have a similar link, soon as it seem that some may have jumped the gun a bit on this announcement. 

I guess that to many folks, this is great news: FULL FRAME CMOS MEDIUM FORMAT.  Wow,  I guess Phase has been busy for a while on this one.   Outwardly, it appears to be a 100MP CMOS 645 back, by Phase One, which will work with either the new Phase XF camera body or various tech cameras.  This has been rumored for some time on the Phase One site, as when you looked up their latest lenses, there was always a banner: claiming good enough for 100MP!!. So it did not take a rocket scientist to figure out that Phase had this coming.

Now we can all expect that this will be the best back ever made, it will answer all the issues that previous medium format backs had, and it will be THE MOST EXPENSIVE BACK EVER to upgrade to from previous Phase backs.  However if you are looking to buy new, then gosh it’s a bargin at 48,900, as you apparently get an XF and 80mm Schneider lens along with the 100MP back.

Since Phase announced their 50MP CMOS back, about 2 years ago, (based on a chip made by Sony), I have been waiting for this, basically a full frame CMOS back.  I had really hoped that Phase One would not just to 100MP, but instead maybe make a 75MP chip also or even 80 or 60 but still full frame.  You really have to ask yourself, “DO I REALLY NEED 100MP”. I don’t.

This shows me that Phase is a bit out of tune with the market, as the “still” market is not really needing 100MP, at least the vast majority of it.  So instead of working towards a goal that would be more cost affordable, at first glance Phase has made a back that only a chosen few will be able to afford or cost justify.  Surely all the web review sites that have had their hands on this back for the past month or so will be telling the world “ITS’ THE BEST THERE IS”.  But really, is it?   Let’s dig in bit deeper.

 

  1. Who makes this chip, Sony, Dalsa or yet someone else.  From all notices it appears to be another Sony chip.  So if you use a Sony or Nikon Camera, you know what to expect, great dynamic range, and decent high iso performance.
  2. Will Pentax be able to put this chip in their 645 body? Like they did with the 645z? If so you can expect the Pentax offering to be much more reasonable, and still probably have a more forward based solution from the chip.
  3. Is the chip using BSI technology? It’s amazing to me that will all the friggin talk on the web, it seems no one has tested this great 100MP back with current tech cameras, like Alpa, Arca and Cambo and the various lenses that had harsh color cast issues when movements were used on the 50MP CMOS.  Like the 23mm, 28mm and 32mm Rodenstocks.  Time will tell on how well the chip handles movements without massive color cast as the 50MP Sony CMOS has.
  4. Why 100MP?, net the files in 16 bit conversion will be huge at least 450MB and maybe larger, so you will quickly be at 2GB or larger working files.  Expect LR and Adobe CC to being bogging down.
  5. Why 100MP? is this necessary for video? NO, is it necessary for large prints approaching 100 inches long, NO, is it necessary for increased dynamic range? maybe, but just how much over say the Sony A7rII and Nikon D810?
  6. Why 100MP?, is this needed for web based output? NO, is it needed for landscape photography, NO,
  7. Why 100MP, Does Phase One have any type of Vibration reduction for their lenses like Canon, NIkon Sony, etc, NO, Does Phase One have sensor based stabilization like Sony and Olympus? NO, so well I guess hand holding this back will be a bit difficult?  It’s hard enough with 60MP or 50MP.
  8. Why 100MP, is it needed for tech camera use? NO, as the tech camera market seems to prefer backs with large pixel pitch, not the pitch of 100MP, which has to be smaller than the already troublesome pitch of Phase One’s 80MP backs.
  9. Why 100MP, without sensor plus, NOW it makes sense to pixel bin, as many and or most times, you won’t need the full 100MP output from this back.
  10. Why 100MP, which current Phase One lenses will work reasonably well with 100MP?  I can think of 2, the new 35mm LS and 40-80mm LS zoom.  Maybe the 150mm 2.8, but none of the older primes will be working well at this resolution.  Phase has also made it quite clear that the cost to get to these new lenses is quite expensive, in the 6K and 8K range
  11. If Pentax brings this same chip out in a 645Z+ at 12K, then once again the gap between Phase and the rest of the world is pretty large and also hard to justify.
  12. What about diffraction on such a dense chip?  Where will it start to show, F8? Right now on the 80MP chips, much past F8 seems to show diffraction and past F11 on the 60MP chips, so this will be interesting to discover, especially for tech camera shooters who tend to shoot only F8 to F11 or so.

 

Now I am going to look at it from my business point of view.

If the upgrade from an IQ260 to 100MP back, whatever the name is IQ3-100MP Big Boy (for example), is 30K, I am out.  That is more than I paid originally to get into Medium Format Digital.  I base this price on the fact that the listed price to upgrade an IQ180 to the 100MP back appears to be 26,500 or so.  So it’s pretty clear the 60MP backs will suffer even more.  Back with the announcement of the IQ380 in June, the cost to upgrade to the IQ380 from the IQ260 was 17K, as I recall and that was a price only offered during the first couple of months.

The main reason I had moved to Medium Format Digital was that since 2002, I had been stitching various 35mm camera output to make higher resolution prints.  This means that less interpolation would be needed to get the final output to a 20 x 30 @ 360ppi, or 40 x 60 @ 360ppi etc.  However since 2002, cameras and lenses have improved dramatically, but even more the software used to both convert digital raw files and stitch these files into larger final sized prints. has gotten much better.  It’s very possible that you can stitch 3 Sony A7rII 42MP files into a better final output for printing than the single file from the 100MP back by Phase One.  But I guess you could always stitch that 100MP back also, but again the output will be huge in megabytes and I am pretty sure you can expect to see some major slow down in processing.

After using a tech camera since late 2011 for most of my work with medium format, I realized that CMOS would be a better solution since the CCD technology just can’t allow much shadow push especially on shifted parts of a file. Plus the CCD backs are really best in the base iso to 1 step up, so say 50 ISO to 100 ISO.  They do offer a nice file in sensor plus but at a cost of 3/4’s the resolution.  After using the Phase One 50MP back for 2 weeks I was concerned about using it with a tech camera due to the extreme color cast on shifts and the loss of potential image due to the 1:3 crop of the sensor.  Now with the 100MP chip, at least it’s full frame so no loss due to the crop factor but at what a cost?  30K, I feel it might be time to look at a used 50MP back and just live with the crop factor!

I am sure that many photographers will be lining up for this new 100MP back and what is even more interesting is that Phase One has them already to ship.  So to the lucky few that can afford this back, I wish you the best. Maybe Phase One will release a 75MP or even 60MP full frame CMOS before I reach 60 years of age? Not to far away.

Paul Caldwell

 

 

 

07/02/14 New lens in the Phase One-Schneider LS lineup the 40-80 zoom

About 2 weeks ago, Phase One made a new lens announcement, the LS 40-80 F4 to F5.6 zoom.  This is an all new design, not a reworked Mamiya lens as some of the other LS lenses appear to be (28mm LS, 75-150mmLS, and 80mmLS to name a few). 
You can find some examples of photography taken with this lens at F11 on the Digital Transitions blog.

Schneider LS 40-80 zoom lens

Schneider LS 40-80 zoom lens

In this picture you can get several different views of the lens, it’s not small or light weight.  The outer lens shade is close to the size of the built in shade on the 28mm LS ultra wide angle.  So what do you gain here? I have looked over some early shots taken from this lens at F11 and they look good, corner to corner, however the real test to me would be more wide open or close to it say F5.6. Most of the other wides from Phase One/Schneider (28mm, 35mm, 45mm) are not good performers wide open or even close to wide open.  The 35mm (which is not an LS but sold in the newer D digital name) doesn’t really get very sharp in the corners until F11 either.

Looking at the features besides picking up a short zoom range, that can be covered pretty well by a 45mm D and 55D or the 55mm LS with much less weight and or bulk, I am not sure what the net gain is.  Sure there is the LS (leaf) shutter but unless you are looking for a really fast flash sync, this is not a big advantage, especially in landscape work.  Also, remember that Phase One’s DF and DF+ camera bodes both still fire their internal focal plane shutters when the leaf shutter in the the lens is fired.

Phase One zoom lens

Phase One 40-80mm Zoom lens side view

From this view, you can tell that it’s a well thought out design.  The manual focus ring has the built in clutch, where you can pull the ring down over the “auto focus” wording, and enabling Manual focus.  The lettering and hyperfocal scale is very easy to read, with the usual white letters on black background.  The large hood is detachable and the filter threading is 105mm, yes 105mm it’s big.  You can read all the detailed featured/specifications here: Phase One 40-80mm Zoom.

As a landscape photographer this lens seems to be similar to the older Mamiya 55-110mm zoom a real tried and true lens, in that it has a very limited focal range and is big and heavy.  It weighs 4 lbs!!.  Looking at the lens and knowing what I like to shoot I have a few more detailed thoughts.

  1. Weight, if you attempt to carry this in the field, you will be paying a high price for a very limited zoom range.  This lens at 4.1 pounds weigh just a little less than my entire Arca rm3di, IQ260 and 40mm Rodenstock lens.
  2. Price, well this should be number 1, folks at 9K this lens is very much a specialty unit.  Not sure what the thought process is here from Phase One.  There must be a market but consider that that NEW Rodenstock 40mm lens from Arca, Cambo or Arca will cost about 1/2 of this lens price.  Sure you have to have a tech camera but if you are working with landscape in medium format and want the best wides, a tech camera is pretty much a given.
  3. No tilt or swing.  This is very important to me as I don’t want a shallow DOF for my work.  Phase One even points out that this lens features a “great shallow DOF” (DOF = depth of field).  The advantage of having tilt alone to change my DOF with a tech camera is priceless
  4. Huge outer filter threading of 105mm.  This means very expensive filters as a circular polarizer in the 105mm range will be at least $250.00 (but when you purchase a 9K lens I guess this an additional drop in the bucket)
  5. The 105mm filters are thicker by design and more than likely you will not be able to stack a Neutral density and CL-PL without getting some vignetting at 40mm
  6. Pretty limited aperture range for a 9K lens, at F4 and moving to F5.6 at 80mm
  7. Extremely limited zoom range for 9K only 40mm
  8. No Image stabilization which would be a nice feature for a lens that tops the scales at over 4 pounds
  9. More than likely soft corners at 40mm until you get to around F11 (but to be fair to Phase One, I would need to have the lens and test it)

I would say that this is very specialized purchase and I am overall disappointed to see Phase One continue to price their lens in the upper stratosphere. But this lens has to take the award for most expensive medium format zoom ever made.

Lets take a look at just how much some of these lenses really cost with a similar zoom, the excellent Mamiya 75-150 F4-5.6.  This is zoom which has been on the market for over 4 years or so, first under the Mamiya brand, has always been an expensive lens listing for around 4.6K U.S.  I first looked at this lens about 3 years ago but found the price point just too much, however on ebay there were several examples (new) being sold for $2,500.00, close to half price.  These lenses were being shipped from Japan, but they still had the full Mamiya warranty.  Plus on a lens like this if it works from day one, odds are the lens will continue to work unless you drop it.  So my point is that the 40-80 at 9K, costs much less than this and the price has been totally over inflated for some reason, as if to limit sales.  Trust me not too many photographers are going to line up to purchase this lens for this price.  For 9K, you getting into the cost point of a Nikon or Canon 600 F4 lens.  Yes I understand these are not medium format lenses, but they seem to warrant the price point more to me than this limited range zoom.  Why Phase One choose to price this lens at 2x of the original Mamiya 45-90 AF zoom is pretty disappointing, and is yet another reason I am glad I shed this type of gear over 2 years ago when I moved to a technical camera.

One thing is certain, this is not a re-worked Mamiya lens as some of the other Phase One LS lenses are.  NO, this is all new and a totally different optical design.  Users of Mamiya medium format cameras may be able to remember back about 4 years ago, when the 45-90AF lens was announced. The aperture was a fixed F4.5 and the zoom from 45 to 90 gave it a bit more reach and it  filled a big hole in the Mamiya modern digital zoom range.  The only lens close was the much older designed 55-110 lens.  Optically it was great for film backs, but past 33 megapixels, the optical quality of the lens really started to show.  I owned one and used it for several years, but rarely carried on long hikes, due to the limited zoom range and the weight.

Mamiya zooms 45-90

Older Mamiya 45-90 zoom–NOTICE THE WEIGHT 2LBS

For a while this lens showed up on B&H photo and other camera reseller website, but it never shipped, possibly may never have really existed.  Sure mockups like the image above were made but I never read any reviews from anyone that was able to test and shoot with this lens.  No it did not have a LS shutter but it was still very expensive listing at around 4.5K, but since it fit into such a great spot in the Mamiya zoom line up I was excited about it.  Now you could work in the field with only 3 lenses, the 35mm F3.5, the 45-90 F4.5 zoom and the 75-150mm.  The 35mm suffered on the corners and really wasn’t that great a lens, but the hopes were that the 45mm focal range on the new 45-90 would be good.  This lens quietly just went away, and Dr Frankphase has brought it back as the new 40-80 zoom, at 9K.  wow, that’s all I can say.

As a Phase One user, sadly I find their directions seem to be moving away from mine.  It doesn’t seem to be an attempt at enabling growth just as their upgrade price from a IQ260 to IQ250 was financially unrealistic .  Realistically, sure there are photographers that will buy this lens, but WHY?  Do you just have to have the LS shutter?  And for 9K.  For 9K, it should be darn sharp corner to corner at F5.6.

Before purchasing this lens, I strongly recommend that the photographer with the budget for it (and the physical stamina to carry it all day) demo it on their existing equipment.  You can find demo’s with Phase One authorized dealers like Digital Transitions based out of New York.  They have recently added some new images taken from this lens to their blog.

 

 

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.

 

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

Phase One IQ260 in Box

Phase One IQ260 in Box

01/23/14–Just a bit more information.

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

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

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

Original Post Begins Here:

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

Here is the Link to Photo Rumors.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

Top of an IQ260 showing the WiFi cover plate

Top of an IQ260 showing the WiFi cover plate

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

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

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

08/28/13 Supply of Copal Shutters is drying up and no real replacement solution has been developed

Copal shutter 0 for use with Rodenstock and Schneider lenses

Copal Shutter 0 for use with Rodenstock and Schneider lenses

A while back I wrote a entry about the fact that Copal was no longer going to make the Copal 0 shutter.  For many photographers, the idea of a manual shutter is more than likely beyond comprehension as they are used to the modern electronic shutters that work in all DSLR cameras and Medium format cameras like the Phase One DF+ and Pentax 645 Digital cameras.  Here all you have to do is set the shutter from the camera controls, and take the shot.  The lens and camera communicate and the aperture is automatically stopped down a micro-second before the shutter opens.  Of course this is the way all modern cameras work unless you are working with a Large format camera or a tech camera.  Large format cameras can take either a film back or digital back, and most tech cameras are designed to work with a Medium format digital back.  In both situations, you are using a lens that has no communication electronically to the camera body, instead you have to manually set both the shutter and aperture.  The aperture is controlled by the aperture ring on the lens and this is controlled by the lens manufacturer i.e. Rodenstock or Schneider.   However neither of these companies manufacture a shutter.

Rodenstock and Schneider both have a very modern line-up of lenses that have been optimized for the higher end Medium Format Digital backs, like the Phase One P65+, IQ160 and IQ180.  However all of these lenses are still dependent on the Copal shutter 0.  (Both Schneider and Rodenstock make electronic shutters but as I explain below in most cases these shutters are not very practical).

The shutter in this case, is fitted between the lens elements during the creation of the lens.  By far the most common shutter in use today is the Copal shutter 0.  This shutter is used with every Rodenstock and Schneider lens that is being made currently and will also be installed in any of the older lenses made by both of these companies.  The Copal shutter is made in Japan and as far as I know has been the standard shutter for these lenses for years.  These shutters are also called leaf shutters by their design as they are placed inside the lens and thus the camera is not dependent on having a shutter installed.

About 4 months ago, Copal announced that they would no longer be making their manual shutters.  Apparently this part of their business model is not a large one and they are moving on with other products.  Copal is quite a large Japanese electronic company and they have many other products that are still being made.  So what does this mean?

For most photographers, nothing.  They are using cameras with focal plane shutters, ones that are built into the camera body, not the lens.  However for a small group of photographers, this is a huge deal.  These are the photographers using either large format cameras or tech cameras.  There are three tech camera companies, Alpa, Cambo and Arca and all of these companies design pancake cameras that are designed to use a medium format digital back and a Rodenstock or Schneider lens.  In this case the tech camera is basically just a platform that holds the digital back and lens for the photographer.  All tech cameras are totally dependent on the Copal shutter 0 since they are using lenses that require this shutter.

Eventually Rodenstock and Schneider will have to come up with a replacement shutter solution as they can no longer manufacture their lenses without a shutter solution.  I am curious as to just how many Copal shutters that each of these companies have in stock as it’s impossible to find a Copal shutter to purchase.  Companies like B&H photo have been back ordered for months and I am pretty sure that they will not be getting anymore stock.  When the original announcement came out on Copal discontinuing the Copal shutter 0, it was implied that there would be one last batch made.  As far as I can tell, no new shipments of these shutters has occurred.

If you have a tech camera or large format camera, this might not seem like a big deal.  But it will turn into one eventually for these reasons:

[Read more…]

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.