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08/16/16 A few notes on the Dynamic Range of the Phase One IQ100

Early mornings are some of the best times to photograph the Buffalo River.  This is from Buffalo Point.

Early mornings are some of the best times to photograph the Buffalo River. This is from Buffalo Point.

I am starting to get a better feel for the Phase One IQ100 and just where the dynamic range of this amazing digital back performs.  You can read a lot more this in a new article I just published over on photosofarkansas.  This article covers some discoveries I have made in regards to handling both shadow details and recovery of highlights.  You can read more about it here.

01/25/14 Phase One IQ250 Arrives and Changes the game in a big way

CMOS Medium format Phase One

The new addition to the Phase Digital Back Line–IQ250 CMOS

It was hard to miss that this announcement was coming sooner than later, and photo rumors tagged this correctly.  On Friday the 24th of January 2014 with the IQ250, Phase One has set the wheels in motion that will change Medium Format Digital forever with the introduction of a CMOS Medium format back.

There are several good reviews up, but most of these are sponsored by the Phase One corporation and they rightly so are keeping this back close to home.  I am sure they have made a huge investment in bringing this technology to market, and also by having the back available to ship on Monday the 27th of January.  This is unheard of with any previous Phase One back announcements.

One of the best overviews I have seen so far is the blog post by Digital Transitions which shares the 11 most important things you need to know about the IQ250 which can be found here: Phase One IQ250.

As a photographer who has owned several Phase One backs since 2008, I have to agree this is probably one of the most important announcements that Phase One has made in that time frame.   The reason is that with this announcement, Phase One is beginning to shift to CMOS for their chips.  In this case the chip partner is Sony not Dalsa.  However I would not rule out Dalsa in the future from coming out with a new medium format CMOS chip line.  Dalsa gave Phase One a bridge to this point with the new chip that was developed for the IQ260 and brought to the market in mid 2013.  However this chipset (which brought back the ability to have 1 hour exposures again) still has some of the basic limitations of all CCD technology.  Example of this are severe Live View limitations and lack of high iso support in full resolution.

Sony shocked the world in January of 2012 with their announcement of the Nikon D800 at 36MP.   The results of this chip in a 35mm camera were most impressive.  Simply stated, you now had the ability to push a photo taken a base of 100 as much as 2.75 stops and at times 3.25.  This advantage was made clear to me once I worked with a few Nikon files.  The range that these files have is impressive and when pulling up shadows for the first time you don’t see the color noise and banding that was common with earlier CMOS chips from both Canon and Nikon.  The ability to do this is a combination of the 36MP chip and Sony’s exmoor  processor.

Now Phase One has taken this up a notch and brought this same technology to the world of Medium Format.

Phase One IQ250 sensor size comparison

Size comparison between the Phase One IQ250 and a normal full frame 35mm digital sensor

Notice the difference in overall dimensions between a 35mm full frame chip and the IQ250.  You are gaining over 1/3 more image area.  In this case the largest 35mm digital sensor currently is the Nikon 36MP chip and now Phase One has produced a back with 50MP and with CMOS.

What are some of the benefits that are immediately apparent?

  1. Live View will work as it does on all 35mm cameras.  Phase One claims 24fps on theirs and this should be enough to allow the user to zoom into 100% to check focus.  I only hope that Phase One implements their version of Live View so that your get a stop at 100% magnification.  Nikon’s Live View Magnification zooms seems to zoom past 100% and makes the user have to back it off a bit before it’s possible to really see anything of usefulness.
  2. High ISO capability should now be vastly improved.  Phase One limits this back to 6400 ISO, which for me is plenty.  I have yet to see any file from any camera rated higher that is really worth that much.  In the past Phase One allowed a very good ISO 1600 and decent ISO 3200 on their CCD backs by using sensor plus which utilized pixel binning.  The result gave a much cleaner file but also cost the photographer 3/4 of the overall resolution.  Thus a 60MP back output became 15MP.  The only back where I saw this as a true advantage was on the IQ280.
  3. 14 stops of dynamic range.  Most impressive and 1 full stop better than what Phase One claims for both the 60MP and 80MP backs.
  4. A faster frame rate and 2GB of on board memory to assist with processing and Live View generation
  5. Long exposures of up to 1 hour are available at any rated ISO.  However I would also assume that as you approach ISO speeds past 400, noise will start to degrade the image just as it does with 35mm digital.  A 1 corresponding dark frame is still required.
  6. Ability to work with all the current line of Phase One/Mamiya Medium format 645 lenses, including the more advanced LS (leaf shutter) Schneider lenses sold exclusively by Phase One.

As is shown in this image, the overall size of the new IQ250 is smaller than the older 60MP and 80MP backs, by about 30%, but it should still offer some great new opportunities for photographers in the near future.  When Phase One brings out their replacement for the DF+ camera body things will really start to get interesting for sure.

Phase One sensor sizes

Phase One diagram showing the 3 IQ2 backs and respective sensor sizes.

More information about the new IQ250 can be found in either of the links below:

Phase One Corporation

Digital Transitions







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: