More and more photographers are switching to a medium format camera. In most cases, these photographers work in a photo studio, but also commercial product and corporate photographers are following the same trend. So I decided to experience myself which changes this would bring to my way of photographing and which adjustments would be required in my workflow for post processing my pictures. Servix was kind enough to temporary borrow me a complete set.
The set I received contained a Phase One 645DF (DF stands for Digital Format) camera with a brand new IQ140 digital back and 4 lenses: Schneider Kreuznach 55 - 80 - 110 - 150mm F/2.8 LS with the vertical grip, batteries, charger, Firewire 800 cable and all this was packed in a Pelicase. Before taking all this equipment, the Servix vendor insisted to give a training as well for the camera and as for the Phase One software, the Capture One Pro 6.
Before reading this review, I would like to strongly point out that this is not a review on the Phase One or digital "IQ", it’s only treads the upgrade from a high-end DSLR, like a Nikon D3X (Click HERE to read my review), to one of the medium format camera systems.
© Phase One & Nikon
DIMENSIONS & WEIGHT
Once I took the Phase One 645DF with a vertical grip and the standard Schneider Kreuznach 80mm F/2.8 lens LS, the combination felt heavy, although the balance was "only" showing 2.75 kg. If you run the same test with a Nikon D3X and Nikon AF-S 24-70mm F/2.8, the balance shows you 2.45 kg. The difference is hardly 300 gram.
Is it the size of the entire camera system that feels big and heavy? Indeed, here the differences are quite significant : the Phase One together with digital back (and without lens) is 184x153x128mm and the D3X (also without lens) is just 160x157x88mm. Roughly speaking, the Phase One is 50% thicker (or deeper). However, the Phase One is certainly not bulky and/or heavy. It gives you the same tough, durable feeling as you experience with the Nikon D3X. If however you want to use the camera a full day, then at the end of the day, you are certainly going to feel your arms.
The settings on a DSLR are very similar to a medium format camera. The buttons or combination of buttons might vary slightly, but that is also the case between different types of dslr cameras. In basic, it means that you select your iso-value and then select a mode: aperture priority, shutter speed priority, program mode or completely manual. Personally, I prefer to photograph completely manual, especially in a studio.
So on both cameras, the D3X and the Phase One, I start by setting up the iso-value. On Phase One, this can be done with the "touch screen" on the back of the digital back. After setting up the iso, you need to choose your aperture and shutter speed by turning the wheels on both cameras.
The recording format of the picture is fairly large on a DSLR: You can choose between different types of Jpg, Tiff and Raw format. Also combinations of Jpg and Raw are possible. In Phase One you can only choose between compressed or uncompressed Raw files. Nikon Raw files are called "Nef" files and Phase One will call them "IIQ" files.
There are dozens of other settings on each camera to allow the user to set up his camera for personal wishes.
As for the focus on both cameras, I see a lot of differences. The Nikon has 51 focusing points. So you can feel free to shoot a model in portrait mode and select your focus point somewhere at the top. Your focus point will always be near the eyes of the model. On Phase One, this isn’t possible. Autofocus does exist and almost as fast as on the Nikon, but you only have one (large) focus point. You always set the focus point in the center of your viewfinder and recompose your picture. This might sound familiar to photographers who have one of the first digital cameras with autofocus. These cameras had only a few main focus points. It might take some to time to get used to this way of photographing, but it can easily become habit.
As for the iso part it is quite simple: The Phase One isn’t good at high ISO's. Above ISO 800 it’s even impractical. The Nikon D3X isn’t good either, but better. The D3X however goes up to ISO 1600 with acceptable results.
At low ISO values the story changes completely. The Phase One has an effective ISO 50 what the D3X only can achieve with a L1.0 (equivalent of ISO 50). The Nikon D3X starts only at ISO 100.
The question remains whether those persons who need to shoot at high ISO's (ex. concert photographers) would be interested in buying a Phase One. If I would need to answer the question at this moment, I would give a negative response.
In this section, I would like to talk about the resolutions, say the numbers of our camera and accompanying photographs. The Phase One 645DF itself has no sensors, but the rear does. In this test case with an IQ140 and a sensor of 43.9 x32, 9mm a resolution of 40 million pixels is obtained. The photos are in fact 7320x5484 pixels and 40MB.
Comparing this to the Nikon D3X, the latter one has a 35.9 x24mm sensor with 24.5 million pixels. The images have a size of 6048x4032 pixels and 50MB.
© Phase One
Spicy detail: with the IQ140 camera you can only shoot in Raw format! Jpg is not available. That's not really a great drama, but the photographers who are used to quickly display a Jpg to their customers, this issue would implement to slightly modify their workflow.
I have unfortunately no explanation about the reason why the files of the powerful Phase One are less than the high-end model in the Nikon range (D3X).. The only reason I can imagine, is that the compression of the Phase One image is higher.
The depth of detail and higher dynamic range in the photos have surprised me the most. The DSLR I used to go 14 bits but the Phase One has 16 bits. Especially in the black shades with the Phase One you can easily see that there are more different hues than with the DSLR. Obviously, your monitor has to be properly calibrated in order to observe this difference with the naked eye.
The current state of the art, I cannot fail to inform you about this : The Phase One IQ180 is a 80 million pixel sensor with a back up to 53.7 x40, 4mm! These pictures are so 10328x7760 pixels!
CONTINUE TO PART 2 ...