In September 2019, Phase One has released a new camera system, the XT medium format system. It is a mirrorless and therefore smaller camera system than the Phase One XF, and offers so many useful features. A year earlier, the IQ4 series of digital backs has been introduced, including the IQ4 150MP (151 megapixels), the IQ4 150MP Achromatic (151 megapixels), and the IQ4 100MP Trichromatic (101 megapixels). Phase One was so kind and let me test their new XT system with the IQ4 150MP digital back and the XT HR 32mm Rodenstock wide angle lens. The tables below show the basic technical specifications of the Phase One XT camera system, the IQ4 150MP digital back, and the Rodenstock lens family.
After spending an entire week testing the XT camera system and trying it in various different situations, I had so many impressions and experiences while working with the system. The feeling that I remember best is the one I had when first holding the entire system in my hands: When taking the XT system out of the case, my fingers enclosed the grip of a heavy piece of precision engineered metal equipment. For me personally, doing a lot of photography on a tripod, the weight was indeed a positive surprise, because on closer inspection it became immediately clear that this weight is a result from an extremely high build quality. There is pure metal everywhere, most of it on the XT body, but also on the IQ4 digital back, and the Rodenstock lens. The weight of the entire system actually indicates that it uses a greater material thickness than typical cameras, making the Phase One XT an extremely robust camera system. The overall appearance is pretty different from other cameras: The camera body has a large circular guiding rail integrated to allow for a 90-degree rotation between landscape orientation and portrait orientation without removing the camera from the tripod. This adds to the very technical look of the system. The lens also has a rather special shape that is different from most lenses that I have seen before. The XF lenses have a leaf shutter built into a small mechanical case that is integrated into the lens and that protrudes from the lens case. In addition, for a wide-angle lens like the Rodenstock 32mm, the lens barrel is longer than it would be on a single lens reflex camera. The reason for that will be explained later. The IQ4 digital back looks very similar to its predecessor, but a label on the side proudly indicates that it is the 150MP-version that offers an image resolution of 151 megapixels. The gallery below shows some details of the camera system when I first took it out of the box.
The Phase One XT medium format camera system is completely modular from lenses to the digital backs. In the past with analog medium format photography, it was pretty common to have replaceable camera backs where the photographic film was loaded, but for digital camera systems, having a replaceable sensor back is pretty unique. This high degree of modularity makes the entire system a lot more interesting as a long-term investment as it can be upgraded with future generations of digital backs without having to invest in a new camera body. The XT system can also integrate with lenses from other manufacturers, like Schneider Kreuznach Lenses, Mamiya Lenses, Hasselblad V Lenses, or Pentacon Lenses via an adaptor.
It is a mirrorless camera, and therefore smaller than the XF system that I have reviewed in 2016. Admittedly, even with no mirror built into the XT body, the system is still not particularly compact. This is due to the fact that a camera lens cannot sit directly in front of a camera sensor on order to produce an image. There must be a minimum distance (called flange distance) between the rear glass element of a lens, and the sensor. With the mirror removed, there is plenty of space that appars to be useless, but it is required for proper image formation. Now that the XT camera body is totally flat, the lenses themselves have to accomodate that flange distance, explaining their additional size.
There is a quick rotation function integrated into the camera body that rotates the XF system exactly around the optical axis. This really is a great feature for all types of photography where the position of the subject should remain exactly the same in relation to the lens when the image orientation is changed. For instance, if the XF system is used for product photography, and the camera lens is perfectly pointed towards a subject that has been carefully placed in the perfect angle towards the camera lens, rotating the XF system around the optical axis will keep the perspective towards the subject intact. All the tripod mounts that I have used before actually tilt the entire camera around a pivot that is anchored somewhere at the tripod head, rotating the camera but also displacing the optical axis. This seems like a very small effect, but product photographers are going to love this solution.
An even more interesting and useful feature of the XT system is that the body has a shift function integrated both horizontally and vertically. While most other camera systems require specialized tilt-shift lenses to achieve this effect, the Phase One XT system allows shifting of the image circle for any optical system that is attached even if the lens doesn’t have a tilt-shift function itself. Shifting is extremely useful to maintain straight lines for architecture and interior photography but also when stitching two photos for panorama photography. This feature is enabled by moving the back plate where the digital sensor back is attached horizontally and vertically. Therefore, the back plate with the sensor can be moved horizontally and vertically from the optical axis. Since the back can also be shifted horizontally and vertically at the same time, the sensor can also be moved diagonally from the optical axis. To shift the camera sensor unit in either direction there are two shift dials, one on the top of the XT body, and one on the side. The horizontal dial (the one on the top) allows to shift the camera sensor 12mm to the left and 12mm to the right from the optical axis. The vertical dial (the one on the side) allows to shift the camera sensor 12mm up and 12mm down from the optical axis. There are also two mechanical displays indicating the current position of the camera back in relation to the central position.
Shooting with the Phase One XT IQ4 is a special experience! First of all, the camera is surprisingly easy to control. After starting the IQ4 which takes rd. 20 seconds, the touch display on the IQ4 offers an intuitive menu that can either be controlled via the screen or four buttons next to the display. The only electronic button on the XT body is the two-step shutter release that lets the user customize the half-press sensitivity. However, even more useful is the shutter release button on the touchscreen of the IQ4, especially when the camera is in a position where the top of the XT body is hard to reach. I started to use the on-screen shutter release button a lot. For a mirrorless camera system, the screen is also the main viewfinder where the image is checked for composition, exposure and correct focus. One thing that is extremely useful is the visual feedback of the IQ4 screen on the in-focus areas of the image. Therefore, the IQ4 marks areas that are precisely in focus with a customizable color so that the user gets an instant confirmation whether he placed the focus correctly. To check even more on the focus, the IQ4 can zoom into the image (up to 300%) during live view so that focus changes can be tracked directly on the screen, allowing to adjust the focus just down to the pixel level. The live view mode of the IQ4 also allows for an overlay with histograms and clipping warning.
The IQ4 digital back doesn’t come with any automatic or semi-automatic functions like landscape mode, or others. It requires fully manual adjustments of ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. This is certainly due to the fact that the target group of this type of camera system is professionals and not users looking for a snapshot camera. However, due to the live view mode that simulates the exposure of the final image, it is still easy to use for people who aren’t familiar with manual-only cameras. The IQ4 also brings some very nice features: Dual Exposure is a built-in high dynamic range mode composed out of two images that are taken from the same subject and combined to one shot. Another very special feature is Automated Frame Averaging where the user can select a rather fast shutter speed for the exposure brightness, but several minutes for the total time the camera records the scene. This results in a blurry look of any moving subject like a flowing river or a waterfall.
Although the Phase One XT is designed as a field camera and can be used for freehand shooting, I have decided to use a tripod as often as possible. The camera itself mounts to a tripod via an integrated Arca-Swiss-type rail that tightens itself onto the tripod mount by a finger screw. When switching the camera from landscape to portrait orientation, there is a quick release clamp at the lower side of the XT body. Once that is open, the entire camera system including the lens, the body with its handle, and the digital back rotate around the optical axis counterclockwise for up to 90 degree. This is particularly nice when rotating the camera during live view as this shows how precisely the rotation keeps the subject in place.
Using the shift dials for vertical or horizontal shifting of the sensor unit is surprisingly smooth. Both dials feature detents every 5 millimeters that give the user some tactile feedback when operated.
Shifting the camera back down (which shifts the image up) is extremely smooth because gravity helps, while shifting the camera back upwards is a little bit harder but still manageable with one finger. Shifting the camera back either to the left or to the right is equally smooth. When changing the composition during shooting, I found that it was sometimes hard to remember whether I have shifted the back on the previous shots. Therefore, the mechanical shift scales came in very handy, but also the IQ4 indicates how far the camera has been shifted into the X and Y directions.
Changing the lenses is really easy. The XT lenses are hooked in from below, and secured from the top by two locking systems. One of these locking systems consists of just a security snap lock that prevents the lens from falling out. The other locking system consists of two metal levers that apply pressure to the lens so that it sits tightly on the XT body. This not only ensures that the connection is light-proof but also that the distance from the rear glass element of the lens is absolutely precisely in the right position relative to the image sensor. When I worked with the XT system, I found that this secondary locking system was sometimes loosening itself, probably due to vibration. Luckily this didn’t result in the lens falling out, but the resulting images weren’t as sharp as before. Quickly tightening the two levers again by hand fixed that issue.
Regardless of any functions of the XT camera system, one effect has shown relatively soon: Shooting medium format is a pretty different type of photography. After less than 10 photos I realized that the manual-only settings and the large size of the image files (rd. 120 MB per image) slowed down my speed of shooting. Medium format photography is really something different than shooting with a smaller frame DSLR where it is rather normal to shoot 10 to 20 images per minute and to select the best shot afterwards. The Phase One IQ4 requires more thought about the image composition and challenges the user to get the most out of every single shot. It may seem like a very subtle factor, but this became very noticeable to me and the slower process was something I enjoyed very much.
Looking at the final results on the computer screen, the quality of the images the Phase One IQ4 produces was far beond expectation. There is sharpness in every part of the image, even in the corners there is almost no sign of chromatic aberration or decreased clarity. Also, there wasn’t a sign of any noticeable distortion that often occurs on wide angle lenses. It is also worth mentioning that the sensor’s color reproduction is very accurate and natural. What I found particularly impressing was the bit depth that the IQ4 offered. This became clear when I increased the brightness of dark areas in Phase One’s post-production software Capture One. Inceasing the brightness of extremely dark areas was able to bring up so much detail without visibly introducing noise, and made it look like there was no shadow at all. Below are some sample images that were shot with the Phase One XT IQ4 camera system. The images below have not been post-processed (except for resizing them for the website) and show some of the impressive abilities of the IQ4.
To demonstrate the image sharpness, here are two larger illustrations: Demo 1 and Demo 2. Right-click on each demo and select ‘open in new tab’ to open them in full size. Then zoom into the image to view all details.
When handling the Phase One XT camera system, it became clear that the camera is a highly specialized piece of photographic equipment. Almost every part is made from metal, very precisely machined, creating an extremely sturdy product. It is an incredibly powerful camera for certain types of photography including interior, fashion, products, reproduction, architecture, landscape, and others. Although it is designed as a field camera (as opposed to the XF system that was designed as a studio camera), I would recommend to use it with a tripod. If combined with a tripod, the entire system weighs around 4 kilograms. It is clearly not a travel camera, and also no action or sports camera.
Phase One is always the camera of choice when extreme resolutions are required. The IQ4 digital back produces images with 151 megapixels, super smooth tonality, natural color reproduction and very high dynamic range. It offers a very easy to use interface, perfectly reliable touchscreen, live-view with focus indication and histogram overlay, and additional creative features like dual exposure and automated frame averaging.
Unfortunately, what must also be factored into these pro arguments is the little design flaw with the lens mount, as well as the price of rd. USD 60.000 for the Phase One XT with IQ4 150MP digital back and Rodenstock lens.
At the end of my camera demo week, I had to return the XT camera system to Phase One. Thank you very much for allowing me to review the XT IQ4 150MP, an impressive piece of technology.
About the Price
For those who are asking whether a price of roughly 60.000 EUR for a digital camera system can be justified, there is no easy answer. I have collected a number of facts and considerations that try to explain the price from various perspectives:
When analyzing the Phase One XT IQ4 system from an engineering point of view, it becomes clear that Phase One did not just carry one feature like the sensor resolution to the extreme, but they polished and fine-tuned so many elements, and the resulting camera system is a combination of so many high quality factors that are reinforcing each other. The XT IQ4 camera system utilizes every technological way to get as close as possible to the physical limits of image formation. Here is a summary of the physical principles and key reasons that allow Phase One to deliver such a vastly superior image quality:
1] Lens Characteristics: First of all, the quality of the lenses makes a large contribution to the overall imaging performance of the system. The Phase One XT system integrates lenses that are custom-designed by Rodenstock, a lens manufacturer from Bavaria, Germany. Rodenstock has over 140 years of experience with designing all types of optical systems. For the Phase One XT system, Rodenstock created a series of lenses they call XT-HR Digaron, and they combine only the best optical characteristics: They were developed for applications with extremely high resolution sensors, and they provide incredible spatial frequency (a very technical term for sharpness) and contrast throughout all aperture settings, and they are so well adjusted to the Phase One XT IQ4 system that they even compensate for the thickness of the sensor’s protective glass.
Only Prime Lenses
For the Phase One XT system, Rodenstock designed their XT-HR Digaron series as prime lenses only. As opposed to zoom lenses that can change their focal length, prime lenses only have one focal length. This may sound like an inconvenient limitation, but there is a reason behind this concept. If an optical system had just a single lens element to perform the image formation, the resulting image would actually suffer from a number of imperfections called lens aberrations that are caused by the curvature of the lens element. Typical lens aberrations include image distortion (pincushion-type or barrel-type), chromatic aberration (lateral and longitudinal), spherical aberration, coma, astigmatism, vignetting, ghosting, and others. This causes an image to have visible defects like color fringing, or blurring. To reduce the aberrations of an entire camera lens, optical engineers place several lens elements with different physical properties into the optical system so that the lens elements cancel each others’ aberrations out. This is a highly complex design process called lens correction, and it is the reason why some camera lenses include up to 20 individual glass elements. The intensity of aberrations a lens element procudes is also depending on the path that incoming light takes through the lens. This variance makes it almost impossible to entirely correct a zoom lens, because this type of lens is designed to have different paths of light due to the different focal lenghts. For that reason, zoom lenses are some sort of trade-off between flexibility and performance. In contrast, a prime lens has a fixed focal length, and is therefore designed for only one specific path of light. Optical engineers can perfectly concentrate on the one light path that results from the fixed focal lenght, and can therefore optimize a prime lens much more than a zoom lens. This is the reason why prime lenses create sharper, clearer images with higher contrast.
Larger Image Circle
The XT camera system is designed with an integrated shift function that allows the camera back to be shifted horizontally (+12mm, 0, -12mm) or vertically (+12mm, 0, -12mm). To allow this shift function, Rodenstock’s HR Digaron lenses are designed with an image circle that is larger than in typical camera lenses so that the sensor still captures light when shifted away from the central position. It is a typical issue that the image rendering performance of an optical system is not the same across all areas of the image circle. In the center of the image circle, the imaging quality of a lens is typically the best. However, the image rendering performance including sharpness or contrast slowly decreases in the outer areas of the image circle, with areas furthest away from the center suffering the most. Even highly optimized lenses cannot completely remove this effect. However, this means that on the Phase One’s XT camera system, slight lens aberrations only start to appear on the image when the sensor is moved to the outmost shift position where it is closest to the edge of the image circle. In turn, this means if the image sensor is in the central position, it is completely covered by the inner region of the image circle where the lens has its maximum performance. This is actually a really nice side-effect of shift lenses, because they provide for ultra sharp areas even in the corners of an image (where other lenses already show signs of decreased quality). The IQ4’s image sensor measures 53.4 mm x 40 mm. The image circle of the Rodenstock XT-HR Digaron-W 32mm has a diameter of 90 mm. This shows how much space there is available for shifting, and how much edge region is ignored by the image sensor when in its central position.
Larger Lenses are more forgiving
When light travels through an optical system, it is refracted at each lens element until it finally reaches the sensor. In a camera lens that is designed for a smaller photographic system, the lens elements also have a smaller glass surface. Smaller lens surfaces in turn make smaller lenses more vulnerable for production variations or little imperfections. This is primarily due to the fact that small lenses have less surface area to compensate for imperfect areas or defects in the glass. On the other hand, lenses that are designed for large camera systems such as medium format cameras typically have large glass elements with larger lens surfaces. These larger lenses are more forgiving and more tolerant towards small spots with production variations or little defects in the glass, because the relation between a defective area and the entire lens surface is smaller when the lens is bigger. Simply put, in larger lenses small lens defects will not show in the final image, because there is so much more surface area in the lenses to compensate these imperfect spots.
2] Sensor Characteristics: Secondly, the IQ4 digital back with its image sensor and the processing electronics is a unique piece of photographic equipment, and it is another reason for the superior overall imaging quality of Phase One’s camera systems.
The IQ4 150MP digital back uses a backside-illuminated complementary metal oxide (BSI CMOS) sensor that offers an incredibly high resolution of 151 megapixels which captures the extreme sharpness produced by the lens. The active light-receiving area of the sensor consists of 14.204 vertical lines and 10.652 horizontal lines of pixels. This high resolution is stunning: It is more than 10 times the resolution current DSLRs from other manufacturers offer. If a photographer wants to print such an image with a dot density of 300 DPI (dots per inch) and without resizing the original, the print will have a dimension of 120.26 cm x 90.19 cm. However, there is a lot more about the sensor than its resolution.
The size of the IQ4’s image sensor is more than twice the size of those found in high-end DSLRs. Each pixel consists of an optoelectronic receptor, called photodiode or photosite, that captures light and converts it into an electric charge. Once the photo has been shot, this charge is translated into a number representing the brightness. Having a larger image sensor also allows to use larger sized photosites. And this in turn has some substantial advantages over smaller photosites: Small photosites tend to saturate (overfill) faster and when their storage capacity is reached, they simply ignore whether the scene is actually brighter. When shooting a subject with bright areas, small photosites will sooner produce a signal that represents full white (a phenomenon called clipping) even though the real scene wasn’t completely white. Due to their smaller storage capacity, the range between absolute black and full white is rather limited, which results in a lower dynamic range. Larger photosites, on the other hand, have a lot more storage capacity for incoming light, and have therefore a higher dynamic range. This means that they aren’t very vulnerable to clipping, and they can make more accurate representations of scenes with difficult light situations. Another beneficial effect of a larger pixel size is that they reach a better signal-to-noise-ratio which results in the final images having less image noise. Also, larger image sensors offer better low-light characteristics.
The signal that each photosite on the image sensor collects is an electric charge. Each particle of light (photon) that hits a photosite creates an electron in the photodiode’s semiconductor material. If the pixel doesn’t receive any light, the storage remains empty, and no charge is generated. If bright light hits the pixel, it generates countless electrons, and therefore a higher charge. In order to process the image, the charge of each photosite needs to be interpreted, and translated into a number. This is what an analog-to-digital (AD) converter does each time when the camera reads out the sensor and stores the image on the memory card. The bit depth is a number that represents how many different brightness values the AD converter can detect in a single photosite, provided that the photosite has enough dynamic range. Conventional DSLR cameras typically have 12-bit AD converters which can differentiate 2^12 = 4.096 different brightness levels between absolute darkness and full white. They store 12-bit image files where each pixel can have one of 4.096 different brightness levels, at least when the camera stores the RAW files. JPG images are limited to a bit depth of 8 which means that pixels in JPG files can only have one of 256 different brightness levels. While 12-bit is pretty respectable, the IQ4 has a 16-bit AD converter built in, and stores 16-bit images with a 15-bit dynamic range. Again, this applies only when RAW files are selected. This means that each pixel can have one of 2^15 = 32.768 different brightness levels between absolute darkness and full white. This incredibly large bit depth is what produces super-smooth tonal gradations in the final images which are extremely pleasing to the eye, and finer color details.
Yes – I finally got one! It is the Canon TS-E 17mm f/4 L ultra wide angle lens. Here are some technical specifications and unboxing photos:
After evaluating the pros and cons of investing in such a specialized piece of equipment, I decided to take the step and see how it can improve my architectural and urban photography. What kept me from acquiring the Canon TS-E 17mm for a long time was obviously the price – Amazon currently sells this lens for USD 2.100. However, a tilt shift lens offers some really unique features that I would like to mention:
With these features, the Canon TS-E 17mm is predestined for architectural and real estate photography. When holding the lens in my hands for the first time, I wasn’t expecting so much weight – but this is totally fine as it will be set up on a tripod 90% of the time. Due to the L-qualification, the build quality is top of the line. I am fascinated by the precision how every moving part slides when moving the tilt or shift units. There is even a protective rubber-like surface between the tilt and shift parts that prevents dust or spray water from entering the gaps – although I am not planning to use it in the rain. The focus ring has a convenient size and rotates very smoothly. Manual Focus is certainly something to get used to, but it still works pretty good when keeping the shutter button on the camera half-pressed while focusing and waiting for the camera to indicate an in-focus situation with a short beeping sound. Altogether, I am looking forward to taking it on my next journey!!
About two months ago, I have upgraded my smartphone to the OnePlus 3T. OnePlus is a relatively new player in the smartphone industry. While their first launch of the OnePlus One in 2014 is not long ago, the company has quickly gained popularity through it’s simple strategy to offer high-end smartphones at mid-range prices. Therefore, the current price for the 64 GB version of the new OnePlus 3T is around USD 440. As I have already tested it quite a bit, I think it’s now time for a short review. Let’s first take a look at the specifications and some unboxing photos while sharing my preliminary impressions below.
|Operating System||OxygenOS based on Android|
|CPU||Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 821
Quad Core, Kryo™: 2x 2.35 GHz, 2x 1.6 GHz
|Storage||64GB / 128GB UFS 2.0|
|Sensors||Fingerprint sensor, Hall sensor, Accelerometor, Gyroscope, Proximity sensor, Ambient light sensor and Electronic Compass|
|Ports||USB 2.0, Type-C / Dual nano-SIM slot / 3.5 mm audio jack|
|Battery||3,400 mAh (non-removable), Dash Charge (5V, 4A)|
|Buttons||Hardware keys and on-screen navigation support|
|Other||Alert Slider, Custom icon packs, Gesture Control,
(Display On + Display Off), OnePlus Shelf, Vibration motor, RGB LED notification light
|Network||4G LTE (Cat.6)|
|Wi-Fi||Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac|
|Positioning||GPS, GLONASS, BeiDou|
|Microphones||Dual-microphone with noise cancellation|
|Technology||Dirac HD Sound®|
|Resolution||1080p Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) / 401 ppi|
|Cover Glass||Corning® Gorilla® Glass 4|
|Aspect Ratio||16 : 9|
|Features||Night Mode Display, Light / Dark Theme, Accent Colors|
|Sensor||Sony IMX 298 Sensor, 16 MP, 1.12 µm|
|Video||4K resolution video at 30fps|
|Slow Motion||720p video at 120fps|
|RAW Image support||Yes|
|Lens Cover||Sapphire crystal lens cover|
|Features||Auto-HDR, Dynamic Denoise, Manual Control, HQ|
|Sensor||Samsung 3P8SP Sensor, 16 MP, 1.0 µm|
|Video||1080p video at 30fps|
|Auto selfie||Smile Capture|
If there is one thing that can describe the Oneplus 3T – it is speed! Even though I’ve got used to the phone for two months now, I am still impressed by the reactivity and performance. Until today I have not seen any other phone with faster fingerprint-detection to unlock the phone. Another noteworthy feature is the large battery in combination with the DASH speed charger system. The battery keeps the phone powered for almost two days and the DASH system recharges it within one hour.
Software-wise, the OnePlus 3T runs the latest version of Android 7, and receives frequent updates. The apps launch very rapidly and I haven’t observed any software crashes or irregularities since I got the device.
The camera app can either be launched via the home screen icon or by simply dragging the camera symbol on the lock screen. For anybody interested in all camera app features and it’s performance, there is a very comprehensive camera review on dpreview.com. For the purpose of this review, I will summarize the camera quality by showing some photos that I have recently taken with the rear camera of the OnePlus 3T:
As far as the build quality is concerned, the aluminum case feels very solid and has smoothly rounded edges. The transition between the case and the screen is precisely made with no large gap. On the side, there are push buttons and a slider, all of which appear to be pretty robust. (I need to emphasize on the button quality because on my previous smartphone it was a failure of the physical power on/off button that rendered the old device unusable. Although the outer material of the smartphone doesn’t give an indication of the actual electronic switch unit that is used on the inside, but the button feels different from the other smartphone when pressed so I hope this one won’t degrade over time). It is a rather large device, but it still feels very safe to hold it one-handed. So far, I am extremely happy with my choice and can recommend it even to demanding users in good conscience.
Medium format cameras are especially appreciated by professionals for a couple of reasons. These types of camera systems offer a high flexibility that allows a photographer to configure the camera to the requirements of the job. They consist of a camera body that accomodates the reflex mirror, the phase detection sensor, a ground glass, and a focal plane shutter. However, differently than other digital single lens reflex cameras, medium format digital cameras typically have large openings on the top of the body and on the back side. The upper opening allows the connection of different viewfinder options such as eye-level viewfinders or waist-level viewfinders. With a waist level viewfinder, a photographer can hold the camera in front of his waist or leave it standing on a table and look down on the viewfinder like on a final print. Although technically being a relict from the old days of photography, some photographers claim that waist-level viewfinders can be favourable during portrait photography as the subject might feel less targeted because the photographer is not directly looking at them. It also changes the perspective at which the subject is shot which makes photo models appear taller.
The opening on the back side is designed to connect exchangeable digital backs. These are independent modules that contain the image sensor on the connecting side, an LCD display on the rear side, and plenty of powerful image processing electronics inside. The ability to change the image sensor is certainly a unique feature of medium format camera systems. Medium format digital backs offer a variety of sensor types and formats, from square to rectangular shaped sensors. The dimensions of medium format image sensors vary from 54mm x 40mm to 67mm x 56mm – this is an active sensor area over four times larger than the area of a 24mm x 36mm full frame sensor. These huge image sensors offer some rather substantial advantages. They typically consist of larger pixels that offer an outstanding dynamic range. Still, even with the increased pixel size, medium format sensors also provide
resolutions higher than those of regular DSLR cameras. The majority of medium format cameras provide resolutions of 40 – 60 megapixels. These high resolutions are especially important for the production of large, detailed prints like posters or advertising spaces.
Medium format digital cameras are designed to conform the most demanding requirements of professional photographers, and they come with a price tag far greater than many can afford. Therefore, these systems are typically used for highly specialized purposes such as aerial photography, night sky and astro photography, photo archiving, scientific documentations (insects, other), but also product and fashion photography. Professionals worldwide swear by the realiability and high quality delivered by these powerful systems.
The Phase One XF 100MP Camera System
In January 2016, Phase One released their new XF 100MP which was the first camera release of the year. Their new camera system uses a Sony CMOS sensor that creates images with a resolution of 100 megapixels and the sensitivity (ISO) can be chosen between 50 and 12.800. The sensor records images with 16 bit color depth, and the dynamic range of the system covers a total of 15 stops! With a sensor unit of that quality, the lenses must be able to keep up with the resolution. Therefore, Phase One equips their system with ultra sharp prime lenses of Schneider Kreuznach with leaf shutters and fast autofocus.
|Long Exposure||Up to 60 minutes|
|A/D Conversion||16 bit Opticolor|
|Dynamic Range||15 stops|
|Sensitivity (ISO)||50 - 12800|
|Sensor Size (mm)||53.7 x 40.4|
|Active Pixels||11608 x 8708|
|Pixel Size (micron)||4.6 x 4.6|
|Autofocus Sensor||HAP-1 1MP CMOS Sensor|
|Autofocus Processor||HAP-1 Processor with Floating Point Architecture|
|Autofocus Assist light||HAP-1 Precision White light|
|Hyperfocal Point Focusing||yes|
|Upgradeable Autofocus configurations & Patterns||yes|
|Autofocus Modes||Spot, Average, Hyperfocal|
|Interchangeable Focusing Screens||Matte (default), Split, Center Prism|
|Capture Drive Modes||Single / Contiunous / Low vibration / Exposure bracketing 2-7 frames|
|Capture from Liveview||yes|
|TTL Light Metering||Average, Spot and Auto|
|HAP-1 Light Metering||used with waist level finder (Spot)|
|Focus Confirmation||90° Prism: yes / Waist level Finder: on top screen|
|Viewfinder black-out time||150ms (FPS), 400ms (LS)|
|Exposure compensation||+/- 5 EV|
For more information on technical specifications, check out the Visual Guide of the XF 100MP on the Phase One official website.
Phase One was so incredibly generous to lend me their new XF 100MP system over the weekend (16./17.04.2016) allowing me to create test photos and to share my impressions with you. The gallery below shows the camera system, the lenses included and further components.
Phase One delivered the camera along with three lenses and additional equipment in a heavy black suitcase. The first impression was really stunning. After opening the suitcase I was surprised by the rock-solid build quality (all black aluminum), and the weight of the camera. (As per the specifications, the camera body with the 90° prism viewfinder and the IQ3 100 digital back as well as two batteries weights around 2,1kg. The Schneider Kreuznach 80mm LS f/2.8 lens adds roughly 500g to the system.)
On closer inspection, almost every camera part is made of aircraft grade aluminum and feels virtually indestructable. Even smaller elements like the four control buttons of the digital back and the flash card compartment lid are made of aluminum. All surfaces are completely black, and only some buttons are kept in their original metal-appearance. Surprisingly, the black aluminum is not very susceptible to fingerprints – they simply disappear after a few seconds. The Phase One XF has a very puristic design and extremely clean appearance. The connection systems that keep lenses, viewfinders and digital backs attached to the body feel very safe and are totally easy to use. All Schneider Kreuznach lenses are made of solid metal, too. Their focus rings have a toothed surface and provide very good grip. The price for the new Phase One XF 100MP system with a lens is around USD 49.000,00. The image below illustrates the entire scope of delivery.
The camera itself consists of two main units. The camera body has its own power supply and a touch screen controlled XF menu. The digital back also has an individual power supply and an IQ menu, controlled by four customizable buttons and touch screen. I suspect the XF menu to be the quick menu only, although it offers a wide range of shooting modes, including high dynamic range, time lapse, and other useful features like a seismograph and a level. Conversely, the IQ menu is actually the main control option because of its large LCD screen, the photo review function with histogram options and tons of fine tuning settings. Of course, both menus are permanently synchronized so when an option is selected on the IQ menu, it instantly adjusts the same setting in the XF menu, and vice versa. Although it sounds complicated to use, I found both menus so intuitive that I didn’t even have to open the user guide a single time. The following galleries clarify the purpose of each individual menu.
The XF Menu
The IQ Menu
Finally I took the camera to a couple of locations in Munich where I tried to find out about its capabilities, and probably about its limits. I attached the Schneider Kreuznach 35mm LS f3.5 wide angle lens to the camera and went to BMW World and the Pinakothek of Modern Art. I have particularly tried to capture scenes with difficult light situations such as dim interiors with bright spotlights and windows. A few other shots include a snake that I captured with the 80mm lens and the 120mm macro lens. Please note that the gallery contains JPG files that do not include the full dynamic range. Unfortunately, the lossless TIFF files could not be loaded into the gallery.
One aspect is interesting to mention. The Phase One XF relies on one single autofocus point in the center of the screen. This might sound like a disadvantage compared to other DSLR cameras that often have more than 60 AF points. With only one AF point, one might miss the flexibility to focus on a subject off-center to achieve a more interesting photo composition. However, with a resolution of 100 megapixels, there is virtually no need to focus on different positions as the final image can be cropped until the desired composition is achieved. Therefore, a photographer can really concentrate on shooting and must not think about composition.
While I thought it would be easy to focus on the center, with the aperture wide open I sometimes found it challenging to direct the focus point exactly on the spot I wanted. The autofocus system is so precise that the autofocus point needs to be perfectly in the right spot. With the autofocus point just slightly shifting from the eye to the eyelash, it will be the eyelashes that stand out and the eye softly blurred. When I shot the snake, it took practice until I got the eyes in focus. If there is something in focus, however, there is no discussion that sharpness and clarity is beyond comparison.
On another note, I would like to mention the speed at which the Schneider Kreuznach 80mm LS f/2.8 lens focused. This lens is so reactive and fast that for small focus movements, I couldn’t even see the focus ring move but simply “jump” from one focus distance to another. When keeping the shutter button half-pressed, the lens starts to hunt the subject with incredible speed and accuracy. I am used to fast focusing by my Canon EOS 7D, but I was deeply impressed by the Phase One / Schneider Kreuznach focusing speed.
Finally, the power sharing was a feature I really loved. As described above, both camera units have their own power supply, but in fact they are sharing power if one unit runs out of battery. This can happen if the IQ menu is heavily used for picture reviewing and adjusting settings more on the IQ digital back. As soon as the battery inside the digital back is discharged, the XF unit provides power to itself and the digital back. Of course, this also happens vice versa.
From my personal view, medium format cameras are an interesting combination of scientific precision tools and photography. They represent the constant pursuit for technical perfection in optoelectronics and a philosophy of creativity. I have seen for myself that they are very specialized and certainly not suitable for every photographic application, but for countless other purposes they are unsurpassed in image quality. The Phase One XF 100MP is the best camera I have ever seen and that I have ever had in my hands. The resolution of 100 megapixels is impossible to describe, and I was even more impressed by the huge dynamic range it is capable of perceiving. Also, the high speed and precision of the Phase One Honeybee Autofocus Platform was totally new to me. Concluding I would like to thank Phase One for this great opportunity!
When shooting Interiors, there is always the question of whether to use HDR photography with automatic post-processing or to make multiple shots with the assistance of a speedlight flash and process the resulting images manually.
While HDR is an easy way to achieve uniformly bright scenes, it is also this effect what makes some HDR pictures look unnatural. With a remote flash, an emphasis can be set very selectively in areas that should be highlighted or that suffer from low ambient light. The processing of these manual shots involves some extra time, but the results are often more appealing than those from automatic processing.
However, speedlights typically emit light of a cold temperature that is close to daylight (around 5,600K) as it contains a lot of blue wavelengths. For this reason, artificially added light often doesn’t match the color temperature of light available at the scene. In almost every residential house, the lighting is composed of several tungsten lights that emit some warmer color temperatures. Understandably, adding cold light to this scene would look inconsistent with the overall lighting.
As a solution for this problem, there are color correction filters – called color gels – that can be placed in front of the speedlight flash. Color gels are available in various colors to create all kinds of effects, but for interior photography, mainly one color is relevant – Orange. CTO – color temperature orange – flash gels are used to make the speedlight consistent with lamps of tungsten light. In other words – daylight from the flash combined with a CTO creates warmer light.
Color gels come in different densities. There are full, half and quarter CTOs that can be used depending on the color temperature available. While a full CTO converts the speedlight’s color temperature to full tungsten light (6,500K to 3,200K), a half CTO roughly converts it to something like a flourescent light color (6,500K to 3,800K) and so forth. Naturally, the stronger the color change is, the more blue wavelengths are filtered out, reducing the remaining light intensity accordingly. For instance, a full CTO blocks around half of the light (1 stop), and half a stop is blocked by a half CTO.
To improve my results for interior photography, I did some research to find a good set of flash gels. I found that the Rogue Flash Gels by ExpoImaging had a good number of CTO gels in their “Universal Lighting Filters” set and consistently received good ratings on Amazon and expert review websites. ExpoImaging was so generous and sent me a set of the Universal Lighting Filters for testing.
The Rogue Color Correction Kit includes a total of 18 gels in three sets of six gels.
The set also includes a cardboard disc with some useful instructions.
To balance your flash to the dominant ambient light source in your scene:
1. For 3,200K ambient light use Full CTO
2. For 3,800K ambient light use 1/2 CTO
3. For 4,600K ambient light use 1/4 CTO
1. For 3,600K fluorescent tubes use Plus Green + 1/2 CTO
2. For 4,300K fluorescent tubes use Plus Green + 1/4 CTO
3. For 5,700K fluorescent tubes use Plus Green
Finally, every gel is placed next to a thin white separator sheet that helps finding the right color. I found it nice that all filters, the separator sheets and the cardboard disc had already been packed into the small fabric purse, and therefore doesn’t require any preparation. Also, it is particularly useful that the relevant characteristics of each gel (type, f/stop loss) are printed on a side flap of each gel.
The gels are applied to the speedlight flash by one of the rubber rings provided with the kit. The rings fit tightly on the flash and hold the gels firmly in place. I like the concept how the gels are applied to the flash because they cover all of the flash aperture so that no uncorrected light can leak out. A further, notable advantage is that each set of color correction gels are provided in triplicate, so it won’t matter too much in case that one gets damaged or lost. Thumbs up!
Over the years, the tripod became one of my favourite pieces of photo equipment. I got used to take it with me for travelling and other occasions and it has always paid for itself. Sadly, my tripod I have used until now has been worn out. Admittedly, being a cheap tripod for around USD 100, it has done a good job for many years. However, the black coating flakes off on some areas and the clamp mechanism that holds the legs in their extended position can’t always securely hold the legs so they randomly slide in. While the first point is only an optical defect, the second flaw is a true concern for the safety of my camera. For these reasons, I decided to go for a professional tripod.
There are hundreds of tripods available and depending on individual requirements and personal preferences, one should at least take the following considerations into account:
The weight of a tripod can have various implications on its performance. While a heavy tripod offers greater stability and can typically carry heavier cameras (see load capacity), they are less suitable for taking them to travel. Conversely, a lightweight tripod is ideal for travel, however it will be more suscepible to wind and other vibrations, and can affect sharpness of the images. Therefore, it can be recommended to weight it down with ballast (small bag filled with stones and attached to the center column), although the weight of a DSLR should usually suffice to achieve high stability.
The materials that a tripod is made of will affect its weight, stability and durability. For modern materials, it is typical that reduced weight and improved characteristics will in turn increase production cost significantly. For the legs and center column, the three primary materials used for tripods are aluminum, basalt and carbon fibre. Still, independently from the primary materials, other components on a tripod are usually made of aluminum, magnesium, other metals and composites. Especially the connecting parts are made of different materials than the telescopic legs.
A tripod is normally designed with telescopic legs so that it can be expanded to various heights. The most interesting specifications of a tripod are the maximum tripod height and the minimum height. For tall photographers, it is recommendable to use a tripod that covers a camera height of at least 1,60m. On the other hand, macro photographers might be interested in the minimum height at which the camera can be set to the ground. Therefore, some tripods allow to mount the camera upside down to the lower end of the center column so that it can be brought to the ground very closely.
The folded height of a tripod refers to its size when the legs have been fully retracted and is an indicator of whether a tripod is suitable for easy transportation. Tripods that can reach a small folded height have an increased number of leg sections than standard ones. Most tripod legs have three sections, though some have as many as six.
A tripod head is a fastening device that holds the camera on the tripod and secures the angle of the camera. A tripod head may be inseparably connected to the tripod, or may be sold separately. There are two main types of tripod heads. Pan and Tilt heads allow to adjust the dimensional axes separately. This can be useful if one axis position should be held in position while the camera should only be rotated, this can be done without misplacing the other setting. A ball head allows for adjustment of multiple axes at once. This is ideal if many different adjustments have to be made to the camera without operating separate axis levers. In addition, ball heads usually have an own rotation axis.
The load capacity is an important piece of information on whether the tripod is suitable to hold larger DSLR cameras and lenses. The force applied by the camera weight does not only act on the tripod head, but also the leg fixation mechanism.
Leg Fixation Mechanism
The quality and effectiveness of the leg fixation mechanisms, so it is If the mechanisms seem to be made of a low-quality plastic, chances are good that they will not hold up over long periods of time.
As always, the price is directly related to quality and durability. It should be considered that inexpensive tripods may be well suitable for the intended purposes, but might lack some of the properties explained before. On the other side, professional tripods are likely to become a long lasting companion. Still, it is recommended to read or view product reviews on the internet to ensure that even the more expensive tripods are reasonably priced.
Review Sirui N-1204X and Sirui K-10X
Thinking about my requirements, it was clear that I need a tripod that is compact, lightweight, extendible to a fairly high camera height and that has a durable leg adjustment mechanism. My other aluminum tripod has a weight of 2,0 kg. Having made some long walks on city trips, I can tell that this weight should not be underestimated.
After quite some comparisons on the internet, I purchased the Sirui N-1204X carbon fiber tripod for around USD 460 (EUR 406) and Sirui K-10X ball head for USD 146 (EUR 129) last week. I created some unboxing snapshots to share the first impressions.
At the first glance, the Sirui N-1204X is consistently well manufactured and feels very luxurious to the touch. The legs swing very firmly which gives a feeling of security. To position the tripod, the legs have to be turned to the opposite side at an angle of roughly 160 degrees. While turning the leg, the locking clamp snaps in with a pleasant noise whenever a calibrated position has been reached. All parts are joined together so well that no part feels loose. Especially the leg clamps feel surprisingly safe – they appear to be a lot more durable than the ones on my previous tripod.
The tripod itself has a weight of 1,12 kilograms which is incredibly lightweight. However, the ball head adds 0,35 kilograms to this, so the total weight of the Sirui tripod and head is 1,47 kg which is great in my opinion. The ball head feels very solid and holds my 7D with 17-55mm lens firmly in place. I am looking forward to working with these new pieces of equipment!