A few weeks ago, I spent two weeks in New York City (again). Using the time for some extensive photo walks, I focused on some of the beautiful art deco elements that can be found all around the city.
Right on time when the cold season begins in Germany, I spent a week in Singapore. Although having expected hot weather, both temperature and humidity were beyond compare with anything I have experienced before. In fact, it was so hot and humid that walking through the streets for an hour at noon felt like a hard workout. Due to Singapore’s geographic location, temperatures don’t really change over the year. For that reason, life in Singapore mostly takes place inside the numerous dining halls, malls, hotels, residential buildings and offices. Despite the heat, I spent a lot of time outside to create a new photo collection of that impressive, modern and clean city.
I spent a few days in Venice, Italy.
Venice and its neighboring islands are located in the Venetian Lagoon in the northeast of Italy. The city itself is situated across 100+ islands that are separated by canals and linked by 420+ bridges. Venice is famous for the beauty of its setting, its cuisine, the gondolas, and especially for its architecture which is pretty unique across the world.
The entire city is built on closely spaced wooden piles. These piles had been driven deep into the marshy soil (a softer layer of sand and mud) until they reached a much harder layer of compressed clay. Plates of Istrian limestone was placed on top of these piles, and this layer served as the footing to construct buildings of brick and stone on it. Submerged by water and isolated from oxygen, the wooden piles did not decay as rapidly as on the surface, and therefore most of the piles are still intact after centuries of submersion. Most of these stakes were made from trunks of alder trees, a wood noted for its water resistance.
Rainwater cisterns were the only source of fresh water. The cisterns were built underneath the squares where several manholes collected rainwater. The underground cavity was filled with sand filtering the rain to prevent the valuable waterfrom being contaminated. Draw wells were used to access the water reservoir. Today, the cisterns are sealed at the top but are still decorating the numerous squares and open spaces.
The origins of Venice date back until 421 A.D. where refugees from Roman cities near Venice such as Padua, Aquileia, Treviso, Altino and Concordia and from the undefended mainland were fleeing successive waves of Germanic and Hun invasions. The Venetian Lagoon was a swamp, and therefore difficult to access, which helped the original polulation of Venice to protect themselves from the invadors.
Its beautiful palazzi, churches, bridges, restaurants, squares, art galleries, and more, make Venice a UNESCO World Heritage Site today. Of course, I brought my camera, and here are a few impressions:
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!!
I have already planned to visit New York for a long time, and this year I finally managed to experience that lively and vibrant city for the first time. I was here for the last two weeks of September and it proved to be an ideal time for exploring – it is not the busiest of all seasons and the temperatures are not as extreme as they are during midsummer. The first week was really sunny and hot which allowed me to do walks with my camera gear almost nonstop and to add many new urban photos to my collection. During the second week the weather was a bit more unstable and gave me a bit more time to relax.
After those two weeks, I cannot emphasize enough how much New York has to offer for everyone. There are countless public places like parks and waterfronts that spend some calmness between the busy streets. At almost every corner one can discover fancy shops and small galleries. For culturally interested people, there are tons of art exhibitions, festivals, theaters and museums. There is a myriad of restaurants, food courts, diners, bakeries, rooftop bars and other places for culinary connoisseurs. Finally, for architecture enthusiasts, the city shows its full spectrum of versatility in the form of numerous disctricts with historical buildings and new structures. Here is the photo gallery I created during my visit.
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!