By Michael Reichmann & Kevin Raber
Sample Images For Downloading Can Be Found At The End Of This Article
Michael’s Initial Impressions
of The Phase One XF100MP
I’ve become somewhat blase about new gear these past few years. Yes, I enjoy it… enjoy learning about it, enjoy using it, and enjoy writing about it for these pages. But, truth be told, after the “new” wears off the line of progression from what was, to what is, to what will be starts to look predictable.
Some companies in the photographic industry have taken it upon themselves to act as both challengers and game changers. You know, of course, that I’m speaking mainly of Sony. Six new cameras in one year, most of which have worthwhile and even exciting new technologies, while much of the rest of the industry slumbers.
Another such company is Leica, who though existing in a more rarified segment of the market has shown that they have major cajones, releasing within the past year the new S, the T, the Q and the SL, each occupying a different market segment, and each setting new standards in the areas of build quality, image quality, and innovation.
Today though, we’re discussing a company that, except among knowledgeable photographers, is almost an unknown – Phase One. Their newest camera/back as of January, 2016 is the XF100MP, which Kevin has described in detail in his accompanying announcement and first-look article. (below)
A courier arrived with a large Pelican case from Denmark less than a week ago. In it was the IQ3-100 Megapixel back on a Phase One XF body, along with an 80mm f/2.8 LS Schneider lens. I will have this camera system for a few weeks so that I can write a test report, (as does Kevin), and plan on doing so.
In the few days since its arrival I have only had time to do some familiarization (this is a complex product), and one afternoon of shooting. Here in Toronto at this time of year the weather is bleak and not really conducive to the kind of shooting which I enjoy. But, I’ll be heading to northern California on a family visit and vacation next week, and so plan on using the XF100MP in a somewhat more enjoyable and productive environment.
Thus doesn’t mean though that I have nothing to say about the new Phase One camera/back. But most of it will be observational rather than usage-based. So, if you’re looking for nuts and bolts instead of opinion, this isn’t the place to be at the moment. That’ll come in the weeks ahead.
My personal camera systems currently are a Sony A7RII with about nine lenses, and a Pentax 645z with some seven lenses. Arguably, these are cameras that are capable of taking some of the highest quality images currently possible. They both use state-of-the-art Sony-sourced sensors of 42MP and 50MP respectively. I own and use these cameras because my testing and use of almost every new camera that comes along each year has shown me that these two systems meet my particular needs, not to mention that they fit within my budget.
These two system set a very high benchmark, each in different ways and for different types of shooting. There may be better choices available for other folks, but these two systems do the trick for me.
Now along comes Phase One with the XF100MP. I am well familiar with Phase, having owned at least four different Phase One backs over the years, using them on Mamiya and Phase bodies, and also on technical cameras such as Alpas. If you’re reading this you probably are familiar with Phase One as well, either as someone who has owned one, or who has long considered taking the plunge. Or maybe you just like reading about the state-of-the-art in cameras and digital backs.
But outside of the scientific, military, institutional and commercial photography marketplaces Phase is not as well known as Sony, of course, or even Leica. But, I’ll cut straight to the chase. It needs to be understood that with the XF100MP Phase One has produced what is, in all likelihood, the highest build quality and highest image quality picture taking device ever.
Let me start with the fit, finish and build quality. When you pick up the XF100MP it’s a bit like stepping into the driver’s seat of an S Class Mercedes. It feels good. It smells good (the, S, not the XF) and all of the controls feel as if they are of-a-piece. Everything fits. Everything has a precision finish that is of such a high order that it’s hard to imagine how it could be improved. This is certainly not the case with virtually every other camera system in existence. The only exception to this, to my mind, being Leica’s high-end products like the M, S and ML.
I won’t repeat the new camera’s specs here again, other than to write that this is the world’s first full-frame medium format sensor back with 100 Megapixel resolution, claimed true 16-bit color, claimed 15 f-stops of dynamic range, live view capturing with HDMI output, and an ISO range from 50 to 12,800, with exposure times of up to 60 minutes.
If you haven’t guessed already, this is a CMOS sensor, and it has been confirmed that it is a combined Phase One / Sony design, fabricated by Sony. My understanding is that this sensor will (over time) also become available to other camera makers.
Just about anything that I write at this point about the cameras image quality will sound hyperbolic. Just as the build quality, fit and finish of the camera system is almost beyond reproach, so to the image quality that I’ve seen from the first few hundred frames taken is on a new level. And the reason, once again, that I mention that I own and use the A7RII and 645z is that my frame of reference for image quality in all its aspects is already tuned to a very high level. Simply put, what I’ve seen so far from the Phase One XF100MP is visibly a step up from what I am used to, and I’m used to really good.
And that’s where I’ll leave you for now. My few days of fondling, and shooting with the XF100MP have left me with a very favorable impression. The XF camera is also new to me (I’ve never shot with one, though I’ve “played” with one), and it is a very feature rich device that is going to take some learning and familiarization.
I’ll be back in a few weeks with some real world experience from doing they type of shooting that I enjoy.
Kevin’s Initial Impressions
of The Phase One XF100MP
It was Wednesday, December 30th 2015 and a Phase One Pelican case was delivered to both Michael and me. A nice note inside said “Happy Holidays, Have Some Fun”. Turns out this case contained the NEW Phase One XF 100MP camera system.
It was 1999 when I saw my first Phase One digital back the 18mp LightPhase. This was heralded at the time as being the cutting edge capture device delivering the best image quality of any digital device there was. It had to be tethered to a computer and there weren’t many computers that could handle the processing of the files. The software was hard to use and required a dealer to install it and to train you. Fast forward to 2016. Things have changed.
Now, just a little over 15 years later, Phase One once again breaks new ground by delivering a 100MP digital back. This is a Sony sensor that was jointly developed with Phase One. While you can read all about it on the Phase One site it does have some extraordinary features. It is not an exclusive chip so I’m sure we can expect others to incorporate it into their systems. Phase One is delivering today though, so if you want one get out your checkbook and call a Phase One dealer right away.
For those that like specs here are just a few . . .
100MP Full Frame coverage (Sony Sensor)
16 bit Pixel depth for a CMOS Sensor
Cleans ISO for 50 to 12,800
Exposure time up to 1 hour
NEW HDMI Output port
We haven’t had a chance to test anything more than some basic captures with this system since we received it. Both Michael and I will be testing the ins and outs of these claims over the coming weeks.
2015 and now 2016 seems to be Phase One’s years. Last year Phase One announced the XF Camera body. It was a long awaited replacement to the Phase One / Mamiya DF/DF+ camera. As hard as it tried, it was just lacking. During the development of the new XF camera body Phase One went to great lengths and announced a wide range of lenses in cooperation with Schneider Kreuznach. Towards the end of last year Phase One teased with their marketing of these lenses that they could resolve beyond 100MP (hint – hint).
The XF Camera system is quite the beast and we covered this camera at its introduction last year. There are some features in the system that make it stand out though, like vibration tracking, Honeybee auto-focus electronic first curtain shutter, a versatile and easy to use touch interface for camera controls as well as integration of these controls to the digital back. There are two batteries for the camera, one in the back and one in the camera handle. One can be interchanged without having to shut the camera down. The controls and all buttons are customizable with the ability to set limits. It’s a sophisticated camera and does take some time to learn all the intricacies.
There is something about this camera though as the body, lens and back meld to become one. It feels good to hold, becomes intuitive and fast to use. The information available on the back to help you make great images is super helpful.
Firstly, this is a CMOS sensor back and not a CCD sensor as with many of Phase One’s previous backs. Thus true Live View is possible and it is stunning to use. Fast and easy to see and focus. This is a huge step for those photographers that like to shoot this way. I imagine on a technical camera it will be a joy. I have not tested it on a technical camera but will put it on the ALPA system I have in the coming days and weeks and give a full report on the experience.
After the image is made you get immediate feedback. I have not run any burst tests yet with the camera but will try that also in our extended tests. When shooting I live by the histogram, and I took a couple of tough exposures in my initial testing. While I have no way of measuring the dynamic range I am pretty good at knowing where and when to expect clipping in an image with certain scenes. I was pleased to see a good histogram where with other systems the image would have had clipping at one end or the other. I was equally pleased to see how nice the image looked in Capture One when it was opened.
This is a camera that forces you to use good camera shooting practice. With this many megapixels any camera movement or deviation will be amplified. The XF camera system helps with that using its vibration feature as well as a self-time after mirror up. The Focus mask as well as exposure warning feature helps confirm that you have the shot. These are easy to use and customize on the back. I find when shooting with the back that setting the focus mask at 24 gave me a good idea of focus under a variety of conditions.
The exposure zone control is also a nice tool to have, especially for fine tuning an image while in the field. It gives a color representation of the exposure ranges within an image. See the above image for an example.
This is not the best time of year to go out shooting in Indianapolis. I took the camera out on two separate excursions and captured the following images. I have shown some crops with the images to help illustrate resolution.. It’s hard for anyone to really appreciate the quality of the images this camera produces by viewing these on the web.
So, both Michael and I have provided a number of images that you can download using links at the bottom of this article. These will be JPEG image because of bandwidth but will show you the detail of a 100MP image.
The following images are some samples that were made with the new XF 100MP. Most of these images were made at ISO 100 and shot on a tripod. We will in the coming weeks test higher ISOs as well as long exposure performance.
As you can see from viewing the above images the XF 100mp certainly has the ability to capture amazing details. The ability to recover shadows without affecting the other areas of the image is very good. The XF camera itself is very easy to use once you are familiar with it. I shot most of these on aperture priority at f/8. When needed a simple touch to the exposure compensation button and a turn of the rear dial quickly allowed me to set the compensation I needed. In all cases I was shooting for a good histogram. I used all the bells and whistles for the back when shooting. These included exposure warning and focus mask. I also consulted many times the expsoure range screen. I tried manual focus on the camera and I couldn’t come close to the accuracy of the cameras AF. Focus was very fast and very accurate.
I did try live view and was very impressed by the speed as well as the quality. You could definitely use live view to focus with. I’ll be doing some more tests using live view on an ALPA Camera system in the coming weeks.
The Bottom Line – So Far
I have had the opportunity over the last 16 years to shoot with every Phase One camera system ever announced. Each evolution has been a new step forward in image quality and resolution. I would never have thought that 15 years ago we would have ever see a 100 MP sensor back, much less a camera system like the XF. Now that we do I am awed just as I was each other time with what is now visible in a file. I made a comment to Michael while we were discussing the files that it could be possible that the files actually out-resolve the monitors we are looking at them on. I plan to later this week make some 44 x 70 inch prints from some files. I believe the proof will really lie in the print when you have a camera that has this kind of resolution. Just for the record for those that are curious a 100% output at 360 px/in will yield a 32.24 x 24.19 inch image (11608 x 8708 px). At 300 px/in you will be looking at a 38.69 x 29.03 inch image (11608 x 8708 px). Now that is a big image. I can only imagine what it will look like on a 44 inch plus size print.
Over the coming weeks we will be working with this camera under a variety of situations. We haven’t had a chance to test the High ISO performance yet or the long exposure claims and we want to try the back on a technical camera with wide angle lenses. So, expect more from Michael and me in the near future. For now though, this is a milestone in photography. It doesn’t get any better.
File by Michael Reichmann Download
File by Kevin Raber Download