In early January of this year, Phase One surprised the photography industry with the announcement of the first 100 mega-pixel medium format digital back. Even better, they were shipping on the same day that they announced this new digital back.
This new back, in combination with the XF camera system announced last summer with the new Blue Ring Schneider lenses, makes for one awesome digital camera system.
There is no question Phase One has been on a roll since the introduction of the XF camera system. The new 100mp back with the new lenses redefines what medium format image quality is all about.
The medium format market these days is often misunderstood. It’s a niche market that has been dominated by Phase One and Hasselblad. Phase One certainly has been the leader over the last number of years; it sets the bar higher with each subsequent camera and back release.
I am always surprised at how many people have invested in these systems and are doing incredible photography with them. I just finished a workshop in Iceland and there were three Phase One owners on the trip, two with the XF 100 MP system.
These days there are a lot of rumors about other players getting into the medium format marketplace. Actually, these rumors have been around for many years. Over the last few years Pentax has achieved status in this market. Hasselblad continues to be a player too and recently Hasselblad has been exploring new pricing strategies that they have been successful with. Also, there is no doubt that sometime soon Hasselblad will also venture into the 100 MP back market. If you missed my interview with the Hasselblad CEO Perry Osling please check it out.
However, it is now Phase One that seems to be dominating the king of the hill position in medium format, and for good reason. Since 1999 when Phase One launched the original Phase One back, the Lightphase, the main and limiting technology in digital backs was the CCD chip sensor. There was no question the sensor could deliver amazing image quality. It did, however, have ISO as well as long exposure limitations. As time progressed Phase One continually evolved their digital backs and through clever engineering turned their very popular P45+ back into a long exposure capable back. The P45 was by far one of the most popular digital backs ever made by Phase One and you can still find it being used in studios around the world.
With the P45 back it became evident that Phase One was out to push the envelope as far as they could. The chip was made by Kodak and the specs said it couldn’t do long exposures but Phase One found a way. This pushing the envelope mindset is part of the Phase One culture. Never satisfied with what the specs are they constantly ask technology to deliver more.
The rest of the industry was switching over to CMOS sensors. There were a number of advantages to the CMOS sensor such as speed and high ISO as well as longer exposure capabilities. Leaf (a Phase One Company) pioneered CMOS sensors in the medium format cameras. Phase One though never felt the early CMOS Sensors were capable of delivering the image quality that was needed for its clients.
In 2014 Phase One introduced their first CMOS chip camera the IQ250. Working with Sony, which has since become well recognized for their excellent sensors, Phase One was able to offer the first digital back with a CMOS chip. Despite the cropped sensor, it did give us a good glimpse of what was possible using CMOS technology.
At that point it was more of a question of when, not if, Phase One would introduce a real full frame higher mega-pixel chip for their backs. I saw the first hint of this in Phase One marketing material released last year claiming their new lenses were 100 mega-pixel ready. Now, why would they say that if they weren’t going to prove it?
Luminous-Landscape was fortunate enough to receive one of the first production units of the XF 100 MP cameras. We only had a few days to try it out before it launched but it was quite obvious this was a game changer. Just about everything photographers were asking for was now available.
In the last year, Phase One introduced a new camera body, the XF that finally filled the gap between great lenses and great digital backs. This camera system, obviously built with the future in mind, replaced the old and tired DF+ Camera.
Over the years, Phase One has been improving their fine lens line up to what is now known as the blue ring series of lenses. Some of these are third generation lenses and built with the highest image quality in mind but also with integration into the new XF camera as well as the new digital backs.
The only missing piece was a high performance digital back. That one missing piece was introduced in January. The 100 mega-pixel Phase One back now had high ISO and super long exposure capability with a full frame CMOS Sony sensor. And, for the first time Phase One was able to keep the same high quality of color as their CCD Backs with all the advantages that CMOS has to offer. Nirvana was here (at least in the digital photography sense.)
A few weeks ago Phase One sent a team of their top people to our Indianapolis studio to spend a few days with us and go over the new XF 100 MP camera. We were fortunate to have Lau Nørgaard, Drew Altdoerffer and James Johnson visit with us. James and I did an update to our Capture One tutorials covering what is new in Capture One 9.
The man behind this new camera and digital back is Lau Nørgaard, VP of R&D at Phase One. I always enjoy sitting with Lau and talking about what is new and the ins and outs of the new technology. Along with Drew, he was kind enough to sit with me for two extended videos on the new 100 mega-pixel back and the technology behind it. Lau is an enthusiastic and most knowledgeable guy. I hope you enjoy our discussions and learn more about the Phase One XF 100 MP camera system.
Interview With Lau Nørgaard
Correction: In the video I talk about a 23mm Schneider lens. It is really a Rodenstock 23mm f/5.6 HR Digaron-S Lens. I apologize as I must have had Schneider on my mind.
01:30 The XF 100MP Camera
02:50 Discussion on prints shot with ALPA Technical camera and 23mm lens. 05:50 Long Exposure
06:55 Alexander Flemming portrait
07:57 Immersive Imaging
09:20 Resolution & color
09:59 CMOS – New things are possible
10:50 Lightphase 1999
11:35 Camera and lens evolution
12:45 XF Camera evolution
13:00 Vibration detection
14:30 Spirit level and waist level finder
15:55 Mirror up delay
16:10 Auto ISO, Shutter and Aperture
17:35 Setting auto set-up
19:58 One shot AE
20:30 Touch Screen and buttons
21:00 Phase One culture
22:20 Intuitive operation & digital back
23:20 The zone system tool
24:20 The focus mask
24:45 Exposure warning and clipping warning
26:30 New Lenses – Blue Ring lenses
28:40 Where to next
29:00 The sensor
30:40 Sony sensor
32:04 HDMI output and live view
33:00 Live view
34:10 Always something new coming
34:50 Versatile 100mp image
36:00 Try it at a PODAS workshop
Technical – Questions and Answers With Lau Nørgaard
Lau and sit down to discuss technical cameras and answer questions from our readers.
01:10 Different cameras
01:50 Technical cameras
03:15 Optical challenges – technical cameras
04:00 Retrro focus lenses
04:50 How light hits the sensor
05:20 Color shifts
05:57 Lens cast color correction – See Capture One 9 Tutorial Update
07:00 Lens shift
07:45 Image circle and lens shifts
10:00 Dynamic range
13:00 will there be a new generation of retro focus lenses?
13:45 Chips and micro-lenses
15:30 Curved sensors
16:30 What’s coming
18:00 HDMI question
19:00 Phase One is a still photography company
20:00 Special sensitivity curve
21:30 Flash sync to 1/1600th sec.
22:19 EXIF data question
We hope you enjoyed these videos. We are finishing a more in depth look at the Phase One XF 100mp Camera system and will post an article soon. Phase One has a network of dealers around the world and they are a very good resource for even more information on this camera system as well as Capture One. More information can be obtained from Phase One’s website. Also, Phase One has a representative on our Antarctica workshop this November as well as a number of workshops of their own under the PODAS title where you can use a Phase One system and try it out prior to purchase.
The image quality from this system is absolutely astounding. If you are serious about photography you owe it to yourself to at least try out this camera and experience what the file from the XF 100mp camera looks like. It will redefine image quality as you may know it.