Isle of Harris with Phase One IQ250 (Part I)

I have been using Phase One backs since 2009 when I got lucky with a reasonable price on refurbished P30. Back then, I intended to get rid of the digital SLR that I carried as a back up for my film medium format camera so that I can entertain one system only. I ended up with Hasselblad H1, on which I could switch the Phase One with a film cassette. It is a very handy set up that contains one medium format body and three lenses, but allows shooting film or digital as desired. With some alterations, I enjoy using it until now. Some two years ago, I upgraded my good old P30 to IQ140 with the state-of-the-art iPhone-like touch screen display and with plenty of other improvements, including simply stunning quality of output. One of the reasons I purchased it for was also a live view function that I would well use for my Linhof Techno kit. This one, however, has been my only disappointment with IQ140 - CCD technology is not apparently suitable for a proper live view as we know it from DSLRs. It is considerably slower and even worse, pretty painful to use outdoors as you need a various ND filters to limit the light falling on the sensor for LV to function properly. Plus it eats the battery like there's no tomorrow.

                   Phase One system in action. The image made by iPhone after the exposure (see the result below).

                 Phase One system in action. The image made by iPhone after the exposure (see the result below).

So the announcement of Phase One IQ250, the first medium format back with CMOS sensor, attracted my attention. And I put my hands on it soon enough thanks to my Phase One distributor who allowed to take it for a test ride to Scotland earlier this year. I had to leave the Hasselblad film equipment behind and I took Phase One set with Schneider lenses instead, and my beloved Linhof, too. I have had few specific things in mind to see the difference between IQ140 and 250; the live view of course, but also long exposures, high ISO captures as well as the night photography. At the first sight, there is no difference between the two except for the model designation. What I particularly like about IQs is the solid build and sturdiness that lends a landscape photographer the trust that the system will survive all weather conditions. It was particularly tested during this trip as we have been blessed with lots of rain and wind, and I noticed no sign of any problem.

Capture: The Rain and The Beach, Camera: Phase One 645DF+, Lens: 45mm, Back: Phase One IQ250, ISO: 100, Shutter Speed: 5.0s, Aperture: f/16, Filters: Lee ND Grad 0.45 Soft and Lee Big Stopper

The huge difference lies inside though. Except for pixels count (50Mpx vs 40 Mpx), the IQ250 possesses the CMOS sensor made by Sony (which is by the way not exclusive to Phase One and Hasselblad launched his version of CMOS medium format camera recently) in comparison to Dalsa CCD sensor in IQ140. Also, the second generation of IQs have a built-in wifi that enables iPad to be used as a remote control as well as for reviewing images on its large retina display when you have time. I found it extremely useful especially when shooting with my Linhof Techno (this can't be rushed so plenty of time). I could control the focus to the fearful perfection. Coming back to the sensors: all previous Phase One backs were equipped with CCD sensor that is (was) considered superior to CMOS as for the quality of output, more specifically tonality and dynamic range. All I can say is that it seems to me that engineers at Phase One (and Sony) made this statement a pure history. I have not had a chance to compare the same photographs from IQ250 and 140 side by side, but I am unable to see any difference in the quality of my raw files produced by any of the two backs. And trust me, I was looking hard and for a long time. I would even be brave enough to report that the Phase One IQ250 when paired with the right camera such as Linhof Techno with a Rodenstock digital glass and processed by Capture One, produces unbelievable level of details and the results that are out of this world and that cannot be imagined nor described. They just need to be eye-witnessed 100% magnified on a screen.

Capture: Beach Pastels, Camera: Linhof Techno, Lens: Rodenstock HR Digaron 90mm, Back: Phase One IQ250, ISO: 200, Shutter Speed: 2m 2s, Aperture: unrecorded, Filters: Lee ND Grad 0.45 Soft, Lee Big Stopper

This, together with the live view feature of the back made my trip exciting and interestingly, led me to forget about Fuji Velvia for some considerable time. The rendition colours of the IQ250 is absolutely fantastic, the raw files contain way too much of colour information and if one overdoes developing images in Capture One, he can find himself trapped in madly saturated unrealistic hues. And when I say unrealistic, I mean truly unrealistic even for my somewhat shifted Velvia taste. The live view works just beautifully. You can see the video showcase, if interested. I have always suffered to focus with Linhof, but now it was a breeze. The touch screen of Phase One IQ250 is full of detail and can be controlled easily. I accessed the full magnification by double-clicking on the place I wanted to focus on. The few moves of the front standard followed by 100% enlarged check of a subjects in the foreground and on the background, and I was assured I am getting the razor sharp result. This is no short of a real game changer in photographing with technical cameras. To conclude this post, if I one day decide (and I will) to upgrade to Phase One IQ250, it will be because of the live view function when attached to my Linhof Techno.

(It is continued here)