About two months ago, I visited the Miami Beach offices of Capture Integration, the premier Phase One dealer in the US. I was on a quest for information. Taking the long view on my plans for growth as a photographer, and spurred on by my cohorts over at the GetDPI Forums, I decided to learn more about the world of medium format digital photography. I had posted before about medium format digital, but I had never actually gotten some “hands on” time with the gear.
Lance Schad and Doug Peterson were kind enough to go on a little walkabout with a Phase One camera w/P45+ digital back. This beastie takes 39 megapixel images with 16-bits of color depth per pixel. That translates to huge images that contain far more color information than an ordinary DSLR. Even the top-of-the-line Nikon D3X can only capture 24.5 megapixel images with 14-bit color, max. The Phase back captures four times the color information.
During the walkabout, I was able to capture a variety of images using the harem of lenses that Doug lugged around with us. (Medium format camera gear is a bit larger and heavier than 35mm, so remember to factor that into your buying decision.) Another feature of this format is that the sensor lacks an antialiasing filter, often found on DSLR’s, which adds to the overall sharpness of the back. Top that off with a body system that is completely modular and you actually have a growth path that does not involve selling off your entire camera kit in order to upgrade.
- Modular system allows for easy upgradeability.
- Unmatched for color, resolution, and detail.
- Firmware updates can expand ISO ranges and add many new features.
- Long term support from the company.
- Equipment holds a lot of it’s value (for now).
All is not beer and skittles however, there are some limitations to this wundercamera format:
- Most medium format digital backs cannot match the ISO range and frame rates of 35mm DSLRs. 70 frames per minute is considered fast.
- The autofocus system in the bodies is primitive by DSLR standards. Sports cameras, these are not.
- Expensive – a modern digital back can cost as much as a BMW. In fact, Phase One currently has a promotion (through the end of Q1 ’09): buy a Phase One digital back (P30+ or P45+) and get the camera body and up to 5 lenses free! That’s a $17,500 value right there.
- Firmware cannot be updated in the field. Requires back be sent to Phase One for updating.
Lunch with Chris
Last week, I met with Chris Lawery from CI Atlanta (Doug was away teaching at Moab and Lance is flying solo now) to discuss Cambo technical cameras. After an excellent lunch at Big Pink, Chris and I talked about technical cameras.
Technical cameras are scale focus rangefinders that use large format lenses on medium format backs. These cameras are very simple in design, having almost no electronics involved in taking a photo (digital ready technical lenses have a connector that sends a signal to the digital back syncing it to the shot) beyond the digital back itself.
Some models include tilt/shift movements (either via sliding plates or a bellows arrangement) to take advantage of the very large image circle produced by the large format lens used. These movements allow for the easy creation of stitched panoramas and to shoot perspective corrected photos.
Why not use a perspective correcting lens on the Phase One camera? You can, but you won’t get the same range of tilt/shifts that you will get with this dedicated solution.
Who would be daft enough to use this throwback? Landscape and architectural photographers. Don Libby of Ironcreek Photography recently switched to the Cambo Wide RS-1000, the smaller sibling of the Wide DS shown here, and while he is still getting used to the system, he has managed to produce some absolutely stunning images during his recent trip to the Redwood forests of California. I highly recommend you check out his website.
If you want to check out the photos I took on my first CI visit, head over to my flickr gallery and check them out. Please feel free to leave comments. Links to the various companies mentioned in the article are sprinkled liberally throughout.