Hands on with the Phase One IQ180

high-end Mar 23, 2011

The Phase One IQ Road Show made a stop here in Miami, FL and I was able to attend, sampling the latest in high-end camera goodness from Phase One: the IQ180 digital back. Big thanks to Phase One and Capture Integration for having the roadshow stop here and inviting me.


The event was held on the 9th floor balcony of the Museum Tower in downtown Miami across the street from Bayfront Park. Capture Integration is located two floors up.

The back was mounted on the Phase One 645 DF camera system, based on the Mamiya 645 DF. The model I handled also sported the V-Grip Air which, in addition to providing a nice vertical grip includes a remote trigger for Profoto Air lighting systems. The camera/lens + back + grip combination was surprisingly well balanced.

Phase One 645DF + Schneider 110mm

The IQ180 sports an 80 megapixel sensor (as does the Leaf Aptus-II 12) which is astounding by itself, but the creamy goodness does not stop there. First and foremost is the amazing LCD display on the back of the unit: a wide format (3.2 inch), high resolution (1.15 Mpx), 16 million color touchscreen that rivals the Retina display found on Apple’s iPhone 4. The back I saw was a prototype and it did not have focus confirmation, semi-live view or multi-touch gestures enabled. I was assured all of those features would be in the final production version shipping very shortly.

Phase One IQ180 Prototype

It did, however, take pictures and I was allowed, nay encouraged, by the folks from Phase One to snap away and take the files home to view them properly.

And what files they were! Huge, brimming with dynamic range, and scathingly detailed, these monster files can only be processed using Capture One and an Olympic class computer. My 8-core Mac Pro ( Jan 2008 vintage ) was up to the task, but where files from my Nikon D700 or Leica M8 take seconds to process, these would take minutes and rendered out to 40 MB jpegs and 500 MB TIFFs! The samples I took had to be scaled down to 50% in order to upload them to flickr. That still leaves them at 40 Mpx. Zoinks!

Biscayne Boulevard

Also present was a rep from Nauticam, makers of underwater housings for most pro cameras including Phase One. The housing grants you access to all of the camera’s controls and protects your camera gear down to a depth of 100m (330 ft, 10 ATM). You can even tether the camera to a computer on the surface using their waterproof FireWire cables. What it doesn’t come with is a bottle of liquid courage and a pair of stainless steel cojones to take $50K of camera gear underwater.

Nauticam rig
Underwater model shoot

During all of the festivities I got a chance to talk quite a bit with Claus Møller Pederson, President of Phase One. He explained to me that Phase One is a very small company. They take most of their profits and invest in research and development. They don’t advertise much at all and they rely on events like this one and the online communities to help promote their products. Professionals taking spectacular images with their gear helps promote it quite a bit, I suspect.

After having handled this prototype back, played with the interface and looked at the files it produces, I can safely say that Phase One has reaffirmed it’s leadership role in the medium format digital camera/back market.