Phase One has been preparing for 150mp imaging by investing in their digital back platform, their lens lineup, their XF body platform, their Capture One software, and their distribution.
150 megapixels is a lot of data, especially at the maximum frame rate of 3 frames per second (using sensor-based electronic shutter, with mirror/focal-plane/leaf-shutter locked open). Phase One’s IQ platform was already quite powerful compared to the competition, but to fully take advantage of the 150 megapixel sensor Phase One knew they’d need a faster and more powerful platform.
With the IQ4 Phase One didn’t just drop in a new sensor; they’ve invested in a new digital back platform: the Infinity Platform. They’ve upgraded the storage media, tethering protocols, computing power, and wifi to provide the umph needed to make 150mp capture fast, flexible, and robust. The card storage is now XQD and SD instead of CF. The tethering method is now 1G Ethernet and USB-C instead of USB3, for shuttling the heavier 150mp files faster and over longer cables. The Infinity Platform provides a laundry list of pro-oriented features today and the promise of years worth of new features, performance, and capabilities via Feature Update.
All the pixels in the world don’t matter if the lens placed in front of them doesn’t hold up. Phase One has invested millions over the last decade to keep their optical designs up to date and ready for super high resolution. For obvious marketing reasons Phase One has previously discussed their lenses as “ready for 100mp” but the optical team at Phase One works very closely with the sensor team and has known a 150mp sensor was coming for years. All of the recently designed lenses don’t just “hold up” to the scrutiny of 100% review on a 150mp sensor; they sing.
Making new lenses is a long-term investment. It takes years to design, prototype, and mass produce a lens, and years of sales thereafter to recoup that initial investment. Lenses like the Schneider 240LS Blue Ring (released 2012, updated 2016), Schneider 40-80 LS Blue Ring (released 2015, updated 2016), Schneider 35mm LS Blue Ring Lens (2015), Schneider 45 LS Blue Ring Lens (2016), are some of the best lenses ever released for any camera format. They are also signs of Phase One’s significant investment in creating modern high-performance medium-format lenses for the XF platform. While we aren’t hinting at anything specific, we definitely expect this investment to continue.
It’s also important to note that every lens in the Schneider Blue Ring line was designed for full-frame 645 sensors. In the last 13 years Hasselblad has only released two new lenses (HC 50mm II and HC 120mm II) that were designed for full frame sensors; the HCD 28, HCD 24, and HCD 35-90, all great modern lenses, were designed for 1.1x crop sensors. Fuji, with their GFX platform, and Hasselblad X1D platform are making some innovative and high-quality lenses, but they are all designed for 1.3x crop sensors. Put simply, Phase One is the only camera maker with a continuing commitment to a modern full-frame 645 lens line, ready to fully leverage this new full-frame 645 150mp sensor.
More resolution requires more accurate focus, more robust tools for controlling vibration, and better tools for handling the inherently shallower depth of field. The Phase One XF body was built specifically to address these and other concerns that are brought on by modern ultra-high-res sensors.
A higher-resolution sensor requires a more accurate focusing system. A 150 megapixel sensor, used with a fast lens like the Schneider 150mm f/2.8, produces razor-thin focus and even a couple millimeters of misfocus can leave the subject soft. Traditional cameras focus using an autofocus system based on a series of vertical line sensors; a technology invented decades ago and is not well-suited to 150 megapixels of scrutiny. When Phase One designed the XF from the ground up they knew that a traditional autofocus sensor would soon be outmoded, so they went a radically different route: they chose a high-speed CMOS sensor that was densely packed with one million pixels and dubbed it HoneyBee. Now in its second generation the HoneyBee sensor provides hyper-accurate focus. Its pixels are even smaller than the pixels of the main 150mp imaging sensor, scrutinizing the scene even more carefully than the final image will. The XF’s focus accuracy, as the only camera to feature a dedicated CMOS sensor purely for focusing, is critical for its readiness for 150mp imaging.
Contributing to the accuracy of the XF focus system is its AFr mode (AutoFocus and Recompose). This mode automatically compensates for subjects that are not in the center of the frame, and (optionally) provides both audible feedback in the form of a “good” or “bad” beep and instant visual feedback by showing the part of the image that you focused on at 100%. For wider lenses shot wide open this significantly improves focusing for large recompositions (e.g. shooting a ¾ length portrait with the eyes toward the top of the frame).
But accuracy is nothing without precision; the XF provides precision with the world’s only automatic lens-trimming tool. Every modern SLR provides some ability to enter a focus-offset and use a different name for that tool (e.g. tuning, microadjust, trimming), but in all other cameras this process is fully manual, requiring the user to diligently capture dozens of images in order to fine tune the resulting focus adjustment. With the XF, the Focus Trimming tool is built in to the interface and walks the photographer through trimming a lens with very few manual steps. This ensures that it’s fast and easy to calibrate the lenses to the high precision that a 150mp sensor requires.
Depth of field is also related to resolution; when viewed at 100% an image a given aperture will have a smaller depth of field when captured on a higher resolution sensor. Still life and product photographers often struggle with this (on any modern high-res camera) when they want to produce an image of a small subject that is in focus from front to back. The IQ4 is fully compatible with view cameras like the Cambo Actus and Arca Swiss Universalis but even Scheimpflug movements (tilt and swing) cannot always provide front-to-back subject focus. For this reason the Phase One XF has a highly-specialized focus-stacking tool built into the camera. While other cameras have some form of focus-bracketing mode, the XF is the only one fully dedicated to focus stacking where the photographer can set a front and back point of focus, and the camera will automatically calculate the number of shots required at the current aperture, initiate the capture, and tag the resulting raw files as being part of the same focus stack. Best of all, when one focus stack sequence is complete you can initiate another identical sequence with a single click from the camera, computer, cable release, or iOS device. Such repeats are incredibly handy when making small tweaks to lighting or subject styling, or for efficiently capturing several similar subjects (e.g. a dozen pairs of high-heel shoes).
Finally, the XF provides several tools and features to deal with vibration. The higher the resolution of the camera, the more sensitive it will be to vibration. To address this, the XF’s mirror is very well dampened, and when the mirror is not needed the XF offers a mirror-up mode that works exactly as a professional photographer would want; if you put the mirror up (from the touch screen, a dedicated hard button, the computer, or an iOS device running Capture Pilot) it stays up until you tell it to come down. To reduce vibration from the shutter the XF offers first-curtain electronic shutter, leaf-shutter only capture (leaf shutters create less vibration than their larger and heavier focal-plane shutter cousins) as well as a sensor-based Electronic Shutter (ES). These tools address vibration that would be caused by the camera, but the XF can also monitor the vibration coming from external sources such as traffic on a nearby road, or an accidental bump of the tripod leg. The XF Vibration Mode monitors vibration and delays capture until it sees no meaningful vibration is occuring. Then, after the capture, the XF can show you a chart of vibration experienced during capture, especially valuable when completing a very long exposure. These tools help prevent vibration from occurring, time the capture to occur when the camera is vibration-free, and inform the user if vibration during the capture was enough to cause image-quality issues. This will help ensure the XF can provide 150 million sharp pixels, not just 150 megapixels.
A step up in resolution means heavier files, but Capture One is ready for both rapid tethering and rapid image adjustment and processing of these 150 megapixel files. Phase One has a large development team working on Capture One, paid for by the many photographers with Sony, Canon, and Nikon cameras using Capture One Pro (note that Capture One DB is always free for Phase One users). That development team focus heavily on performance; they’ve been working with the IQ4 development team since the early prototype phase to optimize the tethering and image pipelines to fly through 150 megapixel files. The net result of this work is that working with 150 megapixel files in Capture One is only modestly slower than working on small-format camera files, and that Capture One keeps perfectly apace with the maximum frame-rate of the IQ4 150mp while tethering.
DT has invested in a new iMac Pro to test alongside our existing max’d out black “trash can” Mac Pros. Sign up if you’d like to be notified when we post the formal results of our 150mp tethering/processing speed tests.
A camera, especially a high-end camera used by professionals and serious enthusiasts, is more than an object. It’s a tool and a commitment. Phase One has carefully curated a network of partners across the world to provide the service and support required to fulfill that commitment. Before a purchase, these partners can arrange for testing through a variety of means (sending raw files, setting up in-studio demos, long-term rental evaluations, road show events etc) to help a client determine which back, body, lens, and accessories best fit their needs, wants, and budget. After a purchase they can provide training, advice, cleanings, technical support, repairs, and diagnostics.
Digital Transitions is the largest of these partners with 25 employees in six states—all 100% dedicated to Phase One and the ecosystem of products that support it. We have offices in LA and NYC and travel across the country on frequent roadshows, including Houston, Austin, Dallas, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, and more. For the IQ4 series the warranty is five years and DT will facilitate a loaner on any equipment purchased with the IQ4 (including the back, body, and lenses) during any service or repair required during that five years, delivered either same-day or next-day.
For fourteen years DT has built the staff, expertise, toolset, relationships, and inventory needed to best serve Phase One users. In that sense, DT has been preparing for the IQ4 since 2004. We can’t wait for you to try it!