You may have read my previous post previewing the first modern CMOS-based medium format back to hit the world market by Phase One. Soon after my post, Phase One HQ sent me one of the first IQ250 backs to arrive in the US to review for this site. I had a solid 2 weeks to try it out and see what this system was capable of doing.
Some of you may know that I've owned my one Phase One system for about a year now. The 645DF+ body with the IQ140 CCD back, which is roughly the same size and crop factor as the new CMOS IQ250 (68 percent larger than a full-frame 35mm sensor). I've thoroughly enjoyed my IQ140 for its dynamic range, retina touch screen controls on the back, resolution (40 megapixels), the SHARP Schneider leaf shutter lenses, and the on-set baller factor of course. My 140 CCD performs AMAZING from 50-200 ISO, but anything higher than that and you risk noise due to the inherent design limitations of the CCD sensors (you can read more about this in my previous post). This is where CMOS sensors step in. A CMOS medium format back like the new IQ250 essentially retains all of the things I love about my CCD-based IQ140, but add higher ISO performance capability. From 100 to 6400 ISO in fact (compared to the IQ140's 50 to 800 ISO range).
The IQ250 was very familiar in my hands since its housing was the same on the outside as the IQ1 and IQ2 housings. As I said above, it behaved very similarly as my own IQ1 series back, but with added built-in WIFI capability of the IQ2 backs that allows you link to your mobile device for remote fire and preview capabilities without needing a separate router. Also, battery performance on the CCD back was NOTICEABLY improved. CCD's are known to eat batteries for breakfast lunch and dinner, whereas CMOS's tend to be light snackers. I could do a photoshoot with one battery on the IQ250, where it would take me 2-3 batteries on my CCD back to do the same amount of shots.
Some commented on my first post asking why they would get a CMOS medium format if they are losing the quality they desired from a CCD at low ISO. I'm here to tell you that the IQ250 performed VERY well in comparison to my CCD camera. At 14 stops dynamic range (1.5 stops greater than my IQ1 back), it did amazingly capturing beautiful image info at 100-400 ISO with little to no noise.
The images below were taken with the help of my friends at Digital Transitions, one of the biggest Phase One resellers in the US, who helped arrange for a studio and Phase One IQ260 back so that we may effectively do a side to side comparison of CCD versus CMOS sensors. They were taken during a demo event in NYC where we showcased the new IQ250 to the public.
In the comparison image above, you can see the 260 at its max ISO (800) vs the 250. If you click to see it full-size, you'll see that the 260 starts losing fine detail and edges become blotchy. Pay close attention to the eyes (pupils, eyelashes, eyebrows, even the skin surface) for the best comparison. The 250, on the other hand, hold up very nicely at 800 iso. Also, from personal experience, I can tell you that if you try and push the exposure in the RAW file on the CCD file at 800 ISO, and the noise and artifacts become very apparent.
Below I've posted a test shot from the IQ250 at 6400 ISO. If you are familiar with medium formats, it actually looks pretty similar to most CCD backs at 800 ISO. Pretty crazy to thing that you can now get a CMOS based medium format that can perform 3 or more stops better noise-wise than its CCD counterparts. This would have come in handy during that recent fashion campaign I shot using 1k HMI constant lights where I could have benefitted by having an 800 ISO file that looked pretty sharp and clean.
The new IQ250 now has an easy to use Live View mode that gives you a live preview at 25fps video. The CCD backs can do something similar, but you have to jump through some hoops to make it happen and it doesn't look as clear. This is very helpful when trying to frame a shot, especially when the camera is tethered to Phase One's own Capture One Pro RAW processing and tether software, which will allow you to see the framing live through your computer. Great tool for us folks that shoot a lot of composite work.
As I mentioned above, you can use Phase One's Capture Pilot software on your mobile device to directly connect to your IQ250 (and any other IQ2 back) without needing a separate network, to remotely fire, change camera settings, and review previous shots. Although, it does not allow you to use the Live View function within the Capture Pilot app...yet...which is a bummer. It would be helpful, for example, for those of us that mount cameras to motorized vehicles and would want to preview our shots remotely before we fire. Do not fret, though. I have nudged Phase One officials and they kind of wink with that certain Danish charm when I ask when Live Preview will be accessible through Capture Pilot. I have a feeling that a firmware/software update is on the horizon for this.
It is rumored that Phase One's 50 megapixel CMOS back is the same that is being released by Hasselblad and Pentax later this year. I've even heard that the Pentax may be wildly cheap for a medium format. Even the Hasselblad is supposed to be a few thousand dollars cheaper. So why is the first to the market Phase One a bit more expensive? Well, sensor alone does not define a digital back's value. The Phase One is the only one with a high resolution touch screen with focus masking to confirm that your shots are in focus. The Hasselblad is still running a non-touch screen VGA back that, in my opinion after testing similar Hassey's, is impossible to use on location without being tethered because you cannot confirm your focus. Phase One also has integrated WIFI for router-less connections to your mobile devices (with expanded functionality coming in the near future) where the other two do not. Based on the opinion of a few photographers that are familiar with the Pentax system, their lenses cannot touch the offerings by Phase One and Hasselblad. Also, the IQ250 will fit on a variety of MF camera body systems such as Contax, Hasselblad V (see pic below), Mamiya RZ, Mamiya and of course the PhaseOne/Mamiya 645 platform. Phase One maintains an open platform approach to their digital backs, unlike Hasselblad, Lecia and Pentax.
Sure, the new Phase One IQ250 may be around $35k, but medium format digital photography has never been exactly cheap. Although, I have a feeling that they will not have problems selling them considering that the technology and interface are unquestionably class-leading. Phase One is also offering some nice trade in deals for pre-existing digital back owners. Sweet enough deals, in fact, that I am already talking to Digital Transitions about trading my IQ140 up to the 250. I probably will be making the move later this year.
If you want to see RAW files from the IQ250 or more comparison images, hit up Lance Schad at Digital Transitions. He can also arrange camera demos and trade in deals. Special thanks to Doug Peterson and Lance for helping me do a thorough test on the 250.