Phase One Released The First Amazing CMOS Medium Format Camera And It's Ready To Ship

For years, medium format cameras have been stuck with digital CCD sensors that are poor-performing at high ISO's because creating medium format CMOS sensors was prohibitively expensive. Well, that has all changed now. Hasselblad teased their new CMOS medium format camera earlier this week, but today Phase One announced their new CMOS digital medium format back and not only is it ready to ship on Monday, but it already looks like it will be a class dominator.

CMOS vs. CCD Medium Format Backs?:

First of all, to learn the difference between a CMOS vs CCD sensor in digital cameras, you can visit the how stuff works website where they wrote a great article describing the differences. Although if you want the quick version, CCD sensors create BEAUTIFUL images at low ISO's in comparison to CMOS sensors, but raise the ISO up a bit and you get a lot of noise. Also, CCD sensors consume many times more power to run than a CMOS sensor. Also, based on current manufacturing processes, it was much cheaper to manufacture a medium format CCD than it was a comparable CMOS, until now. A well manufactured CMOS medium format will give you much better dynamic range than a comparable 35mm, higher max resolution, the ability for easy live preview, and the chance to shoot low light environments with higher ISO. Essentially, a the introduction of a CMOS medium format will change everything we can do with a modern digital medium format.

You see, I love shooting with my Phase One 645DF+ with IQ140 digital back (CCD system). It has created some beautiful crisp, richly detailed, high dynamic range images in controlled lighting environments. I originally switched from Canon cameras and was thrilled with the performance of my IQ140, but any time I want to venture to a low light scenario I'm afraid to raise my ISO to 400 or higher because my images would be on the cusp of being a bit too noisy for print advertising applications. Although, Phase One does offer Sensor Plus shooting mode which allows cleaner shooting at higher ISO's with their CCD cameras, but at the same time only allows you to use part of the camera's full resolution in that mode. So up until today, a shooter like me could photograph with a camera that yielded the best quality on the planet, as long as I kept the ISO under 400. You can imagine how excited I am to know that my next Phase One digital back will allow me to do nearly everything I've ever wanted it to do. I knew something was coming down the pipeline when Phase One started asking photographers like myself what I'd like to see in a new back and it's apparent they have listened.

The Specs And Details:

"Phase One today introduced the world’s first CMOS-based medium format digital camera back. The new 50-megapixel IQ250 brings unprecedented image capture flexibility to the IQ2 family of wireless-enabled high-end camera systems. Whether photo sessions are held in the studio or on a mountainside, the IQ250 lets photographers capture stunning imagery in available light -- virtually anywhere and any time."  - Phase One press release

  • "A sensor size of 44x33mm, the IQ250 offers 68 percent more image-capture real estate than any full-frame 35mm DSLR camera and the widest usable ISO range of any medium format camera system" - Phase One press release
  • The new CMOS model is 50 Megapixel and is called the IQ250
  • Available for shipping January 27, 2014 unlike the Hasselblad CMOS back which apparently won't be released until at least March.
  • Impressive 100-6400 ISO range.
  • Has a 1.3x crop factor on a 645 body. 2 gigs internal ram. 1.2 FPS shooting.
  • 14 Stops dynamic range. This is class-leading. A standard 35mm DSLR only has about 8 to 9 stops of dynamic range and the highest dynamic range medium format before today that I am aware of had only 13 stops.
  • Shutter speed ranging from 1/10,000 to 1 hour. WOW.
  • Now offering easy to use Live View mode that displays at 25fps like you are used to seeing on 35mm DSLR's to make composing images easier. Apparently live view mode will transmit to Capture One Pro tethering software and even to the Capture Pilot app on your iPad or similar mobile device directly since the back also has built in WIFI transmitting capability. "Live View on the IQ250 offers great composition and focus assistance -- whether it is used directly on the digital back, connected via USB3 to Capture One on the computer, or displayed wirelessly on iPads or iPhones running Capture Pilot."
  • Prices start at $34,990 USD which may seem like a lot to some but considering that this is in the same ballpark as their current IQ260 (60 megapixel CCD) this is MUCH cheaper than I thought it would be.
  • Digital Transitions, the NYC-based Phase One reseller (they are great and sold me my camera and many cameras to my friends) put together an awesome list of the 10 things you need to know about the new IQ250 : 



The Rumor Mill:

I have received info from various reliable sources on the following rumors. Nothing is confirmed or officially, obviously, but lets just call these well-informed rumors...

  • It looks like the Hasselblad CMOS medium format that was teased recently will be overshadowed by the new IQ250. Why do I say that? I hear that Hasselblad has only updated the sensor and nothing else. That means that unlike the Phase One backs, it still does not have a high definition touch screen or built-in WiFi capability. I've shot with Hasselblads and I find this to be unacceptable for those of us that like to shoot untethered on-location. You simply cannot visually identify if your shot is in focus or not unless you are tethered. It's one thing to update to a CMOS sensor from CCD, but you have to upgrade your functionality as well. They are way overdue for an update to their on-camera interface. Although, please bear in mind this is an unconfirmed rumor...
  • Phase One has some more really cool gear announcements to make that I DO know about, but that's all I can say. Stuff that I know I personally want to buy. Stay tuned is all I can say for now.


Read First Impressions By Photographers That Have Tried The IQ250 Out Already:

  • According to the Phase One press release: Award-winning Australian wedding photographer Dan O'Day has found the IQ250’s abundant dynamic range to be a game changer. He said, “I shoot the majority of my work on location, and I prefer to shoot only using available light. With the IQ250, I can shoot portraits of couples any time of day, under just about any conditions Mother Nature offers me, and still retain all the details. Couples rely on me to capture one of the happiest moments in their life, and they expect the outcome to be perfect. With the IQ250 I can deliver on this expectation with greater confidence, quality and detail than ever before."



Learning More About The IQ250 Including A Demo Event Coming To NYC:

  • You can learn more on Phase One's website: 
  • Interested in buying or possibly demoing any of the current Phase One backs, you can find a dealer close to you here: Although, I am biased, but I bought my Phase One from my boy Lance Schad at Digital Transitions in NYC. They can ship you a demo unit anywhere around the US and DT has taken car of / sold / educated numerous photographer friends of mine that wanted to make the leap to medium format photography.
  • If you are in NYC on February 12th and are interested in seeing what the CMOS back can do, I am actually co-hosting an event with Digital Transitions where I will be doing live shooting demonstrations with the IQ250 as well. Come by and say hello and try it out! You can see links to sign up on or my Facebook page
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Your shot wasn't taken with the back in question, what place does it have in this article? Just report the news please, and don't shout "LOOK AT ME" every 5 lines.

Douglas Sonders's picture

Yes I took it. I put it in there to post an example of what the CCD system could do and how I've personally enjoyed it as it clearly states in the article... you know, adding my personal input. I could have churned out an article that was just a copy and paste of the press release, but I try and give you guys more than that. I've also requested sample images from the new back as there are none available but I hope to get some soon.

Brendan James's picture

Time to sell my kidney.

Have they sorted out the autofocus though? The biggest problem with medium format is the poor AF.

Douglas Sonders's picture

not yet. from what i hear behind the scenes, all MF manufacturers face the same technological issues and its not as clear cut and easy as we all think but I know its being worked on.

The thing is, with a viewfinder that large, it is much, much easier to focus manually. Worlds apart from FF cameras. Never really had a problem with it. It's a given however than sports photography is not this camera's targeted audience.

Todd Douglas's picture

I personally enjoyed the article and it answered the questions I had, so thanks!

Douglas Sonders's picture

glad you liked it!

Why is it still so expensive? I thought CCD was the pure image quality sensor and CMOS was for us regular folk.

Douglas Sonders's picture

Most likely the R&D that went into developing an entirely new technology back but I hope they will go down in time, just like the original CCD backs

So let me do a little bit math, my Canon 5D Mark III is $3,000, this thing is $33,000, so 11 times more expensive. Then based on the pictures from the video, the quality of them maybe 0.5 times better than my Canon 5D? maybe?

Photography is about the gear, at the same time, it's so not about the gear.

Graham Marley's picture

You may not be able to discern the breadth difference in a youtube video, but print at a large size and it starts to get obvious. That system is a monstrosity.

Douglas Sonders's picture

true. theres a multitude of other reasons why I changed from Canon to MF personally. Ill do an article about this.

Graham Marley's picture

I mean, the thing that I want more than anything is a better flash sync speed and the increased DR is a close second. Color depth and resolution are the icing on the cake.

A lot of people tend to forget that shooting the pictures is just half the job. If you don't know what you are doing in retouching, you might easily destroy the dynamic range advantages gained by using this system. Then, evidently, the gap between FF and MF narrows down.

Graham Marley's picture

That's interesting. I mean, I'm working with 9.something stops of DR and I'm pretty paranoid about keeping my curves gentle. Is there actually a significant difference in PP approach, or is it just a matter of learning your lessons about not abusing contrast in small format?

You would be amazed at the number of people purchasing the latest and the greatest for that 1 stop advantage, just to throw it all away in PP afterwards rendering their investment utterly useless. It's not only about curves, it's the whole miriad of settings you have to keep in mind, which is why people don't do it properly. Insert too much highlights there and bam, you lost 1 stop in that direction. Make it too contrasty there and bam you lose another stop right there.

However, it also works inversely to allow you to obtain such ranges with older, "obsolete" cameras.
Take a look at some of leibovitz' (i know, i know, she doesn't do her own retouching, Pascal Dangin at Box does it) from 2008-2009. She mostly shot a D3 and 1dIII during that period. However, she has a greater dynamic range in most of her shots than either camera could produce out of the box at that time. Her shadows have depths and detail, and her highlights also, whilst the middle range is also perfect. It is not just good exposure, but it is a 3 way image editing process where you open a file 3 times to pull out all details in the shadows, highlights and midrange and combine them into one image, but just for the portion of the image that needs it. This way, you can obtain that crazy DR with older cameras.

It is a little bit more work, but the point is to illustrate that having a great DR isnt everything. If you don't know what you are doing , you might as well have shot it with an old camera.
The worse in all of this are these presets you can buy for Lightroom. I would never trust the manipulation of an image I've spent thousands of dollars to make (equipment, learning,...) to be handled by some 19,99$ preset. Maybe that's just me.

Graham Marley's picture

Yeah. I mean, I should have said "keep my curves gentle among other things." because contrast manipulation isn't just one thing. I did contract work for a company for a while, and when their post processing person was like "I just love grabbing that contrast slider." I thought "Uhh, well... what if the contrast is fine?" and she could not imagine the idea of a file already having the info it needed already, or that there were other tools available. (They were destroying the pictures)

I kind of look at it like a race car. You definitely need to know what you're doing to get the most out of it. A race car driver in a slower car will beat someone who is less skilled in a faster car. That said, the race car driver in a vacuum will prefer the faster car.

Duke Pham's picture

Seriously? are you comparing FF and MF?

I love full frame and think it's the best balance for performance and price but come on man...Medium Format sensors are huge.

I wouldn't compare the MK III, but the Canon 1D or the Nikon D4 and D800 can definitely be compared. Remember, you're not dealing with a medium format sensor. You're dealing the the equivalent of an APS-C medium format sensor. It's not THAT much bigger, and FF DSLR sensors have had quite a bit of development. So yes, you CAN compare.

Which begs the question of when can you expect to see true 645, 6x6 and even 6x7 sensors?

This, combined with leaf shutter lenses, makes this a beast of a camera.

Roman France's picture

The latitude bit stood out to me, the D800 already has that kind of DR at base ISO. So it seems like the big sell is still resolution and sensor size. Cool I suppose. I feel like if Canon ever releases their MF effort these guys and Hassleblad would have a bit to be worried about.

Don't understand, is this image from the CMOS back, or is Doug using Fstoppers for self promotion..... AGAIN?

Douglas Sonders's picture

Robert! I missed you! How is the family? I hope you enjoyed the article!

Haha! I appreciate the love. In all honesty man I think the CMOS will be good, but had to call out the article for what is was... No worries Doug, don't think it will affect you as I have seen you retouch your way out of MUCH worse ;-)

I don't think this "t was much cheaper to manufacture a medium format CCD than it was a comparable CMOS" always CMOS was cheaper because the technology is also used on other electronics so they could have same manufacture. The CCD instead require special manufacture for the require product.

Ir Valentin's picture

I don't think this "it was much cheaper to manufacture a medium format
CCD than it was a comparable CMOS" always CMOS was cheaper because the
technology is also used on other electronics so they could have same
manufacture. The CCD instead require special manufacture for the require

I wish I could convince myself that paying 30K for a camera is a great use of my money.

I would think with these high resolution cameras glass would play a bigger role in determining the outcome of the the final image?