The other week, I wrote that I was excited about Phase One's newest gear announcements for a multitude of reasons. Well, thanks to my friends at Digital Transitions and Phase One, I was lucky enough to do a photoshoot with the BRAND NEW Phase One XF body, the updated IQ350 50 megapixel CMOS medium format back, and their newest 35mm leaf shutter lens. As an owner of their previous generation 645DF+ body and IQ140 back, I was incredibly impressed by the notable technology advancements in their newest gear. Read below to see why.
The Feel of the XF Body in Your Hands
It's my understanding that the new XF is slightly heavier than the previous 645DF+, but believe it or not, it feels more balanced when held. The weight seems more evenly distributed and the grip itself fits better in my hands. They've also added something that I've been begging to have for years: a slot for a hand strap without needing to add a vertical grip or bracket. The inside of my thumb is practically calloused from gripping my 645DF+ on set all day where the grip on the XF appears to not only be a bit longer and fit in my hand better, but that hand strap will help take a heck of a lot of strain off my thumb/hand through the shoot day. It may seem silly to some, but I am absolutely excited about these ergonomic improvements.
Oh, the viewfinder is big and bright and you can swap it out with a waist level viewfinder with built in light meter for the first time ever. Before you could only use a fixed prism viewfinder. Very cool. I would definitely pick up both finders for myself.
The New Focusing System
According to Phase One's own press release,
The Honeybee Autofocus Platform (HAP-1) was developed in-house and will make its first appearance in the XF camera. The HAP-1 uses a 1MP CMOS sensor with a custom floating point architecture processor. The camera features a HAP-1 Precision white spectrum focus assist light and has upgradable autofocus configurations and patterns. Autofocus modes include spot, average, and hyperfocal. The Hyperfocal Point Focusing feature allows a user to register a custom hyperfocal point for each lens and then autofocus to that point at any time when needed.
So what you really want to know is...does it really work faster? As someone that owns the NOW previous generation 645DF+ Phase One body, which is modeled after the ancient Mamiya 645AFD chassis, I can confidently say the honeybee autofocus is better. Much better! The focus assist light is incredibly helpful and much improved in low-light focusing and during normal shooting on-location outside, it was noticeably faster. For those that know what I mean when I say this, there was much less focus anxiety with this system than my own DF+. I was most-certainly impressed. Of course, it won't focus as fast as a smaller 35mm DSLR, but for those who are familiar with modern medium formats, this is definitely a big step forward in the right direction.
Improved Battery Life and Power Tethering
So this is something cool that I noticed. The XF and new IQ350 use the SAME battery types. In addition, the tether power off of each other rather than with previous models where you had one battery system for the body and another for the back and you would have to remember to charge and monitor levels for both. Now that they share power, the camera can shoot longer without needing new batteries. In fact, I probably shot a full 2 hours or more on set before I needed to consider changing a battery. It is my understanding that my older IQ140 back can also be upgraded to allow it to tether power with the XF body, but I will confirm this. Still, a much needed and appreciated design upgrade.
The XF's New Touch Screen Interface and Customizable Buttons
Rather than a dial to adjust settings, the XF now has a touch screen that allows you to quickly select your camera settings and functions. It took a minute to figure out, but found it easy to get accustomed to when I did.
Another cool feature with the XF's interface is the programmable buttons and dials. The camera body has several buttons around the grip that you can program to do whatever you want such as activate live preview, exposure lock, focus, etc. Its pretty awesome having buttons that you can modify to your shooting style.
Built-In Profoto Air Remote
I shoot with Profoto D1 Air heads that I would normally fire with my hotshoe-mounted air remote. Now the XF has a built in Profoto strobe trigger, which is a great tool and works seamlessly. Although, you can only choose what channel you want to fire and whether you want the trigger function on or off. Unlike the external Profoto remote, you cannot remotely raise or lower the power on your flashes or turn the modeling lights / strobe power on / off. Although, Phase One representatives tell me that the camera will see many more functionality improvements with eventual firmware updates so I can only imagine that there will be additional Profoto strobe control in the future.
A Few Notes About the New 35mm LS
I will admit that I need more time with this lens to do a proper comparison test with my own 35mm focal plane prime and this newest leaf shutter lens, but I can say a few things that may be helpful to those considering upgrading to this glass. The lens looks huge, but is much lighter than it looks and easy to heft and shoot with while on-location. The glass is sharp! The edge distortion is practically non-existent and certainly does not shoot like a wide-angle lens. Focus is fast and precise for such a big lens. I will certainly be replacing my 35mm with the new leaf shutter soon.
In case you were wondering or couldn't tell, I will be upgrading my 645DF+ to the XF body as soon as possible and will probably pick up that new 35mm LS over the next few months. I do love the new beautiful CMOS-based IQ250 and IQ350 that Phase One released over the past year, but I am still pretty happy with the gorgeous files from my CCD-based IQ140, which should cover my shooting needs for at least a couple more years.