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First Test of the New High Tech Phase One XF

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 Conclusion

I'm mad at Phase One. I said it. They are just taking my money all over again! Haha. In all seriousness, Phase One has done a great job revolutionizing their camera system, backs, and software. Their newest leaf shutter lenses, such as my favorite 75-150, are SHARP as any prime I have ever seen and have crazy fast flash sync speeds. The XF is a huge evolutionary step forward in terms of user comfort, customization, functionality, and most-importantly, the implementation of the much-improved Honeybee auto focus system. Even their updated tethering/raw software, Capture One Pro 8 is a huge leap forward from the much slower and buggy Capture One Pro 7. 

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.

One of my sample images with the XF, IQ350, and 75-150LS. My friends at Resource Magazine filmed a great BTS video which they will announce soon

 

SPECIAL THANKS TO MY ASSISTANT LEVI SHERMAN FOR THE GREAT BEHIND THE SCENES PHOTOS AS ALWAYS!

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12 Comments
Ross Floyd's picture

Care to share any sample photos Douglas?

Douglas Sonders's picture

will do

Neo Racer's picture

Oh you high end guys!!!

Ralph Hightower's picture

Yea, I want to get a Mamiya 645 and RZ67 to get into medium format photography. But I doubt that my wife will let me buy medium format gear; I also want to get a 4x5 setup.
After all, I still use my first SLR camera that I bought new in 1980 (Canon A-1), added a used F-1N in 2013 and a 5D Mk III, also in 2013. I need to get lenses for the 5D beyond the 24-105 kit lens.

Spy Black's picture

Just a side comment about Capture One 8 being faster than 7, I have not seen this magical difference between 7 and 8. Seems just as slow to me. Anyone else finding this?

Spy Black's picture

Thanks for your reply. The acceleration was off. It was actually off on both 7 and 8, although it does appear spunkier in 8.

However there are two acceleration options, "NEVER", and "AUTO". The "AUTO" thing strikes me as weird. I notice when scrolling around an image eventually I hear my CPU fan crank up. So why the "maybe" use of the GPU? I have a Geforce GTX 760 with 4 gigs of ram, I feel it could make better use of it. ;-)

Anonymous's picture

Shoutout on Fstoppers? No biggy

Nathan Hamler's picture

Meh.....i still don't see the draw to medium format digital....It used to be image size....now we have 36 and 50mp dslr's....then it was dynamic range....now we have just under 15 stops of DR from DSLR's and phase one's current offerings are under 14 stops....medium format has a "look"...sure...but the image above doesn't show that "look".....a crop sensor D7200 could easily reproduce that....leaf shutters are about the only place that medium format wins.....and even those are being rendered unnecessary with big TTL flash offerings from profoto that will do high speed sync with power to spare.....

Deleted Account's picture

I used to dream about PhaseOne, now I am waiting for Sony a7S mkII. Dynamic Range is all I want.

Nathan Hamler's picture

If i were in NYC i'd GLADLY be up for a demo....sadly i'm not :-(....BUT, i feel like what you're getting at is the "look" of medium format....that "je ne sais quoi", if you will....yes, it has 16 bit raw, where the current dslr's are 14 bit....still, i feel like there is a diminishing returns thing there...the different between 12 bit and 14 bit for properly exposed files with all but the HEAVIEST of post processing has been shown to be negligible.....

https://photographylife.com/14-bit-vs-12-bit-raw

i can only ASSUME (yes, we all know how dangerous that can be), that the same can be extrapolated out to include 16 bit files as well...for that reason, I just can't get behind MF Digital....and ESPECIALLY when you consider the ASTRONOMICAL price of admission to medium format digital (current tech, not 5 or 10 year old medium format digital)....no matter the reasons, i don't think there exists a scenario, a client, or an art director that NEEDS medium format digital. They may THINK they do, but i guarantee they dont.

Jesse Hoorelbeke's picture

Oh one can only dream... The XF sounds like quite the system. Can't wait to see all the finished images and the bts!
By the way... I told Elyse I was jealous of not only the camera, but getting to work with you in New York. It looked like a hell of a fun shoot. I've been lucky to work with her a few times here in Fargo. Love that girl!

Michael Corsentino's picture

As I understand it power sharing between body and back is exclusive to IQ3 backs paired with the XF. Power sharing is one of the features the impending firmware update will not provide for IQ1 and IQ2 series backs attached to the XF. This is because IQ3 backs have additional pins that facilitate power sharing between the back and XF.

For my money the most important capability of the IQ3 and XF power sharing arrangement isn't the ability to change batteries less often, which is certainly nice, but rather it's being able to work uninterrupted as the back can remain powered on during battery changes. This will make wireless tethered shooting into Capture Pilot way more stable, no more lost connections! All that said the power sharing isn't a compelling enough reason for a cross grade to an IQ3 back in my opinion. I've ordered the XF but I'll stick with my IQ250 for the time being.