This past week I've been sleep deprived, socially inactive, and holding a camera in my hands for more than I ever have in my entire life. You see, this past week I've been working with PRO EDU to film my first tutorial series to go on sale at the Fstoppers store this summer. Though learning a lot about my own work and process, I think I learned the most when I used a rented PhaseOne IQ250 system for one of my shoots.
PhaseOne has a brilliant system within their website that allows you to apply to take their camera system for a test drive. Many hoops may stand in your way during the application process, but if all goes well, you'll be left with an exceptional camera system to use for a week, to really put your DSLR to shame. And this is exactly the system I used to get my hands on a PhaseOne 645DF+ and IQ250 system with three Schneider leaf shutter lenses.
I've used both Hasselblad and PhaseOne systems in the past during my career as both an editor for Fstoppers and as a photographer. Certainly, I've been impressed, but I was never swayed enough to really understand the importance of these systems when compared to my Canon 5d Mark III. I always thought the better sharpness and dynamic range were great, but never at the expense of having a bogged down computer working the 50MP files, or the added weight of a massive medium format strapped to your side. After spending a week with the latest PhaseOne system, consider me swayed, and I learned quite a few lessons from my past ignorance.
My Canon 5d Mark III Isn't The King Of The Castle
If we can ignore the impending Nikon vs. Canon debate for a second, I've always thought that by having one of the top of the line camera systems by Canon, I was a couple steps ahead of anyone else in my field. I always considered the Hasselblads and PhaseOnes to be old in their ways and a fading system in the industry. Never did I expect to look at my Mark III with shame, but it happened this morning.
What was most satisfying process during this experience wasn't the ease of setting it up to get a PhaseOne in my hands (Being an editor of this place has it's perks), nor was it the frantic scribbling of my signature on the FedEx delivery man's signature authorization pad; it was the dynamic range of this beast of a camera. Upon taking the camera out for its first shoot in my nervously sweating hands, I did a light test - and the magic presented itself. Much to my dismay, nothing was blinking, nothing was striped red, and nothing was any different than photos from 100 clicks in. Let me elaborate -
I use highlight priority on my shooting. For those unfamiliar with it, it's that little setting on your camera that will notify you when you've got unrecoverable highlights in your image. When a light is just a little too bright, or your shutter is just a little to slow, you get a glaring notification of your error. PhaseOne is no different, they have this built into their system, marking it with a glaring red spot, a red spot I wasn't seeing. I wasn't seeing it because the dynamic range of this camera is insane, allowing you to get more shadows that aren't black, and more highlights that aren't white.
My Images Are Not That Clean
For my entire career as a photographer, I've always been told that my images are really clean. I've never fully understood what that meant, but I always considered it better than someone calling my work "So dirty" and took it as a compliment. After taking a few thousand photos using a medium format camera, I learned one very important lesson - My photos aren't clean. Never before did I realize I was hiding laziness within the smaller resolution of my sensor, but I was. Never before was I able to shoot a full body photograph and zoom in to look at pores on the face. And never before was worried about small imperfections in my images like flyaway hairs, dust on my sensor, or even a rogue eyebrow hair - I am now. The added resolution of this sensor has shown me every little thing I haven't been paying attention to, and showing it off to me with glowing criticism.
Adobe Lightroom Has a Worthy Competitor
I've been using Adobe products for my entire life. My career with Adobe begins in 1999 with Photoshop 5, where I learned how to develop web templates to sell to anyone who was comfortable buying from a 13 year old - my lemonade stand of a 56k era. From that moment, I've been a loyalist to Adobe - assuming we can both ignore my brief flirting with Jasc's Paint Shop Pro in the early 2000s. Never have I even considered that someone would be able to compete with Adobe in their innovation-heavy outlook on the art community. Well, PhaseOne is gaining ground on Lightroom with their Capture One software.
I've heard of others in the past using Capture One over Lightroom, but I've always kind of scoffed at it - comparing it to those who stubbornly use Gimp over Photoshop. Attached in the Pelican case that the PhaseOne system came in was a thumb drive. A thumb drive labeled "Capture One" and tucked away in a mesh pocket, mounted to the pelican door, and begging my curiosity to get the best of it. Well it did.
My images look better in Capture One. Now I'm still in the honeymoon phase with it, so I can't tell you why. Whether it's their ACR algorithms or some other magic the hide within the program, but my images look better for some reason. Now keep in mind, I haven't loaded any DSLR images into Capture One, nor do I plan them to look any different than on Lightroom. But in terms of PhaseOne, their software is optimized to handle the PhaseOne files, and do it better.
Their software is also slower. While I can imagine this being a huge pain when I have hundreds of photos to process and go through, right now it has been exceptional for my work. I've always said that patience is what separates good photographers from great photographers. So in my current state, I'm loving how Capture One is slowing me down, and having me properly adjusting my Raw images before sending them off to Photoshop to get down and dirty with a few dozen layers.
So does this mean I'm making the transition to PhaseOne? We'll have to see. At this point, I'm giving myself some time and space away from this love affair I've been having with another camera system. Spending tens of thousands of dollars isn't within my bank accounts limits either, so that's another hurdle to jump when I get there. But at this time, I'm impressed - I'm really impressed. Fstoppers might need a new Canon fanboy in the coming months, cause this one is going through some mixed feelings.