Lessons I Learned From My Time Spent With a PhaseOne

Lessons I Learned From My Time Spent With a PhaseOne

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.

PhaseOne-Vs-Canon-mkiii

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.

CaptureOne-Example

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.

For more information about the tutorial series I've been putting together, be sure to check out PRO EDU, and look for it in the Fstoppers Store and PRO EDU store sometime in late July/August.

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82 Comments

Clay Cook's picture

Looking forward to seeing all the results!

Zach Sutton's picture

Thanks buddy. Still a lot of work to do, but I'm really happy with the footage we got, and the photoshoots we did. I think this tutorial series is going to be one of the best ones available for photographers looking to step up their game.

I upgraded to a leaf credo 40 (on a Hasselblad H1) a few months ago. It shows every single flaw. It makes you shoot slower (not a bad thing, but the 1 af point takes some getting used to). But the lenses, man the lenses are SO much sharper. They make the expensive Nikon look like plastic. And give the Canon files a shot in C1 - the Nikon files with the Leaf profiles look way better. I'm in the process of moving all my raw processing (with the exception of large volume jobs) to C1.

Ett Venter's picture

Oh really? Man, I've been thinking about C1 for months, but I don't have the time to make such a massive jump.

The offer a 30day trial.
I use capture mainly for tethered shooting with the Canon 1Dx or a Phase One and to organize my files. I don't use capture to do the RAW conversion. As said above, it's optimized for the Phase One Files an I feel to get better results with CR2 in photoshops converter. Only thing that bugs me is that the Imagerating from CaptureOne is not recognized by the adobe software and the other way arround.

It's a 60-day trial, actually. Pretty generous, I think ,and allows you plenty of time to get familiar with the program.

My only real criticism of PhaseOne is that they seem to want to nickle-and-dime you on training. They should have free training videos readily available. The webinars they supply are drawn-out and sleepy.

Dean Courtois's picture

You can find good comparisons online of C1 vs LR. I personally think that C1 does a much better job of interpreting the skin tones from raw data. If I shot portraiture more I am sure I would use it for my editing and not just to tether.

Rick Rose's picture

Capture one is currently 50% off through the 30th. AMBROSE will give you an additional 10% off so it's only $134.50.

That's a great deal. Anyone considering Capture One should jump on that.

It's definitely slower, and totally impractical for my wedding work. But I look at the colors I get and think, "THIS is how my images are supposed to look!" I think I didn't fully realize how much "default" baking changes into the files LR does.

i also tested the phase one and compared it to a nikon d800. After that i there was no reason for me to buy a phase one. It has a poor af compared to the d800, less dynamic range and also poor high iso performance. It its bigger and heavier und much more expensive. The only benefit is higher resolution and sharpness.

here is are the results of the dynamic range tests!
https://twitter.com/FrankHerzmann/status/321713251488514049

Thanks, Frank!

My main camera is a 5D3, but I had to make a 50" print (of a server rack) recently and I was torn between the D800 + Otus F1.4 55mm and a medium format (was looking at the >50MP sensors). I was leery of the D800E, because I figured moiré would likely be an issue. In the end, the familiarity of a DSLR and the Adobe workflow won out and I went with the D800/Otus.

The result was phenomenal:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/63365637@N07/14304355031/

That said, I'm still curious how a Hasselblad or PhaseOne would've performed...

Marius Pettersen's picture

Well, it's not about which camera that gives you the most recovery data from their raw-files, but which gives you the best range from highlights to shadows in a raw-file with a correct exposure.
You should want to avoid pushing the sliders too much, because it will always screw with the image quality.

I also compared the highlights recovery with all three cameras. There the Phase one was the best, but the nikon and cannon were not far behind. The differences were tiny compared the shadow recovery results. Overall the Nikon D800 wins in this category.

Jaron Schneider's picture

You were shooting with the CCD back correct? It's an entirely different story with the CMOS back (IQ250). Yes ISO is still better on a D800 or 5DIII, but the dynamic range is indeed breathtaking.

yes my test was with the ccd back. Ok now i want to test the cmos Version ;)

Agreed until you said the only advantage was the resolution. Medium format is another world as far as look. And fyi, they're not meant to be shot like a 35mm. I have a d800 and shot medium format film as well.

Studio camera doesn't have amazing AF or high iso performance. Shocking.

"Studio" cameras aren't always used in a studio. I guess you also don't shoot fashion with your "studio" camera either.

Actually, I do. And the comment I was responding directly to specifically whinged about high ISO performance.

From the look of his website, he seems to mainly shoot weddings (quite nicely too, imho). It's the wrong tool for the job.

I'm not seeing anything in his comment about high ISO.

"It has a poor af compared to the d800, less dynamic range and also poor high iso performance. "

Brain fart on my part. :-)

Frank that's hardly a scientific test. The files from my Credo 40 (same sensor), blow away both the D800 and D800E shots I've done. It's not for ISO or AF, I have the D4 for that, but when I need a portrait with the ultimate quality, it doesn't even compare. PLUS the lenses are way sharper.

Ett Venter's picture

Yeah, as nuts as it sounds, I've got to wonder about the whole dynamic range thing when compared to a DSLR. Well, to a D800 at least.

I remember when the D800 just dropped, I had read that it had more dynamic range than a few of the Phase backs. I eventually sold my D3 in favour of the D800, purely for the added dynamic range (The D800 has 2.2 stops more DR than the D3), and even after taking what must be 100 000 shots on the D800 by now, it still blows my mind every day by how much DR it's got.

I'm not questioning overall quality, though. I know that there's a clear difference in image quality between 35mm and medium format, but as far as dynamic range goes, shouldn't the two be comparable? (I'm legitimately asking - not being a jerk commenter. Haha).

@ettventer:disqus I agree with you. But I've come to realize, unless one shoots with a D800 they will never be able to understand just how amazing the DR is.

You can say that about the phase too...

Sure, it's amazing. But the situations where you truly need it are limited. I do landscapes, portraiture, and street photography primarily. I can count on one hand the number of times where not taking the shot with the D800 lost it for me. 99% of the time, the D3, or a Canon, will do just fine. In fact, that's probably conservative.

What you guys are doing, is putting the D800 so far on the pedestal, that novices will think that they won't be able to get the shot without the DR of the D800. It's a great camera, sure, but most people are better off spending the money on lenses, or lessons. What you guys are doing is socially irresponsible.

The D600/610 cameras have fantastic DR as well.

Agree completely on Capture One. I find the way lightroom handles some RAW camera profiles to be extremely lazy resulting in muddy looking base images. It always bothered me but I was really shocked to see the difference it made when i switched to C1.

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