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.


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.

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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Zach Sutton is an award-winning and internationally published commercial and headshot photographer based out of Los Angeles, CA. His work highlights environmental portraiture, blending landscapes and scenes with portrait photography. Zach writes for various publications on the topic of photography and retouching.

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Looking forward to seeing all the results!

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.

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.

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.

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!

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:

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

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.

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.

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.

Zach, MamiyaLeaf, which you probably know is almost identical to the PhaseOne but with better color reproduction, is selling the camera and a credo 40 kit now for $13K, not too shabby! I spent a few hours with the Credo80 today, pretty amazing...

"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."

That pretty much sums that up. I'm not sure I find Capture One "slower" than Lightroom, but so far whatever Adobe is doing to my Nikon files looks better in LR than in Capture. There's some interesting processes in Capture that I like over LR, so these programs are a toss-up for me, but it would be a bit of an embarrassment if Adobe yanked better-looking files out of a PhaseOne back than PhaseOne themselves. :-)

Having had multiple P1 systems, I will say they are certainly awesome in there perspective field, and I still use Capture One which, I feel is still the best RAW processor. Currently I own a couple of D800E's but desire to return to the M/F arena. Having said that, I think I'll go with the Pentax 645Z. Same CMOS @ 51mp sensor as the IQ250, weather sealed with a nicer UI, a much higher ISO, better specs across the board, and here is the best part, 4x LESS then the IQ250. http://thenewcamera.com/hasselblad-h5d-50c-vs-phase-one-iq250-vs-pentax-... I certainly see the 645Z as a game changer!

I will wait to see it in person my self, but this looks very, very good!

Looks very usable up to ISO 6400, even higher if you use the resolution power to down-sample the image.

I realize you work for a distributor, but c'mon man : ) By comparable, I didn't mean twice the price for less kit. "Retina touch interface", yea, don't care. Sync speed, as a compositor, doesn't matter.

Phase equipment is no doubt great. Full Stop. But the use case for it is small, especially considering the price. And if the Pentax lives up to its billing, which in first reports it does, that case just got a lot smaller. But to each their own, people can make decisions that make the most sense to them. Carry on : )

While I agree with your comments, and I'm certainly not trying to take anything away from P1, It has to be pointed out the 645Z has an awesome rotating LCD / UI which seems pretty awesome In addition Pentax has created a whole line of specific lenses in conjunction with the 645Z, great focusing, with a 27 point AF, which was always a complaint I had with P1 and its lack of fast accurate focusing. And although I have not tested one yet, the most recent files shout.lt/wcg7 certainly will give the IQ250 a run it's money. Food for thought as well, if your shooting in RAW, doesn't it ultimately boil down to the sensor, which again is the same as the IQ250, and the glass? I'll let you know if I see a $27,000 difference.

I use Capture One for years, having switched from Lightroom. It's not just better, it's miles better.

I do like certain things in Capture One but, at least as far as my Nikons are concerned, I'm getting better-looking images right out of the box in LR than in Capture One.

When it comes to tethering it's no contest, Capture One blows LR away, but I'll tether in Capture One and process in LR for now.

Funny you should say that because I switched from LR especially because the way my D700 files looked out of the box. Last versus I made involved LR4 vs. CO6, I think, and it maintained my view.

Try the nikons with the leaf or phase profiles. World's better.

Hmm, well, I gave that a shot, and it certainly did NOT look better. I'm not sure if there is a specific model and model profile you're referring to, but everything I tried was worse than the generic Nikon profile.

Thanks for the article. Aside from sports or wildlife where fast, variable tracking is needed, Phase offers a much more pleasant user experience when shooting. I much prefer the fact the user can build the camera system around their needs with the ability to easily change pieces of the system that MF enables as opposed to the all in one approach most other manufactures use.

Did i miss something? Sounds like a D800e review. Have you ever shot a D800?

D800e + Capture NX2?

I have.

Have you ever shot a PhaseOne IQ250? Cause it's NOTHING like the D800

Not that i recall. I think i would've mentioned that, don't you agree? I wasn't trying to troll Sutton. Friendly question. Take a chill pill CAPS man :) .

I'm not trying to come off as aggressive, I'm simply emphasizing that the IQ250 is in an entirely different ballgame than the D800. It's about the same MP pumped into a much larger sensor. You're going to get more sharpness, dynamic range, and detail in your photos.

You know, there are days I hate being on the other side of the fence, but I never thought much of medium format (honest to God here)! They're big, heavy, slow and cumbersome (at least for the kind of work I do, and everything I've ever done). They flat out suck at high ISOs, their AF can't keep up with any action, and the range of lenses is limited compared to what's available in 35mm. For commercial (and landscape) work where high megapixel output is absolutely necessary - I agree - there is no substitute. But for everything else, why bother? Heck, even with landscapes, one can more easily stitch a panorama of 4-8 images than come up with the extra $20k for a medium format replacement.

Years ago their superior dynamic range and astronomical resolution were huge talking points. Today, not so much. The market for 35mm is much bigger, and so is the competition (and innovation). In medium format, sensor technology is years behind (it's just such a small market). I mean they've just NOW released their first CMOS. And with regards to dynamic range - medium format has long lost its advantage. At DxO Mark, there are 20 cameras that exceed the dynamic range of any medium format - one of them being a Nikon Coolpix!

Back in the film days, there were distinct qualities to each, and I often shot with Pentax 645. Today, a Nikon D800 outclasses a medium format in every category (including price), with the only exception being megapixels.

I'm just not a believer.

Had to put my 2 cents in there Zach :-) Hope you don't mind the counterpoint.

You should sell your Canon stuff to a local ABQ photog...hint, hint.

Haha. we'll have to see. :-)

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