Phase One IQ3 100MP Trichromatic Colors Compared

Phase One IQ3 100MP Trichromatic Colors Compared

Medium-format cameras have long been known for being able to produce incredible and vibrant colors. This is one of the main reasons behind why many professionals upgrade and spend so much on these systems. The colors that you can achieve with the 16-bit sensors are very desirable and allow much more flexibility in post. Currently, the 100MP sensor is the only CMOS sensor that is 16-bit capable based on the hardware, and most people who shoot with these cameras are very happy with the results. Phase One, however, decided it wasn't good enough and released their new Trichromatic back. 

The Trichromatic back is described as having colors as close to the human eye as possible, with incredible color accuracy and rendering capabilities. They also discuss how they've worked very closely with Sony to develop the hardware more effectively and get the most out of the sensor. This new sensor can now shoot at ISO 35 and in theory, should produce better quality images with less noise. From all the comparisons that I did, I couldn't see any difference in luminance noise, however, there was a distinct difference when it came to color noise. The Trichromatic was significantly better for color noise, which I find to be more of an issue and more difficult to remove in post.

Below you will see two test images, one taken with the standard 100MP back and the other from the Trichromatic back. White balance is exactly the same for both images and the lighting setup was exactly the same too. Both have been shot with the latest blue ring 150mm f/2.8 Schneider lens, which is an extraordinarily good lens. They were both shot wide open in this comparison to bring out some of the flaws in the lens and demonstrate the capabilities of the sensors.

Looking at the comparison above you may be able to tell that the Trichromatic is far more neutral and doesn't have a color cast. The green and purple tones are also far more accurate and overall the image is more vibrant. The standard image has a green cast which wasn't noticeable to me until I put it next to the Trichromatic image. If you take look at the bellows in the back you may be able to see more chromatic issues on the standard back. This was the reason I shot these images wide open, to test the chromatic aberrations. What's amazing to me is that the Trichromatic back is able to minimize chromatic aberrations by a significant degree.

The closeup above will demonstrate this point more effectively. Looking at the text on the ColorChecker Passport, you can see a noticeable amount of purple fringing for the standard back. The purple fringing is also affecting the borders on the ColorChecker Passport, diminishing the black tones. On the Trichromatic, however, there are absolutely no visible aberrations present. This is amazing because even with the same lens, the sensor is able to produce much better quality images; I had no idea that a sensor could impact how a lens performs when it comes to color fringing. Effectively, all of your lenses, even those that are not corrected properly, will actually perform much better on the Trichromatic back.

The second closeup above demonstrates the purple tones coming from both backs. The Trichromatic is significantly better for producing effective and vibrant purples. The color pops more and is much more accurate. The standard back is leaning more into the blue tones making it much less accurate. You may also notice the blue ball towards at the top of the frame is leaning more into cyan than the actual blue it's supposed to be. The Trichromatic is once again much better in that area too. There is also a very prominent green fringe coming from the standard back at the bottom of the Dairy Milk bar. Lastly, if you look at the white lettering "Dairy" on the standard back, the image is showing a blue border around the letters, however, the Trichromatic isn't producing these issues. 

Overall, the Trichromatic is a noticeable and significant update for colors and does exactly what Phase One claims it's supposed to do: produce better, more accurate, and vibrant colors.


There are only three things that truly matter in an image, and they are composition, lighting, and colors. Most updates that cameras receive these days have very little to no impact on that and it's mostly a race towards the highest resolutions and highest ISO. This latest release from Phase One is a massive leap in the right direction. I have been very critical of medium-format cameras in the past because most of it, is just excuses or romanticized anecdotes. The Trichromatic, however, is a very real and very impressive update. The colors from this camera are beautiful and extremely accurate. Not only that but the fact that it can reduce fringing and aberrations from your lenses is incredible. This camera is definitely not for everyone and only for those that require the most effective and accurate colors straight out of the camera. The Trichromatic is quite possibly the best and most effective update for digital photography in a very long time.  

It's a shame that Phase One won't demonstrate what the Trichromatic can do themselves. When discussing this point with them, the reply I received was that they wanted people to come and see it in person instead of viewing it online. Not the greatest excuse, but I think I understand why they can't or won't. My assumption is that they want to limit buyer's remorse from their existing customers and I find that to be very respectful.

Usman Dawood's picture

Usman Dawood is a professional architectural photographer based in the UK.

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Why would you profile a phase1 file with a color checker? It shouldnt be processed through anything but Capture1 Pro.

Well I think it's a legitimate question since the author is taking photos of the X-Rite Colorchecker Passport, which is made precisely for that purpose.

A portion of the article talks about how the Trichromatic gives more accurate colors while displaying photos of a tool that exists to profile your image for accurate colors. It naturally follows to ask if he just photographed the tool or if he went through the trouble of actually using it and what effect the tool had on the comparison. If the Colorchecker Passport properly corrects the color cast regardless of the back being used, then it would seem that you're really just left with the color fringing benefit unless the colors are still better on the Trichromatic even after the profile correction being applied.

Either way, it would be interesting to see the images from both files after being profiled on the same Colorchecker to see how much more (if so) nuanced and natural the colors are after correcting for the basic color cast. Somehow I doubt that such a test would translate well to a JPEG file on the web, though.

I didn’t create a profile using the colour checker and Capture One was used. The colour checker was just a prop.

The colour checker was only used as a prop and not to create a profile.

Hi Usman,

The difference in color fringing is a good indication that UV and/or IR cut off is stronger. Stronger filtration would shift colours, so different colour profiles would be needed.

It would be very interesting to see the raw files.

Best regards

That could be true, I can’t say for sure. The information they gave me when discussing that point was that each pixel is more certain about what colour it’s supposed to be. In essence there’s very little colour pollution between pixels and that’s what allows it to minimise issues even from the lens.

I'm fascinated by the marked difference in chromatic aberration!

Hi Usman, thank you for this article, good idea. As others have pointed out I don't think you can draw the conclusions you are drawing on noise and CA based on that test: one image is more saturated than the other, contrast seems to be different and you suggest one has a color cast = at least one 'incorrect' color/lens profile.

Plus doesn't the IQ3-100 standard back normally take a hot plate?

A number of shots were taken with similar results, the Trichromatic was always better for both Noise and CA. Phase One themselves agree that the Trichromatic is better for noise, colour, and CA.

The difference in saturation and contrast will only be due to the sensor because the exact same settings and set up was used with the same lens. Profiles were the same too in C1 I used Film Standard.

As with most tech, newer products tend to be better and this is the latest sensor from Phase One, their older sensor won't be as good, it's to be expected.

Sorry, I don't understand what you mean when you say hot plate.

Hot plate = UV/IR filter.

You may very well be right Usman. My interest is in confirming the marketing talk ("better for noise, colour and CA"). My reservation stems from the fact that by applying a profile one can make any image look any way one wants. For instance, saturation is just one design parameter in profiles that can be chosen arbitrarily to give it a certain 'look'. Therefore, like others here, I tend not to trust manufacturer profiles for objective hardware comparisons :-)

I think a procedure for checking relative noise, color and CA performance would be to compute specific compromise color matrices for each camera and measure noise and color differences linearly. Then develop color profiles through the same procedure via third party software (e.g. Argyll or Lumariver) and render the raw files while keeping all else equal. This could be achieved by rendering both images with their own profiles in ACR/LR. If you can share a link to the two raw files with the Passport in it I could give it a stab later on this week if you'd like, I sent you my email address via PM.


For what it's worth, I tested both of these also and found the same thing. I was shooting tethered with the 120 mm blue ring lens. The color difference was obvious as each image landed in Capture One. With the still life sitting right in front of me, there was no question the colors were more accurate than the original 100 mp back. I didn't notice the chromatic aberration issue, likely because my setup wouldn't have produced it. If I had noticed that, I would have been much more likely to upgrade because CA is really annoying to me. Also, I notice in these shots, the shadows are cleaner as well with the trichromatic. I don't mean noise, but color, making the overall tone of the objects more appealing. So, after I decided the color differences I noticed could be fixed in post, I am now looking at the CA issue, which often cannot be fully dealt with in post, and wish I had one of these. As it is, will probably wait for the next generation of DB, but for people upgrading from anything other than the original 100 mp, it may make sense.

Really glad to know you found similar results. Depending on the aperture you shot the images you may not see any CA on the new Phase lenses. I shot the 150mm wide open to exaggerate that point, most people probably won't shoot it wide in a studio. The 120mm is also a better lens for CA vs the 150mm.

I think you're right about maybe waiting it out on this one because if you have the "standard" 100mp back maybe you're not going to see a big enough difference to pay all of that extra money.

Hopefully, the next one will have dual card slots :P.

You're right on all points. In studio I hardly ever shoot outside the f/9-f11 range. It hadn't occurred to me to test CA, because I was fixated on color differences. Agree on the dual card slots btw.