My Weekend With The Phase One IQ250 Camera System: Lifestyle, Swim, Beauty, Fashion, and On-The-Road Edition

My Weekend With The Phase One IQ250 Camera System: Lifestyle, Swim, Beauty, Fashion, and On-The-Road Edition

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of testing out the Phase One IQ250, and so I thought I would put together a practical write up of my time spent the Phase One IQ250 Camera System, the Capture One software, and whether or not either one has found a permanent place in my workflow.As you’ve probably read by now, friend and fellow Fstoppers writer Zach Sutton recently covered his time spent with the Phase One IQ250 Camera System. His write up is a thorough and technical look at the IQ250 camera system, the Capture One software, and their place in his workflow.

Background: How it Happened

A few weeks ago, I got a phone call from my agent at ZĒRO Creative Agency. He explained that he was in touch with some people from Phase and turned me on to their test drive program which allows you to use one of their cameras from anywhere from a few days to a week. The rep from Capture Integration and I exchanged a few emails and it was set. Needless to say, I was pretty stoked. Medium Format camera systems are the stuff of legend and, as someone who is totally happy with his DSLR, something which I thought would be a fun (expensive) novelty which I would use for a few days and then send back to the company without a second thought. 

As things go, that particular shoot was cancelled and we rescheduled for a date sometime in the future. That following Monday, I got a call from Colin King, director of USA Marketing at Phase. We chatted about the test run with the camera system, the Capture One software, social media, all sorts of things. In the end, it was decided that I was going to be getting the Phase One for a full weekend - Friday afternoon to Monday. 

The Thursday before the camera arrived, I had a quick tutorial given to me via Skype by Morgan and Ryan at Capture Integration. I was set. All I needed to do was sit and wait. 

The Camera Arrives: 

As a photographer and somewhat reformed gear hound, I’ve learned that there are some days which stand out and are sometimes more special than the rest. Those days are affectionately called either “new lens day,” or “new camera day.” For me, that Friday was both. That afternoon, the Phase One IQ250, 645DF+ Camera Body, and four Schneider leaf lenses arrived (55mm, 80mm, 110mm, and 150mm). I immediately pulled the system from the Pelican case and began playing around with it and of course, taking pictures of it for my Instagram.

John Schell Phase One

First Impressions: 

The camera is solid.

I won’t say that I was expecting something magical to happen when I first picked it up, but I won’t not say it either. Picking up the camera is in fact, a treat. Almost instantly, I felt as though it was something that I could put to some serious use. I ran through the settings, the lenses, took some photos of my dog, and played with the touch screen a bunch. 

Knowing I had roughly seventy-two hours with it, I had booked myself as many photo shoots as I could put together. The first, a swimwear shoot with model and friend Amy for about an hour or so after the camera arrived.  

*Disclaimer: If you've been reading along with me for the last six months, you'll remember that one thing I am not, is an overly technical person. I do love my equipment and I do enjoy talking/writing about it, but I've found that there are others who are so much more skilled at writing technical reviews, that I am much more comfortable leaving it to them. This is my practical review. If you want/need technical specs, etc, you may want to read on elsewhere.


When Amy and I got to the beach, it was overcast. We were both disappointed, but decided to go ahead with the shoot anyway because neither one of us had really anything better to do. Shooting with the camera on the beach, I was incredibly nervous. One drop into the ocean, and I’d be in a monetary hole to the wonderful people at Phase One that I’d not soon climb out of. So, knowing what I was up against, I decided to play it safe and made sure I stayed well above the high tide line. We started to shoot and everything became clear - literally. If I were to judge anything by the back of the camera previews, I knew I was going to have a hard time picking up my DSLR. Crisp wouldn’t be the word to describe it - more like clean. The images that came through on the camera back already looked to be of a much higher resolution than anything I’d ever seen on the back of any of my DSLRs (because they in fact, were). 


Amy and I shot around for a little while and then we decided that it was time to go. I took some shots with my 5D3 for good measure and then we called it an evening and went our separate ways. 


The following day, I had booked myself a lifestyle test shoot with a modeling agency out of LA. I wanted to find someone who was young and fun and who I had to chase around to get the shots I wanted. The agency sent me two perfect matches - Ellie and Helena - sisters, models, fun loving youths, etc. This time it was sunny, so we went to the beach and hung out, shooting, surfing, running around, having an all around great time. 


If there was one downside to the camera system, it would be the slow auto-focus and this is where I would feel compelled to mention it. But, honestly, having come from a DSLR where my lifestyle shoots are pretty much ‘run and gun,’ I have to say that despite the slow AF, the camera kept up pretty well - much better than I expected. Though, when I shot swimwear the day before, my keeper rate was fairly high, but when I ran around shooting lifestyle, my keeper rate was low - much lower than I would have liked. I’m fairly positive I can attribute this to several factors, all of which lead straight to user error and/or a MF newb. 


That night, I was pretty exhausted, but still the Phase One was burning a hole in my brain. Knowing that I only had about thirty-six hours left with the camera, I wanted to get as much done as I possibly could. Lucky for me, at about 11pm that night, I found a willing participant in my girlfriend Holly. While Holly did her makeup, I set up my studio. About an hour later, we were ready to shoot some beauty. 

John Schell CF003228

To say that this is where the Phase One shines would be an understatement. From the very first image I captured, I was in love. The benefits of the camera system shone through here and to me, proved it’s worth right then and there. I believe the work speaks for itself. Later than night, both Holly and I where in awe of the shots coming in off the camera. We couldn't wait to get started on them. Retouching credit: Holly Parker

Lifestyle / Swim:

The following day, I had one final shoot booked. Honestly, at this point I was sold on the camera system. It really didn’t have to do much to secure it’s place on my permanent WANT list, but I packed it up and together with my model Rachel, headed over to my friend Kevin’s house to give it a try shooting some interior lifestyle and swim looks. What we shot turned out to be a bit more beauty than Lifestyle or Swim, which I attribute to the camera's natural disposition toward to - like a Ferrari just wanting to go fast. 

John Schell CF003988 copy


Although Holly has been shooting for less than a year, she has been making some incredible and inspiring progress. Her fashion, swimwear, and lifestyle work has been growing by leaps and bounds. So what kind of gentleman would I be if I didn’t allow my girlfriend to try her hand at the Phase One? Her initial impression of the camera was that it was heavy, but once she saw the images coming through on the display, she forgot about it's weight (kind of), and was able to focus on the task at hand. 


In addition to being a photographer and a model, Holly is also a highly skilled retoucher. When she first loaded up the images onto her computer and began working on them, she was impressed by how much depth and detail each file had, "Because the photos were in such high resolution, retouching the files from the Phase One was actually easier because there was so much more information to work with."

Software: Capture One

To be honest, I didn’t take to the Capture One software right away. I’ve tried it in the past and for whatever reason, it never really sat right with me. I think it’s because I’ve always been an Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom user that I’ve just developed a natural tendency towards using them - not to mention I never really thought I had a need for it because I wasn’t shooting Medium Format nor was I shooting in studio all that much. 

Although I had gotten a complimentary copy of Capture One and installed it, it sat on my computer as a fancy file importer, basically unused. My feelings toward the software changed, however, when I Holly and I took a day trip to Los Angeles last week and managed to score a tutorial taught to us by Morgan at Capture Integration. It was brief, but in about forty-five minutes we both saw firsthand that Capture One isn't any better or worse than Lightroom, it’s different than Lightroom - in a good way. To be sure, each software program has it’s place and each program is pretty brilliant, but in that brief tutorial, I learned that with a little time spent learning the program, Capture One could give Lightroom a serious run for it’s money. 

John Schell CF003920 copy


When Monday arrived, I took the box with the Phase One to the FedEX location and watched as the unpleasant women with the beads of sweat on her furrowed, wrinkled brow took the box from me and very unceremoniously carried it to the back room where it disappeared amidst boxes and boxes of returned Amazon products and reams of copier paper (I’m assuming). Not to be overdramatic, but it was like watching your partner in a whirlwind weekend-long love affair board their plane back to Paris. I knew that in a few days, the camera would wind up in someone else's hands - someone else who would in no way treat it as lovingly as I had…

I digress. The feeling of shooting with a medium format system  will stay with me a long time, I think. It’s not a perfect solution - it’s a bit heavier than I was used to, it’s a tad cumbersome, it doesn’t fit in my hand as well as a DSLR, I struggled with focus, and obviously, it’s very expensive. But as far as quality of the photos, as far as I’m concerned (and in my experience), it’s unmatched. 

All that said, the question that has come up again and again is, would I switch?  At this point, I'm still not quite sure. I can, however, see how Capture One could overtake Lightroom as my raw converter and primary image editor sometime in the near future.

On The Road: 

As I type this, I am sitting in apartment full of moving boxes. At the moment, Holly and I are getting ready to hit the road for several months - from Los Angeles to Miami to New York. So, if you're in the US and live along the southern route and/or the I-95 corridor, you may see two photographers and their dog all with a serious case of wanderlust high tailing it across the country and stopping at every tourist trap, taking some very cool, very expensive photos. 

Thanks for reading!

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John Schell is a Lifestyle photographer and writer currently based in Miami, Florida

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"Not to be overdramatic, but it was like watching your
partner in a whirlwind weekend-long love affair board their plane back
to Paris." HA! So well written and I completely agree! Phase One was kind enough to lend me a system for a few weeks, and upon returning it I went through serious withdrawals. Long story short, I am now the proud owner of a Phase 645 and IQ180 :) I just couldn't get the quality out of my head and I had to invest in it. Best decision ever.

I'm curious how you all manage to test drive these cameras!

Follow the link, Jennifer. Phase One has a test-drive program.

We all just happened to take advantage of the PhaseOne testing program at about the same time :-)

Thanks for the write-up. I don't think the AF is bad. I own a Mamiya with an older AF system. Sure, it's not going to track/ focus like a 35mm camera, but its not meant for the same situations. You have to be a bit more deliberate with making sure focus is locked before shooting. I would recommend to anyone to shoot sports for 6 months or so to learn the fundamentals of tracking & focusing on high speed, variable moving targets under changing conditions. It will carry over to everything else you shoot. I don't believe there is a truly all-in-one camera solution, nor should there be. 35mm, MF, and LF all have their place. I shoot with all of them, but each for different circumstances.

results looks like any other 35mm camera....

Guy judges camera he hasn't used by viewing 700x700px jpegs on website, thereby demonstrating why internet commentors can be safely ignored.

The media for 99% of photos....the internet.

It is a rather fair assessment, and a harsh and unwarranted criticism on your part.

The media for 99% of medium format digital images != low resolution jpegs on the internet. So it's actually a pretty retarded assessment.

Hi John,

I'm curious could you explain more on this part :
"Capture One could overtake Lightroom as my raw converter and primary image editor sometime in the near future."

What feature that you might like in Capture One ?

Thank you.

Hi Michael, there isn't a single thing that Capture One is missing. It is, quite simply, my current reluctance to switch to a new photo management system. I recently switched from Adobe Camera Raw to Lightroom and I finally feel as though I am getting the hang of it. That said, with a little time spent on my part learning the new software, I could see Capture One becoming my primary piece of photo management software, etc.

Thanks John for the feedback.

I'm also curious... so since there's nothing missing from Capture One... what's there that makes it a compelling and possibly better replacement for Lightroom? And please... other than the usual Adobe Cloud complaints. Thanks in advance :)

Don't get me wrong, I love Lr, but from what I understand, the rendering engine (specifically for skintones) is somewhat better.

Yes... I've heard that disclaimer before, and actually asked you specifically without that hint, considering your shooting theme preference. I do believe I'll have to take the time to give Capture One a drive for myself for just that reason and similar theme shootings.

BTW: many thanks for the reply :)

John, I've gone gone back to each and every one of your articles and admire the approachability and "human voice" with which you share your thoughts and impressions. Keep up the compelling approach.

Having said that, I'll seem like the Luddite and gloomy naysayer... but like King Solomon of old in the book of Ecclesiastes, "Vanity, vanity... all is vanity." Apart from the excitement of a cool new toy that seems all the more impressive due to its cost, I doubt that anyone outside of the community of photographers and retouchers would every really notice. Seems like a chasing after the wind.

I'm truly open to being convinced but after all the articles and examples, I've yet to be compelled.

Medium format is like bringing a rocket launcher to a knife fight. Sure you're probably going to win, but a gun would have sufficed...and now you have no money for hookers and booze.

That's not only a genius statement, but pretty funny as well. Bravo!

...and even as a rocket launcher, it's not all that exciting.

I just bought a Hasselblad 500c/m, it's not a digital Phase One but this article got me even more excited to shoot in medium format!

Had to laugh at the article head photo. I can imagine how many photographers take a pineapple with them on a shoot :-) What's the purpose? Is the camera so heavy you needed a counter
Enjoyed reading the article even though I will never own the system :-( I'd need to win lotto twice to be able to afford it and for a hobbyist, it would take some justification to the one who must be obeyed.

hahaha, it was a prop for the shoot which I somehow wound up holding while someone snapped a pic of me.

I'm more impressed with your model/photographer/retoucher girlfriend than the Hasselblad.

Me too (and it's a Phase, not a Hassie)