Medium format goes medieval: comparing a Nikon DSLR with the latest from PhaseOne By Andrew Paquette

Medium format goes medieval: comparing a Nikon DSLR with the latest from PhaseOne

By Andrew Paquette – His Website is HERE

A couple weeks ago I started making plans to do a photo shoot at the ruins of a local castle. I intended to bring my D800 and a Zeiss 55mm Otus as the primary rig, along with an A7r with a Zeiss ZA 135mm for action and close-up shots. However, a few days before the shoot, my wife and I were talking about medium format systems, the photographer Jason Bell, and then PhaseOne medium format cameras. To find out more about PhaseOne, I performed a few searches on the Internet, but didn’t get very far with pricing information because every page led me to a form that I could use to get a free test drive of a PhaseOne system. I was primarily interested in knowing what a refurbished system cost, but since I had to fill out the form to find out, I filled it out. A few days passed, and then on the day before the shoot, I got a call from PhaseOne. Would I like to borrow a camera for a test drive? The rig suggested by the salesman was the 645DF+, the IQ250 50MP digital back (their first CMOS sensor), and a Schneider Kreuznach 80MM f/2.8 leaf shutter lens. This is the exact same rig Bell mentioned when talking about one of his shoots. Curious to see how it would work out, and with a little trepidation that GAS syndrome may have just had a peek in the room, I decided to try it out.

Dungeon corridor, shot with a PhaseOne 645DF+ and Schneider Kreuznach 80mm LS f/2.8

Settings: f/2.8, 1/5 ISO 400
Considering the slow shutter speed here, I really should have shot this at a higher ISO

Dungeon corridor

—-

Shot with a PhaseOne 645DF+ and Schneider Kreuznach 80mm LS f/2.8
Settings: f/3.2, 1/60 ISO 400

Robin in red

The primary reason I was curious about medium format in the first place had to do with my discovery that almost all of the photos I like the most were shot on medium format systems. In one case, a photographer had one shoot of many on her site that I liked a lot, while the rest were good but not as creatively inspiring. That one shoot was done with a PhaseOne. The more I looked, the more references to medium format and PhaseOne I saw. What finally decided me to look into it was a photographer who wrote how he had tried and tried to make images that had qualities he associated with his favourite photographers, like Annie Liebowitz, but couldn’t do it until he switched to medium format. Until then, he thought there was some problem with the way he was taking the photos, setting up the lights, or editing them in software. It wasn’t any of those things—it was the type of camera he used. After switching, he was able to get the look he wanted.

The D800 and the Zeiss 55mm Otus is a very nice combination for DSLR shooting. Short of the D800E or D810, it is about as good as it gets. The lens is the second-highest ranking lens rated by DxO labs (after the 85mm Otus), and the camera is one of the highest rated among DSLRs. The Phase One is similarly one of the best offerings from a brand that is popular among professional photographers. From my perspective, I wanted to know if the image quality difference would be noticeable, and if it would be worth the huge price difference between the two systems. Lately I have been gravitating toward portraits and fashion, both of which genres seem to benefit from medium format cameras.

Disclaimer:

This purpose of this article is to provide some information about how a high end DSLR system compares to a well-regarded medium format system, for those who are considering a switch. This is not meant to be a definitive scientific test. There are plenty of examples of beautiful work by professional photographers on the PhaseOne website, as well as on Nikon’s and Zeiss’s websites. These are great for showing the best possible results from the most highly regarded photographers, but it is hard to know from these gallery images what went into the shoots. What I found difficult to find were articles that compared DSLRs and medium format cameras by shooting something outside the range of normal technical tests, which are usually just a couple of distant buildings, a girl in the forest, and head shots of the camera salesmen at Photokina.

Expectations:

When I rode the train up to the PhaseOne dealer, I was fantasizing about getting some pretty amazing shots simply because I was using a PhaseOne. That said, I knew the possibility of that happening was remote. The D800 and Otus are an excellent combination and I had been using them for a year. Comparing that to an unfamiliar system automatically puts the PhaseOne at a disadvantage. Another problem is that the DSLR is much more useable in low light than the PhaseOne—or at least most medium format cameras, which operate best at 100 to 200 ISO (with 400 ISO the maximum). The IQ250 back I was using was different because it could go up to 6400 ISO. Despite this, I was thinking of the PhaseOne as a system that required studio lights, as opposed to the D800, which worked fine without them. I was planning on using a reflector and sunlight for the shoot, and had no room in my transportation for lighting gear. I hoped this wouldn’t compromise the PhaseOne too much, but that was what I had to work with so I’d just have to see how it turned out.

At the store, the salesman gave me a quick tour of the camera. During this short tutorial I shot a couple images of objects in the store. What I saw really surprised me: there were prominent green and magenta bands running along the edges of many white objects in the scene. Most of the Zeiss lens line have very little fringing problems, and the Otus has none. I literally hadn’t seen fringing for months because I have been using the Otus as my go-to lens. Even when I use other Zeiss lenses, like the ZA 135mm f/1.8, I rarely have fringing issues. Seeing fringing on the first couple of shots taken with the PhaseOne was disheartening, but on the other hand, the system I had in my hands was the same one used by the royal family’s photographer. There had to be a way around it.

Because of my concerns about the lighting and the lens, I was prepared for the test to go either way, but was rooting for the PhaseOne, if for no other reason but that it is always fun to discover a way to improve the quality of one’s images. It was a fairly dark day, so most of the shots were made with the camera mounted on a tripod.

Conclusions:

Ergonomics… The 645DF+ felt great in my hands, the menus on the touchscreen were easy to understand and big buttons were easy to press without accidentally pushing something else (as I do more often than I like with the D800 and A7r). The optical viewfinder was like looking into the detachable Zacuto viewfinder I use on my Nikon, but integrated with the camera and brighter. The live view screen was very nice, slightly higher resolution than the LV on the D800, and most importantly, the IQ250 has the built-in ability to transmit the live view and preview photos to an iDevice. I tested this on my iPad and it worked very well, using the free app provided by PhaseOne, Capture Pilot. This app can also be used as a remote trigger for the camera. This functionality makes focus checking trivially easy compared to the D800 (and probably the D810 as well) because of the much larger iPad screen. Overall, I felt that the camera was easier to hold, to carry, and to use in some ways than the D800. The only exception to this are the aperture and shutter control dials, which are smaller and thinner than their Nikon counterparts. This isn’t a big deal, but I found them more difficult to find and use than on the D800, probably because I’m not used to them.
The case this camera came in was much bigger and heavier than it needed to be for a camera that felt to be about the same weight as the D800 + Otus. As for overall dimensions, they weren’t much different there either. If I were to get one of these, I’d probably opt for a backpack instead of the gorilla-proof case I was handed for the tryout.

Image quality… Overall, I liked several of the shots from both cameras. In all but one of the examples where I shot exactly the same subject with both cameras, I preferred the PhaseOne result. I shot the PhaseOne in aperture priority mode because I wanted to avoid an excessively shallow depth of field in shots with multiple actors. This worked against the PhaseOne because I was able to use much faster shutter speeds with the Nikon. I initially had the impression that the Schneider-Kreuznach lens was softer than the Otus because the images themselves were softer overall, but the slower shutter speeds almost certainly allowed enough motion to lose some sharpness compared to the Nikon.
Despite the slight softness to images shot with the PhaseOne, in all but one example where I shot the same scene with both cameras, I preferred the PhaseOne because of the superior colours and tonal range. Both camera/lens combinations produced nice images, but the colours that came out of the PhaseOne were noticeably stronger.

I’m not totally convinced that the PhaseOne is hands-down better than the Nikon/Otus combination, but am willing to give it the benefit of the doubt until I have the opportunity to test it again*. I do know that the colour from the PhaseOne system and richer tones are very appealing compared to the more limited range available in the Nikon system.

*Update: I have retested the Phase One system and answered some of the questions left with the previous shoot.

1) The colour differences between the two systems are partly attributable to having used Capture One to process the Phase One shots but Lightroom for the Nikon shots. Despite this, the greater dynamic range of the IQ250 over the D800 is obvious.

2) The CA problem with the SK lens is very real but goes away at higher f-stops. I did some shots of dark tree branches against the sun at f/2.8 (heavy fringing) and f/5 (no fringing) as a test. If shooting at less contrasty subjects, the bigger apertures can be used. The Otus remains the winner in this category.

3) The SK lens is very sharp when setup properly. It really doesn’t like low light situations, and ‘low light’ for the Phase One is a lot brighter than for the D800. I had been setting the Phase One to match the Nikon settings—a big mistake because medium format requires more light than a 35mm.

4) The Capture Pilot utility is really awesome to use. It helps get steadier shots, and allows high resolution exposure and focus checks in the field.

Below are some more of the images from the shoot (and at the end, a couple of bonus shots from the more recent test):

Brigands. Shot with a PhaseOne 645DF+ and Schneider Kreuznach 80mm LS f/2.8
Settings: f/6.3, 1/15 ISO 200

Brigands

Dejeuner sur l’herbe (Luncheon on the grass). Shot with a PhaseOne 645DF+ and Schneider Kreuznach 80mm LS f/2.8
Settings: f/2.8, 1/223 ISO 200

Renaissance battle_4

Thom. Shot with a PhaseOne 645DF+ and Schneider Kreuznach 80mm LS f/2.8
Settings: f/3.5, 1/111 ISO 200

Thom

Merlyn. Shot with a PhaseOne 645DF+ and Schneider Kreuznach 80mm LS f/2.8
Settings: f/9, 1/7 ISO 100

Merlyn 1

Merlyn. Shot with a Nikon D800, Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4
Settings: f/7.1, 1/125 ISO 125

Merlyn 2

Unruffled. Shot with a Nikon D800, Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4
Settings: f/5.6, 1/100 ISO 1200

Unruffled

Sparring. Shot with a Nikon D800, Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4
Settings: f/7.1, 1/30 ISO 125

Sparring

Triple portrait. Shot with a Nikon D800, Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4
Settings: f/4, 1/200 ISO 125

Triple portrait

Robin. Shot with a Nikon D800, Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4
Settings: f/3.5, 1/100 ISO 200

Robin at the window

_______________________
The new test shots were made primarily to check CA and sharpness of the SK lens. All were shot with the 645 DF+, IQ250, and SK 80mm LS lens. Here they are:

Sunset fence 014

mirrored wetlands

RiverBend

60 Comments

  1. did you use any additional light when shoot using phase one?because the image quality was tremendous compared to d800..

  2. Andrew
    Don’t try to wrestle with yourself regarding which is best. I have a leaf Altus II 10 R and numerous 35mm based system. I have also used the Leica S2. I played with the Pentax 645. What I learned from the medium format exercise is that phase one and leaf have average lenses with magnificent sensors. My leaf is set for Hasselblad V system because the old zeiss lenses are better that the current mamiya schneider lenses ( I think at least).
    Leica have the best medium format lenses that are matched to the S2. It works well because you can shoot with an S lens wide open at Iso 640 and still get a noise free image that is super sharp. For the S2 above Iso 640 it gets noise. But that’s still better than what leaf and phase one can do at Iso 640.

    Leaf make an affordable near full frame medium format sensor the Credo 60. This sensor unlocks the fullmpotential of a medium format lens. I would ignore the cmos sensors for medium format until the 1.3 crop factor sensors are replaced with full frame ones at a reasonable price point. The current cmos sensors are ok but they just don’t have it where it counts compared to just using 120mm film In the out of focus areas.

    35mm based systems do not match medium format for image quality. The Zeiss and Leica Medium format lenses leave the best 35mm lenses in their wake. Medium format does not match 35mm for convenience and portability.

    Looking for the Holy grail in photography where you get medium format quality with 35mm convenience is just that, in my view, a myth. in film days the Mamiya 7 was the closest to it.
    The Leica S2 is the closest in the digital world. Phase one brilliant that it is is let down by lacklustre lenses. Hasselblad H also has second rate medium format lenses compared to the V system zeiss lenses. Leica is the only make that at least has lenses that perform above and beyond what the sensor produces and are share at f2.5. Naturally they are not cheap.

    I hope my comments help you.

  3. I think that some people have forgotten that this post was about the actual equipment, not the photos. And that Steve chose to publish this. If people have camera angst, they shouldn’t blame the author.

    In any case, as much as medium format digital is concerned, yes, it’s a step up from DSLRs. But I wonder, at least hypothetically, if film isn’t the best choice, not taking into account cost, convenience etc. But because film has been around for ages, it doesn’t have the novelty that digital has. The specs of the IQ280 sound more impressive than the specs for Portra.

  4. Guys, people who are experienced photographers with many years of technical trial and error behind them often forget how many mistakes and misconceptions they had as beginners. Andrew is a professional artist and animator but a relative beginner as a still photographer.

    He loves beautiful gear -so what ! I know guys who love gaming and have super speced PC’S and always buy the mega best -yet they sometimes fail to understand some basic technical information.

    If we see a mistake or misunderstanding on the part of a poster -lets correct this in a manner that explains the matter clearly unambiguously and does not seek to offend.

    I think people care too much about gear these days -but it seems to be the way of the modern world -beginners often have better equipment than pros. These people are not out to show off, they just want to learn how to use their cameras and are generally happy to learn from any source. This is a consumerist society -I have my issues with that but I never make it personal.

    Rgds

  5. Very nice but I am still confused with used parameters of the camera-lens-sensitivity on Your respected work.
    I suppose You didn’t care about sharp images yet to provide Us with some information about deferences between two different formats and their possibilities.
    I have used Hasselblad camera with 40mm, 80, 150mm lenses for a daily professional work.
    I have Leica M7 with 28mm and 50mm
    I am using today Nikon stuff for my everyday work.

    Teaching lessons in a good manner only:
    —To get sharp images with steady subjects, regardless on what film format, I have to be a stop or to faster with exposure time compared to a lens focal lenght I am using.

    One of the first lessons that I was teaching my students about “correct” exposure time, long ago in Photo Club Zagreb, was the sentence above!

    Just for INFO: I am full time pro for a 15 years now, engaged in studio, wedding and fashion photography and personaly highly passionate about film even today.

    Very interesting and keep up with good work
    Kind regards

    • This makes me curious how you feel about MF compared to 35mm. On paper, the specs of the bigger DSLR sensors don’t look much different from the smaller MF sensors, yet professionals continue to use MF. When I opened the P1 images I was really surprised how nice the color was compared to the D800, despite having the Otus on the Nikon, which is definitely better corrected than the SK lens. When I look at professional work, the same thing is evident: better color.

      I had thought that the IQ250 had 16-bit color, but just found out it is 14, just like the D800, meaning to me at the nice color is coming from something other than bit depth. Capture One seems to handle color better than Lightroom, but I’m not comfortable saying that is the whole difference between the two. The shooting experience (to me) is much better on the P1, but the image quality matters more to me, and my impression is that the IQ250 does have better image quality as long as it is set up the same way as the D800 and in focus–with the exception of shooting wide open, where the Nikon has the advantage because of the better lens.

      AP

  6. Are you sure Andrew ? I always thought exposure was independent of format size ! I do know that medium format cameras need larger focal length lenses than equivalent 35mm / digital FF. So they also have a narrower dept of field. The Larger sensor size has bigger pixel pitch for number of pixels on sensor, so this translates to better resolution and better colour rendition, delivering in theory larger size prints.

    The larger size (Leica S2 is only a little bit bigger than a top flight DSLR) makes mobility less, so they are more suited to landscape and studio work. However newer models have CMOS sensors and bigger buffers -so this speeds things up and expands low light potential.

    Rgds

  7. Lack of knowledge left me with a question about shutter speeds. Why is it possible to shoot faster with the Nikon than the MF?

    • Two reasons: 1) the medium format lenses don’t come with an f/1.4 maximum aperture like most of the good DSLR lenses, 2) The sensor is bigger, so the lens has to be bigger also, meaning it needs more light to get an equivalent exposure. When I set the D800 and Phase One to f/4, the Phase has to be shot at twice or more the exposure time of the D800 to get the same exposure levels.

      • “The sensor is bigger, so the lens has to be bigger also, meaning it needs more light to get an equivalent exposure.” : Have you ever seen a large format camera?
        “When I set the D800 and Phase One to f/4, the Phase has to be shot at twice or more the exposure time of the D800 to get the same exposure levels.” : Obviously going back to my previous comment…

        • Adrien, without explaining yourself, you provide sarcasm. If my explanation is incorrect, please correct it. I won’t mind at all. If it isn’t because the sensor and lens are bigger, then what is the reason? I’d like to know myself.

          AP

          • F4 is F4 regardless of system. Exposure is the same if the shutter speed and F stop are equal, what is not the same is the angle of view and DoF.

          • I just tested this and it looks like you are right. I shot the Phase in aperture priority mode, so it was setting the exposure times to some strange values, all of which were slower than what I was using on the Nikon. I assumed (wrongly) this was because 1) the exposure setting on the Phase had to be slower than the Nikon because it was MF, and 2) that the exposure on the Nikon was correct (more likely it was under-exposed compared to the PhaseOne’s metered ideal setting.) So the lack of sharpness was because it was slower, but it was slower because 1) I let aperture priority set the exposure and 2) the Nikon traded proper exposure for speed.

            This is one of the reasons I wanted to test the Phase again (and did), resulting in the landscape images at the bottom of this post. They were shot much more carefully than the other shoot and had better results.

            AP

  8. I might sound harsh but well, this is a place for discussion. I don’t get why you would need such specific and expensive gear to shoot this. I totally get the need for a high resolution for landscape work or large prints, I get the need for 16-bit professional medium-format camera in fashion and portrait work where colour accuracy is key. I don’t get it in these pictures. Not a critique of your work, just a misunderstanding, I believe.

    • This is what is making me want to test the IQ280 now. Keep in mind though that went sent me in the direction of the IQ250 is that it is used by some very good photographers–including fashion photographers Jason Bell and Melissa Rodwell. And let’s not forget Tim Kemple, who uses a D800 as a backup camera and an IQ250 as a primary. If there wasn’t a difference, there would be no need for such a setup.

      I have gone through some of my older D800 + Otus shots in Capture One and see that they can look a lot better than they did when processed in Lightroom, but the color from the IQ250 still looks better right out of the camera. This makes me ink of an article I read recently about how the color is processed inside of the IQ250, that it is better, regardless of superficial technical specification similarities. In a review by Yankov Wang of the Pentax, Hasselblad, and Phase One 50 MP camera systems, he felt they were nearly equal apart from Capture One, which made him prefer the Phase One system. Compared to DSLRs, one thing that MF can do and DSLRs cannot compete with is high speed flash sync. I couldn’t test that because I didn’t have high speed flash units with me, but it is not a small thing.

      AP

      • I am going to be brutally honest. What you need is photography skills, not fancy gear. The D800 + Otus and MF are very demanding tools and looking at the photos you provided, you surely do not exploit them correctly. You said yourself that you don’t have much time to shoot, well, that’s the real issue here. A Phase One MF would take weeks, if not months, to a very experienced studio photographer to incorporate efficiently in his/her workflow. I prefer your landscapes photos but all in all, a Ricoh GR would have done the exact same job.

        • Hello Adrien,

          Not sure what you hope to accomplish by writing something like this on a fun photography site for enthusiasts. That is, if you have something constructive to say, it is well hidden. So, my feedback to you is that a little more thought might have yielded something helpful along the lines of “looks like you’re having fun, but to get the most out of the systems you use, would take more time than a test drive to accomplish”. Everyone has to start somewhere, and everyone starts at square one, including you. Keep that in mind the next time and you may have earned a little respect.

          AP

          • There is no intent to disrespect you in any way, if you can’t take critique, don’t publish your work. This is my personal rant against constant camera porn on the internet and it is not because this is a “fun site” that all comments have to be positive and naively optimistic. If you want to buy fancy gear, I am totally for it, these small imaging companies are all struggling to stay in business.
            Now, we may talk about what matters, photography and photographies, even if it is a far less popular topic here than gear (and I don’t blame the blog, I love reading it, especially the “Daily inspiration” part). I do not like your pictures, and this is my personal taste, not disrespect here. I am not very fond of Ming Thein pictures either, but I respect his opinion on the technical bits as they are document with obvious substance. My point here is that on the technical side, none of these pictures are nearly quite up to what it is possible to do with any of these cameras. Everybody can hear the difference between a crap upright piano and a Steinway D but if you can’t play the piano, it is quite pointless to invest in a Steinway. You said you had studio sessions by the past and that it was rather expensive, well, I believe this is money much better spent than on professional grade gear. Lack of time? I know what it is, I am finishing a PhD myself, but that has nothing to do with the gear performance. I do enjoy the technical talk a lot as an engineer, but here, it is just pointless.
            Now you can believe that the 2 extra bits of colour are the reason why your photos are technically disappointing, your call, I have my opinion and this is no disrespect. Once again, I have no problem with fancy gear but you made the decision to post that on a website with a very large traffic, accept the critique.

          • My point, Adrien, is that you have not made a critique. You have made what could more appropriately be described as a complaint, and one that I have read many times from you and others, on multiple sites, directed at enthusiasts who use good quality cameras. The complaint seems to be that you and other like-minded individuals feel that ‘good gear’ should be handled only by people with equivalent or greater experience to the person writing the complaint. If that isn’t the sentiment you wish to convey, you may want to consider reviewing your posts before submitting them.

            As a point of reference, as a professional fine artist, illustrator, comic book artist, and CG animator, I do not troll sites teeming with amateur or semi-pro work and post complaints about the waste of good software, good art supplies, or an art education. I have posted critiques when I have been asked for them, but when I do this, I reference the art in question, point to specific defects and provide advice on how they might be corrected. If I don’t know how to fix the issue in question or it is too complex to deal with in a forum post, I say so.

            To write “I don’t like this” when no one is asking if you like it–and probably couldn’t care less, is gratuitous. Drive-by comments such as yours are not enlightening, constructive, useful, or even entertaining. I see quite a few enthusiastic amateur photos on this site–vacation snaps for instance–that do not get any comments like the ones you have made here. The common factor is that the photos tend to be made on inexpensive equipment. Whenever ‘good’ equipment comes out, that is when the gratuitous complaints start appearing. the impression it leaves, justified even if not accurate, is that some posters have a protective instinct regarding equipment that they think should be guarded against use by people they consider to be under-qualified. It is an elitist mentality, and an offensive one.

            Here in the Netherlands I see 70 year-old men ride by on 10,000 euro racing bicycles every spring and summer. There is no chance these guys can make the most of the tiny advantages these bikes give top-performing athletes in competition, but do I rain on their parade? Why should I? They are having fun and it’s their bike. Maybe I could ‘rant’ (as you say), and complain that it is pointless for them to talk about their bikes online, or to post their times from their local cycling club’s weekly race, but again, it’s none of my business.

            My advice to you is to spend more time outside with your camera so that you can remember what it is like to enjoy the art of photography. That way, you might think twice before firing off some pointless comments in an inappropriate context to be read by people who will only think less of you after reading them.

            AP

          • Once again, I have no problem with the gear, quite the contrary.
            You decided to post your work on the internet for people to see it and you just can’t take the critique of your poor technique, grow up.

  9. Just a general comment Andrew: you’re busy with a thesis (I am with work; same thing) and you have difficulty finding the time to photograph.

    I have much the same problem, and find I need time to get myself really acquainted with a particular system. The D800/E (I’ve got the E now) is not an easy camera to master; you need a lot of trial and error. Going back to one of my analog slr’s takes me out of that flow, so I’ve tended to stick to my 800E for the last couple of months (after a stint of F2AS).

    How do you manage several systems?

    • Well, at the moment it is officially just the D800 and the A7r. The Phase was a loaner. The first two I just divide like so: travel and discretion= A7r, everything else = D800. I have already started breaking that rule though because I picked up the 135mm ZA lens for the A7r to go along with the 35mm Summilux I already had. The 135 is really great, and I actually had it with me on the Phase/D800 shoot. It took a couple of my favorite shots from the shoot, but I neglected to include them because I was paying attention to comparing the D800 and the P1 system. In hindsight, I should have included them because the A7r sensor is the equivalent of the D800 sensor. Getting back to the point though, I like the 135 for sports (mostly basketball) and portraits, neither one of which require discretion and are unrelated to travel.

      When I was out at the castle, I laid out all three cameras on a cowhide laid out on the grass, then grabbed whichever one I wanted for the next shot. This entailed quite a bit of running around, more than should have been the case.

      Nowadays I think of the P1 more as a studio or off-camera flash rig, the D800 for action, and the A7r for travel and long shots.

      I just got to the end of this and realized that I really don’t have a good answer to your question. I’m still figuring it out also. 🙂

      Best regards,

      AP

  10. I feel compelled to add that the WiFi capability on the IQ250 is no small thing. The closest thing to it on any other system is tethered shooting–which is not very portable. The IQ250 can send images to an iPhone or iPad wirelessly, making on the spot exposure and focus checks possible. Both of which can be done at fairly high resolution (I don’t know what the resolution is, but it allowed me to zoom in on distant twigs, so it seemed like it was nearly 1:1. Even if you don’t use the WiFi, the panel on the back allows for a smooth zoom to 100%, which is far better than any live view on other cameras. For me, this made the camera much easier to use because I had a much better idea when I had the shot I wanted and could move on. With the A7r and the D800, I would always shoot a bunch of extra shots just to be sure, because it was always hard to tell with the little screen on the back or the viewfinder. Twenty years ago it might not have been such a big difference, but at my age, this kind of thing is a real asset to a system.

    AP

    • Hi Andrew. Thanks for the comparison it’s interesting. I use the wifi on the 7r and NEX 6 exactly as you used it on the Phase one. I Find it really helpful and of course the Sony Zoom focus assist is awesome.

      • Thanks for mentioning this. I’d used it the day I bought the A7r but not once afterward. The reason is that I bought the A7r for its portability. Connecting it to the iPad, even if wirelessly, defeats the purpose. Also, I’m not using the A7r on a tripod, but would need to to get the most out of this feature. I can see using it for exposure control handheld, but I can see that through the EVF.

        AP

  11. landscape shots I like …nice reflections

    portraits …dont like …for some of them I dont know/see where was intention to focus …they dont stand out from web crowd ..doesnt matter if they are shoot with MF or Otus on FF

    • went once again through portraits …and see more why I dont like them ..They are not natural or believable…2 guys fighting and 3rd posing in the window …what ?

      • I did that for fun more than anything else. The shoot was more about the costumes than the fighting, kind of like Vogue for fighters in the thirteenth century. I intend to do it again but with more action. To do that I will need better lighting, so I intend to get some portable flash units out there somehow. Two of the guys in the shots are actually very good sword fighters and I’d like to show that. On the other hand, they are real swords and very dangerous, so we’d have to be careful

  12. Nice work, a great effort made, especially the costumes and accessories used by the models. The images look brilliant to me .
    The two camera systems are arguably the best in the world and as you mentioned, have enthusiastic support from top photographers world wide. So it was always going to be a difficult task to tease out the details.

    From what I have seen of your work you might benefit from using a medium format system and a more studio orientated approach. In other words you might produce better work using medium format simply because it makes you shoot differently -not so much about which is technically better?

    I know this was just a test shoot -but it might have been better and more believable if the castle was not a ruin as then we could enter into the fantasy of actually being back in the middle ages-just a small point not to worry!

    If I had your enthusiasm and expertise in recreating such costume fantasies I would be studying lighting and looking at the old masters paintings and maybe using an old Hasselblad with a cheaper digital back or even film. The Nikon and the Otus are superb tools so no need to change -just hire out some medium format stuff and lighting gear and see how you progress.
    You have chosen a challenging area to work in but at least you know what you want and are producing some good results. Good luck with future projects.

    Best Wishes

    • Thanks for the kind words!

      I’ve rented a studio twice. The first time worked out very well as far as i am concerned, but the second time there were a lot of problems. The first time I did it, I shot a family of models in the morning (literally, a mother and her two daughters, all three of whom were models) and then a couple of trick basketball players in the afternoon. I wrote about it in an article for this site last August or so. With that group, everyone was very professional, brought great clothes to the shoot, and just had great energy. The second shoot, one model didn’t turn up, the two that did arrive had rumpled clothes that had to be ironed (I had to loan the shirt I was wearing to the male model). On top of that, getting what I wanted seemed impossible for some reason, so I eventually gave up and called it a day. The makeup artist was great to work with, but it wasn’t enough to make up for the other problems. After that I was a bit turned off to hiring a studio because it is very expensive to do. Also, the kind of things I wanted to shoot would require proper sets–not a simple white or black limbo wall.

      I’ve decided that if I do it again, I need to know I have a good stylist available and that the models are dependable. I lucked out with the first group because the model family were good stylists, and the basketball players just had to wear their normal athletic gear. I have no idea how to find a stylist though, so I’m letting that go for the time being. The medieval shoot here featured authentic handmade clothes by real enthusiasts who understood every stitch they wore. That (in my opinion) made a big difference. I wouldn’t mind finding a non-ruin to shoot in. There are probably a few castles like that near me, but the ones I saw were either hotels or museums, neither one of which would want a couple guys with swords running around inside.

      I like the idea of setting these things up, but am unsure how to do it for as close to free as possible. Oddly enough, I feel like that is the next step in improving my photography–learning to arrange a shoot–rather than anything related to the camera gear.

      Best regards,

      AP

  13. Interesting comparison. Must be nice to even consider getting into medium format when you could easily spend that money on nice used car. 😉 What I’m really, really curious about is how the new Canon 5DR and 5DS will stack up to medium format. It seems Canon has now given photographers the option of stepping up to medium format resolution, and still being compatible with Canon lenses and hardware, without having to spend medium format levels of money on gear. I realize sensor size is still a big factor for why medium format photos look the way they do. But what Canon is doing to medium format is almost like what the MFT companies have been doing to Nikon and Canon in the DSLR space (equal image quality with smaller cameras and sensors).

  14. Thanks for the comparo Andrew. I’m typing this comment from my hospital bed. My eye doctor says I lacerated right retina from viewing the sharpness and acuity of the 645 files. The color depth has satisfied me to the point that I’m now suffering from temporary blindness to NEF and Nikon JPEG files.

  15. I have seen Ming Thein’s comparison between the D800E and the Leica S2, and the Leica is noticeably superior upon close inspection of the files. This is despite the fact that each camera’s sensor has the same number of pixels, more or less.

    Perhaps it was just the lenses, but then again, he used the best available lenses with the D800E (but then again, this was before any Otus lens was released). And what’s also noteworthy is that the S2’s body is not really much bigger than the D800E’s.

    In any case, a lot of photographers do see a difference between DSLRs and MFD systems. If they thought that ‘full frame’ DSLRs could do the job, systems like the Leica S and Phase One would not exist.

    The sorts of jobs I do from time to time do not require something like the IQ250. In fact, neither of these cameras, which I see as niche products (despite the objections of some of my peers), would suit my sort of work that well. So cost of ownership is not really the only factor we have to take into account when choosing a system.

  16. PS: have a look at Ming Thein: the arches of Prague, he uses Nikon 810/Zeiss 55 – better IQ in my opinion.

    BR Heiner

    • Better IQ in the parts he actually exposes? If you like underexposed, nothing compositions that have been processed to death then I agree that Ming Thein is your man. He’s also been pretty insulting about Steve recently, no doubt because he was envious of Steve’s invitation to review the Olympus EM5 II.

      • So funny, I never attack anyone yet all of these so called bloggers go on and attack other bloggers? Hilarious. I get invited to all events, and choose 2-3 a year to attend. It’ my job. Ming sounds like a bitter jealous kind of guy, comes off as very cocky when he should not be at all. But hey, I still get way more traffic than him so he can be what he wants 😉 No bother to me. I pay no attention to any other blogger, just do what I do. Poor guy..must be miserable.

        • Quite right too, Steve. Please keep doing what you’re doing. No other site offers the variety and depth of content that yours does.

          Have a good weekend!

        • Yeah, I find that Ming guy petty and stuck up. The photos that accompany his “reviews” are often pedestrian, no life or soul in them (unlike most of yours, Steve — your shots have a particular signature to them). I called him out on it once — saying that the photos he was presenting with his review of a particular camera was not doing that camera justice — and he took personal offence. But he has to face the facts: like Eric Kim, he’s just a shit “street photographer”. He should stick to shooting watches for his reviews.

      • I went through pics of “Ming Thein: the arches of Prague” and they have beautiful composition & natural light …

        on the other hand …when I post coments on this blog and they are negative but polite…they often never published …

    • I like Ming Thein’s work, the Otus lenses, and the photos Thein took in Prague. I am also happy to admit that I trust Lloyd Chambers, Thein, and others who praise the D810. However, I don’t see how these Prague photos have obviously higher IQ than what is produced by the IQ250. As long as we’re going outside of this article for comparisons, take a look at the food photography of Howard Shooter, the outdoor photography of Tim Kemple, or the fashion work by Jason Bell–all (or most*) shot with Phase One equipment. If you compare those photos to Ming Thein’s, you will see a strong difference in IQ, presumably because they have the experience to get maximum performance out of their gear.

      Best regards,

      AP
      *Kemple uses a D800 as backup sometimes, and my comments do not refer to earlier photographs taken by these photographers before they started using Phase One equipment.

  17. Sorry guys, I see no significant differnce in IQ between the 2 systems, I think the motive, light etc.makes for a bigger disfference than the hardware. Furthermore PP seems to be even more important.

    I am shooting with a Nikon D 5100 and a Fuji XE 1 with cropped sensors and only JPEG. Many of my photos have a better IQ – I take much care ot the camera settings. The playback media I use is a very simple pc monitor and a 50 inch plasma flatscreen, PP only with paintnet.

    Taking into account that I use pretty much cheap glass (18-105 for the Nikon, 18-55 for Fuji) my 2 set ups combined are chaeper than a single lense used here.

    What do I miss?

    BR
    Heiner

  18. One thing you may be missing from the other medium format images you may have seen is 16bit color depth. The CMOS sensor in the IQ250 shoots 14bit color depth, same as the d800. True 16bit color makes a big difference, in my opinion, but you lose any hope of low light performance. The quality of CCD sensors in a controlled environment can not be beat. You might like to try out one of Phase One’s other models such as the IQ 260 in a studio.

    • I was very curious about the 260, 260 achromatic, and the 280, but all three (I felt) were less flexible than the 250. The idea of 16-bit color is very appealing, but the low ISO tradeoff bothered me. The irony is that I hardly ever use high ISO anyway–I just open the lens all the way. Of course, that is possible with the Otus and other Zeiss lenses because they are so well color-corrected. The SK lens has so much fringing wide open that I wouldn’t want to shoot wider than f/8, and that convinced me to shoot at 1600 and 3200 ISO in the second test with the landscapes (night shots). I didn’t give those to Steve because I didn’t like them so much, but it wasn’t the camera’s fault. The compositions just weren’t as interesting. At 1600, the grain was actually quite nice. At 3200, it looked to me about like 800 ISO on the D800 (that is, without having it right in front of me to compare).

      AP

  19. Andrew, further to my comments above, have you tried a D810? It’s quite similar in controls to the D800 but quite different in output.

  20. Compliments on the scientific approach we’ve come to expect from you Andrew. And yes, you don’t have a car so the camera collection is easily explained.

    The subject matter is interesting, and so are the diffrences between the two systems. I would have to liked some more information on your technique; some fill-in flash? Different colour treatment, some specific desaturating?

    In concluding: get a D800/E + Otus instead of the bigger system, unless you print really large?

    • Hello again Michiel,

      Well, I already have the D800 + Otus, but I am thinking of making prints later. Keep in mind, I really was looking into this out of sheer curiosity after I discovered 1) how many photographers I admired used Phase One, and 2) the test drive was free.

      Sometimes I desaturate colour a bit in my photos, but not often. In this case, the Otus shots were cold and the Phase shots were warm. That said, both were adjusted a bit in the developing stage–in both cases to enhance what I liked most in the shots. This meant that the Phase saturation levels remained untouched, but some of the Otus shots were desaturated a bit.

      Best,

      AP

      • Thanks Andrew. I thought in some images (the Otus ones?) the background was desaturated a bit to accentuate the subjects. As you know I’m not a fan of manipulating raw images a lot, but this apporach I actually like and use myself sometimes.

        Are you still in Amsterdam?

        Cheers,

        Michiel

        • I never was in Amsterdam, but am about 100 miles south. I haven’t been to Amsterdam much in the past 12 months or so because I am finishing work on my PhD thesis. This is why it was so great to be able to get out and shoot these guys in Asten, because I hadn’t had a chance to go out with the camera in months. I hope to have my first summer holiday in four years this year, and will be taking a lot of pictures!

          As for Amsterdam, I will be visiting there also, once this thesis is done.

          Best regards,

          AP

    • It looks like flash may have been used in some of the D800 shots (Merlyn and the Triple Portrait in particular) In the Merlyn shot, notice the lack of shadows on his face compared to the other right above in. In the Triple, the right most person has that sort of “washed out by straight flash” look to him. This is just a theory though and minor critiquing. Overall, the shots are great!

      • I did use an SB-910 speedlight as fill-in flash for triple portrait, but not in the Merlyn shot you mentioned. Most of the fill light for the shoot was provided by a reflector. I had wanted to rent some strobes for the shoot, but when I saw how big they were, changed my mind because there was no way I could have carried them on the train, home on my bicycle from the station, and then out to the castle the next day.

        I also thought the color of the Phase One shots was much nicer than the Nikon, though the Otus had better color correction. Despite that, my overall preference was for the Phase One shots, despite the problems I had using it. That is why I tried it out again, to see if it would be any better after studying it a little more.

        I should admit that the free version of CaptureOne did not allow me to use it to develop the Nikon raw files. Because that was bugging me, I got a full version of CaptureOne a few weeks ago and reprocessed some Nikon shots (from a different shoot). They looked a lot better than they had in Lightroom, but didn’t have the dynamic range of the Phase, and that made a big difference. The landscape shot ‘River bend’, for instance, could not have been done with the Nikon unless I wanted to combine two different exposures. I’ve done that for some cathedral interiors, but with the IQ250, it is not necessary.

        Best regards,

        AP

    • As a former D800E and current D810 owner, the D810 has a quite different colour profile to the D800/E (less of a tendency towards green and much more natural skintones) and much better highlight recovery. There’s not that much difference in DR between the MF sensor in the phase one (it’s a Sony Exmor, just like the Nikon), but it’s more balanced than the Nikon D800 is between highlights and shadows. Interestingly, the D810 is the same, having seemingly endless highlight recovery. To put it another way, this test would be more meaningful if it involved a D810.

      I couldn’t afford a Phase One system, but in the comparisons I did do I came to the conclusion there isn’t much glass available for MF that matches the best available for 35mm sensor cameras, particularly for wider lenses. The really big difference these days isn’t resolution and colour, but rather DR at high ISO and high ISO performance more generally. At base ISO there’s not much to choose between them.

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