Hands on for the first time with the Phase IQ back
Like many others when the new Phase One IQ series of backs was announced I wanted to get my hands on a working model, to see what it was like.
But as with many announcements of new goodies on the Market I had resigned myself to getting a first look at the Phase One stand at the Focus on Imaging show in a few weeks time.
As the taxi driver drove at a brisk pace on Sundsvall’s snow and ice covered roads, and up a treacherous snow covered twisty ribbon of a road, which had defeated all but the most determined delegates on Friday, he laughed with a wicked glint in his eye he said we were going to the Swedish version of the location of 'The Shining' and I must say as the Hotell Sodra Berget appeared through the swirling snow, there certainly were shades of Kubrick, or perhaps more appropriately 'Let the right one in' (a great movie if you have not seen it)
I had been was invited to speak at the Swedish Photographers assoc 'Northern Day's’ gathering in Sundsvall, which even though it is a one hour flight from Stockholm, is not actually in the north of Sweden at all. The geographic scale of Sweden takes some grasping, as it is a relatively narrow country, but it is very long.
If you drove or flew the length Sweden, from it's most southerly point, in a southerly direction you would end up in North Africa. Quite mind boggling.
I was greeted by my friend Martin Widen, of Phase One, and chatting over dinner talk turned, as one might imagine, to camera's.
The conversation went something like this.....
Me. 'The new Phase One IQ back looks very cool, when do you get to see it?'
Martin. 'When I return to my hotel room'
Me. 'You actually have one?'
Martin. (with a massive smile) 'Oh yes'
Me. 'is it a preproduction mock up?'
Martin 'No, it is an early model but you can try out tomorrow'
Next day Martin took me through some of the basic controls and the features of the back, in fact I shot a sort piece of video on my iPhone 4.
My first impression of the back was the new sharper styling, and the feeling that it was hewn from a solid piece of metal. Which indeed it is.
The P+ backs were rugged and durable, but this feel on a whole new level. And though slightly bigger than the outgoing backs it suits the camera very well, feeling if anything a little more balanced in your hand than before. Another design feature to note is that is has superior weather sealing to the P+ backs which were the industry benchmark when it came to weather resistance in hostile circumstances. This is partly due to enhanced sealing and the fact that the battery in now mounted internally via a trapdoor mechanism, not externally on the side of the back.
The biggest leap forward though is the LCD.
And what a leap.
The LCD on the P+ backs, were less than optimum in an age when even the most humble compact camera had a rather nice LCD.
The problem for Phase, which sells a relatively modest number backs a year, lacked the clout with LCD manufacturers when compared to the tens of thousands of consumer camera's. It is down to the economies of scale, and when you make a zillion compact camera's you can get the LCD manufacturer to make LCD's in and size or shape you like.
Not this time.
Phase has pulled off a deal to fit the most wonderful Retina type LCD to the IQ back.
To quote Phase One
' The IQ series digital back features a large 3.2" retina type, high resolution display. With the 1.15 megapixel resolution display very fine details can be checked instantly. With a very high pixel pitch of 290 ppi (dpi) most people can't distinguish between the individual pixels at a normal viewing distance. The automatic adjustment of brightness and contrast ensures that the display is visible in various light scenarios. The display also has an extreme viewing angle of 170 degrees, so images easily can be validated at a glance. It has extremely good colour rendition and colour gradations with 16 million colours'
But not only is it a high spec LCD but it is also a multi touch screen display, rather like an iPhone 4. And I have to report in my brief time with the camera it was a joy to use. Seamless, clever and intuitive.
But as well as the high tech iPhone-on-the-back-of-the-camera user interface Phase managed to retain the classic analogue 4 button setup on the back too.
I felt it could be rather difficult to combine analogue and touch screen controls side by side but the boffins at Phase have pulled it off, and both means of input work a treat, without compromise. This means that you can still operate the camera back when using gloves - as I was to discover.
We decided to do a quick shoot with Shala at the top of the ski slope over looking the town
I shot with the Phase One DF camera, the 110mm Schneider lens and lit with an Elichrom Ranger Quadra and a reflective umbrella
The temperature was a rather chilly minus 11 Celsius, which meant I was using the analogue buttons as I was wearing gloves, they worked a treat. In fact everything worked just fine in spite of the cold. Shooting to a SanDisk Extreme Ducati edition card the camera and back were fast and responsive, noticeably quicker than a P65+ even though it was dealing with an extra 20 Megapixels.
I took this one with the new Phase/Mamiya 35mm lens. Not much of a chance to check out the sharpness at the edges in this pic but it is VERY sharp
My conclusions are not scientific by any means but as soon as looked at the images you could see the difference. Easily.
My feelings are there is much more resolution, detail and less noise than the superb P65+.
I then shot a few frames in the studio to see how the new firewire 800 connection performed, and while it may have been a whisker quicker, it did not feel like a quantum leap forward in terms of speed. It may have been quicker but it was not a day for stop watches, more for meeting fellow photographers.
There other factors to consider such as the speed of the computer Hard drive, I was told that you do see an improvement with the new generation of solid state drives, and I suppose that the new methods of connectivity (fw800 and USB3) for shooting tethered are all about making sure that your investment is relevant in the future.
All in all I feel that Phase One have raised the bar to new heights, and feel that competitors will have a difficult job getting anywhere near this comprehensively superb package anytime soon.
And while many of us will not be able to afford the new IQ backs, all photographers should celebrate that the envelope is being pushed in terms of image quality and that the Danes are producing backs, Camera's and lenses that dreams are made of.
A job well done Phase One