Tuesday 22 February 2011

Lighting in the Cellars

A little while ago a call came out of the blue.

Would I like to drive to Reims to shoot a feature on the world renown Champagne producers Louis Roederer?

 Louis Roederer produce amongst other things, the super, expensive Cristal Champagne, favoured by the rich and famous.

So after a sublime and drive to the the capital of champagne country we given a tour of the Roederer HQ and were told how Cristal champagne came into being.

It was made a the request of the somewhat justifiably paranoid Czar Nicolas II, who as much as he loved Louis Roederer champagne he was fearful that a champagne bottle could be used either to contain an explosive device in its dimpled base or it's dark green glass could conceal a poison of some kind . So Louis Roederer went away and came up with a solution, a bottle which was made of clear glass and without a dimple in it's base. This meant that the bottle had to be made from crystal glass for strength. 

Thus the name.

In fact the bottle still carries the Russian imperial crest of Czar Nicolas II. When you drink Cristal champagne you are drinking history itself, though for the record I prefer their vintage Rose which is much more affordable and has character in spades.

On the tour we were shown the champagne cellars which were the natural candidates for the portrait of Frederic Rouzaud, the new MD, who had just taken the helm from his father.

We asked for some time to set up before he came down to be photographed, we needed every moment and I had to think my feet to come up with this portrait which has been used extensively.

I wanted to backlight the Champagne bottles which involved quite a bit of maneuvering to ensure there was not a nasty accident involving tens of thousands of pounds of champagne bottles......yikes!

I put a bare bulb Elinchrom Ranger head with a totally bare bulb head(I wanted the light to spill everywhere) on full power under each champagne rack, I had to use full power as the  bottles on the rack soaked up a ton of light. Sometimes 1200 WS is very useful. The only problem was the light from the bare bulb heads was kicking right back at me giving me a ton of flare. To counter this I just flagged the lights with my Ranger carrying cases, it worked a treat. The only parts of light spoilage comes from the gaps in the top of the champagne racks which give the vertical lines of light, it would be an easy retouch but I have chosen to leave them in.

I had sorted the fancy backlit bottles so now for the key light which was another Elinchrom Ranger with my old favourite and super versatile modifier the Chimera Medium soft box, just off to the left of the camera, I took my shallow bank with me this time as it is good in tight spots.

So that was that, except that the narrow tunnel behind the subject was simply too dark.
Together with Nigel, my assistant on the shoot, we tried to place the light in many places and no matter what we did, we could not get it right without causing flare a hotspot or some other undesirable side effect, so with time rapidly running out I placed the fourth Ranger head on light stand with a kill spill pointing back towards the subject, ultimately there was the need for some post production on this, but by spinning the light stand with one leg toward the camera it meant we only had to clone one leg out, not two.

So the CEO came down and the shoot was over in just a couple of minutes.

Lighting one element at a time is so important, shooting tethered (this time with my Phase One P45+) enabled me to fine tune every element of the lighting.
Working with my Gitzo tripod with my geared Manfrotto 405 head meant the composition was finely considered and adjusted degree by degree by fingertip control, and with the camera mounted on a tripod it means I can get out from behind the camera and really interact with the sitter.

We left the cellar rather covered in dust but very happy with the result, which we toasted with a glass of what we had been photographing.

Well, the job should have some compensations.

Monday 14 February 2011

Hands on with the new Phase One IQ180

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.

                                                                         And detail...

And here is the upright

With detail....

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

Saturday 12 February 2011

New Phase One IQ backs

Phase one has just launched it's new series of digital backs called the IQ

It comes in three different sizes 40,60 and a whopping 80 megapixels.

I have not seen one or touched one but the new IQ back by Phase One looks set to change the landscape of medium format photography.

Why? well for many reasons but mainly because it has addressed
some of the last remaining issues which existed.

1.The LCD on the P+ backs needed improving and quite urgently, while the screen was OK but I never felt totally at home with it, the new super high res 3.2 inch LCD screen with it's rather iPhone like navigation is ground breaking in the camera world. The clever thing is too that the old classic 4 button interface has been retained too and sits alongside the new LCD touch panel.

2.File transfer was always super reliable with the FireWire 400 connection, but nothing stands still and the world was moving on, with some of Phase One's competitors already moving to faster FireWire 800 connection. The new IQ backs have FireWire 800 AND they have the much vaunted USB3 which is allows file transfers twice as fast as FireWire 800. This opens up the possibility of shooting to light weight platforms like the MacBook air which surely in due course will offer USB3(and until it does the USB connection is backwards compatible so I hear.
A full frame 80 megapixel sensor with enough physical memory to ensure that you never hit the buffer.Ever.

3.As a result of the 80 megapixel sensor this allows Phase One's sensor plus technology to come into it's own. Giving the photographer the ability to shoot at 20 megapixel resolution at DSLR like high ISO. Truly two camera's in one.
The IQ back is, like the previous P series backs, built like no other. Machined from aluminium promising great durability.

But I have not seen held or touched one.

That is set to change in the next few hours, I will let you know what I think.