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Review: Phase One IQ250 Medium Format Camera Back

by Chris Gampat on 04/22/2014

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Phase One’s IQ250 is a medium format back meant for the very high end shooter. At 50MP and not being a full frame 645 chip (it is cropped) you get the change over from CCD to CMOS with the smaller overall size as a tradeoff. Additionally, the back packs in Wifi transmission, a touch screen, great build quality, and some of the best RAW files that we’ve tested.

But interestingly enough, the Phase One IQ250’s biggest flaws have nothing to do with any of these or even the product itself.

Pros and Cons

ISO 1600

ISO 1600 Model: Grace Morales

Pros

– Excellent image quality

– Fairly intuitive interface when you take a moment to think about the use

–  Lots of information can be displayed

– Wifi transmission

Cons

– Battery life drains way too quickly

– We’ve never encountered a Phase One camera that could focus perfectly

– The company needs to improve their lenses to take the best advantage of the sensor

– Much better editing experience in Capture One than Adobe Lightroom; but that means that you need to use Capture One.

Gear Used

We tested the Phase One IQ250 with the 28mm f4.5 and 80mm f2.8 lenses along with the Adorama Flashpoint Streaklight.

Tech Specs

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Taken from our announcement post

  • 1.3 lens factor
  • 44.0 x 33.0 sensor size
  • 50 megapixel resolution
  • 8280 x 6208 active pixels
  • 5.3 x 5.3 micron pixel size
  • 100 – 6400 ISO range
  • 1/10000s – 60 min exposure time
  • 1.2 frames per second
  • 2 GB advanced high speed RAM image buffer
  • 3.2″ touch screen
  • 1.15 megapixels 290 ppi(dpi)
  • FireWire, USB2/USB3 ports
  • 2.4 Ghz and 5Ghz Wi-Fi

Ergonomics

Taken from our First Impressions post

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Phase One’s IQ250 is a giant back that attaches to the DSLR body (or an SLR that is compatible.) It’s characterized by buttons, smooth curves, and ports on the back.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The LCD on the back is big, bright and beautiful–but it isn’t as detailed as we’d really like it to be. Indeed, a higher resolution would be able to let us see more details clearer than needing to upload to a computer. Of course, this isn’t a problem when tethered, but if you’re on a location shoot you’ll just need to say your Hail Marys.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On the side are ports for the CF card and other ways to accessing the camera’s many functionalities. They are covered with rubber to ensure that dust and moisture doesn’t get in there.

Build Quality

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When we got it in for review, our Phase One rep told us to not sit there and treat the camera like a baby. In fact, he spoke very highly of its build quality. During our testing period, we took it out and shot during a fairly hard rainstorm in NYC by the East River. By the looks of the way that the back meets the camera, it looks like there is a small gap in between. But indeed, the seal is weatherproof. We also kept it in a camera bag that received regular bumps on the NYC Subway system.

If you’re thinking about purchasing this back you won’t have any real problems with the build quality. However, we recommend that you be careful with the sensor. Years ago at a Phase One meeting, another rep took his shirt and cleaned off the CCD. Our current rep recommends that one doesn’t do that.

What you should also know is that this isn’t a full frame chip. What do we mean by that? Well, when folks usually talk about full frame, they mean 35mm DSLRs. But in this case, we’re talking about the medium format world. So a full frame chip would mean a true 645 imaging area equivalent to 120 film. But this is a cropped sensor at 1.3x crop. So it is smaller than a full 645 image.

Ease of Use

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Phase One IQ250 has four buttons on the back side of it. These buttons aren’t set to specific things and instead change functionality depending on what screen is activated. In addition to this, the LCD screen is also a touch screen; so you can access what you want that much faster.

Most of the symbols are also very intuitive if you just pay attention and think a bit.

One of our toughest problems though was finding second curtain flash on the camera; which is in the custom menus.

Shooting tethered is a breeze and very simplistic as it is with any camera, but getting the Wifi router to work is a bit tougher. It can take a while to connect to your home network and you’ll also be sending some massive files. So it will take a while for them to be sentpreviews of the images. To be honest, we see more folks using a Firewire cable or USB 3.0 instead.

Autofocusing

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Phase One IQ250 more with Nat (2 of 2)ISO 1001-100 sec at f - 5.0

Model: Natalie Margiotta

The autofocusing doesn’t really have much to do with the camera back as it does with the body; but with that said we have to state that the autofocus of the 645DF+ is pretty damn horrible and almost archaic. The camera uses three focusing points but you’re best off using the center point. If you choose to focus and recompose, you’d better be stopped down a lot. Additionally, it can be tough to clearly focus on a subject’s eyes.

In the image above, the focus is on her cheek instead of on her eyes. When not looked at at 100%, then you shouldn’t really have a problem at all. But considering what you’re paying for lenses, a camera back, and a camera body, there shouldn’t be a single problem at all.

Metering

We found the Phase One IQ250 to meter perfectly with the Sunny 16 metering system. We tested this alongside the Nikon D800 and the two performed just the same.

Image Quality

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Capture One Edits IQ250 matts portraits 5

The image quality output that the IQ250 can deliver is mind blowing. At first, we tested the RAW files in Adobe Lightroom 5.4 and were impressed, but not enough to want to spend the money. Then we took them into Capture One and had to rub our eyes in disbelief. The program allows a user to push, pull, and do a heck of a lot more with the RAW files than Lightroom does.

Photographers that purchase the camera and back we hope won’t be disappointed by the image quality and the performance, but for what it’s worth we’re not totally sure that paying this much for a sensor of this size is worth it. Sure, you get some incredible image quality but most of the post-production needs can be avoided to begin with in the real world if you just learn how to meter a scene correctly.

High ISO Performance

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Phase One IQ250 high iso photos (2 of 2)ISO 64001-200 sec at f - 6.3

ISO 6400

The back’s High ISO performance is exceptionally good. We found ISO 6400 to be cleaner than most full frame DSLRs but only by a tiny bit. The noise is almost non-existent when looking at an image as a whole. But when you zoom in, you’ll surely see it. The noise is very tight and pleasing to look at.

To be honest though, considering what medium format cameras are typically used for, we can’t imagine ourselves using ISO 6400 to begin with. Medium format is for studio work and landscape work. Phase One is trying to expand into wedding work more but in order to do that you need a better focusing system and TTL flashes. At the moment, they don’t have that.

RAW File Versatility

Original

Original

We tested the RAW files out in both Adobe Lightroom 5 and CaptureOne. Both programs do a good job with the files, but Capture One does a better job when it comes to getting better colors and pulling/pushing the files. The image above was purposely overexposed and pulled in Capture One.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Phase One IQ250 review raw file versatility recovery (1 of 1)ISO 1001-200 sec at f - 4.5

This is the result of us pulling the highlights. We were able to obtain amazing cloud details, color in the sky, buildings in the Manhattan landscape that nearly disappeared, and of course normal details. We weren’t able to accomplish this to the same level in Adobe Lightroom 5.4.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Phase One IQ250 review raw file versatility recovery originals (2 of 2)ISO 8001-1000 sec at f - 2.8

But RAW file versatility is about more than just highlights and shadows. We also tested the color depth, which we feel is about on par with most modern day DSLRs except when it comes to saturation.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Phase One IQ250 review raw file versatility recovery two via color (1 of 1)ISO 8001-1000 sec at f - 2.8

Here’s the reworked file where the color has been corrected. As you can see, it’s a lot more on par with what the human eye and brain will see.

Comparison Against the Nikon D800

Nikon D800

Nikon D800 ISO 6400

Because everyone and their mother wants to know this, we compared the high ISO output against the Nikon D800 at 6400 and with similar lenses. For what it’s worth, the performance is very close to a tie, but Phase One does just a bit better.

Phase One IQ250 ISO 6400

Phase One IQ250 ISO 6400

Extra Image Samples

AS ALWAYS, THE EXIF DATA IS IN THE IMAGE FILENAME. CLICK THE IMAGE AND THE INFO WILL BE IN THE LINK.

Here ar extra image samples:

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Capture One Edits IQ250 matts portraits

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Phase One IQ250 more with Nat (1 of 2)ISO 1001-160 sec at f - 2.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Phase One IQ250 review sample images (1 of 14)ISO 1001-200 sec at f - 11

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Phase One IQ250 review sample images (2 of 14)ISO 1001-400 sec at f - 9.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Phase One IQ250 review sample images (3 of 14)ISO 1001-400 sec at f - 9.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Phase One IQ250 review sample images (7 of 14)ISO 1001-500 sec at f - 9.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Phase One IQ250 review sample images (13 of 14)ISO 1001-200 sec at f - 11

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Phase One IQ250 review sample images (14 of 14)ISO 1001-200 sec at f - 14

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Capture One Edits IQ250 matts dark combat series 18

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Capture One Edits IQ250 matts dark combat series 25

Conclusions

four-star-Phoblographer-Star-rating

Likes

– Excellent image quality

– Great feel

– Lots of latitude with the RAW files in Capture One

– Great high ISO output

Dislikes

– You need to use Capture One to get the best from the files

– Camera system needs improvement

– The lenses should be sharper wide open

– We need to sell both kidneys to buy one

– Terrible battery life even with the Wifi transmission turned off.

Phase One’s IQ250 receives our four out of five star rating for the reasons that the camera system needs better cameras and lenses. For what we’re paying, the quality from both should be positively flawless, but there are inherent flaws with the entire system. If all the components were in place, then we wouldn’t have any issues with it except for the price. But for the meantime, we think that the entire system needs to be massaged into something better.

If you want the best in RAW file versatility, then spring for this camera and back combo. But we will mostly recommend it for studio and landscape shooters.

Recommended Cameras and Accessories

– Schneider 80mm f2.8: this is the lens that we used the most with the camera. It’s beautiful, but it should be much sharper wide open.

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