Alex Bellus test drives the Phase One IQ3 100 Megapixel
Not long ago, MPD CEO Murray Elliott visited with Alex Bellus, a photographer and automotive guru. During their time Alex was abe to photograph the Aston Martin DB11, as well as an Aston Martin V12 Vantage S, one of only 100 made.
Alex- Now unless you’re a camera nerd like me, you likely won’t have any idea what Phase One is or know what’s so special about their XF IQ3 cameras. But look at it this way – you could either buy a really nice, certified pre-owned Maserati Ghibli or a camera. That might sound crazy but depending on your needs, the camera might actually make sense. So, what is the Phase One XF IQ3 and what makes it cost more than your average car? Well, Phase One is a small camera company building some of the best high-end camera systems in the world for commercial photographers. Their camera systems are broken down into three main parts: a body (in this case, I was using the latest XF body), a lens (I tried out an assortment of their Schneider Kreuznach leaf shutter lenses), and a digital back (the IQ3 is their latest generation of backs which are available from 50 megapixels up to 100 megapixels). Altogether, the XF camera with the top-of-the-line 100MP IQ3 back, and a single lens from Phase One rings in a grand total of $48,990!
But there is so much more to the Phase One camera systems than just the huge price tag, and I wanted to find out what sort of tangible and intangible features separate this nearly-$50,000 chunk of metal and glass from my already fairly capable Nikon D810 camera setup. In order to do so, I reached out to Phase One to inquire about trying out their flagship camera to see if it’s really worth its status as one of the best cameras in the world. To be honest, I was a little surprised with the speed at which a representative of the company got back to me, and with how willing they were to let me take their flagship camera for a test drive. After a couple weeks of lining up schedules, I met Murray – who flew all the way from Denver, CO to let me try out the camera – at Morrie’s Luxury Auto. Of course, in order to fully experience everything the Phase One IQ3 system was capable of, it was only logical to grab two of the most amazing cars on the show floor to serve as my models for the afternoon: a glistening white Aston Martin DB11 and the uber-rare, 1 of 100, V12 Vantage S with the 7-speed manual transmission to match.
Once we had the cars in position, Murray began walking me through the buttons, features, and menus of the camera. Like all the best tools, the Phase One doesn’t feature any extraneous buttons or knobs to get in the way of the creative process. In fact, both the 3.0″ rear screen on the digital back and the small LCD display on top of the camera were reconfigurable touchscreens, while the buttons were also reconfigurable depending on which screen you were looking at. Although this made for a steep learning curve because the buttons weren’t labeled, I felt like I was starting to figure it out by the end of the 3-hour photoshoot. The other hurdle I had to overcome was figuring out the autofocus system. Not that it’s bad, per say, but it’s definitely a departure from what I’m used to on my own cameras, which all have multiple, selectable focus points when looking through the viewfinder, while the Phase One only offers a single autofocus point located in the center of the frame. Still, it generally proved to be fairly reliable once I got the hang of it. After Murray got me going with the camera, he was largely hands off for the remainder of the shoot, happily chiming in with tips or offering help when it looked like I needed it while giving me my space to explore the capabilities on my own.
The biggest takeaway however, was the image quality. As you’d expect, it was incredible, even when viewing the files on the small rear screen on the back of the camera, I was impressed with what I saw. To get the full effect, Murray showed me how to tether the Phase One directly to his Macbook Pro via Phase One’s exclusive Capture One software. The software is relatively similar in its capabilities to Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom, but offers enhanced controls for fine-tuning images, as well as full control of the camera itself. With the ability to immediately zoom in to 100% on a high-resolution screen, the tethered solution seems like a no-brainer if space and shooting style will allow. Looking at the files straight out of the camera, I was blown away by how polished everything looked. The transition from light to shadow across the gorgeous body lines of the DB11 was jaw-dropping. At 100% magnification, I could see each individual metallic flake in the paint or get lost in the weave of each piece of carbon fiber trim. The trick to this, aside from the astounding 100-megapixel resolution, is the true 16-bit processing. This means that the camera is actually able to capture and process a wider gamut of colors than not only most other cameras on the market but also more than my computer screen is capable of displaying. Not only will this make the images look better coming out of the camera, but it opens up a huge amount of room to play with the files in the Capture One software, bringing back highlights and pulling hidden details out of the shadows.
I really enjoyed my time with the Phase One XF IQ3 camera system. It’s a lot to learn, coming from a lifetime of shooting with Nikons, but I can definitely see some benefits to the Phase One system. Once I got past the price tag, the most daunting thing was just holding something that felt so foreign in my hands. It’s significantly larger than any other camera I’ve ever used, and equally hefty too. Just knowing the price associated with what I was holding, I did the best I could to maintain an iron grip on the camera throughout the shoot with the phrase “you break it, you buy it” echoing in my head. I can also see myself relying less on Adobe products going forward as I quickly learned to embrace the Capture One software. The best way to wrap my head around the Phase One is to relate it directly to the Aston Martins I placed in front of it. Is an Aston Martin ten times better at moving you from Point A to Point B than a Ford Focus ST? Well, it depends on who you ask and what they value. The DB11 and the Focus are both more than capable of getting you to the same location but they do so in very different ways, and if you need something special, and nothing but the best will suffice, why settle for anything less? Now I just need to figure out how to afford an Aston Martin on a Ford Focus budget…