Hands On: Phase One 645DF, P 65+ and P 40+

by on October 22, 2009

in Gear

During a quick visit to the Digital Transitions store in NYC, I got to spend some personal hands on time with some of Phase One’s newest products in a studio environment. Being medium format, the images are really quite spectacular. On top of this, using the equipment was very simple to do but is very much different from using traditional DSLR cameras. The experience is something that photographers would truly love.

Much of the shooting was done with the Phase One 645DF with the P 65+ medium format back. The cameras are only slightly heavier than my 5D MK II with 24-105mm F4L IS and battery grip. Shooting handheld with the camera is much easier than I’ve thought. As someone with very shaky hands, shooting this camera without image stabilization of any sort is very easy to do. The shutter is not as heavy or as harsh as shooting with other medium format cameras such as the old Pentaxes.

Scrolling through the menu system is very simple and easily laid out for the user. It gives you exactly what you need and that’s it. The LCD display is a 2.2″ QVGA TFT with 230,000 pixels.

Granted, I prefer the one on my 5D Mk II at 920,000 dots/VGA. This was proven when I shot something and tried to zoom in to ensure that I achieved my focus correctly and really couldn’t get such a high quality view as I can with my Canon. It was much easier to do this while the camera was plugged into the computer via a firewire cable. This applies to both the P 40+ (shown above) and the P 65+.

Even in bright studio lighting, the autofocus can hunt for a specific range to focus on. There are no autofocus points, at least none that I saw. Additionally, the camera body has an autofocus ability and so do the Phase One leaf shutter lenses that I was using. The Phase One 80mm F2.8 with leaf shutter was lovely and delivered very satisfactory results.

It should also be noted that there is a 1.0x lens factor with the P 65+ and a 1.3x lens factor with the P 40+. The P 60+ also has 1.3GB of high speed RAM built into it. When not tethered to a computer, the cameras use CF cards. The company recommends fast SanDisk cards.

Despite how large and bright the viewfinder was, I was never able to achieve perfect focus while focusing manually. Readers of this blog may know that I love to manually focus. Therefore, autfocusing with the lens switched to the correct mode delivers the best results. Be sure that they are both set to the same type of autofocusing though (single vs continuous.)

Author’s Note: The diopter was also not adjusted and readers of this blog also know that I am a visually impaired photographer.

I’m not going to say these things are built like tanks-they are tanks! Jeff, the rep that gave me the demo, did things with this camera that would horrify any DSLR user. Take the lens off while the camera is still on? Go ahead. Clean the sensor yourself while the camera is still on? Sure. Change camera backs/sensors while both backs are being powered and the guts of the camera body are exposed? Why not?! I questioned it at first, but Jeff assured me that these cameras are clean and are designed and built to resist lots of abuse, dust, dirt etc. It reminded me of the days of using my Olympus DSLRs.

The sensor, processor, menu system etc. are all in the backs: the P 65+ and P 40+. The system can be compared to the RED DSMC system for videography/stills. What you essentially have is your camera body, your lenses and what RED calls, “the brain.” In medium format, the brain is the back. You can purchase a camera body and only replace the backs whenever you need to. Additionally, lenses in medium format are very compatible with one another. What’s really cool is that the P 65+ has a 60MP mode and a 15MP mode for higher ISOs. Similarly, the P 40+ does 40MP images and 10MP images. The files sizes are all the same. However, the higher sensitivity on such a large sensor delivers phenomenal image quality and detail. Jeff told me that since the sensor is green that one needs to calibrate their white balance when shooting usually and that use of a white card is highly recommended.

Something you need to keep in mind though is that the camera body uses AA batteries. Depending on who you are and what you shoot, that may be just dandy or a total drag. However, the backs use Canon camcorder batteries. This is great for Canon camcorder users that are out in the field and need high quality images with their video. Essentially, those people are the National Geographic types.

The cameras do very well when connected to your computer and using Capture One, the software that is recommended by Phase One. Like in EOS Utility with the Canon 5D Mk II, you can control all aspects of the camera using the software. Even further, I was able to connect my 5D Mk II to the software and use it the same way that I would one of the medium format cameras. However, I was able to control more aspects of the Phase One cameras from the software than I was with the Canon. All files come out in the Phase One RAW format IIQ. This means that even an image shot with the Canon will come out that way once in Capture One. If you want to edit the image in Photoshop, the software allows for conversion to DNG, Adobe’s standard of RAW images used by cameras like the Leica M9. It should also be noted that the studio used a beta version of Capture One Pro 5.

Download full-res JPEG file here.

The images from the P 60+ are around 60MB unedited. Needless to say, you’re going to need to invest in a terabyte hard drive if you’re going to buy one of these. Industry standard to my knowledge is renting them out instead. I’ve got a copy of Capture One on my Macbook and and have begun editing the images with Capture One. Above is one of them. It is a 20MB JPEG file. The DNG after Capture One processing was 120MB. You can see some blue fringing on the bottom.  Feel free to download and inspect the file yourself using the link above.

I’m going to use the program some more with my 5D Mk II for a while and give a brief hands-on after Photo Plus.

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{ 1 comment }

1 Micah October 22, 2009 at 6:54 am

Blue fringing on the bottom? Do you mean the very bottom edge? This is an incomplete/corrupted file. That might also be why it doensn’t show exif info properly.

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