Why I Moved To Medium Format :: Phase One IQ140 Review

February 4, 2012 | • Gear & Gadgets Shop Talk

I’ve recently moved to a digital medium format system and I thought I’d blog about the process of choosing a system and why making this jump was worth every hard earned penny to do so. But first, let’s enter the way back machine. If you are fairly new to photography and DSLRs have been your entrance into this industry then this an important part of the blog post. Bear with me. All of it after the jump. (If you don’t see the video above just hit refresh. Not sure what’s going on with the embed code)

History ::

When I started in photography (1995) the industry was still ruled by film. 35mm camera systems were the main stay for amateurs, newspaper, event, and sports photographers. They were fast, nimble, and affordable but they were the smallest format any “pro” would typically use. Much of the professional world shot medium format. If you were shooting weddings, portraits, or editorial work you were pretty much expected to be shooting medium format. The difference in image quality from a 35mm piece of film to medium format was huge. If you were going to be a pro outside of the newspaper/sports world you were going to own a medium format system. It’s as simple as that.  Sure there were exceptions to this rule but not many. For many in the industry medium format was the “small” format if you were used to shooting 4×5 or larger.

Back then the price canyon between a 35mm pro kit and a starter medium format kit was three to five thousand dollars. The Hasselblad and Mamyia RZ systems were at the top of the chain and it trickled down to things like Pentax and Bronica. My first “real” medium format system was a Bronica ETRsi system that I got with a student discount for about $4,000. (I could probably get the same system on ebay today for a few hundred dollars.) Dropping well over $10,000 on a basic medium format system wasn’t all that big of a deal back then. I’ve worked in studios with Sinar large format systems that were $75,000 worth of kit and up.

Digital came along and I knew sports photographers getting second mortgages on their houses to buy some of the first Kodak DSLRs. One friend of mine got a “hell of a deal” on a used camera for $16,500. When I was working at JCPenney, they had not one, but two Kodak DSC460’s that retailed in the neighborhood of $35,000 each. Nikon “revolutionized” the industry with the D1 when it was introduced because it was “only” $5,000. Suddenly digital was affordable for the “common” pro photographer. Note – Some of the folks getting the mortgages were shooting for $200 day rates for the wires.

I say all this to say that if a $2,200 camera body to you today is, in your mind, the pinnacle of quality and “really expensive” you should spend some time looking at the recent history of photography and realize how “cheap” that camera actually is comparatively. I’m about to start talking about a $25,000 camera system I just bought into that a few years ago would have been $50,000 or more. Ten years ago it wasn’t even on the map.

My path to a digital back started about four years ago when I met fellow photographer Drew Gardner. I saw some prints of his work and they were breathtaking. He was shooting with a Phase and I talked his ear off about it. Then I saw Joey L’s prints of his work and it was undoubtedly medium format and again, from a Phase. I knew I was heading in that direction but I had not shot with a medium format back. The good folks at the Mac Group let me borrow a Mamiya DM33 system for a week and that was the camera that convinced me I had to move up. The image quality off that chip was unlike anything any DSLR I owned had ever produced. It was the closest thing to medium format film I had seen in the digital world. The tones, dynamic range, color, sharpness, and shallow depth of field the larger sensor produced made my 35mm system feel like I was shooting with a flip phone.

I tried to whet my appetite for medium format by going back to film last year. That was fine but it sucked for anything on a deadline and I was spending a lot of money on film, developing, shipping, and scanning. $100 here. $300 there. It was adding up for nothing more than personal work as my paid work was 95% digital and needed quick turnarounds. Hasselblad let me demo a CFV 39 to mount to my Hasselblad 500 but it just didn’t meet up to the Mamiya I had been loaned. Then I started printing my portfolio again at 11×14. My photos hold up okay at that print size but I printed a few MF images and the difference was night and day. I think the last nail in the coffin was watching Peter Hurley’s “Art of the Headshot” DVD. Watching him rock that Hasselblad was it. I’m pulling out all the stops and going medium format digital. Done and done. (BTW – If you haven’t seen Peter’s DVD I highly suggest it mainly to watch how he interacts with his subjects. He’s a master at that!)

Why Digital Medium Format? ::

Reasons #1, #2, and #3 :: Image Quality :: I can’t properly convey how gorgeous these digital files are. It’s not just the amount of Megapixels that matter. The size of the imaging sensor comes into play in the final quality of the photo. I’d rather have a 20 megapixel medium format camera than a 30 megapixel 35mm based DSLR because the physical sensor is much larger. The larger the sensor the higher the quality. You’re going to see some web sized compressed jpgs in this blog post. They only hint at the quality of the actual file. Don’t start with the “I see noise in the blue channel” and “I see CA on the third eye lash from the left”. When you see these in their full glory on a good monitor or in print they blow the doors off any Nikon or Canon I’ve ever shot. I do want to say that geeking out too much on 100% crops is akin to buying a new lawn mower then getting on your hands and knees to inspect the blades of grass after a fresh cut. :) Notice that the 100% crop views are but a postage stamp compared to the whole of the image. The native files coming out of the IQ140 (40 MP) are about 18×24 inches at 300 dpi. I do not condone pixel peeping and measurebating but here we go…



So the images straight from the camera are pretty dang sharp. The devil is all up in these details. I hate looking at my 35mm based images at 100% when editing. I can nail the shot but at 100% they just fall short in the details. Not so with this IQ140 back. The larger sensor is both a blessing and a curse. It shows you what you got right and what you did wrong. There are three main things that affect depth of field. Aperture, focal length, and camera to subject distance. There is a fourth aspect and that is film/sensor size. The larger the sensor the shallower the DoF. Jumping from a crop factor to full frame DSLR you’ll see a bit of change in DoF. Going full frame DSLR to MF you see it even more. Focusing is critical with this camera. Super critical. The DoF at 2.8 is sometimes too narrow. If you don’t nail the focus you see it. Check out this shot of Dan sitting in for a test shot on yesterday’s shoot…

This was shot with the 55mm 2.8 lens at f3.2. The 55mm is “about” a 35mm focal length in terms of full frame DSLRs. So it’s a bit on the wide angle side of things. Notice how I got the far eye in focus but the near eye is going soft. I’m at a decent distance from Dan with a wide lens. A DSLR with this set up at f3.2 would have held both eyes. I can’t show the full shot with the client from yesterday but I can show a crop…

You can see that I got close in this shot but not close enough. A magnifier for the viewfinder is suggested and is the next thing on my list to get for this camera. The PhaseOne 645DF is an autofocus camera but it has one focusing point. It’s not like our DSLRs with multiple focusing points. Focusing and recomposing is hard to pull off at these narrow tolerances so I typically just manually focus. The viewfinder image is so large and so bright that it is far easier to manually focus with this camera than it is with a 35mm. That said, it is a basic skill that I’m having to learn again. My first few days with the camera had me wondering if I made the right choice to make this switch. I was blowing focus all over the place. The more I shoot with it the more I’m nailing focus. Hasselblad has a feature called “True Focus” that tracks camera movement as you focus and recompose. I’ll speak more to that when I talk about why I chose the Phase over the Hasselblad.

Reason #4 :: Slowing Down :: I have talked about this before when I started shooting some film again. I want to physically slow things down as I shoot. It’s just so damn easy to fire off frames with a DSLR. I can make myself slow down but it’s like trying to drive a Porsche slowly. You have to really think about it. Putting a heavier and slower camera in your hands gives you no choice but to slow down. I want to be more methodical. This camera does that for me.

Reason #5 :: Sync Speed :: One of the main reasons I wanted to get back to medium format is one of the same reasons medium format was so important in the film days as well. That would be sync speed. When 35mm systems were stuck at 60th to 125th of a second sync speeds medium format systems would sync at 500th of a second or better. Electronic shutters got a lot better and 35mm systems got up to 250th of a second but they still couldn’t touch the leaf shutters in medium format. This PhaseOne camera combined with the IQ140 and the Schneider leaf shutter lenses allow me to sync at 1/1,600th of a second. SIXTEEN HUNDRETH OF A SECOND! Are you kidding me? That’s insane. And that isn’t some sort of hyper syncing trickery. That’s just plain ol’ flash sync. Full power lights at 1/1600th is legit. The Phase One has the fastest sync speed of MF cameras out there and that was a big reason I chose it over Hasselblad. More on my choice in a minute.

Two caveats to the fast sync speed though. 1) You need pretty fast flash duration flashes to get to that speed. I’m finding my Einsteins in “action” mode hold up just fine for this. My standard ol’ Alien Bees do not. The exposure is over before they get to full power. 2) Standard Pocket Wizards can’t handle 1/1600th. My PW’s get me to about 500th and then I lose the flash from there. I got a set of the Profoto Air transceivers and they do the trick. The PW flex and mini’s won’t work as well from my understanding. Profoto rules the roost at these sync speeds. It has something to do with [technical jargon]. There are two reasons to go with this kind of sync speed. One is, of course, to kill ambient light. The second is to freeze motion. I mean really freeze it. I did an editorial shoot a few weeks ago of a musician. He always ends his shows with a big jump so we shot some jumping images. The next photo is of this subject jumping. Again, I can’t show the full image (hasn’t gone to press yet) but I can show some crops. A 100% crop of a 250th of a second image show motion blur even with flash firing. The motion is stopped much better at a faster shutter speed.

Reason #6 :: “That Look” :: There’s this, something. This feel. This “look” to film that digital has never quite nailed. One reason I love the 5d so much is that it’s the first DSLR I’ve used that gets in the neighborhood. This Phase One hits it for me. Part of it is the dynamic range these cameras have. They have far more ability to capture a larger range of tones from highlights to shadows. The highlight retention is astounding as well as the ability to hold on to details in the shadows without falling apart or getting too “loud” in the noise department. Between the gorgeous shallow DoF and the dynamic range, large sensor photography can’t be beat.

Reason #7 ::  “Then I spent 400 bucks on this just to be like ***** you ain’t up on this!” – Kanye West. :: Buying a medium format system is not a status symbol for me. I’m not making this post just “because”. “And I can’t even go to the grocery store without some ones thats clean and a shirt with a team.” [Meg’s Editor note :: I have no idea what that last sentence is about. It’s grammatically awful but Zack says some of you will get it.] BUT… that said… When this camera gets pulled out on a job everyone wants to know what in the hell “that thing” is. I can not tell you how many jobs I’ve shot where my client owned better gear than I had. It’s not vanity or showing off. Not for me it isn’t. Imagine you’ve been trying to fix something around your house. You and your friends all gather around with some hand tools to do this repair. You get frustrated or realize that as much as you like to be a handyman you need a pro to get this task done. The contractor shows up with tools you’ve never seen or have only heard about or are locked up in a cage at Home Depot. That contractor jumps in and knocks out that task and makes whatever was broke better than when it was new. They “could” have done it with your tools but they had some pro ass tools to do some pro ass work. He wasn’t the cheapest contractor in the phone book but he did a great job with tools you, the customer, wouldn’t know how to turn on.

That is sort of what it’s like pulling the Phase out on jobs. No more hanging out with your D700 while the client talks about buying his wife the new D4. It’s a pro camera for pro jobs. I’m not shooting $50 bands anymore. I started there. Doesn’t mean I need to stay there. That sounds “smarmy” and I don’t want it to. I don’t want you to think I’m just rolling deep. YES this camera was as much as a car but… so is my 35mm kit. Take note that making this move was a tough decision and one that I’ve been working toward for at least four years now. Note that I have a new camera but an old car. I have a new camera but some old shoes. I have a new camera but furniture that I pay cash for instead of financing. You can buy a new car and have a decent camera or keep pushing your old one and have a better camera. I remember assisting Joe McNally about five years ago. As I helped Brad Moore unload Joe’s Suburban I was doing photo math in my head. Photo math isn’t figuring out reciprocals. It’s figuring out how much money another photographer has in gear. I quickly figured that Joe had more money in Lightware cases alone then I had in all of my gear combined. That was just his bags. Then I realized Joe had been pushing that button on a camera since I was in diapers. He didn’t start with a Suburban full of Lightware cases. He started with a camera and a lens. Whatever gear you have now, no matter how “measly” it seems, will not be the same gear you have 10, 20, 30 years from now if you continue that long in photography.

Ok. So rambling post to say that when you show up with a medium format rig your clients take notice and know that you aren’t the next hot new AMWAC with a BestBuy camera ready to shoot some awesometastic available light portraits. #sarcasm #toungeincheek #justkidding #donttakeitpersonal #smileyface #movingon [Meg’s Note :: Good job for getting out there and even TRYING Mom’s! Golly. Stupid boys with their stupid acronyms.]

Why I Went With Phase One ::

Choosing which camera system to go with was no easy task. I figured I wanted to put $20k to $25k into a system a few years ago so that’s what I prepared for. Prices have been coming down a lot since I first started researching these cameras. Once I was ready to go there were a number of other options available to me. The backs I started researching then were now showing up at half the price on the used market. It really got overwhelming. I looked at the four main systems on the market. The Pentax 645D (starting at $10k body only), the Mamyia/Leaf DM series (starting at $10k full kit), The Hasselblad H4D (starting at $14k full kit), The Phase One IQ series (starting at $22k), and then the used market (starting at $6k’ish).

Friend and long time reader of this here blog, Michael Sebastian, and I have had several conversations about film vs. digital in the medium format world. Michael was holding on to film with a cold hard fist. He has some DSLRs but he is very, very, very, particular about image quality for his projects and DSLRs just didn’t cut it. I raised an eyebrow when he told me that he bought into the Pentax 645D system last year and sold me a good bit of his 120 film. If Michael freaking Sebastian is selling film because the Pentax is “there” then the Pentax deserves a look. The Pentax looks to be a very nice system. I think it was designed specifically to draw the attention of DSLR shooters. It has multiple AF points and can shoot JPG. It’s the only MF camera on the market to have those features. Along with a $10k starting price for the body it’s a pretty attractive camera. What killed it for me was the lack of leaf shutter lenses. The work Michael creates doesn’t have a lot of need for flash. My work does and Pentax’s 125th sync was a deal killer for me.

Then I began to research the Hasselblad H4D system. It’s a gorgeous system. Awesome glass. Beautiful body. 800th of a second sync. There is much to like about the Hasselblad system. I think of all the MF bodies out there right now my favorite is the H4D body. I was looking at the H4D-40 that starts around $20k for a kit. By kit I mean body, back, and 80mm lens. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve researched this camera.

Next up is the Mamiya/Leaf series. Basically Mamiya, Leaf, and Phase One are all owned by the same company. The Phase One 645DF body is a rebadged Mamyia 645 body. Leaf backs have been married specifically to the Mamyia brand. Mamyia digital backs are Leaf backs. Phase has rebranded the body and keeps their name on their backs. Mamyia/Leaf backs are very nice. From all the research I’ve done it seems people shooters prefer the Leaf images over the Phase as far as skin tone and so forth. I guess I can’t measurebate on the high level because I know a lot of people shooters with the Phase backs and their work is great as well. It’s probably wrong for me to say this but I think of it as  – Leaf is to Toyota as Phase is to Lexus. Both are stellar performers but the fit and finish of the Phase warrants the higher price tag it usually carries. To tell you the truth though, if I was shooting a Mamyia DM40 back right now I’m sure I’d be just as pleased with my decision.

Last but not least (actually more) is the Phase. Drew Gardner told me to “just get a Phase.” I know he’s a spokesperson for them but there’s a reason he is… because he wouldn’t shoot anything else. I knew Phase was at the top of the food chain so I spent a lot of time looking down the chain from there. It really got confusing as I looked into all of these cameras. Kodak vs. Dalsa sensors. Sensor vs. Sensor+ technology. This vs. that. It gets very technical and, unfortunately, many of the people who buy MF backs are ALL ABOUT the technical and talk about it until they’re blue in the face. I like the spec sheets as much as the next guy but I refuse to post 400% crops of 5d vs P65+ backs. Speaking of $30,000 cameras, it’s especially difficult to look at some of the work that some folks are producing with these cameras. Let’s just say… It’d be like watching some fool load lumber and bags of cement onto the top of a Porsche 911 at your local home improvement warehouse. It’s sad. On camera flash of grand kids in the living room shot with a $30,000 camera kind of bad. $30,000 point and shoot. Awesome. Anyway…

I was so confused and overwhelmed I realized I needed some help. Luckily for me there’s a company in Atlanta called Capture Integration. These folks know medium format inside and out. It’s what they do. They have pretty much every camera I was interested in both new and used. I called them in November and made an appointment to check out their cameras. Steve and Will spent a lot of time with me. I shot every back I wanted to except the Pentax. It pretty much came down to a P30+, P45+, or the IQ140. Once I laid eyes on the screen of the IQ back I knew I was done for. My main point of contention with all of these cameras, and I mean all of them… their screens suck. Phase, Leaf, and Hasselblad. My first color cell phone had a better screen than some of these cameras. I don’t understand why they have sucked for so long but they have. The IQ finally addresses the mortal sin of a shitty screen on a $20,000 camera. It’s a great screen. Still nothing like an iPhone 4 but it is light years ahead of what they used to be. Most people with MF backs shoot tethered and the number one reason they shoot tethered is because of how useless the screens have been. When I shot with the DM33 I was surprised by how low in resolution the screen was. It was fine for checking the historgram and that’s about it. Not only does the IQ series have the best screen, it has the most robust build quality out of all of them. This camera has to last for years to come and the lenses need to last for life. The Phase is the most solid of them all.

When it came time to pull the trigger I went with the IQ. I really wanted the IQ160 [Meg’s Editor Note :: It’s probably the closest to an IQ of 160 that he’ll ever get… heh heh] as it would have given me an even larger sensor but it was time to jump and I had saved my money and I’m happy as can be with my decision. If you think of the IQ series like BMW’s then the 140 is a 3 series, the 160 is the 5 series, and the 180 is the 7 series. I have one more lens to eventually add (a portrait lens around 120mm  – 150mm) and I’ll be good from that point. I’ll have my wide, a standard, and a telephoto. I don’t need any more than that. I don’t need a zoom. I don’t need a super wide or a super telephoto. Maybe something a bit wider but the 55mm is really nice. It’s like my 35mm lens which is my favorite for the 35mm system. This is my portrait rig and what a rig it is. The good news is since it takes older Mamiya glass, I can pick up a non leaf shutter lens for just a few hundred dollars. The leaf lenses on the other hand…. They run $4 to $5k each. [bites knuckles] Yeah, first phone call after I bought it was to my insurance agent. I think eventually I’d like to have a back-up. That would probably be something like the kick ass deal Capture Integration has on a Leaf 22 kit for $5,700. That’s body, back, and lens. I’d take that over the new Nikon D4. No seriously. I would. David “Strobist” Hobby would too. He recently went medium format as well. Read his thoughts here and his follow up here.

FAQ’s I’m expecting ::

Do you still need DSLRs? – Yes. Absolutely. Even in the film days a pro had a solid 35mm kit on hand. While this camera is amazing at what it does… it’s amazing from ISO 50 to about 200. After that I’m reaching for the 5d for better ISO performance. If a job came up that I needed to move fast and shoot quick then DSLR. No question. But when it comes to portrait work or any kind of job that I can have control over, then it’s Phase One from here on out. I wish every portrait in my book was shot medium format. Moving forward all of my portraiture and commercial work will be shot on the Phase.

Would you shoot this at a wedding? – Hell yes I would. Remember, medium format ruled the land in the wedding world once before. Is it the best camera in the world for the reception? Nope. But I’d have no issues shooting ALL the portraits with it and the details and probably the getting ready shots (depending on the light). In my research I’ve found a few wedding photographers shooting digital MF now at weddings and it shows. Just sayin’. Anything that would give me a better picture, a better print, and shut Uncle Bob the @#$% up about his new Canon Mark X would be a camera I took to a wedding.

What about the x100? Still love that? – Yes! I still say it is my favorite digital camera ever made. Mine has finally caught the sticking aperture disease and is on it’s way to the shop and I can not tell you how excited I am about one day seeing the X-Pro1 in real life. I’m wondering if I’d sell my Canon gear if the X-Pro1 is as good as I hope it will be. OMG. OMG. OMG. Can’t wait for that camera to drop. Anyway…

Why don’t you just rent instead of buying such an expensive camera? – Great question. Rental is an option but the back alone is $500 a day. $75 for the body. Another $150 or so in lenses and you’re at $725 a day for a kit. In ten days of rental you could purchase that used Leaf kit mentioned above and have money left over. Also add in your time or the time of an assistant for driving to the rental house to pick up and return. Buying into medium format is expensive. So is renting.

How big are the files? – Full size jpgs run 25 to 30 megabytes. The RAW files average 45 or so megs each.

How do you like Capture One? – It’s a little buggy from time to time but daaaammmmmnnnnn you can’t argue with the results. It’s a serious piece of software that I don’t yet fully know the ins and outs of. Once I get more comfortable with that workflow I’ll report back on that. Lightroom 3.6 can handle the Phase RAW files and I’ve used that for a few images but Capture One does give the best quality.

Are photographers today only able to pay for this by teaching workshops? – This question came in during my appearance on The Grid. I’m proud to report that it wasn’t workshops that paid for this camera. Photography paid for this camera. Most workshop teachers aren’t shooting medium format, and most medium format shooters aren’t teaching workshops so that sort of kills that question.  If you price out a nice 35mm Canon kit with pro bodies, the three main L series zooms, and a nice fast prime you’re sitting on $17,000 worth of gear. Add in a few Profoto lights, pocket wizards, bags, and other misc items and you’re sitting on $40,000 worth of gear before you know it. If you wanted a cheap profession to get into you picked the wrong one.

How forgiving are the files? – VERY. Check this shot out. I was out and about shooting for the last GOYA shootout and totally blew this exposure. I figured it was gone.

I pulled it into Capture One, drug the exposure slider down and presto…

I’ve never been able to recover a shot that simply before. Not that, you know, I’ve ever blown exposure before. I just did this to show you an example. 😉

What about the Leica S2? – What about it? Ok. Yes. That’s another medium format camera on the market, and yes – their glass is unreal and all that, but I have shot with the S2 and I didn’t like it. I just don’t see it having the longevity that the Phase/Mamiya system has nor does it have the support around the world the Phase/Mamiya system has. Look at the workhorses in the rental houses and that will give you a good idea as to what system to invest in yourself. It is a great camera and has a following but after putting it in my hands at an event once I wasn’t sold.

Do you shoot tethered on location? – I have once so far. We have taken an older 15″ MacBook Pro and converted it to a dedicated tethering machine. We replaced the main hard drive with an OWC solid state 60 gig drive. Then we replaced the optical disc drive with another hard drive for storage using another OWC product. The final parts and pieces I’m waiting for are some things from Tether Tools.

Why are you shooting on a tripod more with this camera? – A) The focus has to be spot on and I’m not as comfortable hand holding and focusing just yet. I also like that it slows me down and makes me think through the shot more. B) The camera is big and heavy. Shooting available light slower than 250th of a second on the shutter is not something I suggest with this camera. Remember that it’s an ISO 50 – 200 camera. While it can shoot higher it really sings at the slower ISO’s.

Is this the future? – Meh. I don’t know. I won’t say that it is but as the prices fall we’ll be seeing more and more of them. I met a photographer this week who got started in the 40’s. He shot a 5×7 camera because he couldn’t afford the 8×10 camera. He said, “You shot 4×5 if you were cheap.” The Rollei 6×6 came out and it was very slow to be adopted and quite expensive but also a very small format. He remembers the days when the 35mm was laughed at. If you want to know the future look to our past. Digital was WAY out of the reach of most working photographers for a long time. Now I complain about how much I spend on film. It comes… It goes. But medium format used to be $50k to get into. Now it can be had at a fifth of that price or less.

Is it really that good? – Do bears poop in the woods?

For those of you in the Atlanta area keep an eye out for a medium format night at the studio. I’ve talked with Phase and Capture Integration and they’re all about bringing some cameras and lights to the studio for a night of shooting. We’ll make some sets, ice some beers, and shoot a bunch of pixels.

I’m sure y’all have questions I haven’t thought of. Hit me in the comments with them.





  • Mike Padua said on February 4, 2012

    I cannot wait to see the work you’re going to produce with this thing going forward.

    Thanks for taking the time to share this with us Zack.

  • David said on February 4, 2012

    I hear ya!

    Profoto- I got spoiled as a studio manager/1st assistant in my upbringing with profotos in the studios I worked in so I bit the bullet and sunk my money into them as well and havent turned back.

    I also got spoiled with an aptus/leaf back, too. At the time we bought it, the studio’s suburban was cheaper than the back and you had to be on the studio’s insurance policy just to hold the digital back :-p The images were worth it though. I haven’t bit the bullet there yet, however. I’m still 80% film, holding onto my bronicas, sinars 4×5 and deardorff 8×10 for dear life. :-p

    Hope to see more samples of the new back and system once you start making more work with it!

    All the best-

  • Chris Rowe said on February 4, 2012

    Informative and well reasoned article as usual Zack (loved the asides from Meg too!) Never heard such good reasons to spend £15K on gear but I still think my finance officer will go “lalalalala not listening”. Does this mean then that we’ll never see you on Kelby doing a “Guide to cash and go photography” for us folks still married to 35mm?

  • Jay said on February 4, 2012

    Great column. I went for the H4D and came “that close” to picking P1. Bit like Canon vs. Nikon, they’re both great and both will excel. For me, True Focus rocks, I really depend on it. Totally agree about Capture One, IMO the best RAW editor going. The hassy Phocus software is OK, but Capture One is better.

  • Jeff Cruz said on February 4, 2012

    Hey Zack! Great write-up! Thanks for sharing! Even though I want MF now I know I’m nowhere near ready to get one. I’m shooting DX right now and for me my next leap is FX with the D800 when it comes out. I hear ya though… We all want 30 years worth of gear and experience like Joe but we all need to be patient. You probably think of Joe as I do of you. Perhaps years from now I’ll have my MF and you’ll have thirty speedlights in roll out cases in a suburban.. Lol.

    Jeff Cruz (RMSP Light It Up!, 2011)

  • Don Crossland said on February 4, 2012

    Great post. I’ve had the opportunity to shoot with various digital medium formats lately, including the Leica S2 and Hasselblad H3D. I will be completing the Phase One certification program for Capture One Pro and Phase One camera systems. Like you, I needed to stop doing photography for a while and work at a “real job”. But now I’m back and I never let go of my Contax 645. I am dying to get a Phase One back for the best camera I’ve ever shot with. I might add a wide-angle lens but I have all the other ones I need. I can’t wait to get some hands-on with the Phase One especially when I found out Schneider was doing their glass. Can’t wait to see your new work. New gear of that caliber has to be inspiring. Btw, I love the line about photo math. What assistant hasn’t done the math while loading an established photographer’s gear?

  • Mike said on February 4, 2012


    Awesome post. I’ve been following a similar path over the last year and would love for you to clarify something from the article. Besides the screen on the Hasselblad, what in particular did you not like about the camera? How would you compare the autofocus of the Hassy vs. the Phase after you tested them at the store? Thanks!

  • WILFREDO said on February 4, 2012

    Good read Zack….while the MF is far out into the next galaxy for me..I have considered becoming a Certified Pro. I figured it would give me some experience behind a Phase system…at the very least you know. Calumet in SF, carries them and they have workshops regularly….

  • Trenton Moore said on February 4, 2012

    Happy to say that you’re spot on. I shoot a mamiya/leaf system and the details in the results are simply unbelievable. I wouldn’t go back to shooting in a controlled environment with a 35mm, period.

    On a side note, I love the post because it’s something that I can point people to and say “Here, look. This is the difference. I’m not clinically crazy, just a more typical variety of crazy.”


  • Michael Drager said on February 4, 2012

    This is what I needed to hear. Finally, an approach that is about setting the bar high and doing what is best not what is fast.

    “Reason #4 :: Slowing Down :: I have talked about this before when I started shooting some film again. I want to physically slow things down as I shoot. It’s just so damn easy to fire off frames with a DSLR. I can make myself slow down but it’s like trying to drive a Porsche slowly. You have to really think about it. Putting a heavier and slower camera in your hands gives you no choice but to slow down. I want to be more methodical. This camera does that for me.”

  • Kjell said on February 4, 2012

    Really great article again Zack!

    I’m curious, considering you have the IQ140 with 100% zoom ability and focus mask, if you use these features to determine DOF. If you find the magnifier for the viewfinder useful, I’d love to hear about it.

    I suppose (and maybe I didn’t read your article close enough) you shoot tripod mounted because the old 35mm rule: “1/x exposure time for a x mm focal length” doesn’t cut it on a medium format chip. (And MF lenses don’t have IS.)

    Looking very much forward to more articles on working with MF, in particular how your post production workflow with Capture One will be.

  • David duChemin said on February 4, 2012

    I hate you. Been trying to dodge this reality for a while, and it’s coming closer and closer. I think I’m done with falling off walls for now, so might as well learn a new system. :-) These posts are tough to do because inevitably someone gets in your grill about “the camera doesn’t matter.” And it really doesn’t. Unless you have specific needs, and then it does. And if the client even thinks they have the need for larger files, or you happen to love printing gigantic prints, then output matters and the kind of camera you have determines this output.

    BTW, will be coming through Atlanta this month. Feel like getting together for an evening so I can hang out with you guys and/or play with your gear?

  • Mike said on February 4, 2012

    I hope that electronic viewfinders start to resemble medium-format viewfinders. The first time I shot an RZ67, I felt like I was looking at a movie screen — I want something like that inside a camera the size of my X100.

  • Mike said on February 4, 2012

    By the way, they’re not exactly “pro level”, but I’ve used my $25 CowboyStudio wireless triggers on a Fuji X100 to trigger hotshoe flashes at 1/4000s.

  • Mars said on February 4, 2012

    You’re a good egg Zack, thx for sharing!
    Does this mean you will be switching to broncolor anytime soon?

  • Lauren Sykes said on February 4, 2012

    Zack, thanks for taking the time to break it down. Having met a variety of photographers with personalities ranging across the board, I really appreciate your accessibility and how you encourage others to be pursuing their passion for photography! Oh, and your wife is hilarious.

  • Jason said on February 4, 2012

    Hey Zack, thanks for the post and video both were very interesting.

    I’m a hobbyist photographer, not even an AMWAC, and while I have been aware of the existence of medium formats for years I really know nothing about them.

    Do you think you could do an “anatomy of a medium format system”, ideally both for film and digital?
    I, and I reckon a lot of other people would find it really interesting.

    Especially since you seem to be able to get second hand film medium formats for under $1k – I’d like to give one a go, and a quick anatomy would be really useful.

    Any way thanks for your post.

    PS I have to say this – it’s part of my pathology – your assistant Brian, looks a lot like Max, the boy in the wolf suit in the Maurice Sendak book “Where the Wild Things Are”. Sorry Brian.

  • Kyle Pearce said on February 4, 2012

    Great post. I really appreciate the logical approach to finding the right camera for your needs. As a freelancer here in NC I have used a lot of different Cameras/backs and programs and I agree that Phase One and Capture One are the way to go.

    Also your thoughts about slowing down caught my eye because I realize that I have become too trigger happy and it means much more time in front of the computer and less time behind a camera. I recall my film days with a MF and realize that I need to get back to more thoughtful shooting. Right now I am in the process of reinventing my pro career and I can’t afford the investment in a MF system but it is something on my wish list. One thing I plan to do this year is get back to using an indecent light meter. That was a part of shooting more thoughtfully when I had a MF film camera.

    Thanks again and feel free to give me a call if I can help out with Capture One. I have been using it since 3.0. There is a bit of a learning curve for C1 but well worth it.

  • Jeremy Hall said on February 4, 2012

    Wow, what am amazing read & enjoyed understanding your jump to MF. I can nev imagine myself making that jump, but then there was the day full frame was well out of reach. That image quality and range is amazing. Congrats on the new phase (hehe) in your photography evolution. Always love being able to read your extensive explanations that make the decision so clear.

  • Jinny said on February 4, 2012

    I’ve been reading about phase one since the Jeremy Cowart workshop. Down that rabbit hole back to medium format. I shot MF in college but never could afford my own. The images from it are still among my favorites. Thanks for the great info and shop recommendation. It’ll be a long time before I can afford one, but the dynamic range and color are just dreamy.

  • Sheila said on February 4, 2012

    Thanks for the great, concise education, Zack. The big takeaway here for me is that you have to earn your toys, or in your case, tools.

    I haven’t in this case but will move heaven and earth to make it to your MF night.

  • Lance said on February 4, 2012

    Love the post Zack. I have a question. Have you wacked your face because the hand grip is so far away from the eye piece???

  • Zack said on February 4, 2012

    @Lance – Not yet! I handle this thing with kids gloves.


  • Ryan V said on February 4, 2012

    Anyone reading this should absolutely not overlook Zack’s point about the LCD screens. He’s not exaggerating. They are truly, incredibly, terrible. I rented a Hasselblad H3-something a while ago. Took two shots with it in the studio. Put down the Hassy and shot the rest of the day with my D300S, because the screen was just that awful. I should have shot tethered, but I didn’t know any better.

  • Rick Bennett said on February 4, 2012

    If fate ever has me showing up at a wedding as a guest that you’re shooting with the IQ140, I’m totally gonna rent a IQ180 just to f@ck with you.

    Hrm, lets see, my daughter may get married in the next decade…

    Aside from that, the most important lesson I took from this article is that I’m not worthy of this kind of system. It’d be like handing a Lotus Elise to someone who has only ever driven a Datsun.

  • John said on February 4, 2012

    I had a darkroom teacher who sometimes drew a certain distinction between 35mm and MF. He claimed that a lot of people like to fake the MF look, that they could “get it on the length but not the width” or something like that. I think he was talking about the size of the lenses and or the larger piece of film. I took this to mean that a portrait lens on a MF system could take in a lot more of the environment without wide-angle distortion being introduced, but I guess my question is: Outside of megapixels and even dynamic range, do you see a difference in quality in your images based the sheer size of your lenses?

  • Boid said on February 4, 2012

    I don’t understand why they can’t create a good LCD for a 25,000$ camera. Why not just create an iPhone4 housing instead, that slots in behind the camera, and run a dedicated Mamiya app that utilizes the gorgeous retina display? Everyone sticks to what they are good at!

    The next gen iPad would have retina display too, which would be a whole lot cheaper to integrate, plus mom’s phone call won’t interrupt your shoot.

  • Tobias said on February 4, 2012

    good read on your choice of camera. I love reading about how more and more of my inspirational photographers are taking a leap into MF. I actually also took the steg into the MF world, since I this week put in an order on the same IQ140 kit as you. I tryed out the phaseone kit in december last year and since that day I have been dreaming of that camera.

    I don’t really have the finance too buy a kit cash. So this meaning me too take a leasing deal is a bit of a risk I like too read this post so I know that I have made the right choice!

    I am soo looking forward to having the kit in my hands.

    If you ever have your way through Stockholm, Sweden , you are more than welcome to drop by my studio for a cup of coffee and a shoot

    Best wiches in the MF-game


  • Zack said on February 4, 2012

    Tobias – Leasing is actually a pretty good option for these cameras. Good luck with it!


  • Ben Levy said on February 4, 2012

    “And I can’t even go to the grocery store without some ones thats clean and a shirt with a team.”

    This line is from the Kanye West song “All Falls Down” (check it out, it’s good). It’s about how Kanye reached a point where he doesn’t even run errands without dressing up. The “ones” are Nike Air Force Ones, and the “shirt with a team” would be jersey. I’m guessing that Zak’s switch to medium format is similar because he always uses the system, not just for special shoots.

  • Zack said on February 4, 2012

    @Ben- Yay! Someone who get’s the reference! :) Meg is not a hiphop head no matter how hard I try to convince her to be one. :)


  • stephen said on February 4, 2012

    nice post, easier to read coming from you versus some of the articles written in the mags. While the LCD is great when needed, I can see you ending up shooting tethered 90% of the time, and wishing you were the other 10%. Its just that critical.
    thats why I’ve stuck to keeping a generation behind with upgrading my backs every couple of years, saves me thousands.
    Save money with an older back(P25+,P40+, etc, quality will still blow your mind), and buy a better maxed out laptop to speed up your flow.
    just my two cents.
    Keep the new backs in the rental houses where they belong.

  • Rob Oresteen said on February 4, 2012

    Zack – I loved this post…many great insights. Though, unless I hit the lotto, my future is an RZII and my 5×7, though I could see shooting MF digital.

    With digital, it isn’t the “resolution” that turns me on as much as the ultra clean-ass files that turn me off…can’t say what it is. Perhaps I’m just a dumb-ass.

    Anyway, good luck with your new kit…next time I’m down in Newnan, I’ll ring you up.

  • Christopher said on February 4, 2012

    Good post, Zack. I remember the incredible image quality when I used to shoot with an RB67. Big negatives. Big quality. But before everyone panics and thinks they need to save for a MF digital system, they need to consider their needs. Are you producing excellent work with your current DSLR? Are you comfortable with it? Does your style jive with a big, bulky camera? If you’re pissed every time you pixel-peep, then maybe you “need” something better. But how does your work look in that brochure. . .that website. . .that 11x print? Are your clients happy? I’d love to have a Corvette. But I don’t need one. My D3 is a great camera, and I love it as a tool for what I do. The Leica S2 felt amazing in my grip and it’s the most gorgeous camera I’ve ever seen, but I don’t need it. In fact, if clients weren’t impressed with the quality gear I unpack, (and the implied pro tag that goes along with it), I would shoot with the best compact I could find for mere convenience.

  • Ian said on February 4, 2012

    Really great post Zack. Very thorough and the whole thing makes sense regarding the type of work you do. It all boils down to the right tool for the job. For you it’s clear that medium format was the way to go. For what I’m shooting at the moment it’s not, though after reading your post I rather wish it was :-)

    Looking forward to seeing your work produced on the new rig.

    Thanks again for such a great post!


  • Adam Malcolm said on February 4, 2012

    Zack, you couldn’t have posted this at a better time.

    I’m currently researching the MF market for where I work, along with gyro stabilizers, for aerial photography.

    I love love love the Phase stuff, but it looks like we’ll have to go for the Pentax 645D, because of their ability to shoot JPEG (can’t say what we do – but there’s no time for RAW) and the 150-300mm zoom and 400mm prime lenses. And all round seems to be the best MF system to handle a bit of rough.

    But you’re doing exactly what I envisioned I’d be doing if I were a commercial photographer at this point in time, I’ve never been happy with even my 5D (mark 1 or mark 2) and if I ever get back into my own photography full-time, I’ll be going down the same route. Can’t wait to see how this will change your work.

  • Ghislain said on February 4, 2012

    Thank you for sharing Zack, it’s amazing what you just did for all of us but one question remains, now that you’ve spent ~35k of new gear, are you making more money? Not trying to be mean or anything but just wondering if it is bringing more money on each contract? I mean to justify the price of an IQ140, you have to jump the price big time don’t you? Then you entire clientele just changed no?

    I am currently shooting with a D300 and honestly, I don’t see a big difference between a DX and FX but I do see it with a MF… the problem is that: My pricing is always a little higher than my competition, why? Because I professionnally retouch all my pictures… thePost process that I do is really amazing but I almost have explain my pricing, show the difference between the competition and my final result and when my customers see it they buy it but we are in a world were cheap and fast is always a priority… So many people don’t even take the time to look properly on the results,… I see this all the time, someone is in love with a picture until I start looking at it and point out all the issues with it, not always technically but often… So really, does your customer really appreciate the new IQ you have with your phase one compare to your 5DMKII??

    Tks in advance my friend!! :)

  • Richerd Reynolds said on February 4, 2012

    Thanks for sharing Zack and congratulations on yet another well earned progression. I get what you were saying about how owning a medium format can bee seen as being “showy”. Kind of like the photographic equivalent of “… he’s compensating for something”. But I have to say, I think that there are very few photographers out there who can really make this camera sing like you can. Especially knowing that you didn’t make this jump on credit, is quite inspiring. I live on a “don’t buy it unless you can buy it twice” rule. It’s difficult, but reading this has let me know that there is hope.

    Very happy for you and can’t wait to see more of your magic with this new rig.


  • Vance said on February 4, 2012

    Try a D3x. And then tell me which is which. Better yet, just wait another week and see what 36MP tells like in the D800. Not many will be able to tell, side by side, provided they are equally shot. Maybe you will like the compression of my lens choice over the one or two you have available if you have to limit your stock of lenses. This is a lot of money to move into and time.

    Unless you are knocking out head shots every day, or studio portraits, or very large prints, MF does not have advantages over the DSLR, IMO. Price, stable of lenses, and knowing how to use what I have motivates me to wait. Not to mention the D4x coming next. Yeah, can you image what that will bring? Yeah, the sensors are different. But, come on, enough 40, 60, 80 MP already. OMG, storage and computing time.

    But, come on, how many of us have the time to perfect a new system, then learning to hand hold another beast at slow shutters, new software, and then new lenses. What’s your backup body, a DSLR as a back up, right. Not to mention the higher ISO availability at your finger tips when you need it. Then the video option is thrown in which is the upcoming. Advances are coming in the DSLR, i.e. mirror less, and who knows. And, I know I am not trying to overpower the sun everyday. How many of you do? Instead of a D4? Maybe not, but over a D4x or D800, we’ll see.

    Technique wins over equipment. The Phase will not make me more work. Pixel peeping will probably go to MF, I am not.

    On a lighter note, there is one reason I might change, sensor cleaning…. -:).

  • Zack said on February 4, 2012

    @Vance – You make good points but they can jam as many pixels into a 35mm chip and it still won’t touch a larger sensor. It’s not for everyone and it’s not for every situation but for what I do it was well worth the time and money to make this jump.


  • Jacob said on February 4, 2012

    Word. Great article. Very informative. The only thing I don’t like about you going to medium format is that before the switch, you and I worked with the exact same gear and it always inspired me to think that there was nothing (in terms of gear) keeping me from cranking out the same kinds of amazing work as you. Either way, the methods are still roughly the same – except for that 1600th sync speed. I’m looking forward to seeing what you produce with this awesome new arsenal.

  • Gavin said on February 4, 2012

    thanks for the article. I own 2 x 1Ds3’s and thinking of adding medium format, have for a while. For a wedding guy that doesn’t use strobes much if at all – do you think the medium format path is ok for shooting in natural light outdoors? I often shoot my 1Ds3’s at 400+ iso and often use really wide apertures (I’m even talking f/1.x) on location shoots in shady soft light to get enough shutter speeds – thinking there might be a risk in running out of light if i’m restricted to f/2.8 lenses and no greater than 200 iso.

    It still appeals to me massively though getting that look & dynamic range.

  • brett maxwell said on February 4, 2012

    Great writeup Zack!

    Did you try the Paul Buff Cybersync radio triggers? I’ve used them with my X100 (leaf shutter) and Einstein and they sync very well at 1/1000 and faster. They’re nice and small, and very reasonably priced, and the have a nice small/cheap receiver that integrates perfectly with the Einstein. Plus, you can hang the CyberCommander around your neck to remotely control each light. Just a thought…

  • joe said on February 4, 2012

    Hey Zack,

    WOW!! What a great read, seems an awesome bit of kit.
    You don’t need to explain to anyone on why you shoot with what you have. I’m just so glad you do!
    Gives “newbies” (like, myself) to the game an insight on how to get where you want to go.

    Studio looks great also.

    Keep up the good work :)

    Joe (Preston,UK)

  • Nicholas Gonzalez said on February 4, 2012

    The best thing that could happen to a DSLR, like Canon or Nikon, for me, would be leaf shutter lenses. Hands down. Until then I yawn at all the tech and trade in frenzies that occur when the “next best thing arrives”. (And what does that ever mean anyway? Next best thing: the camera or the photographer?

    Certainly I’m waiting to see what Canon cooks up for affordable full frames (5D’s have an undisputed champ of a sensor, but the focusing sucked too much) Until the right thing for me arrives, I’ll be rocking my 7D and lenses and flashes with all smiles, even in a world where a husband can fling to his wife the D4 so I can see it. After all, SHE hired ME, a person of professionalism, skill and, who long ago gave up comparing dicks in the schoolyard.

  • Zack said on February 4, 2012

    @Nicholas – Last line…. #CommentWin!

  • Gabriel said on February 4, 2012

    If Annie,Patrick Demarchelier,Mario Sorrenti,Sebastian Kim,Ben Watts get away shooting major campaignsand editorials with Canon, Peter Lindbergh, Terry Richardson,Yu Tsai,Joe do it with Nikon I guess I can use them without needing to invest 20k-30k in a system with 2 lenses. Come on, you buy the cheapest full frame from Canon, cheap primes and you compare them at 100% with top of the line from medium format. Nice comparison! It may save you time in post, true, but for that kind of money it should. Don’t get me wrong, I love the color and the skin tones and I think Nikon sucks at it, but most don’t see it. Now all you need is to ask Joe to borrow you some lighting equipment for free because you spent all your money on two lenses. Oh wait Joe uses cheap lights, I bet Profoto vs Broncolor is the next discussion. Pixel peeping!

  • Zack said on February 5, 2012

    @gabriel – True but many of those photographers shoot larger formats as well. A lot can and is done with 35mm. But how about all the work still being done 4×5? 4×5 drum scans beat phase backs. :) This is a camera and system I’ve been wanting for quite some time and worked hard to get it. I spent a lot of time deliberating this purchase. Researched the hell out of it and decided it was right for the work I want to create. It kicks ass and I’m glad I did it.

    Also, I’ve shot plenty of pro 35 bodies with the best glass available. I know what that format can and can not do.

    Whether most can see the difference or not I can see it. I’m the first critic of my work.
    I’m quite happy with my Einsteins and have zero desire to upgrade.

  • Roland said on February 4, 2012

    Very interesting post Zack!

    Did you experience any issues of moire appearing in your shots (due to the Phase One backs not having an AA filter), such as in the texture detail of clothing?

    I am not in the league for a medium format camera yet, but I am contemplating going for a D800, where there is supposed to also be a version without AA filter, so I am unsure which version to get.
    What would you recommend for portraiture and street photography?


  • Zack said on February 5, 2012

    @Roland – No moire issues yet. For portrait and street stuff I’m sure the 800 will be awesome.


  • mike a said on February 5, 2012

    great post zack. I know that is one stud of a camera but as I look around at my house , wore out cars and two teenagers eating me out of house and home. I’m currently wondering how to replace my original 5d’s. I’ve reached the point where I want to just give up. I’ve realized that I can’t (keep up) any more. Maybe it’s time to throw in the towel.

  • Zack said on February 5, 2012

    @MikeA – Don’t let this post make you throw in the towel. It’s just gear. It won’t mean shit 10 years from now.

    (or 10 minutes whichever comes first)


  • Doug said on February 5, 2012

    Just to argue for the hell of it. $25k would get you the 7′ elinchrom octa, 3 Ranger RX AS Speed packs and 6 heads (prob more than you need), a Quadra pack for when you wanna shoot wide open, and a ton more modifiers. I know it’s a bit apples to oranges, but it’s dollars from the same pot. Any thought to spending that $$$ on lights?

  • Zack said on February 5, 2012

    @Doug – Lights won’t make DSLR chips work better. :) Also, that kind of lighting kit could be built little by little over time. The IQ was kind of a one big plunge or nothing.


  • Miguel said on February 5, 2012

    Isn’t 80 mm in IQ140 the same as 65 mm in 35 mm?

    Since IQ has a crop factor of 1.3, 80 equals to 104.

    104 in medium format is 65 mm in 35mm.

    Is this right?

  • Bruce Jones said on February 5, 2012

    Zack – first it was Nikon to Cannon, now you are throwing the whole deal in! Seriously i just read this as I am importing photos in, and your comments about looking at the details at 100% started to make me tear up, and then i looked at those test shots and the detail from them. I am not in that universe, but you can still appreciate what the planets look like there. Great post, and the video was a nice benefit as as well.

  • Harmeet said on February 5, 2012

    Why the hate? Zack got a camera that he will use to make a living.

    A few of the posts are acting like he bought he went out and got a D4/1Dx to take pictures of his cat.

    Congrats Zack, looking forward to seeing some more of the results!

  • Ed Tritton said on February 5, 2012

    Its funny really, i’m currently playing with a Bronica ETRsi thats been sat unused in a box at college for years. Its still going strong, even shot part of a wedding on it not long ago!
    Thanks for the post Zack!

  • Nasir Hamid said on February 5, 2012

    Good luck to you, Zack. This is just a logical progression. WIth all the talk of LCD quality, when you shoot film you’re not relying on a screen so why does it matter with digital? Lack of self confidence? I get that too whenever I’ve used digital. Funny isn’t it? All this technology yet we’re still not sure we have the shot until we see it on a screen 😛

    I enjoyed your trip down camera history lane. In the early 90’s I was hand processing E6 in a lab with customers that were mostly commercial photographers. They’d be using medium and large format cameras I could only dream of owning back then. RZ67’s, Pentax 6×7’s, Sinar’s etc.

    Now I’m the one laughing because in the past 10 months I have pretty much all of those dream kits and more at a fraction of what they cost back then. I’m in the fortunate position of shooting for the love and enjoyment, not being a slave to a client so fast turnarounds and keeping up with ‘competitor’s’ is not an issue. Those mechanical beasts are a real joy to use as you well know.

    Waaay back when you shot a load of film in New York you mentioned something like you had 15 rolls due back from the lab. Please post some of that stuff. Thanks.

  • Kieran Wagner said on February 5, 2012

    Was that “client from yesterday” Obama?

  • Mike said on February 5, 2012

    What I’m really curious to see is the print/screen size at which you (and clients) really notice a difference in quality vs. something like a 5D Mark II.

    Can it actually be determined that this gear earns you more money versus a Canon system? Now maybe that doesn’t even matter — there’s nothing wrong with buying this just because you want it and can afford it.

  • Todd said on February 5, 2012

    Great piece. It’s great to hear your excitement. I pick up my RZ every now and then, and think this camera would be great with a digital back. Maybe I’ll skip buying a new DSLR this year and go for it.

  • Roland said on February 5, 2012

    @Zack – thanks for encouraging me to go for the D800 for my portrait and street stuff, but did you mean the standard version with AA filter or the one without (presumably called D800E)?

    (I’ve heard that Nikon hopes that the D800E will keep everyone from switching to medium format 😉


  • Josué Braun said on February 6, 2012

    Awesome, Zack!

  • John said on February 6, 2012

    Dang! Reading this just makes me realize how far I have to go in photography!

    This was a really well written article, and I appreciate the insight into the power of the MF camera.

    I’m still shooting with a cropped sensor, but at least I’m climbing the ladder slowly.

    Zach, thanks for this great article!

  • David said on February 6, 2012

    Love this zack! hope you come to portland again and bring this baby 😀

  • Edd Carlile said on February 6, 2012

    Thank you, that was an informative and enjoyable read.

  • Tenisd said on February 6, 2012

    Sounds a lot for the reasons I bought the X100.
    Much cleaner files than my previous camera,
    it can sync at 1/1000 and faster with flashes on full power,
    it slows me down more than previous camera.

    Plus the size. I can take it with me where I go. And much better in low light/high ISO also.

    Yea, great article Zack. Good for You :)

  • Drew Gardner said on February 6, 2012

    Hey Zack,

    Glad to see you finally made the leap.

    I think you will be very happy with your Phase One IQ

    I think the most important factors that you mention with the Phase are ‘That Look and ‘Slowing down’ difficult to put one’s finger on but a very big deal.

    I give my take on here http://bit.ly/zJlkS2


  • Paul Theseira said on February 6, 2012

    Awesome, mate. I’m saving up for a PhaseOne kit right now!

  • Andreas Gugau said on February 6, 2012

    This is exactly why I moved to digital medium format (comming from film-mf). Why not take the PhaseOne to gigs? I do it with my Leaf-back and it is just perfect: http://www.gugau-foto.de/galerie/live-musik/ Especially some “Rammstein”-pics turned out great – unfortunatelly I can’t show them in my gallery.

    Keep up the great work, Zach!

  • Carlos Bruno said on February 6, 2012

    And again the guy making history.
    Joey changed but didn’t explained.
    Hobby explained but no one give too much attention (his biz is LIGHT).
    McNally didn’t and probably won’t see it (NIKON won’t make it before Canon) so nothing to comment.
    You did. Explain. And the prices on e-Bay got a huge inflation.
    MF huh?
    Again making history … your MF.
    Tons of love.

  • dtbsz said on February 6, 2012

    …looked at my 5d mk2 after I read your article… remembered the difference after I moved “up” from the 400D-s crop sensor to the 5D-s full frame… tired to remember, among others, David duChemin words… but I couldn’t help feeling cheap…

    ..but I guess it’s all about what you need / use the camera for that dictates where you’re headed.

    Great article. Better dynamic range, gran and bigger sensor FTW.

    Can’t wait to see more images made with this monster…


  • Joey said on February 6, 2012

    I’m happy to see you finally made the jump. Any good observers (or creativeLive followers like myself) would have noticed that you’ve been dreaming about this moment for some time, so I felt it was just a matter of time for it to become reality. At first, when both you and David Hobby announced the change, I thought that we lost you to better pastures, but then I realised that you’ll always be the same guy who uses apple boxes and IKEA sticks, making everything possible to continuously reinvent himself, always happy to share his knowledge and experience with the rest of the world. You’ve always been and will be an inspiration to many of us, so I’m looking forward to seeing where this decision will take you.

    Is there any chance you’ll ever go back to Seattle to creativeLive? I could never grow tired of listening to your stories on evolving your own chshøokplachtp┐åsß.

  • Zack said on February 6, 2012

    @Joey – Wow. Thanks. Really. Thanks for your comment. Since making this post I’ve been told that I’m losing touch with other photographers to being called a scumbag. I’m the same old me. A camera doesn’t change the core of who you are right? So thank you for your kind words.


  • Mario said on February 6, 2012

    Hey there Zack,

    Can you comment on the Schneider 55? Meeting with my Phase Rep in a few weeks but would love your thoughts on it in comparison to the Canon 35L.

  • Zack said on February 6, 2012

    @Mario – I was just on your site this weekend. I saw your post on getDPI (I lurk there). I love the 55. It’s nowhere near as fast as the Canon L of course but it’s a gorgeous lens and sharp as a tack… when you get the focus right. :)


  • Roland said on February 6, 2012

    Thanks for the very long and very informative post. I’ll be referring some of my photo buddies here when they start talking about 35mm versus MF digital.

    I just have one question / suggestion relating to the use of a tripod. A couple of fashion photographers I know shoot their MF cameras on a monopod to still have a certain degree of movability and fluidity during their shoots rather than being stuck in one place. Have you tried this?

  • Chris Aram said on February 6, 2012

    At the risk of coming across like I’m ignoring a litany of very well written points of analysis 😉 (I find myself nodding my head enthusiastically to a lot of it) … how in the hell would you shoot a wedding/reception with this? :)

    I’m routinely pushing my D3/s into ISO 1600-6400 to stop motion at 1/160 when I can’t use a flash (ie the processional/recessional) or throughout the reception. Unless you can pre-light the entire building to your heart’s content … this seems impractical/impossible to use for a wedding. Unless southern churches/venues are much more well lit than those in Atlanta? :)

    The portrait and outdoor applications I dig though. :) Just wondering if you would elaborate a little bit more … I’d like to know how a seasoned professional (by comparison I have ~2.5 years under my belt) would approach a wedding such that you could make that statement. Thanks bro!

  • Zack said on February 6, 2012

    @Chris – It wouldn’t be for everything that’s for sure. I wouldn’t pull it out unless the light was there. I’d be thinking of it as a “hero” shot camera. It’s impossible to calculate how many weddings have been shot with a Hasselblad 500 series camera and ISO 100 – 400 film. It can be done. ISO 1600+ DLRS sure as hell make it much easier to shoot but we walk on a legion of shoulders who did a lot more with a lot less. Try to borrow a Hasselblad 500 and take it to a wedding sometime. You’ll see how freaking hard that would be and then you’ll see why photographers set every shot up… so they could focus!

    I’ve taken the Phase to the streets. It sure isn’t as quick and nimble as the x100 but it’s possible to shoot from the hip. You just put yourself in better light and wait for the moment to come to you.

    For weddings I would pre-visualize the album I would want to make and pull out something like the Phase for those hero shots. Portraits, details, architecture. I’d most likely have an assistant on hand as well ready to hand the Phase off to when I needed to drop it and grab the 35. I’d light the reception for some MF work as well. Focusing would be the hardest thing but I wouldn’t be trying to cover the entire night with that camera. Just some of the big moments that I’d want big prints of or to run large in the album.

    Jonathan Canlas still shoots film and still shoots weddings and it’s mostly medium format and you can’t deny that his work is gorgeous. It can be done. It has been done. It continues to be done.


  • Mario said on February 6, 2012

    Rock brother, enjoy the new system!

  • Fabio Giraldi said on February 6, 2012

    Thanks for the insightful post.
    MF is unfortunately very far beyond my economic capacities right now, but, as you say, who knows about the coming years of photographic dedication? 😉 In the meantime, I can build a knowledge base of MF (theoretical, at least) thanks to contributions like yours.

    I’d like to ask you a clarification, even if it is not directly related to MF.
    Topic: shutter speed and motion blur *in flash only* exposures.
    You said you noticed significant improvement of motion blur passing from 1/250th to 1/1600th. It would have been no problem understanding it for continuous light exposures. BUT for flash only exposures (such was the case of your jumping musician, I suppose), why does shutter speed kick into the equation?

    Since the exposure is flash only, the (eventual) motion blur should have been determined by insufficiently short *flash duration*, assuming a flash duration shorter than shutter speed, of course.
    I really can’t explain myself the phenomenon that your crops of the jumping musician showed. Can you please, clarify? O:) Thanks!

  • Zack said on February 6, 2012

    @Fabio – When you think of someone jumping through the air there is a great chance of getting even the slightest amount of blur at 250th of a second. Dance photographers often purchase lights solely on flash duration alone. You can get lights that have 10,000th of a second for that kind of application. While the Einsteins are quite fast in flash duration I was still seeing motion blur at 250th. I increased to 1,600th and it was gone. My brain doesn’t make full sense of it as well since I wasn’t capturing any ambient light but all of my 250th shots have motion blut. None of the 1,600th do. But when you think that I’m capturing less time in the air it makes sense.


  • Drew Gardner said on February 6, 2012

    I saw a Mario was asking about the Schneider 55mm LS Lens.

    In my option, silly sharp wonderful lens.

    Not too big or heavy for a medium format lens, especially considering it has a shutter inside.

    Highly recommended



  • Ruben Lammerink said on February 6, 2012

    Great article!! I have shot on MF in the film days but never Digital, would love to get my hands on one of these puppys!!

    B.T.W. Have you ever looked at the Steadypod instead of a Tripod?


    Thanks for the great aticle! Keep em Comming

  • Logan said on February 6, 2012

    So, what you’re saying is that you did thorough research into how to best spend your hard-earned profit to better position yourself to meet the needs of your clients?

    You are a jerk. (little sarcasm there…)

    I’ll probably never shoot MF in all reality. But I appreciate your review here for not only being able to vicariously see one in action, but mostly to see how a professional approaches investing in his business. There are solid lessons all around here.

    Thanks, Zack!

  • Benjamen Maher said on February 6, 2012

    Zack, I’ve seen Phocus from Hasselblad shooters, but I’ve never seen Capture One. I’ll be looking forward to your post explaining why you think it’s a better RAW editor for your new medium format camera compared to Lightroom.

  • tb said on February 6, 2012

    Great post, as usual. But with all due respect, can we stop using the term AMWAC when what we really mean is amateur photographer? When did being a mom and having a camera to make images of children get all tangled up together in that lazy-ass term? And the comment was made even worse with the backpedaling statement ‘Good job for getting out there and even TRYING Mom’s.’ I can tell you there are photographers (who also happen to be moms) who are not only TRYING, they are actually achieving success. And many with bodies of work that would make even the toughest art critic swoon.
    Certainly there are boat loads of photographers who make cliche, boring, uninspired photos of babies and kids. Just like there are boat loads of photographers who make cliche, boring, uninspired pictures of architecture, landscapes and musicians. (By the way, some of those photographers are moms, too. And some are dads.) And I know you hash-tagged the shit out of your statement so people like me wouldn’t be offended, but then why include the statement at all? Maybe to come off as the cool-guy who can use witty social-media banter in an attempt to be funny. You don’t need to do that. You’re brilliant as you are. Save yourself all the typing and just say ‘amateur’. There’s no need to denigrate women who happen to have chosen to point their lenses at children.


  • Zack said on February 7, 2012

    TB – Sorry to have upset you. I made fun of Uncle Bob as well because he’s the male version of the AMWAC stereotype. If you read enough of my stuff you’ll know that I’m not just some sexist elitist. Uncle Bob’s and AMWACS are a well known genre of amateurs that have become a stereotype for a reason.

    I know lots of moms working hard and kicking ass. My wife being one of them. I’m all for moms doing awesome. And uncles too. :)

    But again, sorry to offend. Please don’t take much of what I say too seriously.


  • Les Doerfler said on February 6, 2012

    Zack…a camera like that would revolutionize squirrel portraiture as we currently know it.

    Seriously, great article as always. I’m happy to read about your choice and I look forward to seeing the possibilities that unfold before your lens.

  • boudewijn said on February 6, 2012

    Hey Zack, no need to excuse your self for buying this camera, you’ve earned it! Keep up your great work.

  • Karim Geddes said on February 6, 2012

    I am so jealous right now… lol i want that Camera so bad looks great you definitely sold it to me big time now just need around 40K, i hope i win the lottery any time soon… lol

    Thanks for sharing with us.

    Karim Geddes

  • Peter said on February 6, 2012

    I’d love to shoot medium format. Really. But not because of Image quality or resolution.

    Image quality is nice and I see the benefits of such a system (in fact, I have used an H3D in the past and was quite impressed and there are situations where I’d certainly go for a MF solution), but still, several of my most successful images were shot at ISO 2000 on a D300s in extremely low light, sometimes even brightened up in post by a stop so I’d have a shutter speed where I’d actually stand a chance.
    Sure, you have to embrace the look that high ISO gives you in the way you shoot of course, but I wouldn’t say the images would be better if they had medium format ISO 100 quality, they’d just be very different. A lot of the most iconic images have been taken with film that had a resolution lower than what my old D70s gives me.

    Insanely high quality is just another look, even if it is admittedly a very impressive one.

    What I do want, though, is a medium format camera that gives me the look and advantages of medium format without being aimed at a completely high-end market. I don’t want to sell a kidney so I can print a life-size image of the empire state building, nor do I want to be worried about carrying $30 000 in equipment around in my hand (whether it’s insured or not). I just want to buy a camera that enables me to interact with my subject better and where I can use more than twice the focal length (vs. APS-C) for the same angle of view if it makes my picture better at ANY print size, from a postage stamp to a gallery print.

    Here is the medium format camera I’d want to buy:

    – about 20 megapixels only: lower equipment cost and processing times, amazing image quality due to low pixel density, yet resolution should still be enough for 90% of all projects (keep in mind medium format has more resolution beyond the megapixel specs, i.e. a 100% crop is still much sharper than a corresponding 100% crop on a Nikon/Canon DSLR).

    – Full frame sensor: Give us the medium format aesthetic (wide angle lenses have a longer focal length, thus retaining proportions much better and allowing you to be close to your subject without distortions), not just a MF crop sensor like Hasselblad uses for instance.

    – Waist level viewfinder: Allows you to shoot people (even seated ones) while standing in upright position yourself, no neet to bend your back all day. You can look at your image without having a camera directly in front of you face, allowing you to interact with your subject much better. I’ll always buy the camera that gets the least beteen me and my subject (in the literal and figurative sense), not the one that gets me the highest resolution or the one which gives me the lens options with the best MTF charts.

    – Great sync speed for location shooting with flash (yes, take note, Pentax and Canon)

    – Price of a mid-range to high-end DSLR: lower resolution requires only a fraction of the bandwidth, processing power etc. and thus should allow manufacturers to bring the price down a lot.

    – Ergonomics of a Hasselblad 503 CW. You don’t even have to know your reciprocals with that camera (not saying you shouldn’t, though), great build quality, beautiful and simple.

    – Great screen (this one is obvious)

    I think that could be a very successful niche camera, just like Fuji X100 turned out to be. I guess there are a whole lot of people out there who would love to buy a camera that gives you the medium format look and amazing (as opposed to “insane”) quality for $3500, plus the demographic who would like a medium format camera that produces usable images above ISO 400. Or am I alone in that sentiment?

    Oh, and on the flash duration discussion: Whenever I shoot dance with flash, I tend to prefer speedlites over studio strobes if there is any movement involved (i.e. if it’s not just a pose). Even cheap speedlites tend to have extremely short flash durations, and you can actually buy several of those for the price it would cost you to rent a decent Broncolor setup. In my experience, all affordable studio lights, at least those available here in Europe, either suck in terms of consistency or flash duration or both. I do use a Calumet Genesis 300B with the Power Port a lot for shooting on location (it has very impressive consistency in terms of both color temperature and power output at an extremely low cost for a portable setup), but I wouldn’t dream of shooting ballet dancers with it, especially not with something like a 5D Mk II and its 1/125 sync. The upside is you can still use such a “budget-friendly” studio flash and get some motion blur on fast movements if that’s what you are actually after.

  • Zack said on February 7, 2012

    Very well thought out post Peter.


  • Michael Montalto said on February 7, 2012

    Nice post Zack. Informative as always.


  • IPBrian said on February 7, 2012

    Out of my range and not needed for my work, but if you can swing it an awesome rig!

  • Zachary Long said on February 7, 2012

    Stop putting that you would shoot a wedding with this camera!!! No, wait, on second thought write that in all caps so my wife sees it and lets me add a MF system to our wedding setup :). It sure seems that MF is a trend though with Strobist and yourself now switching over, it makes me think I should seriously consider it to be on the cusp of the next trend and not left behind on the next film to digital conversion. Hope to make it to the next mixer as long as it’s not on a night when I have a shoot as it seems your past couple have been (oh the life of a wedding photographer and no weekends). Also, hello from Poplar Street (live one block down from where you were shooting in downtown Atlanta)!

  • Zack said on February 7, 2012


    (Did that work?) :)

    I love the Poplar area. I shoot around there a good bit. Maybe we’ll run into each other some time.


  • yus said on February 7, 2012

    there’s no more hero among us

  • Corey Melton said on February 7, 2012

    wait, seriously though. You didnt answer one of those questions … DO bears poop in the woods?

  • Ian Eisenberg said on February 7, 2012

    Zack, I can’t tell you how happy I am to hear you are shooting with the Phase. I got mine about a year and half ago and do not regret it AT ALL!
    I used to shoot a Bronica and there is just something about shooting MF that makes me, as my daughter would say, “Filled with joy”.
    Since I only shoot portraiture I don’t have to worry about low light in most cases, but I have used it on the street and the only drawback I have found is it attracts a lot of attention (especially in New Orleans during Imaging USA). It does help to really engage people before I take a shot but when you want a candid, not so much.
    One thing about the lenses, KEH I have found often is a great source for older MF gear. I was able to kit up with a 45, 55, 150 and a 105-210. Of course I desperately want an additional leaf shutter lens but the 80 does most of the work.

    Keep up the posts. I can’t wait to see more!

  • Chris said on February 7, 2012

    Great article! I loved your contractor analogy in Reason #7 too, very smart.

  • Chris said on February 7, 2012

    Zack, for those of us in smaller markets where dealers aren’t likely to have Digital MF systems available to demo/rent, do you have any other suggested resources for finding good information for comparing the different lenses, bodies and backs?


  • Zack said on February 7, 2012

    @Chris – Unfortunately you have to just dig and dig and dig for information. Where there might be 6,000 new DSLR’s made every day there are probably only that many made every year when it comes to medium format backs. They are rare beasts so the number of youtube videos, forums, and the like dedicated to them are that much harder to find. Sure there are a lots of videos showing photographers using them but the side by sides are fewer. the getDPI.com forums have a lot of the technical banter on them. Fashion forums tend to have more interesting discussions on the creative use of them.


  • esquissewei said on February 7, 2012

    Woww at the beginning you were shooting nikon, then canon and now Medium format. Nice :-)

  • Anthony Salmon said on February 7, 2012

    I can feel your exitement, I shot with PhaseOne 22 megapixel on a Hasselblad for many years and I am well aware of the quality difference, it is night and day, and the PhaseOne system is unbeatable, both the system and the software. Unfortunately my days with a MF system are over, I no longer shoot studio or advertising for that matter. So enjoy!!

  • Daan said on February 7, 2012


    Great review and after you made me want to buy the Fuji X100, i really need some cure for GAS as a digital back for my Hasselblad to shoot some landscape and cityscapes is very tempting. But i still shoot film and scan them with my Coolscan, the images have something that i’m not able to reproduce with my D700 and Photoshop!
    At school i’ve shot with the Mamiya RB67 with a Leaf digital back and this back was also on the Cambo TC and the detail it could give is awesome!

    Hope you have some time in the future to do a new series of reviews, because i really like the way you and Meg talk about photography! It really helps me with becoming a better photographer, the best way is to talk with some photographers about your work and the second best thing is to hear photographers you respect talk about other photographers work!

  • Trevor Nackers said on February 7, 2012

    Dear Zack,

    Bring that B*tch to Wisconsin.


  • tb said on February 7, 2012

    Appreciate the reply, Zack. I was fired up yesterday. It happens. I do read a lot of your stuff and my impression is most definitely not that you’re a sexist elitist.


  • chad said on February 7, 2012

    Zack, you mentioned Capture One being a little tricky and buggy to begin with. Hold hands with those guys at Capture Integration!

    They had a workshop/training thing out here in Phoenix a while back and they are amazing. They know their stuff and the ins and outs of Capture One. Their training is top-notch and will help you get the most out of the software.

  • Steve said on February 7, 2012

    Love the blog post. I still have my Mamiya 645AF film camera but it never comes out of the bag. I’ve been wanting a medium format digital but the price has always put me off. Have you seen the new specs on the D800? The sensor size is, necessarily, smaller but 36 megapixels? Whaddya think?

  • Zack said on February 7, 2012

    @Steve – It’s not about how many pixels you can pack onto a sensor. It’s about the size and quality of them. The quality of the actual chip. The quality of the engine running it. It’s like this… You can put a turbo on an older Honda but it ain’t a new Porsche. Yes, it has a turbo. Yes it will go faster than it used to. But is is the same as a Porsche turbo? Nope. So Nikon and Canon can continue adding turbos to their sensors but it’s still the exact same size sensor as we had before. Add to that the jury is still out whether our current stable of 35mm based glass can resolve up to those levels of MP’s.


  • R. J. Kern said on February 7, 2012

    Zack, I’d like to mimic @Joey’s comment too. I appreciate you sticking to your roots, yet sharing the thought process… like defending a master’s thesis, right? I must have been on the phone w/ Steve at Capture Integration about the same time as you. So far, very happy with P30+ and 645DF/ 80mm LS combo from CI, even after the D4/D800 announcement.

    Shot a wedding in Hawaii my new PhaseOne MF and excited to share results : http://bit.ly/xLCuEn

    MF does slow us down, in a good way. This is really no different than going back to shooting film. The process becomes much more enjoyable, the creative results shine, yet we have the instant gratification of wireless tether to an iPad during a shoot… something film can’t touch. Not only that, but after shooting a wedding with it, I handed the B&G 400 final edits, instead of 800-900. I shot less, processed less, and the results will stand up very well in a 16 x 20 album. Do I owe that to the medium? Yup. Slowing down shooting MF forces my brain to catch up with my trigger finger.

    Image Quality w/ MF, stuns. As photographers, offering a great client experience is one thing… but let’s not forget it is all about the final image really matters to an artist. In a highly competitive wedding market, when it comes to the difference in an A vs A+, which our tools allow us to inch across the finish line first… cute thank you notes and pretty packaging eventually get tossed when the final images hang proudly.

    A Golden aspect Ratio. 35mm is too skinny for me, which is why I like to print at native 16×20 resolution, or better yet, 30×40. Even with a D800 (higher resolution), you’d end up cropping for this size.

  • Andy A said on February 7, 2012

    over the past year i have realised that photographers never stop – new pathways and opportunities open up and should be seized with the enthusiasm and commitment to make the kick arse image and increase your knowledge
    have moved from dslr to 35mm b&w film and now moving to medium format film and 6×9 – i am learning the trade – someday maybe digital medium format will be reachable – but not now – i am cool with that and thats all that matters

  • nate parker said on February 7, 2012

    My Iphone makes a real pretty picture and it only cost a couple hundred bucks, so I figure if I don’t but the phase one I’ll have $24,800 bucks left for beahs! Great read Zackman, you de best! Also with all the nikon talk today I linked this review to the google to *shut dem bitches up!* Yeah! Have a nice day. -Nate from Maine.

  • Peter said on February 7, 2012

    Hi Zack, that was a great read. Thanks for writing all those thoughts out. I know I agonize over big purchases too. I think you drove home the point of trying out what it is your thinking of getting. try it, try it, rent it, try it.

    I was hoping you could pass along some more info on that laptop set up your using for shooting tethered. I quit shooting tethered because of how slow it is. This sounds like a great idea to speed it up. details please.


  • Pétur Þór said on February 7, 2012


    Being fairly new to photography on a higher level myself I think it’s an interesting move by you. The fact you wan’t to slow things down to think them through makes so much sense in the ultra fast world we live in. I personally have had my D3 for about a half a year so I’m still stunned about it. All cameras aside the thing that intrigues me the most about all the discussions above is that I remember you talking in some video about lighting equipment and that you were dreaming of Broncolor or Profoto.

    I’ve personally pretty much made up my mind to not chase the wagon and let either Nikon on or Canon suck my wallet empty. I’m currently in school learning photography and I managed to get the D3 with a 24-70 2.8 and the new 70-200 VR II. I paid cash witch I got from selling my bike. Along with that I got 2 SB-800’s and pocket wizards. My next logical move would be getting some studio lighting since I’ve figured out that I wan’t to go down portrait/editorial route. People around seem to have Profoto’s logo stamped deep into their brains. I however am really excited about the Einsteins as they are just a fraction of the cost and would go perfectly with my PW MiniTT triggers. They however are not available from a retailer in Iceland so buying from over seas is always a bit of a risk since you won’t have good access to service and parts if things go sour.

    My point being as you are known for your lighting tutorials and all around expertise on lighting you still wen’t with the Einsteins and in the end opted it seems to me for the mother of all camera upgrades instead. What was the reason for selecting the Einsteins over the other industry approved brands? Do they hold up agains the profotos and the Broncolors?

    I pay cash for everything I buy and that damn money tree in my back yard is fresh out so I really wan’t the lights I’ll hopefully be getting soon to be something that will last me a good bit.

    Regards from Iceland

  • Zack said on February 8, 2012

    Pètur- I can’t tell you how happy I am with the Einsteins.

  • Zachary Long said on February 8, 2012

    @Zack – Thanks for the shoutout! She says not until I book more weddings, lol. Will keep a lookout for the other Zack in Downtown if you’re shooting on this side of town.

    @ R. J. Kern – Great images, really love the details from the MF on those wedding photos. Those two portrait shots where the B&G are back to back are awesome! Makes me really rethink the entire process with shooting less in general. Really going to think about moving slower at this weekend’s wedding and the rest this year.

  • D A T said on February 8, 2012

    Great read, I’ll be here more often from now.
    Oh am pre ordering the new D800 and saving for a PhaseOne 😉

  • Alex Koloskov said on February 8, 2012

    Great review, Zack! And welcome to the world of medium format;-) I went the same route half a year ago (with Hassy and old P25+ back), and so far i enjoy this combo.
    Still shoot a lot with Canon 5D though:-)
    My story of getting there, if you are interested: http://www.akelstudio.com/blog/how-i-met-my-hassdelblad-a-story-of-how-i-made-my-dreams-come-true/

    P.S Would be cool to meet for a cup of coffee one day:-)

  • Zack said on February 8, 2012

    That’d be great Alex!


  • John said on February 8, 2012

    Do you find yourself needing more power out of your Einsteins since making the switch? Bigger sensor, bigger depth of field resulting in tighter apertures if you want to keep everything in focus…?

  • Levi said on February 8, 2012

    Congrats on the move to MF – nobody deserves that better than you Zack!

  • Zack said on February 8, 2012

    Just checked out the official Nikon D800 images and they do not compare to anything medium format that I’ve shot with. They don’t have the sharpness, dynamic range, or tonality that the larger sensor has. I say this because several people have asked me about and Nikon’s own marketing material says it compares to medium format when it clearly does not.


  • Bitanphoto said on February 8, 2012

    Funny that I knew questions about the D800 would appear as soon as it was released, and I wondered if you might have jumped off the Nikon ship just when they were coming out with something comparable to digital medium format. But then I viewed Cliff Mautner’s images from the D800 he tested, and compared to the samples you’ve showed here it’s clear that at lower ISOs these are not the same type of camera or images. Interestingly, Cliff didn’t share any images taken at an ISO higher than 640, leaving many commenters to wonder about the D800’s high ISO performance. And while looking over his admittedly lovely images I kept thinking that they could easily have been made with a D700 or D3S. Sure, the hit rate might be higher with the D800’s color matrix metering with built-in face recognition compensation, but the new camera and its huge NEF (RAW) files appear to be an evolutionary step in 35mm digital photography. Amazing nonetheless, but different horses for different courses.

  • Rai said on February 8, 2012

    John – you answered your own question. If your field of view, ISO and DOF requirements remain then you will need to stop down for the larger format which will require a corrssponding increase in strobe power.

  • Saneesh said on February 8, 2012

    This is great! PhaseOne, I cant wait to get hold of one and try it !!! I own an Film Medium format camera, and its amazing!

  • Murray said on February 8, 2012

    Great post, very sensible reasoning behind your decision.

    In 1977 I bought a Mamiya C330 twin lens reflex and from the first set of b&w negs I was sold on MF. It took me five years of hard work to buy my first Hasselblad, a 500CM with the standard 80mm & 12 shot back. It was around £950 ($1500 approx) including a UV filter. Sounds so cheap now but to put it in perspective I was earning roughly £9k ($14000) a year in 1982.

    Fast forward to today and although I have a 5D MKII I still want to get back to MF. Despite the detractors there is nothing like shooting MF. I’ve never been one to bang off 200 frames to get a few saleable images, working with a 12 shot film back makes you consider each frame and it’s a good discipline to retain if you move up from DSLR to digital MF. In the 80’s it was perfectly normal to go and shoot a wedding with one Hasselblad, a 50mm wide, standard 80 and 150 portrait lens plus ten rolls of Vericolor (120 frames total). Armed with a Metz 45 flash, a tripod and a couple of “Softar” filters you were in business. Try telling today’s togs they only have 120 shots for a wedding and see what happens.

    On a technical note I love the true focus system in the HD4 and I shoot tethered if possible so the quality of the screen is less important. I never had a screen when I shot film so……

    Is there no diopter adjustment on the eyepiece of the PhaseOne ?

    I never shot wide open on the Hasselblad, mainly because in those days the 80mm was f2.8 and the 150 was f4 (50mm filters) but stopping down to 5.6 would probably hold both eyes in your example and because of the shallower DOF will probably give you the desired effect.

    I haven’t tried it but I believe you can have live view from PhaseOne backs through Capture One, if this works on the iPad then goodbye small screen hello high quality display.

  • Joao Henriques said on February 8, 2012

    Nice article, even in recession times :)

    People who made the plunge or already thinking about it, better read these two articles about focusing and lens quality issues (hassleblad+mamiya et al). i must warn that’s essential reading in order to take out the best of this kind of gear. I own the AFDII, bought a number of magnifiers (chinese, from mamiya, etc) and neither seems to work as well as the Zeiss Tripler 3B and even then, in some lenses you must know precisely where that lens focus at infinity (whihc as you already guesse isn’t always at infinity mark), here they are, and thanks for sharing all this http://www.josephholmes.com/news-medformatprecision.html#anchor and http://www.josephholmes.com/news-sharpmediumformat.html

  • John Esler said on February 9, 2012

    Like most other MF systems Phase One backs do not use an anti-alias filter. Was this a factor in your decision and has the additional raw sharpness been a factor in your workflow?

  • Luke Smith said on February 9, 2012

    I got into photography because I couldn’t sing, dance, play an instrument, draw, or paint. It was my only artistic contribution, and because it’s the only thing I can do, I care about it more than the client ever does. My heart and soul go into my output, and I want it to convey my mind’s eye as perfectly as possible. You’re a huge name, and a brand unto yourself, yet you still feel the same way, and those of us with more passion for the art than the dollar signs appreciate you for it.

    Ignore the detractors and keep up the good work. Excellence is it’s own reward.


  • Zack said on February 9, 2012

    @Luke – I got into photography for exactly the same reasons. Exactly. 100%. I still can’t do any of that other stuff. I really wish I could play guitar like Jack White. Oh well. :)


  • Tibor said on February 9, 2012

    Congratulations on your new camera kit :) I have a Mamiya 645 AFD and a Mamiya 645 AFD II with AF 45mm f/2.8 and AF 80mm f/2.8 lenses (saving money for the AF 150mm f/2.8 D lens and a used Phase One or Leaf Aptus back).

    I find this site quite useful http://www.pebbleplace.com/ because the guy used to have a Mamiya 645 AFD II, a Mamiya ZD and a Leica M9 and now uses the Phase One 645 DF with PO 65+ and a Canon 1Ds Mk III. I found his writing honest and straight to the point.

    Also, if I may suggest a RRS L plate http://tinyurl.com/764fra7 with a Camdapter hand strap http://tinyurl.com/787ygkh for moving quickly from landscape to portrait mode when on a monopod or tripod.

  • Jorge Ledesma said on February 9, 2012

    Wow, excellent piece! Personally, I know very little about MF but this is certainly a great little primer, love the BMW comparison they totally made sense. Thanks for sharing this journey, can’t wait to see more images.

    Jorge Ledesma

  • Nathan Rennard said on February 9, 2012

    I have to admit I haven’t taken the time to read your blog entries lately. When I finally decided to catch up with you today I saw this and immediately became very excited. I’ve been seriously contemplating going medium format recently. I feel the dynamic range in medium format produces a far truer result than 35mm. Owning one is obviously a different story however. Paying half a years worth of income on a camera system is out of the question for me. That ratio needs be reduced to at least a 1/3, whether it’s a price drop or an increase in income, before I can even consider it.

    Man things have changed a lot since the One Light Workshop I attended in Nashville a few years back. You probably hear this enough Zack but the information you share is very appreciated. It helps serious photographers stay well informed and gives them the potential to grow.

  • Rem said on February 9, 2012

    Zack, thanks for the review. To slow down was for me the main thing to jump in again to MF. Shooting many years ago with Rolleiflex 2.8, Mamya 6, Mamya RB 67, Hassy 500, so I decided to by again a MF Camera and my decision was the H4d with 80mm, 28mm, 35-90mm, 120mm Macro and the HTS Adapter. But sure, not only to slowdown, also the IQ was a important point! I just love this files! And I love my nice ThinkThank Backpack with al this nice stuff. I take the Hassy also out in the street (then the X-100 stays at home;-) and shoot till iso1600, what printed really looks very good. Every time something magic! The Nikon D3 (ordered the D4) I use only for high iso work. Enjoy your “Baby”!
    lg, rem

  • Michael Sebastian said on February 10, 2012

    Zack, thanks for the shout-out. I think you made an excellent choice of system. I’d put Mamiya glass on par with the Hasselblad glass in a second, and in your case the leaf-shutter advantage is undeniable. If I did more studio work or needed high sync speeds I’d have made the same choice as you.

    That said, I am delighted overall with the Pentax 645D. Its ergonomics are stellar; image quality is mind-blowing. It is very “DSLR-like” in its handling and feel, but has the same things about it to slow you down as does every other MF digital system out there: relatively few focus points, relatively slow AF, relatively slow file write speeds, and the need to nail focus.

    And yes, it does have multiple AF points; but they are arranged relatively close to the center of the finder screen, so they may as well be a single point. This is one inexplicable thing about the camera; and like most MF digital cameras, its finder screen is not optimized for manual focus, so there’s a lot of focus-and-recompose, which means some missed focus shooting wide open. The Hasselblad True Focus system would be a welcome addition.

    The only other real nit I have to pick is that the camera’s otherwise great ergonomics are not optimized for shooting in portrait orientation; it feels ever so slightly awkward in that orientation. But I find that if I’m shooting in portrait orientation I’m also probably on a tripod anyway, so it’s moot mostly. My eye sees horizontal, and most of the work I do is shot that way.

  • Michael Sebastian said on February 10, 2012

    Besides setting a record for the most-frequent use of “relative” in a single blog comment, I also meant to add that the Pentax 645 lens lineup is quite good overall, but more variable across the lineup than the uniformly great Mamiya RZ and 645 lenses I know so well. I think the Mamiya lenses are more uniformly excellent than the Hasselblad lenses I’ve used, so that’s one more thing in favor of the Mamiya system.

    The 645D’s rear LCD screen is good — at least as good as any 35mm DSLR I’ve used, and far better than most other MF screens — but is positioned so that after the first exposure it’s pretty much obscured by nose grease and breath fog. Annoying but not a deal killer.

    Bottom line for me with the 645D was: 1. modern, ergonomic made-for-digital body; 2. good to great glass; 3. affordable price point. I did consider a CFV-39, like you did, for my 203FE blad body; but I don’t think the IQ is quite there compared to the others, and I wanted a new, reliable body for this kind of dough.

    Hope this helps; sorry to hijack.

  • Zack said on February 10, 2012

    @Michael – You can hijack this blog anytime!


  • Mat said on February 10, 2012

    Hi Zack!

    Wish I hadn’t read your post (not like I didn’t know the facts before 😉 ) since my D700 now looks like a mobile phone camera.. :/
    Anyhow, I’m probably going to upgrade to D800 since I need a bit more pixels (doing some A4 covers and I’d like a bit more maneuvering space). 36M is way too much, but I can’t afford D4/D3x right now, so I’m “stuck” with D800.
    I’d like to ask you two things if I may:
    – as you probably know, D800 offers different crop sizes with different resolutions. Is there ANY benefit of choosing a smaller pixel count beside saving space on cards? My main goal is max IQ and dynamic range.
    – since D800 has about 7300 pixels on the long side, how do you re-size to web size (700-900px) to retain max IQ? You now have a medium format with even more pixels, what’s your workflow for resizing to web size?

    Thanks a bunch for your help and all the best with your new gear! One day I’ll join your in that club :)

    Kind regards,

  • Zack said on February 10, 2012

    @Mat – I don’t see much reason to shoot at lower resolutions. If it’s there then shoot that. The thing with the D800 is I’m not convinced it’s actually going to be a huge step up in terms of IQ.

    1) 35mm based lenses are designed to resolve details to a point and then any more you throw at it doesn’t really matter. I’ve read a number of technical discussions stating that 35mm based lenses resolve pretty well up to 20 or so MP and anything else from there is not seen in better image quality.

    2) I’ve looked at Nikon’s official sample images and I’m not convinced that it rivals medium format in quality, look, sharpness, or dynamic range. I’ve shot enough with the Phase to know that from what Nikon is showing at least, what they are holding out to the world as being the best they’ve made with it, it doesn’t stack up. Esp in dynamic range. Someone on twitter said it well in that they are trying to see if they can gan get a gallon of water in a pint glass. They can’t

    3) It will be nice to have the native resolution so high if you are doing larger printing. But I’ve seen 12MP files interpolated up to large prints that would compete with the native resolution of the D800 images I’m seeing.

    4) I think Nikon screwed the pooch with this. At least their marketing department did. Getting the D800 into 20MP would have been better. You gotta understand that those 36MP files are going to eat system resources. Everyone buying one is going to want a computer upgrade immediately.

    As for web sizing, you do lose a good bit bringing it down that small. When I resize for the web I always add a bit of sharpening at 80 – 100%, 0.3 radius, at 0 threshold. Downsizing images really softens them.

    And remember… Everyone saying “one day I’ll get one of those” remember I said that to. For the last four years I’ve been saying that and working toward this goal.


  • anUnPhotoGraphicMind said on February 10, 2012

    @Zack, Camera wh0re! xD

  • anUnPhotoGraphicMind said on February 10, 2012

    In a serious tone now, with all of these huge as pixelmungous cameras, and now the D800, when, oh when, is someone going to make a huge ass pop up style book of the world, its inhabitants, and all of its magnificent glory? I picture, hehe,picture pun, I picture super res coffee table books on everything! How about a huge ass wall photo of the moon for those moon science junkies? hows about lowrider actual wallpapers sold at your local Walmort?!!? With all these huge pixel cams and of course medium/large formats we give “BIF” bird in flight junkies hard ons over ceiling Herons? I see the future Zack, and you my friend are capable of delivering this crazy sh1t!

  • Mat said on February 10, 2012

    Thanks for your reply Zack!

    As you said:
    1) 35mm based lenses are designed to resolve details to a point and then any more you throw at it doesn’t really matter. I’ve read a number of technical discussions stating that 35mm based lenses resolve pretty well up to 20 or so MP and anything else from there is not seen in better image quality.

    That’s my point/question exactly. Why use 36Mpx if lenses can only deliver so much. Wouldn’t it be smart to just use the 1.2 crop (or whatever it is) and shoot at 24Mpx? I know the pixel density would remain the same, but at least I’m not pushing those 75MB per file :/ But I’ve just realized, can you even crop NEFs in cam? Doesn’t that apply to jpg only? Not sure, will need to test on my cam.

    Don’t get me wrong, I “hate” this cam and all those pixels! I’d give anything to have something in 18-20Mpx range, but like said, can’t afford D4/D3x atm. I LOVE my D700, expect that freaking 97% viewfinder that scre**** me so many times and the pixel count is just a bit short. Have to frame really carefully to get a nice A4 300dpi print out, don’t have much space to maneuver.

    I’ve seen those D800 prints at the D800 press conference over here and the marketing guy saying over and over how it’s close to MF.. yeah, right! Can see straight away it’s a 35mm. Overall sharpness of the print might be close (I’d say somewhere around 80% of the MF; can’t compare 100% crop of course, it’s nowhere 50%), but dynamic range and “depth” isn’t even close.

    As for resources.. well, yeah, but most of us buy new machines every second year or so. If it’s not Nikon that’s pushing us, it’s Adobe, if it’s not Adobe in Corel, etc, etc.. But yeah, more money out the window :/
    The only positive thing I see with this NEF sizes is that I’ll be more careful what and how much I shoot.. like in the good old days 😉

    Just a follow-up for the resizing question.. do you resize in Photoshop or do you output from your RAW converter? Do you resize in one go (from XXXXpx to 900px) or in increments (some say by 10% is best)?

    Oh, I’m sure they’ll come up with some holographic-4D-format in the near future, without which we “won’t” be able to live!
    That’s why we’re photographers, we always want something else and always need just one more thing :)

    Thanks again,

    P.S. A note to your web designer. Now sure why, but I get no scroll bar in the comment window on your blog. Can’t scroll up or down, have to press the arrow keys multiple times before it “jumps” to the last letter. Just thought to let you know. I’m using Win XP & Firefox 9.0.1

  • Zack said on February 10, 2012

    @Mat – Resizing at 10% increments would mean that I would never ever blog. It takes me a day just to make one post sometimes! I output at full res from whatever program I’m using (LR, C1, Bridge, etc) and then resize a web copy using the image size feature in PS. Then sharpen. Then stroke/watermark etc. Save as a 9 or 10 jpg and I’m done. I want my photos to look as good as they can on the web but at the end of the day, God only knows what they look like from monitor to monitor to monitor. My mom used to have an old PC and I hated looking at my site on her computer. OMG was it bad. We finally got her to switch to an iMac so that’s one less PC user in the world. #myjobhereisdone. :)

    I’ll check into that scroll bar thing. Thanks.


  • Mat said on February 10, 2012

    Hehe, I know what you mean, there’s never enough time in the 24 hour day sadly..

    As for resizing.. you can create a PS action that re-sizes in -10%, assign a keyboard shortcut to it, then couple of presses and voila.. you’re down to required size in 10% increments in a matter of seconds :)
    I don’t do that, but I’ve read about it in a couple locations and it does make some sense. PS probably has an easier (should I say more accurate) job to join 2px into 1px and so on, then 10px into 1px at once. Was wondering what your workflow is, so thanks for all the info.

    Personally I’m not *that* concerned about the sharpness online. Can’t compare print and screen anyhow and I can only control the content on my sites, have no control over social media sites etc, so not much I can do about it. I’m a lot more concerned about colors. Ever since I’m using a calibrator I’m never sure WHAT the rest of the world sees. Sure it looks ok on my screen, but then I watch it at a friends house and my head hurts.. :/ But again, nothing really I can do about it.

    Thanks for all the feedback and sorry to keep you busy(er) 😉

  • Sree said on February 11, 2012

    Zack, I think I’m going to create a book out of all your blog posts and read them over and over. The amount of research and work you do for your photography is immense and insane and well, immense. When you share it, the value of it is priceless. Thanks for all the lessons, informal or not. They’ve helped me tremendously.

  • Julian Winslow said on February 11, 2012

    Hmmmm….. was wondering why I wasn’t getting excited about new 35mm format cameras for a few years.

  • Alessandro said on February 11, 2012

    I am a huge fan of your work and thanks for all the great tutorials and classes you give.

    I would like to know you opinion about DXOMark ratings about camera sensors.


    According to that, Nikon D3x has better performance than phase one p40+… even in dynamic range.

  • Zack said on February 11, 2012

    @Alessandro – I’ve seen those charts and honestly, they mean nothing to me. Absolutely nothing. Here’s why. You can find spec sheets that might show a Toyota Camry outperforming a BMW in gas mileage, road noise, etc, etc. You drive a Camry and it’s really nice. Then you drive a BMW or Mercedes or something and you throw the spec sheet right out the window. There’s a “feel” to the car. There’s a connection to the car, so to speak, you may have. There are things about driving a car that scientific tests simply can not chart. And I can tell you I’ve shot with both of those cameras and the D3x doesn’t compare. It just doesn’t. They can chart that crap out from here to the moon but you shoot one then shoot the other and you’ll see there’s plenty to the photography happening that isn’t on a chart. The Fuji x100 doesn’t come anywhere near close to the Phase but I love, love, love that camera. I love it more than any camera I’ve ever owned. According to dxomark I’m sure they’d call me crazy because it’s not in the numbers. I couldn’t care any less than I do about those charts, that x100 is an amazing little camera.

    I know I run with car metaphors a lot. It’s the best I can do. If you ever watch the BBC show, Top Gear, you’ll see those guys drive some of the most expensive cars in the world with amazing spec sheets. They’ll put it through the paces, get out, and say “Yes it’s fast. Yes it’s beautiful. But it just isn’t fun to drive. I’d rather drive the X car” that might have less power or go slower or whatever. According to the spec sheet it isn’t as “good” but they find a dozen reasons why the other is better.

    This same thing happened in film. People tried to prove that this new film base or this new lens would resolve just as well as the Hasselblad or whatever. Print for print it didn’t match up no matter how many times you stuck that neg in grain focuser. You might as well say that you can fit a gallon of water in a pint glass. Maybe you find a way to compress a gallon of water vapor into a smaller space but at the end of the day, it ain’t no gallon of water.

    Know what I mean?


  • Zack said on February 11, 2012

    @Alessandro – One more thing. The more we look at charts and numbers and specs the less we care about the photographs we make and our emotions that are tied up in photography. I see it every day. There are photographers who don’t care about the specs and the emotion shows. There are photographers who really care about the specs and their photos are the most boring things ever created. Research the numbers. Look at the 100% crops. Educate yourself as best you can about the choices in front of you. Narrow your choices, close your eyes, pick one, and then burn the manuals, charts, and spec sheets and go shoot. Leave all those numbers behind and go create amazing photographs with your Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Fuji, Sony, Oly, Phase, Hasselblad, 4/3’s, APS, Full Frame, MF, iPhone, whatever. Some of my favorite photos I’ve seen in the last year were shot on phones. Where does the iPhone fall on that chart? :)


  • Alessandro said on February 11, 2012


    Thanks for your reply!! Your tips, teachings and work have always inspired me.

  • Harv.! said on February 12, 2012

    Interesting read Zack. The one thing that shone through in your article was “Slowing Down”, before switching to digital I was surrounded by photographers who used 501cms and RB67s and they forced you to slow down and concentrate on what you were seeing in the viewfinder.
    I don’t know where I heard this, whether it was at college or from one of the photographers I assisted, “If you want to know how good a photographer is give them a camera with a 50mm lens, one roll of HP5 (Ilford BW 400 asa film for those who’ve never used it) and see what their contact sheet looks like”, your thoughts about MF reminded me of that.

  • Miguel said on February 13, 2012

    @zack: I believe your 55 mm behaves as a normal lens in your IQ140 (sensor size 43.9 x 32.9 mm) as the diagonal of this sensor is sqrt(43.9^2 + 32.9^2) = 54.86 mm. So your 80 mm is not actually a normal lens but a short telephoto.

  • Zack said on February 13, 2012

    @Miguel – The 140 does have a crop factor but it is cropping into the wide. It is physically a wide angle lens. I’m just not seeing the full circle of coverage it gives.


  • Miguel said on February 13, 2012

    @Zack: Did not get that. The 1.3 lens factor advertised by Phase one doesn’t turn your 80 a 80 x 1.3 and your 50 a 50 x 1.3?

    OTOH, since the MF lenses are designed for film sizes of 6 x 4.5 cm and 6 x 6 cm doesn’t a smaller sensor of 43.9 x 32.9 mm see only a smaller circle of the lens coverage making the lenses appear longer?

    Can you clarify?

    BTW, I am a great fan of your work! Bought your two classes on Creative LIVE!


  • Terrence Bibb said on February 15, 2012

    Will you solely be using capture one pro now for both the medium format as well as dslr files? Or will lightroom still be in the picture? What are your thoughts on C1?

  • Zack said on February 15, 2012

    @Terrence – I need more time and some training with C1. I still use LR for most things but the Phase. I like the program but it’s different enough that it’s going to take me some time to get really in the flow with it. Currently I never need to work on more than 10 or 20 images at one time in C1. LR is great when I have 100 or more images to push out. Note that it took me about six months or so to move from Bridge to LR. Once I have a solid working workflow I tend to move slowly on incorporating something new.


  • morgan sikkerboel said on February 16, 2012

    could you elaborate on what you don’t dig about the S2? what felt wrong?

    i really like your style, man. seriously. thanks for sharing.

  • Zack said on February 16, 2012

    @Morgan – First it just didnt feel comfortable in my hands. Second, it’s a closed system. You can’t take the back and put on another camera. Phase and Leaf are the most modular systems. I think of it as the S2 is to medium format as Sony is to DSLRs. They’re great cameras but at the end of the day their more of a niche product instead of an industry standard workhorse.


  • Ebineezer S. said on February 16, 2012

    Right. Thanks a lot. I just pre-ordered a Nikon D4 a week ago and then I read this. Told my wife I needed to order a Phase One. She kilt me. Deader than a damned doornail I am. Now how am I gonna enjoy my D4?

  • Lech said on February 16, 2012

    Bears do poop in the woods. And on picnic table if you leave your dinner out.

    Great review. I especially appreciate the insight on mediums. I certainly appreciate the image bit depth discussion and dynamic range. That’s where it’s at for me given the amazing technology we have right now.

  • Michael Kormos said on February 16, 2012

    Great vid, super informative. The detail at 100% is beyond belief. I’d love to rent one of these MF rigs for a landscape shoot. Alas, even the rental fee would probably run higher than the airplane ticket. Still, a man can dream, can’t he?

  • Mladen said on February 17, 2012

    Congrats on upgrade Zack, I’d just like to quote Luke Smith from above: “I got into photography because I couldn’t sing, dance, play an instrument, draw, or paint. It was my only artistic contribution, and because it’s the only thing I can do, I care about it more than the client ever does. My heart and soul go into my output, and I want it to convey my mind’s eye as perfectly as possible.” He formulated this so great, and it’s so universal, I think this will be my favorite quote from now on. Kind regards, Mladen.

  • Derek Heisler said on February 21, 2012

    Great post. I’m at a similar stage at the moment. I just find shooting full body with my 5Dmk2 just doesn’t give enough detail in the face. I came to the same conclusion about P1. I was looking at the P45+ or the P65+. Would you recommend the IQ series over the P+?

    Also, question around purchase vs. lease. Why purchase? From what I’ve heard if you can find a lease with a buyout clause at the end of the lease you can write off the entire lease payment. If your purchase you may be saving in the short run, but you are not able to 100% write off the camera.

    One last question, after the 80/2.8 what do you find to be the most versatile lens? I was thinking something wider, maybe a 50.

    Thanks, for your time. And if your looking for web sharpening tricks I have a killer one. Message me at derek@derekheisler.com for the step by step.


  • Zack said on February 21, 2012

    @Derek – Essentially the P+ backs are the same as the IQ’s except for the screen. The screen is what sold me but the chips are the same. I looked at leasing and there are pros and cons for each. Best to talk with your accountant about it. I’m loving the 55mm Schnieder lens. I went with it because it has the leaf shutter. My next lens is a portrait lens in the 120 – 150 range.


  • Matt Damon said on February 22, 2012

    Everyone says they dont like pixel peepers and then go on to post about deatails that dont really matter. Many landscape photographers shoot medium format because they are bad at business and think that bringing a $40,000 camera into a swamp is a good idea. Ive seen a massive print from a 6 megapixel camera that blew the socks off of most images because it had unique artistic content. Its all about elbow grease and you will never be able to buy top notch imagery. You have to put the work in.

  • Zack said on February 22, 2012

    @Matt – I’ve seen the same prints. It is all about elbow grease but there are details that matter. I’m not dragging my gear into a swamp. :)


  • Ramiro said on February 23, 2012

    Hey Zack, it’s been a while since your 1st Chicago workshop I attended. Anyway, congratulations on the move to MF. I just wanted to comment on your re-sizing comment. It seems you do a lot of manual steps that can be automated, specially since you use LR and PS. What I have done is that I created a PS action that adds somewhat of a complex border, my logo, resizes the file to 900px wide @ 72dpi and saves it to a folder as a JPEG (well, PNG in my case ‘cuz I use a shadow on my border). Then what I did is that I turned that action into a droplet and saved it to a folder. In LR, all you do is create a preset to export your files at a certain size, and on the last step you point the LR export preset to run that PS droplet. This way, all you have to do is select in LR which images you want to post online, and run that export preset. LR will export each file with your settings into your folder of choice, and when it’s done it will run PS and execute that droplet. Then you just wait until it’s done, go to the folder where the images are saved and blog away. My action is kind of complex because it adds a drop shadow and removes the white around the grungy border I use, and it works. Since you mostly post images with no border or things like that, a droplet will save you loads of time on the long run. Even when you move to C1, if it doesn’t offer the option to run PS droplets during export, you just have 1 extra step, export files from C1 into a folder, then drag that folder onto the droplet and it will do the same. If you need me to create one for you, let me know, just send me an email with what you’d like the action to do and I’ll create the droplet for you. Blessings! – Ramiro

  • Zack said on February 23, 2012

    Thanks Ramiro! Hope you are doing well!


  • Jan Gonzales said on February 26, 2012

    Hi Zach. Did u consider getting the Hasselblad H4x body to kind of solve the one point focus point on medium formats? H4 bodies have this true focus technology that kind of solves it. H4x let’s you install 3rd party backs like ur iq140. Or is there something with the Mamiya 645 body that you prefer over the H4’s? Thanks.

  • Zack said on February 26, 2012

    @Jan – I did consider the H4. The true focus system is pretty cool but it’s kind of funky at the same time. It isn’t perfected yet. Honestly though it nearlly came down to a flip of the coin between a Phase/Mamiya system and the Hassy.


  • Irakly Shanidze said on February 28, 2012

    Frankly, I did not like the write-up. It all starts with the title. If you need medium format for work, this type of question simple does not come up. You just need it, period. This is not the type of equipment that makes sense to discuss with people who do not use it for work, yet this article is clearly aimed at an audience of photo enthusiasts. Why? To promote workshops? Unless you give workshops on how to use PhaseOne backs, it is better to talk about photography rather than toys.
    Another thing: obviously, a camera system is most of the time a matter of personal preference and sometimes a matter of budget. There is no need to say that Leica S2 lacks international support, or that Hasselblad H4 has imperfect autofocus to rationalize your choice. This sort of statements will not boost your credibility, believe me.


  • Zack said on February 28, 2012

    @Irakly – Um… If you go back a few posts or so you’ll find that I’m taking a break from workshops aside from ones I’m already committed to. There’s a great deal of reasons why I would talk about issues I have with other systems. Also, a good number of people, more than you know, are considering this kind of move as well. Sorry it got under your skin but this is how I use my blog… to show work, talk shop, and pass information along. Please also note the lack of banner ads, affiliate links, and donation buttons on my blog. Even as I move to a dedicated server for my site I’m still figuring out ways to NOT monetize this blog. So please don’t make assumptions that my posts are here to gain something in a covert manner. If I’m ever going to do something on here that needs to raise money then I’ll just say “Hey, I need to raise some money here.”

    Also note that I’m not trying to “boost my credibility”. Take me or leave me. I say what I say no matter what. :)


  • Jon Tiffin said on March 2, 2012


    Really floored at so many haters here. I jumped on a P21 system in 2008. It did all the things you referenced, slow down, think, create from a zone. For those who choose to bash this guys decision to move up to a capture system that beats the crap out of every DSLR system, just stop. If you have not shot a MF digital system you are talking out your ass. The fact is, the system is not DSLR, it shoots differently, IT IS DIFFERENT. Ok, let the hating cease. Congrats Zack, enjoy the best tools in the game.

  • Davd J said on March 2, 2012

    Went through the same thing …. yeah, a D3X is great for what it does, but cross into the zone where you need the MF look and the other bits, then you want a Phase on back. Zack hits the nail on the head.

    As a point, I do this as a hobby and own a P30+, In the studio, for fine art figure, it blows the doors off a Nikon, full stop, I laid down my 10K, and drive a 10 year old Volvo, I get it.

    Shot an IQ180 at a workshop, and it was stunning.

  • Irakly Shanidze said on March 5, 2012

    Zack, this is certainly your party, and it would be just rude of me to tell you what to do and what not to do. So, I don’t. I am just curious about motifs when I see someone who knows the craft saying things that, let’s say, are not entirely in harmony with reality. Definitely, not the best way to prove your point. I absolutely concur that the back is beyond great. My opinion on the camera, however, dramatically differs from yours. If you ever held Contax 645, or Hasselblad H, you know exactly what I am talking about, let alone Leica S2.
    You know that your opinion counts, so thing about it this way: when you are vocal about problems, relevant people listen and act upon it. As a result, you will get a better camera. You and others. If you just praise it publicly, nothing will be done. I had the same impression upon reading your fuji x100 review. I have hard time believing that you had not seen optical problems of the lens that I had managed to find within five minutes after I was given the camera.

  • Zack said on March 5, 2012

    @Irakly – I’ve yet to find the perfect camera. Let me know when it’s built. :)


  • hillary said on March 6, 2012

    Zack, i LOVE you! Thank you for writing this. I just leased the Mamiya DM28 and was considering trading back for the new 5D Mark 3. It definitely takes some time to learn working this camera, SLOWING down, and adapt looking at that UGLY screen! I REALLY appreciate you, this post, and shooting with my new Mamiya!! Hugs xo

  • Jonathan Dear said on March 11, 2012

    I attended the local Phase1 world tour demo day here in Sydney last Thurday. Got to pick up and play with all sorts of P1 combos, including 180, 140 and the alpha swa bodies. Shot some images on my own cards and brought them home into C1. Could do far more than I ever imagined with the files. I brought back shadow detail with no noise, up to 2 stops +

    Game changer.
    Unfortunately didn’t have much sunshine to test the DR. Like you, 1/1600 is about enough alone to justify adding it to my toolbag.

    Looking forward to borrowing one for a whole week as part of the Phase1 Puppy Program. (no guesses why they call it the puppy program!) only a matter of time before I join the IQ shooters.

    Thx for verbalising your thoughts. Confirmed mine.

  • David OShea said on March 15, 2012

    Thanks for this great article… Now when someone says to you “That’s a great photo, you must have a… lol. You know you can now answer in the affirmative and really mean it. :)

  • Bob & Crys Keiser said on March 29, 2012

    Thank you, Zach. We’re so happy for you!

    Crys & I made the jump to Hassy H1/H2 (models before Hassy closed their system to other backs) & PhaseOne P & P+ backs a little over a month ago after significant research. Thank you for the suggestive boost, David Hobby & Zach Arias! There are (well, there were) some nice prices on well-cared-for bodies, glass, and MFDBs on eBay, LuLa, GetDPI, etc. for those who are careful, discerning, & patient. We still love our Canons, but the tangibles & intangibles of MF you describe are so compelling. And, yeah, we’re still geeking out over the resolution & dynamic range. Pictures of the cat? Guilty…and she has never looked so good! Our first MF wedding is in a month.

    Blessings to you & your family…and thank you, again.

  • dave said on April 2, 2012

    Thinking about taking the plunge. You think this is a good deal assuming everything works properly?

    Up for sale the most amazing camera available, hardly used – Phase one afd645III with P45+ digital back. Picture count is 6745, so it is quite fresh. Including with it FOUR lenses: Phase one f4 75-150mm, 45mm, 80mm, and Mamiya 105-200mm. Comes with the original Phase one storage case. Camera is in awesome shape. There are no issues with the camera or the lenses, all works.


  • Zack said on April 11, 2012

    That’s a sweet deal Dave.

  • dave said on April 2, 2012

    oops forgot to mention the price. $15k

  • Jim Johnston said on April 12, 2012

    Good informative article Zack. I think it really can come down to the ‘feel’ of a camera or its files and when you know you know! Just need to keep going and going and going before I can afford an IQ

  • Steve Caissie said on April 17, 2012

    Good post, Zack. If nothing else, it helps ease my conscience about jumping head-first into MF digital when I did. I used to be an art director, so I got to work with a lot of photographers, and I paid attention to what sort of gear they were using. When I decided to switch over to being a photographer myself, I was originally saving up for a D3. At the last minute I saw a good deal on a Mamiya body with a whole pile of lenses, and I knew that I could upgrade from a film back to a digital one eventually. While I hate a lot of the bugs in the ZD back I ended up with, and it’s only 21-MP, it still blows any 35mm DSLR image out of the water for detail and dynamic range. I’ve shot with an IQ 140 and a 180, and I know what my next back is going to be for sure.

    BTW, since you mentioned in your post that you’re on the market for a 150mm, I would recommend the 150mm f/2.8 if you can spare the coin. Having a ~3′ minimum focusing distance is heaven, believe me.

  • DOUG DOLDE said on April 17, 2012

    Too bad you bought before the Nikon D800 came out :)

  • Zack said on April 17, 2012

    @Doug – A medium format sensor will still blow the 35mm out of the water when it comes to dynamic range and sharpness. I’ve looked at D800 RAW files side by side with the Phase and I made the right decision.


  • Steve Caissie said on April 17, 2012

    Further to my comment about the 150mm f/2.8, I found this on eBay: http://www.ebay.ca/itm/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=140740344742&ssPageName=ADME:B:SS:CA:1123

    If I had the cash for it, I’d snap it up myself.

  • Jeff said on May 6, 2012

    Nice article, but $25k for camera that still doesn’t look as good as film. These images have that soulless, flat and artificial look so characteristic of digital.

  • Zack said on May 7, 2012

    Jeff – You should see prints before making that statement. Wish I could show prints on the Internet. :)

  • Patrick Albright said on May 15, 2012

    “Some ones thats clean and a shirt with a team” means “a new pair of Nike Airforce 1’s and a jersey from an athletic squad.”

  • Olle said on May 16, 2012

    Zach, I’m curious about your decision process regarding the P+’s. I know you chose the IQ140 but what’s the difference between the P40+ and the P45+, and why did you only consider the P45+ out of those two?


  • Zack said on May 17, 2012

    @Olle – I’m trying to remember the difference between the two and I’m drawing a blank right now. Capture Integration had them all laid out and walked me through each one.


  • Iden Ford said on May 24, 2012

    Hey Zak,
    I just spent a weekend with Michael Riechmann of Luminous Landscapes fame and Mark Dubovoy….Michael owns an iq180 and has been shooting Phase One for years. He would disagree with your comment about the D800 and MF. He shoots now with his D800e primarily and feels it comes very close to the MF systems he owns…makes enormous prints with it and is hard pressed to see much differerence unless we are talking billboard size photos. My D800e is supposed to arrive shortly…so they say…since I shoot primarily dance and stills on films sets, plus portrait work, my only real interest in MF would be for gigantic landscapes…..maybe one day ….

  • Zack said on May 24, 2012

    @Iden – I’ve heard the arguments back and forth about MF and the D800. I’ve looked at full res D800 files. They are big. They are nice. But… there is something about the Phase files they are missing. The dynamic range, the smoothness, the shallower DoF, the slower the shooting process. There’s a lot to gain still with MF that DSLRs don’t bring to the table.


  • Kris Agar said on June 20, 2012

    Hey Zac, do you have updates with Capture One 6 Pro? which one do you prefer to use LR or C1 processing both phaseone and your dslrs?

  • Zack said on June 20, 2012

    @Kris – While I do love C1, I’m more proficient with LR and still use it as my main editing platform. C1 is amazing but can be a bit buggy. If I’m only trying to edit a handful of photos from the Phase I use it. When I’m needing to edit something that’s larger in scope I stick with LR. It took me almost a year to transition from Bridge to LR. I imagine the same will happen with C1. I need some more training on it.


  • R. J. Kern said on June 28, 2012

    Zack, I must have re-read this post about 3-4 times. I dig your frankness and detailed writing. Long-story short, I went with the used P30+ earlier this year, but have found (like you) the focus screen really isn’t what the 35mm DSLR cameras offer. There is a fine art to focusing on MFD. I still can’t believe that narrow plane of focus… even at f/8! I’ve also learned there are times when to use the P1 and when not to (during weddings, anything creative portrait or lit gets the P1, the rest get the D700). The Capture Integration folks are stellar and I am working out something hopefully soon to make the leap to the 140… but still have the hesitation for the cost. I’m a frugal bean when it comes to camera gear, but also I’m keen on making smart decisions with my equipment, especially if the bit of the purchase has been depreciated. I’d be curious on your predicted ‘shelf-life’ of your back: 3-5 years?

  • Marcus said on July 5, 2012

    Lovely camera and would definitely be on my shortlist if I was heading that way.

    I do use Capture One Pro for my Nikon D3s files and D800 files and find it extremely good once you get the hang of it. Sometimes it does misbehave and it still won’t open my Fuji X-Pro 1 RAW files, but neither does my other go-to RAW editor, Aperture.

    At the moment my photography is just too mobile to work well with a MF kit – even a 35mm FF kit is getting hard to smuggle past the weight police on Air New Zealand these days: a 7kg baggage allowance does not go far with pro bodies weighing 1.25kg each!

  • Paul Ellis said on July 11, 2012

    Hi, thanks for this article. I think the Nikon D800/E (and the DSLR cameras to follow) will be a game changer and dramatically affect MF sales, especially as more and more publications cease to be hard copy and exist only online. But P1 can sync with flash at 1/1600 (one stop more than Hasselblad and three stops more than Nikon/Canon) and this one feature can be a deciding factor for those who have to regularly shoot flash in high ambient light. On the other side of the coin the screens and focussing ability of all MF cameras I’ve ever used are rubbish compared to Nikon & Canon. So in these times of austerity I believe many will go down the Nikon D800/E route and rent a MF camera when the job needs it.

  • Cameron D. Mitchell said on August 15, 2012


    That moment when you’ve shot almost some of the same places and buildings as Zack Arias. I shot the Suntrust Building a month or so ago for my photo class @ GSU.


  • Marcin B said on August 16, 2012

    Strobist did that, you did that – if someone from Canon or Nikon is reading you – they’ll produce new nice MF body :-)

  • Joris said on August 26, 2012

    Zack, thanks for the Peter Hurley tip (in this blogpost and on Tumblr). You’ve opened my eyes (again!). This is great stuff!

  • wilfredo said on September 7, 2012

    Hey Zack ..on the eve of my Phase certifcation..I decided to revisit this post and see what your thoughts were and if there was something I can apply what I’ve learned about the P and IQ systems..in terms of renting – anyone interested in renting a Phase kit – be prepared for several things – daily rate starts @ $500, Credit Card desposit for the valued amount – in other words $25k to $30k in deposit…and lastly you will need insurance…so yea, renting a Phase kit isn’t as easy as renting a D4….as for shooting types…Sensor vs Sensor+..Kodak vs Dalsa…(well that one is easy)….oh and shooting at 1/1600 is insane..saw it first hand today…that should be illegal. :)

    I hope the Phase is still treating you well….wish me luck as I prep and take my exam tomorrow!

    – Wilfredo

  • wilfredo said on September 7, 2012

    oh..last comment Capture One Pro 6 is a remarkable piece of software…assuming you have plenty of memory and can understand sessions and the importance of sessions..and if you are a Mac user…really understand the learn the shortcuts..makes the workflow…sooooo much easier…

  • Holly (Schwartz) Lepere said on September 20, 2012

    Zachary!!! I got halfway through the video and recognized it was you. Look at you with the awesome MF show and tell. Thanks for doing the research for me.

  • shane said on October 4, 2012

    i’m nearly certain that 4×5 drum scans don’t beat all MF, the iq180 definitely destroys 8×10 drum scans. It does cast often though, although easily controlled with LCC profile.

    maybe the 4×5 scans beat the 140, but I haven’t done the math.

    hope you’re having fun! your ATL images with the 140 are delicious!

  • @Terry Dyer said on November 19, 2012

    Hi Zach

    First time that I am reading your blog. REally enjoyed it. You keep it simple, great for beginners. After seeing several

    photographer’ s work using MF. I was hooked, did lots of reading and ended up with the Phase One DF and Aptus ii back 3

    weeks ago. I have been using a Canon 5D mark ii and was happy with it until I got into the larger prints, not great. I bought

    my new set up used. It was a little unreasonable price wise, and this is why I went with the Aptus 12 instead of the IQ 180.

    I think both use the same sensor but the screen resolution is horrible and I cannot tell wether I have a good picture or not

    until it is downloaded into my computer. Do you feel that I made a mistake and should have gone with an IQ of lesser

    resolution instead. I want to do landscape photography mainly. Any advice would be great and thank you for your honest


  • Phaedon said on November 30, 2012


    I am dying to know if you are still really happy (in Nov 2012) with the PhaseOne. I am considering a P40+ because I cannot afford much more, but up until this point i have been committed to Canon. I just completed CO7 certification and was blown away by their backs. But of course their system isn’t without some crazy quirks..

    As a portrait photographer looking to establish himself in a competitive market, I wonder if it’s worth making such a huge commitment. I ask myself will Canon release a 16-bit DSLR in a couple of months. I would really love your input instead of asking in a forum and getting a bunch of stupid answers. I just need someone to tell me the leap is worth it and that PhaseOne isn’t just going to be an expensive dead-end. Would love to hear from you.


  • Zack said on December 9, 2012

    @Phaedon – STILL LOVE IT!!


  • Skaar said on December 3, 2012

    I’m late to this post AND besides, I know you’re on “Winter Break”, however, really curious:
    The Nikon d800 came out AFTER this post/after you got your PhaseOne. Reading your review or declaration on why it’s so great, I couldn’t help but notice the parallels between medium format and the d800. Just about every review has mentioned the closeness to medium format. I know that the d800 is NOT on par 100% with medium format, but many, many reviews have stated specifically that it’s got…”that look!” To quote from your review further:

    …ability to capture a larger range of tones from highlights to shadows. The highlight retention is astounding as well as the ability to hold on to details in the shadows without falling apart or getting too “loud” in the noise department. Between the gorgeous shallow DoF and the dynamic range, large sensor photography can’t be beat.

    All of the above are qualities that the d800 brings with it as well.
    So, I’m curious what your opinion the d800 is. I have one now and find that I have the same exact issues you first had when it comes to focus and having to “slooowww down!” With the d800, it’s teaching me to seriously get my technique down pat and to take my time. There’s little to know room for any error and as well, I find myself on a tri-pod more often. (I primarily shoot in studio and in controlled settings anyway.) In conclusion, I think someday, with more experience and when I truly get to “that point” and can even afford it…I’d definitely love to move into medium format. For now, I just spend $3,000 on the 800 and I’m going to make it work for me. Again, just curious as to your take. Especially considering that the d800 can deliver the image quality of the medium format BUT also provide much better ISO performance.

  • Skaar said on December 3, 2012

    Ooops. Just read a few comments regarding the D800 and your responses. Cool.
    Still though, I’d love to have you shoot the 800 and give a real hands on review of it and all.


  • Mike said on January 21, 2013

    Zack, I just finished reading your blog and I can’t tell you how excited I am. I have worked as a pro since the early 60’s in many fields including product, sports, wedding and other general work. The last place I worked was a custom E6 and K14 lab in SF CA. We were part of the Kodak Qlab system and I got to watch the K14 techs try to convince our customers (pros for the most part) how much better Kodachrome was than Velvia was. Not even close. I got out of the trade just as everything was going digital. I play around a bit with a Pentax DSLR for amusement but don’t much like it as when I shot silver I used either an RZ67 or a Pentax 6×7. I’ve been looking for any kind of medium format system here in Vt and everyone I talk to acts like I’m nuts. The quality of your images is exactly what I miss with slr digital. I am hugely impressed. I also can’t believe that the prices of systems will come down in the future as more development is done. Also ,just as information, I never had much luck shooting handheld with out a tripod. Thanks again

  • Karim D. Ghantous said on February 1, 2013

    That was one of the most interesting and readable articles about photography I have read for a long time. I almost forgot how I stumbled upon it. But I’m glad that I did. You’re tempting me. :-)

    Hope you don’t mind a few questions from a non-MFD photographer:

    It seems that MF film (Portra 400, T-Max) does better at high ISO than MF digital. Would you agree with that? This is of course not relevant to your needs, but it’s information some of use might find useful. I suppose one could argue for a D800 over MF film at high ISO.

    Someone above made the point that one shouldn’t buy a camera unless one has the money for two of them. And you wrote: “I think eventually I’d like to have a back-up… a Leaf 22 kit for $5,700.” I have a related question: would it not have been better to buy two ‘lesser’ cameras+backs which come to the same price as the IQ140? Two cameras are more reliable than one, right?

    A 60Mpx back has only 22% more resolution than a 40Mpx back (because pixel count is not directly proportional to resolution). So for argument’s sake, two H4D-40s are about the same cost as one H4D-60, and you would not be behind on resolution. I suppose a similar difference exists with Phase One backs?

    Digital backs are all CCDs, which means, AFAIK, that you cannot treat ISO as merely metadata as you can with CMOSes. And if that’s the case, CMOS allows you better highlight protection with relatively clean shadows. Got some thoughts on that? I think that CCDs have to amplify the signal in hardware whereas CMOSes do not. I think.

    Many current 35mm lenses are rubbish, and the main culprits are CA and distortion. Software can fix that of course (I use DxO Optics) but I don’t know quantitatively at what cost to resolution. So how do MF lenses compare? I obviously have research to do.

    The great thing about Micro 4/3 (and similar systems) is that they can have access to a huge array of lenses. For some applications, this matters more than sensor quality. So, would a mirrorless MF camera be attractive to those currently shooting conventional, reflex systems? This would allow much greater lens choices. I’m thinking about using 35mm shift lenses for wide-angles, seeing as they are much cheaper than MF wide-angles.

  • Sanat Ghosh said on April 5, 2013

    I want to exchange with my P30 phase one digital back
    And like to have seconds IQ140

  • Shlomi said on April 12, 2013

    A very nice article, and I agree with most (Aptus II 10 here).

    However I would like to correct one sentence: “Most people with MF backs shoot tethered and the number one reason they shoot tethered is because of how useless the screens have been.”

    The reason the back companies didn’t care about the screens is that most of their clients shoot tethered, not the other way around.

    For critical studio work you want to see the image on a perfect 30″ screen, in C1 where you can instantly crop, zoom or anything else the client needs in order to visualize his desired end result.

    No 3-4″ screen can make a difference to that process.

    I shoot 100% tethered – some clients like to look at the back of the camera even when there is a large display nearby. However for me, the back display can be very deceiving (even IQ), so I don’t even consider what it shows.

    You’re coming from a perspective of a handheld shooter, but most professional back users are mounted studio shooters. (I don’t count the rich amateur bastards).

    I don’t think it’s fair to call Leaf a Toyota – you can say Leaf is Lexus, Phase is Mercedes, and Hass is BMW.

  • Robert Austin Fitch said on April 22, 2013

    Thanks for the very through article and video. For now, just dreaming of medium format….

  • Jacky Ge said on June 10, 2013

    Thanks Zack for the very insightful article. Do you have any plans to write about the comparison of PhaseOne and Hasselblad in depth, deeper than the part of this article that mentioned those two? thanks

  • Zack said on June 11, 2013

    @Jacky – No. I’m really not a gear review guy. I am starting a new blog this year that will have more of that. Maybe I’ll do a Phase / Hassy post.


  • natalie said on June 14, 2013

    Zack, what did you think about using a film MF camera vs the digital? Did you notice a big difference in the print quality, and if so, did you compare in larger sizes? I do a lot of 30 x 40 prints and am wondering if it’s better to stick to film at the moment than move to digital for those larger sizes.

  • Zack said on June 25, 2013

    @natalie – I did try the shoot and scan process for awhile and just said “eff it” and went with the Phase. The quality is neck and neck with each other.


  • mh said on June 24, 2013

    I suggest you look at Peter Hurley’s work again. That guy hardly has any sense at all. The retouching is crap. The weird thing he has them do with their chin all the time is just bizarre. The lighting is often quite flat. I don’t think he really interacts with his models well at all. He doesn’t really engage them one-on-one, he just runs his formulaic scripts on them like a salesman. And his ego is ridiculously disproportionate to very meager talent. Martin Schoeller is a much better example of a photographer who skillfully interacts with this subjects. He’s very genuine and doesn’t treat people like commodities in a factory studio.

  • Zack said on June 24, 2013

    @MH – Have you ever met the guy? He’s amazing. Peter isn’t shooting editorial. He’s shooting headshots. That is a genre that isn’t so much about the photography. In fact, you shouldn’t “see” the photography when you look at an actor or actress’s headshot. You’ve got him pegged wrongly. Trust me. I know the guy personally. I’ve watched him work. He’s amazing.


  • Trenton Talbot said on July 16, 2013

    Zack, I have a question about your choice of Profoto Air flash triggers (because I am on the market for some new fast triggers). According to Profoto’s website, Air has a sync delay of 200 µs/465 µs in fast/normal modes respectively. According to Paul C Buff, a sync delay of Einstein’s “native” system, Cybersync, is 250 µs, which could’ve been sufficient for all your hi-speed sync needs with the added bonus of the total remote control of Einstein’s settings.

    So… Why did you chose Profoto?

  • Zack said on July 17, 2013

    Because they were available and I knew they’d work. I hate them. They are crap. I hear there are some cheap triggers on Amazon that will work. Haven’t had time to fully investigate.


  • Trenton Talbot said on July 18, 2013

    Thanks Zack, you just saved me from some PITA. I owe you a beer when I am back in ATL :)

  • Gary said on July 25, 2013

    Great article, just wanted to let your readers know that the Pentax 645D although limited to 1/125th with focal plane shutter for flash sync, it can actually use leaf lenses also, I own and use it with the 2 leaf lenses available (75mm and 135mm), these both allow for flash sync at 1/500th second with the Pentax 645D….its a great system, and with that sync speed available contrary to popular belief, that keeps it well and truly in the game…especially considering it has the exact same sensor as the Leica S2 (albeit the Pentax version is actually larger (40mp vs 37mp in the Leica)…Cheers.

  • Zack said on July 26, 2013

    @Gary – I didn’t know that! Damn. I was looking at the Pentax but didn’t find ANY documentation on it stating that when I was researching it. That would have been good to know. Thanks for sharing!


  • Joe said on August 13, 2013

    Not sure that Hass is the BMW with a top shutter speed of 1/800 – I’m working within the constraints but 1/2000 would be really nice. I’ve played with the IQ260 and man, it’s fun. Image review from an iPad is the only way to go.

    What have you printed, and at what size? I hate to say that any camera can make a good web photo, but the print is where the difference is at. Prints are reflective lighting, where as anything you see online is backlit.

  • Zack said on August 14, 2013

    @Joe – Don’t talk to me about the 260. I really want to upgrade just for iPad. OMG to not be tethered!!!!

    I’ve printed 40″ plus. The detail is there.


  • Camwerkz Pte Ltd said on October 3, 2013

    We are renting out the Pentax 645D but there are limitations. We will be upgrading to the Phase One camera with IQ260 back. After much comparison and reading (thanks for the sharing), we are moving into higher quality photography equipment.

  • Victor Ngaling said on October 27, 2013

    Hi Zack, I came across you Yotube and realize you knew what you understood something about phase one since you own it. Just got a phase back P21. I used used to shoot 645AFD and still own Mamiya RZ pro II.
    Well, I am trying to un-mount the cover which cames with my digital P21 back from the back, but very tricky do you have any idea…?

    Thank you


  • Brendon said on March 5, 2014

    Great post :) one day I hope to be able to shoot MF.. It defiantly has a different feel to it, almost 3D, it’s crazy. I can’t imagine how painful it would be to shoot on MF and then have to go back to a shitty crop sensor.

    That beard in the video, bottom right… Haha, killed me!

  • Jon LeVert said on September 29, 2014

    The Kanye references made my day. Fantastically written, my friend!

  • Warren said on January 5, 2016

    Hi – I really liked to blog on this, thanks. I’m doing a degree in Photography and want to experiment in digital medium format. Are there any recommendations around 2nd hand cameras to consider. Obviously my budget will be far smaller than yours. Having experimented I could sell and move up the ladder if it was worth doing – Thanks

  • Tim Moore said on April 11, 2016

    Hi Zack !

    Thank you for this more than interesting (and detailed) article !
    The image quality is mind blowing I have to admit it. From my side I am just starting, with a Mamiya 645 and I just love it 😀 !

    Thank you again for sharing so many details


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