Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Phase One XF


I began writing this on Sunday August 16th, after having my new Phase One XF body for less than 30-days. I waited so that I could discuss positive and negative points; so far it’s mostly positive. As anyone who has been using a Phase One 645 camera body knows we’ve been waiting for this new improved body for years. Phase One made an improvement with their DF body and shortly afterwards tweaked it with the introduction of the DF+; sadly, the improvements made between the DF and DF+ weren’t enough for me to justify the cost of upgrading so I keep using the DF hoping Phase One would eventually release their new camera. Rumor had it that Phase One was redesigning their 645 camera from the ground up which in the end would be a big improvement over the DF/DF+ bodies. The question was how much of an improvement and would it be worth the upgrade or would it sizzle like the DF+. Don’t get me wrong, if you were new to Phase and didn’t already have the DF then the DF+ was worth the upgrade. So the question to be asked is if the new Phase One XF is actually worth the upgrade. Is it worth the years of waiting? The short answer is – oh hell yes!

Phase One XF IQ180 Schneider 40-80 @ 40mm
f/5.6 8-seconds ISO 200
Phase One XF IQ180 Schneider 40-80 @ 40mm
f/7.1 10-seconds ISO 200

Phase One has discontinued offering the DF and DF+ bodies. That said they will continue to be offered under the Mamiya brand much the same as they were a couple months ago. 

Another question which should be asked is does the XF work on all the digital backs Phase One offers under their brand.  Sadly for most, the answer is no.  The new Phase One XF is designed to work only with the IQ series from Phase and will shortly work on designated Leaf digital backs.  Since I own an IQ180 I will address its usage with the XF.  So far, Phase has decided to offer various degrees of compatibility based on the level of digital back.  The new IQ3 series offers all the bells and whistles with full integration between the body and back.  The older IQ2 series will have much the same integration as the 3 series.  For those of us who have seen no need to upgrade from the older IQ1 series we are met with limited integration.

Phase One XF IQ180 Mamiya 150mm
f/2.8 1/160 ISO 35 (handheld)

Phase One XF IQ180 Schneider 40-80 @ 80mm
f/5.6 1/320 ISO 35 (handheld)


Lets talk about the integration between the IQ1 series (in my case the IQ180) and the Phase One XF.  I can, with a single push of a button either on the camera body or the back turn on or off the entire system.  No more using 2-switches.  I’ve gotten in the habit of controlling everything off the back.  Not a huge deal as it would work this way (sometimes) with the DF.  Now it’s more responsive.  The LCD on the top of the XF is huge and offers easy menu manipulation.  The viewfinder is bright and easy to read much the same as the LCD.  All in all very nice. Subjectively, the XF “feels” better than the older DF; it “feels” smaller (it isn’t), it “feels” lighter (it isn’t). It does fits in my hands much better.


Cropped for use on Instagram
Phase One XF IQ180 Schneider 40-80 @ 40mm
f/4 1/320 ISO 35 (handheld)
cropped for use on Instagram
The viewfinder as I mentioned is bright, even on bright Arizona days.  The biggest factor for me is the new modular viewfinders.  The updated prism 90° viewfinder is said to be the brightest of its kind and after using it now for several weeks I tend to agree with that statement.  And then there’s the new waist level finder.  The literature from Phase One states that you can, while using the waist level viewfinder see the same level of detail and information as you do with the 90°.  We’ll soon see as I had order one the same time as I did the XF.  As I write this I’m told that Phase One will be shipping the first batch of waist level (WL) viewfinders around the end of September.

South Rim, Grand Canyon
Phase One XF IQ180 Schneider 40-80 @ 40mm
f/5 1/125 ISO 35 (handheld)
Crescent Moon Ranch, Sedona Arizona
Phase One XF IQ180 Schneider 40-80 @ 40mm
f/4.8 1/160 ISO 100 (handheld)
Crescent Moon Ranch, Sedona Arizona
Phase One XF IQ180 Schneider 40-80 @ 40mm
f/4 1/40 ISO 35
Having the ability to switch between using a 90° and WL while shooting is a huge deal for me as a landscape photographer.  I tend to shoot about 50% off tripod and often times locked onto a tripod when I’m trying to capture something near ground level.  The biggest problem in using a camera such as the older DF series or the new XF with a 90° viewfinder is that often I have to be almost laying down just to be able to use the system.  The ability to switch between the two viewfinders is a huge plus; not only will it be safer it will also be much faster.
Snowbowl, Arizona
Phase One XF IQ180 Schneider 40-80 @ 80mm
f/8 1/200 ISO 100 (handheld)
cropped for use on Instagram
The shutter button feels better; more responsive.  I’m uncertain whether to say the shutter button is more sensitive as it might give one the wrong idea.  I am certain that there’s far less “slap” and I also believe I can capture at slower shutter speeds; how slow is yet to be seen.
Focus seems to be better, faster and more accurate.  Phase One will be releasing a new improved focus screen shortly (I gather around the end of September).  In the meantime the XF is being shipped with the older screen that is normally found in either the Mamiya or older Phase One DF series; this is in no way a deal breaker.
 Natural Bridge State Park, Arizona
Phase One XF IQ180 Schneider 40-80 @ 40mm
f/4 1/60 ISO 35 (handheld) 

I also found that the L-bracket I had been using on my older DF fits the new body. One less worry.  The surprise, and not in a good way is that Phase One redesigned the electronic shutter release port by adding several pins.  What this means is that the older electromagnetic cable release that I had used on my DF no longer works as it just doesn’t fit.  The good news is that Phase One is thinking of either working on an adaptor or an entirely new cable release.  Again not a deal breaker as the shutter button is that good. 

If I had an issue, it would be just one.  It appears to me the basic elements to the IQ series are the same with the major difference between the 1 and 2 and 3 series is the inclusion of WIFI on the 2 and 3.  Of course there’s more to it than just that but I’m speaking of basics.  So my question to Phase One should they be reading this is simple.  It seems to me that the integration between the 2 and 3 series is firmware driven.  It that’s the case, why not the 1 series?  It would be nice to be able to change the ISO off the XF; likewise it would be nice to be able to capture directly from live view. There’s probably more however these two items would be nice to have. But not worth the cost of upgrading.

I’ve included sample images all of which were taken using the Phase One XF.  I’ve used the Schneider 40-80 a great deal, likewise I tested the body using the Schneider 240LS and to a limited degree older Mamiya 150 and 120mm lens.  As I write this I’m waiting to receive a new 75-150LS which will replace the 150 and give me what I hope is a near perfect travel kit using 2-lenses. I’m keeping the 240 and 120 for special needs.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post; please feel free to comment if you have any questions or suggestions.

I’ve mentioned Dave Gallagher and Capture Integration before and will do so again.  If you are looking for a camera dealer you can trust look no further.  Give them a call or check them out on line.





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