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Wednesday, 08 April 2009


I found David Hockeny's book about optics in a library some time ago and found it fascinating. Another book of his I can recommend is "That's The Way I See It," where he talks about his journey exploring different ways of seeing. It's a great read for photographers.

Regarding the P21: This is a step in the wrong direction.

I was hoping somebody could explain to me what advantage a Phase One 645 and P21+ back has for weddings over a D3X, A900, or 5D Mark II for a fraction of the cost.


In Canada, April is not cool, it's f***ing freezing.

In Hong Kong, Buddha's Birthday is still to come, it's on the 2nd of May.

As to the Phase One/Mamiya, isn't the point of having one of these the whole "big chip" thing. You know, more colour depth, less noise, all that sort of thing people complain about not existing on small (aps/35mm equiv) sensor? And, it takes film backs. My D200 can't take film ....... Besides, you could shoot that wedding using the digital back for colour and a film back for Black & White ... Best of both worlds.

Anyway, for 645 I will stick with my very battered and beaten old Bronica.

Regarding the eye camera - William Gibson gets another one right. You gotta love that red LED.

Mike: I was hoping somebody could explain to me what advantage a Phase One 645 and P21+ back has for weddings over a D3X, A900, or 5D Mark II for a fraction of the cost

Short answer: None.

Yes, I realize that some will crow about bigger photosites on the larger sensor, blah, blah. Bullhockey. The wind in the sails of this Calumet special is certainly the fact that there are a lot of P21-size backs that can't find homes in the wake of the newer high-res cameras by Canon, Nikon, and Sony. Of course the secondary breeze is certainly hooking photogs into the Phase/Mamiya system for future upgrades / up-rentals. But frankly there's every practical reason not to schlep a big 645 body for event coverage any more.

"Not a wedding photographer" response to Phase One back...
When you have to shoot a black tux together with a white wedding dress during mid-day, you need some killer dynamic range. Doesn't the Phase One back have far more dynamic range than any DSLR (including the Fuji offerings)?

Mike I can’t think of a single reason someone would prefer the P21 over the current crop of really excellent 35mm chassis cameras. With Nikon or Canon you’ve incredible lens selections, fantastic low noise characteristics and flash systems with that are really paralleled by comparison. This may be one of those “he’s good look at the size of his camera” things.

About the PhaseOne P21+...

The way I understand it is that a combination of a huge sensor with no anti-aliasing filter in front of it, true 16-bit capture, a dramatically wider dynamic range and much better optics produce image quality that can hardly be compared to what you would get from a DSLR. Add to that unparalleled reliability and PhaseOne's legendary customer service, things that are definitely needed when you're on very expensive/high-profile shoots.

There's a reason why there is a market for those things. It's not just the megapixels, guys!

(Although, contrary to what some people might think, good high ISO performance is *not* a characteristic of digital backs—they are actually worse at that—which prompted PhaseOne to develop their Sensor+ technology.)

The Fred Herzog catalog has been reprinted. The Gallery has about 500 copies (about 39 US dollars.) Sharon, who took my order, said she saw Fred out on the street taking photos as she drove around east Vancouver the other day.

Brilliant work!

I wish my town (or life) had been as well documented (in color) over the last fifty years. Seems like everything is gone.

I have not seen direct comparisons between the D3X and the Mamiya but I have seen photos that compare the 5D and the Mamiya and I could pick the ones captured on the larger sensor out fairly easily. They really seemed to have more of a depth of dimension to them. I am not sure what I am trying to say without using a term like 3D but there was definitely something about them that seemed significant. That said I am sticking with my D300 and my film cameras for now. God only knows where this will all end up or how affordable it will get.

Thanks for the update on the Herzog book Mike, I call them up and they were very accomadating, one is enroute now. I was also able to get my hands on a copy of TruthBeauty, which is also sold out at Amazon. The woman who helped me said the phones have been ringing of the hook, all for the Herzog book.

I guess that I would call myself an "up to speed wedding photographer." First off, the P21 certainly would be fun to shoot with, but only when the light is perfect. Say it's January and you are shooting in a Catholic church, in Seattle, and it's raining. I doubt that the P21 is going to come away with many good shots. I doubt that even with an assistant moving around your mono lights you would get a lot of good shots.
Here is today's dream setup for wedding photographers- a D3, a D700 back up/2nd body, and some off-camera strobes/radio poppers modified by a variety of light shaping tools (umbrellas, grids, etc). It's all about how well you can shoot in the darkest of circumstances, and how attractive you can make a church basement look.

"Here is today's dream setup for wedding photographers- a D3, a D700 back up/2nd body..."

As long as you're dreaming, why not a second D3? Or D3X with a D3 back up body? Or a P75 back and camera (super high res group shots, architectural shots of the church), D3X, D3, 5DMkII (just in case you want video), lots of lights, and assistants to set up and take care of it all. I mean, as long as you're dreaming... :)

Was it here that I read about some people being uneasy about the digital camera eye project? The concern was that, unlike photography in public places, people in apparently private situations would not be aware of being photographed - something that I seem to recall is part of the project's agenda (contemplating images of people who are unobserved). On the one hand, it's an intriguing idea; on the other, the ethics of it seem a bit dubious.

I suspect that if you are a wedding shooter who competes mainly on price, the Phase One makes no sense at all.
If you compete based on your look, and your look is easier to achieve with a medium format camera, it makes perfect sense.

As a wedding photographer I'd jump @ the P21 opportunity if I wasn't in Australia.
I always used a Hasselblad (in conjunction w/ Nikon and Leica) pre-digital days and found the majority of my truly great shots came from the medium format BECAUSE it forced me to take my time about composition, because it had luscious depth of field, because the photos had a more delectable look about them, because the lenses were phenomenal AND there was the assurance for the paying customer that the photographer of choice had the gear (and that counts even now).
We keep kidding ourselves over 35mm digital v medium format digital now. Even if the difference can't be measured, medium format has a certain look.
I'd pay for that look - but not $20K or more.
THis is a far better price. Now halve it again and I'll be over the moon...

Dear folks,

A minor side point on this whole DSLR versus medium format thing.

A decent DLSR and medium format back have about the same dynamic range. And both of them have a dynamic range which is far, far greater than what you could print from a color negative in the darkroom without extensive contrast control masking (which wedding and portrait photographers did not routinely do).

There may be very good reasons in terms of image quality, features, lens selection and/or convenience for choosing one over the other. Dynamic range won't be one of them.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

About the Hockney-Falco thesis: Samuel Edgerton wrote a book in 1975 called "The Renaissance Rediscovery of Linear Perspective" which makes similar claims about the role of optics in classical painting. It's an interesting book, but I think his attempt to pin down the re-emergence of linear perspective to one painter (Bruneschelli) at one particular point of time (1425) is a bit of a stretch.

I got about half way through the $12 million stuffed shark book & gave up. It is dry.

I am confused after reading the Ctein's comment about dynamic range. DPreview.com Dynamic Range test puts the D3X having a dynamic range of about 9 stops (in neutral mode, which has lower contrast). Phase One brochure for P21 mentions a Dynamic Range of 12 stops. How is this explained?

Isn't it symptomatic that on a post of this type the Phase One vs SLR gets all the comments? Just a new version of the boring canikon arguments.
IMHO, the Hockney book is much more important. It's titled The secret knowledge, available at all Amazons of this world, and traces the evolution of painting and drawing techniques linking them with the emergence of optical devices. Painters aids like the camera obscura or camera lucida helped establish linear perspective and coded the way we look and represent ourselves for centuries. Wich takes us to photography: All cameras are designed to work in linear perspective etc. It's an interesting book, fun to watch and read, from a practitioner of the arts, not a hard to read technical thesis.I would reccomend it to any photog who wants to think about his art and craft.

Maybe it's also worth pointing out that the Hockney-Falco hypothesis is not widely accepted, to say the least.

David Stork (well know Pattern Recognition researcher) has a web site discussing many "issues" with that hypothesis: The Hockney theory.

Dear Aman,

Comparing a manufacturer's brochure to one tester's results is apples and oranges.

DxO has reported on the dynamic range of many cameras. 12 stops is not uncommon. My Fuji Finepix S100fs and the Nikon D200 do better than 11 stops(by both my tests and DxO's).

If dpreview were REALLY getting a result of only 9 stops for the D3X, that'd simply be wrong (and I'm betting you're misreading the review, but I don't have time to go dig out the right answer).

In any case, misses the important point is that film wedding prints, which made people happy enough, didn't convey more than 7-8 stop range.

pax / Ctein

I want a phase one quality sensor mounted in my eye socket. I'll provide the lens.

I think that dpreview review measured jpeg dynamic range. It was discussed at length (in the dpr forum) just after the review was posted.

dynamic range lineup:

I think a great wedding set up would be a D3/D700 + this Phase One Camera.

Or Leica's, Rollei's and Tri-X.

I'm the darkroom printer for a high end wedding photographer (who uses the second combination) and lemmie tell ya, we don't sit around and wish our film had more latitude (dynamic range). The pictures and beautiful and clients love them.

If you're buying an 8000 dollar D3X and say...the 24-70mm, there isn't much of a price difference vs the Calumet deal. Plus if you already own V series Hassy lenses it's a steal!

Two things:
1) Medium back manufacturers (not only Phase One) regularly publish Dynamic Range figures in their specifications of the backs. That figure must have come out of some measurement, and I was wondering if somebody knew how?

2) Nikon D3X makes really good JPEG images straight out, and the neutral JPEG mode is the one which would lose minimum highlight/shadow detail. Only way you can get more DR from RAW is using exposure compensation along with shadow/highlight sliders in RAW software. DPreview.com does that and in that case, the DR is indeed around 11-12 stops. But DPreview.com also has a blog entry about their DR testing that this extraction of maximum DR leaves the images unusably 'flat'.

So, my earlier question, as well as this question, is if someone knows how medium format back manufacturers compute their figure for Dynamic Range. Is it the maximum Dynamic Range you can get by playing around with its RAW file, or what you get with a typical RAW processing of a file? Maybe someone with experience with both digital backs and 35mm DSLRs?


This is probably stating the obvious in this company, but what a wedding photographer needs more than all the gear that money can buy, is imagination, creativity and people skills. But we all knew that, right?!

Just ordered Mr. Herzog's book. I told the gentlemen whom I ordered the book from that the Vancouver Art Gallery had been blogged. I sent them a link to this post as well. I think this kind of stuff is kinda neat. Thanks for the tip on this book Mike. I didn't see it until Sunday but I was thinking about this book before I went to sleep on Saturday. I will be much happier when I finally have it in my hands.

P.S. I wish that the Fred Herzog book mention would have gotten it's very own post.

Dear Aman,

Checking in rather late, I'm afraid. Hopefully you'll see this:

How manufacturers determine dynamic range? The absolute maximum they can squeeze out of the sensor in a RAW file, not what looks best.

There's a lot of wiggle room in that. The highlight end is easy to nail down to a fraction of a stop: it's when the system starts clipping data. The shadow end's another matter, because usually what happens is the signal gets buried in noise well before it disappears entirely. The tester has to decide is how strong the signal has to be above the noise to count.

There's no one right answer to that question, nor is there an industry-wide standard for it. You could see as much as a 2 stop difference in exposure range depending on what you felt was the meaningful shadow point.

(FYI, film folks have the same problem. They've a general agreement that shadow speed is pegged to a density that's 0.1 density units above processed unexposed film.)

A JPEG never has as long an exposure range as a RAW file.

Regarding 'flat' images, that's not a function of the camera, per se. A 12-stop RAW image from the best Phase 1 back will look *EXACTLY* as flat as a 12-stop RAW image from the Sony DSLR that costs 1/10th as much, when both files have the same characteristic curve applied to them and they're displayed the same way. Furthermore, a straight rendering of that maximum range WILL look unacceptably flat; Dpreview's remark on that matter is not camera-specific.

I could do a whole column on the different ways of rendering a long exposure range so it makes an attractive photograph.

Hmmm, maybe I will.

pax / Ctein
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

Interesting. Two further questions (I hope I am not bugging you too much)

1) So, improvements in dynamic range are just a function of 'technology'? And compact cameras like Canon G10 will also have the same Dynamic Range as DSLRs (using RAW, of course)?

2) what advantage can shooting a 22 MP MF back have over current 24 MP DSLRs other than the sharpness increase due to the lack of AA filter? What is the advantage of larger photosites, other than cleaner High ISO images (which in case of MF backs is quite the opposite, due to overheating of the sensor I guess?)

I actually have many more questions regarding digital imaging like: why do most manufacturers use AA filters, and not remove moire using software, when Leica M8 and MF backs get by being called superior in sharpness without using them? Given a fixed size of photosites, does colour accuracy improve with more megapixels (mathematically speaking, I think the answer should be yes, since you more data points for the same 'view', which are interpolated from RAW data to final image). Haven't really thought of asking them out before.

And that column about rendering a long exposure range will be very useful, i think. There is rarely an image for which I dont use shadow/highlight sliders to bring out more detail.


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