Is the Phase One XT the Holy Grail?                                 

 In Phase One, Phase One XT, Steve Hendrix, Tech, Tech Camera

Ok, kind of a teaser title, forgive me for that. But let’s face it, if you have by now any inkling of what the Phase One XT Camera is all about, then I think it becomes a legitimate question. First, let’s properly introduce you to the Phase One XT Camera and what it does bring to your table.

Phase One XT Strong Points

  • Compact and lightweight
  • 12mm X/Y Shift
  • Built-in Pivoting L Bracket
  • Ultra Durable Electro Magnetic Shutter with shutter speeds 1 sec – 1/1000th sec
  • Shoot with strobe and sync at up to 1/1000th sec
  • Expected shutter life easily surpasses 500,000 actuations
  • Shutter Speed and Aperture is controlled from the IQ4
  • All exposure values are embedded automatically into metadata
  • Shift positions are embedded automatically into metadata
  • You can see the shift position electronically from the IQ4 LCD as you shift (pretty cool!)
  • Automatic Bracketing Functionality built-in
  • Time Lapse function built-in
  • Automatic Wake Up
  • Live view can be engaged from the Blue release button
  • Live View engagement automatically opens the lens
  • Existing Cambo WRS lenses can mount to XT and can use IQ4 ES
  • XT Lenses can mount to an existing Cambo WRS Camera for more expansive movement (and IQ4 ES)
  • XT Platform will add more lenses in the future – Rodenstock HR, Schneider Blue Ring… make a request!

Ok … Ok………….OK!

What the above means is that you don’t have to shoot technical cameras the way you have had to shoot every technical camera ever. And many things are just so, so, so much better.

Lose This Stuff:

No more finicky cables. No more manual wake up. No more ball-parked shutter speeds from your copal shutter. No more oops, I forgot to cock the shutter, no more jumping back and forth with live view and electronic shutter, and the lens, the lens, the lens, changing the shutter speed on the lens, oh, and the aperture, oh and open the lens for the live view, oh and close the lens for the live view, oh, and do some of this 3 times if you’re stitching, 6 times if you capture an LCC.

A fantastic idea whose time has been a long time coming, yet is still a surprise.

What do these Goodies mean for you?

Let’s break down a few of those positives. But first, let’s re-phase, er re-phrase the term “Technical Camera”. Phase One has told us they prefer the term “Field Camera”. And ok, I actually like that idea. I’ve never really warmed to the term “Tech Camera” anyway, so from now on, I will call these Field Cameras. Call them what you want, but for the purposes of this article, a Field Camera is what we previously thought of as a Cambo/Alpa/Arca Swiss, etc, Tech Camera.

So even compared to other field cameras, the XT is substantially small, compact, light. It’s an X/Y shift camera, meaning you can combine horizontal and vertical shift in the same capture. It uniquely has a built-in pivoting L Bracket* which means you never have to remove the IQ4 to change orientation. That’s hot!

*Only one other field camera has this capability, the Cambo WRS 1600, and the built-in L Bracket for the XT is based on this design.

The biggest deals to me are that with an XT Camera, I never have to hop back and forth from the back to the front to the back to the front of the camera again. I control everything from the IQ4, and I do so with extreme precision. I control shutter speed, aperture, I can see my shift numerically as I shift. I can engage live view from the pretty azure blue P1 button with a half press and it automatically opens and closes the lens for me. This pretty azure blue button also wakes up the IQ4 automatically.

Lens, shutter speed, aperture are controlled from the IQ4. You can tap and adjust, or you can click the right side buttons to make changes (very slickly).

Auto Bracketing with a field camera – are you kidding me??? This has never ever before been possible.

Surely there must be downsides?

If I can say so, that is a lot of goodies for a field camera user in the digital age –  in fact, these are unprecedented features. Is this then the Holy Grail? Well, there are some caveats (aren’t there always?). So let’s be up front and list those.

  • 12mm shift limitation
  • No tilt
  • IQ4 only

Honestly I thought there’d be more, but realistically that’s it. I can’t think of any others. You could say, well, it’s expensive, but if you have come this far, and that is the drawback, it’s like saying saying expensive cars cost more than I want to pay. The biggies really are the limited movements. Many lenses take good advantage of 12mm. Yet others (especially longer lenses) can shift much further. Tilt would be nice. IQ4 only – previous IQ1/2/3 have nowhere near the computing horsepower for this. Also, with their 8 pin ports, they lack the important power pins of the 12 pin IQ4 port. So there you go.

An arranged marriage of the very best kind

So is this for you?

Is an XT in your future? That depends. Do you have an existing technical camera and lenses? Maybe you’re fine where you are. Maybe you value more extended shift movements and tilt. If so, this may not be for you. What if you have an existing Cambo system? You can swap lenses back and forth between a Cambo WRS and a Phase One XT and use the IQ4 ES.

What about Alpa or Arca Swiss users? Phase One has stated they will make their shutter available to 3rd party tech camera makers in early 2020. It will be interesting to see what they do with it. But I can see each of these companies adding the Phase One X Shutter to their lens mounts for the same lens control from IQ4 (with a cable connection from lens to the IQ4).

From the back, it might look like a very nice Cambo Tech Camera. And it is. And it’s not. It’s much, much more.

Final Word (for now)

Perhaps the most exciting aspect is what is not here today. What will Phase One do with this product in the future? How will they develop it? Remember the IQ4 platform is extremely robust, has some of the capabilities of Capture One inside, and is designed to expand capability over time. What will occur in the future? How will LCC’s be handled? Will there be an ability to stitch and view images in camera? What sort of wild card features will be added? What lenses will be added in the future from Phase One (Rodenstock lenses, Schneider Blue Ring lenses, etc.).

While I like to play the realist devils advocate and ignore the hype, the XT Camera has me hyped a bit. I believe it is the start of a new generation of technical/field camera development, and I am impressed already by what capabilities exist today, and excited for what may come in the future. And – they are shipping immediately!

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