Thoughts on the Phase One Feature Update 8 Firmware
Phase One Announces New Products! Err, no, this is not about new products, actually. Well, sort of.
Cost = $0. So wait, you mean that up to 5 years after the fact, they have given us free, downloadable improvements to my Phase One products? Yes, they did. Is this great? Yes, I think it is a great thing. And it acknowledges that the industry is moving away from the rapid upgrade cycle. A new product on the market every 14 months. Remember those days? Those days are gone. And it’s primarily because the products we use on a daily basis are so good, the improvements are often incremental. And the result has been that new camera sales are dragging (among other reasons).
So if you are not producing brand new products every 14 months, how do you stimulate sales of the existing products that have longer life cycles? You extend the usable life with firmware feature updates, and that is what Phase One is (has been) doing.
Below is a list of (mostly) what Feature Firmware 8 is bringing:
XF Camera Body (introduced in June 2015)
– More efficient leaf shutter operation
– More responsive shutter release
– Faster shooting speed
– Improvements are compatible with all IQ1/IQ2/IQ3/IQ4 digital back models
IQ4 Digital Back
– Now accepts faster CFexpress storage
– Larger 4000 pixel JPG in camera
– AdHoc Wifi
– Native USB C External Power Support
– Support for button exposure control in live view on non XT cameras
– Enhanced, customizable grids in live view
XT Technical Field Camera
– AV/TV/P Auto Exposure Metering Modes
– ETTR – Automatic Expose to the Right Lab Tool
Where does Phase One stand in the industry today?
In a number of ways, they stand at the very top. The highest pixel count (150 megapixels) for enlargement and file flexibility for re-purposing. The highest technical quality file out of camera, in terms of detail, noise, and dynamic range (18 stops). The largest imaging sensor (54mm x 40mm, full frame 645). BY FAR, the highest price for a camera. And it maintains modularity, being the best and most versatile solution for almost any tech camera/view camera with large format lenses.
I think by now, we know who Phase One is and who they are not. They are not, and never will be, an affordable mainstream supplier of imaging solutions to photographers. The ultimate image quality is and has always been, a niche market. What, you thought a 6 megapixel, $35,000 camera system back in 1998 was not a niche market? Well, it was. And now, a 150 megapixel, $47,000 camera system in 2020 is even nichier. And that’s because to approach the results you could get with medium and large format film, it took years and years for the rest of the industry to get there, while Phase One (and other digital back manufacturers) were there earlier. That standard has now been met by the industry, and yet there is Phase One, still, above that standard.
If you don’t need or want a Phase One system at that price and those capabilities, there are great options from Hasselblad, from Fuji, from Leica, even from 35mm systems. We sell these solutions and we love what they can do. But I salute Phase One for recognizing that there are those who still want more. There are those that still need more. The saying I dislike hearing the most is “I don’t need more …. xyz….”. If you don’t need it, and if you don’t want it, then what does it matter? There are those who do. And someone needs to push the envelope and create it. And I am glad that Phase One continues to do so.
What I like about this announcement:
I like the improvements to the XF. It does indeed feel like a more responsive camera (vague as that may sound). Phase One is relatively unique in that they provide more storage options than just about anyone. SD, QXD, CFexpress, External SSD Drives (which are now tiny).
And finally, Ad Hoc is here. Yes, the past 2+ years have been hard for all of our IQ4 users who had come to rely on Ad Hoc wifi with their previous IQ2/IQ3 for remote control, and remote viewing of images and live view on their iPhones and iPads. It is waaaaayy overdue. Maybe it surprised Phase One, I don’t know. Remember, USB 3 with the IQ3 took over 6 months. Sometimes maybe, you get surprised. But it should have been here a long time ago. On the good news side, it finally is, for the studio and computer Ad Hoc, it is here now. And the mobile app for in the field will be on the way shortly. Brad Kaye has an article that digs into the Ad Hoc in more detail: (link below)
The new Auto Exposure modes for the XT are unique in the industry. Being able to shoot in an auto program mode in the field on a technical camera will be valuable for some. I can’t say whether this feature will ever make its way to non XT technical cameras. They’ve finally added support for non XT cameras for the physical button control for exposure adjustment while in live view (YAY!). Maybe the auto exposure modes will be available in the future in a similar fashion and period of time. But I have heard nothing hinting at this and have no idea.
ETTR Phone Home
This brings us to maybe the less nuts and bolts and the perhaps more sexy aspect of this announcement, which is Auto Exposure Modes and ETTR, (Expose to the Right). Having auto exposure modes on a tech camera is going to be valuable for some XT users. So far in our testing, auto exposure modes are producing inconsistently, and most of the time with very incorrect results. While it’s a nice tool to have in the bag, it needs more work.
For those not familiar with ETTR, it refers to exposing as far to the right of your histogram as you can without fatally clipping your highlight details, which resultantly pulls up your shadow detail to a higher level with more signal and less noise. Similar to Auto Exposure modes, ETTR in the field also produced inconsistent results, and did not maximize the highlight tones to bring the shadow details upward. In fact, often it worked more like an ETTL (expose to the left). So, another work in progress. In the case of ETTR, Phase One has stressed that this is a Lab (beta) Feature, and that the version you see here is not a final product. Let’s hope not, because it would be a waste of time. While previous Lab releases like Frame Averaging and Dual Exposure + were effective right out of the box, it is clear that ETTR is not. But this is precisely what the Lab Toolbox is for, a promising tool that will evolve and improve with user input. As a result, your feedback is vital to the development of this tool.
If ETTR evolves into an automatic method for one click, and highlights are pushed to the precipice of recovery, bringing shadow detail upwards into the tonal range to achieve higher signal to noise results, it will be an excellent tool for many to have at their disposal. It again is an example of Phase One pushing the quality of the file, regardless of the fact they also provide more megapixels (detail) than anyone else in a single capture. There used to be that complaint leveled at Phase One – “who needs more megapixels”? Beside the fact that there are those that do need more megapixels, it seems to me the rest of the industry is where I see the emphasis now on megapixels. Phase One instead, is the only company I really see pushing the quality of the file, extending the dynamic range to 18 stops, and creating solutions for maximizing shadow detail.
The CI Take
If I sound a little like a Phase One fanboy (so unlike you Steve!), it is only because Phase One has a big target on their back – they always have. But for what they aim to do, they usually deliver. When you are that much more expensive than the rest of the industry, you’re going to be a target. But with this release, they continue to push in the direction of IMAGE QUALITY. Image Quality that no other camera can give you. That is why you buy a Phase One, and that is why I have to give them their due. I love that Phase One is continuing down the path that they promised with the Infinity Platform, continuing to bring new features at no cost to the existing owner of an IQ4 (and even for XF and IQ1/IQ2/IQ3 owners).