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Reader Comment: Phase One IQ4

Louise SMD writes:

I am surprised that you are struck by the quality of the image produced from the Phase One camera system. At that price I would be surprised and shocked if this one trick pony didn’t deliver the best image quality available, as that’s what is designed to do at a price that only top end commercial pros could afford or people with too much money to care.

At the end of the day surely it is the emotional and intellectual content of the image that makes it a great image not an over obsessing with image quality that will be indiscernible at even large scale unless pointed out.

It is disappointing that you are over obsessing with this line of enquiry that many of the great photographers and image makers wouldn’t get worked up about.

What about haptics, weight, portability, usability, its ability to allow you to be in the moment, the place, the readiness to capture a fleeting glimpse of something special , its ability to inspire the photographer / artist to capture / create. something magical, unique. I don't think any of this is contradictory.

DIGLLOYD: I did not and do not take it as a given that the per pixel quality of the same generation Sony sensor technology with identical size pixels is necessarily any better on the Phase One IQ4, but indeed it is. And I do not agree that it is only about degree of enlargement!

The “too much money to care” comment speaks to a psychological disposition that does not fit into my world view, that view being an admiration for apex products produced by keen minds are wonderful. So while I cannot begin to afford an IQ4, I am glad that such things are created and available in this world.

What should I be assessing with the IQ4, if not image quality? The IQ4 user interface is far more difficult than a Fujifilm GFX100 or Sony A7R IV... not even a contest in favor of those two cameras in terms of ease of use. Actually, I can’t stand the user interface—it has cost me shots, it takes far too much effort for simple things... uggh.. But the image quality is so enjoyable that it makes it worth the effort.

It is my business to maintain perspective on what is possible. I am filling in my own knowledge base as well as speaking to some high-end readers to whom it does matter (professionals).

As for “emotional and intellectual content of the image”, true enough in its proper context—but relating to whom by what standard? Judged by whom? An image has no validity for documentary or historical or scientific or other purposes? Or... just enjoying the sheer quality approaching the original closer than any other camera? Many images I make please me especially for their realism, which engages both emotional and intellectual aspects for me—and the IQ4 does that better than any camera I have ever used. So I’d say the view expressed above is self-contradictory.

For myself, I have less than zero interest in hanging a Cartier Bresson or Ansel Adams image on my wall because the experiences I relate to the most are... mine and my family’s (ditto for all of you and your interests—it’s personal). Who is to tell me or you what we should value in our images? I respond to some aspects of an image that others do not—and that makes my enjoyment no more worthy or less worthy than anyone’s. As a friend once said to me (paraphrasing): “I know my picture is not as good as Ansel’s, but it’s my picture”.

Louise SMD writes (continues):

What about haptics, weight, portability, usability, its ability to allow you to be in the moment, the place, the readiness to capture a fleeting glimpse of something special , its ability to inspire the photographer / artist to capture / create. something magical, unique. I don't think any of this is contradictory.

... and a bit later...

Thanks for taking the time to respond to my reflections and I appreciate your insights into the IQ4 which are as always a level above. I used to enjoy the results delivered by the little Sigma DP Merrill which also had there own unique character and handling peculiarities which persuaded the user to act in a certain routine fashion but 'mostly' rewarded in spades with the end results. Many thanks for all the work you do on our behalf.

150MP Phase One IQ4

DIGLLOYD: I cannot shoot and publish all in a week, and I’ve hardly had a chance to publish much at all images or otherwise. Working conditions have been difficult, to say the least, with cold at times, dull gray crummy light some days, etc—I have to prioritize capture.

While I have started to cover some of the usability issues in my discussion of the focus stacking feature, there is a lot more to say, but not as a priority as I have only a few days left to shoot before I must return the system.

But in a nutshell: haptics, weight, portability, usability, intuitive and fast operation are all frustratingly klunky and slow and extremely modal compared to any other camera, requiring enormous amounts of chimping on the touchscreen. Hard-coded controls have screwed me repeatedly: I have taken 100 pictures with my nose, and changed the ISO by accident—no way to turn off or reprogram the problem controls. The ability to capture a fleeting shot... well, put an appointment in your calendar for when the camera boots up.

However, bottom line is that the image quality is a huge incentive to overlook those things, knowing that it will thrill and never disappoint. Photographers who plan one or two shots for the day—perhaps having planned the shot for weeks and pre-scounted a location waiting only for conditions to be right—those folks will have no qualms about such a system.

John G writes:

I know you and I often disagree. Sometimes vehemently. But, for what it’s worth, I think your recent Phase One evaluations represent some of your best work to date.

I have used the Phase One system (on rental) many times. I have also owned various Hasselblad H systems over the years. I can speak intelligently to the ergonomic and user-interface hurdles even the most experienced and dedicated photographers must leap to use these cameras properly. Put simply; both systems are large and extremely heavy pains in the ass to use well. Schlepping them into the high mountains and low deserts is not for the faint of heart. For your part, the Phase One review has also necessitated taking the time to become familiar and adept with another processing program—Capture One. Which, I know from our email exchanges, has been challenging and frustrating for you. And yet you’ve done all this, and have produced some first-rate images along the way. (And I know you are still at the beginning stages of the review, so I’m sure we’ll see many more…)

If a photographer is interested in emotional reactions to equipment, there are plenty of blogs from which to choose. The internet is copiously populated with photo writers who react to products rather than meticulously test them. Reading these sites can be fun—it’s one of my guilty pleasures. But ultimately, most of them are not particularly useful for my purchasing decisions. In the end, and despite the popularity of these sites, it’s foolish to pretend these “emotional" reviews offer the same kind of technical and image quality insights your exhaustive reports consistently provide. In this regard, Ming Thein notwithstanding, you are singularly unique.

I have good friends and photo colleagues who shoot their most critical work with Phase One systems. (Interestingly, most of these same colleagues also use Fujifilm's GFX systems, too.) I continue to consider Phase One for my professional work and critical personal stuff. I’d almost certainly purchase certified pre-owned products from Phase. Like most of your readers, buying a Phase One system would represent an almost insurmountable financial investment for me. On the certified preowned front, Phase One’s upgrade path and dedication to customer service are unparalleled. Once shooters buy into the system, they rarely leave it for other brands because Phase One provides a reasonable and attainable non-obsolescence path.

So… Kudos, Lloyd, for taking the time and engaging in the hard work to provide this in-depth look at this important product category. Keep up the great work.

DIGLLOYD: yes, many more images coming but I need to concentrate on capture (not processing/publishing), with only 4 days left before I must return the Phase One IQ4. And I really need to be doing that on a dual display system with my NEC PA302W, as the iMac 5K sucks for evaluating color and contrast and detail.

I will miss the image quality of the IQ4—kind of like enjoying a bottle of the world’s finest wine (or tequila) and then having to go back to two-buck-Chuck. If Phase One could put the sensor size and image quality into a Fujifilm GFX100 (or Hasselblad X1D II) style body—I bet they would quadruple sales.

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