1 Hour Exposure with the Phase One IQ 260:
Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at 06:38PM
Marc Koegel in Cityscapes, Equipment Reviews, Technique

Hello everyone,

I am really excited to share the following images with you all!

I had the privilege to be among the first to test the new Phase One IQ260 medium format digital back for some really long exposures. The good folks of Digital Transitions put on one of the first IQ series launch events in New York City in March of this year. At this event, Phase One's Hardware Engineering Manager, Jacob Sune Sørensen, showed off three prototype IQ260 units. Not only did I get to see an IQ260, I actually got to photograph a series of images including a full one hour exposure of the New York City skyline (shot from Brooklyn Bridge Park).

3600 seconds exposure @F8. Phase One DF+ Camera with IQ 260 Digital Back. 45mm Lens. ISO 140. Long exposure mode.

I have to extend my sincere thanks to the incredible team at Digital Transitions, who put on an world-class event. In particular, I'd like to thank Doug Peterson and Michelle Matthews (but all of he team I met was great to deal with). Not only was I able to see, touch and use the equipment, I got all my questions answered and connected with like-minded photographers. I felt completely taken care of, even enjoyed some gourmet sandwiches and cold drinks -:). If you're thinking of going Phase One, I'd highly recommend contacting the team of Digital Transitions.

The day after the launch event, Phase One's Jacob Sune Sørensen took me out for a private shooting session. That's when we created the image above, as well as the 2 images posted below:

480 seconds exposure @F11. Phase One DF+ Camera with IQ 260 Digital Back. 45mm Lens. ISO 140. Long exposure mode.


900 seconds exposure @F11. Phase One DF+ Camera with IQ 260 Digital Back. 45mm Lens. ISO 140. Long exposure mode.

In the first image above, you can see the increased detail in the clouds as the exposure time was 'only' 8 minutes compared to the full 1 hour exposure I posted above. Apart from that, both images look very similar though, as the water is blurred after about 2 minutes exposure time (so extending the exposure has no added visual effects).

The second image is a 15 minute exposure of the skyline taken from a nearby location. I am blown away by how much tonality and detail is captured in the clouds, as well as the buildings.

To create all of these images, I used several ND filters ranging from 16 to 20 stops in total. Keep in mind that the IQ260 'uses' an ISO of 140 so to pull off such long exposures so in broad day-light very strong filtration is necessary. My Phase One P45+ back operated at ISO 50, so I typically used 13 - 16 stops of ND filtration.

While shooting, we also had an opportunity to test the wireless capability of this new back. Using an Ipad, we were able to evaluate the image and check for sharpness and exposure. We also were able to fire the camera remotely from the iPad, thereby eliminating any chance of accidental camera shake while doing the long exposures. I wasn't anticipating to find the wireless capability very applicable for my particular workflow, but it turned to be a very valuable feature.

The images above have all been processed in Capture One 7, Photoshop CS6 and Silver Efex Pro 2. For those who know my work, you might recognize the grain I very much like to add. The image below is a screen-shot of the original color RAW files, comparing sharpness and noise. The image on the left is a 'regular' shot taken at 1/200 second and ISO 50 (which is native to the IQ 260). The image on the right is a full 1 hour exposure, also shot at F8, but the ISO has been adjusted to 140 as required by the long exposure mode.


As you can see, the quality of this new IQ260 digital back is simply outstanding. Despite the fact that my P45+ was 'rated' to do long exposures up to 1 hour as well, I usually stayed away from such long times. Evaluating the performance of the IQ260, however, makes me want to explore even longer exposures. Even at a full hour, I can hardly see any noise, and sharpness is retained very effectively. I could see a (very) slight loss in dynamic range, likely resulting from shifting ISO from 50 to 140 (required by the long exposure mode), but for most scenes this will be negligible. Without hesitation, this new digital back delivers the highest quality long exposure image quality of any digital camera system I have ever tested. By a huge margin!

keep in mind that I was using a prototype for these images, so finally image quality of production IQ260's can be expected to be even higher.

The Verdict:

So should you get an IQ260? Well, I'd expect the price to be the biggest hurdle to potential ownership (it certainly is for me -:). But for those who can afford one, rest assured you will be working with the highest quality digital camera out there. Yes there is the IQ280 with its increased resolution of 80 megapixels, but for anyone looking to do long exposures, the IQ260 is the clear choice.

In summary, here are my thoughts on the strength's of this new medium format digital back:

When I stepped up to a Phase P45+ from my Canon 5D Mark II I really appreciated the increased resolution of 39 megapixels. It gives you the ability to make larger prints, but tonal gradation and transitions are also improved (something that isn't mentioned very often). You can crop your images with ease. But it's not just the amount of pixels, to me the quality is of even greater importance. I certainly see a difference between my D800e files and my P45+, despite the fact that the Phase One 'only' has 3 more megapixels. The new IQ260 with its 60 megapixel resolution will enable me to make even bigger, sharper and more detailed fine-art prints.

In my testing, I was very impressed with the quality of long exposures in particular (as mentioned above). Something else that surprised me, was the ability to do long exposures up to 8 minutes in 'normal' mode and ISO 50. Compared to the IQ160, the previous generation 60 megapixel back, noise levels really increased as soon as you exceeded 1 minute exposure time. Having the flexibility to shoot at ISO 50 for long exposures of up to 8 minutes is a great asset.

This feature may not sound impressive, especially compared to the 12.5 f-stop range of the previous IQ160 back. In practice, however, I found this to be a remarkable improvement. Compared to my P45+, this is a big improvement. You can expose for the highlights and pull details out of the shadows, all with virtually no increase in noise. And bracketing is no longer necessary, except in very rare cases...

Compared to my P45+, the IQ260 has a much more usable, high quality touch screen. It makes reviewing images much easier, you can tap to zoom to 100% (actual pixels) and the added virtual horizon makes it easy to level your camera.

As mentioned above, I did not see myself finding use for this feature until I actually got to try it. The ability to see and review your images on a larger screen can be very valuable, especially if that screen is an iPad. In studio, I would be shooting tethered to a full scale computer, but in the field it's nice to have the freedom of a portable solution. Using your ipad or iPhone as a remote shutter release is an added benefit.

After spending 38K on the IQ260 digital back, you'll be pleased to know that extra batteries are actually rather affordable -:) And that's a good thing because you will need plenty, especially when using the wireless features. I'd recommend a minimum of 4 batteries if you're out on a full day shoot, even more if you plan on doing very long exposure of 20 minutes and beyond.

This is probably the most important feature, right after long exposure capabilities (of course). For me, the ability to use a digital back on a technical camera such as the Cambo WDS and RS, is reason enough to leave my D800e at home. I applaud Phase One for continuing to built digital backs with an open platform. Unlike Hasselblad, this opens countless opportunities for the serious photographer who needs and appreciates the ability to use camera movements such as tilts, swings and shifts.

I am going to leave you with one last image here. This is taken while we were shooting the 1 hour exposure. I guess we looked like serious photographers -:)

As always, you can leave your comments and questions below. Thank you for reading...

Marc teaches several workshops and online courses about Fine-Art Long Exposure Photography each year.

Please visit his workshop company, Vancouver Photo Workshops, for more details.

Article originally appeared on Bulb Exposures - The Blog about Long Exposure Photography! (http://bulbexposures.com/).
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