A couple of months ago, Phase One announced and released their new 100mp sensor for medium format cameras. This sensor was met with plenty of press, though much of the information regarding this camera was still unknown. Since then, a few of the systems have trickled out, and have answered a lot of the questions. Among those who got access to the newest system was me, and I was also able to speak with Lau Nørgaard, who was one of those responsible with creating this incredible system.

Upon speaking with Lau, I quickly discovered just how much a marvel this new sensor truly is to digital photography. A couple years ago, PhaseOne released the IQ250, the world’s first CMOS sensor in a medium format camera. At 50 megapixels, this sensor was able to handle low light far better than the previous technology found in the CCD sensors. Along with the low light capabilities, the IQ250 was also able to increase the dynamic range up to an incredible 14 stops.

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Though the IQ250 did have some shortfalls too. For one, it wasn’t true 645 medium format. At 44×33 mm, the IQ250 was 66% larger in size than a standard 35mm full frame sensor, but was considered crop sensor by medium format standards. This left a lot of people wanting more, hoping that someday the technology would reach the point of allowing for a full frame 645 sensor size (at ~53.9 x 40.4 mm).

Since early 2014, Phase One has made a lot of changes. Perhaps their biggest change (up until the announcement of their latest sensor) comes in the form of the new XF body system. Moving themselves away from the Mamiya 645+ body system, Phase One was able to adapt their own system from the ground up, allowing for a better autofocusing system, and the ability to add features to the system using a digital firmware upgrade system, a system that has already added features such as Hyperfocal Point Calibration, Seismographic Vibration Delay and more. But with the camera industry changing every few years, it was expected to have a new sensor system in place to really show off the capabilities of the new XF body system released in back in June of 2015.

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Enter the 100MP IQ3 sensor system from Phase One. Announce and released back in January, the IQ3 100MP sensor gave us everything we wanted in a sensor system, but specs that our computers will likely hate us for. At 100 megapixels, the IQ3 100mp is the largest sensor ever produced on a consumer level, and boasts an incredible 15 stops of dynamic range. But that isn’t all that the 100MP IQ3 has to show off. The system also is ISO 50 native, allowing for incredible clarity at low ISOs and allowing for cleaner files at higher ISOs as well.

Reviewing the Phase One 100MP Sensor

Admittedly, when first getting my hands on the Phase One 100MP system, I was overwhelmed. I’ve shot with Medium Format systems in the past, using anything from Hasselblads, Phase One systems, and even the Pentax systems available. Though this one is different. At 100MP, you’re matched with some pretty incredible image quality and resolution. Secondly, the majority of my time spent with medium format has been on the crop sensor as discussed above. Until now, a true 645 medium format sensor wasn’t found in the CMOS realm, meaning you’d have to use the handcuffed CCD sensors, which aren’t able to match the high ISO capabilities of the CMOS sensors.

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I often have to explain to people what it’s like shooting with a medium format system, because it’s very different than a mirrorless or DSLR system. The analogy I use most is comparing medium format to a Ferrari. When you want something that blows away the competition, you choose a Ferrari (or in this case, the Phase One system). However, Ferrari isn’t the perfect car, and would be a terrible car if you were looking to road trip across the country with your family, or even get groceries. A Phase One system is like that. If you want the best image quality available, you choose a medium format system. But for day to day use, you’ll find the Phase One XF system to be slow and clunky to your DSLR, it’s much larger in size, and is slower on just about every aspect. But when you get that shot you were aiming for, and pull it up on your computer, oh man.

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And upon doing just that, I discovered that my computer isn’t really designed to handle multiple 100mp files. Even with a high-end computer system, I was met with some sluggish results. After a few layers, and some various layer masks, my computer would be working hard to keep up. Eventually, I reached out to Pratik Naik of Solstice Retouch, to help handle the retouching of these files. I then asked Pratik, one of the masters in the commercial retouching world to add his insights of retouching images with such high-end resolution power. Pratik writes –

The retouching started off with processing done in Capture One, where I exported shots with a neutral white balance. The retouching focused primarily on removing distractions while highlighting the central elements.

Because of the high dynamic range of the files, I could easily rescue specific details like blown out areas of the hair on one of the images. I exported a copy and layered it in.

For the color toning, we decided to go for a warm feel, to match the scene. Using curves and color balance, we pushed the warmth through the channels in curves, and the mid tones in the color balance.

We changed the clothing to black to match the headpiece and did some subtle liquify work to remove and distracting folds or bumps in the clothing.

However, the power of this sensor comes at a pretty hefty cost. At $44,000 for just the sensor (and $49,000 if you want a camera body and 80mm lens with it), the Phase One IQ3 100MP sensor is well beyond most people’s price range. However, Phase One is developed on a platform that many people don’t fully understand. Each Phase One medium format camera system is built on a modular design. By selling the sensor, camera body, and even the viewfinder in pieces, you’re able to upgrade your camera system in pieces, making it last much longer than other systems. While you may find your Canon or Nikon system to be obsolete in a couple years, Phase One systems are designed to stay relevant for years, building on a platform that is upgradeable piece by piece, making the systems justifiably affordable, once you break the bank to buy into the system from the get-go.

So how does the system compare to other Phase One, or even Hasselblad systems? It improves on an already incredible platform on just about every single level. The new Phase One XF body is sleek, and innovative, it feels modern compared to it’s older system in the DF645+. The sensor is a modern marvel, packing in such a staggering amount of data in every single photograph. But the system is still tied to archaic ways of shooting. The system is too big and powerful to handhold, with any sense of security (when I was handholding it on location, about 20% of the shots were missed focus from just unsteady hands). A tripod is by all accounts, a necessity, and shine from the system really comes from its tethering tools. That said, the new focusing system over the DF645+ bodies is a massive and undeniable improvement.

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Packed in the system, along with an incredible sensor, is a Seismometer, making sure you get no camera shake when mounting to a tripod. It also pairs seamlessly to Profoto strobes, without the need of a hotshoe trigger. Beyond that, you can find levels, live view, wifi, shooting with iPhones and iPads, and just about every other bell and whistle you’ve wanted in a camera, but Canon and Nikon haven’t been able to provide.

So the verdict? This is the best camera in the world today. At 100mp, no camera can compare with the image quality, and the sheer resolution power that this camera possesses. However, will a lifestyle photographer like this system? Probably not. But an advertising or landscape photographer will be in pure bliss. With this system, you’re required to be methodical, planning each step with precision. When done right, the work coming out of it is exceptional, but done wrong, and you’ll be sitting there wondering what all the fuss is about. Is this system the camera for everyone? Absolutely not…but it doesn’t try to be the every man’s camera. It finds it purpose, and does it flawlessly. Now, to come up with $44,000…

Phase One XF System with 100MP IQ3 Back
Beautiful, 100 Megapixel ImagesIntuitive New PlatformUseful TouchscreenPairs with Other Tech, including Profoto, Wifi and Cell Phones
Lower ISO PerformanceHigh price pointLarge and heavy
9Great
Build Quality9.7
Image Quality10
ISO Performance8.3
Autofocus (Speed, Accuracy)8.8
Performance of Core Features9.4
Performance of Ancillary Features9.3
Size/Weight6
Price Point6.1
Overall Appeal10