Canon 1Ds MKII
Phase One P25
A Subjective and Personal Evaluation
Possible Disappointment – But Not Mine
I'm afraid that this article is going to disappoint a few people. I had promised that once I received my Canon 1Ds Mark II, and Phase One P25 back, I would do a side-by-side comparison. Well, both cameras arrived within a day of each other, and then immediately afterward I left for a five-day landscape and nature shoot in Big Bend National Park, in southwestern Texas. I was shooting alongside another photographer who also was using a new 1Ds Mark II, and two others shooting with P25 backs; one on a Contax 645 system as I was, and the other on a Mamiya 645 body. The Mamiya shooter was also working with a Canon 1Ds, and one of the other members (a poor deprived soul he was), was only working with his trusted Canon 1Ds).
All of these folks were highly talented photographers, some working professionals, and all of whom had many years of experience with high-end equipment. I figure that between us we had some 220 years of photographic experience. Lots of gray hair, as you might imagine, or in some cases, no hair to speak of. But the other thing that we all had in common was a passion for photography, combined with a love of fine equipment.
Needless to say, we did a great number of comparisons between all of the systems. We each had our laptops with us, and evenings at the motel were spent looking at the day's shots, and also doing some pixel peeping – comparing the side-by-side tests that we invariably did while the light wasn't suitable for decent photography.
This report then is the synthesis of these observations, and also my own further comparisons done upon my return, after making prints up to 17 X 34" on an Epson 4000 printer.
I'm warning you up front. Though you're going to find out what we discovered, I'm not going to show you the details from along the way. The reasons for this are explained below. I also am not ascribing individual evaluations to each of the five other participants in this test, to both protect the innocent and also to make sure that no one else is burdened with the blame for what is likely to be a somewhat controversial comparison.
Canon 1Ds Mark II with 24-70mm f/2.8L lens @ ISO 100
What We See and Hear Vs. What We Can Measure
In the world of high-end audio it has long been understood that test bench measurements do not tell anywhere near the full story about high-end equipment's sound quality. Magazines like The Absolute Sound and Stereophile have for decades eschewed THD tables and S/N ratios for subjective evaluation. The reason for this is that among audiophiles it is a given that there are two aspects of equipment evaluation that test measurements are incapable of comparing in a meaningful way. The first, are the things that we know how to measure but which do not necessarily correlate well with those things that most affect the way a given piece of audio gear sounds. The second is that there are almost certainly things that do affect sound quality, but that we don't know how to measure.
Prior to digital, in the world of photography there were two primary things that affected image quality; the lens and the film. The camera itself was simply a light-tight box, with a shutter that allowed light to enter it for a certain amount of time. As long as it was built able to hold the film flat, it contributed very little to final image quality. Convenience and practicality yes, but image quality no.
Now, digital imaging has brought photography much closer in this regard to the world of audio than it ever was before. There is now a complex chain that includes the lens, of course, but also the sensor, the in-camera processing circuits, and the Raw file processing, whether done in the camera or afterward on a computer. Each of these components contributes to ultimate image quality.
Is it enough to know that a camera has a 6MP chip? Of course not. What size is the chip? What size are the photosites? How well does the on-chip or in-camera noise reduction circuitry work? I won't go on, because it should be clear that each of these items, and more, contribute to image quality in their own way.
This begs the question – how then does one measure and compare these? And, when one does, how well are we able to correlate what we measure with what we see?
All of this was going though my mind as I sat at my desk for several days following our shoot. I had experienced the unique pleasure of being able to shoot with two of the finest high-end photographic instruments currently available – and of having my real-time comparisons and evaluations backstopped or contradicted by experienced photographers whose opinions I trusted.
When I returned to the office, my first priority was to produce prints – not test prints, but rather the fine art images for display and publication that had been the primary purpose of my trip. But, being the equipment junky that I am, as well as an image quality fanatic, I was very curious to see how the images from these two systems compared with each other.
Canon 1Ds Mark II with 70-200mm f/2.8L IS Lens @ ISO 200
In the end, what I found was that measurements, and 100% on-screen comparisons, no longer tell the whole story when it comes to equipment at this level of performance. Just as happened with high-end audio a couple of decades ago, knowledgeable eyes simply do a better job of discerning the nuanced differences between great imaging making gear, and really great image making gear.
Some will reject this out of hand. And, just as there are those who still read Stereo Review, and compare an amp with .005 THD against one with .003 THD, there will be those that do the same with the latest generation of digital photography equipment. So be it. I have no beef with them. I just don't believe that the numbers, measurements and side-by-side on-screen blow ups tell the full story.
As mentioned above, I'm going to disappoint a lot of people with this test. Or rather, non-test. There will be no shots of brick walls (or city skylines), no 100% crops of murky shadow details, no Macbeth charts, and no pixel peeping. At least none that I'll share with you.
Why? Because after several days of processing, magnifying, printing, inspecting, and thinking about what I was seeing, I found that there are simply too many variables at work for me to be able to present coherent and meaningfull test samples.
For example, is it fair to compare the results from fixed focal length lenses against zooms? What about aspect ratio? 35mm full-frame is quite a bit wider than 645. So should the image size be the same, or should one use the image width? What about ISO? The P25 goes down to 50, the Canon to 100. (50 on the Canon is a specialty setting, and noisy). What about processing? Use Capture One on both, or Canon's processing software (ugg)? But, does a third party raw converter really extract the best image quality from Canon's files? C1 is better than anything from Canon when it comes to workflow and convenience, but what about extracting shadow detail and the most dynamic range? There will be proponents on both sides.
What about image size? Obviously the P25 produces files that are some 23% larger than those from the Canon. Should the P25's files be ressed down, or the 1Ds MKII's ressed up? If left as is, how fair is it to compare on-screen images. Or prints?
In the past years I've done these tests to my own satisfaction, learning what I needed to know, but when I've published results there are always those that find fault; that would have done it differently, and who therefore diss my findings. I have thick skin, and don't mind the criticism, but in the end it simply gets in the way of a meaningful dialog about what is being seen and measured, because some people love the debate, the name calling and the personal attacks more than the merits of what is being discussed.
So, instead, I'm simply going to tell you what my five days of field work in Texas have shown me. Since I own both systems, and have no commercial relationship with either company (other than giving them a lot of my money), I have no reason to favour one over the other. Regular readers know that I have a relationship as a web and magazine reviewer with Canon, which provides me early access to their products, and that the VP Sales & Marketing for Phase One in North America has become a friend and shooting companion. But neither of these relationships affect my opinions. If you believe otherwise, so be it. You simply don't know me well enough though to make that determination.
Contax 645 with Phase One P25 back and 80mm f/2.8 Planar Lens. ISO 50
The Eyes Have it
After all that boring, though I believe necessary preamble, here it is then. Broken down into bite sized classifications are my subjective impressions of the two systems. I have shared these findings with other photographers, and we have examined prints and on-screen images closely, and there is pretty consistent agreement in most areas.
At ISO 50 and 100 on the P25, and ISO 100 on the Mark II, there is essentially no noise visible. None. Nada. Zip. At ISO 200 noise just starts to become visible on the P25. At ISO 400 it's there, but only an issue on smooth areas, such as sky, and of course, in deep shadows. At ISO 800 it actually gets better, and is really very good, because what Phase One does is "bin" the pixels, using two pixels together to reduce noise. The file size is much smaller, but hey, the image quality is there.
The 1Ds Mark II is very clean though ISO 200, and only a slight bit of noise is visible at 400. From 800 upwards noise is an issue, but it is as good as if not better than any camera I've ever used at high ISO. I wouldn't hesitate to use ISO 1600 on a commercial assignment, though running the files though Noise Ninja or Neatimage would be a good idea for optimum quality.
This is possibly the toughest call of all. Both cameras are so good in this area, that at print sizes up to about 16X20" there isn't much to choose at first glance. Of course the P25's files are larger, and therefore all other things being equal, can be used to make larger prints. But, this is where we run into trouble. Doing a meaningful comparison would mean using the same lens at the same magnification with the same post processing – something that clearly isn't possible.
So, here is what I've seen, using my best lenses (both primes and zooms) on the Canon, and the Zeiss lenses on the Contax system. Naturally anyone wanting to know how Contax's Zeiss lenses compare with Hasselblad's Zeiss glass, or the Hasselblad H series Fuji lenses, or Mamiya's MF lenses, is welcome to either do their own tests, or speculate as to how they would stack up.
I used the words at first glance in the paragraph at the beginning of this section, because this is where we possibly run into trouble. To see what differences there are (and there are visible differences, even on 16X20" prints), requires knowing what to look for. While overall on large prints images produced by the 1Ds MKII and Canon lenses, and the P25 with Zeiss lenses, look similar, what I see on closer examination are noticeable differences in micro-detail. This is the type of difference that one has seen in the past (read – the days of film), when comparing 35mm with medium format, and medium format with 4X5".
In those comparisons it didn't really matter if one was shooting Plus-X with a Nikon, and Tri-X on a Hasselblad; one could immediately see the difference. No matter how you tried to equalize the advantage of a bigger negative size, one really couldn't. But, of course, there were always those that claimed that MF lenses were inherently not as high resolution as 35mm lenses. But in the end, no matter what one did, one could always tell which print was shot with medium format, and which with 35mm. The same applied to 4X5" over medium format. Bigger is usually better, and the eyes have it.
It's the same today with medium format digital vs. 35mm digital, especially comparing the best with the best, which is what this comparison was all about. There is a real and noticeable superiority to medium format that no amount of pixel peeping will deny.
But, is the difference worth as much as $20,000? We'll leave that debate till the end.
One thing that I've seen working with the Canon 1Ds for the past two years, alongside the Kodak Pro back on the Contax 645, is that the weakest link for 35mm are the wide angle lenses, especially the zooms. Wide angle primes on medium format simply blow them away. We all use WA zooms, because they're convenient. I have several WA primes for my Canons, but though they are better than the zooms, they are still not a match for a lens like the Zeiss Distagon 35mm f/4 on the Contax, for example. We've known about these deficiencies in 35mm WA lenses for a long time, but high-res digital systems like the new 1Ds Mark II simply make the various flaws all too apparent.
It's better with mid-range and especially long lenses. This is where 35mm optics can really shine, and where comparisons with medium format digital are more fair. Don't do such comparisons with WA lenses though, as 35mm is working with one hand tied behind its back at these focal lengths. This is an area where manufacturers still have a lot of work to do.
Contax 645 with Zeiss 350mm f/4 Tele-Apo Sonnar and P25 back. ISO 50
One of the most difficult parameters to measure on a digital camera, or even to judge visually, is dynamic range. This was not the case with film. Simply put the negative on a densitometer, and take readings. And more importantly, don't worry about "noise" (grain) as there is not a lot of difference between grain in the shadows and grain in the highlights. (Yes, it's there, but it's the inverse of digital, because a negative is dense (more grain) in the highlights, and approaches clear acetate (no grain) in the shadows). Also, film responds to light with a toe and a shoulder to its curve. In other words, it saturates slowly. But, as they say, that's another talk show.
But we're talking about digital, where you hit "0" at the low end and "255" at the top, and these are brick walls with no forgiveness (or shoulder). Also, you can't simply measure how the sensor responds, because its part of a chain, including aspects of post processing such as on-chip or in-camera noise reduction, Bayer matrix conversion, and de-linearization. The latter is especially important, because it reallocates data along the tone curve, and how well or poorly this is done can make a huge difference in the final outcome.
Given the lack of ability to make measurements, we are left with subjective evaluation as the primary tool available. Starting to sound familiar? The top end is easy, it's there, or it's not, (though some cameras are better at so-called highlight recovery than others. This is done primarily through playing with the de-linearization curve in the Raw converter.
The low end becomes a matter of judging how much detail you can see in the shadows, and how much noise you're willing to tolerate there before you (subjectively) say it no longer is usable. There's the key point. What constitutes usable? A landscape shot with an dark area under a cliff on a sunny day is left like that – dark and mysterious. If you opened up the shadows it would look false. But a fashion photograph where the shadow detail on a dress is muddy or blocked up, isn't going to make the client happy.
So in the end, no one really reports on dynamic range in any formalized manner. Manufacturers make their claims, but that's about it.
This brings us back to subjective evaluation, and the question of which is better in the area of dynamic range, the P25 or the 1Ds Mark II?
It was this area of comparison that gave me the most trouble. I did these tests at low ISO and again at high ISO, and saw quite a difference. It seems to me that the P25 and the Mark II have similar dynamic range. But, at low ISO I could see more clean and differentiable detail in the shadows with the P25, while at high ISO settings the Mark II has the advantage.
It's almost as if the Canon is slightly smearing the shadow details to keep the noise down, while the P25 shows what's going on – like it, or leave it.
In the end I much prefer what the P25 does to shadow areas, at least for the type of shooting that I will do with it. The transition from mid-tones to shadows is smooth and continuous. The eye is lead into the shadows and finds detail there, even at higher ISOs. The Mark II by comparison shows good shadow detail, but not as much, and as the ISO increases the amount of detail in the shadows decreases. It looks good mind you, but it is softened.
I am at a loss to make a meaningful judgment about highlight recovery. There are simply too many variables for me to cope with. Someone else may figure out how to do it, but I can't. But just on an anecdotal basis I can say that I find myself able to recover a bit more usable highlight detail out of similarly overexposed areas with the P25 and Capture One 3.6. Maybe a quarter stop.
Contax 645 with Phase One P25 back and 45mm f.4.5 Hartblei Super-Rotator lens. ISO 50
Shooting in The Field
There are as many types of photographers as there is subject matter, and each requires a different approach and tools. Some shoot sports, some wildlife, some fashion, some architecture, some weddings, some products, and some landscape and nature in general. Some even photograph their cats.
For this reason there exists a wide range of equipment at many different price points. As with most things in life, one typically gets what one pays for. Few people need a 1Ds Mark II to take vacation snapshots. But, hey! If that person has the money and the inclination – why not? On the other hand, there are working pros who do need every bit of possible image quality, as well as product reliability and robustness, and are willing to pay for it.
The same applies to a purchase of a medium format digital back like the P25. For the first time (well, the Kodak DCS Pro Back was really first, but it's discontinued), photographers have a completely self-contained back with state-of-the art resolution, in a size no bigger than a film back. No cables, no laptops, no belt packs.
So, what's it like to shoot with these two systems side-by-side, and what are the differences?
First of all, if you've ever shot with a medium format film system, you can stop reading now. It's the same (almost). Just shoot. Of course a second or so after the shot you'll have a image on the back's LCD along with a histogram to judge exposure, but that's about the only difference over the type of shooting we've done with medium format for the past 50 years or more. Put in a 4GB card and you can shoot about 150 frames without reloading. Pop in another card and you can shoot another 150 frames. You'll probably want to or need to change the battery after that number of shots (especially if you are using the LCD a lot). Changing cards, or batteries, takes about 5 seconds each. Turn on time is also just a few seconds. Enough cards to shoot continuously for an entire day, even a thousand frames or more, can fit in a shirt pocket, and enough batteries for the day can similarly fit in the pocket of a shooting vest without much bulk. That much 120 film would fill a small freezer chest.
On the Contax 645 (the only body I tested it with), the interface is straightforward. If you turn on the back while it's attached to the camera, and the camera isn't turned on, it starts up but won't show you a menu screen. If you turn on the camera but don't turn on the back, and don't notice it, you can take shots without actually capturing anything. Of course you'll notice this the instant you go to look at the histogram and it isn't there, and I did this more than once, but one learns quickly. Hopefully Contax and Phase One will get together and improve the two-way communication between the back and the camera in this regard.
Otherwise the P25 works just like a film back. You set the ISO via the backs menu screen and this information is passed on to the camera's metering system. The focal length and exposure information are passed on the back's EXIF data fields. Just as it should be. There's little sense of these being two disparate products in a functionally somewhat uncomfortable relationship, the way it was with the Kodak back on the Contax.
As for the P25's menu screens, they're one of the most intuitively designed that I've seen. Four soft keys surrounding the screen allow you to access all of the back's function with just one or two button presses, unlike the convolutions one is forced to go through with the 1 Series Canons.
The screen is visible in daylight, and has all the information that you need, including full frame viewing, variable image magnification, RBG histogram (beautifully implemented) and flashing highlight warning.
The 1Ds Mark II
In some ways the 1Ds Mark II is like an old friend, being of course based on the 1DS. But it is a very different animal operationally. It simply flies. The camera responds almost instantly to everything that you ask it to do. (Except the still-too-slow-and-combersome menu settings.
Since the 1D, 1Ds, and 1D MKII are known quantities, I won't go into too much detail here. They are what they are, and the 1Ds Mark II simply extends this to a 16MP full-frame chip and the fast shooting reflexes (if not absolute frame rate) of the 1D Mark II, which was already so impressive.
The rear LCD has been much improved over the 1Ds, and is both visibly brighter and sharper than the original 1Ds. (I denigrated it in my first-look review, but I now retract that. It is a very good screen, better in bright light than that of the P25).
But, while an RGB histogram is implemented, it isn't done as well as it should be. The individual graphs are too small, and in the end, though they're useful to have, I found myself preferring the luminance histogram, even though I wanted to be able to check for blown single channels. The three line colour overlay of the RGB histogram of the P25 is a much better implementation, though I wish that the P25 allowed a flashing highlight warning on the same screen as the histogram. I suppose we can't have everything.
I have been asked why would one want to have both a Canon 1Ds Mark II and a Phase One P25 back. Both are very expensive, and both are capable of producing very high quality images indeed – possible as good as any photographic system can currently produce.
The answer is; A – because I can, and; B – because I do at least three different types of photography, each of which can use a different type of camera system.
My primary passion is landscape photography. I used 4X5" large format for some years, but as I got older I found myself less and less interested in schlepping into the field the bulk and weight that a complete LF system entails. Also, flying has become more difficult for everyone, along with weight restrictions and the inability to lock ones luggage, making it imperative to carry on-board everything delicate and of high value. Also, medium format digital has become so good now that it challenges 4X5" drum scanned film, at least in print sizes up to about 20 X 24", which is as large as I ever exhibit. For this type of shooting the Phase One P25 on a Contax 645 system is ideal. (I used the Kodak DCS Pro Back on the Contax 645 system prior to the P25, and before that various MF film systems scanned on an Imacon Flextight.).
I also do a moderate amount of wildlife work. For this I need long lenses and image stabilized lenses. The Canon 300mm f/2.8L IS and 500mm f/4L IS are invaluable for this. There are also shooting situations where a camera like the 1Ds MKII is simply more versatile than medium format digital, such as on an upcoming shoot in Bangladesh in January, 2005, and in Antarctica in November, 2005, where I'll be shooting extensively from boats, and where IS will again be invaluable.
The third type of shooting that I do is travel photography, where light weight and small size are more important than ultimate image quality. For this I currently use a Canon 20D. Walking around the streets of a foreign city with a Contax 645 and P25 is unacceptable for a number of obvious reasons. A 1 Series Canon is do-able, but offers more weight and bulk (and Pro "look") than I care for. Thus, a small yet high quality DSLR like the 20D is ideal.
The British have saying – horses for courses. Simply put, the right tool for the right job.
Contax 645 with Phase One P25 back and 35mm f/4 Distagon lens. ISO 50
The Best? For Whom?
While it's likely true that Michael Schumacher could drive a Honda Civic around an F1 track faster than most people, it isn't until he's in the seat of a Ferrari that he can really show his mettle. Similarly, a first-rate musician will produce a better performance on a Stradivarius or a Bosendorfer. The best photographers will likewise benefit the most from the best lenses and sensors.
Of course this doesn't mean that great equipment makes great photographs. As Ansel Adams was often quoted as saying – there's nothing worse than a sharp picture of a fuzzy concept.
But like many artists and craftsman whose tools are an intrinsic part of their art and their craft, photographers of all stripes lust after the best equipment, either because they think it will improve their output, or sometimes because it actually will. Regardless, the quest for ultimate image quality usually leads directly to the shelf with the best (read – most expensive) gear.
The Verdict & The Conundrum
OK. Let's cut to the chase. Which is the better camera system – the Canon 1Ds Mark II, or the Phase One P25 on a medium format camera like the Contax 645?
Once again, I'm afraid that I'll have to disappoint. There's no absolute winner. Each one has its strengths and weaknessess, and based on this, as I've detailed above, if you're lucky enough to be able to afford one or the other, you'll have to make your own decision based on your particular photographic needs.
If you're looking for the finest absolute image quality then the P25 gets the nod. There are more pixels, the photosites are bigger, and therefore the images are a bit crisper and capable of being printed larger. There is a bit more dynamic range, and at low ISOs the shadows have more detail and "depth".
But, this difference is only apparent on close examination of large prints side by side. Take a 16X20" print made with the 1Ds Mark II and look at it on its own, and you'll be amazed by the image quality. Simply superior to anything that I've ever seen from a 35mm format camera. Period. And, easily challenging medium format film quality.
The P25 on the other hand, blows past medium format film quality and directly challenges 4X5" drum-scanned film. I don't make that claim lightly. But, I also know from my friend Kevin Raber, Phase One's VP Sales and Marketing for North America, that Phase is selling a lot of H25 backs to studios that are using them to replace their large format camera systems, used till now for product photography – and it isn't just workflow issues that are causing them to make the move. Once again, the eyes have it.
So, if you can't have both, which one should you get? Of course it really does come down to money, doesn't it? There's a big difference between $8,000 and $30,000. Is the $22,000 difference worth it? Probably not, for most photographers. Based simply on overall image quality there's no way that a P25 is worth four times what a 1Ds Mark II costs.
But, if the cost difference isn't that critical for you, and you lust after what is, for the moment at least, the highest image quality that can be produced by something that can fit in the palm of one hand, then the Phase One P25 is the object of choice.
Naturally, there's more to the equation that money. If you frequently use ultra wide or ultra long lenses, or fast lenses, or need image stabilization, then the Canon is the easy choice. If you are most comfortable with the large bright viewfinder of a medium format SLR, enjoy the simple intuitive manual controls of a camera system like the Contax 645, and appreciate the brilliance and resolution of prime Zeiss lenses, then the P25 / Contax combo will sing its siren song and your Visa card will quickly max out.
In the end, these are really not competitive products, except possibly in the minds of those who really aren't likely owners of either of them. For those who are actually faced with such a buying decision, the judgment call is based as much upon the type and style of shooting that you do as the depth of your pocketbook. To buy the P25 system because you want the absolutely highest image quality, even though you mostly shoot wildlife or sports, is to misjudge your tools. You get the idea– I'm sure.
In the best of all possible worlds, the busy and demanding professional photographer would want to have both. Failing that, the 1Ds Mark II would for financial reasons alone be the compelling choice. But for anyone seeing the ultimate in image quality from a digital photographic system that can be used in the field, the Phase One P25 is the clear choice.
Of course there will be those that believe that I am pro-P25 simply because I bought one and now have to rationalize the purchase to myself. Think that if it makes you happy, but it is not the case. My decision was based on having tested both a pre-production Canon 1Ds MKII and a P25 earlier this year, and also an H25 before that. I also have tested and published reviews of most of the other major medium format backs on the market during the past 18 months.
And, if my own experience isn't to your liking, I can report that of the two other photographers that were on the Texas shoot with me, and who were testing P25s – which were kindly loaned to them by Phase One for this shoot – after their own testing each decided to order a P25 for their own use. And, one of these photographers was shooting on this trip for the first time with his new 1Ds Mark II. Hmm. Maybe it's contagious.
Photographs and text Copyright 2004,
Since this review first appeared a couple of people have written to complain that I didn't offer the requisite side-by-side comparisons needed to make a buying decision. ( I thought that I had explained – even belabored the reasons why not). But, the pixel peeper mentality persists, so I'll elaborate a bit more.
Photographers buying high-end equipment like a $30,000 medium format digital back don't do so based on web reviews (even mine). Probably 95% of the photographers buying this type of gear are working professionals who have the eye and the experience to perform the evaluation necessary when making such a buying decision.
The dealers that sell this gear are also not your typical discounter. These are also pros who work with their customers to make the sale; they don't just take an order over the phone.
A typical sales cycle will involve the reseller dropping into the photographer's studio and demonstrating the equipment, usually for several hours. This is typically followed up by a loan for a day or two during which the photographer can work at their own pace, and make their own comparisons.
After the sale is made these resellers provide their customers with support and advice. The sales rep (who is usually a product specialist) will often drop in and work with the photographer to solve problems or assist with any concerns.
I purchased my P25 from Vistek, Canada's exclusivePhase One distributor. They have two dedicated product specialists who work with professional photographers in just this way.
So, while reviews like mine are fun to read (something like reading a review of the latest Ferrari in Car & Driver), this isn't how buyers of such high-end gear make their buying decisions. Ones own eyes and experience are the only reliable source of information on such an important purchase decision.
About Other Brands
I have also been asked about other brands of MF backs, what I think of them, and why I chose Phase One over Imacon, Leaf. Sinar or Eyelike. The answer is that at this moment the Phase P series backs are the only ones that offer an available all-in-one medium format back. Having a device without cables and attached accessory devices is important to me because I use my equipment almost exclusively outdoors on location, with hiking a major component.
Most of the other companies have shown similar compact products at recent trade shows, but none are currently shipping. Promises of "early 2005" or "Q1 2005" are sincerely made, I'm sure, but since these are small companies, and Murphy always is at work, I'll believe them when I can test them.
So, I chose what was available. I am greatly looking forward to a chance to test the new offerings from these other companies. Several have promised review samples when available, and I'll be bugging the others for the opportunity when the time comes.