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IQ180 Vs. 8x10" 

By Markus Zuber


Update: Some people have been critical of this test, saying that the 8X10" scans were not done at a high enough resolution. Markus has responded to this and also posted higher resolution samples here.

During the last 10 years – after having left my 8x10 inch gear behind me – I have been striving to reach at least comparable image quality with digital capture. I am one of the lucky photographers working with an IQ180 on both the Phase One camera and the Alpa SWA. I mainly use the Alpa with the Rodenstock HR 28 mm for architecture and landscape – on the Phase camera I am working with the SK lenses 55/80/110 mm and the Hasselblad f 5.6/250 mm Superachromat for landscape photography mainly.

Being a landscape photographer I very much enjoy the flexibility of working with this gear – always using a tripod of course. Thanks to the wide range of lenses I am able to capture close ups as well as mountain tops in very high quality – I can shoot more than 300 images a day – if needed – not only the amount of films I can carry with me – which should not be neglected when doing mountain trips of 8 hours and more…

But until last week I was always asking myself where the quality level would be if compared to a drum scanned 8x10 inch film. So finally I decided doing a comparison test. Together with a passioned 8x10 inch photographer Christian Fitze, we took the opportunity to capture two different scenes with both a slight wide angle (55 mm/240 mm) and a short tele lens (110 mm / 480 mm). Thanks to Alpa Switzerland we also got two of the finest lenses for the Alpa in this
range.



Our gear used for the test (captured with an iPhone):

Phase One IQ180:

Phase One 645 DF:

– Schneider Kreuznach f2.8 / 55 mm

– Schneider Kreuznach f2.8 / 110 mm

Alpa SWA:

– Alpa APO-Helvetar f5.6/60 mm

– Schneider APO-Digitar f5.6/120 mm

80 MP = 10328 x 7760 pixels

8x10 Inch:

Arca Swiss with Ektachrome 100 slide film and Fuji Acros 100 BW (developed in Microdol X):

– Schneider Apo-Symmar 5.6/240 mm

– Rodenstock Apo Ronar 9.0/480 mm

Drum scanned (Dainippon screen SG 608) at 745 dpi – which results in 8874 x 7229 pixels.

Of course we had different proportions and somewhat different angles of the lenses but we tried to get the images to match as close as possible. The scenes we have chosen are not intended to represent pieces of art. With the wide angle wanted to check resolution in combination with depth of field – with the tele lens it was more about absolute resolution.

Focus control:

Focus control is one of the most difficult things in digital MF photography. Thanks to the new live view in the IQ180 I was able to check sharpness perfectly – using Heliopan variable ND filters – which were removed before capturing. Comparing sharpness obtained through focusing on the screen of the Alpa using a 20x loupe and the one obtained through live view, the latter lead to better results! This is a very interesting aspect for all photographers shotting with their Alpa in rain or stormy weather. Removing the back is no more necessary using one of the new IQ backs! It may be easier to compose the image on the screen than using live view but for focusing the live view is a big relief.


Sharpening and keystone correction:

The IQ180 files have been sharpened slightly in Capture One – the 8x10 inch files have not been sharpened in the scan process but slightly sharpened through a special sharpening script which does not create any sharpening artifacts but increases micro contrast slightly. In order to keep a maximum of information, there was no keystone correction in Capture One. We also tilted the Arca Swiss and did not shift the lenses on the Alpa.


So what’s the result?

I have chosen three different spots within each image for comparison. They are marked in the images above with red rectangles.

Wide angle shots

Series 1: comparison at 200 % (displayed here at 25 %)

 

IQ180 – SK 55 mm, f16

 

IQ180 – Alpa, 60 mm, f16

 

8x10 inch, 240 mm, f32, Ektachrome

 

8x10 inch, 240 mm, f32, Fuji Acros 100

Unfortunately the sun moved constantly so the lighting conditions changed from image to image. The 8x10 inc captures took place at the same time as the 55 mm shot on the Phase body – the Alpa shots took place 5 minutes later.

Series 2: comparison at 200 % (displayed here at 20 %)

IQ180 – SK 55 mm, f16

IQ180 – Alpa, 60 mm, f16

8x10 inch, 240 mm, f32, Ektachrome

8x10 inch, 240 mm, f32, Fuji Acros 100

Series 3: comparison at 200 % (displayed here at 25 %)

IQ180 – SK 55 mm, f16

IQ180 – Alpa, 60 mm, f16

8x10 inch, 240 mm, f32, Ektachrome

8x10 inch, 240 mm, f32, Fuji Acros 100

Tele shots

Series 1: comparison at 500 % (displayed here at 25 %)

 

IQ180 – Phase / SK 110 mm, f11

IQ180 – Alpa, APO-Digitar 120 mm, f11

8x10 inch, 480 mm, f32, Ektachrome

 

8x10 inch, 480 mm, f32, Fuji Acros 100


Series 2: comparison at 200 % (displayed here at 25 %)

 

IQ180 – Phase / SK 110 mm, f11

IQ180 – Alpa, APO-Digitar 120 mm, f11

8x10 inch, 480 mm, f32, Ektachrome

8x10 inch, 480 mm, f32, Fuji Acros 100

Serie 3: comparison at 300 % (displayed here at 30 %)

 

IQ180 – Phase / SK 110 mm, f11

 

IQ180 – Alpa, APO-Digitar 120 mm, f11

 

8x10 inch, 480 mm, f32, Ektachrome

8x10 inch, 480 mm, f32, Fuji Acros 100


Conclusions:

Resolutionwise it is obvious that the IQ180 shows a higher resolution. Higher scan resolution would not have brought in more details. The details seen here (at 100 %) can also be seen using a strong loupe – and we can already see the grain. We have also tested the TMax 400 (developed in HC110), which has a slightly rougher grain – not more details there.

When comparing the Alpa/Schneider-lenses to the Schneider Kreuznach (SK)-lenses on the Phase camera, there is a visible difference in favour of the Alpa-lenses. However both the 60 and the 120 mm are longer lenses. For the comparisons I have upsized the 55 mm/110 mm to match the 60 mm/120 mm images. So this factor comes into play. For practical use the Alpa lenses have a higher resolution, they can be shifted but they do not have the same flexibility as we have with a lens on an AF system – knowing well that the AF does not really serve well at least with the 55 mm…



Phase/SK 110 mm, f11 at 200 % (reduced to 30 % of the image size)
Alpa / APO-Digitar 120 mm, f11 at 200 % (reduced to 30 % of the image size)

As for the depth of field – if looking at the wide-angle images – we can see that at bigger distances (>20 m) f32 on the 8x10 inch camera does not really provide the necessary sharpness/resolution as we find at f11/f16 on the MF lenses. This is a small relief for all of us who have dreamt of using f32 and f64 on our MF backs: using f11–16 on MF backs can already provide quite a good depth of field – and in combination with live view and focusing at hyperfocal distance first, we can get quite a good depth of field.

Please keep in mind that if there would be larger sensors, the depth of field would be reduced. There was already quite a significant difference between the P45 and the P65! Photographers longing for larger sensors are not really longing for this but for better control of the composition of the image. We all hope that this may come one-day wireless from the back to our iPad ;)

So, on the whole the IQ180 can at least get the same image quality (resolution wise) as we can get with a drum scanned 8x0 inch film. In the 8x10 inch process there are some factors, which could be improved such as micro fine grain or maybe a better scanner. However I believe that the resolution of the lenses is a limiting factor. The film could easily reveal more details, if they would be projected to its surface.

Dynamic range and gradation of the film is a different story I would not like to discuss now, since we did not look for this in special. The dynamic of the black and white films is really big – not so of course for the Ektachrome. But there is also quite a lot of shadow information in the IQ files. As we have seen with all PhaseOne backs, it is very important to get as much to the right as possible. Underexposed images suffer from noise and bad colors.

Again – as reported in the introduction, the use of the IQ180 system is much more versatile and flexible – and finally quite different in weight. I do not want to discuss the costs since it depends on what you calculate. The costs for the film, developing and scanning are quite high and you better think twice before you take your shot with 8x10 inch – and maybe two minutes later the light is even better…

Composing an image on the large 8x10 inch screen is something special of course. But you need to be under the hood – and no wind should be around… With the introduction of the high res displays and live view, the use of the IQ backs has become much more effective. Of course it takes quite a high battery consumption of both the camera and the back, so being in the field you have to make sure that you can charge your batteries from time to time.

Mountains in the fog – stitched from three P65+ captures taken with the Hasselblad 300 mm lens.

A quick look back

Mark Dubovoy once wrote that being able to rely on the quality of the proper gear is very important for making good images. The question is: what makes quality? It is not the brand of the camera or the lens. It is your daily experience with this gear. You must know exactly what lens suits the situation; you have to know the limits and the best choice for depth of field/sharpness. And finally you love to shoot with your gear if you already have been successful with it. For me switching from my Hasselblad to the Phase One gear for example was not very easy. The use of the DF camera is far from being comfortably and reliable – a big step downwards even from the H1! I still have at least one camera lockup per 50 exposures and AF is not reliable enough. The finder is a lot better than on the H1 but it still does not give you full control on sharpness in the image. If we look at the SK lenses, the quality is much better than the one of the H-lenses. However AF must work properly. If a lens is terribly sharp, you realize it even better when it has not been focused properly… The “loss” of the 50-110 mm took a lot of flexibility and changing lenses in awkward weather is not my favorite thing – so a zoom lens in this range would be highly welcome. The 28 mm Phase/Mamiya lens is very nice to use as a wide angle on the DF camera in order to have perfect control on your image – but quality wise it cannot reach the crispness of the 28 mm HR Digaron lens on the Alpa – corners get soft very easily.

With the introduction of the IQ180, many photographers thought that the holy grail of digital photography was found – maybe not in terms of long exposure, but in terms of control over the image and its quality. Its live view, the focus mask, fast zooming in and out on a high res screen are really hard to be beaten! After having used this back for almost 3 months, I can say that the IQ180 is a great tool but there are some critical issues, which are not solved properly yet. The screen is not big enough for replacing an 8x10 inch screen or a laptop. The resolution is good enough for checking the sharpness of a 110 mm shot but not always for a 55 or 28 mm – of course much better than on a P65. The focus mask is delicate as it shows areas of high contrast, which is not always equal to perfect sharpness. But it gives a certain security in rather short time and the processors are performing a great job. White balance and color quality are much better than on a P65+ – so is the image quality between ISO 35 and 100. Noise level at ISO 35 is impressive – noise suppression can be turned off in Capture One when using this ISO value! Long exposure of more than 1.5 minutes gets critical which is not really an issue in most of the cases since in such cases the sky is almost black already…

The screen does not only have a very high resolution, it also has the nice feature to be a touch screen and some of the functionalities of this back can only be accessed when using its electronic buttons. After two weeks of Iceland – under soft Icelandic weather conditions – using a raincoat for the camera/back - this touch screen has stopped working due to condensation problems. However I must admit that I was still able to shoot and at least to see my images, I have taken. I was not able to check the histogram or the focus mask, use the level tool or live view or even delete an image – but the shots were there. So the frustration was kept within limits. As a conclusion I think that there have to be more options accessible through the use of the good old mechanic buttons – and I am quite sure that Phase One is listening here and tries hard to improve the situation. The back has now been repaired within 10 days – very speedy if I look at other manufacturers repairing times.

So, let’s come back to image quality: An image taken with the IQ180 on the Alpa using a Rodenstock HR / Schneider Apo lens or even on the PhaseOne camera is able to reach at least the quality of a drum scanned 8x10 inch film. Whether we can get the same tonal quality especially in black and white images, as widely known from John Sexton and others, is a question of fine tuning and finally choosing the perfect printing technique, which is not very easy to find even nowadays.
We have reached quite a high level of perfection today with digital capture and we should be thankful to the companies who did their very best for reaching this level. There are still some improvements to be made in order to make this gear more reliable outside of the studios. Of course – as usual – the outdoor/landscape market is not the main market for this kind of gear. But let’s hope that there will some more improvements apart from the megapixel race here as well. Take a (technical) rest, enjoy your images and focus on composing even more!

Markus Zuber, September, 2011

 


Update: Some people have been critical of this test, saying that the 8X10" scans were not done at a high enough resolution. Markus has responded to this and also posted higher resolution samples here.


Acknowledgements:

I would like to thank Christian Fitze for his 8x10 inch work. Many thanks also to Alpa Switzerland for lending me the two lenses which have proven to be nearly unbeatable.

Markus Zuber has a PhD in biology and is working as a self employed photographer and fine art printer. He is founder of FineArtPix Ltd, a fine art printing company – teaching also workshops in the field of digital capture and printing. www.markuszuber.com, www.fineartpix.ch

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Concepts: Single-lens reflex camera, Camera, Photography, Digital camera, Wide-angle lens, Depth of field, Display resolution, Telephoto lens

Entities: APO-Digitar 120 mm, Phase One, Hasselblad, Switzerland, Iceland, touch screen, SK, Michael Reichmann, Markus, Schneider Kreuznach, Christian Fitze, John Sexton, Mark Dubovoy, Schneider Apo, iPhone

Tags: images, live view, 8x10, Alpa, Phase One, camera, wide angle, gear, Schneider Kreuznach, higher resolution, inch film, focus mask, image quality, mm shot, tele lens, sharpness, SK lenses, Phase camera, HR 28 mm, Rodenstock HR, IQ backs, APO-Digitar 120 mm, inch screen, DF camera, Hasselblad 300 mm, digital capture, larger sensors, long exposure, MF backs, large 8x10 inch, image size, high res, mm hr digaron, Phase One camera, mm superachromat, Phase One IQ180, touch screen, good depth, higher resolution samples, comparable image quality