It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, but as is usually the case, we’re busy here at the studio churning out work for our great clients. I’ve also been in the process of purchasing a new camera system for the studio. Well, it’s now complete, we are now equipped with a 60 megapixel system of high resolution madness! The studio is now equipped with a Phase One 645DF and IQ160 digital back alongside a slew of insanely sharp lenses.
Why did I consider going medium format? For a few reasons:
1. I believe Medium Format offers the best possible image out there, within a controlled environment bar none. The resolution and color depth is great, especially highlights I find. There’s more tolerance to retain what matters in jewelry photography, bright tones that define and shape the in the metal and stones.
2. Stacking! I will not necessarily try to make full frame image using the new system, but will shoot the items smaller in the frame, which is still as large as say a Canon 5D Mark II/III produced image, but because of the relation of the image size and sensor, the depth-of-field is greater. For example, take your macro photo from further back, yes the image is smaller, but you get additional depth of field the smaller the object is in the frame. Now instead of needing between 8-9 images for a given piece of jewelry, I can get away with 4-5 via the Phase One. After cropping (in Capture One Pro), the image is about the same size as the Canons, but took less time to shoot, and to stack together. But why not use the full resolution then? Much of our work, the final destination is small catalog and web sizes, so no need to go overkill. The advantage is that say for a given client we have 1000 products to shoot in a given year, in the end we have 9000 photos vs 5000 photos, so a 4000 photo difference for ONE CLIENT. Do this across our entire client base, and that’s time and money saved.
3. Reliability of our Canon bodies was sad to say, poor. In the past 1-2 years, we’ve had three 5D Mark IIs going in and out of repairs for a broken USB connection – which means $300+ in servicing + the trouble of getting it sent in, etc. Images were getting stuck while we were working tethered to the computer, they wouldn’t download. This sometimes required a full system restart, but in most cases, the camera needed to have the battery pulled out to reset it. Part of the problem we also realized was our iMacs had problems connect with the USB on the camera. We were loosing our minds when again; time is money with catalog photography. On the other hand, the Phase One system, uses a thick Firewire cable which has a thick plug that is more “commercial” in build and can withstand much more abuse (and in our studio there is NO ABUSE: the 5Ds "lived" on a tripod in the studio all day ugh..).
4. Critical sharpness and lack of anti-alias filters. The medium format system as some of you might know (as well as the new Nikon D800E and some Canons) no anti-alias filter (AA), which helps remove moire patterns in images. AA has a final effect of blurring or removing a tad of sharpness in your images. In jewelry photography, when sometimes we need to resize the images to poster size, every bit of original sharpness counts – for me! Add to this the lenses that are available such as the 120mm macro, which is razor sharp, even when stopped-down to f29, suffers very little diffraction compared to the Canon equivalent where shooting f16 or smaller rendered garbage. We can easily shoot at f22-f29 and feel very comfortable using the images. For important projects we would open-up a little for sure, but again, depends on our needs.
5. The next fun aspect of the Phase One System is the availability of the Leaf Shutter lenses. They allow shooting with synch-speeds of up to 1/1600 of a second. For outdoor photography and fashion work, it will permit using strobes to counterbalance the ambient light quite well. It wasn't a huge selling point for us, but as mentioned earlier, we are heading in a few new directions here at EpicMind.
6. Lastly, with 60 megapixels on the IQ160 digital back, as mentioned earlier, there’s plenty of cropping room. In a fashion shoot, we can easily crop a hand, or a part of the face, and still have something usable for a full pager. It’s quite insane to be honest with you. We will be branching out with our photography in the coming months and this will be something that will be loved by us, and our clients I’m sure. It doesn’t hurt to have room to crop.
Why didn’t I go with the Nikon D800/E? I’m sure some of you must be asking yourselves this exact question. I mean it is substantially cheaper; I don’t even want to talk about that (because if you look at the money aspect only, most of you would think I’m crazy). I listed above my reasons, the Nikon though great, is not the studio camera for me. Its resolution bump is nice but not in the same league. The tonal range that I’ve seen from the Phase One or even Hasselblad is just superior out of the box. The dynamic range is quite comparable from the data; the shadows might even be better on the Nikon! As they say: different strokes for different folks. I have no regrets. This is a business tool for my studio – something that I count on.
What did I do with the Canon system? I sold some of it, but kept most of it. We run a second shooting station as well, so this will remain Canon-based. There are certain things that the Canon does much better, but those are mostly out of the studio type things such as: blazing fast auto-focus; great high ISO performance; shoot several frames per second burts, etc. The same can be said about Nikon.
In the coming months, I will share with you some images, comparisons, and more with the Phase One system.
I would like to thank the following people who helped me along the way:
Walter Borchenko, Phase One Canada representative from B3kdigital.com Jean-Yves Lapierre, Montreal Commercial Sales Rep, Photo Service, photoservice.ca Doug Peterson, who got the ball rolling, Phase One Rep in the USA working at Digital Transitions, digitaltransitions.com