on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Phase One IQ260 and IQ260 Achromatic Backs

Phase One's new Flagship Cameras

A Little Joke

There's an old photographers' gag with a great moral for my field test of the IQ260 and IQ260 Achro backs from Phase One.

A Time Life photographer is sent to cover a huge bush fire. His instructions are to meet a light aircraft pilot at the landing strip. Arriving in a hurry as the nearby landscape blazes, he hops into the waiting Piper and shouts "Go go go!" to the pilot. Airborne (and slightly worried by the craft's dangerous ascent) he barks, "don't fly directly over the fire, go round to the west so the sun is behind us." 

"Why?" shouts the pilot. 

The photographer brandishes his camera and replies sarcastically, "Because I'm a bloody photographer, I'm here to take pictures and I need the right bloody angle."

"You mean you're not the flight instructor?" says the pilot.

The moral of this story is, make sure you know what you're getting into.

Due to a communications mixup, I thought on taking delivery of these two delicious backs that they were of 'shipping' image quality. I shot accordingly, hundreds of files, testing for ISO performance, colour rendition, image quality etc. and then when I was done shooting I discovered that the Achro I had been using was not a 'shipping IQ' unit at all and that the physical build of both backs was not representative of shipping units either. Some of my conclusions are therefore provisional, and some of the issues I encountered with both backs are unlikely to affect end-users. Regardless, I can tell you here and now that any extra performance will be a bonus - because both the units I tested gave enviable results.

A Little History

When Phase One switched from Kodak to Dalsa sensors, ultra-long exposure times bit the dust. For most of us, including me, that really didn't matter much but for some users, especially some architectural and landscape practitioners, it was a real issue. A P45+ could go as long as an hour without breaking sweat but the P65+ and then the IQ140 and IQ160 were limited to one minute, with the IQ180 capable of two minutes. For some people this really wasn't enough. Accordingly, Phase and Dalsa set quietly to work with the aim of creating a 'best of both worlds' sensor: something that had a cart-load of pixels, could do still do Sensor Plus 'pixel binned' exposures for better high ISO performance, and which added back the long exposure abilities of the old Kodak sensors. Slowly but surely the technical obstacles were overcome and the culmination of the process was the announcement of the IQ260 and the return of the one hour capture. Actually, make that two hours or more: dark frame capture at least doubles the original exposure time. And on top of this, DR has been improved by a claimed 1/2 stop over the IQ160 making it effectively as good as the IQ180.

In a parallel historical thread, Phase was listening carefully to those customers who, jealous of Leica Monochrom users and misty-eyed for the old 'special order only' Achromatic Plus, wanted something that didn't 'do' Bayer and did 'do' the Infra Red part of the spectrum. A true Achromatic sensor with no Bayer array (and therefore no demosaicing and interpolation) and no IR filter on-sensor. A back that would, like Foveon sensors, give the purest images that digital technology can provide. And so the IQ260 Achro came to be. And it is marvellous.

Lastly, Phase has added, for all IQ2XX backs, a truly useful update to its iPad Capture Pilot app: the backs can create AdHoc WiFi networks (or join external ones) and send captures to you iPad for fully zoomed review and thumbnail tagging. More on this later. But don't expect to be able to retro-fit this feature to your existing IQ1 series backs using a WiFi memory card; for various reasons that just won't work.


Achro with Rodenstock 40HR on Alpa STC, IR Pass and UV Cut filters

A Little Learning #1: The IQ260 Achro

There's some stuff you need to know before you flex your shutter finger:

The IQ260 Achro, quite aside from issues of bayer arrays and IR filters, has a different sensor from that in the IQ260. In practice this means there are three things you need to know:

This is a premium article and requires a paid subscription to access. Please take a look at the subscribe page for more information on prices.

On Landscape is part of Landscape Media Limited , a company registered in England and Wales . Registered Number: 07120795. Registered Office: 1, Clarke Hall Farm, Aberford Road, WF1 4AL