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Thread: Any feedback on Phase One P20, Kodak DCS 645M, or Mamiya ZD?

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    Any feedback on Phase One P20, Kodak DCS 645M, or Mamiya ZD?

    Hi there! I had originally posted this on the Flickr 'Medium Format Digital' group on flickr, but was told I might have better luck with responses over here so here goes nothing!

    I've been looking around forums and on eBay in hopes of purchasing a used MFDB in the sub $2500 price range. I've found many instances of these three digital backs fitting into the price range and I was wondering if anyone had any experience with it or had one they were looking to sell?

    I know the Kodak was discontinued and very hard to find servicing for nowadays; however, it is also significantly cheaper than the other two backs mentioned.

    Also, I am aware of the differences on paper (color bit differences between the backs, megapixels, cropping factor); however, I was hoping to see if anyone had some real life experience with them (ie. how much does the 12-bit of the Kodak actually differ from say the 14 bit of a Mamiya ZD or DSLRs, etc.)

    Thank you!

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    Member carl-b's Avatar
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    Re: Any feedback on Phase One P20, Kodak DCS 645M, or Mamiya ZD?

    Hi, I see you made it over here

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    Re: Any feedback on Phase One P20, Kodak DCS 645M, or Mamiya ZD?

    I don't have any real-life experience with these backs but I'd be careful. As far as I know the ZD is very poor at exposures longer than a few seconds, but can work well in the studio where you always shoot short shutter speeds. I've heard that it has some various reliability issues though. I would not expect the Kodak to be really competitive in terms of dynamic range, but I don't know for sure. As the bottom bits are all noise anyway of the 16 bit backs 12 bits would theoretically be enough, but I very much suspect that the Kodak DCS has significantly worse DR than a P20. If you shoot in a studio with controlled lighting that may not be a problem though.

    The P20 however should be alright, AFAIK it's the square version of the KAF-22000 sensor, a sensor which is in most 22 megapixel backs and known for the "fat pixel back" look. The DR of those is still competitive today, not as good as a D800 but better than Canon DSLRs, and many love the color rendition and some find it more pleasing even to modern backs.

    A Hasselblad CF22 or Imacon Ixpress 528c might be found for a similar price, but are quite rare on the market.

    If I were you I'd increase the budget a little so you can get one of those 22 megapixel backs with CF card, or the square versions (P20, CFV-16). If you can accept tethered only operation there's other options which can be cheap, the Sinarback 54m or Phase One H20/H25 for example.

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    Re: Any feedback on Phase One P20, Kodak DCS 645M, or Mamiya ZD?

    The P20 is 16mp, not 22mp. But Torger is correct that the P20 sensor is the sister of the 22mp sensor used in the H25/P25/P25+ (which is quite well respected for it's generation).

    We sell Phase One products, so I'm clearly biased, but of the three backs the P20 has by far the best reputation for consistent image quality, rugged and reliable build quality, simple and fast operation, and continuing support from the manufacturer (both hardware and software).

    To me the choice is not even close.
    Doug Peterson , Digital Transitions | Email
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    Senior Member ondebanks's Avatar
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    Re: Any feedback on Phase One P20, Kodak DCS 645M, or Mamiya ZD?

    Quote Originally Posted by torger View Post
    I would not expect the Kodak to be really competitive in terms of dynamic range, but I don't know for sure. As the bottom bits are all noise anyway of the 16 bit backs 12 bits would theoretically be enough, but I very much suspect that the Kodak DCS has significantly worse DR than a P20.
    You need have no such suspicions - the DCS 645 has just as much DR as any of the 16 bit backs with the same sensor (such as the P20). I've tested my DCS 645M and it has readout noise of 22 electrons/pixel; its KAF-16802 CCD is specced by Kodak at 21 electrons/pixel. Since DR is limited by readout noise, it can't get any better than that.

    Quote Originally Posted by torger View Post
    The P20 however should be alright, AFAIK it's the square version of the KAF-22000 sensor, a sensor which is in most 22 megapixel backs and known for the "fat pixel back" look. The DR of those is still competitive today, not as good as a D800 but better than Canon DSLRs, and many love the color rendition and some find it more pleasing even to modern backs.
    All of this also applies to the DCS 645, as it has the same sensor as the P20.

    And, you can shoot IR with the DCS 645 and the ZD, as they have easily detachable IR-blocking filters. Can't do that with the P20.

    Other tricks up the DCS 645 sleeve are in-camera jpeg processing (albeit slowly), an intervalometer, optional long exposure dark frame subtraction (can't turn it off in the P20), and complete remote control of the Mamiya 645AFD when tethered.

    But the P20 has a bigger image buffer than the DCS 645 (640 MB vs 256 MB), a faster frame rate (1.15 seconds per frame vs 1.8 seconds per frame), and a marginally larger LCD (2.2 inches vs 2.0 inches).

    As for ruggedness and reliability of the DCS 645 - Kodak used all their know-how in technology, materials and user interface from their DCS versions of the professional Nikon F5 and Canon EOS-1n workshorses. It is not lacking in those departments. I've had a DCS 720x (F5 modification) and it is almost exactly the same as the DCS 645.

    Also consider the rather scary disparity in costs for servicing these backs (Midwest Camera Repair for the Kodaks, and Phase One in Denmark). If you scratch or break the IR-block filter, for example, a replacement filter for the Kodak is $195 and you pop it on yourself. There are Phase One users here who could tell you the equivalent cost of getting Phase One to replace their filters...

    Regarding software support, you have plenty of choices. Kodak's original DCS software is frozen in time at 2004 (all still available from the Kodak website, BTW), but I find it effective. Nearly all other RAW developers are based on the dcraw engine, which supports the DCS 645...for example you can use RawTherapee. Or you can use the free Adobe DNG raw converter for DNG-aware software, such as ACDsee. Or you can process the original Kodak raw files directly in Photoshop CS5 Extended (I haven't tried CS6 but it's probably fine too).

    I would never favour the original P20 over the DCS 645. If you offered me a free swap, I would not take it. I would however certainly consider the P20+, because of the big step forward in long exposure quality.

    Ray

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    Re: Any feedback on Phase One P20, Kodak DCS 645M, or Mamiya ZD?

    Great info about the DCS, did not know that. That changes the scene.

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    Re: Any feedback on Phase One P20, Kodak DCS 645M, or Mamiya ZD?

    I had the DCS645M as well (two actually) and generally I'd agree with Ray's comments although the problem I ran into was power. The batteries were becoming scarce and also their efficiency dropped over time which was a potential future issue. Also, whilst it's true that the IR / anti-aliasing filters were self mountable and cheaper than Phase One, actually finding the one could be a challenge today. I had one back develop an imaging board fault and it was economically cheaper to buy another used replacement than to get it fixed. They wanted $8k to replace the board vs $7k to buy another back at that time. You should always check a Kodak back for firewire board damage too - that was the root of my original back's fall into electronic madness. Dead firewire is very common.

    I must admit that if I were choosing a back of this vintage that I'd go with Phase One as they do support their older hardware and there is at least a dealer/support network still active should you need it.
    Remember: adventure before dementia!

    As Oscar Wilde said, "my tastes are simple, I only like the best"

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    Re: Any feedback on Phase One P20, Kodak DCS 645M, or Mamiya ZD?

    Quote Originally Posted by GrahamWelland View Post
    You should always check a Kodak back for firewire board damage too - that was the root of my original back's fall into electronic madness. Dead firewire is very common.
    I noticed there was an auction on eBay on a Kodak DCS 645M that had a faulty firewire port. Is this something I should be worried about (potential future failureS) if I don't intend on using the firewire port? I plan on simply shooting onto a CF card. Hopefully you can provide some insight having used these backs. Thank you everyone for all the responses; they were a very informative read.

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    Re: Any feedback on Phase One P20, Kodak DCS 645M, or Mamiya ZD?

    Perhaps it could be a good deal - perhaps it could be the begin of its end...

    The problem should be, that there none, who could repair it...

    I wouldn't take a Kodak, today. Only just for fun. I have a Kodak DCS SLR - but it's only possible to shoot in summer; you need very much light. Then you will get good colors. You can see the pictures at flickr.

    Today I have a Mamiya ZD (the camera; not the back). It's amazing and I love it - but if it's not summer, it's the same as with the Kodak. Don't have fun...

    Some days ago there was a Mamiya DM22 for 2.4 (but in Euro). I think today, if I hadn't my ZD, I would wait a while longer and would take a back, which would be possible to stay longer here. For the whole year 16bit would be a better choice...
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    Re: Any feedback on Phase One P20, Kodak DCS 645M, or Mamiya ZD?

    Phase backs are not 16-bit--just because they do 16-bit A/D conversion does not mean they are actually giving 16-bit data. They are 14-bit backs. There are no true 16-bit camera on the market today.

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    Re: Any feedback on Phase One P20, Kodak DCS 645M, or Mamiya ZD?

    Are you sure? A friend, who is photographer, told me this. And his old Phase One (no plus) is much better in the tones (especially in the dark tones) than my ZD. And somewhere I found the "14bit story" of the ZD vs. "16bit everywhere else".
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    Re: Any feedback on Phase One P20, Kodak DCS 645M, or Mamiya ZD?

    There's a 'really 16bit?' blood lust over at LuLa if you do a search. No, they aren't native 16bit despite what people claim. However, they are more than 14bit.
    Remember: adventure before dementia!

    As Oscar Wilde said, "my tastes are simple, I only like the best"

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    Re: Any feedback on Phase One P20, Kodak DCS 645M, or Mamiya ZD?

    Agree on '15 bit'? ...

    For the threadopener is important what he would get. And I believe, that's better to save some more money and wait for a 'better' back.

    But if you feel 'it's time' or if your wife didn't allow more money - go and buy a cheaper one.
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    Re: Any feedback on Phase One P20, Kodak DCS 645M, or Mamiya ZD?

    Quote Originally Posted by GrahamWelland View Post
    I had the DCS645M as well (two actually) and generally I'd agree with Ray's comments
    Thanks for chipping in, Graham.

    You know what's mad? Do a Google Images search for "DCS645M". 21 of the first 28 hits are my photos! I have a few others further down as well. And most of the images from hits 40 - 55 seem to be yours!

    Quote Originally Posted by GrahamWelland View Post
    although the problem I ran into was power. The batteries were becoming scarce and also their efficiency dropped over time which was a potential future issue. Also, whilst it's true that the IR / anti-aliasing filters were self mountable and cheaper than Phase One, actually finding the one could be a challenge today.
    Midwest Camera Repair still have the filters (IR and AA) at low prices (for MFD). I just checked their site. I bought a spare IR filter and a few more batteries in 2011. But the news is not so good in other respects. According to updates on their site, they sold out of batteries and battery chargers in 2012, DB imaging boards are becoming rare, and their DB repair person is out on medical leave since April this year. Looks like the twilight of this model is upon us. Still, if you get a good sample and look after it, it should last well.

    And there's always the bcooter approach - when something you really like is discontinued, buy several of them so that you always have spares (as he did with his Contax 645 gear).

    Quote Originally Posted by GrahamWelland View Post
    I had one back develop an imaging board fault and it was economically cheaper to buy another used replacement than to get it fixed. They wanted $8k to replace the board vs $7k to buy another back at that time. You should always check a Kodak back for firewire board damage too - that was the root of my original back's fall into electronic madness. Dead firewire is very common.
    That's the problem with all electronics...replacement/upgrading often costs less or makes a better value proposition than repair.

    Quote Originally Posted by GrahamWelland View Post
    I must admit that if I were choosing a back of this vintage that I'd go with Phase One as they do support their older hardware and there is at least a dealer/support network still active should you need it.
    The thing is, even Phase One, who have admirably long support, do eventually end that support too. This past year, IIRC, they ended support on the tethered Lightphase/H5/10/20/25 backs.

    Ray

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    Re: Any feedback on Phase One P20, Kodak DCS 645M, or Mamiya ZD?

    Quote Originally Posted by GrahamWelland View Post
    There's a 'really 16bit?' blood lust over at LuLa if you do a search. No, they aren't native 16bit despite what people claim. However, they are more than 14bit.
    I tested files from a Hasselblad 39MP back. The 16th bit was not even used; it was hardwired. This gave the 16 bit histograms a weird "comb" appearance.

    So, ok, they were putting stuff into 15 bits...but that 15th bit was just random noise. It corresponds to a variation of +/- 3 electrons...in a sensor with readout noise of +/- 21 electrons! 14 bits would be plenty in this case.

    Ray

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    Re: Any feedback on Phase One P20, Kodak DCS 645M, or Mamiya ZD?

    The Kodak 645M was my first MFDB, and it was a great MFDB at the time. The "special looks" added modules for their software was really ahead of its time compared to different looks/profiles not a feature of C1 Pro until much later. Very nice portrait colors.

    One workaround for the lack of batteries/chargers----there is an adapter cord that works with the Quantum Turbo battery. Yes it means using an external battery pack, but at least you've still got power for the 645M.

    ken

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    Re: Any feedback on Phase One P20, Kodak DCS 645M, or Mamiya ZD?

    Quote Originally Posted by kdphotography View Post
    The Kodak 645M was my first MFDB, and it was a great MFDB at the time.
    You see, afkuang? All the greats started with a Kodak DCS MFDB

    Quote Originally Posted by kdphotography View Post
    The "special looks" added modules for their software was really ahead of its time compared to different looks/profiles not a feature of C1 Pro until much later. Very nice portrait colors.
    Yes that's the "Custom Looks" module. I really like that too...it does great B&W conversions for example, emulating some Wratten filters.

    Quote Originally Posted by kdphotography View Post
    One workaround for the lack of batteries/chargers----there is an adapter cord that works with the Quantum Turbo battery. Yes it means using an external battery pack, but at least you've still got power for the 645M.
    Thanks for pointing that out, Ken. Yes, it's the Quantum MDC5 cable that you need, and a Quantum Battery 2 (not Quantum Turbo). A good strategy is to pick up an old QB2 on ebay and replace the dead/tired SLA battery cell with a new 3rd party one such as this one.

    Ray

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    Re: Any feedback on Phase One P20, Kodak DCS 645M, or Mamiya ZD?

    Thanks for all the replies! It's surprising to hear about the 16-bit vs 14-bit dilemma on even today's current backs. Just like many of the posters, the Kodak DCS 645M would be my first digital back and I'm thinking that, even though it is very outdated, it is affordable enough to keep my 35mm digital equipment. Of course, I would jump on a P20 or P20+ if I sold my DSLR, but at this point I'm hoping to test the waters of MFDBs. Who knows, maybe one day I will have a Phase One IQ series

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    Re: Any feedback on Phase One P20, Kodak DCS 645M, or Mamiya ZD?

    I do think the age of the 645M and ability to service this MFDB are valid concerns. It's enough that if in the same position, I would probably save a bit more and opt for a more recent generation Phase MFDB that I know would be easier to service if needed. But all things considered, and shooting at 100 ISO, this square format MFDB creates some beautiful images. Don't get caught up in the silly 16 bit vs 14 bit arguments. What's the image look like? What's the file look like? I still have some 30" square portraits in my studio from the 645M. I had fun with my 645M.

    If you do go this route, I might have the Custom Looks software still around on the shelf somewhere...

    ken

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    Senior Member kdphotography's Avatar
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    Re: Any feedback on Phase One P20, Kodak DCS 645M, or Mamiya ZD?

    Quote Originally Posted by ondebanks View Post
    You see, afkuang? All the greats started with a Kodak DCS MFDB
    .....
    Ray
    Be careful, afkuang. Ray's being an instigator here, (And Graham--you had two 645Ms??!!) ---and it won't be long before you are so entrenched in Dante's Inferno, your next post here will be about how you cashed in your IRA/401K retirement savings and are really enjoying your new IQ260....

    ken

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    Subscriber & Workshop Member GrahamWelland's Avatar
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    Re: Any feedback on Phase One P20, Kodak DCS 645M, or Mamiya ZD?

    Two 645M's only because the first broke. So technically one working 645M at a time. Does that sound better and less sluty?
    Remember: adventure before dementia!

    As Oscar Wilde said, "my tastes are simple, I only like the best"
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    Re: Any feedback on Phase One P20, Kodak DCS 645M, or Mamiya ZD?

    Quote Originally Posted by ondebanks View Post
    The thing is, even Phase One, who have admirably long support, do eventually end that support too. This past year, IIRC, they ended support on the tethered Lightphase/H5/10/20/25 backs.
    To clarify though the Lightphase and H5/10/20/25 are still supported in:
    - raw file support in Capture One v7 in all modern OS versions
    - tethered support in Capture One v7 in all modern OS versions
    - technical support cases, dealer support, troubleshooting
    - availability of accessories (in new condition) like firewire cables and sync cables for speciality cameras
    - repairs where possible

    This for a series of backs introduced in 1998 to 2003.

    The "repairs where possible" is the heart of the announcement of their announcement of support. They are out of inventory on some internal components which are impossible to source today. So they cannot guarantee that they will be able to repair backs. They will still gladly look at one of these backs and repair it when the faults/failures are within their ability to repair.

    Phase One does not have a stated limit to how long they provide support for one of their products. They still support the Phase One FX and FX+ released in 2000 and only discontinued support of the Powerphase (released 1996/1997) because it was a SCSI device and support for SCSI was growing impossible to maintain.
    Doug Peterson , Digital Transitions | Email
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    Re: Any feedback on Phase One P20, Kodak DCS 645M, or Mamiya ZD?

    Quote Originally Posted by ondebanks View Post
    And, you can shoot IR with the DCS 645 and the ZD, as they have easily detachable IR-blocking filters. Can't do that with the P20.

    Other tricks up the DCS 645 sleeve are in-camera jpeg processing (albeit slowly), an intervalometer, optional long exposure dark frame subtraction (can't turn it off in the P20), and complete remote control of the Mamiya 645AFD when tethered.

    But the P20 has a bigger image buffer than the DCS 645 (640 MB vs 256 MB), a faster frame rate (1.15 seconds per frame vs 1.8 seconds per frame), and a marginally larger LCD (2.2 inches vs 2.0 inches).

    As for ruggedness and reliability of the DCS 645 - Kodak used all their know-how in technology, materials and user interface from their DCS versions of the professional Nikon F5 and Canon EOS-1n workshorses. It is not lacking in those departments. I've had a DCS 720x (F5 modification) and it is almost exactly the same as the DCS 645.
    I would put the toughness of the P/P+ chassis up against any camera.
    2.3 tons of steel | P+ extreme scenarios | Phase One - YouTube
    On the rocks | P+ extreme scenarios | Phase One - YouTube
    Baking a back | P+ extreme scenarios | Phase One - YouTube
    Humidity | P+ extreme scenarios | Phase One - YouTube

    The JPG thing was very useful at the time the back was developed. But of course now even a mid-range computer can generate JPGs from a batch of 16mp raw files at lightning pace.

    The IR filter is one huge advantage (other than price) of the Kodak over a P20. I love IR. I spent my last two weeks analyzing the usefulness of the IR spectrum in increasing legibility on burnt documents (see our blog article today). I genuinely wish that more modern digital backs included a user removable IR filter like the ZD and Kodak did.
    Doug Peterson , Digital Transitions | Email
    Dealer for: Phase One, Mamiya Leaf, Arca-Swiss, Cambo, Eizo, Profoto
    Office: 877.367.8537. Cell: 740.707.2183
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    Subscriber & Workshop Member GrahamWelland's Avatar
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    Re: Any feedback on Phase One P20, Kodak DCS 645M, or Mamiya ZD?

    Ray's post about the DCS645M images out on the web including some of my old images from PhotoSig got me interested in taking a look at what I had out there. What I found most enlightening was that those files from 2003/2004 still crap on most of my DSLR images taken up until I re-entered the poor house with my Leaf and then Phase One backs. If there's one thing that comes across with even vintage MFDBs it's that the colour rendering has always been superior. They may not compete with the latest batch of DSLRs, especially when you consider resolution (which believe me, isn't the be all of things!) but they hold their own over time.

    I say go for it if you can find a good deal on a well looked after DCS645 and you go into it knowing about the batteries, the need to have it fully checked over so that it's working perfectly, and the general realization that if anything significant goes wrong with it then you're basically replacing it. For a couple of $k it's a wonderful entry into medium format. One last word of warning - the reason I finally ended up going back to a 35mm DSLR (the D2X at the time) was due to the back/AFD body occasionally locking up. That said, it seems to have taken Mamiya/Phase another EIGHT years to finally fix that problem in 2012!!

    Btw, I'd still buy a P20/P20+ though if it were me ...

    Here are a few old images from the DCS645M and AFD, 35AF, 55-100AF, 120M and 105-210AF:
    Last edited by GrahamWelland; 22nd May 2013 at 23:13.
    Remember: adventure before dementia!

    As Oscar Wilde said, "my tastes are simple, I only like the best"
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    Re: Any feedback on Phase One P20, Kodak DCS 645M, or Mamiya ZD?

    Very intersting videos from Phase One. Intersting kind of testing... I like the 'cake-video'.
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    Re: Any feedback on Phase One P20, Kodak DCS 645M, or Mamiya ZD?

    @ Graham:

    Are your pictures made with a P20/P20+ or with a Kodak...?
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    Re: Any feedback on Phase One P20, Kodak DCS 645M, or Mamiya ZD?

    Those are all with the DCS645M. I've never had the P20 myself but I do have a P25+ and I've also had the P40+ before trading up to the IQ160.

    I'd process them somewhat differently today but back then I used the original Kodak raw converter and then in to Photoshop. The Kodak application was much better than any version of ACR from that era (2003/4).
    Remember: adventure before dementia!

    As Oscar Wilde said, "my tastes are simple, I only like the best"
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    Re: Any feedback on Phase One P20, Kodak DCS 645M, or Mamiya ZD?

    Thanks for your explanation! You wrote first something about P20/P20+ and then "from that back" - so I was a little bit confused.

    You have shown very nice pictures! My Kodak DCS needs much light, too. But if you have this, the pictures are very good - even today. But without enough light I take out the battery and let it lay on the desk... Without light that's the better way.
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  29. #29
    Member msadat's Avatar
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    Re: Any feedback on Phase One P20, Kodak DCS 645M, or Mamiya ZD?

    i used the kodak 645 back on both contax 645 and mamiya and i also had the zd. the zd was pretty bad and did not get used that much till i sold it. the kodak's were great and out of the two setups, i liked the contax 645 cause the lenses were better. overall i was very happy with the kodak backs.

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