by Doug Peterson
Every time there is a camera with higher resolution than previously available one of the most common questions, especially amongst those who have never shot medium format, is “who needs that much resolution” or “what can you do with that much resolution”? With the launch of the Phase One IQ3 100mp we thought we’d share our perspective, gained from years of matching the world’s only 80mp cameras to the world’s most demanding photographers.
If you haven’t read the news about the Phase One IQ3 100mp it might make sense to read some of the links below before reading the rest of this article:
- Press Release: Phase One Expands the XF Camera System to 100MP
- Phase One IQ3 100mp Information
- Phase One IQ3 100mp – 9 Surprises
Resolution by Itself is Meaningless
First though, it’s important to note that, when it comes to pixels, quantity without quality is worse than nothing. The quality of an image relies first and foremost on creative aspects such as subject, lighting, timing, and composition. To the extent that the quality of an image relies on its technical attributes, only one of those attributes is resolution. In the last few years we’ve seen several cameras released, including the Canon 5Ds, which focused almost exclusively on increasing resolution – more pixels of the same quality. Phase One believes that holistic image quality is more important than resolution. Accordingly, the IQ3 100mp has upped quality in every area: it boasts 15 stops of dynamic range (the highest of any camera available), it is the only CMOS sensor with 16 bit color, and it is 50% larger than its little brother, the IQ350. Moreover when paired with an XF there are a variety of technologies that help maximize sharpness – top shelf Schneider lenses with the required optical performance and low vibration leaf shutters, electronic first curtain shutter, a dedicated gyroscopically based vibration mode, and a solidly built all-metal chassis.
So when we discuss uses for its 100mp raw files below, keep in mind, every one of those one hundred million pixels is a top performer. The IQ3 100mp has the most pixels of any camera, but it also has the best quality pixels of any camera.
Compose Sweeping Leanesque Images
The scale at which an image is viewed impacts the perception of its composition. A great example of this is Lawrence of Arabia. Roger Ebert said of the film, “You can view it on video and get an idea of its story and a hint of its majesty, but to get the feeling of Lean’s masterpiece you need to see it in 70mm on a big screen.” On the big screen the visuals of the desert scenes reveal the characters’ isolation and the endless scale and subtle detail of their surroundings, while an average living room TV depicts only a drab textureless scene with each person appearing as barely more than a spec in the background.
The Peter Eastway image above displays a similar aesthetic. Viewing it online cannot show the subject:environment relationship that Peter is clearly featuring. Captured and defined at 100mp, but blurred at screen res, the desolate expanse of white contains a thousand variations of texture and pattern. The waddle of penguins, bundling close to each other for protection against the harsh elements, are nothing more than a few dots in the distance at screen res. Not every image benefits from increased resolution. But, for images like this one, high resolution, and the scale that it unlocks, is a fundamental part of the aesthetic.
Process out at lower resolution
You don’t buy a Porsche because you need to drive 150mph every time you leave home. You buy it because high speed is only a flick of the foot away when you do need it.
Likewise not every job calls for 100mp, and not every job calls for 16-bit color. Accordingly the Phase One IQ3 100mp allows for three raw file compression options:
- 100mp w/ Lossless Compression, 16 bit
- 100mp w/ Lossless Compression, 14 bit
- 100mp w/ Lossy Compression, 14 bit
Since these are all raw formats, there is no need to reduce the resolution at the time of capture. Instead simply use Process Recipes in Capture One to process out TIFFs or JPGs that are, for instance, 40 megapixels, when the job doesn’t call for 100mp. Since Capture One 9 is built by Phase One, first and foremost, to process files from its digital backs, it uses a robust system of proxy files during normal use (e.g. when adjusting tones or colors) which means the 100mp raw files can be worked on at the same speed as raw files from much lower resolution cameras.
Shoot Square at 75 Megapixels
Some of our clients thrive on square compositions. The Phase One XF IQ3 100mp is the world’s best square-format camera. Because it starts with a hundred megapixels in a squarish 4:3 aspect ratio a crop to a square leaves an impressive 75mp file which can natively print at three feet by three feet at 240ppi. The Waist Level Viewfinder, often associated with square format cameras, helps round out the experience.
Crop a Vertical from a Horizontal
Whether it’s the artist’s change of heart, or the request of an Art Director, taking a vertical crop from a horizontal frame has, traditionally, been a tricky technical ask. With the IQ3 100mp this harsh crop still leaves 57 high quality megapixels to work with. Even a 6×17 horizontal panoramic from the heart of a vertical frame leaves 27 megapixels that will print 36” across.
Need to make a headshot out of a full body shot? You can print a high quality 8×10” from a 2% crop of an IQ3 100mp frame. Need to grab an architectural detail for a web presentation, from a shot of the entire front facade of the building? There are 121 non-overlapping web-res crops you can choose from… in every frame. The cropping flexibility is truly revolutionary.
Really. Big. Prints.
We are often asked how big a print you can make from one of our digital backs. The answer is not found in equations of pixel counts and PPI. The answer is that whatever size you print they will be the most detailed, most impressive prints of that size your viewers will likely ever have seen. Never has this been more true than with the IQ3 100mp. We have several clients who measure their print sizes in meters and routinely fill walls with their work; with even more resolution we cannot wait to see their prints.
Create even more dimensionality
The dimensionality created by shallow depth of field is the product of two factors: how soft is the background, and how sharp is the subject. On most high-end cameras, even Canon and Nikon, the former is not a challenge; with a sufficiently fast-aperture lens you can render the background buttery smooth. To maximize the visual contrast with the background, though, the subject should be razor sharp and vividly detailed. This requires sharp lenses and a high resolution sensor; the Phase One XF IQ3 100mp has both in spades.
Not every scene or subject benefits from this aesthetic. Not every photographer pursues it. But those that do will find more pop and dimensionality from a Phase One IQ3 100mp than any camera in the world.
Cultural Heritage Digitization
Our Cultural Heritage team is excited to add a 100mp camera to their tool kit. Digitizing or reproducing large paintings, murals, tapestries, maps and other oversized cultural heritage materials is a pixel hungry endeavour. For instance, jump to minute 45 of our webinar on scanning film with a digital back. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4r7VJrs25m8)
Ditch the Stitch; Panoramic images in a single capture
Film cameras were produced with a variety of aspect ratios, including some esoteric cameras like the Fuji 617 which shot a super-wide 6×17 aspect ratio on 120 film. Digital cameras are a bit more homogenous; with rare exceptions they are 4:3 or 3:2.
For years this has meant that the only means to capturing a high-resolution panoramic image was to stitch several shots together. This process works well for most scenes, but is tricky in scenes with changing light or moving subjects. Moreover, it is the kind of post-processing work that many of our clients like to avoid when possible, preferring to spend time behind the camera rather than in front of a computer screen.
Leveraging the resolution of the IQ3 100mp, a 6×17 crop from a single frame can be printed to 64” long at 180ppi. This five foot print requires no stitching, no scanning, and no work in Photoshop; just crop and push print – and make sure your printer has five feet of paper loaded!
Go massively huge with just a few shots
On the other hand, some of our clients don’t mind stitching. So, if they’re going to stitch anyway, why would they choose an expensive high resolution camera? Couldn’t they just use one of those pano stitching gizmos with a low resolution camera?
The answer is not intuitive until you look at the way stitching works. Every frame must overlap its neighbor, which means stitching that involves more than two rows and more than two columns, some of the frames are overlapped on all four sides. These frames barely add to the resolution of the scene. More overlap is also recommended when doing complex stitches, because the chance for a challenge to arise (e.g. changing light, or slight misalignment of the camera) goes up with the number of frames captured. So where 25-30% overlap might be acceptable for a simple 2-shot or 3-shot stitch a complex stitch might call for 30-40% overlap. Because of this the number of images you need to capture with a low-res camera is far more than you need to capture with a high-res camera – even more than the difference in resolution would imply.
Above is an illustration of the frames required of a Canon 5D III and Phase One IQ3 100mp respectively to stitch a 240 megapixel panoramic capable of being print around ten feet long. The IQ3 100mp requires only a simple left-center-right stitch; easily accomplished on a nice tripod head or even handheld. The Canon 5DIII requires a massively complex twenty-shot stitch comprised of four rows with five columns.
About the Author
Doug Peterson is on the technical team at Digital Transitions, the Phase One Dealer. He has worked in medium format for six years, and is also a wedding photographer on the weekends, and brewmaster of Digital Transitions’ limited edition home brew ale series. Digital Transitions specializes in support, sales, rental, and training of medium format equipment.