Review: Phase One IQ3 100MP Trichromatic
July 3, 2018
In 1976, a Kodak scientist named Bryce Bayer was awarded a patent for a “sensing array for color imaging”—what we now refer to as the Bayer filter. The filter was designed to capture green, red and blue color data on an image sensor which is then transformed into a full color image in camera or via software through a process called demosaicing (or de-Bayering, to give Mr. Bayer his due).
It’s no exaggeration to say that the Bayer filter played, and continues to play, a pivotal role in digital photography despite its age. That said, it’s not perfect and some camera companies, notably Fujifilm and now Phase One, think they can do better.
Phase One’s attempt to improve on the Bayer filter has resulted in the IQ3 100MP Trichromatic, a medium-format camera back with a new color array that the company claims more accurately captures colors. We teamed up with N.J. commercial photographer David Patiño to see it in action.
The central promise of the IQ3 100MP Trichromatic is more accurate, cleaner color thanks to a new color filter designed by Phase One and manufactured by Sony for a 100-megapixel CMOS sensor.
According to Phase One, the new filter enables a cleaner color separation of red, green and blue pixels, particularly at lower wavelengths, resulting in more accurate and natural results with much less purple fringing. Because the new sensor/filter combo captures only the colors it wants, it’s able to achieve extremely clean images at the lowest base ISO of any CMOS-based medium-format back, ISO 35. The maximum ISO of the Trichromatic is the same as
the older IQ3 100MP camera (ISO 12,800).
Beyond the new sensor, the Trichromatic back has the same feature set as the IQ3 100MP back we reviewed in May of 2016, including 15 stops of dynamic range, 60-minute exposures, 16-bit color and an integrated Profoto Air flash trigger (in the XF camera body).
The IQ3 100MP Trichromatic is more or less identical to the existing IQ3 backs. It sports a roomy 3.2-inch touch display that’s very responsive. There’s Wi-Fi and an HDMI output, plus a USB 3.0 connection for tethered shooting.
While it’s undoubtedly large, the ergonomic design of the XF camera is quite comfortable and the build quality is excellent. Every last dial and button on the exterior of the XF camera is programmable and also unmarked. It’s highly customizable, which is excellent, but can also be a bit disorientating at first.
One of the nice touches on the XF camera is a top touch screen that fully duplicates all the camera settings accessible on the camera back. This top display isn’t fully touch-driven, so as you start to drill into the menu, some functions can only be set using the external buttons.
Image Quality & Performance
Patiño used the Trichromatic for a series of studio fashion portraits, plus a commercial product shoot, largely keeping the camera at ISO 100. The results, he says, were stunning.
To get a sense of how the Trichromatic handled colors, he compared images shot with a Hasselblad H6D-50c and, despite the resolution difference, he says the color fidelity of the IQ3 was noticeably superior. It is, to be sure, rather subtle and sometimes requires some pixel peeping to notice. Patiño shot a color swatch with both the Trichromatic and the H6D-50c and in the blues in particular he noticed a much smoother rendering from the Phase One camera. In 1:1 previews, the Trichromatic’s blue was solid and deeply saturated whereas the H6D-50c showed very slight orange flecks. On an image of a keyboard with a dark wood panel stand, the Trichromatic rendered the black side panel smoothly, while the H6D looked more mottled. Zoom out, though, and these nuances can be tougher to detect.
Even without extensive pixel peeping, the colors and all around image quality are beautiful, Patiño says. Colors are rich and much cleaner than rival cameras, he adds.
Where the Trichromatic proved a bit frustrating was during tethered shooting, where Patiño says the connection dropped out on him several times, requiring a reboot of Capture One. It’s also a battery hog. During a six-hour shoot, he swapped batteries three times—far more often than he needs to change batteries on his H6D-50c. Fortunately, even though the Trichromatic itself commands a steep premium, the XF batteries are a relatively inexpensive $70 a pop.
Patiño tested the Trichromatic with three of Phase One’s Blue Ring primes lenses: a 55mm, an 80mm and a 150mm. When the 150mm was attached, he says the Profoto trigger in the XF camera body stopped working. That said, he was very impressed with the XF’s focus and recompose feature, which let him lock focus on a subject and reposition the camera with the focus point still held in place. “It’s really reliable and helpful for full-length portraits,” he says.
The Trichromatic back sits in a class by itself—not simply because of its beautiful image quality and color fidelity. There’s literally no other medium-format back or camera that mimics the proprietary filter/sensor design. If you desire color fidelity at all cost, the Trichromatic is the camera for you. And we do mean all cost. At $44,990 it’s nearly $12,000 more expensive than Hasselblad’s 100-megapixel H6D-100c, and that’s before you tack on the price for the XF camera body and a lens. “If you can afford the monthly payments, go for it,” Patiño says.
PROS: Beautiful color rendition and image quality; Ergonomic design; Low base ISO.
CONS: Pricey relative to 100-megapixel competition; Battery hog.
PRICE: $44,990 (back only)