Digital medium format has always been a dream of mine. So when I had the opportunity of trying out a Phase One back I leapt at the chance!
The back in question was a Phase One P30+. It’s an old back, about ten years old in fact! It was attached to a Hasselblad503cw.
What I don’t want to do is write a review. Instead, I wanted to write about my feelings of using this camera.
The first thing that strikes you is the speed of operation. That is to say it is much slower than a modern DSLR. That’s a good thing. Slowing down greatly improves your composition (especially still-lifes and landscapes). Focusing is manual of course and it’s refreshing to look down onto a large ground glass screen again. There is certainly a large element of nostalgia using this camera for me.
Despite being digital, you really have to use a light meter. Again, I like that. I nearly sold my meter some time ago but kept hold of it (maybe a premonition?).
You need to physically wind on the shutter each time, which, again, is a very satisfying action. The nostalgia doesn’t stop there. Due to the very poor resolution of the back’s LCD you’re never quite sure you’ve got the shot. Have I focussed correctly? Is the exposure correct? The histogram said yes, but the images on the computer were a couple of stops too dark in some cases. Obviously, that was a frustration, but once everything came together the image quality was to die for!
The images were naturally sharp. I find that (especially with landscapes) the sharpness of the images from DSLRs seem somewhat muddy or over sharp. The fine detail of distant trees shows this up. But with medium format these details are just crisp without being overdone. Then there’s the depth of field with medium format. The way the de-focused areas gradually blend into the focused areas is so subtle. Such backs capture much more colour detail with 16-bit colour depth. That results in more subtle graduations in the image.
All in all, I’d love to go the medium format route. The cost of something a little more modern is still prohibitive at the moment but, with older gear, the options are wider now.