Phase One IQ180 with 645DF

  Gordon Laing with Phase One IQ180 in Queenstown

The Phase One IQ180 is the company’s top-of-the-range medium-format digital back, boasting nothing less than 80 Megapixels; this makes it the joint highest resolution single exposure device that’s commercially available (alongside the Leaf Aptus II 12), as while the Hasselblad H4D-200MS can generate 200 Megapixel files, it does so by combining four 50 Megapixel exposures taken in sequence.

The Phase One IQ180 was announced in January 2011 alongside the IQ160 and IQ140 backs, sporting 60.5 and 40 Megapixels respectively. As medium-format backs, all three IQ models feature sensors with a considerably larger surface area than a traditional full-frame or APS-C DSLR. The IQ180 employs an 80 Megapixel CCD sensor which measures 53.7×40.4mm, compared to 36x24mm for full-frame DSLRs or 22.3×14.9mm for APS-C (Canon). Think about that for a moment: you could squeeze two full-frame or four APS-C sensors with space to spare on the IQ180. All three IQ backs also boast 12.5 stops of dynamic range and are operated via 3.2in touch-screen displays. The IQ range are designed to fit onto medium-format bodies, such as Phase One’s own 645DF which itself is compatible with a variety of lenses. You can see a typical ‘kit’ below, consisting of the AF 80mm f2.8 lens, 645DF body and IQ180 back.

Phase One 645DF with IQ180 back

Following one of the company’s PODAS (Phase One Digital Artist Series) workshops around the Queenstown, New Zealand area, I was lucky enough to borrow a 645DF equipped with an IQ180 back, along with AF 80mm f2.8 and AF 28mm f4.5 lenses for an afternoon. While that’s obviously nowhere near long enough to conduct any kind of serious review, it did give me a chance to capture my usual test locations in an unprecedented degree of detail. So on this page I’d like to share some of the images I captured and you can download compressed (but full resolution) versions of the original files for evaluation on your own computer. Anyone with even a passing interest in pixel-peeping will be in heaven!

Phase One IQ180 sample image
Click image to access original at Flickr

Phase One IQ180 resolution

I’ll start with a demonstration of the IQ180’s sheer resolving power. Here’s a photo taken from Queenstown’s Skyline Gondola using the 645DF with the IQ180 and AF80mm f2.8 lens. I put the 645DF into Aperture Priority and set the lens to f5.6, while the IQ180 back was set to its lowest (and base) sensitivity of 35 ISO. The exposure as metered by the camera was 1/250.

One of the great things about the IQ180 is it presents you with a detailed histogram following each exposure, allowing you to make adjustments if desired. You may not need to though: the sensor has such an enormous dynamic range that the histogram often falls-off to zero before touching either end.

The IQ180 only records RAW files in the IIQ format, and the original file measured 92.4MB with the full 7760×10328 pixel resolution. While these IIQ files can be processed by Lightroom, the Phase One team recommended using their own software, Capture One, and also suggested the default settings were a great place to start.

This appealed to my ‘straight-from-the-camera’ approach to testing, so what you’re looking at here is a TIFF generated by Capture One using the default settings without any additional processing. The processed 8 bit TIFF measured 229MB, which is obviously too large to host for downloading, so I opened it in Photoshop and saved it as a JPEG using Quality 9. This was necessary in order to come-in under Flickr’s 20MB limit; the final JPEG file size measured 18.6MB and you can download it by clicking the image opposite. Sure it is compressed, but you’re still getting to look at an 80 Megapixel image without any resolution down-sampling.


Can’t wait to download the file? I understand. As Camera Labs tradition dictates, I’ve made a number of crops for you to view straightaway at 100%. These were grabbed from the TIFF file using 745×367 pixel selections marked by the red rectangles on the image opposite. You can see these below.

Just once glance at the crops is enough to make you realise you’re looking at something very special. The degree of detail is so much higher than anything else I’ve tested and the processing by Capture One is beautifully natural: crisp and detailed without ever looking electronic. I have to say it’s one of the best-looking digital images I’ve ever seen from a technical viewpoint, and remember this was effectively just a snapshot taken in a relative hurry with no careful processing beyond the default settings. This really is an out-of-box result for both the back and software.

Phase One IQ180 at 35 ISO mounted on 645DF body with 80mm lens at f8

Below are a further selection of images you can download for evaluation. In the near future I’ll follow-up this brief test with a look at the high ISO performance across the back’s sensitivity range.


Landscape: 91.3MB (IIC original), Aperture Priority, 1/20, f16, 35 ISO, 80mm

Phase One IQ180 80 Megapixel sample image
Click image to access original at Flickr

Interior: 75.5MB (IIC original), Aperture Priority, 20 seconds, f16, 35 ISO, 80mm

Phase One IQ180 80 Megapixel sample image
Click image to access original at Flickr

Close-up: 76.5MB (IIC original), Aperture Priority, 1/160, f2.8, 400 ISO, 80mm

Phase One IQ180 80 Megapixel sample image
Click image to access original at Flickr

That’s all for now from the camera which bagged the highest score ever at DxOMark. I’ll be back soon with some high ISO results, but in the meantime, I’d love to hear what you think in the Camera Labs forum.

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