I first heard of this Danish company called Phase One nearly a decade ago. Back then, they made very high end medium format digital backs that could fit Mamiya, Hasselblad or Contax bodies. They still do and now they also make their own bodies but I suspect most of their revenue comes from their raw conversion Capture One software. They also make institutional equipment to digitize books and cameras used in presumably Western spy planes.
Phase One piqued my interest because I was performing a monochrome conversion to an Olympus 43rds E-500 DSLR by replacing the OEM sensor, a Kodak KAF-8300C, with a KAF-8300M (https://jimchungblog.com/2017/01/02/the-joys-of-monochrome-photography/). The M designation implies a sensor lacking the Bayer layer and hence cannot record color data, only grayscale or black and white. Phase One also made a monochrome digital back, the IQ260 Achromatic. So did Leica with its Leica Monochrom model. And that’s it.
I was happily surprised to find the CCD sensor is fabricated by Teledyne Dalsa which are located in Waterloo just an hour west of Toronto, this being the Canadian equivalent of Silicon Valley. Some of you might even remember the most successful mobile phone before the iPhone was something called the Blackberry, which came from the same region. The IQ260 Achromatic boasts 60 megapixels (8964×6716), each 6 micron in size with a sensor dimension of 54 mm x 40 mm. This compares very closely to the dimensions of a 6×4.5 120 film negative. To better visualize, the crop factor as compared to a “full frame” sensor is 2.5x, and as compared to a m43 sensor is 3.2x. There is no RGB Bayer layer or AA filter and no IR cutoff filter. Images are captured in 16 bit IIQ losslessly compressed RAW monochromatic files. Dynamic range is 13 stops and maximum capture rate is 1 fps. This was a big deal and a big sensor when it was introduced in 2013, the same time the E-M1.1 made its debut. So was the price in 2013, $45k USD. That’s just the digital back, no body and no lenses. I’m not nearly as frugal as my immigrant parents but I did absorb their lessons and I waited nearly a decade before getting one at a greatly depreciated price.
I wanted to see how it compared to my custom modified 8 MP E-500 Monochrome and if Olympus’ 50 MP and 80 MP high resolution mode might offer equivalent resolution performance even with the Bayer layer.
To test the resolution performance of the IQ260 Achromatic vs the OM-1 and E-500 Monochrome, I needed a common lens that all three could shoot through. This is indeed a difficult conundrum because lens adaptors are hard to come by, especially for 43rds bodies which are a rarity. I then realized the perfect solution, I would use my Astro-Physics Traveler 610mm f/6 refractoras the telephoto lens as it has much more focus travel than a conventional camera lens and I have the adaptors necessary to secure the bodies to the scope. I mounted the ISO 12233 chart on the garage door and shot from the end of the driveway. For the telescope, I used an IR/UV blocking filter from Cavision, a Vancouver based company. This is because a 105 mm B+W filter costs nearly $500 USD.
So the OM-1 80 MP high resolution image has the potential to equal the performance of a premier decade old camera, but in a much more affordable and portable package. I feel with further advances in raw development and computation photography, Olympus can continue to close the gap with larger sensors in ways not previously forseen.
I’m still waiting for the next full moon to complete this article with a comparison between true monochrome cameras, the IQ260 Achromatic and the E-500 Monochrome. This will also be a good seque to Part 2 of this article involving astrophotography with IQ260 Achromatic.
I have degrees in Biochemistry and Dentistry and practice clinically 2 day a week. The rest of the week I devote to photography and bringing you the best writing in this blog.
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