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The feeling of shooting with a camera as expensive as Tesla

Imagine you are climbing in a steep canyon in Utah, with a tripod balanced on your shoulders to take one of the beautiful photos of layered sandstone. Now, imagine that the camera in a backpack is worth nearly $100,000. It is best not to slip.

This summer, I encountered this anxiety when testing the 151-megapixel Phase 1 XT camera system. Including the lens, it costs as much as a high-end Tesla. I like this camera, but the boy is upset about dropping it on sandstone.

Some people like street photography. Some people like to take portraits of pets and children. I like nature and scenery, which is why I am so excited about the first stage of XT. If you want to follow in the footsteps of the famous American wilderness photographer Ansel Adams, and your budget is 1

0 times that of high-quality cameras produced by Canon, Sony or Nikon, great.

The first stage XT has a huge IQ4 image sensor, suitable for the same huge photos. It is a digital member of the medium format camera series (the Apollo astronaut used in the film age), and it now uses an image sensor that is 2.5 times larger than a traditional high-end camera. It is smaller than other mid-format models (including Phase One’s studio-oriented XF camera), so traveling in the wilderness is not difficult. Even if you are a photo expert, it is not easy or fast to use, and the price is amazing. Even if most people are happy to use smartphones to shoot, the first stage XT still shows room for ultra-high-end cameras.

The first stage XT camera and IQ4 return to the canyon near Kinab, Utah

Stephen Shankland/CNET

This summer, I spent more than a month testing Phase XT on road trips, camping and hiking in the southwestern United States and avoiding humans during the coronavirus pandemic. I photographed in dry valleys and alpine forests before dawn and after sunset. Phase One XT is not for everyone, but if you go all out, the camera can provide excellent image quality.

The photos I got have spectacular details and rich colors. Since they have an extraordinary resolution of 14,204×10,652 pixels, the editing is also great. Over and over again, I zoom in to see details such as pebbles and granular sandstone, which bring me back to the place where I took the photo. A lens that can fine-tune color and exposure is considered a large photo.

Big price, big sensor, big poster

The camera is priced at US$58,990 and includes a 70mm lens produced by Phase One partner Rodenstock. If you want to use 23mm, 32mm, or 50mm lenses, the price of each lens is $11,990. The newer 90mm Rodenstock lens is suitable for distant subjects and costs $13,000 (another telephoto lens with a longer focal length is also in production). The kit I tried, including the camera and four lenses, cost about 95,000 USD.

Of course, this is much more expensive than most photographers. But sometimes people spend a lot of time on passion, whether it’s cars, clothes, travel or home entertainment systems. Professional photographers also have their own calculation methods for factors such as image quality, hourly billing rate and maintaining competitiveness.

Cameras from mainstream manufacturers can hold poster prints. The first stage XT can make you bigger.

The Kitchen Mesa of Ghost Ranch, New Mexico was filmed with the first stage XT camera system. Download the full-resolution JPEG for a closer look.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

With regular high-quality printing settings, you can make posters about 6 feet wide. A professional printer, Robert Bullivant of Bullivant Gallery and Consulting, told me that he usually prints 10-foot wide photos from a 151-megapixel Phase 1 camera. (Both XT and XF camera bodies can use the IQ4 image sensor on the back.)

The XT camera system also stands out in another way: the lens shift function allows you to rotate the knob to make the lens slide up, down, left or right of the camera. This will change the way the light travels in the camera, thereby reducing distortion when you want to capture scenes such as tall trees or deep canyons, because you don’t have to point the camera itself up or down. A special lens on a traditional camera can do this, but it is built into Phase XT and can be used with any lens.

Guide Ansel Adams

To make the most of XT, I had to learn to combine modern mirrorless camera technology with traditional manual photography methods.

The first stage XT camera system can capture subtle colors and fine details. To take a peek at the pixels, download the full resolution JPEG. Note that the file is 38MB, which is still much smaller than the original original photo 221MB.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

The first stage of the XT camera system provides a good dynamic range, can cope with challenging lighting, as shown in this pre-dawn photo taken with double exposure + mode, can provide rich shadow details. Click the photo to enlarge it to 4K version, or download the full 151 megapixel JPEG.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

Because there is no autofocus or auto exposure, the first stage uses more functions than modern Canon SLR cameras or mirrorless Sony.

This is not a camera to carry around. When using Phase One XT, it is best to adopt the mentality of Ansel Adams or some other old-school cinematographer.

These are the steps I took when using the camera: 1. Set up a tripod. 2. Pull the camera out of the backpack and turn on the power, because it takes about half a minute to start. 3. Mount the camera on a tripod and replace the lens if necessary. 4. Compose the picture and use the camera’s built-in horizontal tool to straighten the horizon. 5. Use the camera’s focus peak tool to set the focus, which will highlight the focused scene elements. 6. Use the brightness data displayed in the real-time histogram to set the exposure. 7. Shoot.

This effort and pace is suitable for a contemplative, thoughtful photography style. It is suitable for trees, mountains, canyons and clouds. If you photograph ticking birds and irritable children, forget it.

Might be easier to use

The actual pace of using XT comes at a price. When the camera has auto focus, auto exposure and zoom lens, it is much easier to try different photos.

The button controls and touch screen of the XT are not as ergonomic or quick to use as the adjustment knobs and dials dedicated to traditional high-end cameras. There is a shutter release button and four buttons on the back of the camera, depending on the mode you are in. My pressure on this is not enough: you must read the 135-page manual.

This is a mirrorless camera, which means there is no DSLR style mirror that can reflect light through the lens into the viewfinder to compose the picture. Instead, the light enters Sony’s built-in image sensor directly, and then reaches the screen on the back of the camera.

The grand staircase photographed with the first stage XT camera and IQ4 sensor-the skull-like structure in the Devil’s Garden at Escalante National Monument

Stephen Shankland/CNET

This brings advantages such as allowing a relatively compact design and achieving focal peaks. But, unfortunately, sometimes I have to squint hard or cover the camera with a hat in order to view the screen in bright sunlight. Like other mirrorless cameras, always using the screen will quickly drain the battery. Happily, the camera’s USB-C port allows you to plug in portable batteries that can already charge mobile phones and laptops.

Editing such a large photo is a challenge. The 151-megapixel lens made Adobe’s Lightroom yield on my MacBook Pro, which is a 4-year-old top model. Although I think Phase 1’s own Capture One software is not easy to use, but it is much more powerful. Unlike Lightroom, it can automatically correct lens problems and can handle the first stage of the compressed file format.

Scratch the surface

The first stage XT and its IQ4 sensor module (which houses most of the camera’s processing brain) has already mastered some useful skills.

The wide dynamic range of the first stage photo allows you to restore a lot of details in dark areas, especially when shooting in “Double Exposure +” mode. A photo before and after editing is displayed on the left and right.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

Dual Exposure+ merges one photo with another at a much slower shutter speed to capture more shadow details, which greatly reduces image noise and improves color under harsh lighting conditions. Frame averaging merges many individual frames into a single photo, which helps blur water and clouds and reduce noise during long exposures.

These are computational photography techniques that are more common on smartphones. I like them. In the first stage, they are gradually taken out of the laboratory by updating the camera software.

The price of Phase One XT is not 10 times better than a one-tenth cheaper camera. But the photos you can take with them are great. Next time when you stroll through the gallery to admire the huge works, I would be grateful for the existence of cameras like the first stage.

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