Hands on: Phase One XF IQ4 150MP Camera System review

Up close and personal with the $50,000 medium format powerhouse

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Our Verdict

With “medium format” becoming a phrase thrown around with increasing abandon, Phase One is reminding the industry that horsepower always outperforms chutzpah. With genuinely remarkable resolving power and in-body Capture One integration, the XF IQ4 150MP offers ultimate photographic performance… though obviously, it comes with a mortgage-worthy price tag.

For

  • Unparallelled resolution
  • Capture One Inside
  • Expandable, modular system

Against

  • Costs five times the Fujifilm GFX 100
  • Form factor requires a tripod
  • Obviously not an everyday camera

More and more manufacturers at Photokina 2018 were throwing around the words “medium format”. Fujifilm was the latest to shout from the rooftops, with its 54.1MP GFX 50R ($4,000) and 100MP GFX 100 ($10,000). 

Yet away from the bluster of press conferences and the livestreamed furore, Phase One sat calm and collected on the show floor with its XF IQ4 150MP Camera System, set to ship in late October/early November for $51,990.

Unlike the upstarts, Phase One has no pretensions of grandeur. Its systems have long been held as photography’s gold standard for resolution and pure performance at the highest level, and the XF IQ4 doesn’t need to sit on a throne to prove that it is king.

Our Phase One XF IQ4 time took place with the system firmly rooted to a tripod

Our Phase One XF IQ4 time took place in tightly controlled conditions

Key features

Phase One’s camera systems are modular, with backs, bodies, viewfinders and lenses all being completely separate components. This means that you can change from a prism viewfinder to a waist-level viewfinder as easily as you change lenses. 

The XF IQ4 Digital Camera Back is almost entirely composed of the mammoth 150MP full frame medium format sensor. This is 2.5x larger than a 35mm DSLR sensor, and 1.5x the size of crop sensor mirrorless medium format sensors. 

Crucially, this high resolution and image data provides up to a claimed 15 stops of dynamic range. Combined with the integrated Capture One Inside, this promises to enable you to almost post-produce your images in-camera. 

With formidable images straight to your memory card (XQD and SD) that would otherwise require running through Photoshop and Lightroom on other cameras, the XF IQ4 offers serious potential for the most serious photographers.

The IQ4's rear touchscreen was perfect for pinpoint focus peaking

The IQ4's rear touchscreen was perfect for pinpoint focus peaking 

Build and handling

When you first handle it, the single most surprising thing about the Phase One system is the weight – or, rather, the lack of it. Inherited wisdom about big, boxy medium format bodies tells us that they are going to be unwieldy, heaving hulks. 

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Certainly the Phase One setup isn’t as sleek and delicate in the hands as a conventional DSLR or a svelte mirrorless body, but there’s certainly no effort required to wield it around. 

In fact, thanks to having a larger surface area over which to distribute its weight, the Phase One has tangibly less heft than the Canon EOS-1 DX Mark II. So, while the XF with Schneider Kreuznach 150mm LS f/3.5 lens weighed about 2.2kg, it actually felt lighter to hold than our 1 DX Mark II with EF 50mm f/1.2L that weighs 1.9kg. 

As you’d expect, it’s sturdy and solid and feels incredibly robust – though given the price tag of each individual component, it’s a brave photographer that tests just how robust it is.

At 100%, the IQ4's ability to resolve fine detail is genuinely (and, for the price, appropriately) impressive

At 100%, the IQ4's ability to resolve fine detail is genuinely (and, for the price, appropriately) impressive

Early Verdict

The Phase One XF IQ4 150MP Camera System that we got up close with was a pre-production sample, and shooting was limited to a strictly controlled tripod and still life setup. 

Still, the fidelity of the files even from the prototype model was truly staggering. The level of millimetre-fine detail that this system can resolve is simply unmatched by any other camera on the market, or even on the drawing board. 

With more cameras staking a claim to the medium format moniker (despite all having a smaller sensor), it’s tempting to put bodies such as the Fujifilm GFX 100 in the same category. In truth, though, the XF IQ4 is a very different, beast, with a very different end user in mind – and clearly a very different price tag. 

Read more:

Leica S3: 64MP medium-format camera teased at Photokina

Fujifilm GFX 50S Review

The Phase One XF IQ4 150MP Camera System with Schneider Kreuznach 120mm LS f/4.0 Macro lens

The Phase One XF IQ4 150MP Camera System with Schneider Kreuznach 120mm LS f/4.0 Macro lens

For size comparison, here's the Phase One XF (with the 150mm LS f/3.5 lens and an IQ3 back) next to a cup of coffee

For size comparison, here's a Phase One XF (with 150mm LS f/3.5 lens and an IQ3 back) next to a cup of coffee