Editor’s note: You may be interested in the detailed followup article: Phase One IQ3 100mp Trichromatic, Art & Science in Detail.
After a private preview of the Trichromatic, Digital Transitions got to talk to Phase One’s head of R&D Lau Nørgaard about how Phase One has revolutionized color response of professional medium format cameras. The Phase One IQ3 100MP Trichromatic digital back is another major color achievement for Phase One. This announcement leads me to seek out the reasoning behind this particular innovation. Why would Phase One, a company that is at the pinnacle of our industry for image quality (especially color and fidelity), choose to engineer a new color filter? Furthermore, how did a Danish company with just about 300 employees convince Sony, an enormous Japanese corporation, to collaborate and design a sensor just for Phase One?
For the past few years, the main emphasis on improving digital cameras has been the camera’s performance at high ISO for low light photography. This improvement has a serious downside that people are not necessarily aware of. In order for a pixel well to gain more light, the formulation of the color filter array is designed to allow some wavelengths that do not belong to that pixel well to pass through in order to gain more light, at the cost of color cross talk or contamination. The balance between light sensitivity and color fidelity have been at odds with each other since the days of color film.
This, of course, needs to be addressed with some perspective. If you are using your digital camera for daily snapshots, the sacrifices mentioned above might not be a part of your concern. However, as professional photographers and photography enthusiasts, and for those who demand only the best, it is important to look at these pros and cons and decide for yourself whether or not that these changes are right for you.
The idea behind the design of this sensor all started from Phase One’s software, Capture One. Day in and day out, the engineers see a vast array of color responses from different camera manufacturers. Based on that, they have to make sure that these cameras are being profiled to Capture One’s standard. From building a library of literally thousands of color profiles, questions began: “Why isn’t the blue filter filtering out more red? Why is there so much overlapping on each of the RGB channels?”
These questions remind me of a rhetorical question that photographers will always ask, “Why would you want to retouch an image when you can fix that part of the image at the source of its limitation: the camera, lighting, makeup, composition, etc?” And that is exactly why Phase One wants to show their Trichromatic solution to the world. Why would you alter the color response in software after the signals are already captured when you can create a cleaner signal from the start via the hardware and then use the software to open up the full potential of the sensor”? With all this data from different manufacturers’ color responses, Phase One had many discussions with Sony regarding their new way of thinking about color. For a company the size of Sony to agree to collaborate on the design of a new sensor with Phase One leads one to believe this was a pretty revolutionary idea. Together they designed and produced the Trichromatic Camera that is without compromise, solely for the purpose of providing the professional photographer a color pallet to match their creativity.
With the IQ3 100MP Trichromatic, each of the 3 color responses has a clearer definition, hence a truer color representation while minimizing color contamination. This also includes non-visible spectrums as well. The custom filter is less sensitive to UV, which means that the light spill will affect the UV spectrum less, producing a less purple fringing effect. Another Trichromatic unique feature is ISO performance. At the base ISO of 35, since you can achieve the cleanest signal the sensor is able to produce from the newly designed color filtration system, you are able to recover the shadows information of the images without color noise. Even at the highest ISO of 12800, the color noise is more uniform because of the almost non-existent color contamination.
Phase One’s IQ3 100 MP Trichromatic is not just another digital back. It is a start of something new, something innovative, and something groundbreaking. While every camera is in the high ISO race, Phase One decided to do the exact opposite and drop their base ISO to improve the color responses of this camera (something that they are already great at). That tells me they are not just following the trend, but always pushing their boundaries and creating innovative technologies to improve image quality. In my personal opinion, this is why they wanted to create the Trichromatic color engine — to ultimately give photographers the best possible tools to express their vision. I always make the analogy of Phase One to craftsmen of musical instruments. If you are a concert musician, you would never settle for a generic mass produced piano or violin manufactured by Yamaha; you would insist upon a Steinway or Stradivarius that would not limit your creative expression.
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