Digital Outback Photo
- Photography using Digital SLRs

The Art of Raw Conversion #028


The P45 39 Megapixel back–It’s even better than we thought

Capture One vs. Raw Developer (and the winner is the P45!)

review note by Charles Cramer



Pleasing Results

I’ve recently returned from my first photo trip with my new system—a PhaseOne P45 (39 megapixel) back on a Mamiya 645AFDII . After using a 4x5 for the last 30 years, it was quite a change! Just lifting the camera backpack brought a smile to my face (it’s about 10 lbs. lighter). I greatly enjoyed the agility and mobility of a medium-format camera, especially with the zoom lenses. I was also able to do close-ups fairly painlessly, quite a change from 4x5. I didn’t need to worry about running out of film—my tiny card case had four 4 GB cards, allowing for about 350 exposures! And, unlike 4x5 film, where each click of the shutter adds up to around $4.50—these were…free! (Free, after you pay the rather steep price of admission for the P45 back). This is actually quite liberating, as there is no reason now not to try more adventuresome compositions and/or lighting situations. (Situations that I previously would have talked myself out of, due to film costs, and low probability of success. But…taking chances is important.)

The only downside to my new system is working with depth of field. On my 4x5 Linhof, I have a focusing gauge that allows me to quickly determine the optimum f stop for each situation. With the Mamiya and the zoom lenses, this is much harder to determine. On the plus side, a composition that required a 200mm on the 4x5 needs only an 80mm for the P45 sensor. And with that smaller focal length is around a 2.5 times increase in available depth of field.

I really enjoyed working with this new system. So much so that I started to think that this small camera and sensor couldn’t really deliver top-notch results, could it? Where was the suffering for my art? (Actually, after making dye transfer prints for 15 years, I think I’ve suffered enough.) I was in for a surprise. With even the most demanding subject, I was able to make 24x30 prints that were tack-sharp. Here’s a closeup of some sword ferns.

The tiny little ribs on each fern are reproduced in amazing detail. (These ribs are not even visible in the jpeg). I decided to see if this image would take further enlargement to 30x40 size. At that size, with Capture One software, it did start to fall apart a little. Viewing it on the monitor at 100%, smooth areas started looking “funky”—but those sharp little ribs were still sharp. Viewing the image at closer to 50% on the monitor gives a better idea of how the resulting print will look. And this made an acceptable 30x40 print. Calypso Imaging ( wanted a new 40x60 inch print from me for their lobby, and I thought this image might work. But I had my doubts about how it would enlarge—I’d have to do some careful testing first.

Another favorite from this trip to the North Coast Redwoods is below:

This scene was truly beautiful. Softly backlit trees, with moss hanging on almost every branch. It literally glowed. I was tempted to get out my 4x5, to make sure I really captured this scene. But, after a few minutes, a sudden hail storm brought an end to the photography here. This image has some very, very fine branches, with intricate ferns in the foreground—a real challenge for digital capture. Tons of fine detail everywhere. My 24x30 print from this file was everything I had hoped for…

But Wait—It Gets Better…

My friend Uwe Steinmueller, editor of this website, dropped over to see these prints, and I also lent him the raw file from this scene. He is the master of Raw development, and I wanted to hear what he thought of these P45 files. A day or two later he emailed me a very small section of this image, developed two different ways. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing—I had to try it myself, which you see below, first developed in Capture One, with default settings for noise reduction and “soft look” sharpening at 25/3:

And with “Raw Developer” at their defaults, with “hybrid” sharpening:

I wasn’t even aware of any other way to develop P45 files! (Adobe Camera Raw doesn’t support them (yet)). Uwe mentioned some discussion that Capture One did some very aggressive noise reduction with long exposures, resulting in low noise, but also loss of fine detail in areas of low contrast. You can certainly see that effect here—the fine detail in the evergreen boughs is quite obscured. This image required an 8 second exposure. This also explained what I was seeing with my fern image (a 6 second exposure). The high-contrast details remained, but the low-contrast areas went blank.

How would my Fern image resolve in a 30x40 print? Here are small sections from a 30x40 print file, upsampled in Photoshop (with bicubic smoother). First with Capture One (with minimal noise reduction, and default sharpening):

And Raw Developer, all defaults, with “hybrid” sharpening:

Raw Developer vs. Capture One

With an image exposed at a fast 1/250, I found much less difference between Capture One and Raw Developer. But, the Raw Developer files did show slightly more detail in smooth areas. It has a look greatly resembling what you would get from film—including what appears to be “grain” (some might call it noise). I do not find this objectionable. With my landscape work, exposures are generally in the range of 1/2 second to longer, so this smudging of fine details with Capture One is a big concern for me. Setting Capture One to the lowest possible noise reduction results in a just-perceptible improvement over the default setttings. But, there’s still smudging. A friend of mine, Karl Kroeber, who been shooting digital for 5 years, tried out Capture One with his Canon EOS-1Ds. He reported small differences between it and Adobe Camera Raw, but felt that Capture One was more suited for the “smoother” results that portrait photographers want.

The sharpening controls in Raw Developer are excellent, with a choice between “unsharp mask” and “hybrid” (which uses some high pass/low image convolution filters, not unlike Photoshop’s “smart sharpen”). These adjustments are very controllable and graduated. I find Capture One’s sharpening to be too strong, even with “soft look,” and has a tendency to blow out highlights even at the lowest settings.

I am very impressed with Raw Developer. From, you can download a free working demo that will leave a small watermark. If you like what you see, it only costs $99. It is not as sophisticated as Capture One in its organization of files and workflow, but you can’t argue with the results.

Rematch! P45 vs. 4x5 Velvia

I am even more impressed with what the P45 back can capture. In January, ran a comparison I did of this back against 4x5 Velvia film. I have now redone that comparison using Raw Developer. We now have camera profiles for the P45, so the colors are now closer. Since the framing of the test scene was not completely exact with the different cameras, the resulting sizes here are different. But in each case, I have upsampled each file to 40 inches on the long side in Photoshop with bicubic smoother. Each was sharpened with USM to taste. Remember, these are small sections from a 30x40 print file. And, the differences you see on screen here will be minimized in the resulting print.

4x5 film

P45 in Raw Developer

P45 in Capture One

I find it interesting that the Raw Developer file shows slightly more detail than film in some of the leaves.

I have confidence now that I can make a 40x60 inch print from my P45 that will be quite comparable to what 4x5 film can offer.

5/4/2006 Update

PhaseOne does listen to their customers. With the latest version (3.7.4), they have changed (quoting the release notes) "the reference point (zero) on the Noise Suppression include more details". And it can now provide fine detail on long exposures on a par with Raw Developer. I still think Raw Developer provides more "film-like" results with slightly fewer artifacts, but it is quite a subtle difference now. You would have to make an awfully big print to see these differences. I have included a new jpeg made with this latest version of Capture One. I had the noise reduction and sharpening off, and added some USM in Photoshop (which seemed to work better than the default sharpening in Capture One).


New version with C1 3.7.4

Note by the editor

Through the picture taken by Charles Cramer we found the bug and luckily Phase One fixed it. Unfortunately Phase One did not find it nescessary to contact us and inform us about the fix.

Notes by the editor




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