Phase One interview Kevin Raber PMA 2006
Updated: Tuesday 28th February 2006 - 19:00 CET
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PMA 2006 | Interview with Kevin Raber | Phase One
Today, February 28th 2006, at the Photo Marketing Trade Show (PMA 2006), held in Orlando we met Kevin Raber, Vice President North America, from Phase One. We took some time to set up a Q&A session at the booth from Phase One, and asked Kevin about their latest Digital Back, the Phase One P45, and the expected future developments of the Digital Back market.
Kevin Raber, Vice President, Phase One, North America.

Question: Please introduce yourself. What is your specific task at the company and can you tell us about your professional background?
Answer: I've been into the photo business for all my life. I have had a Photo studio for 20 years, where I gained a lot of experience in color and print management. I could literally see with what kind of device a certain photo was made. Later on, I changed to software, doing consultancy, and worked for Americas biggest photo lab, which I set up to digital. I guess around 1998 I was confronted with an order to print an image from a Phase One file. I was so impressed, it was simply so good that I had to find out more about this camera. Six months later I ended up working for Phase One.

Question: Since the introduction of the full frame digital cameras like the Canon EOS 1Ds and the Kodak Pro dSLR cameras, a lot of (professional) photographers made their move to a digital workflow. An important reason was the price of the equipment and the increase of the resolution. What is the position for the digital back in today's professional market?
Question: When does the Megapixel race stops, or won't it stop at all?
Answer: You are making an assumption which is not totally correct and at some points 180 degrees around. Today's market for digital backs is very hot. There are two ways of how photographers switched to digital. There is one group who wanted the highest possible system, they don't want to suffer in quality and they are buying digital backs right away. Price is no discussion. And there is an other group that want to experience digital. They buy a relative cheaper system to find out how it works and what the influence is for their workflow. In my opinion, as to the Canon EOS 1Ds, the files are good, but in some occasions the photographer needs better. Clients are in need and are demanding larger files than the 16MP images Canon offers. Some of the professional photographers who bought high resolution digital SLR cameras are switching to digital backs. It is simply a fact that the micro detail of a captured image from a digital back is enormous, so are the chromatic colors. The new Phase One P45 has a depth of 16 bit, the Canon 1Ds has 12bit, which makes a huge difference. Another great advantage is the dynamic range of 12 f-stops. Besides that, clients who buy the Phase One may use the upgrade system so that they haven't got to waste too much money when a new back arrives.
Answer: The resolution is still going up, but it depends on the demand in the market. For technical reasons, lets say that we will end at 60 Megapixels. There will be however a slow down in the pixel war. For the mass consumer 6-8 Megapixels will be enough, prosumers will probably end up at 8-12 Megapixels and professional photographers will probably use 22MP, while the digital back will end up at between 16-60 Megapixels, depending on the needs. Now the pixel war is slowing down, manufactures first have to improve the algorithms before a next round at the pixel war will show up.

Question: What kind of developments can we expect in the future? Will the backs be more compatible, or will the sensitivity increase?
Answer: There are going to be a couple of things. Speed will increase, just as the image quality. The screens at the back will be bigger and there will be a general upgrade. The digital management, the workflow, will also improve in the future. How the photographers are handling their files. With a product like Capture One, the photographer already has a powerful system. For digital backs there will be a significant grow for the couple two years, then it will level off, the saturation will be reached.

Question: Most of the digital backs have a 4:3 ratio in stead of a square one. One of the great advantages of the medium format cameras was the 1:1 ratio, you didn't need to turn the camera and the ratio gave that special medium format look and feel. Why are most digital backs in the 4:3 ratio?

Question: What will be the hardest part in the future, now more and more manufacturers seem to stop or already stopped (Bronica, Contax)? Will there be a future for medium format digital photography at all?
Answer: This is mainly a technical reason. The sensors are made out of a wafer, which is a circle. To get most sensors out of this circle, the 4:3 ratio is much more efficient. It is possible to make square sensors, but it makes the sensor very expensive. In my opinion, eventually, the square size will disappear.
Answer: It is a though market and the industry is changing rapidly. But before this year ends we will see one or two new camera systems to be announced. Probably at or before the Photokina event, what will be the place to be this year. We will start a campaign throughout the USA where we will inform our clients and future clients. We come to the point that we feel we need to invest into education. Show the photographer what medium format is all about and let them experience the difference in detail. Show them what possibilities will be reached when they start to work with a medium format camera, like the P 21 or the P45. What this means for their workflow, etc. 2006 will be an interesting year, for us and for the digital industry.

Question: The latest digital back, the P 45, has an incredible resolution of 39 million pixels. Is there really a big demand for such an amount of pixels?
Answer: Well, let us say that there are a couple of possible answers to this topic. In the US "big is always better". Although our clients are professional photographers there is still a race for the Megapixel. Some of our clients switch from the 22MP to 39 Megapixel only for one reason, Megapixels. This amount of Megapixels is not always needed to do the job. However, more resolution results into more detail. There are simply more pixels close to each other resulting into the finest details. The higher resolution is not that important to make bigger prints, for that reason 22 Megapixel will be enough. A photographer also has to consider how many images he is going to take with big file sizes. The big files also results in other investments, like fast computers and big hard drives.

Question: Is there anything more you can say about the comparison between digital medium formats and D-SLR?
Answer: In my opinion, a group of digital SLR users are sometimes fooling themselves. In the past at the lab, I had a lot of rejects on prints because the colors weren't right and there was always a kind of consistency between the fact that the material was analog, so the quality was of no discussion, it had to be perfect. Now, with digital, everybody seems to be happy. And the main reason seems to be, that it's Digital, the photographer concludes that digital is 'good enough', which is a totally different approach than the quality norms in the past. Photographers don't need a product which at best can meet the old ones, they need a tool that makes it better! I believe that medium format, with its own unique features, delivers that non-compromised quality we all agreed upon long time ago. It can be fast and of high quality, to say the perfect quality, at the same time.
Kevin Raber, Phase One
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