So I went from a simple point and shoot to a DSLR to mirrorless. What’s next? If anything?

Honestly, I’m incredibly happy and satisfied with the results I get from my Panasonic G9. Sometimes when I look at someone else camera and see the results they got from a larger, sensor camera, I have to compare it with my work. Most of the time, I look at my images and say “The quality is totally there”. Most of the time, it’s just post-processing all things being equal.

However, like that particular person who can taste the minute differences in wine and coffee. Or the person who can tell you the maker of a particular perfume when they smell it. I can see differences the color re-production and other characteristics when I look at an image. One time, I went through a fashion magazine and picked out images that I liked because of certain qualities and then looked up the photographer and gear they use. They always came to the correct camera format that I’ll discuss shortly.

Photography just isn’t my business, it’s my love. Photographing a fashion designer’s work is an outlet for me to exercise my artistic, photography needs. It’s not just about creating the best work so my client will be happy when they make huge sales with help from my photography. It’s about creating work that I feel, is the best as well.

The Lumix S1R – Full Frame Camera

My Panasonic GX8 replaced my Canon 50D and haven’t regretted it ever. My Panasonic G9 is everything I love about my Canon 50D (I still have it) and my GX8 in one package. The image quality is as good if not better than the Canon 5D MKII, full frame camera I used to own. It’s more than good enough. I’ve had fashion editorials published using it. I don’t need anything else. And that’s the catch: need.

I hadn’t thought about other cameras until the Lumix S1R was released. Basically, it’s a larger version of my G9. It has a full-frame sensor. But really, other than its size, that’s the biggest difference, on paper, between it and my G9.

Panasonic S1R & G9 Side by Side

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However, a bigger sensor can make a big difference. In this particular scenario, the number of colors and shades it can produce is much better. It’s the difference between a 12-bit image and 14-bit image. Simplified, you have about 100x the number of colors and shades available!

Most people won’t tell the difference. Especially these days. The quality of sensor and lens of a 12-bit sensor is so damn good. Then there is the image processor of the camera as well and how that’s been tweaked for optimum quality and colors.

But when I see a good image from a Panasonic Lumix S1R, I couldn’t help but get excited. Finally, a full-frame that makes a big enough difference in image quality to make me look at one. Images of people look so much more lifelike and dimensional. The skin-tones are stunning.

Image: Panasonic

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I would never dump my G9 for it though. The m43 format has an incredible number of benefits. For purely work purposes, it’s more than enough and the cost. My G9 with the lens I use on it for fashion is about $2500. An S1R with appropriate lens would cost me almost $5000. 2x as much. And that’s for the cheapest lens I would consider. It’s also bigger, heavier. The sensor has 2x as many pixels on it which would require much more storage space on my computer as well as increase processing time.

But I still want one!

One of my dream photo shoots. Photographer: Annie Leibovitz. Image: Vanity Fair

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I would use an S1R for those jobs where I feel the difference in quality would make a difference. To me. My client and public again, probably wouldn’t notice the difference. But I certainly would. And it would be gorgeous.

There is no other full-frame camera I would choose for my needs other than the Panasonic Lumix S1R. It ticks so many of the boxes. Maybe all of them. But there is another choice.

The Phase One XF Camera System – The Medium Format Choice

Medium Format is basically a physically larger sensor than full-frame. Quite a bit bigger. And with digital, Medium Format systems, you get a 16-bit image. So that’s about 100x greater than full frame. And when most people look at the images, they won’t see a difference between them and smaller camera systems. I do. I sure do. But the answer isn’t obvious.

In addition to the improved color available to Medium Format systems, there is a ‘look’ about an image from Medium Format. It’s hard to describe. But there is a certain dimension that makes images seem more lifelike. Remember when I told you about images I liked from a magazine? They were all done with Medium Format cameras. And this was LONG before I knew anything about them.

Photographed with a Phase One camera. Even in Black and White, I can see this image is done with a Medium Format camera. Photographer: David Thompson. Image: French Marie Claire.

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So what’s the catch? Why don’t I go out and buy one? One word: cost.

Phase One is the leader in digital, Medium Format camera systems which started in the early 1990s and based in Denmark. However Medium Format film camera systems have been around for approximately 100 years by other camera systems.

A used, 9-years-old Phase One camera body, just the body, would cost me about $10,000 - $20,000! Yes, that’s almost 10x the cost of my Panasonic Lumix G9 camera! And that doesn’t even include a lens which would add another $5,000 to that price. A new Phase one camera body that I would really want would cost me $40,000 for just the body!

But let me tell you this one, amazing fact: an 8-year old Phase One IQ 180 still has better color depth, which gives you all the tiny little color subtleties found in skin tone, than ANY current Full Frame digital camera. It's a tiny lead. But it's an 8-year old camera. The Phase One IQ180 is 4 generations of Phase One cameras old. The Phase One XF IQ4 100MP Trichomatic may be the ultimate for color perfection. 

The Phase One IQ4 100MP Trichomatic. Camera greatness. Image: Photorig.eu

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On the left is an image I took with a Phase One IQ250 back in 2014 at a demo Phase One held with a model and on the right, my most recent and one of my most perfect portraits on my Panasonic G9. Do you see a difference? I sure do. Love my G9 pic. I think Emelie of Major Models in New York looks absolutely perfect. But The Phase One with its color and image rendering. Gorgeous.

  • Phase One IQ250 Showcase
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So yes. Cost. Again, it’s not about ‘need’. I see the difference in camera systems. Is the performance and improvement ‘worth’ the cost of a Phase One system? When someone buys a Ferrari to drive on the weekends, is the car that much better than others? If someone buys a Rolex, is that watch that much better than others? When someone buys an Armani suit…..

Symbolism

Before the Panasonic S1R came out, I thought my two camera systems would be my G9 for most of my work and a Phase One for my higher-end work. Easy.

But the S1R is so damn good. I think Panasonic designed the S1R, lenses and image processor to give it that Medium Format look. Because it’s very close. I really have to look closely to figure if it’s Medium Format or not. It’s that good.

But I’d still want a Phase One system. Again, It’s not about need. It’s not even about performance. It’s about what it means to be able to afford a Phase One system with money I earn as a photographer. It’s about reaching a level in my profession that only few attain. It’s about being the best, working with the best and being able to afford the best.

Never ever count out the symbolism of something like that. Not only will I know what it means to afford and use a camera like that, clients will too…..

Photographer Jason Bell using a Phase One IQ3 100MP for British Vogue. The best. Using the best. Working with the best. Creating the best.

A Reality Check: It's Not About the Camera

About 99% of online discussions about cameras are about how good a sensor is. And I’m sick of them. Cameras are so good these days. Cameras don’t make bad pictures. People do. People blame the technology. Unfortunately, there was fantastic photography being done long before digital. So what’s the excuse?

One of my all-time favorite fashion photographers is the late Peter Lindbergh. He did it all and some. Maybe the most accomplished photographer of all time. You know what camera he used? A Nikon. I think it was a D800. A really great camera. One of the best. But you can also walk into any Best Buy and pick up the newest version, the D850, for less than $2500…. That’s all he used. And it’s not even the top-of-the-line Nikon either. Check out the video. Look closely, and you’ll see word ‘Nikon’ on the camera.

The late Peter Lindbergh: The Master. Photographing Natalie Portman for Vogue using a Nikon camera.

So there you have it. My camera history and possible future. While the photography gear is fun. It was never about that. It was about creating beauty and art. Bringing it to the world. 

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Ricardo Gomez Photography

Originally from San Francisco, Ricardo is now a New York-based photographer specializing in editorial and commercial photography.
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