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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2004-06-30

Making it big in the NBA: An Experiment Using the Phase One H 25 Digital Back
By Tom Dahlin

Photo by Adam Bettcher

Photo by Adam Bettcher

Our Gear. The H25 back is shown next to a Hasselblad 501CM and an Apple G4 laptop.
My friend Adam called the other day. Adam is a fellow sports and commercial shooter living in the Minneapolis area. He was all excited, as he had secured the loan of an extremely high resolution digital back for his studio's Hasselblad camera. "Want me to try it out at the next 'Wolves game?" , he asked? My initial reaction was one of glee, as I had just been asked to provide some images to the Minnesota Timberwolves for potential use on the 10x20 foot skyway wallboard display at the Target Center. As all of my present work was captured with a 4 mega-pixel Canon 1D, I was a bit concerned as to how it would hold up if enlarged to that size. Adam's call could not have come at a better time, and I jumped on the opportunity to evaluate a new piece of gear in a non-traditional application. Not wanting to give up the shooting plan I had devised for myself, I brought Adam in as an assistant for two games and set up two positions where I hoped he could snag a few good images with the monster back. Here's the story.

The H25 Hardware
The Phase One H25 is a 22 mega-pixel digital camera back designed to be attached to a Hasselblad 501CM, 503CW, 553ELX or 555ELD. It can also be attached to the Mamiya RB series cameras and to the Fuji GX680. The H25 utilizes a CCD with a usable resolution of 5436 x 4080 pixels. It has an aspect ratio of 6:8, and records 16 bits per color with a dynamic range of 12 f-stops. The (processed) output file size is a huge 63.5 MB in size in TIFF format.

Photo by Tom Dahlin

Photo by Tom Dahlin

The H25 Mounted high in the Catwalk.
The H25 mounts on the camera as if it were an oversized film back. It's that simple. Slap it on and you're done. Well almost. You need to connect the H25 to the shutter's PC connector, and to a computer via a firewire tether. The H25 cannot operate 'stand alone'. Also, the H25 draws it's power from the firewire connection, requiring a 6 pin firewire socket. This is standard on Mac laptops, but most Windows laptops have 4 wire unpowered firewire connectors and will require the use of Phase One's 'Mobil Solution', essentially a firewire junction box with a lead acid battery attached.

If a motorized camera is used, one more cable is needed from the H25 back to the motor's shutter release.

Capture One Software
The H25 back works in concert with a required software program called Capture One. This software is pretty much the same as that used by some of you to process your Canon and Nikon RAW image files. Once the camera is fired, the image data from the back is transferred to the laptop, stored on disk, and is displayed on the laptop's display. At this point the image can be viewed, but requires additional processing to convert it to a usable TIFF format. This processing is called 'developing' in the Capture One jargon. It is in this step that you can tweak exposure, white balance, saturation and contrast.

It takes about 3-5 seconds from the time the camera is fired to when the image appears on the laptop. A typical workflow would be to allow the Capture One software to accumulate images throughout a session or game and then to perform post processing as a batch operation after the game.

Our Set Up
We used a Hasselblad 501CM body to mount the H25 on. For a computer we used Adam's G4 Titanium. The two were attached via a 10 foot firewire cable. For portability, the computer and slack cable was stuffed into a backpack that Adam wore. To keep the computer from going into the sleep mode, a small block of foam and gaffers tape was used to keep the LCD from closing all the way. Because the H25 was powered by the computer's battery, we did not need AC power. At least as long as we had spare batteries. More on this later.

For lights, we tied into my set of four Dynalite 2000's, which were positioned one per corner. This allowed an exposure of f/6.3 at ISO 200. We used the highest shutter speed we could sync at, 1/500 of a second.

The tests
Since Adam had the loan of the back for 5 days, we could only squeeze in two games to try it at. The required tethered operation of the system and the lack of an auto-winder (needed to cock the camera's shutter if you can't be there to turn the crank) eliminated the possibility of using it as a glass remote, at least for our immediate needs. Thus we decided to try it in two positions:

Test Number One - High Overhead
Photo by Adam Bettcher

Photo by Adam Bettcher

Uncropped frame as shot from the Target Center catwalk.
The first place we tried the H25 was at an overhead position in the target center's catwalk. This location is almost directly over the basket. (Due to the catwalk layout and beam location, there is not a readily available position exactly over the basket.) This location worked out pretty well, as it allowed Adam to stand next to the camera / laptop and fire the camera using a handheld cable release. Extensive safety measures were employed, including double clamping the camera / lens, adding safety ties to the lens and camera body and using multiple safety cables to secure everything to the catwalk rail. Figure 3 shows the mounted camera.

For a lens, we used a 250mm, f/5.6 Zeiss Sonnar, graciously loaned by Jody Grober of Robert's Cameras. This was the longest lens we could locate on short notice, and provided a very loose composition. I normally use a 300mm on my Canon 1D from this location, providing a 35mm film equivalent of 420mm (300 x 1.4). By using the Hassy and 250mm combo, we ended up with 160mm equivalent (250/80 * 50). The loose composition was in fact somewhat of an advantage, as it allowed us to capture action away from the basket with enough pixels to crop it to what we would have had using the Canon 1D/300mm. However, it kind of defeated the purpose of using the high rez back. None the less, we decided to try it anyway, hoping for an interesting shot with the players spread out.

As luck would have it, we didn't get a nice frame filling shot. We did however capture a few images, that after cropping, were pretty good. Figures 4 and 5 show the uncropped view from the top, as well as the cropped version. Even with cropping, the resulting image size is very comparable to what I would have gotten with my 1D/300mm.

Photo by Adam Bettcher

Photo by Adam Bettcher

Cropped version of above. Even when cropped this tight, the resulting image had remarkable detail.
Test Number Two - Floor Level, Corner
The second place we tried the camera was from a floor corner, where Adam could tuck his laptop / backpack behind him, and hand hold the camera. The image we were hoping for was a horizontal, one of a nice jump shot, or one of a driving forward. For a lens we used a 60mm Zeiss T*. The lead photo in this article, figure 1, is one of the better shots resulting from this position. The image shown in the figure is nearly full frame, and is about 65 mega-bytes at base size.

Post Shoot Processing
We shot 103 images at the first game and 128 images at the second. Each RAW file is 44.8 MB, which resulted in about 5 GB of files per game. As I mentioned earlier, these RAW files require a processing step to convert to a usable TIFF file format. After the games, we viewed the images using Capture One's browser function, similar to what Photo Mechanic provides. The conversion of selected images takes about 3 minutes per image on the G4 (1 GHz, 1 GB RAM) laptop, and is performed as a background task. In other words, once you select and start one file for processing, the conversion task takes off and begins immediately while you continue to browse and select. This speeds the process somewhat, allowing the conversion to get a head start.

Results

It came as no surprise that the H25 back / Hasselblad combination produced huge image files of excellent quality. After all, what do you expect from a $29,990 back? The images had wonderful color, crisp detail and were huge. As a test, we printed one of the images on Adam's Epson 7600 wide format printer. Even when printed 24 inches wide and 3 feet long, the image looks tack sharp with very little noise. Did any of the images from the H25 make it on the wall display? As of now, no. A decision on which one to use has not yet been made.

Conclusions

What did we learn?

- Tethered operation limits the usability of the system for sports applications. On a crowded NBA floor it is pain in the ass, but manageable. Unattended remote operation would be difficult but could possibly be accomplished with the use of an auto-winder on the camera and the laptop close by, along with an AC supply for the laptop. (Phase One also has a new "portable" version of the camera that takes Compact Flash cards and can be fired without tether and is self powered ($32,990). This might be the better solution. Just be sure to buy a BOATLOAD of BIG CF Cards.

Photo by Adam Bettcher

Photo by Adam Bettcher

A nearly full frame image from the H-25 back. It weighs in at almost 65 MB in TIFF format.
- The time required to post process the RAW files would be detrimental to those shooting on a deadline. This is not seen as a big problem, as the need for huge files and quick filing time are fairly mutually exclusive.

- The memory requirements are huge. Those of you that have recently moved up to 4, 8 and 12 mega pixel cameras can relate to this. Suddenly your 1GB cards don't seem so big anymore. The huge files the Phase One produces will quickly fill your laptop's free hard drive space. Archiving the results is yet another matter. A DVD burner is almost a requirement, as an average shooting session will require several CD's worth of storage. We shot 128 images (4.69 GB) during one game alone.

- Battery life is short. Adam managed to get a full game on one battery by turning off the computer display along with turning the computer energy saving settings to a slower processing speed to save power. He also charged the battery for about 15 minutes during halftime.

Would I buy one? Nope. At least not for sports applications. I'm going to hold out for the inevitable wave of 20+ mega pixel SLR cameras that should hit in the next year or two. The Canon 1DS and Nikon D1X are surely going to bumped in resolution as their little brothers have. It seems reasonable that we'll soon see pro level DSLR's approaching or breaking the 20 Mega pixel mark in the not so distant future.

Acknowledgments

We'd like to thank the following people for their help:
Russ Nelson, Pro Lab Imaging, for the loan of the camera back.

Jody Grober of Robert's for providing us a Hasselblad 250mm lens and a 1.4 X converter for this test.

Jason LaFrenz, Marketing Director of the Timberwolves, for permission to use the photos in this article.

David Sherman, Timberwolves Team Photographer, for being a good guy.

For Further Information:
The Phase One corporate web site is at: www.phaseone.com.
A good review of the H25 is available online at: www.luminouslandscape.com.


Tom Dahlin can be reached at: tdahlin@isd.net. His Sportsshooter member page is www.sportsshooter.com/members.html?id=38.

Adam Bettcher can be reached at: AMBettcher@aol.com. His Sportsshooter member page is: www.sportsshooter.com/members.html?id=1173.


Related Links:
Tom Dahlin's member page
Adam Bettcher's member page

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