If you’re in the market for a Medium Format Digital Back (MFDB), it doesn’t take too long before you realize that a very big part of the decision is the software that works with the system. These cameras started as tethered systems for the studio, and that’s where they justified their investment early on - in speed and efficiency of workflow. It’s no wonder that one of the applications, Phase One’s Capture One Pro, has evolved to give professional MFDB power to the DSLR user.
Although almost every system now allows for in-camera flash memory storage, they all come into their own when tethered to a workstation. It’s there where you see the linear, efficient processing steps and the highest level color and quality management that has evolved as a result of the high-volume, high-quality production these systems were designed for. As such, the systems have to do some pretty standard things: connect to the camera and control it, manage files (inspection, tagging, managing metadata and backup), edit and adjust files, and process and export the final files.
These systems started out resembling the state-of-the-art scanner software in the early and mid-90s, and with good reason. Scanner software was the standard for industrial-strength image processing and became a model for doing everything camera software needed to do, even controlling the capture device. The camera was simply a different way to capture an image; the processing was very similar. A great example of this is the Imacon/Hasselblad Flexcolor software. Flexcolor, up until very recently, was the software that Imacon/Hasselblad used to control both their cameras and their “Virtual Drum” Flextight scanners and although it’s had some revisions it’s remarkably similar to the software as it appeared originally.
As digital photography became more of a priority and less of an afterthought, and as on-board storage became the standard mode of shooting for DSLRs and then MFDBs, the workflow began to evolve in programs like Lightroom, Aperture, Photo Mechanic and even the modest Bridge/Camera RAW solution. Interestingly, one of the first systems, Phase One Capture 1 Pro, started as the closest to a pure capture system (although they did work with scanning backs for a time) and it remains close to its original configuration and interface. It was a great, simple and powerful interface then, and we’ve seen the other systems evolve to resemble it in many ways, including Lightroom and Aperture.
One of the biggest recent developments has been the release of Hasselblad’s Phocus. It’s a package that seems to cull the best features from all the most popular capture systems, and it’s a re-tool of Flextight. Phase One started out of the gate with an excellent solution and has evolved many features but remains very much the same interface as the original. Leaf Capture has arguably the biggest historic base of users, so has the most difficult challenge - to evolve the software without alienating its user base. Leaf Capture has gone through the most frequent changes and re-tools, and some of them have been flat-out unsuccessful. Flexcolor has been the system most stubbornly clinging to its original design, and is the most groundbreaking of the re-makes, a big tipoff being the new name – Phocus - and the launch as a completely independent product.
In this review we’re going to concentrate on the interface and workflow, along with the major features. Speed benchmarking and quality comparisons are very much dependent on the camera, sensor and system used, and is something we’ll look at in more detail in specific camera testing. We will also take a look at system requirements and installation procedures to give you an idea of what you need to make these systems run at their best.