Say what you will about Sony’s 50-megapixel, medium-format CMOS image sensor, but it’s definitely not monogamous. It’s been caught sneaking off to couple with camera backs from Hasselblad, Pentax and Phase One. Its most recent fling? The new Mamiya Leaf Credo 50.
Leaf is owned by Phase One, so it’s not surprising that the Credo 50 back bears a close resemblance to the Phase One IQ250—the image sensor, continuous shooting speed, ISO range, shutter speed and dynamic range in both are all identical. But there are several significant differences that distinguish the Credo 50.
The most glaring among them is the lack of Wi-Fi. Second, it offers proprietary color algorithms, profiles and curves engineered to deliver Leaf’s renowned skin tones and color reproduction. Third, the back’s touchscreen display and user interface have been implemented differently. Finally, it’s about $8,000 less expensive than the IQ250 back—a considerable differential, even in the rarified realm of medium-format systems.
We spent about a week with the Credo 50 in collaboration with our frequent co-tester, New Jersey-based photographer and director David Patiño. In addition to the back, we used the 645df+ camera body and three lenses—the Mamiya Sekor AF 110mm f/2.8 LS D lens, the AF 80mm f/2.8 LS D and the AF 28mm f/4.5 LS D. While our window was relatively short, our timing was serendipitous, as Patiño had a two-day product shoot for a catalog and a day of corporate portraits already in his calendar. The Mamiya Leaf Credo 50 would be his main camera for both.
Familiar Features, Exceptional Results
Anyone familiar with the latest generation of medium-format systems based on Sony’s sensor will recognize some of the Credo 50’s highlights, such as the boundary-pushing maximum ISO of 6400. The Credo 50 also delivers 1.2-fps continuous shooting and the ability take exposures as short as 1/10,000 of a second and as long as an hour. The back offers two RAW shooting modes: RAW large for files in excess of 50MB or RAW small that generates images in the 33MB range.
If the specifications of the Credo 50 are by now somewhat familiar, we found the image quality to be anything but mundane; “superb” hits closer to the mark. The level of detail was unsurprisingly outstanding, but Patiño was struck most by the dynamic range. “From my video work, dynamic range is where it’s at, it’s more important than the megapixel wars,” he noted. The back’s DR performance was evident in several product shots that placed a jet-black printer next to a creamy white printer. The camera preserved rich tonal detail across the frame. “It’s all there,” Patiño observed. In other shots with a snow theme, the back produced crystalline flakes amid gleaming black gadgets that almost jumped off the frame. In a later, more casual image we snapped of a Blue Spruce, the needles were sharp enough to sting.
Results were similarly strong at high ISOs. Peering closely at a 100-percent crop of a tan globe shot in natural light at ISO 6400, we found hints of noise, but nothing like the ungainly splotches that would have ordinarily hampered a medium-format camera at much lower ISOs just a few short years ago.
The Mamiya Leaf Credo 50’s menu implementation was similarly impressive. The back’s 3.2-inch, 1.15-million-dot touchscreen display was quite responsive, and viewable even under the glare of the sun. There are few hard buttons outside of a power switch. Instead, the back uses four soft-touch buttons to help you navigate through the menu. Menu items are arrayed on screen in a large font and you swipe left-to-right to advance the menu, much as you would flick your way across a tablet. In contrast to many professional DSLR menus, there’s very little hunting-and-pecking required.
But be warned: The back is a battery killer. During Patiño’s marathon catalogue shoot, he swapped out the back’s battery five times. A single 645df+ camera battery, by contrast, endured the whole day. While the Credo 50’s memory preserved nearly all of the previous settings during battery changes, it would not consistently save power management settings and Patiño found himself diving back into the menu on more than one occasion to reset the auto-off timer.
Enraptured With Capture
In conjunction with Credo 50, we had the opportunity to try the new Capture One software, which was updated at Photokina to version 8. We don’t have room for a full-blown review here, but the software proved invaluable for both tethered shooting and processing images off the Credo 50. Patiño’s catalogue shoot was conducted while tethered to Capture One Pro 8, and his verdict on the overall experience was straightforward: “It was awesome.” He was especially impressed with Capture One’s Sessions, an organizational scheme that he said kept the sprawling product shoot efficiently organized and processed.
Whether the Credo 50 is “worth it” is a question only you and your accountant can truly answer. We suspect that anyone seriously considering a medium-format system has already made peace with the price tag. But when it comes to medium-format systems using Sony’s 50-megapixel CMOS sensor, the question is also a relative one. Stacked up against those peers, only the $8,499 Pentax 645Z offers a wide-enough price differential to be in an altogether different conversation—and we have yet to test it. Squared off against the Phase One IQ250 and Hasselblad’s H5D-50c, the equation gets more interesting.
Hasselblad’s H5D-50c is marginally more expensive at $27,500 while delivering more color depth (16-bit vs. the Credo 50’s 14-bit) and just a fraction more speed in continuous mode (1.2 fps vs. the H50c’s 1.5 fps). The Credo 50, by contrast, offers longer exposures and faster shutter speeds than the 50c. Image quality from both backs is outstanding—outside of the features noted above, it will likely be decided by your preferences in color rendering and processing. The IQ250, on the other hand, commands a nearly $8,000 premium on the basis of features like built-in Wi-Fi (and geo-tagging) and focus masking—which is only available to Credo 50 users when shooting tethered with Capture One. For our needs, the Credo 50 is the better value.
On its own terms, the Credo 50 is a powerful tool that will deliver the rich colors and exquisitely detailed images that should satisfy the most demanding of commercial clients. Sony’s CMOS sensor has been a quantum leap for medium-format backs in terms of sensitivity, and paired with Leaf’s processing, menu implementation and more, the Credo 50 is a digital back that you shouldn’t turn your back on.
PROS: Extraordinary image quality; well-executed touchscreen menu system.
CONS: Burns through batteries.
PRICE: $26,995 (back); $30,995 (back, 645DF+ camera and 80mm f/2.8 LS AF lens)