TGIFriday: A quick comparison between the Alpa 12 Plus and Phase One XT technical cameras

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Its Friday! We reviewed the Alpa 12 Plus last week. We managed to get two megabuck top end cameras in the same place, and thought it would be interesting to do a quick comparison between the Alpa 12 Plus and the Phase One XT camera – both technical cameras capable of both shifts and rise/falls simultaneously.

TGIFRidays: A quick comparison between the Alpa 12 Plus and Phase One XT technical cameras

In the quick survey of the competitive landscape in STC Review P2 article, we identified several companies offering at one axis of movement in technical cameras. The same companies also offer technical cameras with two axis of movements – left/right shifts as well as rise/falls.

Arca Swiss offers the RM3Dii, a more a more flexible camera with 40mm (30/10) asymmetrical shift on the vertical and 30 mm (15/15) horizontal together with a 10° +- 5° tilt. The ability to tilt further complicates its use as a technical camera and approaches the flexibility (and downfalls) of a view camera. A similar picture presents itself in the Silverstri camp with the Bicam III.

The Cambo WRS 1600 offers 40mm (20/20) horizontal shift and 40mm (20/20) vertical shift, matching the Alpa 12 Plus mm for mm. And is perhaps the closest competitor. But we did not have access to Cambo. They do not have a retailer in Singapore, and reaching out to the manufacture in The Netherlands was a pain. The closest we could get to was a variant made by Cambo for Phase One. The Phase One distributor for Singapore is a good friend, and with thanks to Eujin Goh, we manage to make this comparison.

Comparison between Alpa 12 Plus and Phase One XT

The Phase One XT body which has dual axis shifts, and is a scaled down version of the Cambo WRS 1600 offering +/-12mm each of the two axis. In this comparison, the XT also uses the Phase One IQ4 150 digital back and the same Rodenstock Digaron HR 4.0/32mm lens, re-branded as Phase One with the same X Shutter and the Rodenstock/Cambo’s helical focusing. Both the Phase One XT as well as the Alpa 12 Plus can be equipped with any/all Rodenstock HR Digaron lenses, which range in focal length from 23mm to 180mm. The review system came with the Digaron 32mm, is an excellent choice, but due to the smallish image circle of 90mm does limit the maximum movements before hard vignetting sets in. Rodenstock recommends a max of 16mm vertical and 13mm horizontal for the 40x54mm sensor in the IQ4 150 back. Given this restriction of the lens, the HR32 is a better fit to exploit the XT than for the 12 Plus which has more generous movement limits.

CapitaSpring, a building in CBD Singapore with 51 stories, 280m tall. Photographed with the Alpa 12 with Alpagon Digaron-W HR 4.0/32 and IQ4 150 on a full 20mm front rise. An LCC frame was exposed and used to correct for most of the hard vignette caused by the small image circle of the lens. Even with this correction, a small hard vignette remains on the upper extreme corners. This image was only possible with some Photoshop cloning magic on the outermost top edges to rid it of the hard vignette. But as there was no information on the building at those extremities, the image is not compromised. However, with 12mm max rise possible on the XT, this photograph would not be possible without placing the camera further away from the building, which will make the building proportionately smaller and also include more road into the scene, or to tilt the camera up which will result in converging lines along the subject building.

The body of the XT is fully electronic, and offers communications between the lens and digital back without the use of cables. The XT body also is able to provide positional awareness of the shifts/rise/falls in both axis and is captured in the EXIF of the back. On the Alpa system, a single 12 pin to 12 pin cable going from the port of the X Shutter housing to the the shutter release port on the IQ4 accomplishes the control of the shutter from the back. However, the Alpa system lacks the positional awareness built into the XT.

The Phase One XT on the left and the Alpa 12 Plus on the right. Both have the same Rodenstock Digitar HR 4.0/40mm lens with X-Shutter mounted, and the Phase One IQ4 150 back. The Alpa 12 Plus is quite a bit larger in physical size. Note also the lack of a cable on the XT.

The XT body also incorporates an Arca Swiss dovetail tripod foot which is mounted on an arc to allow the camera to be quickly swing from a horizontal landscape mode to a vertical portrait mode. To do the same with the Alpa 12 Plus, the back will need to be removed from the back plate and remounted after rotating it by 90 degrees. On the flip side, the XT only offers +/- 12mm in each axis, while the Alpa Plus handily almost double the amount of movement that can be used.

Operationally, other than the additional +/- 8mm of shift and rise/fall advantage of the Alpa, both are functionally similar. On the XT, both movements are on the same rear plate, while on the Plus, the front standard where the lens is mounted offers the rise/fall movements and the rear is implemented with the shift movements. Functionally, this achieves the same effect. The movements are activated by the ultra smooth wheels on the Alpa, with a mode for quick unlock to move swiftly, aided by detents on the 0 and either extremes. The Alpa can also be fitted with detents for any number or interval as desired. Movements on the XT uses the thumbwheel. Personally, I prefer the smoothness and accuracy of the Alpa’s wheels, which are lockable and which offer excellent, smooth progress of the plates with almost zero play. The screws used to do this are made of brass, which is self lubricating.

Concluding thoughts

In the final analysis, these are two very similar cameras. The XT is a well integrated, compact system which is very well thought out. But it is a more industrial product. The Alpa is a rather more artisanal boutique offering. Perhaps like comparing say a Rolex to an Voutilainen. The artisan product has inherent physical beauty as well as offering the pleasure of use in addition to the functionality. I discussed this in the concluding paragraph of my 12 Plus review. It is also slightly less expensive than the X (CHF 7.7k vs GBP 7.4k), though not by much and neither are by no means inexpensive cameras. But with either option, you are getting perhaps the best technical camera with dual axis shifts in the market.