The Phase One IQ4 150mp has many headline features that are largely self-explanatory: 150mp full-frame 645 sensor with best-ever dynamic range, dual next-gen card slots, wireless tethering, etc. But among the more amorphous headlines is the marketing phrase “Infinity Platform” which means nothing, and everything at the same time. In this article we’ll dive into what this phrase really means and why such a seemingly glib marketing phrase really does deserve top billing alongside other more directly tangible features of the IQ4.
For a long time Phase One made digital backs for a variety of different cameras, all of which were made by other companies: Contax, Hasselblad 500, Hasselblad H, Mamiya 645 AFD, Mamiya RZ, Rollei 6008, Cambo, Arca, Alpa etc. The entire company was built around that way of working, because digital backs (and related software) was, literally, the only thing they did; Phase One was a back company.
This was freeing, in some ways, since someone else was worrying about the fairly “messy” business of moving parts like focal plane shutters, leaf shutter lenses, and mirror assemblies. But it was also terribly limiting, since 1) they had to support a large number of similar-but-different camera communication protocols and 2) there were features and capabilities Phase One could not pursue because they only had control of the digital back.
Then Hasselblad closed their H camera system to third-party backs, meaning that Phase One was no longer welcome or able to make backs that worked on the H camera system. In hindsight, this is one of the best things that ever happened to Phase One. It set them on the path that led to the Phase One XF, the first camera system that Phase One designed from the ground up, and the first camera system over which they had complete control.
With complete control of the XF, Phase One’s pace of feature development exploded. Four feature updates (1,2,3,4) and a hardware upgrade (HAP-2) have been released in just two years since the initial release of the XF, providing new features like Focus Stacking, TimeLapse, Profoto TTL, Profoto Remote, Electronic Shutter, and Autofocus Recompose (AFr) mode. These updates also improved autofocus performance, battery life, and provided numerous tweaks to the interface and performance of the camera. The XF was a strong camera at launch, but it has seen more powerful improvements than most cameras see in a decade of hardware iterations.
Phase One, as a company, learned much from building the XF. To pursue the faster pace of feature development the entire organization was reorganized and streamlined. Hardware, firmware, and software teams were more tightly integrated and decision-making chains were shortened, flattened, and made more agile. The company made the XF, but in many ways the XF made the company. Rather than hold features to release alongside new hardware, the hardware was being made in such a way that it could support many years worth of feature upgrades.
But this pace of innovation wasn’t possible on the IQ1, IQ2, and IQ3. While revolutionary at it’s time, the Phase One IQ platform hadn’t seen a major internal-component overhaul since the IQ launched in 2011; it simply didn’t have the horsepower to drive all the new features the R+D team was dreaming up. Given the way the IQ 1/2/3 platform worked, new features were far more challenging to develop. The software of the XF is highly modular, allowing a member of the R+D team to experiment with a new tool, without disrupting or worrying about the rest of the system, but in the IQ1/2/3 the software was more monolithic making the addition of new features a time consuming task.
There was one other major hindrance on the IQ1/2/3: Phase One was still supporting a myriad of different camera bodies. The task of keeping compatibility with Contax, Hasselblad 500 (“V”), Hasselblad H, Mamiya DF/DF+, added considerable development overhead and limited the depth of hardware and software development for any given platform. That was a reasonable trade-off when such alternative platforms were used by a majority of Phase One shooters, but became more problematic as the popularity of the XF grew to the vast majority of their clients.
Phase One had taken a huge leap forward with the XF, but it was clear that the lessons of the XF needed to be ported to the IQ, which would require a major internal component overhaul. As we wrote in our “IQ4 150mp – 17 Surprises” article the IQ4 is far more than an [IQ3 + 1]. The main processor, the supporting hardware (storage cards, tethering options, wifi system), and the software stack, have all been replaced. And, as outlined above, the primary purpose of this hardware and software overhaul was not specific features per se, but to create a platform on which additional features and capabilities could be built with the same rapidity and effectiveness as they have been on the XF.
The company itself has also reorganized to reflect this new way of thinking. Development for Hasselblad H, Hasselblad V, and Contax has ended; CPO backs in these mounts are still available and will be supported and serviced for many years, but no more work is going into making new backs for these platforms. Development for the Phase One DF/DF+ has also ended. The IQ3 series (new and CPO) still support the DF/DF+ and those bodies will be supported and serviced for years, but the IQ4 does not support the DF/DF+. There are no longer separate teams for the XF and the IQ. Phase One is no longer a back company that also makes camera bodies and software. There is now one focus at Phase One: camera systems*.
That is what “Infinity Platform” means: the foundational hardware, software, and institutional focus that opens the Phase One camera system to infinite possibilities. It’s undoubtedly “marketing speak.” It’s unquestionably corny. But it references something truly profound about the XF IQ4: as strong as the launch features are (and they are very strong) the most exciting part of the XF IQ4 is the featureful multitudes its platform contains. Those who invest in an IQ4 will see the dividends of the Infinity Platform pay out over decades.
*Tech-camera users: don’t worry! While the focus is exclusively on camera systems you are not forgotten. On the contrary the tech camera user is one of Phase One’s core concerns. The IQ4 launch feature set offers numerous advantages for Tech Camera Users and many of the planned future features target tech camera users specifically. Read our article “11 Reasons Tech Camera Users Will Love the IQ4.”