Points in Focus Photography

Focus Mask, the New Blinkies: Phase One seems to think so.

A while back I tried out Phase One’s Capture 1 namely to see how well their Focus mask worked. At the time, I was looking for a quick way to scan through pictures looking for the ones that had critical focus placed where I wanted it without having to go into 100% in Lightroom and study the images.

Needless to say, I found Capture 1 to be technically a really nice RAW processor that was such a usability disaster for me that as attractive as the focus mask feature was, it wasn’t good enough to get me to switch. Even then, focus mask is still one feature I’d long to see implemented in Lightroom.

It should be obvious, I think focus mask is one damn handy feature; it would be even more so to have on the back of your camera. Which is what Phase One has gone and done with their IQ series of ridiculously high resolution MF backs.

Fastest validation of correct focus with Focus Mask

No need to zoom anymore to validate your focus. The IQ series backs are designed to display a colored semi-transparent mask on top of the preview to show which parts of the image are in focus. It’s extremely useful to validate depth-of-field and get instant feedback about whether a shot is perfectly focused or not.

via IQ180 digital back – full frame sensor and sensor plus technology.

Reviewing Images on the back of a digital camera is a blessing and a curse. Gone is the need to wait hours, days or even weeks for a lab to develop and process your film, you’re now free to review within seconds of shooting the frame. However instant review is no panacea, even ignoring the low resolution of camera LCD screens, judging sharpness, color, exposure or focus placement is virtually impossible.

There are certainly some workarounds for some of those problems. Flashing highlight warnings, blinkies, show clearly where the images is clipping and not just where it’s bright. The histogram shows the overall range of the exposure, including whether there is data in all of usable range or not.

But there’s no real good way to review sharpness or perhaps more importantly focus placement. You can struggle at it in high magnifications, but even with the max sharpening applied to the preview image, the image can still be unindicative of exact focus placement. Never mind it’s time consuming to have to constantly zoom in and out while stepping through images.

Focus mask solves most of those problems; it’s a feature I’d love to see in more RAW processing software and even more in cameras right along clipping blinkies. So why Canon and Nikon are engaged in another race to the bottom, this time to see who can put the biggest ISO number on their camera’s spec sheet, Phase One has turned out an innovative feature that really makes sense—or cents if you’re Phase One. Too bad their backs generally cost more than a car.


  1. IQ Series Feature List
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