For quite a while now, Alpa has made uninteresting piece of gear called the Travel Compact body. The idea is to couple a board-mounted lens with a digital or film back in a package that small enough to carry around without a suitcase (or an assistant). It's not a very complex device, serving as a very sturdy frame to which you can attach the necessary image capturing pieces. Now, Phase One is going to be packaging the TC with their digital backs and a high-end Rodenstock lens to essentially create a medium format "mirrorless" camera.
The recent transition digital medium format backs have been making from CCD to CMOS has drastically improved live view performance, which makes a setup like this much more usable. Because there's no mirror, there's no way to use a traditional viewfinder, so you could use the optional reticle viewfinder that mounts on top of the camera and then focus by estimating the distance. Not the most exact science. But, now you can see exactly what you're doing by using the screen. You also had the option of buying a ground glass screen, using it to focus, then swapping it out for the digital back before taking your shot.
Alpa also makes an iPhone mount that goes on the top of the Travel Compact body, so if you want to hook up your camera back for remote viewing through the app, you can use a phone as something of a waist-level finder.
Really, it doesn't seem like there's much in terms of actual new gear here, but it's interesting to see one of the big boys in the medium format world moving away from the traditional SLR format for medium format digital cameras.
Of course, the word "mirrorless" seems to be giving some readers out there in internet land the false hope that this is going to be cheap like a consumer grade "mirrorless" camera. In fact, the new Phase One backs cost as much as a family sedan and the Alpa camera body alone is roughly $2,200. Then you have to start thinking about putting a lens on it. For now, the Pentax 645z is about as cheap as you're going to get when it comes to digital medium format.
Despite the news coming from an official distributor, the A-series from Phase One is apparently not official yet. Here's a note from Phase One on the matter. We're still pretty interested in trying one of these out once they become official.
“These new products are the first step in a long-term strategic & cooperative alliance between Phase One and ALPA that was announced at Photokina. Developing premium products for the world’s most demanding fine art photographers is our focus, and the A-series by Phase One and ALPA is taking the first steps in a creative new direction to integrate some of the highest performing and proven products -- across lenses, bodies, digital backs and software -- to make them easier and even more fun to use.
Below are the key highlights:
1 -- As noted, the A-series will be available in three versions: A250, A260 and A280 with 50MP, 60MP and 80MP respectively.
2 -- Each system will be individually configured with pre-loaded lens calibrations for Rodenstock ALPA 23mm, 35mm and 70mm lenses, making it easy to shoot great looking images out of the box.
3 -- Factory shimmed system marked with A-series badges on both body and back.
4 -- All systems will come with the required accessories -- including some new elements made specifically for this system, e.g. flexible lens shades, iPhone holder and new release cable.
5 -- A 5-year warranty on the system.
6 -- A special note on wifi: Phase One IQ250 camera systems have recently started supporting liveview over wi-fi using Capture Pilot 1.7 (which is already available for download to all IQ250 users). Liveview over wi-fi will also be a cool new feature for the CMOS based A250 using an upcoming 1.8 release.
Thanks for the patience. In December we will share even more details on the new systems including the new factory lens calibration feature, accessories, detailed tech specs, product images, pricing and even better, they will begin shipping!”