Although his primary focus is videography, Andreas has done some photoshoots for clients before, including for a local businessman he hadn’t heard from in the last three years.
“He organizes specially-themed children’s birthday parties and was closed because of COVID. I did a few photoshoots for him years back — fun shoots but very low budget,” Hofmarcher tells PetaPixel.
“His photographer called in sick, and so he needed someone on very short notice. First, I was thinking of giving this job to someone else but in the end, I had time, a camera, and wanted to help out.”
As it turns out, the child was not the only person who left the party with a gift.
“So I went and had a lot of fun,” Hofmarcher explains. “The theme was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and everyone was dressed up and played games. They had pancakes, make-up stations, a disco, and, of course, presents.”
After a few hours of taking photos of the event and having a good time, the videographer-turned-photographer was ready to pack up and head home.
“But then the grandpa of the birthday child came over and told me he wanted to give me an old camera that has just been lying around for the last ten years that no one is using anymore,” Hofmarcher recalls.
Andreas thought it might be “an old DSLR, film camera, or maybe even a point-and-shoot.” All safe bets. However, his expectations were way off the mark.
“So we went to his office, and I knew that something special might be waiting for me. There was an Atmos watch on the shelf, a tiger-skin carpet on the floor, loads of pictures of him with politicians, and travel photos from around the world in golden frames.”
“He took a huge backpack out of the wardrobe. He opened it, and I took a glance inside. There was a huge camera body with an attached lens, and as I took it out — it weighs about one and a half Nocts [Andreas really is a podcast listener!] — I read the words ‘Phase One.'”
While Andreas mostly does video work, he says it’s about an 80/20 split between video and photo, he has heard of Phase One and knew “something special” was now in his hands.
“I tried to convince him that he still could use, sell, or give the camera to his kids and that I couldn’t possibly take this camera,” Hofmarcher says. The older gentleman insisted, and so Andreas took the camera.
The backpack’s complete contents are as follows: Phase One 645DF camera body, a Mamiya Aptus Leaf II 12 digital back, three Schneider Kreuznach LS lenses, a digital light meter, gray card, four batteries, three CF cards, firewire cables, and instruction manuals.
“It took quite some time for me to figure out how even to start the camera and how to work it. I took it with me to some regular shootings,” Hofmarcher tells PetaPixel. Hofmarcher captured the photos in this article with his new gift.
Given the age of the camera, as evidenced by the inclusion of old-school CompactFlash cards and firewire cables, even opening the files proved a bit challenging. “Lightroom does not recognize the files, so I had to install Capture One. But I also found that I could open the files in Luminar Neo. But man, my computer is working hard to open them!”
The digital back was introduced at Photokina in 2010 and was the world’s first 80-megapixel image sensor. At the time, it cost $32,000. The camera body is even older.
The large sensor’s ISO ranges from 50 to 800, which is very limited by 2023 standards, and it can shoot a photo every 1.5 seconds or so. It also only has a single autofocus point.
The Aptus Leaf II 12 back sports a large 53.7 x 40.3-millimeter image sensor, putting a full-frame camera’s 36 x 24mm sensor to shame. It’s also larger than modern mirrorless medium-format cameras, like the Fujifilm GFX 100 II and Hasselblad X2D 100C, which have roughly 44 x 33mm imagers.
“But on the other hand — I got noticed walking around with such a big camera. I had to stop and think about the pictures. It slowed me down but in a good way. And everybody else took pictures on their phone. I even asked strangers if I could take their pictures, and I wouldn’t do that with my other camera when it’s not an official gig. But somehow, the camera elevated my confidence,” Hofmarcher adds.
It is a far cry from his normal setup of Canon EOS R-series cameras, like the EOS R5, R7, and R10. “My goal is to have a very small footprint and travel very light,” he says. The Phase One and Aptus combo is certainly not small and light.
“I reached out to the PetaPixel Podcast to ask what I should do. Keep the camera and see what I can do with it or sell it and get some upgrades for my paid video work? The consensus has been that I should probably sell it, but I’m still undecided,” Hofmarcher writes. “What would you do? How much is this gear even worth nowadays?”
As for the latter question, and assuming that Hofmarcher’s new-to-him gear is in “good” condition, the camera, digital back, and lenses are worth only $2,650, according to reputable used gear retailer MPB. Changing the condition to “Like new” moves the value to $3,215.
When the gear was brand-new, the story was dramatically different. The lenses are not the latest “Blue Ring” versions, so information is scarce, but it appears that they ranged in price from about $2,000 to $5,000 when new. The Phase One 645DF body was just under $6,000, and as Hofmarcher mentioned, the Mamiya Aptus Leaf II — 12 back was $31,995. Although it is challenging to nail down a precise cost, in 2010, a photographer would’ve shelled out nearly $50,000 for that equipment, not counting memory cards, the light meter, and other accessories.
Frankly, the current used market is underwhelming and reflects a nearly 25 times reduction in value. Although a private sale would likely net Hofmarcher more revenue than a bulk sale to a retailer, that is brutal depreciation.
It is hard to imagine that the gear is worth more now to anyone else than it could be to Hofmarcher. After all, the photographer said the gear has given him more confidence, and putting a price on that is hard. Besides, it’s a fantastic story of generosity and the beautiful surprises sometimes in store for photographers during gigs.
Image credits: Photos courtesy of Andreas Hofmarcher