Canyon de Chelly: A Room Without a View (Part II); Using the Phase One P65+ Digital Back

My visit to Canyon de Chelly marked the end of the second half of my travels last week to shoot landscapes in Utah and Arizona.  Where Monument Valley found me huddled and layered against the cold, Canyon de Chelly only a couple of hours away was basked in relative comfort and warmth.   I met up with my good friend Don Libby of Iron Creek Photography, Tucson, AZ.  Don and Sandy Libby had recently acquired a new Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 4×4—which we found to be the perfect vehicle to cross the many low streams in the canyon. 

River Crossing at Canyon de Chelly

River Crossing at Canyon de Chelly.  Don was driving while I took photos.  I’m glad I was wearing gortex.

Canyon de Chelly is located in the Navajo Nation.  It is marked with stunning vistas, red cliffs, and acheological remnants of American indians.  Ancient cliff dwellings and petroglyphs are found throughout this historical area.

Mummy Cave

Mummy Cave

Stunning vistas at Spider Rock

Stunning vistas at Spider Rock

We arranged for a Navajo guide to take us deeper into Canyon  de Chelly.  We were fortunate to have met Timothy Halwood of Twin Trail Scenic Tours, (928)349-5560.  Over the course of two days, we traveled in Don’s 4×4 Jeep deep within the canyon.  The wind was terrible the first day, marked by strong gusts and large clouds of dust.  The following short video is a 360 degree panoramic view within the canyon near ancient Anasazi indian ruins.  You can almost imagine Anasazi spirits angered by our presence. [Adjust computer sound volume up and listen carefully for Anasazi Spirits] 

I found the trees within Canyon de Chelly to be amazing, full of character, and sometimes almost ghostly.  Like Anasazi spirits….. (It’s all Sandy’s fault—see what happens without adult-supervision?).   I have compiled a new series called, A Tribute to Trees (of Canyon de Chelly), which may be seen on my landscape website, House of Landscapes.

A Tribute to Trees; Phase 645AF, Phase One P65+, iso 800 Sensor +, f/9 at 1/180

A Tribute to Trees; Phase 645AF, Phase One P65+, iso 800 Sensor+ enabled, f/9 at 1/180

With the wind blowing as much as it was, I found the Sensor+ enabled P65+ digital back to be helpful, allowing me to shoot at higher speeds to stop the movement of the tree branches.  The quality of the Sensor+ files are excellent, and I was actually surprised how much I appreciated having the added flexibility of Phase One’s Sensor+ technology on the P65+. 

A Tribute to Trees of Canyon de Chelly

A Tribute to Trees of Canyon de Chelly

The image below is obviously from Monument Valley, not from Canyon de Chelly.  It was taken when it was quite dark out, and shows the added flexibility that Sensor+ technology offers.  Although shooting with Sensor+ enabled reduces maximum resolution from the default 60.5 megapixels, the difference is that Sensor+ utilizes the entire full frame medium format Dalsa sensor.  The end result is that each megapixel is very high quality.

Monument Valley; Phase P65+, iso 800 Sensor+ enabled, f/22 at 4 seconds. Six image panorama.

Monument Valley; Phase P65+, iso 800 Sensor+ enabled, f/22 at 4 seconds. Six image panorama.

On our second day out, our Navajo guide Tim took us to privately held areas not accessible by the public, even with a Navajo guide.  We were able to photograph a hidden slot canyon within Canyon de Chelly.  Don used his Cambo RS1000 with a Phase One P45+ digital back.  I used my Phase 645AF camera with the Phase One P65+.   I found the Sensor+ feature of the P65+ to be invaluable in photographing the dark crevasse.

Jidden Slot Canyons at Canyon de Chelly; Phase P65+, iso 800 Sensor+, f/8 at 4 seconds

Hidden Slot Canyons at Canyon de Chelly; Phase 645AF, Mamiya 35mm, Phase P65+, iso 800 Sensor+, f/8 at 4 seconds

Phase 645AF, Mamiya 35mm, P65+, iso 800 Sensor+, f/8 at 3 seconds

Phase 645AF, Mamiya 35mm, P65+, iso 800 Sensor+, f/8 at 3 seconds

Tim told us that we were only the third “non-Navajo” to ever see these hidden slot canyons.  Slot canyons resemble long thin caves created over many years by the force of water cutting through the rock walls.  Rich colors with hues of orange, red, and purple may emanate from the canyon walls, particulary when overhead light beams are able to shine inside the dark cavities.   The slot canyon at Canyon de Chelly is small compared to the slot canyons of Lower and Upper Antelope Slot Canyons near Page, Arizona , but beautiful and revered nonetheless.   (You can see my images from the Upper Antelope Slot Canyon in the Arizona Navajo Nation gallery at House of Landscapes).  We even discovered pieces of Anasazi pottery outside of the slot canyon, estimated by Tim to be from between 1300 A.D. to 1400 A.D.

Navajo guide Timothy Halwood, Don Libby, and Ken Doo

Navajo guide Timothy Halwood shows Anasazi pottery relic to Don Libby and Ken Doo

Tsegi Overlook at Canyon de Chelly

Tsegi Overlook at Canyon de Chelly.  Canon G-9 panorama

I am extremely pleased with the Phase P65+.  I recently printed a large gallery-wrapped canvas wall portrait at my boutique photography studio in Carmel, and the detail and color provided by the Phase One P65+ full-frame medium format sensor are simply incredible.  It was like working with a contact print!  Regardless of print size, my clients can be assured of unsurpassed quality.  What I had not anticipated as much were changes that I would need to make to my workflow, but primarily only with my landscape photography work, which often require longer exposure times or mutiple image captures for panoramic images.  For example, when shooting with a longer lens, such as the Mamiya 300mm, it becomes much more difficult to obtain critical sharpness; the big white lens becomes a mini-sail in windy conditions, making long exposures difficult.  I have been talking with Eleanor Brown of Houston, Texas, about using the Phase One P65+ and platform stability, and have appreciated her insight.   Eleanor Brown is a talented landscape photographer who has also upgraded to the Phase One P65+ digital back through Chris Lawery at Capture Integration (Phase One dealer of the year).  Both Chris Lawery and Doug Peterson at Capture Integration have been extremely helpful in providing continuing support.

For my landscape work, I have since altered my carbon fiber tripod platform for added stability by removing the ballhead completely and replacing it with a Really Right Stuff panning clamp directly to the tripod base.  This lower profile provides a more stable shooting platform, yet is lighter in weight, which is helpful when hiking any distance or uphill.  The Phase One P65+ also performs better at higher iso settings compared to other digital backs, which aids in selecting faster shutter speeds.  With previous medium format digital backs, I would have hesitated shooting above 200 iso; however, the full-frame P65+ Dalsa sensor easily produces quality files at 400 iso, and with Sensor+ enabled, high quality files are easily produced at 800 and even 1600 iso, with minimal post-processing.  The P65+ is capable of shooting at speeds up to 3200 iso!  The Arca Swiss Cube remains on the most-wanted list,  but I have decided in the meantime to rely on my heavy carbon fiber tripod legs and gear from Really Right Stuff.  To handle the huge files generated by the P65+’s full-frame medium format 60.5 megapixel sensor, an eight-core computer loaded for bear is also in the works! 

The Phase One P65+ provides absolutely stunning detail, its high resolution medium format sensor dwarfs even a full frame 35mm based DSLR sensor, making it look like a point-and-shoot camera.  But in my opinion, high resolution sensors can also exacerbate improper photographic technique.  This also applies to higher resolution DSLRs compared to lower resolution cameras.   It is for this reason that some photographers may be better suited to the ease of a 35mm based DSLR which can be much more forgiving under demanding conditions.  I enjoy the challenges of shooting with medium format digital and the desire to extract the highest quality possible for the images that I create for my clients, whether a priceless portrait, weddings and engagement, commercial work, or a beautiful landscape.   The Phase One P65+ digital back is  a perfect fit.   kmd

*Addendum:  Those interested in reading more about medium format digital can find more of my blog entries here and also at:

*A Tribute to Trees (of Canyon de Chelly) will be on display, time and date TBA, at Frames on Broadway in Seaside.  This is a limited series of ten tree images, ten prints of each image only, printed appropriately on Hahnemule Bamboo fine art paper. 

*You can see more landscape images taken with Phase One Medium Format Digital Backs by scrolling through my galleries at  Some of the panoramic images are eight feet long!  Some of these images are on display at Searles in Monterey.

*Ken Doo Photography in Carmel, CA  is the main studio website.  Appts/information (831) 626-1844


10 Responses to “Canyon de Chelly: A Room Without a View (Part II); Using the Phase One P65+ Digital Back”

  1. Nancy Yackel Says:

    Stunning slot canyon pictures.

  2. Love this blog I’ll be back when I have more time.

  3. Hey Ken – Had a ball shooting with you in Canyon de Chelly! When and where is our next trip?


  4. You all should come do the everglades! That way I could join without leaving my state.

  5. iso 1600…

    Intriguing idea, but I don’t know if I believe you one hundred percent….

    • I wouldn’t believe iso 1600 from a MFDB either—until I saw it with my own eyes, on an actual print. I prefer to shoot at 50 or 100 iso, and that won’t change, but sometimes conditions in the field are not as perfect as lighting in the studio. This is where I really appreciate having the flexibility of the Phase P 65+ and Sensor+ technology. kmd

  6. Your blog is so interesting! I have subscribed on rss and I will read it regularly.

  7. Love the photo’s. I’ll be taking the jeep tour on Sept. 21st, 2009 with Timothy Halwood. It’s just a coincidence that I saw this website after calling to reserve my tour with Tim this morning. My wife and I look forward to the tour and to meeting Timothy.

    We’ve fallen “in love” with the Southwest and have visited many of the sites over the years and our interest and knowledge of the area’s history remains a fascination to us.

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