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Reconstructing images of large high-contrast objects with microwave methods has proved difficult. Successful images have generally been obtained by using a priori information to constrain the image reconstruction to recover the correct electromagnetic property distribution. In these situations, the measured electric field phases as a function of receiver position around the periphery of the imaging field-of-view vary rapidly often undergoing changes of greater than π radians especially when the object contrast and illumination frequency increase. Here, the authors introduce a modified form of a Maxwell equation model-based image reconstruction algorithm which directly incorporates log-magnitude and phase of the measured electric field data. By doing so, measured phase variation can be unwrapped and distributed over more than one Rieman sheet in the complex plane. Simulation studies and microwave imaging experiments demonstrate that significant image quality enhancements occur with this approach for large high-contrast objects. Simple strategies for visualizing and unwrapping phase values as a function of the transmitter and receiver positions within our microwave imaging array are described. Metrics of the degree of phase variation expressed in terms of the amount and extent of phase wrapping are defined and found to be figures-of-merit which estimate when it is critical to deploy the new image reconstruction approach. In these cases, the new algorithm recovers high-quality images without resorting to the use of a priori information on object contrast and/or size as previously required.