#751. The Hasselblad X1D. Digital photography home at last ?

#751. The Hasselblad X1D. Digital photography home at last ?

Some say our childhood centerfolds stick with us for the rest of our lives. Mine were the Mamiya 7 and the Rollei SL66. The Bret Sinclair and Danny Wilde of film photography, if you will, and a darn sight easier to explain to my parents than Anna Nicole, Pamela and their friends. Anyone that’s had to suffer one of my rants about modern photographic ergonomics will know I consider the Mamiya 7 the best camera every designed. Extraordinary lenses, even by Otus standards, robust build, stealthy-ish shooting, it had a lot going for it and two graced my home over the years. The lust never left me.

It’s karmically amusing, then, that two of the most high-end cameras amateurs can buy today feel eerily similar to these illustrious medium formats of old : the Hasselblad X1D and the Fuji GFX. Testing the former has been at the back of my mind for some time and, now, thanks to the kindness of Philip and Lea at Hasselblad central, it has just happened.Hurray and thank you.

Before we go any further, please note that the blog doesn’t do a great job of displaying the subtle colours produced by the camera and many on this page look like they were hand coloured with candy and the subtlety of tonal transitions is all but lost. Feel free to click the images to view 4000pix wide jpg versions that give you a far better sense of the camera’s potential.

 

Hasselblad X1D & XCD 3.5/30 lens – rose-tinted glasses ?

 

So, the Mamiya 7 was a stunning camera, but film and processing were expensive and implied a long and painful process for someone living a long way from a chemical lab. Digital came along and predictably stole film medium format’s thunder.ย  Somehow, though, it never really delivered on its promise. Easier and more convenient, yes. But, in some ways, it was a downhill experience for many years. Digital photography is just one example of the terrible sacrifices we are prepared to make for the sake of convenience.

Then,ย suddenly, the Hasselblad X1D looked like the mighty Mamiya 7 had awoken from its slumber in digital form. It looked like a very handsome product, one that couldn’t be used without a properly groomed 3-day stubble and that would not be chucked into a closet by my wife when left lying around. Heck, it might even enhance the interior. Most importantly, though, it looked designed by photographers for photographers with few concessions to the fads that have plagued the ergonomics of many modern digital cameras. The perfect digital camera for me? With a little introduction from a friend, I was soon in discussion with the super kind people in Gรถteborg to find out and the rest is … this review.

 

 

They say you should never meet your heroes. I’m glad I did. Let’s kill the suspense from the get go. The Hasselblad X1D is, by a safe margin, the best camera I have ever used. Not just technically but as a rewarding and thrilling camera to handle.

During the first hours, it felt heavy, clunky and slow. The AF seemed ponderous and relatively loud with my eye pressed to the EVF. Wake up time ? Telluric. The heft was a little intimidating. The lenses were larger than imagined.

Test conditions weren’t ideal either, as my car was destroyed in an accident the day before the arrival of the camera, leaving me stranded in a sleepy village with little else to photograph but my garden and my cats.

Still, I started actually using the X1D and a veil lifted to reveal what great photography used to feel like, as if a stone stuck inside my shoe for the past decade has suddenly been removed. Not everyone will agree with this assessment, of course. But the X1D wonderfully services a niche of deliberate photographers that has been neglected for far too long.

So let me try to describe not just the performance but what it’s actually like to use this camera on a shoot (spoiler: the answer is super relaxed).

 

Hasselblad X-1D, XCD 3.2/90, processed in Phocus

 

 

Packaging

First things first. Remember Men in Black? That’s how I felt when finding the large Pelicase on my doorstep. It looks and feels incredibly robust and badass. It could certainly withstand the sort of mishap that the person carrying it wouldn’t. Inside, a thick slab of dense foam houses a series of tight-fitting cutouts that hug the camera, lenses and several accessories, while a couple of extra sleeves are good for a large-ish laptop (16″?) and charger, plus battery charger, tethering cords, … Definitely not your average cardboard unboxing experience.

 

 

Out of its foamy bunker, the X1D looks like the centerpiece of a design museum. Over my 10-day tenure of the camera, it was seen and handled by many friends and relatives, mostly non photographers. And the reaction to this luxuriously machined billet of unobtanium was always one of awe, as if first time viewers refused to acknowledge what the protruding lens and general layout so insistently point to : this was indeed a camera, similar in nature to the black plastic heaps of buttons and more buttons usually seen elsewhere. That reaction was not always positive, as if the Hassy looked too bare and simple to be a serious piece of kit. That evident conflict between the admiration for the object and doubt, in the face of what japanese marketing has led us to believe to be serious cameras, is what I’ll most remember of these encounters.

 

Ergonomics

There are few good or bad cameras, taken out of context. But some are terrible and others are great for you. It’s not only a matter of subject of predilection (wildlife and sports do impose their specificities, for instance). You can tell the difference – for yourself – by how natural the flow is when using the camera. For instance, I was very much at one with my little Olympus EM-5, some years ago, but have always found it difficult to bond with my more recent Sony bodies.

We have two brain hemispheres, one handling analytic tasks and the other powering our creativity. It takes a special type of genius to use both at max power simultaneously. For most of us common mortals, using gear that relies heavily on the analytic half of our brain will hinder the abilities of the creative side. It’s OK to labour, huff and puff in a studio. But out on the street, if you have to get your eye out of the viewfinder or wind up your brain to find a button, your images will most likely suck.

After a couple of days, the X1D was a natural extension of myself.

 

A dance of joy for the Hasselblad X-1D, XCD 3.2/90 – look at those colours

 

Others might dislike it. It’s all good. What makes this camera so special is that it polarizes. Instead of trying to appeal to an overly broad population, it really pleases those it was designed for and will probably leave others cold or in utter disbelief.

So, what is it that makes the Hasselblad so special to me?

First, there’s the grip. It’s a heavy camera and I never use a strap. For my medium-sized (and larger) hands, this grip is a dream. It’s deep, well-shaped and extremely natural. Not once did leaning over high ledges worry me. The camera just sits perfectly well in hand and never feels tiresome (unlike my lighter Sony that needs a much tighter grip to feel secure).

Then there’s the button layout. And here, Hasselblad have made things logical and understandable (how retro a concept is that?) by using a mix of clearly labeled buttons (rather than C1, C2, C3 nonsense) and contextual functions triggered by these buttons. For instance, on the top face is an ISO button that lets you set your ISO number via the thumb wheel. OK. Next to it is a focus button that toggles between MF (manual focus) and AF. When in live view + AF mode, pressing this button lets you select the active AF zone). And so on. Rather than assign specific functions to nameless buttons randomly peppered over the body, named buttons trigger functions that are all of the same nature and only meaningful in a given situation. Use them once and you never forget.

As much as it costs me to admit it, AF was my goto mode most of the time. But there were situations when it was great to revert to manual at the press of a well placed button (more on that later).

 

The EVF is OK, but nothing exceptional. Compared to an A7r2 it feels like you’re looking at a slightly larger TV, but it’s still pretty much a TV and not one with particularly good colours, at that. Although I’ve never used the A7r3 or the Leica SL, my understanding is that the EVFs on those would wipe the floor with this one. Still, with one very notable exception (see gripes and negatives, below) the EVF is pleasant enough that you just forget about it in real life conditions.

Compared to the EVF, the rear screen is stellar. Super colours, sharp, bright enough for summer conditions by the Med, nothing but good news here. Next to it are 4 buttons and that’s pretty much all the clutter you’ll find on the back of the camera. The buttons let you review, delete and confirm deletion of photographs. The fourth launches the menu system. The rear screen is touch sensitive, letting you swipe through photographs, enlarge or reduce with two fingers, navigate the image folder … removing the need for more buttons, joysticks and all the other ergonomic monstrosities we have been told were good for us, in recent years. The menus are clear, intuitive and concise. Best UI ever.

 

The latches for the dual memory cards and various cables slide and rotate with a great feel. A lever under the rear face releases the battery. But it won’t fall out accidentally because it is held back by an invisible hook and you need to give it a small push back up to release it completely and let it slide through its tightly adjusted barrel and into your palm.

Those are all details that are irrelevant to image quality but, for the admirer of tactile quality, all of this is just pure pleasure and such a refreshing change from the cheap plastics that peel off your 3 grand camera after a year, the unfathomable design logic, the unpredictable reliability in various weather conditions … There’s no saying how many PR hands this camera has been through and, if the outside of the Pelicase is anything to judge by, a lot. But the camera could pass as brand new.

The shutter release, a big orange button, has a long throw that needs some getting used to. Half way gets the AF going, which produces more noise than I’d imagined and hoped but it’s a one pinky job to deactivate it when in silence-only situations. The noise is a high-pitched whirr reminiscent of some inkjet printers. Not really intrusive, but louder than the best 2018 DSLRs (the lenses are quite large and the glass is probably heavy, which is good as lenses designed with AF in mind so often compromise optical quality to keep the weight down and speed up).

 

 

The crowds lining up to see the X1D & XCD 3.5/30

 

The lack of stabilisation never is an issue, the camera is both heavy and very stable so it seems quite immune to vibrations. What did happen, though, is that I often found myself needing much higher speeds than with my FF system because of subject movement and the longer focal lengths of the X1D’s lenses. A kitten on steroids proved a perfect test for that sort of thing ๐Ÿ˜‰ The AF (kind of) coped with it but, initially, my shutter speed was often too low for the 90mm lens.

 

Battery life is not so joyful. On a full charge, one battery would take me through one lazy day of 150+ photographs. But it’s easy to imagine a pro needing 4 or 5 of those super expensive items to get though a long session. And, as elegant as the charging system is (the lead from the charger plugs straight into the battery), a full charge takes a really long time (I’d guess over 6 hours), so said pro would need multiple chargers as well. Not ideal.

Speed. I mentioned the passing of an age that happens as you switch the camera on. Think of the camera as a laptop loading it’s OS, which is pretty much what the camera is doing. It takes a good 8 seconds to do that, not that much more than my A7r2 after a long sleep, but way too long for comfort. Mercifully, a very good workaround alleviates this in real life. Just behind the shutter release is the On/Off button. A long press will put the camera to sleep, with the long wakeup cycle to deal with. But a short press simply pauses the camera, switching off the screens but maintaining vigilance. Press that button, or the shutter release, again and the camera is operational far quicker than it takes to raise it to your eye. All good, then. The camera seems to switch from pause to Off after a long period of idleness. My battery life comments were made relative to using this pause mode most of the time.

 

IQ

Image Quality. That’s why you’re here, right?

Or is it?

It seems to me most reviews these days focus on Image Quantity. Pixel count, stabilisation stops, dynamic range, … You could argue that the quantitative approach gives you a standard comparison methodology that eliminates personal biases. Except it doesn’t. It really, really, doesn’t, because those numbers reveal so little of what actually allows you to digitally display or print a really impressive image. The X1D punches way above its quantitative ratings (or maybe other cameras punch way below theirs?)

Most of the images on this page are made with the Hassleblad X1D, native XCD lenses and processed in Hasselblad’s Phocus software. The defining quality for that imaging chain is refinement. There’s no ISO certified test for that but it’s what sets this camera head and shoulders above others with similar quantitative measurements. So I’ll try to break things up into subjective assessments of a few evaluation criteria that should be meaningful to fine art photographers (the natural target for this camera) : tonal range and colour management.

 

Troll head – Hasselblad X1D & XCD 3.5/30

 

Compared to my habitual camera, the most striking difference is how natural colours look. Even in very dull scenes, as above, the images rarely beg for an increase in saturation. Out of the box, they feel natural and complete.

Which is a good thing, for several reasons :

  • The time gained in PP with this camera, compared to my usual process, is huge. More time shooting, less time on the computer. Happy family.
  • As unparalleled as they look, the X1D’s files somewhat lose that advantage the harder you process them. It’s not that they break up or can’t handle the abuse (on the contrary, they offer far more latitude than most) but that natural tonal elegance and refinement gets lost in severe processing, particularly if you are not using Phocus for that. You end up with a merely excellent 50Mpix file rather than something slightly magical and beyond specs.

 

Pot of gold – Hasselblad X1D & XCD 3.5/30

 

Luckily, all it takes to recreate your vision is most often (either nothing or) some minimal contrast enhancement, that brings out the colours without hurting the subtlety. In those conditions, the X1D is a naturalist photographer’s dream come true.

Many other cameras on the market have great colours, I suppose, but the X1D seems utterly unflappable whatever the lighting conditions, even at very high ISO (6400, below).

 

Hasselblad X1D & XCD 3.2/90 @ ISO 6400

 

While in other systems, changing white balance can throw some colours off kilter, the X1D’s files let you play but always remain realistic and refined. Even in extreme candy mode, as in the first pictures on this page and further below ๐Ÿ˜‰

 

 

The tonal subtlety is perhaps even harder to describe in objective terms than the colours. You can see with your own eyes whether the colours feel realistic and appeal to you or not. Tonal transitions are a matter of taste. What defines those of the X1D is silkiness.

Strait out of camera and slightly underexposed, this scene looks polished and serene. Organic and subtle. It’s like a true supermodel without makeup.

 

 

Even at ISO6400, that feeling is preserved. There is so much natural detail in the shadows that you don’t feel the need to push them and everything has that organic, fluid, feel that’s so easy to lose with noisy pixels and harsh post-processing. Look at the lady’s dress in the shadows and you’ll see plenty of quantifiable noise. But it’s not ugly chroma noise and it doesn’t harm how the image conveys the light of the moment. It’s pretty obvious the development team didn’t go for the lowest measurable noise characteristics but opted for the most natural-looking noise.

 

 

And the same can be said at the other end of the lighting spectrum, where very harsh summer conditions don’t throw the camera off its rails, preserving subtle shades and colours. The sky and sunlit leaves would be pure white in many systems that measure well.

 

 

Blend the two together and you get photographs that look utterly clean and charming in difficult conditions. Sunsets shot with lesser systems give you highlight that are either pure white or look like they were coloured in with crayon. Not here and scenes with crazy dynamic range can be tackled with no sweat.

 

ND filter? What ND filter? Hasselblad X1D and XCD 3.5/30 lens

 

And before you think those files can’t handle PP, here are a few samples that have been through various stages. They are still excellent. I just feel some small percentage of the SOOC magic is taken away by the software.

 

La vie en rose (extreme candy mode)

La vie en N&B

ย 

 

Shooting envelope

My very uneducated calculations indicate that the technical choices made by Hasseblad cost you about 3 EV of shooting envelope compared to the best Sony has to offer. Both cameras are really good up to ISO 6400. The X1D lenses with their leaf shutters, are good for exposures up to 3/f (eg 1/30s is easy on a 90mm) whereas my non stabilised Sony lenses require 1/2f. 6 times more. But IBIS gives them at least 4 stops of stabilisation, giving the Sony a real-life advantage of at least 1.5 stop (although, I’m not convinced stabilised shots look quite as naturally sharp as unshaken ones).

At the other end of the scale the 1/2000s limit is easy to reach (2 stops less than the 1/8000s of the Sony and more compared to electronic shutter shenanigans), but the lenses close down more before suffering from diffraction. Make that a 1 stop advantage for the Sony. Maybe the latest generation of sensors is a tad better at high ISO as well.

So, you’re basically trading shooting envelope for image quality, right ?

 

Hasselblad X-1D, XCD 3.5/30, 8s handheld

 

Well, not so fast.

After the war for megapixels was over (is it really, though?) the race to high ISO drove me nuts because one of the major losers in that battle was the low ISO setting that allowed for long exposures. Some cameras have their base ISO at 200. You now need filters to slow things down a little. And long exposures are actually not that easy to make happen on some modern cameras. On the Sony, it requires the addition of a special app (Silent Reflections, if memory serves me well) plus 2 PhDs in engineering and masochistic torture to set it up.

Hasselblad takes a radical approach to this. Try to follow, it’s surprising in today’s tech-driven world : the shutter can open from 1/2000s to 60 minutes. That’s it. Just aim and shoot and the camera will expose, however long that takes. No special wiring, no app, no bluetooth. Imagine that, a camera that can actually photograph at night, not just boast high ISO ratings for the punters to chew on.

 

Several minutes exposure. Look, no apps!

 

A word of explanation about this image. Three, in fact.

First of all, I take this reviewing so seriously that I bought a Volvo to replace my broken car (true story). Swedish-bounced photons imaged by Swedish camera. Second, it was very dark and here’s one caveat to my praise singing: it was utterly impossible to see anything in the EVF without shining a torch at the subject. So I had to take photographs and refine the focusing on the go, by chimping. Third, the car was lit by the headlights of other cars driving by, shining through vegetation, which is what produced the stripey lighting. This isn’t an artefact of the camera ๐Ÿ˜‰

Fourth (b-roll bonus): after this session I chickened out like a little girl because of some loud noises in the nearby bushes. Wild boar? Thugs? A basilisk? No idea and I didn’t wait to find out. Something tells me the Swede are probably better outdoorsmen than me ๐Ÿ˜‰

 

Pascal, in his Volvo, scared senseless by a cat

 

Anyhoo, shooting envelope is definitely displaced compared to most smaller-format digital cameras. But it’s certainly not inferior. In fact, the X1D feels like a tool you could take anywhere to tackle the toughest lighting situations. Add to that good weather sealing and a reassuring ruggedness … and you have yourself a very versatile friend.

 

 

Peripheral photography

So, smooth tonal transitions, incredible glass and superb colour management, hand in hand with a clever modern take on old-school shooting. The list of justifications for sending your children to work in a mine to finance the X1D is getting longer. And there’s one more that really matters.

They say that a great HiFi system shines not during the notes it plays but in-between them. The air, the damping, the quality of silence … all contribute to that you are there experience many are ready to pay fortunes for (a very different and more natural experience than the more spectacular and, ultimately, boring, they are here experience more often offered).

It’s a similar story with this camera. It boast excellent IQ in normal light, as show before. But it’s even more impressive in difficult light, when the transition between information and no information is critical for a natural look.

 

 

This very unremarkable photograph (one of my first, stranded at home and a little intimidated) shows how well the transition from OK to pure white is handled. And the same goes for blacks. In center-weighted mode, the exposure is exceptionally good. This would make a fantastic street photography tool as you can be sure the subject will be perfectly exposed while the rest of the frame is dismissed into whatever extremes are needed with great elegance. The same shot with my Sony tried to preserve the highlights, sending the main subject into noisy shadows.

As great as the camera is in normal conditions, it’s really when the going gets tough (and, therefore, interesting) that the X1D rises above the full frame hoi polloi. I was expecting the huge dynamic range to result in dull RAW files needing a lot of doctoring (the first Leica Monochrome got a bad rap for that, for example) but that couldn’t be less true. Out of the box, images feel full of life and give you a very real sense of the harsh lighting conditions. You can photograph a scorching sun and it will shine through to the final print.

 

 

And, in that lighting torture test in which the frame contains zones with very different lighting conditions (intensity or white balance), which can throw my Sony into a mustardy tantrum, all is again luxury, calm and voluptuousness with the X1D.

 

 

Gripes and negatives

Sure thing. The X1D is far from perfect.

Let’s begins with a benign rant: lenses without an aperture ring? Really? What can I say, a thumb wheel is one thing, an aperture ring is another, better, one. Much better. In a camera that does so much to free the photographer’s brain of trivial labour, this is a let down. Using the PASM wheel is easy enough, but I personally would be better off with aperture rings.

Then, there’s the ecosystem. It’s way too polite for its own good. It’s all very well to provide tools for professionals that behave perfectly predictably but not everyone is a product photographer desiring accuracy above all else. Brad Pitt is a pro, but he’ll belch with the best of them. Not every film is House of flying daggers.ย Fight clubย is great as well. But try as you may to make the Hasselblad imaging chain (lenses, X1D, Phocus) you’ll always be very polite. Not everyone will like that. Happily, a super simple export will send your TIFF files to Photoshop where you can pile on photographic misdemeanors. And there’s also the underground way of adapted lenses.

 

Hasselblad X1D, XCD 3.5/30, image processed in Phocus – about as bad boy as I could get.

 

Also troublesome to me is that the prophecy that great colour and tonal subtlety would inevitably guarantee great B&W photographs hasn’t been born out in reality for me. A system I can’t produce great B&W photographs with is a non-starter for me. As pleasant and excellent as Phocus is to use in colour, the monochrome mode is far too limited (3 colour sliders and 3 filter presets). Thankfully other software can be used for this and the files work excellently. Most of those on this page were processed in ubiquitous LightRoom. Stay tuned for more on how that turned out.

Then, there’s the issue of night use. Files made at night using long exposures are peerless in my (limited) experience. The lenses produce incredibly pinpoint stars right to the corners, the sensor’s amps are obviously super quiet, the signal processing seems very clean and non destructive, the battery doesn’t seem to be drained by super long exposures. Excellent all through.

But the camera … not so.

For one thing, the EVF is completely black, making it impossible to focus (as described above). And the PASM ring is unreadable (although you can get info in the EVF). Given how desirable the X1D would be for astrophotography, here are some suggestions : (1) provide a red mode for both the EVF and rear screen so as not to destroy night vision (2) amplify the life out of that signal so we can see something in the EVF, even if it is a ghastly pixelated mess (3) add a stop to the PASM wheel so we can count which position we are, (4) add an infinity stop (or some indication of infinity focus) to the lenses.

 

 

Bugs ? Hardly. Other reviews had led me to believe this camera was an unreliable mess. Definitely not so. I experience a quirk with the EVF that didn’t turn on, once or twice (just move the camera away and back again). And on a few occasions, my very pretty cheekbones moved the AF focus point on the rear screen. That’s it. Even when I was deliberately rude to the camera, switching it off before it had finished loading, inserting and removing cards while on …, not a single glitch. All very boring and normal ๐Ÿ˜‰

 

Summing up

If slow food brings positive associations to your mind, think of the X1D that way (if not, you must be pretty bored by now). Slow photography at its very best.

 

Dawn in the Sainte-Baume. Hasselblad X1D & XCD 3.5/30mm

 

When you press the shutter release, there is no lag. The camera isn’t slow in use, it’s instant and positive. And, in AF (provided you don’t shoot fast-moving targets) plus auto-ISO mode, it’s as set-and-forget as your average point and shoot. Wanna be lazy? No worries here.

So what do I mean by slow photography ?

Simply that it really rewards thinking and taking a deliberate approach towards photography. One in which you contemplate a subject and think about how you can best serve it, find the best settings to create an image that represents how you feel about the scene. It’s a camera for people who feel more than a camera for people who think. For people who get high on photography, not technology (EVF and rear-screen excepted, technology is hidden from view, this might as well be a film camera), there’s little to touch it.

 

 

Technically, its performance is impressive. Shoot in darkness from a dancing boat and nail the photo. Easy.

 

 

But it’s really much more than that because it lets you experiment with variations without the image ever breaking down whatever the lighting conditions or the flow ever getting in the way of your thought process. This either means a lot to you or makes your eyes glaze over. That’s how you know whether that camera is for you or not. To me, the exquisite image quality is just icing on the cake.

 

 

Price

Never discuss context. Price is all about context.

A Fuji X-H1 will cost you a third of the cost and deliver a similarly pleasing shooting experience with great results.

Every two years, I take a huge hit on my new Sony camera. Over 3 iterations, this amounts to the current discounted price of an X1D (which will probably keep its value much better).

 

 

A very complete Sony system covering sports, wildlife and plenty other subjects can be had for less than the X1D body alone costs.

The X1D delivers the same image quality (and is far simpler use) as an Alpa + Phase combo costing 3 times as much.

You only can decide whether this camera is cheap or expensive.

I believe it’s extremely well positioned for what it has to offer in terms of fulfilment to an amateur photographer (pros have their own ROI considerations that elude me). Your mileage may indicate otherwise.

 

Conclusion. Should you buy one?

My guess is … NO!

If you know what this camera is all about, love its value proposition –ย  but haven’t bought one yet, it’s probably because – like me – you can’t afford it, even as a long-term proposition. End of story.

If you know what this camera is all about and aren’t drawn to its value proposition, you won’t buy it either. End of story.

 

Hasselblad X-1D, XCD 3.5/30, processed in Phocus – under harsh summer sun in Provence. SOOC.

 

But …

If you’ve been sitting on the fence, drawn by the IQ promise but repulsed by the element of risk described elsewhere (bugs, costs ..), you really owe it to yourself to go and try this camera. It isn’t one you can get to know and love in a matter of minutes. If you’re in the target, however, chances are you will fall in love when you really start using it. You have been warned. At the moment, you can rent the camera and lenses and get a refund if you buy the camera within 14 days following the rental period. For us Europeans who can’t return gear after purchase, that’s a sweet deal.

If the proposition of a superbly built camera that delivers an addictive mix of tog-centric ergonomics and astounding image quality, while encouraging you to be deliberate and focused (ie a better photographer), appeals to you, look no further. You are home at last.

Maybe a better question would be “should you buy one now” ? Recent price drops have priced the X1D more in line with the most high-end 35mm DSLRs. That’s tempting. But that might also indicate that an new, improved, version is close on the horizon, a camera in line with rumoured new generation of small medium formats based on a more modern Sony sensor. Something with better battery life, a 100Mpix BSI sensor, DJI-infused stabilising technology,ย faster, onboard AF and (yes, the world seems to insist relentlessly on this pointless feature) better video. Who knows what else ?

 

Hasselblad X1D & XCD 3.5/30

 

 

As tempting as that is, there are several counter arguments.

First, in my limited experience, you don’t need stabilisation! Put the camera in Auto ISO and the shake-free leaf shutters make for a sharp and wonderfully fuss-free experience.

Second, some have reported that IBIS actually hurts IQ at certain speeds. A simpler camera is always a better camera. And avoiding a problem (shake) is better than fixing it.

Third, what makes this camera’s IQ isn’t its resolution but its smooth tones and accurate colours. Double the resolution and you’ll make Intel and Nvidia shares skyrocket. Will it make the camera a better image maker? It could, but it might not. This first generation X1D seems to have hit a sweet spot that isn’t lacking in resolution (Ming Thein has printed X1D files over 60 inches, that’s usually enough for most people) and has beauty and refinement in spades.

Fourth, one mouth-watering aspect of this camera is the ability, via adapters, to use vintage and third-party lenses with very interesting rendering. In particular my beloved Zeiss C-Sonnar 1.5/50 ZM and Otus 85, the lovely Leica Elmarit-R 2.8/90, the oldy-goldy Hasselblad Zeiss Sonnar CF 150/4 and many more. Chances are many of these lenses will struggle with the smaller pixels of the 100Mpix version and you’ll end up downresing.

Fifth is historical significance. Compare the original Countach to the revamped monstrosities Lamborghini released after it. All were better technically than the original but not as desirable. That’s not to say Hasselblad will add horrible spoilers everywhere (although horrible invasion of video is likely) but there’s always something special about “the original”. And this is it! This camera marks the first step of a legendary pro brand into a new world of amateur Nirvana. As it stands, the X1D is an exquisite gastronomic dish in a fast-food world. And that could be its undoing, because so many people chose convenience or shallow luxury over true quality, and the big money is in Instagram imagery. So it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see future versions err towards what the mass market has been taught to expect : more tech, more codecs, more buttons. If you’re in the market, grab one now.

 

Hasselblad X1D & XCD 3.2/90 (heavy crop and not very good focus)

 

At any rate, this is a wonderful camera. Compared to my usual gear, I shot far fewer photographs, with a higher keeper rate, felt more relaxed, and spent far less time in post-processing. A win-win-win.

Purely because they could, digital photography majors pushed cameras towards faster operations, faster focusing, faster shutter speeds … as if the technical performance in itself was an argument for buying them. Most did of course. And that is the difference between a chef smoking locally fished salmon with locally picked herbs and a carefully honed recipe in an Ontario forest and your local McDonald’s. Fast, fun and convenient has worldwide appeal. But real foodies will always tell the difference.

That being said, the X1D is certainly not for everyone. The wildlife photographer thriving at 20 fps with a 500/4 megalens at ISO 25600 might find the X1D lacking. The technophile more interested in specs than photography, well, probably hasn’t read this far. But the X1D won’t really work for him/her either. The X1D is a polarizing camera and it’s an utter shame that more aren’t. We want and need tools designed for a certain set of shooting scenarios, and bad at others. Instead, we are being served jack-of-all trade techno-messes that provide as little pleasure as driving today’s slew of a jack-of-all-trades car.

Some have criticised the X1D for that specialisation. For what are essentially failures on paper, such as the lethargic start-up time. The story has often been “great IQ, shame about the clunkiness”. Those guys obviously haven’t been out shooting with the camera, haven’t bonded with it or tried to understand its use case. To those guys, I’ll just reply, using the immortal words of Captain Malcolm Reynolds “my days of not taking you seriously have definitely come to a middle”.

Will I end up putting my money where my mouth is? Unfortunately not just yet, but that’s purely contextual. With another Swede company vacuuming my cash for a car, the September feeding of our government’s extravagant spending and payment of shockingly expensive British tuition for my daughter, all in rapid succession, my hobby budget is looking leaner than a Toyota factory line.

It’s not for lack of wanting, though. And it’s definitely more an au revoir than an adieu.

 

 

 

What’s next?

Fairy tales only happen in movies. The X1D is gone.

And the great guys at Novoflex did their very best to ship me a set of adapters to try out adapted lenses, but that couldn’t be arranged in time. Next time (hint hint, Hasselblad ๐Ÿ˜‰ ? )

 

What’s that Philip? You want to send it to me again when I have the adapters available? ๐Ÿ˜‰

 

But two shorter articles are coming:

  • One quick update about the two lenses used over this 10-day period.
  • The other about using the Lightroom ecosystem in conjunction with Hasselblad’s Phocus.

So, stay tuned and thanks for reading. What are your thoughts so far ? I have tried to provide a range of topics, subjects, lighting conditions for you to examine but please shoot your questions below and I will do my best to answer them to the best of my limited knowledge.

 


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25 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Frank Field July 19, 2018

    An aspirational photographer’s review, rather than a technician’s review. We see so few of these today. Thank you and well done! I look forward to the remaining articles in this series.

  2. Avatar
    paulperton July 19, 2018

    Sod. I’m just coming to terms with the Fuji ecosystem and you do this.

    What kind of friend are you?

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy July 19, 2018

      LOL. The kind that’s hoping to get enough others onboard for Hassy to give us a 50% discount ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • Avatar
        jean pierre (pete) guaron July 19, 2018

        I’ve always liked the larger format – of course it’d kill any chance I ever had of getting a super telephoto, for birding & moonshots & so on – but they offer something that FF and below seem to be incapable of, in the way of dynamic range – and as Kristian (quoting Ming) says “output is so spectrally neutral and tonally natural across the sensitivity range”

        New dilemma – which one? Paul might like Fuji’s, others might go with Pentax, this ‘blad isn’t “merely” lower cost than other ‘blads, it’s also more convenient, PhaseOne looks like it’s for pros only, and there’s at least one other one in the pipeline (yet to be announced officially & released for purchase). I’m tempted to suggest the decision should be based primarily on what glass is available for whichever choice is under consideration.

        I’m also tempted to suggest that for most of us, it would end up as being one of a range of [at least two] cameras, and not be the sole workhorse – just as I flick between the 4 I have (depending on what I’m doing).

        (BBL Pascal, when I’ve had a better chance to study your article in depth ๐Ÿ™‚ For the moment, all I can say is “I’m envious!”)

        • Avatar
          pascaljappy July 20, 2018

          It would be hard for me to answer “which one”, having only used the X1D. The GFX has received raving reviews but I’ve never seen images made with it that inspired the same respect for their neutrality and antural feeling. Most were heavily processed, which – to my mind – makes such a large and expensive pointless. What’s the point in getting the best in signal capture and processing only to add massive presets to it?

          The lengths Hasselblad go to to create those incredibly subtle images really makes the X1D unique in my limited experience. But I’d have to say that it’s the form factor and design that really won my heart ๐Ÿ˜‰ Passion beats rationality every time with me ๐Ÿ˜‰

          Cheers

  3. Avatar
    SteveMallett July 19, 2018

    Pascal, you b*****d. I’ve never before had the slightest interest in mf kit. But now? Some of those images are just luscious. They’re almost tactile, they evoke a desire to stroke them! Am I nuts? Then the camera itself. It’s bloody gorgeous. Even on screen it demands to be picked up and handled. I may have to start doing the lottery. But the real mystery is how a company can produce a camera that looks so wonderful and concurrently offer the worlds ugliest, least desirable camera in the H6D? Talk about schizo. Great piece. B*****d, b*****d, b*****d…

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy July 20, 2018

      Ha ha ha. I usually receive insults after dissing a product, not after lauding it ๐Ÿ˜‰ Sorry about that coming gaping hole in your finances, Steve. It’s worth it, trust me ๐Ÿ˜‰ The H6D seems like a studio only camera, but I think Ming uses it in the great outdoors. Brave man ! Cheers.

  4. Avatar
    Kristian Wannebo July 19, 2018

    Thanks for your very photo-centric review!
    ( This is a camera I can drool over, but beyond my resources.)
    One *does* get a feeling for its capacity!

    You don’t mention that an adapter also gives access to the flexible H’blad tilt-shift system.

    [ For anyone wanting some additional tech info I suggest Ming Thein’s review:
    https://blog.mingthein.com/2018/01/31/long-term-review-the-hasselblad-x1d/ ]
    – – –

    You write:
    “Compared to my habitual camera, the most striking difference is how natural colours look.”
    &
    “.. to 60 minutes. Thatโ€™s it. Just aim and shoot and the camera will expose, however long that takes.”
    &
    “.. smooth tonal transitions, … and superb colour management, ..”

    Ming Thein mentions one reason for that:
    “Like all Hasselblad cameras, sensors used in the X1D are individually profiled to a fixed reference color standard at all ISOs โ€“ I shoot the X1D comfortably to ISO 12,800. In fact, each camera has nearly half a gigabyte of calibration data in it. I believe Hasselblad is the only company to do this โ€“ itโ€™s one of the reasons output is so spectrally neutral and tonally natural across the sensitivity range, and no dark frame subtraction is required even on exposures up to one hour.”

    You write:
    “Bugs ? Hardly ..”
    Ming Thein mentions delays in developing the “final” firmware, probably many reviews were done with earlier versions…
    – – –

    Looking forward to your next…

    P.S.
    Here Biskit looks just like Findus in the books about Pettson and Findus.

    • Avatar
      Kristian Wannebo July 19, 2018

      Allow me to add:
      Anyone using flashes will appreciate the flexibility of synching to leaf shutters.

      • Avatar
        pascaljappy July 20, 2018

        Yes, that’s another argument in favour of shooting envelope. Not one I have any technical mastery on but I would certainly get into flash photography if I owned the X1D.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy July 20, 2018

      Thanks Kristian.

      You are right, the tilt-shift adaptor is great too. It feels a little bit on the heavy and expensive side for a camera like the X1D but the results must be fantastic.

      Thanks for pointing out the extensive calibration data carried by all cameras. I wonder how much time and cost can be attributed to that. It must be a labour intensive process. But the difference in colour beauty and fidelity with a high-end full frame camera that doesn’t have that is larger than I expected. It’s well worth it. And it makes the very mobile X1D all the more desirable in my mind ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. Avatar
    philberphoto July 19, 2018

    Pascal, let me join the chorus of your newfound haters! What I find strikingly appealing in the Hassy is very different from what attracts you (nothing new here). To see the Hassy outperform the Sony where the Sony struggles was no surprise. But to see it do the same where the Sony fitted with the best lenses in the FF world shines, wow! That blew my mind. That this camera attracts both of us for very different reasons speaks volumes IMHO. My other comment is: how come the Hassy hasn’t attracted more (positive) attention? How could many reviewers (it is not a new-and-just-released camera) not “get it”? Ah well, I guess, that is what DearSusan is about, isn’t it?

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy July 20, 2018

      Ah, an antifan club coalesces. Truth always hurts ๐Ÿ˜‰

      I think we have been formatted to expect a specific type of performance and that’s not the path chose by Hasselblad with the X1D. So a reviewer that can’t afford to spend time with the camera will never get to its fabulous core. Their loss … DS is not about making money. That gives us all liberty to spend as much time on a subject as we want and to say things as we think them. It’s a rare luxury today ๐Ÿ˜‰

  6. Avatar
    PaulB July 20, 2018

    Pascal

    This is an enlightening article with some dtellar images. I have only handled an X1D. But I nay need to rent one. Which will be all your fault.

    PaulB

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy July 20, 2018

      Thanks for the kind words Paul. Yes, I think you need to rent because initial impressions are not necessarily super positive when you come from a more traidtional DSLR. Good luck ๐Ÿ˜‰

  7. Avatar
    Andreas July 20, 2018

    Thank you for this extensive write-up, Pascal! Your verdict is mainly in line with my personal experiences with this great camera, which I had the privelege to rent and use over an extended weekend a few months ago. I was on the verge of going this path it but I ended up buying the Sony A7Riii. Why? I mainly shoot in low light and the X1D handles higher ISOs really well. What put my off, however, was the fact that I had a hard time focussing manually. The Sony’s EVF is so much better and the manual focus of my four Loxia lenses is just stellar, which altogether make it a better choice for me. My decision was entirely rational. The Hassy is the supermodel you instantly fall in love with but …

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy July 20, 2018

      Thanks Andreas. That’s a real limitation and one that could probably be “fixed” in software by massively amplifying the signal that goes to the EVF. But the result would be very noisy and ugly. I’m not sure Hasselblad would like going that way.

      The Loxia lenses are a great incentive to stay with Sony, that’s for sure. The 85, 25 and 21 really are world class glass. I hope you enjoy them!

  8. Avatar
    Michel.P July 20, 2018

    Bonjour Pascal, a very good & interesting review. Still a preference for the Fuji if one day i decide to switch to medium format. At least this review show me this Hasselblad from a new angle, some other reviews at the launch were not very enthusiastic .
    Michel

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy July 20, 2018

      Bonjour Michel. I think the X1D wasn’t the same sweetie in the begining. A lot of improvements have been made via firmware updates. Some more could come. It’s still a work in progress, I think. But it has definitely reached a maturity level that makes it a very desirable proposition today. Also, the world of photography now seems to focus only on speed, as if that was a virtue in itself. The X1D delivers more traditional quality, not speed. So anyone that only brushes the surface in their review will inevitably be disappointed.

      I almost bought a GFX at some point. But I’ve yet to see a photo made with it that matches the subtlety I got from the X1D. Maybe that’s only because the owners and reviewers chose to add presets and heavy processing. The camera itself may be just as excellent. And Fuji is a brand with a great track record for respecting and helping customers. But my heart still belongs to the X1D ๐Ÿ˜‰

  9. Avatar
    Brian Nicol July 22, 2018

    I am in the process of selling off the rest of my Leica system and have sold off my Sony system which never made me truly happy due to itโ€™s Buttons and menu system. I am planning to buy a X1d and 30mm and 65mm when it comes out. I do not need the cost of the new model when the current model exceeds my skill and print requuirements. The Manila 7 was my perfect camera and I want to return to that experience.

  10. Avatar
    Brian Nicol July 22, 2018

    By the way, great article and images! Also, curiously, I got rear ended in April by phone distracted driver and am recovering from accident but I decided to replace my car with a Volvo and enjoy the engineering and find it amusing that with the price reduction I am now looking seriously at the X1d.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy July 22, 2018

      Great minds think alike Brian ๐Ÿ˜‰ Sorry to hear about your accident though. I suggest you rent the X1D before buying as it handles a bit differently from the Sony gear you are used to. Chances are you’ll like it better, as I do, but you never know ๐Ÿ˜‰ Let me know if you buy it ๐Ÿ™‚

      Volvos are great cars. I always rent them when traveling abroad and used to own an S60. Not as flashy and arrogant as some other alternatives and very relaxing. Love them ๐Ÿ˜‰

  11. Avatar
    jean pierre (pete) guaron July 22, 2018

    I must admit, I was recently very startled by Nikon’s release of yet another 1/2.3-inch (6.17 x 4.55 mm) sensor camera to feed the bottom end of the photography market.
    As Adrian said the other day on post #748, “. . . the death of the compact camera market is slowly spreading up the ranges as fewer and fewer people want a camera. All 3 manufacturers are retreating more and more to the professional and serious enthusiast market of full frame because itโ€™s profitable enough in spite of low volume sales to make a business . . . ”
    I occasionally pull my little pocket compact out, and use it for a few shots – most of the time, it’s just lying there, forlorn and forgotten. Because I shoot primarily with my 1″ Canon PowerShot, or my HF or FF Nikon cams. And if I was starting over, I wouldn’t even consider a 1/2.3-inch sensor.
    Pascal, I agree with your comments on the subtlety of the images with a ‘blad. It becomes addictive – but you have to know when to stop, and use something else – a half frame, one of the Optus cams, your Sony A7RII or III, whatever “floats your boat”. I love shooting with manual focus, but it’s simply unsuitable for a lot of the stuff I photograph. And that’s mostly a focus issue. Everything from pets, children and so on through to sports or wildlife photography generally demands a good AF system. Perhaps also there would be advantages in using a smaller format cam for available light night photography.
    But for landscape and architectural photography, the ‘blads would be hard to beat. And I particularly love the depth of information they capture in the highlights – simply not possible in any FF or smaller format cam that I’ve seen reviewed.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy July 22, 2018

      I guess we all respond differently to various dimensions of the final photograph. To me, this ethereal quality of X1D images is something I can’t get enough of. The only caveat is I want to be able to alter than when the mood requires it, which is not that easy with Phocus, but is with LR ๐Ÿ™‚

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