#792. Interviewing Hasselblad about Image Quality

By pascaljappy | Interview

Nov 30

Image quality is a difficult topic to define or strive for. But I recently asked Hasselblad how they achieve their legendary IQ and got the answers below. Before jumping to them, I’d like to thank Philipe Liljenberg (Brand & Content Manager), Mathias Elmeskog (Image Quality Specialist) and Ove Bengtsson (Product Manager) for making this interview possible and taking the time to answer my questions. It is much appreciated !




• Today, our sensors have quantum efficiencies in the 80%, so it seems they are as efficient as they will ever get. Do you see sensor technology as a major source of improvement for image quality in the future? Or will new sensors simply add more functionality (better AF speed, for example) ?

Mathias: Quantum efficiency (QE) at 80% is not a potential limit for sensor technology so there is effort to increase this number. With that said, QE is one important factor for image quality but there are other qualities for a pixel array to deliver good image quality such as lower noise, larger dynamic range, better analog signal gain, fill factor and reduced fixed pattern noise to give some examples. Different applications have different criteria so functionality, such as on sensor Phase Detection Auto Focus (PDAF), is developed in conjunction with improving raw data output quality.



• How does CMOS compare to CCD? Is the higher sensitivity largely an artificial amplification factor or is there a real advantage to CMOS? Do you feel modern CMOS sensors have bridged the gap with the best CCD sensors of their time, in terms of colours and tonal subtlety?

Mathias: Historically CCD have had the upper hand when it comes to fill factor and bit depth conversion since a CCD traditionally only uses one analog to digital converter (ADC). Due to progression in fabrication processes this is necessarily no longer true. With back illuminated CMOS sensors (BSI) the fill factor is very close to CCD (approx. 100%) and ADC technology enables higher bit depth per pixel. Other techniques for example dual ADC channel is often used to lower the read noise but keeping pixel bit depth. Color in general is independent whether it is CCD or CMOS since they absorb in the same spectral range. Color rendition has more to do with on chip color filters, bit depth and color processing. In short, yes.



• In astronomy and biology, EMCCD and sCMOS are commonly used. Do you see such technologies coming to high end manufacturers such as Hasselblad?

Mathias: At Hasselblad we strive for the best image quality so we look at new technology and make decisions with regards to all parameters what sensors makes most sense for the customer. Scientific CMOS (sCMOS) and EMCCD is just sensor evolution as any other so if the parameters outweigh other competing technologies this will of course be considered. sCMOS for example is not clearly defined but is rather a term used to express an improved raw data output matrices for scientific use with for example very low read out noise with no penalties on readout speed. These types of sensors have many compelling qualities in photography applications as well. EMCCD is more limited and aimed towards more specific types of scientific use such as single photon detection and very short exposure times.



• What can you tell me about camera calibration? Does it have to be an expensive labour to work well? What is its impact on image quality?

Mathias: To optimize image quality per unit camera every sensor goes through calibration processes in production. Doing per unit processing steps will always be considered labour heavy and in our calibration several such steps are taken. Adding to this some of the calibration steps require long exposures adding to production time. Knowing the sensor characteristics compensation can be applied to optimize image quality and per unit consistency. This lowers noise, increasing low contrast detail sharpness and removes the need for black image subtraction during long exposures for example.



• I have found Hasselblad XCD lenses to be extremely neutral. But the recent 80/1.9 seems to bring more “personality”. Is there room for more ‘fun’ lenses in the Hasselblad lineup, now that the brand is entering the high-end amateur market?

Ove: Not sure what you mean with ”fun”. We always try to make our lenses as good as possible. If “fun” means that it has a large aperture and can create a nice shallow DOF, this is not new to Hasselblad. For the V System, we had the f/2-110mm and for the H System, the f/2,2-100mm lenses that produced similar images. In the high-end amateur market, there are of course a high demand for exciting lenses and I am sure we will add lenses to the line-up that will excite this type of customer as well as our professional customers. I cannot reveal what we have for the future, but I can promise that there will be more lenses.



All photographs on this page made with the Hasselblad X1D. Can you hear me pining from afar?

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  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Pascal, probably all of us know you are pioning for a ‘blad. 🙂
    Who took the photos? – what cam was the night shot at the start of the article taken with, and where is it? – you know I’m a night shot junkie! And what is the last shot?
    Aside from staring jealously at the photos, I was struck by your questions and their answers- highly intelligent and informed dialogue – WAY over my head! – I would have hid under the table, I would have been too embarrassed to attempt such an interview. Clearly your grasp of the technicalities of these cameras is way more advanced than mine will ever be – I’m still at the level of the old guy who said “I knows what I likes, and I likes what I knows!” 🙂

  • pascaljappy says:

    Hi Pete, all of those photos are mine. Most are from Marseilles and a couple from the country side. The last shot is the fort at the entrance of the main tourist port in Marseilles, seen from the inside of a gallery surrounding a modern museum. You can see the metalwork in the very first photo in the text.

    Long before a photographer I was a heavily invested amateur astronomer. There’s nothing I find more fascinating. But the need to sleep to actually get my (self employed) job done has put an end to that and I’ve now turned to the (comparatively) poor man’s game that is photography 😉 I’m not very technical but am quite passionate about imaging. I was 12 when I found a book on CCD chips in a university library (my dad taught in a uni). I didn’t understand 1% of it, it was super technical semiconductor gibberish but I convinced my father to buy it and it was my bedside read for months. The text next to the graphs and formulas was explicit enough for a kid to envision the future we are now living 🙂

    It’s fascinating to see how the various brands are making the most (or not) of the precious signal from photons that have traveled billions of years. Hasselblad really do a great job of that. It’s as if they worship the signal 😉 Workship, maybe 😀

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      Like you, I lust after the ‘blad. There, I’ve said it! – confession, first – then absolution!

      Unfortunately I am entering that part of life where I have to be less carefree with the cash, and except in the unlikely event of winning Lotto, I can’t see myself ever actually owning one.

      Not so fussed about missing out on the D850 for similar reasons – now I’m armed with a D500, it’s all a question of pluses and minuses, really – in some ways one is better, in other ways it’s t’other. The reason there’s no clear winer is that Nik’s had the tech for several years, in the D500 – so why the hell didn’t they finish it off and make a better job of the D850? OK it’s FF and the other one’s HF – and it’s sensor has more (smaller!) pixels. But that is NOT all that a photographer wants.

      One thing the D850 has a slight edge on, is in poor light, doing available light stuff. A stop or so. Terrific. ‘Blads thrash it anyway. You CAN’T get the detail in the highlights in ANY of the FF stuff, that a ‘blad offers. So you drop back a stop or two, under expose to catch the detail in the highlights (believing all the crap about capturing detail in the shadows anyway), and bang goes the one stop advantage!

      If anyone wants to argue that one, put two cams on tripods – same settings – only diff is one is a ‘bad and the other is any-FF-you want to throw at it. Then compare the shots on a nice big calibrated screen. Just for fun – make sure you capture the detail in the highlights on the FF, take two more shots with it, one at one stop less, the other at two stops less. Compare them all. And the winner is . . . . going to the the ‘bad, every time!

      Which is why I spend time every week drooling over Ming Thein’s photographs.

      • pascaljappy says:

        No, you’re right, there’s no comparison. Particularly in harsh light, where most FF cameras really struggle.

        But hey, you lust after it, I lust after it, neither of us owns it, it’s no big deal. We would if we could but we’re still making photographs. That’s what matters 🙂

        Keep it up !:)

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      Tech talk eludes me. I don’t have that kind of wiring in my head. I could never have held my own, in a discussion like that. Never mind – I’m clever in other ways – 🙂
      Sounds as though you were reading about this stuff at the same time I was reading french detective stories, italian classic literature and the complete works of HH Munro (AKA ‘Saki’), who had an evil sense of humour.
      Had fun this morning – tried an early morning start, thinking the air will be clean & clear, and went to Cottesloe Beach, to try out my new toys. The first of December – theoretically, for some at least, the first day of summer – clouded over, misty across the ocean and eventually had to pack everything in a hurry because it started to rain – every photographer’s dream conditions! 🙂 I’ll gauge the results when I transfer the files to the MAC – but whatever the result, that gear was seriously good fun to play with, and I found myself potting all sorts of things – dogs running free on the beach, people, surfers, fishermen in their boats, and glimpse of Rottnest through the haze (and also through a 900mm lens – YIKES – I’ve never had anything longer than 150mm, before!) None of this has anything to do with Hasselblads, so I’ll shut up. 🙂

      • pascaljappy says:

        Tell you what, I’d rather be on Cottesloe Beach without a blad than never go there again in spite of owning one. It’s a terrific camera. By a significant margin, the best I have ever tried. But it’s a camera and can’t make you happy in the same way that living in a wonderful place can. It’s the little (huge) things 😉 Enjoy.

        • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

          Thanks – you just reminded me – time to take Cris for a walk – she probably wants to collect her peemail, by now. 🙂

  • NMc says:

    Short but sweet interview, thanks. It is nice to read something refreshingly non-PR scripted, particularly given so much recent fundamentalist nonsense published about the advantages for different technological approaches. I am of course referring to some cynical revisions of official lines by certain companies that previously (or still do) twist the technical truth to disparage competing products rather than explain their own approach. I won’t mention the names of those companies for fear of summoning the four horses of the apocalypse, ‘nor any general trolling, shilling, fanboy meltdowns or similar.
    Regards Noel

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    ROTFLMHAO – guess what I’ve just been doing? No?
    Re-reading Philippe’s “#769. Monday Post (17 Sept 2018)” – and it’s on the same subject – the beauties of the ‘blad that Pascal dreams of.
    I did notice when I read the comments that I mentioned I was lusting after Nikon’s D500 – I have it now – I love it to bits! Even if it is only half frame! It’s one hell of a camera! 🙂
    I think you should all go have a look at that posting, and report back here when you have. 🙂

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