This lens is responsible for 70% of my photographs with the Hasselblad X1D, so it seems like a good starting point for a review of that camera’s now rapidly growing lens system. It isn’t an easy review to write.
The lens is technically excellent and a systematic review of all technical aspects could lead to a dreary read. So I’ll let the pics speak for themselves, providing many large photographs for your inspection and insisting only on notable shortcomings. It’s not a very fair way to review a lens, that, highlighting only the niggles. But the lens can take it, believe me. And, to compensate for the much shorter review, I’ll add some other information along the way.
For instance, shutter noise. Throughout the lens range, the shutters aren’t systematically identical and don’t sounds exactly the same. Some sound quite loud and metallic whereas others, such as this XCD 3,5/30, sound quieter, with a short sharp snick sound. It’s not the utterly silent experience of some older lenses, but it’s really pleasant.
While we’re dealing with subjective, let’s talk about rendering. Bear with me, this is a tricky question. One that is difficult to communicate efficiently, yet will largely determine whether you’ll be interested in this system or not. Here goes.
Generally speaking, I initially found the X1D system easy to use and glorious in colour, but very difficult in b&w. Coming from your average kit zoom or mtf-driven prime, Hasselblad XCD lenses will simply blow your mind. Poof. They are technically so much better than anything else I’ve used, there’s no need to dwell on that.
Coming from expressive glass, however, it’s a completely different story. My experience and comparison point is mainly higher-end Zeiss glass, but this may apply equally to other lenses from other quality stables.
Think about lenses as human beings. Some are so outrightly flattering and pompous they make you want to run away within minutes. To me, that’s mirrored in a trend of dishonest lenses that pretend to be something that would normally cost 10x the price. And I would oppose that to lenses such as Adam’s 7artisans which have a strong (beautiful) character and make no claims to being what they are not.
Then you have an “elite” of people (and lenses) who don’t tell the absolute truth either, but do so with such intelligence and grace you never want to hear or see the truth again. Mozart, Raphael, the Zeiss Distagon 1,4/35 ZM. Similarly exquisite lenses I have experience with include the Otus 85, Otus 28, Milvus 50, Milvus 85, Loxia 25 and Loxia 85.
Then you have Zen monks who tell the truth in ways that can hurt superficially and nourrish spiritually. The Hasselblad XCD 3,5/30mm is a Zen monk that will never make life easy for you or add a sprinkling of magic dust to render anything pretty. Coupled with a no-nonsense camera with huge DR, this can lead to flat-looking photographs.
Having lived with and dearly loved Audrey (Zeiss Distagon 1,4/35 ZM) for so long, switching to the XCD range came as a shock. For weeks, I asked myself “why, oh why, did I not take the blue pill?“ Not only does the camera do nothing SOOC to add artificial flavouring and pzazz to files (they don’t look particularly sharp at 100%, the vast dynamic range can look somewhat flat …) but the files doesn’t respond well to my past blend b&w post-processing, making everything look harsh and clinical. Uncivilised and lacking in elegance. Oh boy.
And, you may have guessed it, PP is key with this system. Files respond to sharpening like nothing I’ve ever seen. Push the slider and photos look like you’ve doubled resolution. And clarity, contrast, dehaze (in LR) – all tools that manipulate contrast at a local to global level – rapidly make a huge difference to the rendering and feeling of 3D, elegance or harshness.
Having finally understood this and finally seeing through the tears, I now realize how utterly magical the system is – ultra transparent, very predictable and neutral – with that lens in charge of the photon herding. There really is no going back for me. I could easily live with that lens alone and sell all the others (not that they are any less good, but this suits my shooting style and I love the simplicity of a single lens system).
Magical? Yes. Perfect? No. And the greatest flaw can be found in the flare and glare department.
I’ve never tried this system in a studio, so can’t comment on flare resistance with flashes. But with a lighting system with a power of hundreds of yottawatts (trillions of trillions of watts) in the sky, there are a number of observations to make.
Generally speaking, keep the sun in the frame and you’re fine. The more you let it creep towards the edges and corners, the more flare and reflections you’ll notice (including yucky octagons). Glare is largely absent in these conditions.
With artificial lights, flare doesn’t seem to be a problem, though, again, I’ve never used the lens in a studio.
It’s when you let the sun just out of the frame that real issues can happen. That can get you into serious trouble.
This can be lowered using highlight recovery but, whenever possible, this lens needs to be used with its sunshade, which I had removed for those shots.
Leaf shutters have many advantages over the more modern alternative : fewer vibration issues, lower noise (in theory), wear and tear spread out over many lenses … but they come in limited supply and not all benefit from the lovely 10 rounded blade irises found in modern lenses gunning for great looking out of focus areas (or, more often, trying to compensate for a sloppy optical design with rounded blades). So, is bokeh ugly on the Hasselblad XCD lenses?
To be honest, there isn’t that much blur to speak of in a 30mm (24mm eq focal length) f/3.5 lens using, unless you photograph something quite close up at a wide apertures. And when you do, the result is fairly uneventful as objects simply become less and less sharp as they get further away from the plane of focus. In my book, this gaussian-blur look is great. But others prefer more extravaganza or more creaminess. Changing aperture and the lens-subject to subject-background distance ratio only seems to affect the quantity of blur linearly, without altering its quality.
Sunstars are equally uneventful. These are some of my few photographs that show any (which has more to do with my shooting style than the lens, to be honest). They show a traditional 8-pointed star, which is now a thing of the past with 10 to 18 point starts becoming the norm. To me, 8 is nicer as it creates an easier patter to read. But that’s entirely a matter of taste.
The lens is designed as a metal cylinder with a diagonally-grooved focusing grip. It’s a very elegant design and a has superb build quality. I can’t stress enough how much I miss an aperture ring but it’s impossible to live forever in yesterday. New lenses simply don’t have aperture rings and Hasselblad is now exception. It fits very tightly on the camera.
Focusing is fly-by-wire, which is to say not as nice as with a good manual focus lens. You can feel the micro-steps the focusing goes through as the grip is rotated. It’s best left in AF mode and, although not the fastest or quietest out there, AF is usually very accurate.
The MTF charts for this lens are ridiculously good. They make Otuses run to mamma. And, though it’s not clear to me whether those are theoretical or measured (the legend in the linked pdf suggests measurement), my photographs give me no reason to doubt them. The sensor is nowhere near the resolution limit of the lens, at any aperture at any point in the frame at any focusing distance (not that I’ve measured or care, mind you, but I’ve never see so much moiré in my photographs before). If something’s not sharp, blame focusing or shake.
I don’t think Hasselblad sell this as an APO lens but haven’t seen in-focus chromatic aberration so far. You’ll find traces in out of focus zones in violent light, as at the top of the background columns, above. That’s about it.
Distortion is corrected automatically via the lens profile and I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret : I sometimes dial the correction back to bring back some “flaw” into the frame, to make it look more “human”. Uncorrected distortion is actually fairly high, at over 2% (still 6 times less than the Leica Q2, but more than other lenses in the XCD range). Other than that, there’s not a lot to comment on.
This is a great lens to use but a boring, boring one to describe 😉 Technically, there’s not much to write about.
Decoratively, it’s as useless as a … on your elbow. When you’ve been pampered by lenses that render gorgeously for years, that will make you question your photographic abilities for some time (ahem, does this feel like real-life experience? ’cause it is!) This lens doesn’t lie any more than Joey shares food.
And I love it dearly for it.
Every bland photo is a kick in the nuts and every good one becomes a personal success. Those are fewer and further between than before but I’m getting the hang of it and find the lens incredibly rewarding when used properly.
Deciding whether to keep this lens or not should be a no-brainer. Except it’s a 30mm lens. That focal length pitches it against my favourite lens of all time, the Zeiss Distagon 1.4/35 ZM, a.k.a. Audrey, which turned out to be a much better performer on the X1D than I had envisionned. #F1rstWorldProblems, right? Financially, yes. Emotionally, not so sure. Any thoughts or preferences between the two?
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