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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My second “serious” digital camera, the Canon 5D Mk II, was at the forefroont of the then-available pro-am IQ. Ever since, my test for “how good is this piece of gear,” boils down do just one question: does this achieve definitely better IQ than I could with my system? And very many times, while I drool over “new stuff”, the answer is “no” or “yes, but in a very narrom shooting range” and, mostly, I don’t buy.
But this time, I would say that close to a majority of Pascal’s pictures are one that either my gear couldn’t handle as well, or couldn’t render as well. And this by a definite margin.
Does that mean that I will buy into this sytem? Hardly, because it is indeed a system for creating masterpieces, but only (IMHO) if you are a master.
When Pascal writes that he shed blood, sweat and tears on his arduous path to fulfillment, that is enough to make me run for my safety-blanket.
But the pics, ohhhh, the pics!
Thank you Philippe. It’s just a matter of adjusting from one system to another. I’ve been used to the rendering of the Sony (and to Capture One) for so long that it wasn’t an easy process. I’m sure the beauties in your April 1st post prove you’d be just as happy as me with the Hassy 🙂
One word: gorgeous!
So subtle gradations, and yes sometimes a 3D rendering that makes the Zeiss less vital to own, even if still different and interesting…
I am happy to be “blessed” with a bad back and a limited budget… I won’t suffer the temptation 🙂
Keep testing… for the rest of us, dreaming is free 😀
Thank you Pascal 😉 Your wishes are my command, review of the XCD 45 coming up 😉 All the best.
You wrote, “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 1,4/50 ZM.”
Were you were referring to your beloved Zeiss Distagon 1,4/35 ZM there? I hope so, since that will help me to close my eyes and put my fingers in my ears while I ignore everything else that you’ve written here. If you were referring to a different lens, please see my previous sentence.
I enjoyed your review and your images. Now, please stop.
Oops, yes, that was indeed 1.4/35 ZM. I’ll correct it.
Don’t worry, I only have 4 other lenses to review and will only be testing a couple of Milvus lenses on the X1D 😀
Hi Pascal, I have owned the zeiss 50/1.5, Audrey, and other glass that have a unique rendering and work for certain subjects – Audrey had a much larger shooting envelope than Cesar. I relatively recently purchased the X1D, XCD 30/45/90 glass. Sold XCD 90 to fund the XCD 80/1.9 which arrived about 4 weeks ago. Have been ill with flu but brief outings indicate that it is a spectacular lens.
I find that the 30mm is a spectacular wide angle.
The X1D files are deliberately very neutral in colour and contrast. Most cameras have a prebaked raw file not unlike a much more processed jpeg.
Also Zeiss glass tends to have more of a colour look than most glass.
I love the transparency of the Hasselblad files and glass. I than process for the look and atmosphere I desire. Remember, most incompetent reviewers of the Leica momochrome bashec the files as looking flat and lifeless where in reality they held huge tonal range that is brought to life through finessing the contrast curve in photoshop. Contrast presets are useless.
I find the tonal range and natural colours in the X1D files are beyond belief and that you can push contrast without the color balance and individual colours distorting like all other cameras I have used. conversion to black and white results in gorgeous images but again the contrast curve is critical.
I consider glass to be like brushes, and you cannot fake the rendering in photoshop like so many say – the microcontrast captured by an excellent lens cannot be made out of nothing in software!
Keep both the 30 and Audrey- they are different brushes. The cesar lens is so special for not mid day images that I will purchase again when my wife is not picking up the mail.
Hi Brian, that’s very true.
The transparent lenses and transparent raw processing make for a system that seems less alive initially but allows you to capture a lot of atmosphere and process it to your liking rather than being stuck with a permanent manufacturer preset.
It’s taken me a couple of months to get really comfortable with the system (that includes Phocus) but, oh boy, I would never go back now. This *the* camera for me and it will take something pretty incredible to make me want to change, whatever the specs are in the future.
Another aspect that bblows my mind is how sharp images really are. At 100%, it looks like you could still enlarge a lot before you get to anything mushy, unlike other cameras I’ve used. Those 51Mpx really are used to the full.
By the way, the X1D and 30mm are my favourite combination until 80 arrived and now make a perfect trio with my Leica Q-P. The X1D is king at night photos.
If you ever fancy posting a review of that 80 … 😉
Hi Pascal, I will work on trying to come with a post that demonstrates the rendering of the XCD 80/1.9. The challenge will be to capture images that stand on their own and not be just poor aesthetics but show rendering like many reviews. I will try to write an article that appeals to a broad audience- those wanting to enjoy images and those wondering if the expenditure is worth it and whether it delivers a rendering they desire. Not a trivial task
That’s very kind of you Brian and I appreciate it. Please take all the time you want. I know how difficult it is 🙂
My two comments appeared momentarily yesterday and they’ve since vanished – did I forget to thank you for including the bicycle? 🙂
What impressed me most with these photos, Pascal, is the control over use of perspective. This is, from memory, more difficult with larger formats – you’ve evidently nailed it! I was particularly impressed by the ease with which you switch from perfect verticals, when it suits – to using the bang a w/angle throws at verticals to emphasise them. Not that my opinion means much really – but it’s always nice to get another vote, anyway.
The bicycle is a compelling shot – strong contrasts, limited colour palette, contrasting colours, fire hydrant balanced by a fire alarm and the hint of a fire escape, and the contrast between the blur of the bicycle’s image and the clarity of the rest of the image. At a glance you could pass by – – and yet!
Are they all at La Ciotat? Where are the deliphiniums? The village square with the fountain in the foreground? The boiler – is it a marine one, on a boat? So many questions, I could drive the rest of the group nuts asking them. I probably DO drive the rest of the group nuts. 🙂
Notice something, though? – I am looking beyond all this chatter about gear, and admiring the photos instead. 🙂 I’ve probably missed the entire point of the post, but I find the photos more compelling. It’s probably an “age” thing!
Thanks Pete, I appreciate your interest and that you are more inspired by the photographs than by the gear. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?
The bicycle pic and many other photographs were made in Aix en Provence. The station is La Ciotat. The dog-cactus is in the hills, in chestnut and Mimosa country, Castle and night street are from Cannes, boat and ruins from Egypt, flowers from Sanary (close to La Ciotat), rural road and trees from my village, mall ceiling from Nice, indoor scene with couple in b&w, from Marseilles, bamboos from Avignon. It’s a multi-location review 😉
Pascal, Thank you for the brilliant review and the beautiful images.
I’m probably midway through the X1D learning curve coming from wonderful experiences with an M10 and two nice wide angle lenses (1.4 35mm FLE and 3.4 21mm). I too love the XCD 30 after working through the the early part of my learning curve. The X system transition itself was a joy and have settled on using Phocus for RAW processing and Photoshop for very minor tweaks. I’ve been using SilverEFX for B&W conversion. In a word, the X system has added another dimension to my work.
I’m tempted to try my Leica glass with the X1D but am curious about the effects of using an adapter and the electronic shutter.
Hope to see more posts from you in the future.
Hi Sandy, lovely to hear that story. If you have wide angle lenses, they might not cover the whole sensor, but you use them for square crops ? The adapter from Novoflex is perfect (others might also be, I just don’t know them). The electronic shutter works well, but you must not move for 0.3s, however short the exposure. Also, there’s an ISO 3200 upper limit and you’ll have banding in flickering light. If you haven’t seen it yet, this is described in my biased review of the camera body. But the joy of using special lenses like that is well worth the few limitations.
A review of the XCD 45 is on its way and I hope to review two Milvus lenses on the X1D later this month.
Silver Efex must be wonderful on those files. I’m tempted to buy it again. If you ever want to share photos or a point of view with us, please feel free. New contributors are always welcome.
All the best, Pascal
thanks for the effort of your review!
but what i´m really missing are some portraits at close distance/ close ups / or american portrait style to figure out how the lens distortion is, to get a real feeling about the angle.
im comming from leicas great 35mm and 28mm lenses, the xcd 45mm35mm equivalent) is to close for me, and i guess the xcd30mm is to wide(like 24mm equivalent)?!
i would needed a xcd 38mm or 40mm or something like that…
not shure if croping in fits my needs.
any thoughts/experiences, pictures about that??
As far as I know, there’s nothing in between the 30 and the 45, although you could adapt the 40mm from the H-series camera, or older versions.
Let me see if I can find someone to photograph. I’m not a portrait photographer but if someone around me is willing to model, I’ll update the post and will let you know.
All the best,
great thank you!
Not until now, there is no focal length in between that. it´s just a wish from me to hasselblad for a 28mm equiv.
the problem is that i have the H serie as well but no autofocus is provided because my lenses are older then 2017, which is recommended or needed with the right firmware.
it´s just to get an impression and a feeling for the wide angle.^^
but thanks in anyway, even if you didn´t find someone to model!
At worst, my daughter will be coming back for a few days in July. She’s always modeled for me in my lens reviews, I’m sure she’ll do it again 😉