This is the widest lens in the Hasselblad X1D’s current native range. And it’s keeper. Unfortunately.
My finance plan for acquiring an “augmented” 5-lens X1D field kit was to sell 2 or 3 immediately, plus my Sony gear and lenses. This has not been going entirely according to plan and this very wide angle gem, the first on my to sell list, isn’t helping at all 😀
Regular readers might recall I tested the Zeiss Distagon 15 about 3 years ago. While a solid performer, that lens was one of the few Zeiss had sent to me for review that I hadn’t felt like keeping or bought immediately.
The reason is simple: I’m not good with very wide angle lenses. I just don’t know what to do to fill the frame intelligently. And the resulting images, even when composed properly, often seem artificially spectacular, not my cup of tea. Case in point :
I just don’t see the world like that and don’t want that sort of extreme perspective hanging on my walls. This is obviously very personal, entirely a matter of taste.
To make matters worse, from a reviewing perspective, there’s a lot to write about when you have a fast long-ish lens in your hand. Bokeh quality, vignetting, ease of focusing, handling, sharpness at various apertures. This, on the other hand, is sharp – very sharp – from the tip of your nose to Pōwehi. And from corner to corner. And there’s no blur to speak of. And distortion and vignetting are corrected ‘in camera’. And it’s a black featureless cylinder. And it has a leaf shutter, with all advantages and drawbacks, just like all other XCD lenses. I’m not really sure what to write about. It’s very expensive, very excellent and quite large. Review done.
So, what I did instead, is shoot the lens constantly for 3 days in Paris, on various types of subjects and in various conditions, trying out different post-processing renderings, to let you decide or not whether this lens is for you. Not that you have much of a choice, if you’re looking for that wide a lens for the mirrorless Hassy 😉
My verdict on this lens is simple. I’ve chosen to sell other stuff, stuff I really loved, in order to keep it. That’s me, scared of anything wider than your 24-105 kit zoom … ’nuff said ? Onwards.
Onwards, but let me at least try to group the photographs into meaningful clumps, to make your evaluation more intuitive. In this first clump, you can see sunstars around highlights. To my eyes, they look very nice, particularly on the new lamps made of led arrays, but you may be more accustomed to and have a preference for the more modern variants that exhibit many more spikes than the 8 presented here around each specular highlight. Sunstar definition is not tack sharp, it is more gentle than on some other lenses, without being blurry.
In my reviews of other XCD lenses, I found flare from just-out-of-frame-sunlight to be a real problem that needs to be dealt with actively. Flare could be both strong and very ugly. Glare on the other hand was really minimal.
This has not been as much of an issue on this lens. Weirdly, for such a wide one. Granted, my experience with is is limited and granted, April in Paris ain’t Death Valley in July, sun-wise. But sill, it is significant that not one of my 300+ photographs exhibits any kind of issue related to very strong and localised highlights.
Chromatic correction, on the other hand, doesn’t seem quite as exemplary as on XCD siblings. In-focus areas are still perfectly corrected, but out of focus and towards the corners, you can see the lens/internal correction beginning to struggle a little. Nothing too severe and easily corrected in PP, but noteworthy at this price point and relatively modest f/4 aperture.
This might well be the only niggle with this fabulous lens. To compensate for this, I think one of its strongest points is the clarity of its rendering. All XCD lenses display a neutrality and objectivity that lacks charm, but the positive flip side of this is an ability to convey meaning in ways that can get lost with more quirky designs.
I find that particularly true in the mannequin pictures above and below, as well as in many low-light or low-contrast situations that could come out all mirky and unclear with a different design.
This clarity of message is also helped by two other facets of the XCD 4/21’s rendering. First of all, the 3D layering is quite good. Better than the 30mm version, in my mind. Even in dark and difficult conditions such as below.
Secondly, the geometric rectitude helps create legible patterns in which the intent is always clear.
All this put together makes for a lens that’s a real joy to compose with. I had a lot of fun trying to assemble complex patterns into a legible whole, even putting some scenes slightly off kilter but perfectly balanced. With a lens creating so much convergence, I often found that shooting upwards or downwards while balancing the act with a play on visual weights was tremendous fun.
This is a very contrasty lens. Or maybe it covers so much visual area that it’s bound to always capture elements of very different luminosity. And while this is a lot of fun in semi-abstract photographs, it is much less pleasant to deal with in photographs that are meant to look natural. This is not a quality or fault of the lens but some may one a slightly more gentle tool to handle extreme lighting.
Anyhoo, it’s a brilliant, brilliant lens that can paint huge swabs of the world in very stark graphical strokes or in a more gentle way and with an abundance of detail that lets you create the sort of atmosphere you want.
By default, files are quite strongly opinionated, but they respond really well to all manner of post processing and can produce images ranging from naturalistic to totally abstract with equal ease. What the lens lacks in natural charm, it more than makes up for in versatility. That’s may main reason for keeping it.
Let me leave you with some more samples displaying a range of atmospheres. Note that all (I think) were processed in Phocus and that many more styles could be produced using Lightroom, Photoshop or Nik.
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