A weird shift has happened during my evaluation of the 5 Hasselblad XCD lenses at my disposal. Having been mesmerized by Hans Strand’s first sample photos with the XCD 30, that lens was the one I requested for my initial review and the first one I wanted to go in my own bag. And the XCD 21 and XCD 120 also found their way there simply because they were part of an interesting deal, my firm intention being to sell them very quickly. But those became favourites as soon as their review was over. And now that I’m testing my final lens, the XCD90 (which has stayed asleep in the pelicase for 3 months), I wonder whether that isn’t the best of the bunch …
This is getting embarassing. At every new review, my conclusion seems to be “oh, this is the best of the set, so far”. Some reviewer, right ? 😉 But let me explain.
All of these lenses are extraordinarily sharp and well corrected. They are also close in rendering. The whole range (that I know of) shows high consistency in ergonomics and looks. However, now that my familiarity with these 5 lenses has grown significantly, it’s possible to identify a few heads sticking out in various directions.
The XCD 120 Macro is slower and larger than the rest. Its autofocus is very very accurate and it’s rendering is very gentle and transparent.
The XCD 45 is probably not quite as sharp as the others (while still being very sharp) and has the softest, most gentle rendering. It could be my only lens and I wouldn’t feel sad for a moment.
The XCD 30 is super sharp but also a little wee bit harsher. Ergonomically, it’s not quite as nice as the XCD 45, with a louder, crunchier autofocus and larger size. Still an absolute peach and a serious contender for my desert island lens.
The CXD 21 is a razor blade and also a little stark. It got me to love wide angle lenses and that’s saying a lot. It’s large but a joy to use and very clever optically. If there’s a better lens for architecure, I’d love to meet it.
My impression is that (roughly speaking) the longer the focal length, the more gentle the aesthetics. And the shorter the focal length, the starker the look (with some variation, as I feel the XCD 30 is maybe even a tad more severe than the XCD 21).
And the XCD 90, well, that’s just Goldilocks.
While it doesn’t quite play the same Jedi mind tricks with 3D rendering as my former Distagon 1.4/35 ZM or an Otus, it still offers a very beautiful sense of depth with a very gentle transition from sharp to unsharp and great smoothness of bokeh.
In fact, this feels like a very natural lens, just lke the remarquable XCD 120 reviewed recently. In my early tenure of these XCD lenses, the relative lack of “pop” compared to Zeiss’ finest frustrated me and I wrote to Ming Thein to get his opinion about it. His surprised answer was “Even the 90?”. Now I understand why.
In use, this is as close to a perfect lens as I’ve ever seen. The AF is snappy (for this range and camera), shutter noise is very slightly more metallic that the super gentle XCD 45 but still very pleasant, the optical quality is – once again – insanely high. It is short-ish, not heavy, and perfectly balanced in the hand and on the camera. The 21 and (even more so) the 120 feel very cumbersome in comparison. This, is an absolute corker.
How does it compare to an Otus 85 ? The promised comparison in the title wasn’t just clickbait 😉 For me, this question is important as I only can / want to keep one of the two.
Comparing the two might be meaningless because the Otus goes almost 3 stops more open, is manual focus, requires an adapter and silent shutter. It vignettes quite heavily, not the XCD … apple to oranges. My only interest here is in rendering. Both are sublime lenses. But which is more to my tastes? Or yours?
Let’s get sharpness out of the way. But are much sharper than the sensor can resolve (on most of the surface, in the Otus’ case).
The Otus (here at f/4, 3 stops in) is very slightly better at the center and the XCD 90 (at its f/3.2 full aperture) beats it from 15mm and outwards.
More interesting are bokeh and pop. If you compare the Otus 85 photograph above to the cat photo further above or the tree below (you can click both to open larger files in separate tabs) the Otus feels like it has more depth, even in the out of focus zones. The XCD 90 seems both a tad more nervous and a bit flatter. Leaving aside the vignetting, which is easy to correct at mid and short distances, the sense of volume on the tree trunk is a tad better than the sense of volume on the cat’s head. Audrey (Distagon 1.4/35 ZM) and Otus lenses are extraordinary at that 3D game. To be fair to the Hassy, the oak tree below is “flatter”, relative to its distance, than the walnut above. But still, I think the Otus does a slightly better job of recreating the volume of the trunk and of depicting its integration in the scene. The oak looks slightly more cut-out, as in Japanese tunnel books. But the Hassy picture looks more … natural (a word that comes up regularly).
So, the Otus is a bit more charming and the XCD a lot more practical and a bit more neutral … thinking cap on for now. End of comparison (for now) but I’ll get into more thorough tests soon. In the mean time, any lens that can do that sort of 3D is good enough for me :
This will be quick. To see any measure of those, you’ll need pretty extreme conditions.
In real life, none of my photographs have been affected by flare or glare with this lens.
This is as unscientific as it gets. But I find that clouds are never well rendered by poor lenses. They look flaky and artificial. And this is only made worse by aggressive post processing. So here are a few clouds with all manner of PP for a very subjective evaluation.
Until this photo popped up in my test files import, there had been no indication of swirly bokeh anywhere in any conditions. But here, at ful f/3.2 aperture and about 4m to the main subject, it does seem like the very edges are starting to dance about slightly (also, you can see chromatic aberration in the out of focus zones, at the junction between the hills and the sky). And here it is again, close up and at ful aperture. It seems that the closer and more open you are using the lens, the more it will swirl about the background. That’s new to me in this range and probably indicates some field curvature at close distances.
In most situations, however, bokeh is very simple and creamy, within the limits of what a lens limited to f/3.2 can achieve.
Along with the 45, this has the most pleasant and fastest autofocus. It’s not able to transform the X1D into a Sony A7S3, but it’s fast enough to focus on stuff that moves. Also the AF noise is far better than on the XCD 30 or the XCD 120, both noisy blighters.
All XCD lenses have big, heavy glass elements and aren’t designed for fast autofocus. Optical quality is the name of the game, focusing speed comes a very distant second. But The XCD 45 and XCD 90 will let you deal with family / pet / some sports conditions if you’re willing to put some effort into it rather than rely exclusively on a machine to tell you where your kid’s eyes are located.
Truthfully, though, this system is much more about accuracy than speed and I very much hope it always remains that way. It’s great to know the Swedes have provided us with a way to escape the tyranny of speed and numbers. Keep it up guys, and thank you. Now if Sony would consider ISO 25 sensors, it would be bliss all over 🙂
None whatsoever in focus but you will find some in out of focus zones, as illustrated by the first photograph in the bokeh section, above.
Judging a lens by the look of the monochrome photographs it produces is also rather subjective, given the amount of PP that goes into those, but revealing nonetheless. When we judge the look of a lens, we tend to evaluate potential colour casts and chromatic aberration as well as geometric rendering. Not only does a b&w conversion eliminate the colour component from the mix (freeing your mind to judge only the latter aspects) it also helps you see the sort of look the lens draws you towards. Or, if you have a personal style, whether the lens suits it well or not.
And, boy, is this a lovely system for monochrome imagery!
The XCD 90 feels very transparent with excellent in-focus 3D and good bokeh 3D that creates a look better served by global contrast manipulation than by small scale contrast wizardry (clarity). It doesn’t have that etched look that many beginners confuse with sharpness and results are better served by maintaining that natural quality than by trying to add artificial brittleness. I particularly enjoy the separation of objects deep in the shadows (such as the hand at bottom right, above) that makes it easy to plunge large parts of the frame into darkness while retaining a lot of life. And, given the camera’s natural abilities with highlights (see the horse behind the youg girl at center, three pics above), the combo is absolutely wonderful for fine art monochrome photography.
I’ll leave you with a few more photographs, many made in Arles on a “Guardian” (literally cowboys, in Camargue) day, where the colour of the stone and the festive garnments gave the Swede combo sweet emotions.
What strikes me most with this lens is the sense of freedom it gives me. Its snappy(-ish) autofocus makes it great for decisive moment photography (if HCB got a dime every time someone misused that term, right?) But that’s not all. Compared to others, in particular the XCD 120 Macro, it’s fairly obvious Hasselblad have let some correction go to the wind. It’s still an impeccably noble lens, but there are traces chromatic aberration in the out of focus zones, and there can be some swirl in the bokeh. I believe the positive flip side of this is that sense of breathing and freedom that is very rarely found in modern lenses. In many ways, this XCD 90 reminds me of a better behaved Audrey (Distagon 1.4/35 ZM).
This post marks the end my series of reviews of the Hasselblad X1D system (so far). So it’s fitting to conclude it with a DearSusan signature photograph of a bicycle, right? 😉 Seriously, though, this photographs says a lot about the system. It is one that doesn’t attempt to do all things but does them remarkably well:
It takes time to get to know and appreciate a system. What I now realise and admire is the design logic behind these Hasselblad XCD lenses. Initially, after years of using adapted old lenses on a Sony camera, the XCD range felt a little bit clinical and soulless. Nothing could be further from the truth.
What Hasselblad have designed is a set of lenses each optimised for a special application. The 21 has the rigourous geometry and slightly hard rendering that suits architecture. The 30, with its slightly hard edge, is astonishing in low light and the sort of configuration you’ll find in landscape photography. The 45 is small, fast, tolerant and ideal for street. The 90 is snappy, accurate, breathy and probably the most beautiful of the lot. It feels perfect for portraits and fashion. The 120 is slow, incredibly sharp, natural and accurate. It is the perfect naturalist lens. All have mind blowing MTF (and a price tag to match) but that’s only the basis on which each individuality has been built. It’s a fabulous system and I can’t wait to try out the newer lenses and the new cameras.
Never miss a post
Like what you are reading? Subscribe below and receive all posts in your inbox as they are published. Join the conversation with thousands of other creative photographers.
Please log in again. The login page will open in a new tab. After logging in you can close it and return to this page.