This is a personal note, but it might interest others, outside of the Hassy fold. When the X2D was released, it left me cold. Yet, my admiration for the company is greater than ever.
My first encounter with Hasselblad was through the rental of a 500CM 6×6 film body and its trusty 80mm f/2.8 standard lens. The images it made were everything I’d hoped, and more. The price of admission, however, was far too high for the uni student I then was.
Case closed for the next few decades.
A repeat of this story almost happened with the wonderful CCD-backed H3d-39 camera, the colours of which were as glorious as the asking price was out of my league, even as a working adult. Case closed again.
And things should have stayed that way forever had it not been for the introduction of the X1D – ironically, a camera that felt like the spiritual successor of my beloved Mamiya 7 – and the unexpected opportunity to purchase a recent model with 5 lenses, other accessories and a pelican case at a price that didn’t break the bank like previous models would have.
The rest, as they say, is (a love) history.
The camera has been heavily criticised, and rightly so, for being slow and buggy. I’ve learned to live with the bugs, knowing the camera well enough to avoid most of them, by now. And the industry’s neurotic need for speed having baffled me for the past decade, the much reported slowness brushed past me with so little impact that it left me wondering whether the reviewers of the time weren’t just looking for negatives so as not to sound too smitten by that glorious, glorious camera (or whether they’d actually used it, in some cases).
Of course, the X1D suffers other utterly intolerable faults such as … blackout. When I was asked about it, I had to take a frame to check, and yes, it does blackout. As in the screen goes black for a fraction of a second when you take a shot. Why that could be an issue for the target audience is honestly beyond my understanding and if that is the extent of the nasties in what is otherwise the almost perfect offering, count me Happy Camper numero uno.
I come from a distant age during which cameras were expected to make photographs. All the added expectations of today’s photographic world (zillion frames per second, zillion ISO, zillion pixels, zillions of horrible buttons, modes and menus …) put me in a slightly headscratching stupor, now that the shooting envelope of even the most humble offering by far exceeds what anyone could dream of only a decade ago.
But evolve we must, and so do cameras, I suppose.
Appropriation is a dangerous game. And the X1D was so spot-on for me, that I wholly expected its successor to be tailor-designed for my needs, and to iron out the few niggles that the X1D did present. It wasn’t, and didn’t.
The X2D’s main headline was the new sensor, allowing a formidable 7 stops of stabilisation and inflicting (in my book) 100Mp photographs weighing 220MB each. I could not care less about added resolution, resented the file weight and admired the IBIS performance without feeling the X1D lacked in any way for my particular shooting style (shooting at 2/f is easy with the X1D).
So, no cigar, and not even close.
All of this kind of put a damper on my interest in Hassy, as a brand. I’d always admired the trailblazing attitude, the near immortality of its cameras and there was the X2D, merely catching up with Fuji in the unfathomably stupid megapixel race, 2 or 3 years late at that, while not addressing more pressing matters, or maintaining its status as a special ops tool, but lining up with the others in the mainstream race for pixels, isos and framerates. Why pay big money for that, since everyone offers it???
Sick transit, then, and definitely no glory.
But my tantrum has ended (largely helped by Kyle McDougall’s wonderful images using a Promist filter), and the vapors of anger and disappointment could not hide for long the fact that I still love the brand as much as ever, and probably more. Here’s why.
First, try as I might, I cannot think of another camera on the market I would rather own than the X1D or X2D. The market isn’t about me, but Hasselblad obviously recognizes that a number of photographers value image quality, purity of colour, ergonomic sweetness, build quality far more than the mind-numbing quantitative race that has been going on elsewhere (as do Leica, and a few others, thankfully).
Secondly, I recently sent in 3 lenses for TLC, and customer service was beyond amazing. It’s not often that support blows your mind. Not in a good way, at least. Hassy’s expensive. But expriencing that level of communication, kindness, and quality makes it all really worthwhile.
Thirdly, the innovative thinking is still there. Yes, the 100C now features face detect and other yada yada features that APS-C cameras costing 5 times less have had for years. But, the internal memory, the astounding IBIS, the HEIF files, the even-better-than-before colours, those are R&D efforts that matter to the intended user. And isn’t it interesting that the two best apps on the market may well be those of two of its most niche players, Leica and Hassy? Connectivity matters sooooooo much more to me than framerates …
Fourth, I feel Hasselblad’s mastery of lens design has been stepped up one notch. Hassy lenses were always excellent. My XCD lenses are – by a safe margin – sharper and more neutral than anything else I’ve used, Otus included. But (some of) the new generation of V lenses achieve that physics-bending compromise of being smaller, faster and very nearly as sharp (wider open), while also creating a more pleasing and organic look, with very smooth focus transitions (unlike more showoff-y alternatives). Absolutely amazing work!
What would make the X2D an ideal camera for me?
Well, the X series was intended to bring Hasselblad quality out of the studio and into the field. I would like new cameras to honour that vision. In particular with better documented (and – if needed – improved) weather sealing. At that asking price, solid rain resistance isn’t nice to have. If feels like a bare minimum requiremend. And the same goes for the lenses. Let’s be realistic. If this faster, lighter, system is not just for the visiting pro and the affluent urbanite amateur, but destined to be used by the naturalist, the explorer, the environmental artist, the travel documentalist, the architect, the ethnologist, the geologist, the archeologist, the forestry expert, the yachtsman, the astrophotographer, the landscape photographer, the historian, …, do make top notch weather-sealing a priority. After all, some of the competition bathe their cameras in flowing rivers, at a much lower price point 😉
That’s it for must-haves. What follows is a laundry list based on my specific use and biases.
I’d love colour profiles. The Ricoh GR III has them. The Pixii has them. Fuji has presets. Given Hasselblad’s near-unparalleled proficiency at colour management, getting a high-class colourist to design a few profiles for the camera would be wonderful. Yes, some of this can be done in post, but not as well or as easily. When I shift the colours of my files, they lose some of that natural splendor. And an outdoors camera with a superb app (that allows PP) does push things towards getting a lot done in-camera, or nearby. At any rate, not back in the studio. So, yeah, please please please please, can we have profiles? Not emulations! Something fresh, something new. As I understand it, the Hasselblad Natural Colour Solution is applied as a LUT. So it should be possible to design other such LUTs to provide different looks while retaining the natural believability, as in cinema movies. Please?
I’d love stitching in Phocus. In my attempts not to change lenses too often (see below) stitching has become a way of smulating a wider lens. And that means using Lightroom, not Phocus.
I’d love smaller files. For traveling, 25Mp would be just fine. Other brands have offered pixel-binned options that don’t provide extra quality. A missed opportunity, in my mind. But I’m pretty sure Hasselblad R&D could make 2×2 pixel binning absolutely wonderful, with even higher DR, lower noise and more tractable 50Mb files to boot. I’m convinced that’s doable, and it would make the camera sooo much more interesting for many uses.
I’d love better highlight management. I know, 15 stop DR and all that. But numbers don’t tell the whole story. Shooting into the sun is a problem on my X1D, because the rear elements of some lenses bounce light back onto the sensor and create pixel images around highlights. Plus, glare isn’t the prettiest on some lenses, being quite blotchy. Maybe the newer V range fixes this? But, even with 15 stops, the transition from white to not-quite-white seems more abrupt than on some cine-cameras boasting the same DR. I do believe the X2D improves on this point, but a profile that makes this even better would be great. And we are back to profiles 🙂
I’d love a larger sensor. It’s unlikely to ever happen, but a good number of us – those buying $4000 Mamiya 7 cameras with no certainty they will last more than a few months, in particular – would love a larger format sensor, and do not care whatsoever about super resolution, super ISO wizardry, super fps, IBIS … The Y1D, maybe? 😉
I’d love better integration of manual focusing. A bit like what Sony did with the Loxia range. Rotate the focus ring and the camera automatically zooms in at pixel level.
I’d love better battery performance. Much better. Maybe with modes that disable some features?
I’d love effective sensor cleaning. The X1D sensor is a dust (and more) magnet. Try as I might, my images always require lengthy cleaning up. Maybe the X2D, with its IBIS, adresses this issue. It would make life a lot easier. Either that, or give us a nice zoom, such as Leica’s SL 24-90 (or Fuji’s not quite as stellar but fun 35-70)? Not changing lenses is an efficient way of keeping a sensor clean in dusty conditions 🙂
That’s it. Hasselblad, thank you for making the X range. Thank you for going to the moon. Thank you for thinking differently. Thank you for empowering artists for decades. Thank you for everything. Please continue to be the outsider obsessed with quality over quantity, please maintain an interesting positionning. And may the coming years be as exciting as the past.
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