#1336. A love letter to Hasselblad

By pascaljappy | Opinion

Jan 08

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 ๐Ÿ˜‰

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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? ๐Ÿ˜‰

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

 

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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  • Ian Varkevisser says:

    Hi Pascal,

    First off I have to admire how advanced the Bushmen in your area of the world were. Light years more advanced than the naive art produced by ours , but hey this is Africa.

    As for your wish list , somebody has to say it , it seems what you are asking for is for Fujifilm to acquire Hasselblad and implement their superb colour science , immaculate optic engineering, fun to use aesthetics, convenient manual focusing …. need I say more LOL

    All within the Hassy packaging so as not to upset legacy users ??

    • pascaljappy says:

      Ian, I was kind dreading/hoping for this answer ๐Ÿ˜‰
      Seriously, yeah, if the GFX had the Hassy colours I’d be all over it.

      Bushmen have it too easy. It takes full-scale repression to unleash the whole spectrum of art.

      • Ian Varkevisser says:

        Ah so in fact you still want Fuji to acquire Hasselblad and to then simply clone the Hassy colour profile and add it to the existing glorious Fuji profiles in the GFX.

        I get it now. You are a genius I am sure Fuji will pay you good money for that technical advice ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ˜‰

        • pascaljappy says:

          I’d be even more interested by the APS-C line, if I’m honest. Those cameras are my fave from the range, though there are now too many for me to comprehend.
          Fuji can send me one, and we’ll call it quits for the fab business advice.

        • Bruno Chalifour says:

          The last thing I need is Fuji to acquire Hasselblad. It sounds like a strange line on Pascalโ€™s wishlist. Obviously the design of the cameras and their color profiles reflect the manufacturersโ€™ philosophies and I value Hassebladโ€™s way over Fujiโ€™s (although I do not deny Fuji cameras their qualities and innovations as well as a good line of lenses). I would hate to see Hasselblad disappear and that is why I use their cameras. I try to put my money where my mouth is ;0)โ€ฆ I kinda of think Pascal would agree with that. All the best,

          • pascaljappy says:

            Ian’s just pulling my leg, I think, Bruno ๐Ÿ˜‰

            And yes, you are 100% correct. A large part of why I bought the X1D, and may well buy the X2D, is to help keep Hasselblad running. We need choice, we need quality.

            As for Fuji, I absolutely love their APS-C cameras (though I’ve never owned one, but used several) but am not a fan of the GFX. Go figure. I don’t feel the free-spirited, fun, efficient ethos of the smaller cameras translates well to the GFX, nor is the colour science natural enough to justify the large outlay. But others adore the GFX, so it’s good that there are options for all of us ๐Ÿ™‚

            • Ian Varkevisser says:

              Hi Pascal,

              Is my understanding of Hasselblad correct ?

              Their cameras produce the flattest most neutral colour RAW file – 1 choice only – and that it would translate into a flat neutral jpeg if you select the in camera jpeg option. Also the X1D does not have an option to shoot jpeg only ? Leaving one to wonder why they have the option to create a jpeg in camera in the first place ?

              Their philosophy being to try an create the highest quality most flexible RAW profile and leaving it up to the user in post processing software ?

              Do i have that correct ?

              • pascaljappy says:

                Hi Ian, you do have the option of shooting RAW + JPEG, but not JPEG alone on the X1D. The X2D introduces the use of HEIF, which can be shot alone (I think). But my guess is that’s more a reaction to the huge RAW file size than a desire to offer ready-made photos out of the camera.

                The heritage is very much in the studio, and a lot of R&D has been devoted to the quality of the RAW files. They are not flat by default, not like some other cameras produced. You can often use them as they are, but they do benefit from a bit of adjustment.

                That said, since Hasselblad is clearly pushing for more use outdoors, notably with the incredible IBIS, I think it’s possibly a shift is also happening in other areas. As I understand it, the new colour science is a LUT. Not sure whether that was the case with the X1D. But a LUT clearly means Hasselblad could produce more, a la Fuji.

                Time will tell ๐Ÿ˜‰

        • Jon Maxim says:

          Hi Ian,

          I think you missed an opportunity here. Fuji doesn’t need to acquire Hasselblad. I know a guy who is a genius creating E-Film and I’m sure he could create a Hasselblad Natural Colour profile and Pascal will jump ship Immediately.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Ian, the first nations people of Australia were doing FAR more advanced paintings and petroglyphs (images carved into stone) than that, over 40,000 years ago. Dunno of anything older, anywhere on the planet!

    Back to Pascal and his Hassy. I tried to quieten him down, quite a few times. I am a highly empathetic person and I can “feel” what is going on in other people – I didn’t for one moment believe his suggestions that he was thinking of ditching Hassy, and was trying to stop him from prematurely doing something he’d only regret later.

    Besides, the rest of us needed him as our “Hassy photographer” – one of a kind. ANYONE can by the other cameras – very few have a Hassy. It’s a far better status symbol than that red dot on a Leica!

    And Hassy’s do stuff that none of my cameras do – in highlights or shadows, for example.

    Glad to know your 40 days in the wilderness have come to an end, Pascal – now you can get back to photography and stop worrying about “what might have been”.

    If you really want to know what you’re missing out on, you should try buying a Nikon Z8 – printed, the manual is 940 pages – about 14 cm thick. The “options” in it are staggering in their ingenuity, and apparently it can do bursts at an incredible rate, for God only knows who, or what reason.

    It even has some weird way of creating “stack shots” by electronically adjusting the focus to produce a batch of images to feed into Helicon or Zerene, and a couple of people in one of the Z groups on FB chewed me out for being ridiculously oldfashioned because I prefer to keep doing it with my Cognisys stack shot system!

    Just think how lucky you are, to avoid this plague of options, AI, and menu madness!

    • Ian Varkevisser says:

      Hi Pete,

      Guess Nikon finally moved into modernity and copied that auto focus adjustment facility ( for stacking ) from the bottom of the line humble Fuji ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Ian Varkevisser says:

      Hi Pete ,

      That makes AUS 1 ZA 0 on the prehistoric google maps front I guess ๐Ÿ™‚

      Now all we need do is square up on the green oval sans , on a level playing field ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • JackT says:

    With so many of your comments focused on color rendition, I would have appreciated some color photos

  • Bruno Chalifour says:

    Frankly I moved from the X1Dii to the X2D and I have no regrets. I love the camera mostly for its colors, its dynamic range, its ergonomics and mostly for its IBIS. I feel I am back with my M7 with more potential. Agreed I could deal with smaller files from time to time but I also enjoy using the Xpan format and getting decent files ((just finished a book with it).

  • Dallas says:

    Hi Pascal, great article and lovely B&W images. Your introductory email comment of GAS got me thinking. My Nikon Z7 turned 5 in December. It’s the longest I’ve ever owned a camera, would I like to replace it yes and no, yes the Z8 would be much better for action with its vastly improved focus system. I don’t shoot action enough to warrant the expense and the extra 300gms or so to carry around. I doubt the Z8 would get me anymore keepers than my old trusty 7 in 98% of situations. GAS has passed me by thank goodness. Keep up your first class work with DS.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thank you Dallas. Interesting that you should evaluate a camera based on keepers. You’ll see why in my next post ๐Ÿ˜‰

      All of this can’t be good news for manufacturers, because there no longer enough to motivate a new purchase when a new body is released. They’ve embarked on that incremental “improvement” of performance and most of us simply don’t care anymore. They really need to start thinking in new directions.

      Enjoy your trip ๐Ÿ™‚

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      Ha ha – well I indulged myself, Dallas – but because at my age I can’t “do” action any more, so photographing whoever or whatever can is a substitute, and a palliative. Old age isn’t as much fun as some people seem to think it ought to be!

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    I have absolutely no opinions on the gear mentioned in your post, Pascal. However, when it comes to your wonderful B&W images of rocks and trees, I have a lot to say! For reasons I have never understood, rocks are under utilized as subject matter for photographers. You have definitely shown rock walls and their relationship to trees to their best advantage! My favorite is the one where the leafy trees are framing the cliff in the distance – lovely!
    Hasselblad, or no Hasselblad, youโ€™re a fine photographer, sir.

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    Aah, Pascal,
    I Do enjoy these!
    Lovely!

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    Hi Everyone,
    let’s happily sail out on the Sea of Photography in the new year!

    And be inspired by some sea shanties…
    https://youtu.be/s75sH3RHkPQ?si=k8DnWuhWJAP9l-RO

    And, once in a while, do things rather differently, inspired by Malcolm Arnold’s humour.

    A Very Happy New Year, and
    a Very Happy New Photo Year,
    Everyone!

  • Lad Sessions says:

    Pascal,

    I’m utterly in awe of these images! You have such a great eye, particularly in B&W, and the camera is a marvelous instrument for your vision. The detail, the rendering, the lovely tones–I couldn’t come close with my poor Sony A7III…although I’ll keep trying! Thank you for your inspiration in creating Dear Susan, a marvelous community. There are new ideas every week.

  • Jon Maxim says:

    Hi Pascal,

    It is very nice to see how satisfied you are with your camera despite the fact that you have a list of improvements that you would like to see. Your lovely images clearly show that it is a superb and capable camera. This is something that I (as a fully confessed GAS addict) need to learn. I can’t wait to see what you show in colour.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thank you, Jon. I will try to make a post entirely about Hasselblad colours ๐Ÿ™‚

      Facing an update fee of almost 9000 euros for the camera alone helps a lot, when it comes to easing GAS, trust me ๐Ÿ˜†

      Cheers

  • Peter Backhouse says:

    Hi Pascal (and everyone else)

    Thank you for posting this piece. I’m not sure 100megapixels has any advantage over 50 – except for those who like to crop – in my case I shoot a lot of XPan format and having 50MP after the crop is better than 25. My only bugbear(s) ( and why I hesitated to buy) was no B&W rendition in the viewfinder – a standard feature in most cameras these days and the clunky Phocus processing software – I will need to find an optimal workflow if I see any real benefit in using Phocus over LR – an open question in my mind and would appreciate anyone’ feedback thoughts on this.

    As a first objective response to using the camera for a day – I will say that the IBIS is a game changer for the camera’s capabilities – one of the better implementations of it that I have experienced and making hand-holding 100MP – more than possible. I will be using teh camera as a better walk around Leica M – mostly with 21/30 and 45 attached – although I wont be parting with the M or its lenses just yet.

    I look forward to updating the camera to the latest firmware- where autofocus face recognition will add another layer of amenity .

    I’ve noted the comments about ‘flat files’ above – in my experience the Sinar backs had the best neutral rendering of all the manufacturers – but unfortunately they ceased to exist some time ago. I do agree with the company’s philosophy of minimal ‘intervention’ – the Fuji inbuilt profiles based on their interpretation of their film stocks in my experience was neither here nor there – with one or two exceptions.

    atb
    Pete

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Peter,

      It’s true that having more pixels for a cropped format (i love the cinema 2.4:1 format and use it a lot) is very useful.
      But, yes, the IBIS is what really draws me to the X2D. Starting from an already stable platform (good grip, hefty body, leaf shutters), and adding that superb IBIS opens up a lot of intriguing low(er)-light possibilities.

      For some reason, I feel the Fuji presets work very nicely on the APS-C cameras, and less so on the GFX line. Maybe it’s just me? Sinar backs … shame about those. A small view camera (a Linhof 6×9 for example) with a Sinar back would be quite something today, wouldn’t it?

      All the best.

      • Peter Backhouse says:

        FYI Would like to be able to share with you a photo of the Sinar Artec camera I used for a few years, or teh Alpa system – but (imo) stay away from tech cameras of any sort – the romance dies very fast and all that remains is the weight, cost, and dread of carrying all the paraphernalia around…

        Cheers
        Pete

        • pascaljappy says:

          Yes, I did own a Linhof Master Technika 4×5 at some point, and loved it to bits, but rarely used it. Compared to that, the X1D feels hyperactive ๐Ÿ˜‰
          You can send me the photograph at my email address, the one I use to send emails from DS. I f you want, I will insert it in your comment for all to see ๐Ÿ™‚

          Cheers

  • You wrote “…Given Hasselbladโ€™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 you talk about ‘blad’s colors, are you passing RAW output through their software? Is that what gives you the pleasing results?

    I know nothing of this for your specific process flow, but if ‘blad’s software can open tif format files you might be able to take a 16bit CLUT, apply the “look” you’re after, save the CLUT and open it in PS or LR.

    Though I fear that ‘blad, like Fuji, have done their best to make translating “looks” from their closed(?) systems to things like PS , LR, RawTherapee, Darktable, etc. Worse, if you had a LUT you liked, how the heck would you get it into ‘blad’s software? They seem to use XML files of something kind.

    I realize the translations could be time consuming, but once set up it should be a one button process.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thank you Christopher, that’s a very interesting idea. I’m not sure where to buy good LUTs, to be honest. There are about 200 on my editor (LR) and 99% are ghastly. Which is why it would be nice to see Hasselblad releasing a handful. But I suspect that’s not how they view their system, which is legitimate after all. So I might try to find a great LUT, even if more costly and try what you suggest.

      Phocus is not my favourite editor, and reading tests online (including Jim Kasson’s, I think) revealed that the Adobe Colour profile is as accurate as the Phocus profile (camera standard certainly isn’t). So I’m using Lightroom, which also offers stitching and other useful features.

      Cheers

      • Thinking about this a bit further, if the color management systems and the important subdetails of Phocus and LR/PS could be matched, then the output of the demosaicing stage should match. That would be a great starting point.

        There are a lot of variables that go into this and it can get really confusing really fast, but if someone could wade through that to ensure everything matched up, then making new LUTs for LR/PS out of Phocus (or any other source) could be straight forward.

        I’ve done this moving from Capture One to pure Linux/Rawtherapee. So I feel the concept is sound. Maybe there’s a business in getting LUTs and DCP files for multiple systems?

  • Vladimir says:

    Hi Pascal,
    Would you (or your readers) happen to know who manufactures lenses for X2D?
    In the past lenses for film Hasselblad cameras were Carl Zeiss and Rodenstock made some as well too my knowledge those were not very popular.
    Some almost 20 years ago I had a Hasselblad X-Pan II. Camera and lenses were made for Hasselblad by Fujifilm, so is it possible and almost probable that lenses for X2D are made by Fuji which would be a good news?

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Vladimir, I honestly do not know. I believe the lenses were made by Japanese company Nittoh at some point, but since DJI bought the company, some say production has been moved to China. I can’t confirm that, but will ask around ๐Ÿ™‚

  • PaulB says:

    Hi Pascal

    As one of the resident Leica-philes frequenting Dear Susan, I understand completely the frustrations of being a user of a specialty or niche camera. There are several things on my wish list of features that I think would make my SL2 camera a better match for my photographic desires, including items from your list. I think all of us have such as list. And while there are times it seems to make sense to look where the grass may be greener. When you have reached a point of understanding how your camera works, it can make more sense to stay with it rather than start over with something new. After all, once you have consumed the Kool-Aid, it is hard to get it out of your system. I know you can master any camera you handle, though your vision reflected in your Hassy images is special.

    Speaking as someone that has entirely too many lenses, and a fair number of big heavy lenses. When it comes to zoom lenses. Remember the old saying, โ€œBe careful what you wish for. You just might get it.โ€ You may find that a quality zoom lens for your system brings with it bulk and weight that puts a real damper on your willingness to carry it. This is a situation I find myself in with the Leica 24-70 f2.8 SL zoom lens. Optically it is exceptional, though the bulk and weight are such that I leave it at home unless Iโ€™m visiting a special location or need the versatility.

    You may be better served by keeping your X1D as a second body for your second favorite lens and mating your favorite lens to your future new X2D. Since, two cameras are faster than changing lenses, have better weight and bulk traits than a big zoom, and provide the same dust benefit as using a zoom.

    PaulB

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