Hasselblad X1D hands on

With the upcoming release of X1D, Hasselblad is doing a huge leap in the progress of photographic technology. It is not only the smallest, hence most portable, medium format camera, but also the most affordable. X1D will be sold for “just” 9000 $, i.e. for the price of a professional SLR body. From now on a studio photographer whose budget is limited and for whom a Hasselblad H6 have always been out of reach will be able to choose between the usual Canon or Nikon DSLR and Hasselblad. I am sure, for many Hasselblad X1D will be a winner.

To remind of capabilities of this new camera here is a list of the most important technical parameters:

  • 50MP 43.8 x 32.9mm CMOS Sensor
  • 16-Bit Color, 14-Stop Dynamic Range
  • ISO 100-25600, Shooting Up to 2.3 fps
  • 1.7 – 2.3 frames per second
  • Central Shutter: 60 min to 1/2000 sec
  • 2.36 MP XGA Electronic Viewfinder
  • 3.0″ 920 000-Dot Touchscreen LCD Monitor
  • Dual SD Card Slots; XPan & Square Modes
  • Built-In Wi-Fi & GPS, USB 3.0 Type C

Last Monday I attended a presentation of the new Hasselblad X1D to photographers from the area near my home and had a chance to see it live and even to try it. Unfortunately, there was no opportunity for testing this camera with landscape or close-up shots, and the  X1D we got was was preset with a 90 mm lens. So I could not make an impression of how it meets the needs of a nature photographer. Of course, there was no time for thorough testing. Therefore I am able only to make here a couple of general comments based on my brief hands-on experience with Hasselblad X1D.

Design and Construction

The most amazing thing is, of course, the size and the weight of X1D: With just 725 g it weighs 200 g less than any of my current Canon cameras – 5DsR and 5D Mark III, and it is much thinner.

The design of the X1D body is extremely minimalistic. There is a 3″ touch screen, a mode selection wheel, one customisable wheel, two customisable buttons, and a large golden coloured shutter release button. There is also a row of five rectangular buttons right from the screen. They relate to the content displayed on the screen: With them you can, for instance, delete or rate images. On the left side of the body there are two doors: one covers the card slots, and the other one – the cable connection sockets.

The body is designed like a box, with sharper edges than usually in current SLR and medium format cameras.  I had been skeptical about the usability of it till I tried it: Despite its shape, the camera lies well in a hand, the grip is firm and comfortable. The shutter knob and both wheels are easy to find and to access with the fingers. Overall, the X1D body feels very solid and well crafted, just as one would expect from such an expensive camera.

Lenses

The lenses are made minimalistic too. Hasselblad went further than other manufacturers: All so-called HXD lenses have only a manual focusing ring. No switches, distance scale, marks or other usual information is there. Without anything but just one ring the lens looks stylish and cool, but I found particularly the absence of distance marks odd: I use them on my lenses quite often to preset the focus when I can’t look through the view finder, for instance, when shooting night landscapes or in situations when I can’t put my face at the camera. How can one do it when the distance scale isn’t there anymore? Probably, via touch screen. I haven’t seen, however, whether the distance to the object in millimetres and not just focus is displayed there.

The lenses made for X1D are much smaller and lighter than the traditional H lenses. Only two such lenses will come with the camera in August 2016. A third one (30 mm) is announced for Photokina show in September. According to the Hasselblad representative, more HXD lenses will follow very soon, and even zoom lenses are in development.

The sensor of X1D is about 1.4x larger than of a full frame camera. That means that the effect on focal length is opposite to the “cropped” (APS-C) sensors that “increase” the focal length: The focal length is reduced by this factor, hence, for instance, a 90 mm f/3.2 lens on medium format would work like 72 mm with a full-frame camera, a 30 mm – like 24 mm.

Viewfinder and Screen

Hasselblad X1D is supposed to be controlled mainly via touchscreen. This is what I didn’t like, and also didn’t use while test shooting. The touchscreen is about as large as in my Canon and has the same resolution. The colour and detail presentation was good, but not noticeably better than in Canon 5Ds.

The menu seems to be well thought through and to have a clear and simple structure. However, I had no time to go through all levels of it. I personally have a strong antipathy for touch screens even in smartphones and tablets. In my opinion, they don’t make the use of devices and of software any quicker or more comfortable. They are just supposed to make it simpler for people with limited intelligence who aren’t able to remember the purpose of buttons and key shortcuts.

For outdoor photographers even such a display without touch capability is of a limited use because it is to dim in bright sunlight and too small for assessment of image quality. So being an outdoor photographer I looked at the display of Hasselblad X1D with the usual reservation. In comparison with the display in current DSLR bodies it didn’t impress me at all. The menu and the display quality in current Canon cameras is just fine for me.

Like in professional DSLR and in medium format backs, the display of X1D is not tilting, i.e. it is fixed inside the camera body, and you can’t turn it, for instance, so that you look down at it.  The Hasselblad representative told that this feature may be added in future to the next versions of this camera.

The viewfinder is purely digital, and when you are looking through it, it feels like you are using a video camera. This is what I don’t like in all mirrorless cameras, and it is one of the reasons why I don’t buy a mirrorless camera yet: The resolution and refresh rate of the viewfinders isn’t yet so good that you would feel like looking directly at the object and not like watching it on TV. The viewfinder of Hasselblad X1D is not bad and may be even better than in some other mirrorless cameras, but it isn’t a real break through.

However, there is a very nice feature: The X1D recognises when the eye is on the viewfinder and automatically turns the display off and turns it on again, as soon as you have removed the eye from the viewfinder.

Shooting

We were holding the camera in hands when trying it. Since both the lens and the body are so light, it was easy to hold and to operate. It was feeling as if you have a small DSLR camera with a medium size lens in your hands. The camera was set to autofocus and in the aperture priority mode with ISO 100 and f/5.6.

The autofocus was quick, very silent. The precision was also all right, as you can judge from the images attached below: I was focusing on the face (eyes) of the model, so it looks like the autofocus did it correctly.

However, the depth of field is, typically for medium-format, is very shallow, as you can notice particularly of face portrait. With a full-frame camera and a 60-70 mm lens set to f/5.6 I would expect the whole head of the model, or at least the whole face to be in focus. As you see in the test image, the DOF was only around 5-7 cm deep. Obviously, to achieve a  greater DOF in this light one would need to increase ISO, or to reduce the shutter speed, or to do both. In consequence the image quality may suffer if the camera is hand held. I would have used ISO 100 and f/16, and a tripod, but no tripod was available.

The resolution of this lens/sensor combo looks very good. I am not sure, however, that it is better than of Canon 5DsR when it is used with a premium quality lens. Maybe yes, but maybe no. Since the model is more or less in the middle of the frame and since there were no objects around here that came in focus, I can’t report anything about border and corner sharpness here.

I couldn’t make an impression of the dynamic range that Hasselblad praises in technical specifications of this camera. The lighting in a studio is just too good for such tests, and I think any good SLR camera would perform similarly in such conditions. An interior shot in natural light would have been more revealing, but there was no opportunity for this.

Unprocessed JPEG file generated from a RAW produced with Hasselblad X1D equipped with a 90 mm lens - f/5.6, 1/350s, ISO 100 (Click on the picture to view the full sized image.)

Unprocessed JPEG file generated from a RAW produced with Hasselblad X1D equipped with a 90 mm lens – f/5.6, 1/350s, ISO 100 (Click on the picture to view the full sized image.)

Summing-up

As always with such presentations, its main goal was advertising. Therefore it was intended to show the highlights of this camera and targeted at the main customers of Hasselblad – fashion and portrait photographers. I went there with my attitude of an outdoor photographer, and, of course, came back home with a lot of unanswered questions.

Whether Hasselblad X1D is a winner for studio photography I am not in a position to judge due to my limited experience. To me it looks definitely more like a studio than like an outdoor camera. However, compared to usual medium format mirror cameras the X1D makes an impression more of another stylish accessory for a rich amateur. It is what is achieved by the portability of this camera: Not Leica M anymore but a medium format Hasselblad will now be the next stylish gadget wealthy people can bring to parties, events and holiday tours.

Otherwise the portability may be a big gain for landscape and architecture photographers. However, I still see clear advantages of full-frame cameras with their wide range of lenses.

About Arthur Tiutenko
Nature Photographer and Illustrator

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