First Look : Hands-on with the Hasselblad X1D

The incredible Hasselblad X1D

The incredible Hasselblad X1D

Today, at the invitation of Henry's Professional Services, I attended an event allowing professionals to get hands on with pre-release iterations of the Hasselblad X1D coming this August.

For those not following medium format, Hasselblad has always been the go to lineup for superb medium camera bodies, lenses and backs.  I cut my early teeth on 'Blads, having shot the 500C, the 500C/M, and the 500 ELM.  For the last few years my digital medium format has been a Hasselblad H4D-40.  

The X1D is a completely different route for the venerable company.  It is a mirrorless body.  Yup, mirrorless, the same way as you find in crop and full frame 35mm bodies but with a significant difference.  For only a marginally bigger body, you get a substantially bigger sensor.  Larger sensors mean that you have much narrower depth of field shooting wide open, that you are using more photo sites giving incredible detail, but also larger photo sites giving you incredible light gathering capability.  Even if the megapixel count is the same as a full frame DSLR, the look from a 50MP medium format digital sensor is very different from what you will get from the 35mm format 50MP sensor.

I own the 40MP CCD sensor in the H4D-40 and have shot at some length the H5D-50C with the 50MP CMOS sensor.  Comparing those images to those coming from a Canon 5Ds or Sony a7R Mark II, both of which I have shot a lot, is apples to oranges.  Both produce image files but they do not look the same.  There's a look to medium format that you cannot get from a smaller sensor.

The big complaint, other than cost of acquisition, with medium format has been the size of the camera.  I've tracked moose into bogs, climbed (ok slid) down scree to a waterfall and humped the Blad across many KM of trails for the right shot.  Bulky and heavy but images that are untouchable.  I cannot wait to get into the field with an X1D to make images.  I'm already visioneering what I can do with one.

Check out how slim the X1D is!  

Check out how slim the X1D is!  

And this is what makes the X1D so absolutely awesome.  It is small.  Not point and shoot small, but one of the other pros who showed, pulled his Leica M9 from his bag and the X1D might be 20% larger in the body.  The lenses are definitely bigger, because they must produce a substantially larger image circle (over 3x larger) but the first thing that came to mind when I picked up the X1D is that I could carry the thing all day for street photography.  It's light enough for all day use and unobtrusive enough not to send people scurrying.

It has a 50 megapixel CMOS sensor rated to ISO 25600.  We were handling pre-production models and so could not save images shot to our own cards.  This is more than fair, because it could cause conclusions to be drawn either way that would be inaccurate come first customer ship.  The model I handled had the 90mm lens mounted, having about the same field of view as a 50mm on a full frame DSLR.  Files are captured to SDXC cards, and there are two slots.  In addition to shooting to the card, you can also tether the camera to Hasselblad's Phocus app and Lightroom support is expected at time of release.  Some folks ask why there is no Capture One support, if you are one, call Phase One and ask what they are afraid of.  I really like Capture One as a product but always find the decision to prevent Hasselblad tethering to be rather immature.

The sensor is stated to have 14 stops of dynamic range and the pixel depth is 16 bit versus the 14 bit found in better DSLR and MILC traditional sensors.  Moving from 14 to 16 bit means that every luminosity value from 0 to 255 has 4x as many tonal options.  For fine work, this is huge.  When I asked I was advised that the sensor has an AA filter as this camera would very likely be used for fashion and commercial work where moire in fabrics can be a legitimate issue.  I have since been corrected via a reader (Mr. Michael Banks) who spoke with Hasselblad AG.  There is no AA filter on the X1D.  Connection to the computer is via USB3 using the smaller type C connector.  This will deliver high throughput and address the issue of vendors no longer supporting the very fast and proven Firewire 800 used in older models.  I discuss this, because shooting tethered in the studio with any medium format is a real joy, particularly when the tethering is fast as it is with Phocus.

The grip is very well designed and fits the hand well.  You do not need Hulk hands to hold on to the camera with confidence.  The menu system is similar to other Hasselblads on the grip housing but I give kudos to the excellent rear touchscreen display.  Regular readers know that I have a hate/love relationship with touchscreens as i must shoot left eyed.  In multiple test scenarios, including ones where I was trying to cause a problem, I did not encounter a single case of nose activation or smearing of the display.  The touch display is very easy to use and serious work has gone into the UI to make it very usable.

Lenses mount using a new bayonet mount and the flange to sensor distance is very short.  This helps keep the new X series lenses very small.  As of announcement there are a 45mm and a 90mm, with a 30mm that should be available on or shortly after ship.  For folks like myself, with a substantial investment in HC and HCD glass a mount adapter will be available and it is expected to be priced at $395 USD which is amazing.

The battery system is new, so you will not be using H series batteries on the unit, as the new battery slides up into the grip as on so many other mirrorless cameras.  Shutter speed range is from 60 minutes to 1/2000 of a second with XCD lenses and because these are all shutter in lens designs, commonly called leaf shutters, you have flash synchronization at every shutter speed,

Since I use flash most of the time, even just as a simple fill, I liked that there is a hot shoe on the body to connect a trigger to.  With the support of Will Prentice, the Broncolor representative we did tests at 1/2000 using the Broncolor trigger to fire Broncolor Siros L strobes.  Everything was ice smooth.  The shoe is different from the shoes on H series cameras that leverage the Metz SCA system, the shoe on the X1D is configured for non-TTL as well as supporting any Nikon TTL capable TTL flash system.  I think that this is a great move on Hasselblad's part.  With the body being this portable, I could stuff a Nikon TTL speed light and a flash bender in my go bag and be ready for most anything.  That's usability that's convenient.

I'm not typically a huge fan of electronic viewfinders because they look so much like electronic viewfinders meaning over bright, over contrasty and fatiguing.  This one is so good, I didn't even think about it being an EVF until one of the other attendees mentioned it.  I like what Hasselblad has done.  You get the functionality of the EVF with the clarity of optical.  Brilliant!

At about $12,150 for the body, entry is not inexpensive, adding just over $3,000 for either lens (they are about $100 apart) makes the X1D an investment.  When you consider that a top line mirrorless body such as the excellent Sony a7R Mark II is still over one third the cost and think about what you get, it's not ridiculously hard to start your business case.  The H lens mount adapter will be around $470 so you could have the full kit for less than the price of an H6D body. Personally I think that's a stupid comparison, but others have already done it so I wanted to address it here.  The use cases could be similar, but the execution is going to be very different indeed.  The two systems are built with different mental approaches.  Your own use cases will tell you which route is best for you.

¾ view shows the intelligent and simple layout.  You can also see the mode dial retracted flush into the top deck,  Press it to pop it up, press again to make it flush.  Awesome.

¾ view shows the intelligent and simple layout.  You can also see the mode dial retracted flush into the top deck,  Press it to pop it up, press again to make it flush.  Awesome.

I see the X1D as great in the studio and for street and landscape work.  It's not a sports or wildlife camera, but then no other medium format camera is either.  I found control manipulation easy without having to take the camera from my eye, and if you want, the rear display is perfectly usable for Live View photography.  That's not something that I do very much but that big display does make it viable.

At release the X1D will shoot Full HD video and be able to push it out the Mini HDMI port to my understanding.  According to prerelease documentation, this will be limited to 1080p at 25fps.  One of the attendees said this didn't matter as he would never use it for video.  To each his or her own.  When I get my evaluation model, I will definitely be shooting video with it.  I cannot wait to see what that sensor will be able to do, especially for establishing wide shots.  The units available today were pre-production and video was not enabled on them.

I want to thank Andrew and Shar from Hasselblad for all their assistance and support in sharing their knowledge on the X1D and for allowing us all to get early hands-on.  While I did not get to shoot in production yet, I am looking forward to doing so when the camera is commercially available.  Kudos to Mark, Rod and Russell from HPS for the invitation.