June 23, 2016 Del Cook

Is the $9000 Hasselblad X1D the next step for Medium Format Cameras ?

 

 

 

Hasselblad X1D Compact Medium-Format Camera

Launch

Hasselblad is billing the X1D as the world’s first mirrorless medium-format camera.  The iconic Swedish camera-maker is targeting the size-friendly X1D to a customer base that extends beyond its usual professional class.  Founded in 1941, Hasselblad is the leading manufacturer of medium format cameras and lenses.  Handmade in Sweden, Hasselblad cameras are renowned for their uncompromising image quality.  On paper the Hassleblad X1D, a 50MP medium format (44x33mm) mirrorless camera with a 2.36MP EVF, offers all the quality and image detail you would expect of a medium-format camera without its associated size and heaviness (725 g).

Hassleblad X1D

Photo courtesy of Hasselblad

Unlike the boxy Hasselblads of the past, the X1D is easy to hold with an sensibly ergonomic grip and body shape.  Design details are lifted from the new H6D medium-format camera like a touch-screen interface and S50-megapixel resolution.  Controls are very user-friendly with touch-sensitve options that work seamlessly together with more traditional button interface controls.  The icons on the interface are appealingly modern and simple making navigation appear as simple as using the early editions of an iPhone.  The use of black and white means no distractions as you strictly focus on camera operations – a bit like using the iA Writer app.

The subtle orange button on top adds an iconic look and warmth to the camera much in the way as the red dot does for a Leica camera.  One could argue that it’s a more practical choice and comes across as less ostentatious to locate the color on the top trigger button rather than stuck on the front of the camera as on the Leica.  What is undeniable is that this camera looks fantastic.  Its minimalist monochrome color palette creates a perfect backdrop for the skilled craftsmen at Hasselblad to add in beautiful engraving, embossing and timeless typography.  The timeless Hasselblad logo juxtaposes nicely with the thin modern icons and sans-serif fonts lending the overall image of the camera a cool sculptural appeal with just the right balance of details to make it fresh and cool.  If a Leica is classical music then this Hasselblad is pure jazz.

“The X1D marks a pivotal point in Hasselblad’s rich 75-year history. This camera makes medium format photography available to a new generation of Hasselblad users, while pushing the existing limits of photography to new heights.”

Perry Oosting, Hasselblad CEO

Hassleblad X1D

Photo courtesy of Hasselblad

For Creative Photography

The X1D is ideal for those who want to create the highest quality medium format images with a minimalist, user-friendly camera that fits comfortably in the hand.   The 50-megapixel chip tucked inside has about twice the surface area as those found in full-frame DSLR’s like the Nikon D4 and Canon 5D Mark III.  Bigger sensors almost always translate to better image quality because they just take in so much more information than those with smaller sensors.  Bigger sensors also allow cameras to perform better in low-light making the X1D ideal for night time shooting.  Even at ISO 12,800 the X1D’s huge pixel intake should render invisible the usual high-ISO noise in darkness.  Once again – on paper at least – the X1D tramples the best pro DSLR’s with it’s super-size sensor and yet it is more compact and easy to hold.  Add to its minimalist operational efficiency and you start to see a compelling case for owning the X1D being built.

Hassleblad X1D

Photo courtesy of Hasselblad

Precison

Beyond the big sensor the X1D also has a super-fast flash sync with shutter speeds blazing at up to 1/2000 of a second.  It’s 3-inch touchscreen UI, 14-bit color depth, and a fetching orange shutter button.  Other features include shooting 1080p video at 30fps,  it can write images to two SD card slots and comes in a weather-sealed body.  Still photos can be shot at up to ISO 25,600 and Hasselblad claims the CMOS sensor is capable of capturing an amazing 14 stops of dynamic range.  The X1D also matches the continuous-shooting speed of the $26,000 H6D with an impressive top speed of 2.3 shots per second.  That’s pretty amazing given the huge chunk of data the X1D captures in each shot – 65MB RAW files / 150MB TIFF files.

Hassleblad X1D

Photo courtesy of Hasselblad

To Buy or Not to Buy

For pros and serious amateurs the X1D can be viewed as a compact creative tool with a big sensor that stretches its DR abilities beyond that of a top DSLR.  As it stands today, the X1D also entails risk in buying it.  Outside of the 45mm and 90 mm, the extent of the lens system remains an unknown.  When one considers the extensive lens offerings of Nikon, Canon, Leica and Sony the decision to jump at the X1D is less clear.

Lenses for the Hasselblad are OEM – production is outsourced to Nittoh, a Japanese precision lens company.  NITTOH was founded in Suwa, Nagano in 1876 and is heavily involved with space technology development.   As an example of their work, NITTOH’s opto-technology was used during lift-off of the JAXA’s asteroid spacecraft called Hayabusa on December 3, 2014.    One could argue that this allows Hasselblad to focus on what it does well and focuses its R&D budget more effectively.

The slow boot up and autofocus system means the X1D not a camera for sports photography or fast moving scenes.  What it is ideal for is portraiture, landscape and still life photography – anything that rewards a disciplined and thoughtful setup.  Ultimately the X1D has the potential to be a “Revolutionary” camera for only a very small niche of camera users given its price tag.  Choosing it over a package of Nikon or Canon’s top DSLR’s really comes down to how you plan to employ it.

As for a comparison of fantasy kits the Hassleblad X1D beats the Sony A7r II, Pentax 645D and Nikon D5/1DX on Digital Resolution, high ISO noise and color accuracy.  The Canon 5DS R does offer the same number of pixels however that is delivered through a smaller sensor and packaged in a heftier camera body.  Alternatively, my dream combo of a Carl Zeiss Otus lens and a Nikon D810 gets beat by the X1D’s superior sensor according to Ming Thein who has shot extensively with both.  By summer we will be able to spend more time with the Hassleblad X1D and evaluate its image production more closely.  There is lots of time to decide whether parting with $14,000 for the Body + 2 Lens kit can be rationalized.  Until then we can only dream about just how good it could be.

Hassleblad X1D

Photo courtesy of Hasselblad

KEY FEATURES

  • Compact, lightweight (725g), highly portable and user-friendly medium format technology
  • Large 50MP CMOS medium format sensor delivering up to 14 stops of dynamic range
  • New line of XCD lenses with integral central shutter; 45mm and 90mm available at launch
  • Compatible with all 12 lenses and lens accessories from the Hasselblad professional H System (adapter required)
  • Multiple image format options
  • High quality XGA electronic viewfinder or high resolution rear display with touch functionality
  • Wide range of shutter speeds: 60 minutes to 1/2000th sec. with full flash synchronisation throughout the range
  • An ISO range from 100 to 25,600
  • Dual SD card slots, GPS and Wi-Fi
  • USB 3.0 Type-C connector, Mini HDMI, Audio In/Out
  • Weather and dust sealings
  • HD video
  • Phocus 3.1 for simple and quick raw image processing. Adobe Photoshop® and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom® compatible.

HASSELBLAD    website

Del Cook

Del Cook is a Tokyo-based Designer, Photographer and Writer. He founded design studio Applewasabi that creates consumer products and multimedia