The Hasselblad X1D-50c is a 50MP mirrorless medium format camera and is an important product for the storied Swedish company.
Hasselblad is a company with a long history of making high-end cameras. Its boxy 6 x 6 format cameras (latterly dubbed the ‘V’ series) were beloved of generations of photographers and perhaps reached their apogee when used to capture man’s first ventures to the moon.
The ravages of history, the decline of film and changes of both management and ownership have seen the company make sporadic attempts to expand beyond its core, high-end professional medium format market, but the X1D is the move that best fits with the brand’s strengths and history.
The first camera in the ‘X’ system, the X1D is built around 44 x 33mm medium format sensor (or ‘cropped’ medium format if you’re going to demand that digital directly mimics film formats). The assumption has to be that it’s a similar 50MP chip to the one included in Ricoh’s Pentax 645Z and Fujifilm’s GFX 50S. What’s interesting is how different each camera ends up being.
- 50MP 44 x 33mm medium format CMOS sensor
- 12.4MP preview JPEGs or ‘3FR’ 16-bit losslessly compressed Raws
- 2.36M-dot electronic viewfinder
- 920k-dot (VGA) 3.0″ touchscreen
- Designed to use leaf-shutter lenses
- Tethered shooting over USB 3.0 or Wi-Fi
- Full TTL compatibility with recent Nikon Speedlights
Whereas the 645Z is medium format DSLR, built around Pentax’s existing 645 film system, and Fujifilm’s GFX is a DSLR-shaped mirrorless camera with a focal plane shutter, Hasselblad has used the expertise it’s gained in high-end studio cameras to create the smallest camera of the three by pushing the shutter out into the lenses. This move not only keeps the camera small, it also means that the camera can sync with strobes across its entire shutter speed range.
To an extent it reminds us of the original Sony a7, which appeared to be the bare minimum amount of camera built around a full frame sensor. The Hasselblad does the same thing, but with a sensor 70% larger. However, what will be interesting to see is whether the Hasselblad is able to take full advantage of that extra sensor size if its lenses are significantly slower than those available for the smaller, ‘full-frame’ format (which, in theory at least, gives you the chance to open the aperture, let in more light and cancel out all of the larger sensor advantage, so long as you don’t run out of dynamic range).
Initially, Hasselblad has promised three lenses for the XCD system: a 30mm F3.5 (24mm equiv), a 45mm F3.5 (35mm equiv) and a 90mm F3.2 (70mm equiv). As with so many things in life, what you gain on one side (the faster sync speeds of a leaf shutter), you lose on another (it’s increasingly hard to get a leaf shutter to quickly open and close across a large distance).
Four more lenses are in development, a 120mm F3.5 (95mm equiv) macro, a 28-60mm equiv 35-75mm zoom, a 65mm (roughly 50mm equiv) and a 22mm (18mm equiv) wide-angle.
Created using Iconasys 360 Photography Solutions
As soon as you start using the X1D it becomes apparent that it’s a product that hasn’t had its rough edges eroded by exposure to wave after wave of customer. The camera is neither as slick nor as complex as most mass-market cameras are.
On the plus side, there’s an impressive purity of focus: the camera lets you set exposure and it lets you set the focus point. That’s about it. No dynamic range modes, panorama feature, no multitude of focus areas and modes, just core photographic tools.
|When you consider that the X1D is essentially a studio camera that you can hand hold and carry around, it’s actually quite small.
And, in terms of hand holding, it’s got a very comfortable, rubber-coated grip.
The downside is that there are some peculiarities even within this very narrow feature set. There’s no touchpad option to use the touchscreen to position the AF point while the camera is to your eye. In fact, even moving the AF point requires you to hold down the AF/MF button, probably the least comfortable or convenient way of changing the AF point that I’ve encountered on any modern camera. It’s also a camera that doesn’t so much switch on as boot up: don’t expect your lightning responses to help you grab a shot, unless you’re prescient enough to anticipate ‘the moment’ by around ten seconds.
|When you first turn the camera on, you’re confronted with this settings screen. It disappears if you half-press the shutter button. If you want it back, you simply swipe downwards on the rear screen. Swiping upwards or pressing the button at the lower right of the screen takes you to the main menu.|
That said, the physical design of the camera is immediately striking. It’s not the first camera we’ve encountered to have been milled out of a single block of metal, but it’s unusual in how little they seem to have milled away: the whole thing feels like it’s half camera, half ingot. This density is, in part, dictated by the requirements of thermal management: the processor is butted up to the camera’s shell and the whole thing becomes warm as you shoot with it.
The grip is well shaped and inlaid with a soft rubber coating (which, with a lifespan we’d guesstimate at around a decade, seems likely to be the first major component, other than the battery, that’ll need replacement). It’s an impressively small, generally comfortable and remarkably solid feeling camera.
|That’s not something you see on many cameras: a pop-up mode dial that recesses back into the body when you want to lock it. The inscription ‘Handmade in Sweden’ isn’t exactly commonplace, either.|
It’s not perfect, though. We really like the pop-up mode dial: it’s a cute piece of design and ensures you can’t ever accidentally engage a different mode. However, the AF/MF button, which you need to hold down is located a little too far inboard to be comfortably reached by anyone in the office. The shutter button is also rather over-sensitive: you have to press it in a fair distance to reach the half-press position but only a fraction more movement and pressure triggers the shutter, resulting in an unusually high number of accidental shots.
Hasselblad’s understanding of studio work is immediately apparent when you use the camera: focus peaking is available in a range of colors (cyan, yellow and magenta, unusually), and you can choose whether M mode gives you a live exposure preview, independently of the setting you choose for P, A and S modes. The lack of custom white balance, beyond specifying a Kelvin temperature, also seems to assume the use of strobes (which are less likely to require a green/magenta correction).
Another odd omission is any kind of live histogram. You can get histograms once you’ve shot an image but none as you’re shooting. The histograms in playback mode appear to be of the JPEG image (or the presumed rendering of the image), rather than the Raw data, which as we’ll see when we get to the dynamic range section, doesn’t tell us anything about the unusually recoverable highlights that the camera offers above ISO 1600.
As part of our fuller review, we’ll be shooting the camera using Hasselblad’s Phocus software, as we suspect this will give a very different shooting experience.
The X1D’s menu is simple, clever and customizable. All its options live under three sub-heading on the right of the main menu page: Camera Settings, Video Settings and General settings. Then, to the left, is a 3×3 grid of icons that can be chosen by the user: effectively making it a custom ‘My Menu.’
|The Main Menu screen has three sections ranged down the right hand side, the nine icons on the left are user definable.|
This is typical of the camera as a whole: there are some very clever touches but also some baffling omissions (since there’s a touchscreen, why isn’t it easier to select an AF point?). The good news is that the hardware seems pretty sound, so there’s still scope for improvement with future firmware revisions.
The X1D lets you choose the lower and upper ISO setting but there’s no way of relating it to focal length. There’s also no option to use Auto ISO in manual mode, either for stills or video shooting.
The camera is powered by a 23Wh battery. Sadly, not being part of trade body CIPA, Hasselblad doesn’t publish standard battery life figures for the camera, but our impressions are that it eats through the battery rather quickly (we’ll try to approximate a shot-per-charge figure as we keep testing).
The battery itself is an odd affair. Much like the unit in the Leica SL, the lower edge of the battery is a plate that ends up exposed at the base of the camera. A small latch ejects the battery most of the way, but there’s a small catch that requires an upwards nudge to release before it’s fully released. Once free there’s a small socket in the top of the battery, into which a power lead from the charger is then plugged.
Quick manual mode
The camera offers an Mq (Quick Manual) exposure mode that saves battery, makes the camera quieter and significantly reduces the camera’s otherwise considerable shutter lag by disengaging live view and having the shutter closed, ready to shoot. It’s an interesting idea (not least in that it requires the use of a different mode for initial composition and white balance measurement), and one of the things that reinforces the impression that, despite its size and portability, this is a studio camera at heart.