I SPENT A WONDERFUL evening at The Printhouse the other week viewing the opening night of ‘Showcase by Hasselblad’. It included some of the most iconic images of the past 50 years in photography. With work from Gered Mankowitz, Clive Arrowsmith and Tim Flach amongst others there is little to doubt the heritage of a camera maker that can forever claim to have produced the first camera to go to the moon.
Quite simply you cannot be a professional photographer without having a special place in your heart for a Hasselblad. I have owned and worked with many ‘Blads’ over the years, both film and digital models, and I honestly cannot think of one that I didn’t fall hopelessly in love with.
With this in mind I was surprised when Hasselblad launched the X1D back in 2016 to a fairly lukewarm reception. It looked the part with sleek Swedish lines and certainly offered some great features including, of course, a true 50MP sensor to deliver stunning medium format quality. It was aimed at the prosumer market and, with a price tag at a snip under £6000 for the body alone, it was clearly the wealthy prosumer they were after.
The X1D was one of those cameras that you really wanted to be great but just wasn’t. Experienced photographers are I savvy enough to see through the 50MP seduction and just were not impressed enough by some of the compromises Hasselblad had made to achieve the ‘everyman’ goal. Most of all it was slow – too slow – and that meant it was just too difficult to use in most real life scenarios.
ABOVE: The top plate of the Hasselblad II 50C is delightfully straightforward , with a strictly minimal look.
Meet the Successor
All of this means that the X1D II 50C has some heavy responsibilities placed on its shoulders. Hasselblad handed me one body plus an XCD 90mm f/3.2, a XCD 21mm f/4 and the brand new XCD 45P f/4. Together with a spare battery and charger, this kit fitted neatly into a 15×11 inch flight case with absolutely bags of room to spare.
The X1D II 50C is small: in fact, despite its medium format credentials, it’s as small as my mirrorless Sony a7R III, which makes it smaller than most DSLRs, so it really is a portable camera kit. On top of that it just feels just so good in the hand. The deep set grip forms an integral part of a body that’s honed from a solid chunk of aluminium. The whole thing feels solid as a rock.
When I first plucked the camera from its case I was disappointed that Hasselblad had omitted to supply a strap with it, especially as I planned to take it for a walk. I took it with me on a weekend lifestyle shoot for Aston Martin down on the stunning Cowdray Park Estate in Midhurst, so long walks were a staple part of the assignment.
In the end I carried the camera in my hand for a five mile yomp in the country and never once felt uncomfortable. The body is light enough to carry, yet it’s heavy enough to balance the weight of the leaf shutter lenses. This is Scandinavian design at its best. It feels good and boy does it look good. In fact I would go so far as to say that this is the best looking camera that I’ve ever handled: it’s just a bloody gorgeous thing and you can’t help but want to have it in your life!
Next on the reviewer’s to do list is the user interface. The X1D II 50 differs from its predecessor only in the fact that it’s finished in gun metal grey as opposed to silver and this looks very special. The new model is a millimetre or so taller than the original, accounted for by the handy inclusion of built in Wi-Fi and GPS. The grip fabric is also upgraded for a better, more assured feel.
You are immediately struck by the lack of confusing dials and knobs on the camera. The buttons are so minimal that you can’t believe they are capable of doing their job. The mode dial rises at first touch and can then be pushed firmly down to lock your settings. You have to ask yourself why won’t all cameras do this? The three other top buttons: handle On/Off, AF/MF and ISO/WB. Get the idea? It’s just so simple. The shutter button is finished in a metallic copper and the effect is like no other camera.
In the Hands
The X1D II 50 has an enormous 3.6in fixed viewing screen, a full 0.6 inches larger than the original X1D which, let’s face it, was not a tiny screen to start with. There’s a line of buttons down the right side of the screen and two above it and all are easily accessible and ergonomically placed.
The touch screen is probably the best one that I’ve ever experienced on a camera. Using the type of responsive menus and sub menus that are familiar to anyone owning an iPhone or Android smartphone, the 24 bit 2.36 million dot screen does a wonderful job. There is no perceivable touch screen lag and menus are so logical that you can pick this camera up, make any adjustment you wish and just start using it. It’s that simple! The viewfinder is clear and crisp with a 100% viewing area displayed with a 3.69 million dot OLED. So far so good!
Lenses are well balanced and easy to slide on and off the mount, although I would have placed the lens release button on the right hand side of the body not the left as it means you have to take the camera out of your holding hand before changing lenses. Ok, so it’s a minor point but then again this is something I love about my Sony.
There are currently nine dedicated XCD lenses available and the three that I had were all stunning. Built with internal leaf shutters, these lenses can sync with any flash up to 1/2000sec. Remember that means no power loss and no need to use HSS or HyperSync flash units, just the simplicity of plug and play when required.
The new 45P f/4 lens differs from the existing 45mm f/3.5 lens by dint of being considerably smaller and lighter in weight. The X1D claims, in fact, to be the lightest medium format lens in the
world and I would’nt doubt that. It’s the perfect ‘one lens’companion for the traveller, a compact, mid-sized wide angle optic that’s the equivalent of a 35mm on a standard DSLR. There are currently ten lenses in the system, from 21mm through to 135mm with one zoom at 35-75mm. If you want to access the vast range of H mount lenses in the long running Hasselblad range then there is an adapter available as well, so the sky’s the limit and the quality is never an issue.
The camera does not currently support video but it will do as soon as the Swedish geeks have got time to start ‘algorithming’ and, in any case, I don’t see this camera as particularly being a videographer’s choice so I’m not holding my breath. Two UHSII SD card slots are on board, which can be arranged with the normal options of shooting Raw and/or large format JPEGs at up to 2.7fps. It can also be easily tethered with any Mac or PC option.
ABOVE: The LCD on the back of the X1D II 50C is 0.6ins larger than the screen on the original camera.
Start Up Time
When I first switched the camera on I was keen to see how long it took to boot up. The previous model took something equivalent to an average insect’s life span to get going, so the mere four seconds that the X1D II 50 takes to spark into life felt almost Usain Bolt-like. It’s still a lot slower than your average DSLR or Mirrorless camera but it didn’t feel intrusive.
Focusing options for the camera are limited but for the most part adequate in terms of screen coverage, with up to 117 selectable autofocus points. Hasselblad has chosen to use contrast detection only with no phase detection, which is accurate but it does tend to take its time.
It has to be said that I did find the focus searching on this camera rather annoying. It felt at times like some of the older, cheaper lenses I bought for my Canon system nearly ten years ago. The focusing seems better than on the original model but, to my mind, it’s still not up to where it should be.
There are no focus assist modes, so you have Auto Focus and Manual Focus and that’s it. A very handy feature though is the fact that the viewing screen does not switch off when you put your eye to the viewfinder. This means you can use your thumb on the touch screen to position the focus selection point whilst looking through the viewfinder. It’s a new experience but one that you soon get used to: I liked it!
There were essentially two parts to my shoot. A lifestyle element whilst walking around the beautiful Sussex countryside and then the car shoot itself at Cowdray Hall on the Cowdray Park Estate. It was an informal weekend so I had my wife and son with me along with a group of friends, so there were plenty of options to try out the camera.
The Hasselblad was a pleasure to carry around and setting up individual shots was easy. The viewfinder is clear and the camera is so natural in the hand. If your subject is still and willing to pose then there’s no problem. The moment they start to move around, however, you realise the limitations of the old style focusing. It’s restrictive and there is no way around that. Strangely enough I found it a little bit liberating, as I am old
enough to have spent most of my professional career shooting with film cameras using manual only or fixed autofocus, and it brought back memories of pre-focused running shots to get the action images that you wanted.
The second half of the day demonstrated the type of shoot that, in my opinion, this camera was designed for. With James Bond’s Aston Martin parked up outside Cowdray Hall I had the camera, a tripod and one large bounce reflector.
The sun was going down so I had to work quickly. I shot with the camera on a tripod for perfect set-ups that were aligned precisely, and I was shooting at up to 1/15sec at around f/16 to get ISO 100 pin sharp imagery. I was then able to take the camera off the tripod for a spell, shooting at ISO 400 hand held at 1/60-1/180sec for different angles and details, caught as the light was fading.
The 50MP sensor has a 14 stop dynamic range so the contrast of a sunset was easy to cope with. And the detail…Oh the detail! This sensor may be old but it was made to shoot cars. When I got the images back to the studio they allowed me so much leeway.
I often shoot cars with restricted kit, as lighting is not always an option. I frequently shoot images in multiple parts whilst using a tripod and then take the best from each frame to combine in post. In this case, showing the detail of two black alloy wheels needed a reflector positioned on one wheel, which was then moved to reflect on the other for the second frame. Putting the two captures together in Photoshop is easy, but the detail of each image was stunning. I also like to push up the contrast by adding a black and white soft light layer to accentuate the blacks. This technique means I usually shoot for lower contrast in the original capture, but with the ‘Blad I kept it as seen. The results were fabulous and there was no need for adjustments.
I CAN TELL YOU that this photographer thinks the Hasselblad X1D II 50C is a fabulous camera. The price of the body has been reduced down to £5399 making it considerably less expensive than its predecessor but it still works out at £900 more expensive than the Fujifilm GFX 50S and a stonking £1900 more than the 61MP Sony a7R IV.
The native lens range is also smaller than the competition but all the lenses are leaf shutter so much more suited to professional flash options with zero power loss even with high shutter speed combinations. The X1D II can also be coupled up to the entire H series lens range with the addition of an adapter and there can’t be many camera makers that have a larger medium format lens range than Hasselblad.
The camera is small and beautifully balanced and also happens to look like a supermodel so it’s difficult not to enjoy being around it. At its new price point –which it probably had to drop down to if it was going to remain competitive – it’s going to be a tempting proposition.
However, if you’re looking for an all-round run-and-gun camera for every purpose this is not the camera for you. Some photographers, in my opinion, will never quite get the X1D II. They will criticise it for slow focusing and a lack of multiple features with a price tag that many would say is at the point where it should include everything.
Others like me can see what Hasselblad has done here. If you want a camera to shoot calm considered images like landscapes, interiors, posed portraits and commercial still life in studio or on location with leaf shutter lenses requiring no in-camera stabilisation with full power flash at any sync speed there is simply no better model available at this price point. The ease of use, the astonishing lens quality and that gorgeous 50MP sensor giving a dynamic range to rival any sensor that I’ve ever used will provide professional image quality time and time again.
Take a look at the specifications for the Aston Martin DBS Superleggera. It has a 0-60 time of 3.7 seconds and a price tag to match. For a lot less money it’s possible to buy yourself a Toyota GR Supra 3.0 Pro with very similar performance and still afford to get all the options fitted and additionally buy dinner for all your Toyota Car club mates. But which would you rather have parked outside on your driveway?
More information: / www.hasselblad.com
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