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Chill Out TGIF: Musings over the Hasselblad X1D camera system

by Peter Chong on July 19, 2019

Chill out on Friday!…the weekend is coming! We take time off the horological menu and take a look at Horological Lifestyle – with another camera exploration.

Not a full review, though we have hands on with the system for the best part of nearly a month. But here, we share some thoughts on what is an excellent system from Hasselblad. Consider this as a commentary and musings of the Hasselblad X system. Or ramblings of a photographer.

The Hasselblad X1D, shown here with the XCD45 lens – the smallest and lightest in the XCD lens ecosystem.

For full disclosure, the camera and three lenses were loaned to us by the Hasselblad distributor Shriro Singapore. And we are not paid for this article or other articles on the camera. The lenses that were loaned to us were the XCD21, XCD45 and XCD90. As a lens triplet, it covers an excellent range from ultra wide to modest telephoto. Shriro did not have the XCD120 macro on hand to loan, so we did not get to try that out to shoot watch photographs. As a side note, the XCD120 has a maximum magnification of 0.5x, This is workable for photographs of the entire watch, but not macros to show the details. The XH adapter which allow the HC120 owned by our Chief Editor, was also not available. The HC120 projects a full sized image on the sensor, and thus a true macro lens.

And yes, we are totally aware that Hasselblad have announced and perhaps already started to make first deliveries of the X1D II, at a new lower price (US$5,750). The original X1D discussed here had a last retail price of US$8,900, and now discontinued. Used prices for the X1D is now hovering around US$4,200 to US$ 4,500. Read the Competitive Landscape to see how these pricing compares in the world of professional camera bodies. Interesting times for the high end camera market.

Hasselblad X1D 50C

The Hasselblad X1D was released circa 2016, so we are perhaps 3 years late into the game with a review. Plus the replacement camera has just been announced. But as this is not a formal review, this serves to document my thoughts about the system after a month with it, we think this summary with real world use is of benefit to those contemplating a purchase of either a used original or the new II.

The X1D II 50C

So what’s new with the X1D II? For starters it has a more powerful processor. This translates to faster camera operations. The X1D is a rather slow beast, taking 8 seconds to startup and suffers from a blackout of about 1 second after every image is taken. The X1D II reportedly halfs the start up and image black out times. The X1D II is equipped with a 3.6″ 2.36m-dot touchscreen LCD and a 0.87x-magnification 3.39m-dot OLED electronic viewfinder, both significantly larger than the original. The GPS module which was attached as a separate gadget on the flash mount on the original is now built in. And a new colour for the body – the II is a graphite grey instead of silver.

The Hasselblad X1D II with the XCD45 lens. Official Hasselblad photo.

But that’s about it. The sensor remains the same, and Hasselblad did not mention any changes in colour science or image processing, so the image quality is expected to be exactly the same. This is not the first time Hasselblad announced a mkII camera with practical changes which does not improve on the image quality of one it replaces. The last in recent memory was the H3D-II replacing the H3D.

All the XCD lenses can be used in both generations. As with all accessories, and adapters. So we think the original X1D is still a valid pre-owned proposition.

A quick comparison to Hasselblad H6D-50 (we use the older H3D-39 for some of our Watchscape work) is now US$14,495 and the Phase One XF (Phase One does not offer any 50MP back in its current catalog) with the top of the line digital back – the IQ4 150 back is about US$65,000. The X1D shares the same sensor as the H6D-50.

The X1D body

The X1D body was a game changer when it was announced in June 2016. It was the world’s first mirrorless digital medium format camera. The Fujifilm GFX50 S was announced a bit later in Photokina 2016 (Photokina is a mega show for the photography world like Baselworld is to the watch), and deliveries in 2017.

The large 43.80mm x 32.90mm medium format sensor is visible through the large throat opening of the XCD lens format. As there is no need to design for a mirror to flip out of the way in a traditional DSLR, the flange distance of the design is very small, and the body becomes adaptable to use many lenses, including legacy ones, in the market. However, the lack of a focal plane shutter means that using these lenses will require the use of the electronic shutter. Electronic shutters are able to operate at very high shutter speeds, in the X1d 1/20000s. But as the Hasselblad did not implement a global electronic shutter, artifacts appear if you move the camera while shooting. These artifacts are well documented for electronic shutters, and exhibit a phenomena known as “Rolling Shutter”.

The body is very small and light. The body weighs 725g including battery, and measures 150mm x 98mm x 71mm. This is smaller and lighter than the standard professional DSLRs like the Canon 1DxmkII which weighs 1530g and 158mm x 167.6mm x 82,6mm.

The large medium format sensor not only larger than the standard full frame sensor which is 36mm x 24mm. But more importantly, the aspect ratio of the X1D is 4:3 compared to 3:2. The 4:3 ratio is more suitable for print paper sizes with less cropping required than the wider 3:2 ratio common in 35mm full frame.

Ergonomics

The design is a great example of industrial design. The form of the X1D follows its functions. The size, shape, location of the controls are excellent and well placed. The feel of the physical controls are positive with good feedback. The controls on the LCD screen is intuitive, fast and responsive.

The bulge on the front and back right of the body makes for a very comfortable hand grip, allowing the camera to rest from the fingers when not in use.

Picking up the camera, it feels light but at the same time conveys a very high quality sensation on the hand. The fit on the right hand is very comfortable, almost like it was bespoken and made for my hand. The controls are all in the right place. The menu system is cleverly designed and laid out. It is very intuitive and I took almost no time at all to get used to the menu system.

While still remaining comfortable when in use. All control buttons and dials are within easy reach for the average sized hand.

This is a camera which almost seem to beg you to carry it everywhere. The feel on the hand is superb. The build quality is exquisite. It is light, and responsive, though having said that, do take cognizance that this is a medium format camera, where the mental mode of operation is deliberate and considered rather than a machine gun attitude of blast shooting at everything in sight. For this more contemplative approach to photography the X1D is admirably suited.

The rear LCD is another model of interface design. Clean, simple, and very clear. The interface is quite familiar as it uses the same gestures of pinch, slide, double taps as a standard smart phone like the iPhone. Tapping on the appropriate item on the back LCD display presents a drop down menu to access to the options available. For example, touching the f/11 aperture icon on the back will bring up a drop down menu where the appropriate aperture can be selected.

However, even then, it is worth mentioning that for my shooting style, I have to be critical on two points. First the startup time of about 8 seconds is very slow and ponderous. This is somehow ameliorated by leaving the camera in standby mode all the time. And second, after each shot is taken, the camera viewfinder blacks out for about 1 second. Though 1 second sounds like nothing, but in a reactive situation when shooting, this can seem a lifetime. Both these criticisms are apparently addressed in the X1D II.

Lens ecosystem

Hasselblad has a rather comprehensive lens ecosystem for the X1D. The XCD native lens range is quite complete, with prime lenses in 21mm, 30mm, 45mm, 65mm, 80mm, 90mm, 120mm and 135 mm with its own 1.7X teleconverter. A new 35-75mm zoom is also available. All the lenses are superbly built with a nice feel.

The XCD 45 is the smallest and lightest of the lens range, and is a good all round lens. The XCD21 is very wide angle, and a superb lens for interiors and landscapes. We also had the XCD90 which is a superb portrait lens. See the gallery below for a slideshow of these three lenses in use.

We did not get to try it out, but also of note is the XCD80 with a maximum aperture of 1.9 making it the fastest medium format lens ever made. A feat equaled only by Mamiya in their 80mm f/1.9 from years ago.

We also note that the XCD120 is designated as a macro lens by Hasselblad, but this is not a true macro lens which is defined to have a magnification of at least 1:1. The XCD120 does a maximum magnification of 1:2. Hasselblad does not make native extension tubes for XCD lenses to increase the magnification. But at last check, at least one third party producer – Fotodiox offers two tubes.

Hasselblad offers an XH adapter to allow the entire range of H lenses to be used with the X1D. The H lenses are a full line with 10 prime lenses and 2 zooms, a teleconverter, a triplet extension tube set, and a tilt shift adapter. An XV adapter is also available to allow all the legacy V lenses to be used. However, these adapters add considerable bulk to the system, and a reduced feature set in some instances. Especially for a system which prides in its small size, this is a major drawback. However it remains an excellent show of management support to allow backwards compatibility of equipment, protecting the investment of their customers.

Image quality

Image quality is superb. The lenses and body work very well, and the system is extremely capable of very high dynamic range with superb rendering of micro tone and micro contrasts. This remarkable ability in the micro tone and micro contrasts differentiate medium format photographs from full frame, as the gradations are far more smooth and show more subtle shades.

Here are some examples of the photographs shot with the X1D with the three lenses. All photographed hand held, with available lighting except for the first image of the Breguet Marine Ladies, which is photographed in our standard light tent and double flash technique.

The images are capable of holding up to very large prints, and is highly compromised when displayed for the web here. But we hope it will give you a glimpse of the attributes of the camera system. EXIF is intact in all photographs, and if you have an EXIF viewer, you may be able to see the technical information. If you right click on the image, and open it in a separate tab, you can find a larger photograph.

All the lenses were very sharp edge to edge, and exhibit very low distortion. Lens abberations are well corrected optically, and the Hasselblad raw conversion software Phocus does an excellent job in the final corrections. Phocus is also an excellent raw conversion software, but is a bit slow and not the easiest user interface. The X1D is capable of shooting in raw and raw+jpeg.

We shot all images in raw only. Images for the web are exported from Phocus as large jpegs, and further processing is done on Photoshop CC. For print images (please enquire if you would like to buy prints on these or any images on this site), Phocus exports them as full sized TIFF images, and further processing is done in Photoshop CC.

Competitive Landscape

At US$5,750, the X1D is a rather good value. The Leica SL Type 601 we reviewed earlier is priced at US$5,990 and that is a full frame sensor body. The industry standard guardians like the Canon 1Dxmk2 retails for US$5,499. Similarly the Nikon D5 (US$5,996).

But a camera is not a single item purchase, one needs lenses, and the Hasselblad XCD ecosystem is rather complete with 8 superb prime lenses, including the very fast XCD80 with a f/1.9 aperture, and 1 newly announced zoom lens (the XCD 35-75). The XCD prices are higher than almost all manufacturers except for Leica. And especially when compared to medium format Leica glass in the S series. The Leica S lenses are far more expensive, bulkier and heavier. Perhaps the XCD competes more appropriately in both price and physical size to the full frame SL lenses.

In this listing of the competitive landscape, we only focus on mirrorless medium format cameras, and the view looks as follows:

Fujifilm GFX 50 S and GFX 50 R priced at US$3,999 and US$5,499 respectively. Both are mirrorless and use the same 50Mp Sony sensor as the Hasselblad X1D. The 50 S is a modular system, but no interchangeable back. It has a more bulky body which looks like a regular DSLR, while the 50 R has a slimmer, brick like body which is reminiscent of a rangefinder body. We have not have direct experience with any of the GFX cameras.

Fujifilm GFX 100 (US$9,999) is the latest in the market. The GFX 100 features all the latest and greatest technology. Starting with the huge 100Mp sensor, which places it at the same size as the Hasselblad H6D-100 and Phase One XF IQ4 100, both medium format DSLRs and considerably more expensive cameras., The huge sensor is also packed with advanced features like Back Side Illuminated (BSI), and is equipped with the world’s first In Body Image Stabilization (IBIS) for a medium format sensor camera. This ground breaking IBIS on the GFX 100 apparently works very well and provides about 5.5 stops of stabilization. Operational speed is also reported to be very fast, and the camera has a fast (for medium format) autofocus system.

All GFX cameras share the same G mount lenses, and have access to the full range of GFX lenses in addition to all legacy glass in the market as the GFX series body is equipped with a focal plane shutter as well as an electronic shutter. As mentioned Fujifilm lenses are excellent, and are typically about half the price of the equivalent Hasselblad lenses.

Leica S Type 007 is Leica’s entry to the medium format world. It too was recently superseeded, and the new S3 is due in the market anytime now, having been announced in Photokina 2018. The new Leica is bound to be more expensive, reportedly circa US$19,000 (current price for the S) for the body alone. The S system is not a mirrorless system, though, and the S3 will continue to feature a mirror and optical viewfinder. It will feature a 64MP 3:2 aspect ratio sensor. All the Fujifilm and Hasselblad sensors are 4:3 aspect ratio. The lens ecosystem is rather extensive, and all the Leica glass feature superb state of the art optics…with a correspondingly high price tag.

Concluding Thoughts

Overall, we find the Hasselblad X1D to be a superb camera and an absolute consideration for photographers who value image quality and portability of a mirrorless system. The entire ecosystem is rather complete and though not inexpensive, is superb. It is not as fast to work with in some situations like for high speed sports photography, but in a slower, more contemplative photography style, it is near perfect. The camera is eminently suitable for product photography, portraits, landscape, and can be effective in covering events and the like.

We think the X1D is still a relevant camera to buy today, pre-owned. But if you are considering a purchase, take a moment to think if you can stretch to the new X1D II for the improvements touted in the new camera. The image quality from either cameras is outstanding, but the II’s operational speed will make a more pleasurable camera to use.

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