The Hasselblad X1D is a medium format, mirrorless camera that captures 50 Megapixel images in 16 bit color. The dynamic range is incredible – you get just under 15 stops. With the X1D, you can produce images with incredible quality.
There is a lot of conflicting information floating around online, much of it is from 2016 when the camera was released. Hasselblad admitted they were pressured from a former CEO to release this camera before it was ready and unfortunately they got burned by a lot of bad press. I think its important to keep that in context, and I will say that after many firmware updates this is an amazing camera now. Many of the problems you read about simply don’t exist at this point. I have had 2 X1D’s – the first was on loan from Hasselblad, the second I own. I really believe in this system. It is the direction that medium format needs to move in. The Fujifilm GFX, the Pentax 645Z and the Phase One cameras are fantastic, but they are all studio cameras. The Hasselblad X1D is portable and mirrorless is key moving forward.
What separates the Hasselblad X1D from other medium format cameras available now is that its a mirrorless design. It takes advantage of an extremely small form factor and even though its a studio camera – its portability is important for location and landscape photography. Its less to carry and frees you up to do things with this camera that isn’t as easy with larger systems.
The second thing that makes this camera unique is the user interface to the menu system. Its simply the best I’ve seen on any digital camera to date. Its icon based, clean and intuitive. It feels more like using a smartphone than a camera – except your images are far better in the end.
My first trip with this camera was to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. I brought along the X1D and the 45mm “kit” lens. I really was impressed with the fact that I’m getting incredible image quality and 50 megapixels of resolution from a camera and lens that I just threw in my day bag. All I carried was a small bag and a tripod.
The Grand Canyon 2017 photographed with the Hasselblad X1D (click to enlarge)
Two weeks later I was in New York City for another project. I asked Hasselblad if it would be possible to borrow some other lenses to use on the Hasselblad X1D and they hand delivered the 30mm and the 90mm to me at the hotel. This time I set out to do some street photography in my off time and I got a while different style with the camera than the work I produced at the Grand Canyon. Once again, the portability is what impressed me the most.
New York City 2017 photographed with the Hasselblad X1D (click to enlarge)
• 50 Megapixel, 43.8 x 32.9mm Sony CMOS Sensor
• 16-Bit Color, 14-Stop Dynamic Range
• Hasselblad Natural Color Solution
• ISO 100-25600
• Leaf shutter system: 60 min to 1/2000 sec
• flash-sync up to 1/2000 sec
• 2.36mp XGA electronic viewfinder
• 3 inch, 920k-Dot Touchscreen LCD Monitor
• Dual SD Card Slots
• Included GPS module (powered through the hot shoe)
• USB 3.0 Type C
• Built-In Wi-Fi
Beauty In Design
The Hasselblad X1D is a reminder of why every camera company should be working with a product design team. In fact, every aspect of the Hasselblad X1D embraces form that follows some type of function. The Hasselblad X1D is as beautiful as it is comfortable to use. All of the buttons are easy to reach and you can customize them in the menus. The camera grip extends both forward and slightly backward for comfort while shooting. There are two rotating dials, one on each side of the grip. The front is accessible with your index finger and the back with your thumb. You don’t have to move your hand position to dial in settings. The interface is entirely touch based – which makes it super easy to use to make adjustments when you desire.
User Interface and Menus
The Hasselblad X1D uses an “app” style approach similar to what you would find in a smartphone OS. You can remove icons for settings you don’t need, or add any of them from the repository at any time. This allows you to keep a clean interface with a customized menu always at the top level. To remove a setting icon, you simply tap and hold for 2 seconds and you’ll see the delete icon.
The icon’s are grouped intelligently which makes it very easy to get to what you need. Most settings are no more than one tap away so this keeps you from drilling down into sub-menus like you do on other camera systems.
I want to point out that the Hasselblad X1D has the best menu organization that I’ve ever seen on any camera. The closest being Phase One – its similar in its approach, but not nearly as visually interesting. This is an area where companies (such as Sony, ehem) should be taking note.
Hasselblad X1D Image Quality
The images that you can produce on the Hasselblad X1D are simply outstanding. With 50 Megapixels of resolution you can easily crop if needed. Images come out extremely sharp with a considerable amount of definition – of course the lenses designed for the Hasselblad X1D are superb. Having 14.8 stops of dynamic range is extremely useful when you’re shooting in high-contrast situations. Highlights and shadows both have a great deal of recovery when you need it. Its also extremely useful when correcting for lens issues such as light falloff or vignetting.
Also implemented with the Hasselblad X1D is the Hasselblad Natural Color Solution. This is essentially a color profile that Hasselblad put an enormous effort into for achieving more accurate colors based on human color perception and interpretation. Hasselblad have designed a fairly complex profile designed for better color separation in editing. For instance, if you tweak one color, it doesn’t have as drastic an effect on neighboring colors. This color profile is embedded in the RAW image so its accessed regardless of what editor you want to use. Hasselblad also have their own editing application called Phocus. I love the idea of Phocus, but I’m not wild about the implementation. It has a ways to go still, but if you’re using Photoshop or Lightroom – the color remains consistent since those applications use the Hasselblad profile that’s embedded in the RAW image.
X1D Crop Modes
One of the firmware updates this year opened up the possibility to adapt XPan lenses to the Hasselblad X1D. XPan was a 35mm camera system that Hasselblad made back in the late 90’s. The concept was to use the width of a medium format image, but project it onto 35mm film. The result is an interesting panoramic image with a 64:24 aspect ratio. The original lenses were produced by Fuji. You can set this crop mode in the menus and the camera will give you a crop preview in both the monitor and the EVF for shooting. The Hasselblad X1D records the crop data into the RAW file so when you open these in Phocus it will auto-crop for you. It retains the original file so you can access it if you need to, but its a really interesting feature for the camera.
X-Pan Crop Mode Examples :: Edited in Phocus – Click to Enlarge
Other crop modes include:
• US Letter
Hasselblad Lenses and Adapter Compatibility
One of the common complaints you will find online is that Hasselblad uses leaf shutters on all of their camera systems including the Hasselblad X1D. Leaf shutters live in the lens, not the camera body. The advantage is that you can get full flash-sync, even at absurdly high shutter speeds. This design goes back to the classic V System cameras.
Hasselblad have enabled an electronic shutter option so you can adapt other lenses to this camera. However the problem with using the electronic shutter on the Hasselblad X1D is in the CMOS sensor design itself. CMOS sensors “scan” the image – left to right and then top to bottom. So while each line can readout at 1/10,000 sec – it takes 300ms to scan the entire sensor. This means if ANYTHING moves – you’ll see a rolling shutter effect. So much of the criticism (and I should say rightfully so) is that this was a poor design choice.
However, I have adapted lenses and it works fine with non-moving subjects. Portraits, landscapes, still-life – they all work just fine. But if you’re taking candids forget it. Even someone talking can get a really distorted face. One day we will see a true global sensor, so I think moving forward with the Hasselblad X1D isn’t as bad as people make it out to be. I feel the lenses are a safe investment.
I also feel that most people adapt lenses as a “poor mans” solution, or trying to get a focal length that Hasselblad doesn’t have a lens for. I understand, but the whole point of this system is to have access to Hasselblad lenses. They are some of the best lenses that I’ve ever used. Life is too short to rely on adapting lenses for any system. While I understand the complaint here, I don’t agree that it was a poor design choice. As you can see in this image, it works just fine – this was taken with a Petzval 85mm which has an extremely unique look in the shallow focus areas.
Petzval 85mm f/2.2 adapted to the Hasselblad X1D
Medium Format Wish List
Medium Format holds an interesting place in 2018. Its not as “full frame” as it was in the film era, but you do still take advantage of the medium format look. This is one of the advantages to the system. You also have a much larger sensor so when you raise the megapixel count, the surface area is not as crowded as 35mm would be. This gives you a larger pixel pitch which means efficient low-light performance.
However even with all of the advantages to a medium format system, the sensor is still rather archaic. There are essentially 2 sensors currently in production for medium format – both are made by Sony. The one in the Hasselblad X1D is the same one you’ll find in the competing systems by Fujifilm and Pentax. There is a slightly larger version being used in the Phase One IQ3.
Also, neither of these systems support Phase Detection Auto Focus. Its contrast only.
In addition, medium format cameras just don’t offer the features or the performance that other systems do. They are slow and you have to work for your shots.
Medium Format shooters have come to accept this. They’ve also come to accept that the systems are expensive. The tradeoff is the image quality obviously – its insanely good. But my biggest wish over the next few years is that we see Medium Format catch up to where we are in the consumer world of full frame and APS-C.
How I came to the Hasselblad System
Hasselblad first contacted me in 2017 and asked if I would like to borrow the Hasselblad X1D for a few weeks and tell them my thoughts. I now own one and use it all the time. But I want to say that in the spirit of full disclosure they have never paid me, but I do have a relationship with the company. When I have questions or they would like to get my feedback on product releases we have that partnership.
When they first contacted me, it was explained that they do not ship cameras for press. Since I’ll likely be making videos and writing about the camera, they wanted a rep to deliver the unit, give me a full tutorial and share the story about where they are with the Hasselblad X1D. This really impressed me as it is largely unheard of in this industry. Sure enough, we set up a date the next week and one of the reps had a layover in Texas so we met for coffee.
I really do like Hasselblad. They’re an extraordinary company with a unique and important history. I know people who work for Hasselblad personally and I can say that they are some of my favorite people in the business. They have employees that go all the way back to the V System film days and they understand their history. I think the Hasselblad X1D represents the future of Medium Format and can’t wait to see what comes in the future with this system.