I Have G.A.S.
I'll be the first one to admit that I have a bit of G.A.S. (gear acquisition syndrome)! Being a photographer for over 40 years, I've seen a lot of gear come and go, some ground breaking and some just evolutionary at best. With that said, when Hasselblad surprised the world with the announcement of the X1D, the first ever mirrorless medium format camera, I was intrigued and my G.A.S. kicked into high gear. I couldn't help to think that just maybe this milestone might be the holy grail for the medium format. Finally, a large sensor camera that may now provide many of the benefits we have seen develop in full frame mirrorless cameras, one being the Sony A7rii which is my day to day go to camera. Thus, I became obsessed in finding out all that I could about Hasselblad's new X1D and attended their initial road tour whereby they introduced the camera. I then followed up the road tour with a visit to Foto Care in NY, a great photography shop that is well staffed and equipped to cater to pros and enthusiasts alike. While there, I scheduled a hands on test session of the new mirrorless X1D body and the new 90 and 45mm XCD lenses. You see, as a point of reference, I currently use a Hassleblad H4D-31 for some of my work and in my 40 years of photographic experience, it has been one of only a handful of landmark products that I retain a great passion for along with the utmost respect. For me, the detail, dynamic range, color and skin tones are second to none and the CCD generation of Hassy's are uniquely identifiable. However, with that said, I quickly learned that the operating system, user interface, slowness and low ISO ability was the trade off as they lagged behind modern day standards. Now, all of that has the potential to change, thus my excitement for the mirrorless X1D and the camera's potential to evoke a revolutionary, not an evolutionary change.
No Science Here
It's important for you to understand that my 'test' is by no means scientific or calculated. I simply wanted to shoot some headshots with the X1D using a typical light setup representative of what I would do in my day to day operations. For me, that's the best way to get a sense of whether or not a particular camera will meet my needs. Thus, that's how I approached my trial run with the X1D. I simply asked a model that I've worked with if she would stop by for an hour and then asked the store if they would mind providing 3 or 4 lights that I could set up and tear down quickly. Fortunately, they both complied which facilitated my objective to leave with some X1D files that I could analyze, pixel peep and post process if so desired. As a result, I'll share some images and observations with you in this post. Please note that the X1D was a preproduction model and did not have the firmware version that will ship with the camera when it is released to Hasselblad partners (retailers) in the near future. It is expected that some additional enhancements are forthcoming prior to the release date and I'm confident my positive enthusiasm will grow more and more with each new firmware release.
My lighting consisted of 4 Broncolor monolights (3 AC powered Siros 800's and 1 battery operated Siros L). Broncolor is my go to lighting when I have a choice, and although the new Siros monolights are competitively priced IMO, some consider them to be on the higher end of the price spectrum but as the saying goes, you get what you pay for. They are built to be durable and dependable with no compromises, plus their color consistency, feature set and speed is outstanding. The Siros series are easy as can be to set up and adjust via a slick app on your smart phone or tablet. I didn't use the app for the test session but I do use it in my own studio all the time as it is loaded with features that allow the control of the Siros's many advanced features (and there are many) easily. Additionally, the Siros 800 watt series is capable of High Speed Sync but if you are using them with the newer Hasselblads, the camera combined with the new leaf shutter lenses is capable of flash sync up to 1/2000th of a second natively (No HSS needed here). As you will see in the following diagram, I used the Broncolor Beautybox 65 that was positioned just above the model's head, as my main light source. The Beautybox 65 is one of my favorite modifiers due to its versatility, small size, light weight and reasonable price. However, if you were to look at the raw files, you'll notice the lighting to be a bit specular. Please take note that the specularity was intentional as I placed the modifier in a position to look more specular than soft. This is the opposite of what I normally do for head shots, as I was trying to get some variation in both the exposure range and detail that would emphasize the model's pores and any imperfections. I felt this type of lighting would make the analysis a bit more interesting and would challenge the camera's abilities a bit more as well. I then added a Broncolor soft box 1' x 3'.9" (with no grid) placed behind the model for some edge lighting, and an additional light with a reflector facing the backdrop for a bit of separation. The fourth Siros 800 was mounted with a small soft box and positioned under the Beautybox while angling up from the floor in order to give a bit of fill under the chin.
I set the X1D to manual mode, single auto focus, ISO 100 and the white balance to flash. The camera has two SD slots and I set the file save to both RAW and JPG. However, most of the time I was tethered to a Mac Book Pro laptop using Hasselblad's Phocus software. I'm a big fan of tethered shooting (eyes aren't what they used to be) so when indoors, I shoot tethered 95% of the time. A nice advantage when using Phocus is that it is rock solid when tethering the Hassleblads.
Interestingly, Jim Reed from Hassleblad happened to stop by while I was test shooting and shared with me Hassleblad's version of autofocus with manual assist. 'For users who prefer manual focus control but would like the benefits of autofocus, one method is to set the AF-D button to AF (Single) drive. The main subject can then be centered and the AF-D pressed, to ensure correct focus. The camera reverts immediately to manual focus control when the button is released. Therefore, you can recompose the picture without having to maintain pressure on the release button in order to retain the newly automatically made focus setting.' Autofocus with manual assist is certainly not a function exclusive to Hassleblad as it can be found in some shape or form on most mirrorless cameras today, but their implementation of it worked wonderfully well and is a very useful feature.
Regarding the f stop, my settings ranged between 6.3 - 7.1 most of the time, especially when using the Hasselblad XCD 90mm f/3.2 Lens. I chose to shoot at that f stop because I wanted to test the fall off and bokeh of the lens. With my Sony, I'm used to using 1.4 GM lenses that have a great bokeh and just wanted to be sure that the XCD's depth of field would not be a limiting factor. I was pleasantly surprised with the results and found that the bokeh is respectable. Lastly, regarding the new lenses, it appeared that they were even sharper than the HC lenses from my H4D system. It may be that the shorter distance between the flange and the sensor contributes to that or perhaps it's because they were the most recent developed lenses from Hasselblad, but either way, they have exceptional sharpness and really nice contrast.
I give Hasselblad major kudos for the design and feel of the X1D. It simply feels right in your hands, and is well balanced with the newly designed lenses. It sports a comfortable grip and the body has just the right amount of buttons and dials to make changes quickly while keeping the process simple. The touch screen is large and responsive, live view is very good and the operating system is SUPERB. In fact, other manufactures can learn quite a bit from the magnificent user interface that Hassleblad has bestowed upon us via the touchscreen. It is so intuitive and friendly - if I had to grade it, I would give it an A++. It was difficult to pick up my Sony (in terms of the user interface), after spending the afternoon with the Hasselblad's touch screen interface. Hopefully, other manufacturers will model some of their ingenuity soon.
All four images posted in this blog are from the session. These originals were shot in RAW + JPG but the JPG versions were used for post processing which was done in accordance with my normal beauty and head shot workflow using Photoshop CC. Normally, I would use a RAW file as my start file but the X1D's raw format is not supported by Photoshop as of yet. (Note, I realized after my edits that it is supported when you import the X1D RAW into Phocus which then converts it to a standard fff file as part of the process. Unfortunately, I had already used the camera JPG's as the start files for the post processing and didn't want to start over.)
In closing, I was very impressed and pleased with the ergonomics and feel of the camera. The user interface was stellar and the image quality was commensurate with what I have grown to expect as a result of my existing H4D ownership. Hasselblad seems to have an aggressive road map for the expansion of lenses and accessories over the next year or two and I personally feel this is going to be the shape of things to come in the future. A future with great promise, in my opinion, and I can't wait to get my hands on a production model for more extensive testing. If I can squeeze in a suggestion for Hasselblad, it would be to put the pedal to the floor on their efforts to refine the focusing system to include face and hopefully eye detection. Although not fool proof, it is a marvel how well Sony's eye focus works in the right conditions (truly another landmark technology IMO), one that I'd love to see incorporated into the X1D's lineup of an already exceptional feature set.
If you would like to view the files from these images, they are available here...
RAW files click here to download
JPG files (retouched) click here to download
Lastly, if you have any specific questions, please feel free to post them under the comments and I'll try to respond promptly.