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Using the Hasselblad X1D-50C – a review

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Using the Hasselblad X1D-50C

A mirrorless medium format review


Keith was recently asked if he’d like to have a go at using the Hasselblad X1D-50C medium format mirrorless camera.

At 50MP it’s nominally the same (resolution) as his 50MP Canon 5Ds, so an interesting comparison.

It’s obviously a very different camera (sensor size, bigger pixels, wider dynamic range etc.), but how does it feel to use and what are the photos like?

Note this is a ‘How I used it review’ not a detailed review of its functionality.

X1D-50C

Thanks to Hasselblad UK for the loan and Park Cameras in the UK (who sell the X1D).

What are we looking at here?

This article covers my impressions of using the Hasselblad X1D-50C.  It’s rather more heavily about how I personally felt about the camera than my normal long reviews. There are lots of images here – click on an image to see it at a much larger size.

I don’t believe you can truly review something as complex as this camera in the short period I had it (just over a week in December). That’s both a good thing, in that it forces me to go out and take some photos, and a bad thing in that I’m using a camera I’m totally unfamiliar with, so lacking that comfort and understanding you build up over time. It’s also good in that its sufficiently different that I can bring to bear some experience from my previous career as a usability consultant and researcher…

Short answer – great fun to use, superb image quality, excellent design and build, oozes quality, image processing software, mmm, would take some getting used to… and hey, I don’t mind an EVF after all.

x1d-50c and piano

Waiting for the rain to stop – December in the UK is not going to be my favourite time for outdoor testing

The camera

This view of the controls (there aren’t many) sums up so much about picking up the camera and looking at it

controls for x1d

It genuinely feels like it’s been milled from a block of metal.  All the controls have a positive feel, with good tactile feedback.

The front grip is deep enough for my quite long fingers, with the shutter button feeling comfortable to operate.

front-controls

The rear of the camera also bulges out, making the side of the camera a comfortable fit against my palm.

rear-controls

Front and rear wheels are easy to access, with the front one taking a bit of practice not to accidentally move every so often with my forefinger.

Nice design touches would include the pop up mode dial, where most of my time was spent using A and M modes (Aperture priority and fully Manual).

raided-wheel

Several people visiting the office had a good look at the camera, and universally it was the clean well thought out design that drew the comments.

Powering the camera

The X1D takes a custom battery pack, which will go down at an alarming rate if you’re only used to pro level DSLRs and particularly if like me, you’re spending time looking at results and working your way through menu options and choices.

It’s not a problem, just that if I was going to be out all day using the camera I’d want at least one charged up spare.

batteries and charger

Note how the charger plug goes directly into a hole in the battery.

The batteries themselves just click into place, with a simple release catch (you need to press the battery for it to come out completely). You can see an orange seal on the battery that helps improve weather sealing. It was missing on one of the batteries.  Do check this if you’re standing the camera anywhere where it might be damp.

One minor issue for the charger was that it only gives an indication of charging or charged. No flashing light to show whether the battery you just connected was at 90% or 10%.   The camera will also run from USB power, but not charge the battery.

The batteries are ~3.2Ah, so roughly twice the capacity of the ones in my 5Ds. A recent two day job (outdoor stills photography on a video production) left a fully charged Canon battery at ~20%. From my experience with the X1D I’d have possibly had to switch to my 3rd or 4th battery. Not a problem – if you plan for it.

Side covers

Whilst on the subject of weather sealing, I noted the careful design of the two side covers, which includes sprung panels to seal the card slots (dual SD) and accessory connectors.

side cover doors

Lens choice – wide

I quite deliberately picked the XCD21mm f/4 lens, since it gives an rough 35mm equivalent of ~17mm. I’ve always liked wide angle lenses and my most commonly used for my architecture work is the TS-E 17mm F4L (albeit with movements – see my TS-E17 review)

X1D-50C

Indeed, the FOV is on a par with the 17mm – just a squarer aspect ratio.

competition

Taken at the ‘Images of Research’ photo competition at the University of Leicester, where I was one of the judges. 100th @f/8 3200 ISO

This view of the sports celebration statue in Leicester city centre (Rugby/Cricket/Football) is shows the distinct vignetting of the 21mm – it’s easily correctable, but I’ll often leave it in (to some extent) to draw attention inwards.

sports statues

Sporting achievements: 1/45 f/7.1 ISO3200

The XCD lenses have an internal leaf shutter. Very useful if you want high speed sync for flash, but not an area I’ve ever really explored. I’d also note that all my flash units are Canon interface and the X1D is Nikon compatible.

You can see the large sensor is open to the elements, making it rather easy to get dust on, but easy to access for cleaning.

sensor and xcd21

The sensor did have rather a lot of dust on it when it arrived – well, I say a lot, it’s actually about the amount I used to expect on my old Canon 1Ds – before sensor dust cleaning was added to newer models. Fortunately I still had my old dust cleaning brushes and it wasn’t an issue.

The lens itself exhibits a small amount of barrel distortion and vignetting at wider apertures, it is however sharp right across the field.

By carrying out the correction manually in Photoshop (reversing the barrel distortion), I can get a feel for the amount of distortion.

manual lens correction

This side view of a building had more alignment errors from being shot hand held than from any lens issues.

GD side corrected

I’ll be coming back to this building when looking at image processing. Its very fine lines in the windows showed up moire fringing in a way unseen with any other subject, during the time I had the camera.

Camera settings

I essentially used the camera in fully manual mode or Av mode (mostly with auto ISO – 3200 max).

There are several reviews I’ve seen looking at all the menu options and different modes. I’m sure given longer I might explore further, such as the three custom settings on the mode dial, but I was after simple well exposed photos.

The Hasselblad documentation and a few videos will give a good grounding in how the camera works. It’s worth doing, since there are likely appreciable differences to any other camera you’re familiar with.

After a bit of use I customised the rear screen menu to fit with features I expected I’d need.

main menu

The three icons at the right are the main controls – the other nine icons are one I picked from the set available.

The screen at the back is bright and clear – even in daylight.

rear-screen

Somebody told me I’d have no problem with the settings, since it was ‘like a phone’. Given I rarely carry one, and when I do it’s an old iPhone 3Gs, this advice was of minimal use… It also meant I couldn’t run the phone based control software available, or the WiFi functionality.  The camera does work USB tethered, although I found it felt a bit slow working via the (unfamiliar) Phocus software.

AF is contrast based, so feels a tad sluggish compared to what I’m used to on higher end DSLRs. One nice feature is to be able to move the AF point around with my left thumb, using the left side of the rear screen, whilst looking in the viewfinder. Like many other things, this is customisable, but probably not worth doing until you’ve used it a bit.

The focus is in general quite good, and I had relatively few times where I couldn’t easily get a lock. Switching to manual focus is simple, and there is the option of having focus peaking for the display.

Video

Yes, it has video. Sorry, I just don’t shoot video enough to say much more than that.

Using an EVF

Over the years I’ve tried EVF (Electronic ViewFinder) options on a number of cameras and always welcomed going back to an optical viewfinder (OVF) afterwards.  OK, I’ve been spoiled with the quality of the OVF in cameras like the Canon 1 series, but the technology has been improving.

My first look, indoors, showed flicker and a delay I found disconcerting. After taking the camera out and actually using it, I mostly forgot it was an EVF. After a week of using it, I gave it no real thought.

The focus peaking in the viewfinder was not fine enough in detail for my liking. With the significant depth of field of the 21mm f/4 lens, things like tree branches looked as if they had been decorated for Christmas, if you turned on the focus peaking. That said, practice softened the jarring effect and I expect I’d quickly get used to where it was useful. Remember, I only had the one lens…

There’s a lot of info available via the EVF – this is from the camera manual (from https://www.hasselblad.com/x1d/)

evf info

Taking photos

You can only read the manual so many times, so off out with the camera.

A grey afternoon, but I visit the nearby Vijay Patel building at DeMontfort university – one that should be familiar if you’ve seen any of my lens reviews.

vjp entrance

The XCD21mm lens is nice to use and I’m getting no focus problems with these static subjects.

Going indoors I go through quite a range of exposures to see how the files will handle blown highlights and how the metering is handling the scenes in front of me.

Inside VJP 2

These shots have just been processed in ACR at reasonable looking settings – some might look better using Phocus.

Looking down stairs

 

Some looked good with DxO PhotoLab (Optics Pro as was).

inside VJP

vjp interior

It was this first trip that I decided to experiment with Auto ISO and A mode. I don’t ever use a phone camera, and use fully manual settings a lot, so this is actually slightly uncomfortable – well at least until I get home and see the results…

I now trust the metering and higher ISO settings enough to see what things are like at night. The Christmas lights are up in Leicester city centre, and a big wheel.

High street Leicester

1/15 f/6.3 ISO3200

cross

1/60 f/6.3 ISO800

Big Wheel

1/60 f/6.3 ISO 200

The next day I’ve been invited to be one of the judges for Leicester University’s ‘Images of Research’ competition (my two fellow judges shown).

Partly taken to see how the lens performs (well), it’s also part of seeing how much I miss not having lens movements available for interiors (a lot).

judging photos

1/100 f/7.1 ISO3200

An opportunity to visit part of the Leicestershire countryside towards Uppingham occurred on a rather damp and grey day. I know from experience that getting contrast and definition in areas like the hedgerows is not easy. In this photo the detail in the extremes of lighting is pretty good

damp trees

1/100 f/6.3 ISO100

A 100% crop from that image

dark tree crop

Prints

50MP is a nice size for making prints. Here’s a B&W example from that grey day in the countryside.

file size

Taking the resolution up to just over 360ppi gives me a 16.5″ wide print.

BW print of tree

Printed here on a 17″ width Epson P5000 printer using Epson Fine Art Cotton Smooth Bright paper.

Here’s the source image used for the print. The colour original simply converted to greyscale in Photoshop, with a slight adjustment of the colour channel sliders to get the tonality of the field right, and then sharpened lightly for print using Nik Sharpener Pro 3.

tree

I’ll finish with a few more examples from near my home, where the River Soar runs by DeMontfort university.

The first shot has actually had relatively little processing beyond a bit of highlight reduction for the sun area and lifting of shadows for the darker parts.

The richness of dark colours perhaps typifies the results from the X1D more than any shot. In some of the previous examples I’ve actually knocked back the saturation/vibrance a bit.

The colours were particularly vibrant in this light, but I wasn’t expecting it like this. I could have easily produced a less intense version, but wanted to give a bit of a feel for what the X1D could do.

river view - south

With the sun behind me, the view of the VJP building looks a little less intense.

I’ve lightened the bottom half of the picture in processing, but there’s plenty of detail to pull out of the shadows.

river view - north

Further down the river, I come across a spot of rowing practice – just a tad too energetic for me on a Sunday afternoon.

rowing

Another shot (slightly cropped) shows how well those strong artificial colours have been captured.

rowing crew

Is that a 5Ds next to it?

The 21mm gives a similar field of view to the (unshifted) TS-E17mm.

x1d-50c_5Ds

I took some photos at various settings, looking out into the street, over my piano. These two example (click to see 3000px wide versions) are both at 100ISO, 1/5 at f/5.6

x1d scene

5ds scene

Both have been processed to give a similar tonality. I used ACR in Photoshop CS6 since that’s what I tend to use for day to day work. The Hasselblad Phocus software gave slightly better results for the X1D image, and included lens corrections for the XCD21.

The X1D files all give more saturated colours in the shadows – this takes some adjustment, since those brightly coloured books easily looked a little too luminous in default conversions. However, go back to the previous shot of the rowers to see where it is a positive thing.

I’ll not go into detailed comparisons (I’d want to run more rigorous tests to be sure) but several things were apparent

  • At 100 ISO the shadow and highlight recovery of the cameras was similar – the X1D images definitely looked cleaner, but not enough that I’d expect a client to notice.
  • The noise in the X1D images seems ‘cleaner’ – but then again remember that the X1D has bigger pixels
  • As the ISO setting went up, recovery and shadows detail fell off in both sets of images, but distinctly more so with the smaller sensor 5Ds
  • At higher ISO settings (2000+) it became increasingly difficult to pull detail from shadows with the 5Ds, with pattern noise showing up at noticeable levels.
  • The TS-E17mm performed better over the full field of view, but remember it’s a shift lens, so we’re just looking in the central areas of its image circle. It is more prone to flare though.

I’m sure other people will provide much more detailed comparisons, but as I said, this is more about how the camera felt to use.

For the pixel peepers, two samples of the images above at 100%

5ds at 100%

X1D at 100%

5Ds is the first one BTW

So, the X1D leaves me comfortable in using auto ISO with a 3200 limit for many types of image. However, I shoot mostly in fully manual mode at 100/200 and often on a tripod (for architectural and commercial work). You’d expect 50MP on a larger sensor to best 50MP on a smaller one anyway. I feel there’s a bit more difference than just that but arguments over the details (such as DOF for ‘equivalent’ focal lengths) are best left to those who worry about such things ;-)

Image processing

The RAW files produced by the X1D (.3fr) can be read by a number of software packages. These files are around 110MB.

If you use the Hasselblad Phocus software then you get additional features to handle noise and lens corrections.

The software works well, but has a number of workflow related issues that just grated with me (nowhere near as many as Lightroom though). You need to import images before you can work on them – this produces a second set of files in a subtly different format (.fff) I suspect these are losslessly compressed, since a folder of them ranged from 94MB down to 67MB

You can export files (DNG and TIFF are amongst the options).

A new version of the software with improved shadow and highlight processing was released whilst I had the camera, but it wouldn’t run on my older Macs (MacOS 10.11) so I was only able to confirm that it did improve some images on my MacBook Pro

Anyway, this isn’t a software review, so apart from noting that I seem to adapt to changes of camera much more readily than editing workflow, I’ll leave it there.

Moire

This image showed far more moire fringing than I’ve ever seen with my 5Ds.  Phocus and other software does let you control it, but it would be a pain to deal with on a regular basis.

The two versions here show with and without some ‘cleaning’ – you’ll need to enlarge to see it

no moire filtering

with moire filtering

Take a look at these 100% screenshots (click to enlarge)

fringing

The effect comes from the lack of anti-aliasing filter on the X1D.

It’s one of those things that isn’t a problem until it is (see my comparison between 5Ds and 5Ds R for why I chose the 5Ds and also saved a few hundred pounds).

I should note that of the hundreds of images I shot, this is the only one where moire jumps out at you.

It’s there in this geometry corrected view of the George Davies centre at Leicester University (the largest non-residential Passivhaus building in the UK) but you need to look for it.

GD centre corrected

The geometry correction (for verticals) and crop was done in Phocus, before editing the exported TIFF file in Photoshop.

Conclusions

With the important caveat that I had the camera for a week in December, with just the one lens, what can I say about the experience and the camera?

The most obvious point is the simplicity and clarity of design that’s visible both in the physical design and the design ethos behind using the X1D. I understand that the usability of the camera has been steadily updated and improved since launch with firmware changes, that’s something to be welcomed from a camera manufacturer.

Hassleblad-X1D-50c

Thanks to Park Cameras in the UK for helping arrange the loan of the camera

The camera is comfortable to hold, both to use and to carry round.  I didn’t have a strap for it, so in the interests of security and safety I used a length of nylon curtain cord – not elegant, but effective. I simply don’t like the idea of dropping a nice camera – even if it’s not mine!

My first photographic challenge was in getting used to the vagaries of an electronic viewfinder. Sure, it jarred a bit after 45 years of optical SLR use, but then again so does the use of DSLR standard focus screens with wider aperture manual focus lenses.  As I said, I got over it, and after a few days got to trust the AF and even appreciate the focus peaking feature for manual focus.  This is an area I’d like to revisit with other lenses though.

The AF performed solidly, but always felt perceptibly slower than I’m used to, occasionally having difficulty locking on to where I was pointing the AF point. Once again it’s worth noting that I use manual focus lenses a lot and when I do use AF, there’s rarely any element of speed required (not a lot of things I photograph are moving).

A few walk round shots in Leicester at night showed the AF handling low light fairly well, although I was finding myself paying more attention than usual to focus.

fountain

Leicester Town hall: 1/40 f/6.3 ISO 3200

I’m of the opinion that any new camera should encourage this ‘getting acquainted’ phase of experimentation before using it for paying work ;-) It’s one reason I’ve never been a fan of hiring equipment – I need to be comfortable with kit, and that takes practice. You need to understand what the kit can do, so you can comfortably ignore most of it until you need it.

It was that first trip into the city as it got dark, that revealed just how useful the files from the X1D were at 3200ISO.

A detail at 100% from the fountain shot (processed with ACR at default settings) shows how clean the shots can be. I note there’s colour in many of those lights too.

detail of fountain

You could push the ISO higher and get usable results, but setting Auto ISO to max out at 3200 gave me confidence that I’d have images that would take processing very easily.

OK, the big question

Who’s the X1D for?  If you’re a Hasselblad user and want a second camera (that will take your normal lenses via an adapter) then this camera is a great compact solution that will double as one to take around for convenience too.

The camera got noticed (good or bad depending on the situation) – I’ve never had strangers come up to me, look at my camera and say ‘Oh, a Canon, what’s it like to use’ ;-)

hb-logo

Karen really liked it, and I got the impression would have been very happy to take it on holiday – the design and image quality got the nod there.

Unlike some mirrorless ‘Hasselblad named’ cameras that appeared a few years ago, this one is definitely for serious photography – I’m personally pleased to see this advance.

Lens choices

The XCD lens range are all primes and all with a built in leaf shutter.  The leaf shutter lets you shoot flash at high shutter speeds, but that’s something I’ve never really needed to do

I’ve just returned from an outdoor job where the main lens I used was the EF24-70 2.8L with a few shots using the EF8-15 F4L zoom fisheye.

Last week, the main lens I used on an architectural job was the TS-E17mm F4L with a few shot with the TS-E24 F3.5 L II

There are no XCD zooms and no XCD tilt/shift lenses. If you want these, you’ll need an adapter.

So, for me it’s a beautiful camera, but just not with the range of native lens types I use to earn a living.

Of course that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t happily have kept it – However, Karen minds Northlight’s finances and was unmoved by my vague business justifications… ;-)

Thanks to Hasselblad UK for the loan and Park Cameras in the UK (who sell the X1D) for facilitating the process.

Specifications

Price
MSRP $8995/£5990/€7900
Body type
Body type Rangefinder-style mirrorless
Sensor
Max resolution 8272 x 6200
Image ratio w:h 1:1, 4:3
Effective pixels 51 megapixels
Sensor photo detectors 53 megapixels
Sensor size Medium format (44 x 33 mm)
Sensor type CMOS
Image
Custom white balance Yes
Image stabilisation No
Uncompressed format RAW
Optics & Focus
Autofocus
  • Contrast Detect (sensor)
  • Multi-area
  • Centre
  • Selective single-point
  • Tracking
  • Single
  • Continuous
  • Touch
  • Face Detection
  • Live View
Manual focus Yes
Lens mount Hasselblad X
Focal length multiplier 0.79x (aspect ratio is 4:3, so not a perfect 35mm equivalent)
Screen / viewfinder
Articulated LCD Fixed
Screen size 3″
Screen dots 920,000
Touch screen Yes
Screen type TFT LCD
Live view Yes
Viewfinder type Electronic
Viewfinder coverage 100%
Viewfinder resolution 2,360,000
Minimum shutter speed 68 sec
Maximum shutter speed 1/2000 sec
Aperture priority Yes
Shutter priority Yes
Manual exposure mode Yes
Built-in flash No
External flash Yes (Nikon compatible)
Continuous drive 2.3 fps
Self-timer Yes
Metering modes
  • Multi
  • Centre-weighted
  • Spot
Video features
Resolutions 1920 x 1080 (25p)
Format H.264
Microphone Stereo
Speaker Mono
Storage
Storage types Dual SD/SDHC/SDXC slots
Connectivity
USB USB 3.0 (5 GBit/sec)
HDMI Yes (mini-HDMI)
Microphone port Yes
Headphone port Yes
Wireless Built-In
Wireless notes 802.11b/g/n/ac
Physical
Environmentally sealed Yes
Battery Battery Pack
Battery description 3200 mAh li-ion battery
Weight (inc. batteries) 725 g
Dimensions 150 x 98 x 71 mm (5.92 x 3.86 x 2.81″)
Other features
Orientation sensor Yes
GPS External module, fits hot shoe

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