Hasselblad X1D Mirrorless Camera Review | X1D Is A Revolution, Isn’t It?

ShadowHasselblad mirrorless camera is a revolution, or is it?
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Lots of incredible news are popping up in photography world nowadays. To name a few, there’s a release of new 100 MP Hasselblad H6D system, new Sigma cameras with amazing APS-C sized Foveon sensor, and NIK collection bundle that has gone free.

But all those things can't compare to what Hasselblad did a couple of weeks ago by announcing the mirrorless Medium Format camera.

Why this is a big deal?

Because in a modern world, the highest quality in photography is achieved by digital medium format cameras. Those have huge sensors and because of that are able to gather more light, which translates into more information. All that in practice means richer color depth, wider dynamic range and – at least in theory – better ISO performance.

But medium format digital cameras have been around for a long time, so what’s so special about the brand new X1D? Well, the mirrorless part makes it special. By ditching the mirror from the body, Hasselblad was able to shrink the camera to a very compact size. In fact, it’s much smaller than a typical full-frame DSLR, which is just an unprecedented size for medium format cameras, which are very bulky and as heavy as 2.5 kilograms. In fact, it’s almost the same size as Sony’s mirrorless A7 II series:

Here’s the Hasselblad X1D next to the used-to-be smallest (and cheapest) medium Format camera – Pentax 645D:

Do you notice the difference?

On the pictures next to the full frame cameras, you also can observe how noticeably bigger the sensor in that tiny body is. This is 50MP Sony sensor with claimed 14 stops of dynamic range and amazing color depth. The very same sensor that is used in new conventional medium format camera – Hasselblad’s H6D-50C and Pentax 645D. The former of those two would set you back $26,000. Which brings us to the second unprecedented thing about this Hasselblad – the price. It costs only $9,000, which is really affordable for a medium format camera. Since Pentax 645D (for $7,000) and Leica S (for $14,000) came out, you needed to drop at least thirty grand to get your hands on a medium format camera. But times change, fortunately for us now you can get much more compact camera for a smaller hole in your wallet.

This camera is also a new benchmark for technology among all cameras. To make your life easier and faster pacing, it’s got speedy USB 3.0 Type-C connector and 802.11ac WI-FI, built in GPS and Dual SD card slot.

The body itself is a thing of beauty, handcrafted from aluminum in Sweden which Hasselblad takes to the point of obsession. The buttons have a very nice feel and ergonomics are great: the camera was designed for a medium sized hand, as opposed to large one that conventional medium format cameras are targeting, which is reveling news for many photographers.

To complement the gorgeous body design, on the back of the camera is situated a state of the art display. It has simple and clean interface, which is extremely user-friendly and easy to use. With that display you can (and even expected to) control pretty much all of the camera settings, including aperture, shutter speed, etc. Of course, good old metal dials for quick access to the most required features haven’t gone anywhere, and as always you can easily customize them. Isn't it great to have several ways to change the setting you need?
The interface is very logical and pretty much bug free, as opposed to a super mixed-up in Sony’s own cameras for instance. Truth to be told, all manufacturers should learn from this Hasselblad here, as that is probably the first camera multi-touch display that feels like it belongs in 2016, the era of smartphones.

The camera is also capable of recording RAW 1080p 25fps video that can be encoded to h.264 via company’s own software later on a computer.

As for continuous shooting, X1D is not a record breaker here by any means, and is capable only of 1.7-2.3 frames per second, which is slow even compared to other medium format cameras (Pentax 645Z can shoot at 3fps, for example).

With the release of new a camera system, there is the need for new lenses as well. Initially 2 new lenses were announced with more coming shortly. Already available for purchase are XCD 3,5/45MM and XCD 3,2/90MM lenses. First number corresponds to widest aperture and the second to focal length. And since this is larger sensor (when compared to full frame one), if you want to know what to expect from those numbers, you can convert them to 35-mm equivalent by multiplying them by 0.80. Also, both of those lenses have very cool internal leaf shutter, that allows for flash sync of up to 1/2000 s. Additionally, via a special adapter all the H-system lenses can be used, but then all the advantage gained by the smaller body is thrown away.

Grain of salt: is it really that special?

So, we determined that Hasselblad X1D is extremely compact by the medium format standards but let’s take a closer look at its sensor.
Yes, it’s larger than 35mm and thus can rightfully be called medium format. But the trick with medium format is that any sensor (and film slide) that is lager than 24 by 36 mm but smaller than 4 by 5 inches (which is considered large format) will fall in this category. So, with the closer look at X1D’s sensor it becomes apparent that this sensor which measures at 43.8 × 32.9 mm is only marginally bigger than 35mm Full Frame sensor. To be exact, this is only by 68% larger in area than conventional full frame sensor.

Yes, in theory this means that at any given ISO there should be 68% less noise, which is good, but the difference won’t be nearly as big as the jump from APS-C to Full Frame which is 125% bigger (and theoretically less noisy). So, basically it means that jump from APS-C to Full Frame is twice as big as from Full Frame to this Medium Format sensor.
Here’s a comparison that clearly shows this:

Medium Format sensor size

Also, a common perception is that a medium format allows for a very shallow depth of field and great bokeh. But this is true for really big medium format sensors and only with very bright lenses. X1D doesn’t posses really big sensor and currently available lenses will fall short delivering to this expectation, as the only two lenses available are XCD 3,5/45MM and XCD 3,2/90MM, both of which wide open will provide the amount of bokeh equivalent to ~ f/2.8 at Full Frame camera. And this f-stop number is rather common in full frame world nowadays, and quite often exceeded by inexpensive prime lenses even.

So, if it seems to you at this point that IQ wise this camera will not be much better than existing cameras on the market – you’re not alone. Furthermore, the site of Hasselblad itself seems to confirm this theory. Just take a look at some of the promo sample pictures on the site taken with Hasselblad X1D to highlight it:

As you can see, even though these images are undoubtedly esthetically pleasing, from technical standpoint they are not very much different of those that you would’ve been able to capture with full frame or maybe even APS-C sized camera.

To make things even gloomier, the autofocus performance isn’t going to be great either, as Hasselblad isn’t mentioning phase-detect anywhere. So, you’re safe to assume, it’s a contrast detect only. There is no doubt that it will be usable and likely even be among one of the best medium format cameras, all of which have had big struggle in this department for years, but still will be very far from the best full frame cameras, that are at least 3 times cheaper.

So, what is this camera about then? It’s not IQ, it’s not esthetic appearance (at least with current lenses) and it’s definitely not performance.
It’s the lifestyle, if you ask me. Indeed, with aluminum handcrafted polished body, arguably the best menu interface cameras ever had and image quality able to match that of very best ones, this camera makes for a great buy for any enthusiast with money, lifestyle photographers or current Hasselblad users will definitely put up a hell lot of competition to Leica S. But other professionals who have limited budget are better off looking for a camera elsewhere. At least for now.

Conclusion

So, even though brand new Hassleblad’s X1D is definitely a great technological milestone, in technical department it doesn’t offer anything groundbreaking. It’s just barely able to beat the image quality of very best DSLRS (such as Sony A7R II and Nikon D810) albeit not their performance. Where this camera is truly excels though, it’s in the look & feel, as it packs top quality materials with very thought out user interface. In fact, it feels very much like if Apple were to make a camera, this would probably be it.

Hasselblad X1DLeica SPentax 645ZSony A7R II
Weight725 g1400 g1555 g625 g
Sensor size43.8 × 32.9mm45 x 30 mm43.8mm x 32.8mm35.9 x 24 mm
Resolution8272 × 6200(50 MP)7,500 x 5,000 (37.5 MP)8272 × 6200(50 MP)7952 x 5304 (42 MP)
Pixel size5.3 × 5.3 μm6 µm5.3 × 5.3 μm
Video resolutionH.264 1920x1080 30fps4K 4096 x 2160 (with Super 35 window mode) 24 fps
1920 x 1080 (with Leica Pro Format sensor area) 30 fps
H.264 1920x1080 (60i/30p)
1280x720 60 fps
H264. 3840 x 2160 30 fps, 1920 x 1080 60 fps
Continues shooting1.7-2.3 fps1.5 fps3.1 fps5.0 fps
Flash sync speedAnyAny1/125 sec1/125 sec
Dynamic range14 Evs12 Evs14 Evs13.9 Evs
ISO range100 - 2560080 - 1250100 - 20480050 - 102400
Average RAW file size65 MB72 MB60 MB45 MB
Price$9,000$14,000$7,000$3,200
   

About the Author

Denis ProtopopovLandscape, lifestyle and product photographer for the past 3 yearsView all posts by Denis Protopopov →

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