There’s a terrible noise every time I click the shutter. Like a machine out of an office in the 80s clawing its way thirty years into the future to emit an obnoxious noise from this stunning camera in my hands.
The Hasselblad X1D is among the first crop mirrorless medium format cameras to hit the market. “Medium format” means the sensor on the camera is enormous and can capture huge images ideal for putting on the side of a two story building or including in a book on a coffee table. The X1D is undoubtedly beautiful—and it takes photos appropriately beautiful for its $9000 (body only!) price tag. Oh, and if a fax machine and a photocopier were to have a baby, and that baby were to cry—it would sound like the X1D every time you press the shutter.
The Hasselblad X1D, like most serious Hasselblad products, is built not for all of us, but for pros, and a very special kind of pro. This isn’t the camera you bring if you’re a street photographer looking for some quick shots, or a wedding photographer trying to catch the whole event. This camera, as with most medium format cameras, is intended for the big shots. Landscapes, portraits, and objects that might be found in a catalog. The detail a medium format camera can capture is useful primarily if you’re working in print or producing HUGE images, like those found on billboards, or perhaps in an art gallery.
For the X1D, its very first mirrorless medium format camera, Hasselblad packs a 50 megapixel CMOS sensor into a camera body about the size of of a burrito with a side of guacamole. (Fujifilm has its own 50-megapixel medium format beast as well.) That’s twice as many megapixels as found in Sony’s new A9 full frame camera and 20 megapixels more than found in Canon’s new 5D Mark IV. As those are both full frame cameras, their sensors are also nearly half the size of the one found in a medium format camera like the X1D.
The Hasselblad X1D has the largest sensor found in a mirrorless camera, and one of the highest megapixel counts, but it weighs in at a little over a pound and a half (725 g)—while impressive given the technology in the little box, add a lens and the setup gets heavy quick. My right hand, wrist, and forearm were sore after the first day of using it. By the end of the week I could barely make a fist. That being said, the distribution of the camera’s weight, along with the design of its grip, push your fingers to bend up to the second joint, and the X1D hangs there perfectly—generating the odd feeling that the camera could never fall out of your hand. And God forbid it did, because that would be a $14,000 mistake ($9K body, $3-$5K lens).
You should have put a strap on it you say. I thought so too—but the X1D is above my pay grade. I have tons of left over camera straps from old cameras—but they are all cheap, functional, and wouldn’t attach to the beautiful round camera strap eyelets. That is why I had to carry it. Womp womp.
The 3-inch touchscreen LCD monitor—is just that, a monitor to another computer...I mean, camera. The Hasselblad interface is intuitive and quick to learn. You can move from an aperture of f/3.5 to f/30 with a couple of swipes or clicks of a wheel—it offers live view, histogram feedback functionality and, of course, it is wi-fi enabled.
Hasselblad uses a proprietary digital RAW format: The 3FR. I never had trouble managing the files via Photoshop/Lightroom, but it is kind of like the ‘II’ at the end of my sir name, arguably unnecessary and definitively a bit pretentious. And to say the files are HUGE is an understatement.
The X1D generates 110 MB 3FRs (that’s twice the size of a RAW file from a full frame camera). With dual SD card slots, and a ~2 frames per second capture rate, you will fill up storage VERY quickly. I get the pinwheel of death just trying to get file info in Finder. But the image size is also what allows me to look directly into anyone’s pores (and soul).
The X1D is smaller than most medium format cameras, which means it should be easier to pull off a tripod and move around to shoot with. But more mobility means autofocus becomes much more critical. The camera’s autofocusing system is contrast detection based and touts a 35-point autofocus configuration. It is easy to select which one point of focus you want, but it is impossible to select more than one of them—this is not only annoying but makes it very difficult to take off-the-cuff photos that do not all share the same focal point within the frame. Seems like an easy fix, not sure why Hasselblad dropped the ball here—particularly given how spectacular the images look when they are in focus.
Most of us are accustomed to seeing an autofocus assist light flash when our picture’s taken. It’s usually a shade of red or orange, that might be noticeable, but isn’t distracting. The autofocus assist light on the front of the X1D is white and every time the camera engages it, subjects feel like they are getting their photo taken by an iPhone with the flash on. If you are taking someone’s photo (in autofocus)—this light definitively disrupts the energy and flow of a portrait session. Between the autofocus light, the sound the focus makes (see below) and the delay all mirrorless cameras have—you’re destined to get tripped up on timing.
Ok—so, you can’t make the camera focus where you want, there is a terrible non-flash flash in autofocus mode, but it is the fax+copier baby crying sound the camera makes (in auto focus) every time you click that makes the camera not a viable option for me. Listen.
It is terrible. There is no way around it.
Don’t get me wrong—the camera can take beautiful photos. The XCD lenses Hasselblad has started making for the camera are of the highest quality and there are lots of bells and whistles* that come in the camera. Unfortunately, I never really got to enjoy the extras because I was always too busy managing the basics. If you’re not standing still this isn’t the camera for you.
- If you buy this camera—buy extra external hard drives with it. The image files are HUGE.
- The camera is (awkwardly) loud—so if you buy this camera, maybe also consider a set of ear plugs.
- I would not buy the camera until Hasselblad integrates a multi-point autofocus functionality.
- Do not expect the camera to shoot immediately after pressing the shutter.
- If money is not object, buy the camera, enjoy it and also donate $14,000 to your favorite charity.
*bells and whistles