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photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Hasselblad X1D, one year later

should it stay or should it go?

in Hasselblad , Wednesday, September 22, 2021

It seems like only yesterday that I confessed to the Mother Of All Gear Acquisition Syndrome lapses, my entry into the Hasselblad “X System” (to be precise the second coming of the X System, the title having previously been used for the XPan).

Actually it was more than a year ago, so it seems about time that I return to the confessional and explain how it’s all worked out. I now have an X1DII body and three lenses, a 45mm, 90mm, and most recently a 21mm. However it still feels like I’ve hardly used the camera. So far it has not been on any dedicated photo trips (well, neither have I), and has really only been used locally. I backed out of a trip to East Greenland due to general uncertainties, and a late decision to switch a cut-down Olympus kit for my holiday in Lofoten turned out to be a very good idea. So truly it hasn’t been put much to the test yet, and it certainly hasn’t yet earned its keep.

One thing is for sure, the X1D is a beautifully designed camera. It fits in the hand like a glove, and just like the Olympus E-M1, I can hold it by the grip, dangling it from my fingertips. The physical ergonomics are superb, and the menu and touchscreen interface are a masterclass in good design. The only thing missing for me is tilt/swivel screen. Of course it has been totally eclipsed by the Fuji digital medium format series: Fuji wins out on price, on range, and is very much boosted by the sect-like Fanclub the company has skilfully cultivated. There is very little online community to be found around the Hasselblad system. However, even in Fuji dominated discussions, every now and then comes a guilty admission that maybe the X1D (and 907x) is a little bit special.

I’m no reviewer or pixel peeper, but even I can see that the XCD lenses are absolutely stunning. Certainly the best I’ve ever used. They give a subtle sense of volume to photos, as well as almost infinite but somehow velvety sharpness.  The Olympus Pro lenses are also astonishingly sharp, but with a certain harshness. How much of that is down to the huge difference between the sensors, or to the lens design, I can’t say, but I suspect is is a bit of both.  Of course the XCD lenses are significantly heavier, and there is nothing to touch the flexibility of a lens like the Olympus 12-100 f/4.

Processing the photos is a little awkward: first of all there is a little weirdness with image formats. The camera saves raw files in “3FR” format. Although this format can be read by several applications, including Lightroom, DxO Photolab and Affinity Photo, it cannot directly be read by Hasselblad’s own Phocus. Phocus “imports” 3FR photos and converts them to FFF format. As far as I can tell the significant difference between 3FR and FFF is that Phocus edits are stored inside the FFF file (as opposed to the more common method of using a “sidecar” file). This does actually enable seamless transition between Phocus Mobile for iOS (excellent) and Phocus desktop (quirky). But since FFF files also embed Hasselblad lens corrections, they cannot be processed in DxO Photolab, as this application’s main USP is to apply its own lens corrections.  So it is all very confusing and clumsy. To add to this, Phocus has very, very restricted file import functionality, so very little custom renaming, no pattern-based folder selection, etc.  My solution is to use Phocus to import to a working folder, converting to FFF, then rename and move these FFF files into my standard structure using PhotoSupreme, then repoint Phocus at the relevant folder. It works, but I have to keep my wits about me. I then generally do exposure and some colour edits in Phocus, and finally export to 16bit TIFF, which in turn I may work on in CaptureOne and/or Photoshop. Actually, I find that X1D files generally need very little tweaking, which is a relief.

Note, you can bypass all this nonsense by working with 3FR files directly in Lightroom (or Photoshop), but I’ve stopped actively using Lightroom.

Reading through the few web forums where X1D owners gather (for example hasselbladdigitalforum.com or to a lesser and diminishing extent, getdipi.com), one could build an impression that the system suffers from severe reliability issues. Well, fingers crossed, I haven’t hit any such issues yet, and one does need to consider that satisfied customers rarely complain.  Again, I’m not sure why there is so little web activity around the system, but possibly it attracts photographers rather than camera geeks :-). If the activity on the secondhand market here in Switzerland is anything to go buy, there is an active community.  Secondhand XCD lenses sell fast, and at near retail price - unfortunately!

The X-System coexists well with my Olympus gear, especially as they both have my preferred 4:3 default aspect ratio. Obviously the Olympus kit is comfortable in a much wider range of scenarios, for example lightweight travel, but more importantly longer focal lengths.  The maximum native focal length so far available in the XCD lens range is 230mm, which works out at something like 178mm in full-frame equivalence terms.  Just the Olympus 12-100 gives me 200mm equivalent - and it’s a zoom. There is only one XCD zoom, a very limited 28-60mm equivalent, and it costs 1 arm + 1 leg. Another huge benefit on the Olympus side is of course stabilisation, although to be fair the Hasselblad leaf shutter approach means that hand holding is quite practical at fairly low shutter speeds. Having said all that, much as I enjoy and admire the results from the Olympus cameras, in terms of colour, tonal smoothness, and definition, output from the Hasselblad is quite clearly streets ahead.

Here is a fairly random selection of photos - they are largely all in the “learning the camera” category, as so far sadly I haven’t shot a coherent project with the X System. All photos are pretty much as shot, with minor adjustments in Phocus.

Drm 20201011 B0000131
Drm 20210214 B0000393
Drm 20210621 B0000548
Drm 20210813 B0000730
Drm 20201011 B0000153
Drm 20210814 B0000774
Drm 20210813 B0000734
Drm 20210813 B0000725
Drm 20210815 B0000784
Drm 20210815 B0000807

I have to keep reminding myself that I’m not answerable to anybody but myself for my photography. The Hasselblad X System is insanely expensive for somebody on my income, but then again my peers spend far more money on cars that they buy mainly for enjoyment. And I did mostly fund it by selling off other stuff. I enjoy using the X1D, although I would prefer it if it had a little more flexibility, and I’m also longing for opportunities to really put it through it paces. So, for the foreseeable future, it stays.

 

 

 

Very late to the party

but it seems I didn’t miss much

in Photography , Friday, September 10, 2021

So I finally made it to one of today’s most over-exposed photographic locations, the Lofoten Islands. Very, very late to the party, but then again, most of the party seems to happen in the depths of winter, rather than late August / early September - which, in Lofoten, also apparently counts as winter.

It wasn’t a dedicated photo trip, more a combination of tourism and hiking with a camera thrown in. So I didn’t bring the big guns, just the Olympus E-M1 Mark III, the super-flexible 12-100 f/4 lens and the 7-14 wide angle zoom.  I did also bring the 17mm f/1.2 and the 14-150II, but used neither of these. The vast majority of the shots I took were with the 12-100.

The weather was miserable. Either frequent violent squalls with brief interludes, or unrelenting rain. These combined to create really unpleasant muddy hiking conditions, so the amount of hiking we did was less than planned.

The locals were also miserable. Oh, I get the whole stoic, grim, independent Nordic thing (although it sits uncomfortably with the huge SUVs, huger flat screen TVs, and hot dog convenience food culture which seems to dominate). You get a similar vibe in Iceland, but Norwegians, in particular in Lofoten, have taken it to a whole new level. They’ve also taken schadenfreude from the Germans, turbocharged it and made it entirely their own. The general attitude of disdain and extreme passive aggressiveness towards foreign tourists is not only unpleasant, but really rather sad and pathetic. Basically they want the money from the tourists with the inconvenience of actually having to do something to earn it. Of course, there are exceptions. But the more friendly people inevitably turn out to be foreigners, or from Oslo (which appears to amount to the same thing to the local trolls).

The landscape is impressive, but on a people level, I cannot think of a more unpleasant place I’ve been to.

The photography didn’t work out too well either. Apart from the weather, which really was not inspiring, I never got into much of a groove and ended up with only random snapshots.

Drm 20210831 P8310568

Grim up north

Certainly there is photography to be done in Lofoten, and actually I’m sure there must be some very good stuff I’ve never seen. But so much is dominated by the leaden clichés of winter shots taken from a bridge near Reine, featuring snowy peaks, stormy skies, and the inevitable red “rorbuer” fisherman’s huts, which are of course almost always nothing of the sort in 2021.  Rather they are expensive tourist accommodation, part of a rapidly encroaching Disneyland version of Lofoten which has switched fishing for cod to fishing for tourists, and can’t wait to get started again.

Pah!, basically.

Over the coming weeks or months I may try to salvage some kind of photo set, but right now I’m heading off to Puglia for some heat therapy.

 

 

Take my advice…

...don’t listen to me

in General Rants , Tuesday, August 03, 2021

One thing I don’t think I ever done on this blog is to give any kind of advice on photography, or attempt to do what is generally passed off as “teaching”. It isn’t that I jealously hoard any knowledge I may have - in other spheres of life I am quite extensively involved in mentoring and passing on know-how - it is just that I am not aware of anything I have worthy of sharing. I don’t have any presets to sell you, in fact I don’t have any at all. I can’t tell you how to do composition. Or indeed exposure. I don’t have sponsored videos to share, or any kind of lessons to hawk. And even if I did, my aversion to social media, or indeed social anything, would be a bit of a blocker.

It works both ways: apart from some good advice from 2 or 3 people, any third party expertise which comes my way generally goes in one ear and out of the other (for example, “don’t put too many photos on your web site”). The same goes for “how to” books: I’ve certainly read plenty, enough to realise that pretty much all of them repeat the exact same basics, and to discover that generally I disagree with the remaining 10%.

I wish I did have more to share, maybe if that was the case I’d be a wildly successful influencer running fabulous workshops all over the world. But then I wouldn’t have time to watch YouTube channels.

However, I am conscious of very slowly developing, or perhaps more accurately settling, into a personal style. I’m also conscious that this style has come about by absorbing and adapting the work of other photographers through their books. Conversely, other photography books, which I may very well like as books, have helped by giving me a clear idea of where I actually do not want to go.

So that’s all I can offer: my advice is to look at and absorb as much photography, and indeed representative art, as you can, to feed your internal neural network, and steer you towards a path you will find satisfying. For me, books, rather than Instagram or Youtube or whatever work, but those can work as well. Don’t directly attempt to copy other’s work, but rather try react to it somehow passively and in your own specific way. Oh, and don’t chase likes, followers and cheap praise - all might give you a transient ego boost, but long term they mean nothing.

Books that I can recognise as having a significant influence on my own work include Arc & Line by Charlie Waite, The Antarctic From The Circle to The Pole by Stuart Klipper, Accommodating Nature by Frank Gohlke, Icelandic Wilderness by Daniel Bergman, Avanna by Tiina Itkonen, and pretty much everything by Otto Olaf Becker. Some notable books which I’ve reacted against (and I emphasise, that’s not a criticism of those books) include A Retrospective by William Neil, and Seven by David DuChemin. But that’s just me, hopefully everybody else will have a different combination, otherwise we’ll all end doing identical work.

Ok, that’s it. Back to YouTube.

 

A ecumenical matter

Thou Shalt Shoot Film

in General Rants , Monday, July 26, 2021

Recently, one of my millions of dedicated, enthusiastic followers sent me a link to an article on a theology professor discovering that his life was being slowed down by film.  I had no idea that film has now graduated to becoming an ecumenical matter, but so be it.

I’m not a regular reader of the National Catholic Reporter, and I had no idea Film v. Digital had ascended to such lofty realms. It does seem they’re just getting started though, as the points presented have, well, to be fair, been covered somewhat extensively elsewhere.

I’m a bit perplexed by the Teaching that “(film) also challenges the photographer to cultivate a spirit of hope, because you will not know for a while whether what you had hoped to accomplish in your framing, focus and exposure will result in a successful image”. More like a feeling of dread, as far as I’m concerned. Like, “did I remember to take the lens cap off?”. Digital, rather, encourages in me a spirit of hope, as the small screen on the back of the camera is sufficiently saturated and low resolution that it allows me to believe that I actually have a shot with great colour and perfect focus ... until I see it on my computer screen. Fortunately nobody on Flickr knows the difference either.

Of course, we inevitably get to Film Slows You Down.  As the Lord tells us, Thou Shall Not Apply Undue Haste In Thine Film Photography (Paul’s Letter to the Batley & Spen Camera Club). This may well be the case (although not so much if you’ve got a Canon EOS 1v), but it isn’t always such a good thing. Tell Ansel Adams that it was absolutely great that he was slowed down by film while frantically trying to capture the moon rising over Hernandez. Tell Robert Capa that using film at Omaha Beach had “profound spiritual and practical implications”.

And who has not been slowed down way too much because they couldn’t find anything to photograph and therefore couldn’t finish the roll?

Oh, it’s easy to mock, isn’t it? Just as well, otherwise I’d have very little material. I don’t really have any view on whether or not photography brings you Closer To God, although since one of the two doesn’t exist, it does seem a bit far-fetched.  But the article itself just once again recycles all the tired tropes about film, conflates them with photography in general, and appears to exist only to attempt to cast what seems to be a guilty pleasure (a Franciscan friar fiddling with cameras!) as a spiritual revelation. It’s certainly an original take on justifying Gear Acquisition Syndrome!

 

Photogallery: Provence

...mais oú est Brigitte Bardot? **

in Photography , Thursday, July 15, 2021

My ongoing lack of any significant new photography is having the side effect that I’m able to spend some time revisiting and evaluating my ridiculously large archive.  The latest result from this is a new gallery of photos from Provence (and adjacent regions) taken at various times between 2010 and 2019.

I’ve more or less restricted the selection to towns and villages. With one exception (below) they are devoid of people - this is the result of careful framing and patience, as the reality was quit different.  I’m not sure why I don’t like people… but I do like the photo below, and I remember being very careful with the framing and timing.

Everything is in colour. I know “street photography” is supposed to be in black and white, but I see the world in colour. I’m much more a follower of Harry Gruyaert or Franco Fontana, rather than HCB et al.

** elle est dans le mouton!

 
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