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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.

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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.

 

 

 

True Colours

roses are blue, violets are green

in Post-processing , Friday, April 23, 2021

Colour is a funny thing.  Online forums and photo geek sites are full of self-appointed experts droning on about “color science” and generally talking total rubbish. For a start colour perception is both physically and culturally subjective. Our eyes are all slightly different, and our brains process signals in slightly different ways. The naming of colours is subjective in various ways. What I call dark orange somebody else might call red. And the colour I see with my eyes is often different to the colour I see on my camera or computer screen. And let’s not even get into prints.

So, buying a Hasselblad X1DII because it captures “more accurate colour” was possibly not the best idea I’ve ever had. Of course, Hasselblad has its vaunted “Hasselblad Natural Colour Solution”, which “was developed for serious users who demand the utmost colour accuracy”. But accurate in which sense? Maybe to a reference colour chart, which is all well and good, but it doesn’t help me much if I’m partially colour blind (I don’t believe I am, but who knows?)

Generally I don’t have too much issue with colour accuracy. In fact I’m more concerned with colour gradation. But there is one area which has always intrigued me, which is how cameras see flower colour.

Way back I had big issues trying to photograph poppies with my Olympus E-1, reported in one of my earlier posts on this site. Over time I’ve noticed that colours that to me visually are in the pink to magenta range come out blue. Some shades of yellow, such as wild primula, come out almost white.

So, I thought I’d do a little test on my thriving wisteria. To my eyes, the flowers are shades of lilac and purple, with some white and yellow tints. But on screen, in photographs they tend to come out more blue. So, I thought I’d see what the Hasselblad Natural Colour Solution would make of this. I lined the X1DII up on a firm tripod, then switching it for the 3 other cameras I use, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk3, the Ricoh GR II, and the Sigma dp0. I used the 45mm f/3.5 lens on the X1DII, and the 17mm f/1.2 on the Olympus, these both closely approximating 35mm in reference terms. The GR has a fixed lens approximating 28mm, and the Sigma’s lens approximates 21mm.  I’m only really interested in colour here.  So, I loaded all 4 into CaptureOne, with minimal processing (the Sigma and Hasselblad images were converted to 16 bit TIFF via their respective proprietary applications. For the Ricoh and Sigma I tweaked zoom levels to get a rough match.

Wisteria test

Top row: Ricoh, Sigma. Bottom row: Olympus, Hasselblad

Well, the results are a bit disturbing. Of course you can’t really see a lot here, but from my subjective standpoint the best of the bunch at rendering the flower colours is actually the Olympus. The Hasselblad is close, but particularly in lighter areas in shifts towards blue (see on the left, and top right). The Ricoh is not bad, but a little under-saturated. The Sigma is in a world of its own, although if you look a detail rather than colour, it makes things a little awkward for the Hasselblad.

Maybe my eye/brain combination has some trouble distinguishing certain shades of blue? I don’t know, but on this unscientific and very specific sample, the Hasselblad Natural Colour Solution doesn’t score a home run.

 

Hasselblad X1DII - so far

crazy camera, crazy money

in GAS , Thursday, January 07, 2021

Back in August, I took a big step into the photographic unknown with the purchase of a Hasselblad X1DII. In order to afford this extravagance, I sold off my Sigma sdH, several Olympus bodies, my Linhof 612 and my Voigtländer Bessa III. This allowed me to buy the X1DII body, an ex-demo refurbished 45mm f/3.5 lens, and a 90mm f/4 lens on special offer. In addition to those I got an adaptor for my 3 XPan lenses. This is far, far from a casual purchase for me, and will probably be my last major investment in camera gear.

So, do I have buyers remorse? Was it worth it?  Short answers: no, and yes, probably.

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The Hasselblad X1DII (X1D from now on) sits alongside my now somewhat reduced workhorse Olympus OM-D kit. Essentially, to earn its keep it needs to let me do things I want to do that the OM-D cannot.  Superficially this shouldn’t be very hard - after all the X1D has a huge 50 megapixel sensor against the OM-D’s small 20 megapixels. So, the average brick wall or cat should turn out much better with the X1D. Well, with some caveats - although brick walls don’t move all that much, cats do (especially our neighbour’s cat which I’ve yet to successfully drench with a bucket of water). The OM-D can, more or less, focus track. The X1D can’t. The OM-D has zillions of focus points. The X1D has considerably less. The OM-D has stabilisation, and fast lenses. The X1D has neither. And anyway, I’m not in the slightest bit interested in brick walls or cats.

So, it’s not looking good so far for the X1D. But wait…  once it does get its few ducks in a row, the output is just flat out gorgeous. It isn’t quite Portra 400 level sublime, but its the closest I’ve ever seen from a digital camera. 

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The size (especially) and weight of the X1D with 45mm f/3.5 and the OM-D E-M1 MkIII with the roughly equivalent 17mm f/1.2 lens is very close. The X1D is really remarkably compact. Of course the OM-D wins out in low light - the X1D is only about 1 stop better in noise performance, and the OM-D has on-body stabilisation.  In hand, the X1D is actually noticeably heavier, but it is very, very comfortable to hold for a lengthy period - and it has strong competition here, the E-M1 grip is so well designed I can dangle the camera from my fingertips quite safely. So from a physical ergonomics point of view, it’s close. From a user interface point of view, there’s no competition - the X1D is a very clear winner. The touchscreen-based menu system is a masterpiece. The few physical controls are well placed and easy to use, with the possible exception of the focus mode button which is a bit of stretch to reach. The primary mode of focus point selection is through the touchscreen. This is the thing I like least about the X1D. I can’t get on with this way of working when the camera is up to my eye. The E-M1 has the same mode, as an option, but I disabled it as soon as I changed the focus point with my nose for the first time.  But the E-M1’s alternative is a very convenient joystick, whereas on the X1D you have to long-press the hard-to-reach focus button, and then use the two dials. It’s not ideal.

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Speaking of the viewfinder - until I used the X1D, I thought the OM-D’s EVF was perfectly ok. Now, in comparison, it looks like a 50s TV set at the end of a long tunnel. The X1D’s EVF is stunning.

My previous attempt of supplementing my “shooting envelope” was with the Sigma sd-H. This just didn’t work out. The camera is a delight, but the lenses are massive and very heavy, and of course anything over ISO 200 was risky territory. Also, the Quattro sensor has quite some eccentricities, alongside its amazing resolution. Really, the sd-H is too unwieldy for me, and I had higher expectations of the Sigma “Art” lenses after using the dp fixed lenses.  The X1D, however, is almost as comfortably as a walkaround camera as the OM-D. Of course there are limitations with lens reach, and you have to keep a close eye on the shutter speed, but it is leagues ahead of the Sigma. So from that point of view, I’m happy.

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The things that frustrate me with the OM-D are the way that background details sometimes disintegrate into a nasty mush, and a certain coarseness in colour transition in darker and lighter zones. The X1D provides huge improvements in both areas. It also brings noticeably better colour depth and accuracy, and of course detail.  The OM-D’s advantages are deeper depth of field and overall versatility. The great thing for me is that they both have the same native 4:3 ratio, and that the X1D can go to “digital XPan” mode at the flick of a switch, meaning in general I have a coherent reference for composition across 3 camera types.

So, in conclusion, there’s absolutely no buyers remorse. I have two interchangeable, fully complementary camera systems that fully cover all I want to do in photography. Was it worth it? Well, it would be, if only I had somewhere to travel to fully exploit the X1D, but that’s a general problem right now.

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No more excuses

A picture speaks a thousand words

in GAS , Saturday, August 08, 2020

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(as previously hinted :-) )
 

Seller’s remorse

the one that got away

in GAS , Friday, July 11, 2014

Around 4 years ago I made a decision I’ve come to seriously regret. I sold my Hasselblad ArcBody kit, mainly to offset the cost of a two week trip to Svalbard.  I can rationalise the decision on the grounds that I wasn’t using the ArcBody much, that it was a worthwhile trade, and that very unusually, I made more on eBay than the price I paid for it new. But these days I really wish I’d kept it.

Arcbody

The ArcBody is a one-off for Hasselblad and didn’t stay on the market for very long. It is basically a small, portable view camera that takes Hasselblad film backs - and, possibly, certain compatible digital backs. It had three purpose designed, and expensive, Rodenstock lenses, a 35mm, 45mm and 75mm. I just had the 45mm.  Nominally the movements are restricted to rise, forward and reverse tilt, but with a piece of angled iron grandiosely named the “ArcBody Inverter Mount” it could easily be hung upside down to give fall instead of rise. Although this could also be accomplished, slightly more perilously, by hanging it from a rotated ball head.

In use the ArcBody required about 30 steps to take a single shot, including removing the back to attach a ground glass focussing screen, and inserting the appropriate correction slide.  At the time, for me, it was more of a solution in search of a problem: my photography did not really justify it. Nowadays, it would make the perfect compliment for my m43 gear.

Arc foroglio 1

Foroglio, Ticino - ArcBody, Provia 100F

It would probably be hard to buy another one. Mine sold almost instantly on eBay, well over my reserve price, and they’re still in demand, possibly, and unfortunately, by collectors. Mine went to Hong Kong and was probably resold at a healthy margin.

And now that I’m considering selling my “obsolete” Olympus E-3 and E-5 DSLRs, maybe I should pause to reflect that at some point in the future I might find a need for a solid, optical viewfinder camera.

 

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