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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.

 

The IKEA of camera manufacturers ?

in Hasselblad XPan , Friday, November 07, 2003

During the last 4-5 months, I have been having an ongoing battle with the venerable Hasselblad, a company which I always assumed took pride in customer service. Rather than repeat everything, here below is a letter I sent to them via their customer service web site. Almost needless to say I never received an answer (but see the PS at the end).

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Dear Sirs,

I am writing to you to express my strong disappointment following my current experience with your after sales service. I own a Hasselblad XPan, with the full set of lenses, as well as Hasselblad V system and ArcBody equipment. I believe that my investment in Hasselblad brings me quality, long term value for money, and above all reliable and professional after sales support. This belief motivates my current intention to invest in the H System, although, as you will be able to understand from the following, this intention is currently very much on hold.

In May of this year I noticed that there were what appeared to be a few pale specks of dust behind the front element of my XPan 30mm lens. I took it to my local Hasselblad agent (Photo Catena, Lugano, Switzerland) for inspection, and they sent it to the Swiss distributors for Hasselblad, Leica Switzerland. A few weeks later I was informed that Leica Switzerland could not carry out any inspection or repair and would have to send it to Sweden. I was also told that the estimated time would be 8 weeks, which was a first surprise. After enquiring with Leica, I was told that this unusual delay was due to the relocation of Hasselblad’s factory in Sweden, and that they had been informed, by Hasselblad Sweden, that the expected return date would be in the first week of August.

By mid-September I had heard nothing, and repeated queries to my dealer and to Leica Switzerland were without result. Finally, after some persistence, I got a call from Herr Bachmann, Mareketing Director for Leica Switzerland, who informed me that he had finally received a report and repair estimate – not from Hasselblad, but from Fuji. It seems that the lens was returned to Japan for servicing. The estimate, with few details, save that apparently one or more lens elements needs replacing, is for 700 Euro exclusive of handling charges or taxes [NOTE - this would put the cost to me at _well_ over 1000 Euro] . All concerned – Leica, Photo Catena and of course myself have expressed surprise at the high cost and inexplicable delay of this estimate. Apparently this is the final word from yourselves at Hasselblad – no explanation, no reason, no negotiation. Leica Switzerland, clearly embarrassed by this situation, have made a generous offer to share the cost and to drop handling charges. Before I respond to this offer, I would like Hasselblad’s views and answers to some specific questions:

• It is not a secret that the Xpan is a rebadged Fuji camera, which has benefited from some Hasselblad design input. However, it is marketed and sold by Hasselblad in Europe, to the specific exclusion of Fuji’s version, and all warranties, documentation, service agent list and packaging is Hasselblad branded. It is of no concern to me what business partnerships you enter into, but I have in good faith purchased a Hasselblad product and I expect to be able to deal with Hasselblad after sales, not Fuji.

• I am curious to know what method of transport you use to ferry materials between your Japanese suppliers and your factory. It is difficult to understand how it can take 5 months to send a lens to Japan.

• My 30mm lens has been well used – I am a photographer, not a collector. However it has also been very well cared for, along with the 45mm and 90mm I own. Regardless that you offer only a 1 year warranty on a 2000 Euro lens, I would like to understand how foreign bodies can penetrate a Hasselblad / Fujinon – designed professional quality lens, other than through a design or manufacturing defect. There has been no question of negligence on my part, and there is no sign of poor treatment from visual inspection of the lens.

• Finally, if this is how Hasselblad is handling its joint ventures with Fuji, could you please explain what grounds I might have to have any confidence in buying a complex and expensive system like the H1 ?

I am frankly more surprised than anything else by this episode. Perhaps you can reassure me that you still take customer care seriously, and still intend to provide the standard of service your name is associated with. I am not expecting to bear zero charges for work I ask you to do. However, I am expecting to be dealt with more quickly, more explicitly, and in this case to receive a convincing explanation of why you believe that this lens defect should be acceptable.

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PS. A few days ago, the director of marketing at Leica Switzerland called me to make a new offer: an exchange 30mm lens for 800 Sfr. Whilst he continued to express his dismay at Hasselblad's attitude, he recommended that I accept this as a compromise. I agreed with him - I want the lens back, because regardless of all this, it is a fantastic tool. It arrived next day.

PPS. And finally, I learned yesterday of another customer at Photo Catena, who dropped and badly damaged his 4 month old Leica Noctilux f1.0 lens. This, apparently, despite being clearly a non-warranty issue, was repaired free of charge by Leica Switzerland and is as good as new. Makes you think....