photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Hasselblad XCD 35-75 Lens Review

The Glass is always Greener

in Product reviews , Tuesday, August 16, 2022

I’ve always tended to avoid writing explicit gear reviews, for a number of reasons. First of all, I’m not really enough of a gear head or authority to write them, second, because it isn’t really about the gear, and third, because it’s too much like hard work. But on the other hand, reviews drive traffic, and finally what’s the point of running a web site if I don’t try at least a little bit to drive traffic?

I’m fully aware that me reviewing a high end object such as the Hasselblad XCD 35-75 zoom lens is faintly ridiculous. Even more ridiculous, not to say foolhardy, is me actually owning one. Well, I’ve gone into my reasons for the extravagance of buying into Hasselblad medium format elsewhere, and my ownership of the 35-75 zoom came about by chance. I actually had no hope or even really desire to buy this lens, but earlier this year I stumbled across an almost unbelievable offer. Coming from a very reputable dealer, it was advertised as secondhand, without packaging, and nearly half retail price. But when it turned up it was boxed, still with protective foils, and indistinguishable from new - I decided not to quibble. But I still had a touch of buyer’s remorse. It’s big, heavy, and has very limited range compared to the Micro Four Thirds zooms I’m used to. But then I used it…

The other reason for writing this review is that as far as I can see there are no user reviews whatsoever online, apart from Vieri Bottazinni’s very thorough and detailed treatment, and a number of HeyGuysWassup YouTubes from talking heads who had the lens on loan for 3 days. What I want to try to cover is what it is like to use the lens day to day.

So, on with it.

This lens is the first and so far only zoom for the Hasselblad X system. Hasselblad claim it to be “the best lens we ever designed”, and various people with far more expertise and experience than me seem to think that this claim is justified. Using “full frame” as a benchmark, the range of the lens is equivalent to 28-59mm, which is a bit short, or very short when compared to the Micro Four Thirds zooms I’m used to using. This rather dampened my desire for it for a while. The aperture is not fixed, but the f/3.5-4.5 is perfectly fine for me. I’m not a narrow depth of field shooter, quite the opposite, and comparing again with Micro Four Thirds zooms, f/4 on that system is fine for me. So f/4.5 on the X system is easily enough. At 1115g, there is no getting around the fact that the lens is big and heavy, but it is surprisingly comfortable to hand hold, thanks to the superb ergonomics of the X1D body, along with the internal zooming mechanism.

Several reviews comment on the fact that the performance of the lens matches or exceeds that of XCD primes. This may well be the case, certainly I have no cause for complaint, but it is perhaps worth mentioning that the 35-75 range overlaps only with two XCD prime focal lengths, at 45mm and 65mm, so in terms of replacing a bag full of primes, it doesn’t do all that well. Nevertheless, considering it on its own terms rather than as a prime replacement, it is surprisingly useful. [as I write this, it becomes out of date. Hasselblad have now added new 35 and 55mm lenses to the XCD range]

Earlier this year I wandered around Venice for a couple of days. I took the zoom, the XCD 21 and the XCD 90 with me. Initially the 21 and 90 ended up staying in my bag. Later they ended up staying in the hotel. Of course, there is a degree of reluctance to change lenses on the X1D, partly due to the risk of getting dust on the sensor, and partly due to the relatively clumsy process of changing large heavy lenses.  But actually, even in some quite constrained spaces, the range of the 35-75 was not particularly limiting.

Here are a few examples taken with the Hasselblad XCD 35-75 zoom lens in Venice, all handheld except the night shot:

1/160 at f/8, 35mm

1/640 at f/8, 65mm

1/180 at f/11, 35mm

1/160 at f/12, 35mm

1/160 at f/11, 35mm

1/250 at f/8, 70mm

1/180 at f/7.1, 55mm

1/400 at f/8, 75mm

32s at f/8, 35mm

Beyond Venice, here are a few other sample photos. The lens was also a good companion for wandering around Tuscany earlier this year, and on short photo-outings close to home.

San Quirico d’Orcia, handheld, 1/125 at f/16, 40mm

That cypress grove…, handheld, 1/320 at f/16, 75mm

Below Pienza, handheld, 1/500 at f/22, 75mm

Val Redorta, tripod, 3.2s at f/16, 45mm

It is interesting to note from the above samples that I have a tendency to go full wide (35mm) or full zoom (75mm), which does rather indicate that the range is a bit limiting. Nevertheless in the field it really hasn’t felt particularly so. I would not have any reason to not recommend this lens, apart of course from the price, which at full retail is really crippling, at least for a non-ultra-wealthy amateur. There is also the issue of the weight and size, which, again, let’s not overstate, but for which Hasselblad’s announcement on 7th September 2022 of three new faster and (much) lighter primes raises some questions.  It seems they’ve worked out how to very significantly slim down XCD lenses while increasing features and maintaining the same superb optical quality. Perhaps they can do the same for zooms.

But anyway, setting aside these minor reservations, I find the Hasselblad XCD 3,5-4,5/35-75 Zoom Lens a real pleasure to use. I live in hope that one day I’ll produce a photo that goes someway to fulfilling its potential. So, I very much recommend it. Sadly, I don’t have an affiliate link that I can push you to buy it from to make me some quick cash…

 

Posted in Product reviews on Tuesday, August 16, 2022 at 01:04 PM • PermalinkComments (0)

Life at 60

(60mm, that is!)

in Photography , Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Well, I may be a way off 60 yet (mind you…), but the effects are clearly setting in early: when I wrote my review of the Sigma 60mm lens a few days ago, I completely forgot that I’d taken another set of shots specifically to illustrate it.  Oh well, it gives me an excuse for another gratuitous post.

So here are some more photos taken using the rather excellent Sigma 60mm DN f/2.8 “Art” lens.

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The following two photos are processed using a blend of colour and black & white layers, following Gianni Galassi’s mentioning of this technique on his blog.  I’m sure he does it better than me, but anyway I quite like the effect.

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Posted in Photography on Wednesday, May 21, 2014 at 06:19 PM • PermalinkComments (0)

Sigma 60mm DN f2.8

a subjective (re)view

in GAS , Monday, May 19, 2014
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I rarely talk about gear these days, but for once I’ve got something to write about. A couple of days ago, on an impulse triggered by a post on Kirk Tuck’s blog, I indulged myself in a bit of retail therapy in the shape of a Sigma 60mm DN f2.8 lens for micro FourThirds. This was greatly helped by the unbelievably low price, in Switzerland at least, of CHF 170. Bearing in mind that this is about a third of the price of the Olympus equivalent (which to be fair is a macro) and something like one fifth of the cost of an Olympus 75mm f/1.8, and taking into account the fabulous optics on my Sigma Merrill, it was hard to resist.

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Olympus E-P3, ISO 200, f/2.8, 1/640

Apart from the 40-150 zoom, the longest lens I had for mFT was the Olympus 45 1.8, and I could certainly find some uses for a relatively fast, sharp 60mm. It could come in quite handy for stalking street photography,as well as landscape. So along with Kirk Tuck’s glowing praise, I had enough to convinced myself.

Like all of Sigma’s “Art” range for mFT, the 60mm comes in black and silver versions. I would have preferred the black, but it was back-ordered everywhere, and impulse buys demand instant gratification. So I went for the silver.

The package, especially for the price, should make Olympus hang their heads in shame. The lens comes in a robust box, complete with padded carry case, lens hood (hear that, Olympus?), and a cute Sigma Switzerland credit-card format warranty card giving not only 2 years guarantee but also a free yearly service and alignment check. For CHF 170. Ok, aesthetically the lens itself is going to be an acquired taste. It’s probably a little less challenging in black, but in silver the first visual impression is of a large tin can. Since it is also available for APS-sensored Sony NEX, it’s larger than it needs to be for mFT. The design is certainly, um, functional, but nevertheless solid, and with some really nice touches, for example the characters around the front of the barrel and left uncoloured, just etched into the black plastic, so as to avoid any chance of spurious reflection off a filter. The lens barrel itself, though, while very large for mFT, has a slippery finish and makes manual focussing harder than it needs to be.

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Olympus E-P3, ISO 200, f/2.8, 1/1000

When you pick up the lens you are rewarded with a muffled clunking sound. Being pre-warned about this, I wasn’t worried: the autofocus system apparently uses an electromagnet, and when there is no power to the lens, the assembly just moves around. A bit weird, but by design. And it doubles as audible check that the camera is switched on - give it a shake and if the lens goes “clunk!” the power is off! Once powered up, the autofocus seems good enough. I don’t measure this stuff, but subjectively it seems a touch slower than average. Oh, and the lens barrel scratches very, very easily. If keeping your gear pristine and ding-free is important to you, DO NOT buy this lens.

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Olympus E-P3, ISO 200, f/3.5, 1/500

I’ve been going through a bad period of photographer’s block recently (or possibly much, much longer but I’ve only just noticed), so the photography here is illustrative at best. But hopefully it gives some idea of how this lens works.

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It’s a portrait lens. So here’s my long-suffering portrait subject. Olympus E-P3, ISO 200, f/2.8, 1/1600

It does that bookey stuff too!!

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Olympus E-P3, ISO 200, f/2.8, 1/800

From what I can see, it performs very well. There’s no sign of vignetting, even wide open, and the edges seem as sharp as the centre, also from f/2.8 onwards. It’s a fun lens to use.

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Olympus E-P3, ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/800

And finally, a bit of pixel-peeping. Two 1:1 segments of the above photo:

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The centre

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The bottom right corner

And that’s quite enough gear reviewing for now. Far too much like hard work. In conclusion, I can hardly not recommend this lens. Even forgetting the quite unbelievable value for money, it delivers great results and is fun to use. It is a little on the large side on my Olympus E-P3, but less so than, for example, the Panasonic / Leica 25mm. A less slippery focussing ring would be nice, and as I said, if you’re allergic to scratches, steer clear.  But if you like great quality optics for not very much money at all, you can’t go wrong with this lens, or indeed pretty much anything from Sigma these days.

All photos taken at the UNESCO-listed Monte Sacro di Varese, Lombardia, Italy. A stunning and remarkably little known location, well worth a visit.

Posted in GAS on Monday, May 19, 2014 at 09:27 PM • PermalinkComments (2)

35mm

Back to basics

in Photography , Sunday, April 27, 2014

My rate of photographic gear acquisition has slowed down quite drastically over the past couple of years. This is partly due to gear fatigue, partly due to finding other ways to spend money, but mainly because photographic technology has arrived a such a level of adequacy that frankly, new cameras make very little difference, however much they get trumpeted as the New Messiah. Certainly there are some exceptions, where the technology is different enough that it might have photographic potential. A good example being Sigma’s recent cameras. But otherwise we’re really in a period of small incremental changes, and to my mind at least the biggest potential is making cameras more intuitive and enjoyable to use.  So really my gear lust has turned more and more towards lenses, and over the last 18 months I’ve acquired two new ones, the Panasonic Lumix 14mm (28mm equivalent) and the Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f1.8 (35mm equivalent). The 17mm is a fairly recent newcomer, and one I hesitated over for many months. According to the rent-an-experts on the various inter web fora, it’s a truly dreadful lens, the production of which is little short of original sin. According to expert brick wall photographers it’s terribly soft at the corners and has so many things wrong with it that a combination of couldn’t rescue it. Then again, looking at the actual photos of real things posted by Olympus blogger Robin Wong it’s rather nice.

A lot of my very early photography was done at 35mm, mainly because that’s what cameras came with in those days, if not 50mm.  So film compacts like the Minox ML and Olympus XA, both of which I resurrected last year, unconsciously trained me to use 35mm. And of course, many consider 35mm to be the classic “street” focal length. And yet in the digital era, I’ve never had a 35mm prime lens. Somewhat discouraged by various people claiming it is a difficult focal length to use, especially if you like 28mm - which I do, sometimes - I decided the best thing was to try fixing the Olympus 14-42 “kit” zoom at 17mm and seeing how that worked for me. Well, it turned out very well, so I decided I’d like to have a “real” 17mm lens.  Olympus actually make two, an f/2.8 “pancake”, which gets even worse reviews (yeah, whatever), and the newer f/1.8 with the “clutch” manual focus system.  After a lot of months of hesitation, I sold the Lumix 20mm (very highly rated but never really worked for me), and I eventually decided to go for the f/1.8, in black. And it’s been pretty much glued to my Olympus E-P3 ever since.  It’s a really nice lens to use. The clutch system is much more effective on this lens than on the 12mm, which doesn’t really need it.  The wide aperture is great for low light, and also gives a quite adequate level of depth of field control, unless you’re an absolute fanatic about having about 1mm of the field in focus. Is it “soft at the corners” ? Does it show chromatic aberration in high contrast ? I have no idea - certainly if it does it doesn’t detract from any prints I’ve made. I guess if I zoom in on-screen at 200% I might find some lack of perfection, but it won’t keep me awake at night.  It’s just a very enjoyable and rewarding lens to use, and for me that’s quite enough to justify buying it.

Here are a few samples:

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Bellinzona, Switzerland

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Bellinzona, Switzerland

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Venice, Italy

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Lugano, Switzerland

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Lugano, Switzerland

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Lugano, Switzerland

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Schloss Favorit Woods, Bad Wurtemburg, Germany

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Schloss Favorit Woods, Bad Wurtemburg, Germany

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Bellinzona, Switzerland

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Giubiasco, Switzerland

Final word: the thing is, you just have to decide how the photographs you want to make are going to be best achieved, and in particular by what angle of view. Then choose the lens to match your needs. Never mind if it’s “soft at the edge”, or has 0.5% barrel distortion, or whatever. To 99% of your audience it won’t even register, and the other 1% only like cat and brick wall photos anyway. But if it works well for you and the way you seen the world through a camera, it will make your photography better.

Posted in Photography on Sunday, April 27, 2014 at 02:31 PM • PermalinkComments (0)

m.zuiko 45mm f1.8

a bundle of fun

in Olympus E-System , Friday, October 28, 2011

One of my favourite-ever lenses was the Canon FD 135mm f2.0.  This fast telephoto would let me pluck a detail out a scene, beautifully sharp, with the fore- and background smoothly blending into a creamy smooth bokeh. And it had great contrast. And I gave it away, with most of my Canon FD gear, to the daughter of a friend who wanted to study photography but had no way of affording the gear. 

I never really found anything to compare to that lens, but now maybe I have: the Olympus m.Zuiko 45mm f1.8, which has the added advantage of being almost absurdly low-priced.  Mine arrived today. And here’s a sample of what I’ve found it can do.

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Stray leaf. Olympus E-P2 with m.Zuiko 45mm f1.8, wide open

So far I’ve found that the E-P2 tends to underexpose by 1/3 to 2/3rds of a stop with this lens compared to the 14-45mm. But that’s not much of a problem.

This is a fun lens to use, much more so in my opinion that the highly-rated Lumix 20mm. It is light, but well built, with a large, well damped focus ring. It looks gorgeous. And the results are pretty much guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. This is a must-have lens for and Micro Four Thirds camera owner. And an absolute bargain.  I’ll post some more examples soon.

Posted in Olympus E-System | Product reviews on Friday, October 28, 2011 at 08:23 PM • PermalinkComments (1)