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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)

For your reading pleasure

elitist, moi?

in Book Reviews , Friday, October 09, 2020

Some two years back, news emerged on the intrawebs of a new online magazine called MediumFormat.  This appeared to be a collective effort, with at its core, a terrible trio of Ming Thein, Lloyd Chambers and Patrick LaRoque. My immediate thought ws “there’s no way I’m going to pay money to read the shallow ramblings of these three tedious egomaniacs”, which may be seen as a little harsh, but is pretty much a reflection of my prickly personality. So I ignored it.

Fast forward to lockdown hell, when I was rapidly running out of displacement activities, I saw a reduced price offer on the magazine, giving access to the whole archive. Since it appeared that the influence of the above trinity had dwindled, and under editor Olaf Sztaba there seemed to be some depth of content, I took the plunge.


It was a good move. MediumFormat has rapidly progressed to become a genuinely interesting and very well curated magazine, with insightful interviews and articles featuring both well and lesser known photographers. It has also moved away from being technology oriented - recent issues have practically no gear content. The latest issue has raised the bar further with an interview with Michael Kenna, and clearly the plan is to carry on at that level.  Early issues confirm my personal opinion of Ming Thein as terminally dull and didactic. Patrick LaRoque continues to come across as somebody creating a stylish echo chamber to provide confirmation bias to insecure owners of Fuji cameras. At best, just an enthusiastic gear head.  However my opinion of Lloyd Chambers was pretty much reversed.  His website remains dreadful, but under a good editor he actually comes across as as a thoughtful, engaging chap and a pretty good photographer.  His technical articles in MediumFormat are genuinely useful, and quite approachable.

In fact MediumFormat puts me in mind of another undeservedly maligned magazine, to which I’ve subscribed for quite some time, LFI (Leica Fotografie International). I do not own any Leica cameras, and have no desire to change this. I have no axe to grind against Leica, but they do not produce any cameras which would comfortably address any needs I have. And in fact, LFI keeps the gear side of things well isolated at the back of the magazine. This part is indeed to be taken with a grain of salt, consisting mainly of hagiographic articles on Leica gear written in complete isolation from the rest of the market. Still, they’re entertaining at some level.

Umschlag EN

The rest of the magazine is something else entirely and comprehensively lays waste to the idea that Leicas are bought only as bling by elderly doctors, dentists or “The Chinese”. The photography portfolios are widely varied but almost always excellent, and come from a wide range of photographers, from legendary to (so far) unknown. The reasons for using Leica seem to be mainly down to usability.

While the linking attribute is the photographers use Leica cameras, this is not pushed at all in the text. Clearly pretty much all of the photography shown could have been taken with devices from other companies, here Leica is essentially used as a filter.  The playing field is also pretty level - certainly the cameras do not have to be current models, nor are more lowly models excluded. Forum trolls who constantly rag on Leica and Leica users could do worse than glance at a few copies of LFI.

I actually had the pleasure to meet some of the LFI editorial team a few years back, all shockingly young and enthusiastic. I mentioned to one that I could never afford a Leica, and the reply was “neither can I, but I love to see the work done by those that can”.

So, there you go. If either of these two magazines are mentioned online, most of the response will in the form of insults hurled at Leica, Hasselblad, etc and (especially) their owners. But if you are more interested in excellent, varied photography than silly partisan fanboy wars, you might like to give these a try.

Posted in Book Reviews on Friday, October 09, 2020 at 12:19 PM • PermalinkComments (0)

The last roll of the dice

finally, good photos!

in GAS , Thursday, August 13, 2020
So, as hinted in my last post, I've gone off at the deep end. I have renounced common sense, fiscal rectitude and a bunch of other things and bought into the new-ish Hasselblad X Medium Format digital system. I'd been eyeing this for a long time, and when a very good offer came up for a new X1DII boy and factory reconditioned ex-demo 45mm lens, I decided it was now or never. I rapidly flogged off a bunch of other stuff that was clogging up my shelves, and just about scrapped together the money, so from that point of view I could tell myself I was being reasonable. I also got an adapter to use my XPan Lenses (they provide full coverage, not just "XPan crop mode"), and finally I chanced upon another very special offer on a new 90mm XCD lens, so I got that too. That is probably as far as I can go, or indeed want to go, for now.

So, WHY (and of course, "why not Fuji")? Well, to answer the Fuji part, I have tried out their MF cameras, and impressive as their are, I just don't like them. They are too complicated, the lenses have a reputation for hit and miss quality control, and the retro nonsense gets in the way. And they're ugly. If I'm paying that much money, and anyway it's strictly for my own pleasure, then how it looks and feels is not a trivial factor. The Hasselblad X1D is above all a fantastically usable camera. It has a modern, totally intuitive user interface, as few buttons as it needs, a very, very nice viewfinder, and it fits my hand like a glove. Yes, I'd like to have tilt screen for tripod use, but I can manage without.

But WHY? Well, obviously: it will make all my photos better and make me a better photographer! (What? What do you mean it won't??). Basically for most of the time I've been making photographs, off and on I've been mildly frustrated by my inability to capture and reproduce subtle gradients in colour. Maybe tonality as well, but I'm fundamentally, in my own way, about colour. Actually I have found that in some circumstances I could get what I wanted through medium format film. I've also discovered that very frequently, work by published photographers that appeals to me was done on medium format film. Of course it isn't just film - medium format lenses play a significant part too. The problem with this though is that I have never found a medium format film camera I actually like, and in any case, for several reasons, medium format film photography is unwieldy and impractical. So, I hope to find at least some of the character I'm looking for in (small) medium format digital. The 50 Mpix resolution is nice to have but not a necessity. The extra dynamic range is very nice to have. The Hasselblad colour rendition on the other hand is a key factor.

So, essentially, because I wanted to.

So far all I've just been getting familiar with the camera, the required technique, the depth of field and other aspects that need to become second nature, but some initial results have been quite encouraging.

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Handheld shot in Bedigliora, just up the road. XCD 45mm f3.5, handheld

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Near Ponte di Aranno, Magliasina, also just up the road. XCD 45mm f3.5, tripod

This does not mean I'll be giving up my Olympus system. Far from it. The two are very complementary, and the fact that both have the same native 4:3 aspect ratio is a major plus. I'm very used to seeing in 4:3, and indeed this aspect ratio was a key reason I bought into the Olympus system in the first place, many hundreds of years ago.

I've had a few failed and fairly costly experiments on the gear side in recent years, in particular the Linhof 612 and the Sigma sd-H. Hopefully this time I've finally got a camera which will enable me to take the photos I see in my head. Certainly I have no more dice to throw on this front.

The next question is finding an opportunity to use it. Getting to Greenland (for example) has become a lot more complicated. Then again, there is plenty of potential in my own back yard.
Posted in GAS on Thursday, August 13, 2020 at 11:54 AM • PermalinkComments (0)