The Hasselblad X1D was the World’s first medium format mirrorless system camera. Inside it is a 43.8 × 32.9mm 50Mp sensor, but because it uses a mirrorless design, it’s a little smaller than most small-format full-frame DSLRs. It means it fits comfortably in your hand.
There’s an electronic viewfinder for composing images and a touch-sensitive screen on the back of the camera that can be used for making most settings adjustments.
While the autofocus system is hesitant and the metering system easily distracted, the quality of the images is superb. There’s bags of detail and dynamic range.
|Camera Name||Hasselblad X1D|
|Date announced||22nd June 2016|
|Price at launch||u00a35,990/$8,995|
|Sensor size||43.8 u00d7 32.9mm|
|Effective pixel count||50 million|
|Viewfinder||Electronic with 2.36 million dots|
|Sensitivity range||ISO 100-25,600|
|Reflex AF system||n/a|
|Live View AF system||Contrast detection|
|Monitor||Touch-sensitive 3-inch LCD with 920,000 dots|
|Max shooting rate||2.3fps|
|Max video resolution||Full HD (1920u00d71080)|
|Dimensions||50 x 98 x 71mm|
|Weight||725g (with battery)|
Hasselblad’s name is synonymous with quality. Back in the days when enthusiast photographers routinely owned medium format cameras, Hasselblad was the brand that many aspired to own. Using one was a mark of success for a professional wedding photographer.
These days, despite Pentax doing its best to brings prices down, few enthusiasts own a digital medium format camera. And while the Hasselblad X1D is still expensive in comparison with the average small format full-frame or APS-C format camera, it’s less than half the price of most other medium cameras from the likes of Hasselblad or Phase One.
However, it’s not just its price that makes the Hasselblad X1D interesting, it’s also the technology inside it. Because instead of opting for the usual DSLR design favoured elsewhere, Hasselblad has employed mirrorless technology.
Naturally omitting the mirror from a medium format camera makes a significant space saving provided that the lenses can generate the coverage that’s required by the large sensor. It also means that the viewfinder is an electronic device that shows the live view feed from the sensor. To top-off the new technology, Hasselblad has also given the X1D a touchscreen – although that’s not a first for the company as the Hasselblad H6D is also touch-enabled.
Because it uses a new design with a shorter flange depth than Hasselblad’s H-series cameras, the X1D introduced a new lens mount.
Inside the camera is the same 43.8 × 32.9mm 50Mp sensor as is in the Hasselblad H6D-50C. This is claimed to produce images with up to 14 stops of dynamic range.
Sensitivity may be set in the range ISO 100-25,600 and shutter speed from 60 seconds to 1/2000sec with flash synchronisation being possible at any setting.
Images may be saved in raw or jpeg format (or both simultaneously), but the jpegs are small so raw format is the way to go. Dual SD/SDHC/SDXC card slots are also on-hand for storage. These can accept cards of capacities up to 512GB.
While it’s possible to record Full HD (1920×1080) video, according to Hasselblad the chip is not capable of outputting 4K movies.
As we’d expect from a modern mirrorless system camera, Wi-Fi technology is built-in and there are two operating frequencies to ensure a stable connection. Hasselblad’s free app (Phocus Mobile) allows remote control of the camera complete with remote exposure adjustment.
Hasselblad has given the X1D a USB 3 Type C connector, which as well as being small has the advantage of being symmetrical, which makes it easy to connect in a hurry.
As of July 2018, there are 5 lenses that are directly compatible with the X1D. These include the 120mm f/3.5, 90mm f/3.2, 45mm f/3.5, 30mm f/3.5 and the new 21mm f/4. The latter is an ultra-wide lens with an effective focal length of 17mm.
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Build and Handling
The main reason for using a mirrorless design for the Hasselblad X1D is to make it smaller than the average medium format model. It’s interesting to compare it with other cameras. It’s actually a little smaller than a full-frame DSLR like the Canon 5D Mark IV and Nikon D810.
Hasselblad has opted for a flat, fairly straight-edged design for the X1D. As well a looking nice, it’s extremely comfortable to hold because there’s a decent grip. It’s reminiscent of the Mamiya 7, a compact medium format rangefinder that accepts 120 film.
The metal body feels wonderfully crafted.
Hasselblad has gone to town with the touch-control on the X1D. Although there are dials to adjust shutter speed and aperture, they can also be changed via the screen. To access the controls you simply swipe down on the screen then tap on the feature you want to adjust. Then you stroke up or down to reach the desired setting.
All the other key settings can also be adjusted in the same way. It makes using the camera very intuitive and it’s far less intimidating for anyone who is new to medium format shooting. It also means that it’s quick and easy to use for experienced photographers.
Helpfully, you can add shortcut icons to the X1D’s interface, to customise it to your prefernces.
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The screen also provides a clear view of the scene, even in bright conditions.
Exposure mode is set via a large dial on the top-plate. This has to be popped-up for use and then can be pushed down to avoid it being knocked off the chosen setting. It’s a great approach, but the dial is a bit fiddly to use and it could do with rising a little further up from the camera chassis.
Hasselblad hasn’t gone for the highest resolution electronic viewfinder available. I’m told the company was more concerned about a high refresh rate. However, the X1D’s EVF is still very good. There’s sufficient detail to see when a subject is sharp or not and the colours reflect what comes out of the camera.
One aspect of the viewfinder that is frustrating is that it often turns off when I’m wearing spectacles and shooting in portrait format. This is because the eye sensor is quite some way from the viewfinder screen.
The results from the X1D are superb. With the correct white balance set, skin tones look natural. There’s lots of detail visible and the dynamic range is wide, producing subtle tonal gradations. You can really play with the brightness of the raw files and significantly brighten the shadows.
Noise is controlled very well, but it still makes sense to avoid the uppermost sensitivity (ISO) settings. At ISO 25,600 the shadows have a magenta cast and granular noise is visible. While the low light images may look better than from smaller format cameras at the same setting, it’s not really why you buy a medium format camera.
As raw files are required to get the full benefit of all the pixels on the X1D’s sensor, the white balance isn’t a major concern. However, I found the automatic white balance setting generally performs well.
Medium format cameras aren’t usually associated with fast focusing and the Hasselblad X1D’s autofocusing system doesn’t go a far to change that. It’s fast in medium format terms, but it’s certainly not going to make the camera a natural choice for sports photographers. It’s a little slower and less decisive than the AF system in the Fujifilm GFX 50S.
Another aspect to beware of is the slow start-up time. This is in excess of 8 seconds and it can be very frustrating.
I found it best to set the exposure by eye as the general purpose metering system tends towards underexposure in many situations. This isn’t a huge problem with a mirrorless camera because the electronic viewfinder shows the image as it will be captured, but it’s not ideal.
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Hasselblad X1D Verdict
Thanks to a recent dramatic price drop, the X1D has a price tag that puts it on a par with professional-level DSLRs like the Canon EOS-1DX Mark II and Nikon D5. That makes it much more appealing, but it’s a very different type of camera.
It’s a delightful camera to hold. I love the way it feels in my hands. I also like the extensive use of the touch-screen with the simple-to-use interface. It’s great that a prestige brand like Hasselblad is moving with the times and embracing new technology. And it’s not just bolting that technology onto an old system, the user interface has been developed from the ground up.
The combination of Hasselblad’s craftsmanship and the large sensor mean that the image quality is also superb. And of course, that large chip allows you to severely limit the depth of field when you want.
However, I find the X1D’s slow start-up and sluggish autofocusing frustrating. I also experienced a couple of system errors where the camera asked me to perform a restart. That’s not good for a final production camera with the X1D’s price tag.
Nevertheless, cameras like the X1D and Fujifilm GFX 50S could be the beginning of a renaissance for medium format cameras. They still cost a premium, but perhaps we will start to see them back in enthusiast photographers’ hands.