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Hasselblad X1D Camera Review: Medium-format Goes Mirrorless

by Paul Strauss
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If there’s one thing I’ve always aspired to as an amateur photographer, it’s the opportunity to go hands-on with a Hasselblad. The brand is renowned for its image quality, attention to detail, and industry-leading medium format professional cameras. In recent years, Hasselblad has evolved from a high-end analog camera maker to a high-end digital camera maker. And with last year’s release of their X1D, the company created their first mirrorless digital camera.

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The X1D is designed to offer medium format image quality in a compact form factor. Weighing in at 1.59 lbs before you add a lens, it’s not exactly light, but it’s decidedly lighter than most pro DSLRs. Keep in mind that the X1D isn’t as versatile as DSLRs, and is primarily designed for still images, like portraits, product photography, landscapes, and other situations where motion isn’t at play. Instead of being a jack of all trades, the X1D is a master of few. And with a street price of about $8,000 for just the camera body, you’re gonna need some deep pockets if you want one.

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The first thing I noticed about the X1D was just how substantial it is. Build quality is excellent, and everything about the camera and its interchangeable lenses feels premium. It packs an enormous 43.8 × 32.9mm (1441.02 mm²) sensor which captures images at up to 8272 x 6200 resolution, or 50 megapixels. To put that in perspective, the X1D has about 68% more surface area than the sensor in a high end full-frame DSLR like the Nixon D850, which measures 35.9 x 23.9 mm (858.10 mm².)

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That huge sensor means it captures incredible detail and gulps in light. Combined with some great Hasselblad prime lenses, it handles challenging lighting situations with aplomb. The camera supports ISO speeds up to 25600, but unlike some less expensive cameras with high ISO abilities, I could see no gain-induced noise in the X1D’s low light images.

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In addition, the sensor is excellent at capturing scenes with varied lighting. Take, for instance, this shot of my Terminator 2 pinball machine, captured in a darkened room with its individual LEDs illuminated all over the playfield, areas of light and darkness, and potential sources of lens flare throughout. Every detail was captured impeccably.

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The X1D’s ability to render light, shadow, and infinitesimal details in images in truly staggering – especially when compared to the digital images we’re so used to seeing these days from smartphones and other gadgets with relatively small sensors. Just check out the example image below and the zoomed-in crop on the right side of the image. Thanks to its 50 megapixel resolution, you can get useable zoom shots without a zoom lens if needed.

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The X1D is compatible with Hasselblad’s XCD series of lenses, which include four primes – a 30mm (24mm equiv) f3.5 wide angle, a 45mm (35mm equiv) f3.5, a 90mm (71mm equiv) f3.2, and a 120mm f3.5 macro lens. I tested both the 90mm and the 45mm with the X1D, and subjectively found both to offer crisp, distortion-free images. The 90mm is best for portraits. However, I found myself using the 45mm most of the time since it sits in a nice sweet spot that can effectively capture objects and landscapes, which are the kinds of photos I typically shoot for my work.

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Working with the X1D is a surprisingly simple and not nearly as intimidating as I expected my first Hasselblad experience to be. It offers an intuitive mode dial, and an easy to read and sharp 3.0″ TFT display on back, along with an incredibly sharp 2.36 megapixel electronic viewfinder.

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While I played quite a bit with the camera’s exposure and shutter controls, I found that its 35-point autofocus was so good that I found little need to dial in objects manually. That said, the manual focus override is incredibly easy to engage. Simply twist the lens, and the X1D gives you full control over focus as long as you keep the shutter button depressed. Of course, you can always go into full manual focus mode with a push of the AF/MF button.

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One important note is that due to incredible resolution of each raw image being captured, the X1D isn’t good for rapid-fire shots. It can capture about 2 frames per second, which is still impressive when you realize that each image it captures is about 110 mb of data it needs to write to memory. Speaking of memory, the X1D has dual SD card slots, which is very handy given the size of its image files. And while the X1D can shoot video, it’s limited to 1080p resolution, so I don’t consider that a key feature.

Overall, I’m very impressed with the Hasselblad X1D. It captures true professional quality images with incredible resolution, some of the best tonal reproduction and color fidelity I’ve ever seen from a digital camera. It’s definitely not for casual shooters or for action photos, but for beautiful stills, landscapes, and portraits, it’s hard to beat.

The Hasselblad X1D body retails for $8995, but is currently available for $7995 at B&H Photo or on Amazon. The 45mm lens sells for $2695, so you’re looking at a street price of (gulp) just over $10,000 for the camera with one lens.

Sample Images

See below for a gallery of images I captured with the X1D. Keep in mind that these images were converted to JPG and down-rezzed to just 1240 pixels wide for online use. I’ve provided links below to a few of original uncompressed images you can check out if you’d like to check them out.

 

Original full-resolution image samples (in .3fr format – readable by Adobe Camera Raw or Hasselblad Phocus). Note, these files are HUGE – 110+ MB each:

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