VERY HAPPY MEDIUMS
THERE WAS A SAYING about London buses that you could wait hours for one to come along and then two would arrive at the same time. We’ve been waiting a while for somebody to think outside the square as far as digital medium format cameras are concerned, and then both the Fujifilm GFX 50S and Hasselblad X1D-50c land on my desk on exactly the same day! Talk about an embarrassment of riches. Mind you, I’m not complaining though because here was the perfect opportunity to compare two very different interpretations of the same brief. And boy, are these two cameras very different.
The only thing they have in common – apart from being cameras, of course – is the source of their 44x33 mm CMOS sensors and even these both have bespoke designs, backed by processors programmed in different halves of the globe. You’re going to want the Hasselblad straightaway. It’s simply gorgeous… all Scandi über-coolness and, just in case you didn’t get the message, engraved “Handmade In Sweden” on its elegant top panel. Pick it up and you simply won’t want to put it down… the front-to-back handgrip is supremely comfortable and the touchscreen GUI continues the casual-but-careful stylishness as do neat design touches such as the push-down-to-lock main mode dial. I was privileged enough to be given a sneak preview of the X1D – still in early prototype form – back in May last year and the only other camera that I instantly fell in love with the same way was the XPan… not surprisingly perhaps, given the two share some DNA.
The GFX 50S is altogether more business-like in both form and function. It’s also very traditional in its use of its basic configuration, external controls, a top-panel info display and conventional menus. There are touchscreen controls, but it’s more of flirtation than the Hasselblad’s full embrace. But there are clever touches here too – the detachable EVF and the three-way tilting LCD monitor screen to name just a couple. The EVF is tiltable too via a little optional accessory. Operationally, the Fujifilm camera has its roots in the X Mount models so there’s a logic that anybody, amateur or pro, will immediately grasp. Conversely, here the X1D has been more influenced by the world of digital medium format cameras where things are often done a little differently… for example, RAW capture only. The ’Blad also has a RAW+JPEG mode, but the appended JPEGs are one-quarter resolution only (i.e. around 12 megapixels). This is actually quite a key difference in terms of potential users… Fujifilm emphasises in-camera processing – including the brilliant ‘Film Simulation’ modes – while Hasselblad is still thinking post-camera which is a different way of working for many non-professionals. There are, of course, many advantages to shooting RAW, but not everybody wants – or, indeed, needs – to do it. I, for one, would like the option of full-res JPEG-only capture on the X1D, as Leica offers on the SL… undoubtedly a competitor if you’re thinking of spending this much money.
And talking of money… The GFX 50S costs quite a lot less than the X1D, but as we now know, all that hand-making in Sweden doesn’t come cheaply. Nevertheless, it’s still the most affordable contemporary ’Blad you can buy right now, but it’s still a big step up in expenditure from the key competition – which mainly comprises the Canon EOS-1D X II and Nikon D5, the Pentax 645Z and the Leica SL. The Fujifilm camera is right in the mix here and there’s the added attraction – as far as many amateur users are concerned – of a zoom lens available right now. It’s also certain that there will be more lenses and quicker, if only because Hasselblad just doesn’t have anything like the same resources at its disposal. What needs to be noted here is that the XCD lenses tried so far are truly glorious, especially the 30mm f3.5 ultra-wide which is my pick of the litter (the priciest too). This combo gives you the modern-day equivalent of the XPan and the SWC (swoon) rolled-into-one which starts to make the hefty price tag a little more justifiable.
If you are contemplating the what’ll-I-buy-X1Dor-GFX dilemma, then I wish you all the very best because it’s not going to be an easy decision. What’s welcome though is that a good few more of you will now be able to contemplate a digital medium format camera and that’s a very healthy situation indeed. Let’s hope Phase One joins the party soon… a digital Mamiya 6 anybody?
Me? Well, my head says Fujifilm GFX 50S – it’s undoubtedly the more pragmatic choice and is more capable overall – but the heart says Hasselblad X1D because, despite a few quirks, it’s a camera to fall in love with.
The camera bag from heaven. Hasselblad X1D (with a full set of the current XCD lenses) shares the editor’s bag with the Fujifilm GFX 50S. There’d have still been plenty of room for the other two Fujinon GF lenses too… testimony to why mirrorless digital medium format is going to be a big hit. No, it wasn’t a heavy load at all.
Paul Burrows, Editor