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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

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