Beauty and Beast
underneath its external gorgeousness, the X1D is still pretty much a hard-core professional digital camera dedicated to raw capture… so it’s likely to be an acquired taste for many amateur shooters.
If you’re a regular reader of this magazine, you’ll know that the arrival of not just one, but two mirrorless camera designs utilising a ‘medium format’ size sensor has been causing quite a stir. As has been the case in all the other sensor sizes, the mirrorless design has enabled smaller and lighter hardware – particularly lenses – and it’s perhaps even more significant here where an optical viewfinder and reflex mirror mechanism represent a fair amount of bulk and weight. There are also cost savings to be made once these components have been eliminated so digital medium format photography is destined to become more accessible via improved affordability.
But let’s not get too carried away here… both the Fujifilm GFX 50S and the Hasselblad X1D 50c represent considerable investments, especially when you start buying additional lenses and accessories. The Fujifilm camera is the cheaper of the two – and by quite a significant margin – but both are still pricier than the Canon EOS1D X Mark II, Nikon D5, Leica SL or Sony A9.
The X1D is also more expensive than Pentax’s 645Z which was previously the most affordable way into digital medium format photography – and still probably is if you shop around – but it is a reflex camera and doesn’t have quite as many bells and whistles as the GFX 50S which is around the same price for the camera body.
Clearly if you have a need for speed, then any of the just-mentioned full-35mm models is going to be a better bet, not to mention the much better choice of lenses in the case of the two D-SLRs.
While both Fujifilm and Hasselblad are working hard to build their mirrorless medium format lens offerings, there’s no competition as far as these pro-level full-35mm D-SLRs are concerned so perhaps it’s fanciful to think there’s even any competition here… there certainly isn’t one as far as speed is concerned. And it’ll be a long time… if ever possibly… before there’s a 300mm-equivalent telephoto or a juicy 100-400mm range zoom.
So, if you’re a keen amateur, has anything really changed as far as digital medium format photography is concerned? You’ll still need deepish pockets and probably a rethink of your workflow because of file sizes, but there is the potential for the new breed of mirrorless medium format cameras to be more user-friendly on location, if only because they’re physically more manageable. Fujifilm has enhanced this potential by making the GFX 50S in the likeness of an X Mount camera on steroids, complete with all the frills such as the ‘Film Simulation’ presets, auto bracketing for various functions, tilt-adjustable monitor screen and, perhaps most importantly for some users, full-resolution JPEG capture.
In comparison, the X1D has its roots in Hasselblad’s long heritage of building cameras more concentrated on professional work practices and which has been particularly true of the H1D to H6D model series. Yet Victor Hasselblad designed his original 6x6cm SLR for the great outdoors and some models since have been specifically designed for these applications… most notably the SWC and XPan models.
Looking the way it does, you’d sign up the X1D as a high-end landscape camera straight away – and it can undoubtedly perform as such – but at heart, it’s more traditionally digital medium format in function than its oh-so-cool form implies. That said, the Hasselblad X1D, despite quite a few quirks, is a camera to fall in love with.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
So let’s deal with these quirks first. Well, they’re not so much quirks as… well, differences… but they still matter if the stated aim is to attract a new type of clientele… specifically anybody who isn’t a professional photographer.
The absence of full-res JPEG capture tops the list, but where the GFX 50S’s feature list is a forest of ticks, the X1D’s is almost puritanical. You get the impression there were conflicting philosophies at play during the product planning stage. For example, white balance controls are provided, but the user manual cheerfully states, “White Balance settings are technically not necessary for 3F/3FR files”. This is true, of course, but they are needed if you’re dealing with the 12.4 MP JPEGs in-camera and you want to shoot them off immediately via WiFi. So the X1D does indeed have auto WB correction, a selection of presets and manual colour temperature control, but curiously no provisions for creating custom settings.
Then there’s a full complement of exposure control modes, but no multi-zone metering and no auto bracketing. The latter might come in handy given the metering options are centre-weighted average, centre spot (which is more like a selective area measurement as it covers 25 percent of the frame) and spot. However, in manual mode there’s the option of a handy live exposure preview to guide settings. For the auto modes, exposure compensation runs up to +/-5.0 EV and there’s an AE lock. There’s also something called the ‘Manual Quick’ (Mq) mode which overcomes shutter lag by pre-closing the shutter – hence disabling live view – which then makes things faster and quieter. The drawback is that Mq has to be first set up in another mode.
Shutter lag is an issue with the leaf-type shutters used in the XCD lenses - especially with the larger sensor - but the advantages are flash sync at any speed and, in the case of the X1D, a slimmer camera body. They’re also hugely reliable, hence a one million cycles lifespan rating. Hasselblad’s heritage is in leaf-shutter lenses ever since the 500C, and the XCD lenses have mechanisms that run up to 1/2000 second, but it’s exactly because they are mechanical that there’s an initial inertia to overcome.
The X1D has arrived with three prime lenses which – unlike the ‘Handmade In Sweden’ camera body – are manufactured in Japan… but for obvious reasons, not by Fujifilm. The choice is a 45mm f3.4 which is equivalent to a 35mm wide-angle in the 35mm format, a 90mm f3.2 (equivalent to 70mm) and a wonderful 30mm f3.5 (equivalent to 24mm). Arriving any time now is a 120mm f3.5 (90mm) and in the pipeline are a 22mm (18mm) ultra-wide and a 35-70mm (28-60mm) zoom.
THE X1D HAS ITS ROOTS IN HASSELBLAD’S LONG HERITAGE OF BUILDING CAMERAS MORE CONCENTRATED ON PROFESSIONAL WORK PRACTICES.
All are autofocus, of course, and here the X1D is considerably ahead of its more traditional reflex cousins in the Hasselblad stable. The system employs contrast-detection measurements using 35 points in a 7x5 pattern (providing around 80 percent frame coverage) with the option of manual selection. It’s first necessary to hold down the camera’s AF/MF button for one second to bring up the points display, but then you can use the touchscreen to make selections which helps speed things up. At 4x4 millimetres the AF points are quite big, but we didn’t experience any issues with selectivity and there were situations where this size was an advantage. There’s a 100 percent zoom function for checking focus at the selected point and a full-time manual override for fine-tuning. Manual focusing is assisted by the magnified image and, if desired, a focus peaking display which is available in a choice of colours.
The X1D’s touchscreen and graphic user interface is where the progressives on the design team obviously got their own way. It’s similar in implementation to that of Leica’s T with the idea that it replaces a bunch of external controls in the quest for quicker and more efficient operation. Hasselblad hasn’t gone quite as far as Leica – some conventional controllability is still retained – but a whole lot further than Fujifilm with the GFX 50S.
Consequently, for general shooting the X1D can be operated entirely from the touchscreen which has swipe and pinch/spread actions as well as tapping and double tapping (this, for example, to engage and disengage the 100 percent zoom function). Up or down swipes switch between the main menu and the control screen which shows all the key capture settings. There are five keys arrayed down the right-hand side of the monitor screen which are also used for switching displays plus replay, entering settings and the quick return to the main menu. This is icon-based, as are the sub-menus, so everything is just a quick tap away. The main menu is divided into three sections – Camera Settings, Video Settings and General Settings – and it can be customised to change the displayed functions, although given the brevity of what’s available, you’ll probably only need to make minor tweaks. That said, it all works brilliantly, becoming progressively faster and more intuitive with familiarisation. It’s essentially pretty simple, but ohso-elegant.
The monitor screen itself is not only fixed, but flush-fitting so here’s another example of aesthetics taking precedence over any practicalities. Do we care when the X1D looks so gorgeous? Not really, although there could be issues when shooting in certain outdoor conditions… and the X1D has obvious attractions for landscape photographers.
The specs say the panel is 7.62 cm in size with a resolution
of 921,600 dots which looks a bit pedestrian, but in reality it seems both bigger and a lot sharper. Go figure. The ‘Control Screen’ – a.k.a. the main info display – is a neat bit of work too… for example, depending on the exposure mode, the auto setting is shown in grey digits while the changeable setting is in white. You don’t even need to check the P,A, S or M indicators to instantly know what mode you’re in. Apertures, shutter speeds and ISO settings are accessed via scrollable vertical scales navigated by up/down swipes. Very nifty touchscreen sliders dial in the exposure and flash compensation using left/right swipes to move the cursor. And everything is properly sized for touchscreen control too, so there’s no risk of mis-setting because you’ve either missed the icon or accidentally hit something else.
The live view displays – in the EVF and monitor – include the options of including basic capture data, a 3x3 grid guide and dualaxis level indicators, but curiously, not a real-time histogram. However, when it comes to histogram displays in replay, your cup runneth over with the choice of a luminance (brightness) graph, separate RGB channels or combined RGB channels shown as overlays on the image. Again in replay, the touchscreen implementation is excellent so simple tapping takes you through the histogram overlays, browsing is via swiping, and zooming via spreading two fingers from the pinch position. To speed things up you can also browse ninethumbnail pages by swiping a scrolling bar.
As noted earlier, the X1D retains some conventional controls in that it has a main mode dial with front and rear input wheels, but there’s only a small smattering of other buttons for the key capture functions (i.e. focus mode, white balance, sensitivity and depth-of-field preview). The input wheels can be used for navigation, but it really is more efficient to use the touchscreen. The main mode dial’s locking arrangement – so it’s pressed and recessed into the top panel – isn’t a new idea, but it hasn’t been done very often before despite being a much smarter method than a plain old locking button.
Externally, the X1D is all about style with the hewn-from--solid aluminium bodyshell – something else it has in common with the Leica T – simply a joy to behold… and to handle. The latter is helped by that wraparound handgrip without which the camera would actually be less than a couple of centimetres in thickness. Not surprisingly, it feels incredibly strong and is weatherproofed, but our test sample – which, admittedly, has probably had a hard life – was showing a lot of cosmetic wear and tear where painted finishes had been used. The EVF has an extra-wide eyecup which is very comfortable and effective at excluding any stray light. The EVF panel is an LCD display about which little is known beyond its resolution of 2.36 megadots. It’s good, but not as good, it has to be said, as the GFX 50S’s 3.69 megadots OLED panel. A proximity sensor in the eyepiece allows for automatic switching between the viewfinder and the monitor screen. The flash hotshoe is, interestingly, pinned for Nikon’s higher-end Speedlights (such as the SB-910) and its TTL auto flash exposure control. Presumably this means the X1D should be compatible with Profoto’s Air Remote TTL-N controller and, subsequently, its various TTL-enabled flash products such as the B1/B1X, B2 and D2. Another quirk… there’s no PC flash terminal.
The memory card compartment and connection bay are very neatly integrated into one side of the body with flash-fitted covers which slide out to unlock and then swing open. The former has dual slots for the SD format while the latter contains a USB 3.0 ‘Superspeed’ connection, a mini (Type C) HDMI terminal and both a stereo audio input and an output (both for 3.5 mm minijacks). The battery is housed in the X1D’s base and employs the same arrangement as on the Leica SL whereby its base is also forms the compartment’s cover. There’s a release lever, but the battery is completely removed by pressing down on the base/cover. Again, it’s all about maintaining those clean, crisp lines and those uncluttered surfaces.
Speed and performance
The X1D is no speed machine, but then no digital medium format camera is, mirrorless or reflex.
It takes an eternity to start up, after which though, the AF is quite responsive and the shutter lag doesn’t seem excessive so it’s possible to shoot at up to 2.3 fps with RAW+JPEG capture. This is a bit slower than the GFX 50S, but still not bad unless, of course, you want to shoot something fast-moving.
The AF also quite reliable, only occasionally faltering in low light situations. The metering tends to underexpose which is probably to help get the most from the highlights, but you can’t help wondering if a multi-zone system wouldn’t be ultimately more reliable overall.
As we noted with the
Fujifilm GFX 50S, it’s hard to see the serious video-maker going down the mirrorless digital medium format camera route when there’s so much more capable machinery available for a lot less money (EOS 5D Mark IV, Lumix GH5, OM-D E-M1 Mark II and Sony A7S II to name just a few).
As with the Fujifilm camera, there’s no 4K option, but the X1D does a pretty decent job with either 1080p or 720p footage – albeit with the choice of 30 or 25 fps speeds only – and has reasonably good builtin stereo microphones. Functionality is very limited (not even AF is available), but there is a start/stop icon in the touchscreen which is a nice… ahem… touch. Video streaming is available from the HDMI connector. The built-in microphones are supplemented with a stereo audio input and an output (both for 3.5 mm minijacks). Er… and that’s it folks.
THE FLASH HOTSHOE IS, INTERESTINGLY, PINNED FOR NIKON’S HIGHER-END SPEEDLIGHTS (SUCH AS THE SB-910) AND ITS TTL AUTO FLASH EXPOSURE CONTROL ... BUT THERE’S NO PC FLASH TERMINAL.
The rear panel layout is also minimalist. Flush-fitting monitor is all about aesthetics. Viewfinder eyepiece incorporates a proximity sensor to facilitate auto switching between the EVF and the monitor screen. External controls are kept to a minimum, but there’s still a conventional mode dial with front and rear input wheels.
The body comprises solid aluminium components and is weather sealed so it’s rugged as well as beautiful. Main mode dial can be pressed down so it’s recessed into the top panel and hence locked.
Tack your pick of histogram overlays – brightness, combined RGB or separate RGB channels.
Live screen can be configured with a 3x3 guide grid or dual-axis level indicator.
Control Screen layout is crisp and clean.
Main review screen includes an overlay of capture data, including the lens focal length.
Just in case you didn’t appreciate what you were looking at… but all that hand-crafting comes at a price.