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.

Camera - - ON TRIAL -

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.


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.


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.

Body Beau­ti­ful

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 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.

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