Should You Buy The Hasselblad X1D?
A Working Professional’s Review
Before I dive in with my review, a tiny bit about me and my intentions for this camera. I work in several genres of photography; travel, editorial, commercial, and weddings. I bought the X1D for an ongoing personal project dedicated to capturing the beauty of Vietnam and my goals for the final images is to have them printed quite large. I was also hoping to justify the hefty price tag by using the system on commercial shoots, I’ll answer that question further down in this blog.
I stalked the Hasselblad X1D online for months earlier this year trying to gather as much information as possible on this gorgeous and groundbreaking camera system. First, I must admit I was drawn to the sleek design, it’s a piece of art work and it helped that it’s portable. I’ve often day dreamed about medium format but the price and size always woke me up. I rarely work in the studio and I like to travel light so the bulky medium formats that were on the market didn’t seem feasible to me.
The camera was released mid-2016 but it was extremely hard to find one in stock anywhere and even more difficult to find a professional's review on the camera. I found some of the popular gear review blogs and individuals with high traffic sites reviewing it but nothing of substance for me. I wanted to hear from a working professional who had used it on real shoots and in a variety of situations, not just a day shooting with it.
Even without a solid review out there I decided to take the expensive risk and pull the trigger on this new camera system. Once I made the decision, the hard part was finding one in stock. The camera was released mid 2016 but even in early 2017 it was extremely difficult to find it stock anywhere. I checked BH, Amazon, and local shops all around SE Asia, nothing. I buy a lot of gear from Cathay Photo in Singapore so I put feelers out there. I heard nothing for a while and then finally via Facebook I received a message from the nice people at Cathay that they had one in stock. I live in Vietnam so I took a little weekend vacation to get my hands on this beauty and after a couple months of using it for my personal project and a commercial shoot in Bali I decided to write a review.
I’m not a technical person and this isn’t a comparison article, I’m going to focus on the performance and quality on real shoots. I’ll list the specs for your tech heads, but you can also head over to Hasselblad’s website to get all the info you need.
She’s a sexy looking camera and yes, feels amazing in your hands. Sorry, that sounded a bit sexual, it wasn’t meant to be or was it. It’s a relatively small camera and the lenses aren’t bulky either, it packs and travels very nicely.
It's not great, if you shoot full days as a professional you will need about 4-5 total.
If you’re use to using professional or even prosumer DLSR’s the first thing you will notice on startup is how generally slow the camera is. It’s slow across the board, start up, fps, rendering images, navigation etc. I’m fine with that as I knew before I bought this camera it wasn’t meant to be a speed demon. This camera wakes up, yawns, grabs a coffee but once the coffee kicks in it kicks ass.
The interesting thing about this camera system is I wanted it to be slow. I’ve been shooting way too fast for years and I need to slow down and think more. You might think, well you’re a pro, if you want to slow down, just slow the F down. Habit is a funny thing; this camera has forced me to break that habit. I’ve been slowing down and I honestly feel that has made me frame more creatively, think more, and overall make me a better photographer.
I shoot in a lot of high contrast situations and the focusing system I find to be a bit slow, you really must pay close attention and zoom to check to make sure you got your image sharp.
The files are simply delicious. The medium format sensor is huge, just look at it, and it delivers. The dynamic range is plentiful and zooming in you can see every amazing detail or not so amazing details depending on how good of a photographer you are J. I have printed my images yet but I have high hopes.
Check out the amazing detail still in the texture of the conical hate even with this extremely tight crop(same file).
Hasselblad loyalist talk about the color being true, true is the perfect word to describe it. The color has its own look and skin tones are spot on accurate making it great for portrait and landscape work.
I haven’t used it in cold weather but I live in Vietnam so it’s been through extreme heat and humidity. The camera got a little hot and I thought something was wrong with it but then I realized it’s made aluminum so it wasn’t overheating it was just normal.
At this point I’ve got the 30mm, 45mm, and the 90mm. I haven’t use them extensively but they are all lightweight, feel nice in your hands, and perform well. The 30mm is bit pricey but I need a wide-angle lens and overall I wish they had a 1.4 option for those extremely shallow depth of field shots.
It’s expensive sure, but compared to the Phase One and Hasselblad digital backs that come in around 30K and more it’s great value. A few other companies like Fuji and Pentax have made cameras with comparable specs but they bulkier and nowhere as sexy as the X1D. Value is always a tough question to answer because there are a lot of variables like how much paid work you are getting or how much you earn, but for me it was great value.
I’ve been editing my images on Lightroom, but I’m told Hasselblad’s Phocus software is the way to get to truly get everything you can out of the files for the X1D so my next mission is to invest some time in learning it.
I'm not a big fan of EVF in general and this one is no different. I wish the EVF was higher resolution, this is probably my biggest complaint about this camera but again I haven't met an EVF that I like.
The navigation system is extremely user friendly and minimalistic, just the way I like it.
Camera Specs From Hasselblad
- 50MP 43.8 x 32.9mm CMOS Sensor
- Price $8995 USD Body Only
- 16-Bit Color, 14-Stop Dynamic Range
- Hasselblad Natural Color Solution
- Full HD 1080p H.264 Video at 25 fps
- ISO 100-25600, Shooting Up to 2.3 fps
- Central Shutter: 60 min to 1/2000 sec
- 2.36MP XGA Electronic Viewfinder
- 3.0" 920k-Dot Touchscreen LCD Monitor
- Dual SD Card Slots; XPan & Square Modes
- Built-In Wi-Fi, USB 3.0 Type C
It might sound crazy loving an expensive and slow camera but I knew what I was getting into when I made the investment. This camera is for the photographer that can appreciate those extra fine details of a medium format sensor, fine craftsmanship/design, and a powerful camera that travels well. I started using it just for my personal project and I fell in love with it. I hoped I could use it on commercial shoots as well and last month I tried it out and I'm thrilled. The camera made me slow down and shoot more thoughtfully and the results were more than I could expect. I can see this camera creeping into my commercial work in the near future.
Don't Just Take My Word For It
Here are some links to other reviews of the Hasselblad X1D.
Author Justin Mott
Since arriving in Vietnam over a decade ago, Justin Mott has established himself as one of the best-known and well respected photographers in Southeast Asia. He has shot over 100 assignments for the New York Times while a collection of his work in Vietnam has been featured on the BBC. Additional major editorial clients include TIME, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and The Guardian among many others. His boutique visual production studio Mott Visuals specializes in premium commercial photography and video production. Mott is also familiar to TV viewers as host and resident judge of History Channel’s hit photography reality series Photo Face-Off now entering their 4th Season.