The Journey Into Art: A Brief Love Affair With Hasselblad...or A Newbie's Take On A Medium Format Camera

I have shot with a Canon system since the beginning of time.

Yet the allure of greater bit depth and greater colors to edit has always been a secret desire. I knew of medium format options offering consistent 14-bit color capture for a long time, yet they seemed out of reach financially.

I now know that the sensor for the Fuji GFX and the Hasselblad X1D is the same. And Both are coming down in price. Yet Fuji seems to have been very slow at producing high quality lenses comparable to the Hasselblad lenses. (One strike in favor of Hasselblad).

So what was I do to explore this fertile area of greater color capture and greater processing capabilities?

Well, of course, rent one and try it out!! (I didn't actually think of this myself. Another friend-photographer suggested it.)

So I did.

I rented the Hasselblad X1D from Lensrental.com with a 21mm and 45 mm lens for a recent photo op. However I would recommend a 45mm and 130mm lens for the rented two lenses. The 45mm scenes can easily be used to stitch multiple images to equal a 21mm capture, and the 130mm allows a longer focal length for distant images. (I used stitched images a lot, so those would be the two lenses I would purchase should I choose to.)

What did I find after 5 days of using the camera and lenses?

1. This camera is a boiled-down version of the camera I use regularly. I shoot aperture mode almost always and use manual focus almost always. I don't care about the other stuff in the menu.

2. After a day of piddling around with the camera, I could easily make the adjustments I needed, should it be bracketing for an unusually high contrast scene or timed exposure. I found the camera/sensor to be remarkably forgiving when shooting into an evening sun and producing images that did not clip the highs. I was stunned.

3. Its weight was very portable and equal or better than the offerings from other camera manufacturers.

4. I loved the touch screen.

However:

5. Dislike #1: Changing lenses was easy but having the bare sensor right there meant dust on the sensor and more time processing out those little dark spots. Shooting in the field with lens changes meant more spots on the sensor.

6. Dislike #2: I was shooting in the southwest US and in temperatures of 85+F, and the camera started to overheat. I had to wait a bit, remove the battery, and then in several minutes I could go on about my business. This turned out to be a nuisance and not a reason to not use the camera. Yet it would be great to shoot in higher temperatures without taking a break for the camera to cool down.

I shot both with the Hasselblad and the Canon 5DSr on this photo op.

In post-processing I noted:

The Hasselblad images were clearer and sharper than the Canon. Perhaps that was because of the better quality lenses.

The subtlety of color editing was greater in Photoshop with the Hasselblad images than with the Canon.

The size of the files was much larger with the Hasselblad than with the Canon, eg. twice the size, so be sure you have a fast processor or a good coffee maker.

As far as prints are concerned, in my random testing with friends, random people off the street, employees, and family, it was 50-50 on whether the Hasselblad print was better than the Canon print. I used the same printing algorithm as with all my fine art prints.

DISCLAIMER: I have not spent much time in Hassleblad's Phocus software. So I do not know if the RAW conversion in that software results in a better print. That will be the focus/Phocus of another post.

So what did I gain from spending a bit of money on the Hasselblad?

1. It is a simplified version of the camera I would desire as a landscape photographer. I don't need the massive possibilities built into the menus of the other camera makers. In that regard I had found a camera that was like my way of working in the field. I was freed of the cumbersome aspects of dialing though a complex menu system to change the simple camera settings I needed.

2. It uses the same sensor as the Fuji medium format. So the only decision going forward is how much do I want to spend and how good are the lenses. Unfortunately Fuji seems to be lagging behind for now in this regard.

3. The Fuji options are about $2000 less for the camera body than the Hasselblad option.

4. The editing of the images from the Hasselblad were much more forgiving in Photoshop than the Canon 12-bit images.

5. The Hasselblad images do not seem to translate into better prints than the Canon in real life, at least in  my small sample size of 20 viewers. That for me was the most telling and perplexing. For what matters to me most is what's on paper.

So I am befuddled at the present time. I will further this exploration in upcoming posts as I process the images in both Phocus and Adobe's Camera RAW and compare the prints. I will also rent a Fuji medium format and compare the images with the Hasselblad ones I have already taken.

So is medium format worth it for us budding professionals? Comments are welcome, and I will continue the search.

BTW Fuji had just announced their 100MP sensor camera for around $10,000. The camera wars go on...