Blad to the bone

*This is a kind of spontaneous look at a camera I tried out a while ago. All these photos are from a 6 hour walk on Venice beach with my first time shooting the X1D.

**Here’s a big 5GB collection of camera originals and processed stills from this article. There are JPEGS, Camera original X1D RAW files and DNG’s with my corrections added.

NOTE !! These are large resolution photos.  They don’t reproduce well at this scale so be sure to click the LARGE version.

I didn’t really intend to write this experience up, but I found when doing my research on this very interesting intriguing new camera from Hasselblad, the X1D, there wasn’t a lot of information out there that was relevant to what I was interested in.

I’m not a commercial photographer nor a studio and strobes guy.  I’m a cinematographer that takes photos on the side.  Mostly it feeds my insta account and I like sending photos out weekly to production as I shoot to remind everyone of what we’re up to on set.

So here’s my walkthrough of the X1D by Hasselblad.  I’m going to assume you know the basics of this one of a kind unique camera.

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Self portrait obviously. Almost a rangefinder experience here as the camera isn’t so large and does not cover all my face. Click here for a large JPEG

It’s a mirrorless medium format camera.   What really got me interested was the small size of the body compared to the humongous sensor it’s packing.  It’s remarkable how simply and elegantly Hasselblad have jammed such a large sensor into such a beautifully machined and simple to use body.

I reckon the last time I actually shot with a Hasselblad it was film and on a SWC and in many ways this X1D is a kind of spiritual successor in terms of it’s size and shape and simplicity of function

So now to me and my needs.  I’m glad you asked.

Mostly photography is an aside for me.  I do it as a creative part of my process as a cinematographer, as a way of pre visualising lighting as I’m working and to keep me in the zone.  But I have to work very fast.  I’m often shooting a still as the clapper board is going on, there’s only seconds to get a shot and then I kind of drop the camera and go back to my day job as the cinematographer, often operating a much larger camera instead, sometimes with the smaller stills camera still on my shoulder !

For last few years I’ve been shooting with Leica M rangefinders or Olympus OMD cameras.

What I like about both of these systems is their compact size and discretion.  I can steal a lot of photos when working with these cameras because people just don’t notice you using them as much.

And even if they are, they don’t feel as intimidated by the act of being photographed.

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Great colour and skin tone in this front lit shot. His shirt is just holding in there, but plenty of contrast. Click here for a JPEG

An optical rangefinder like a Leica M camera is a kind of anachronism.  The act of using a rangefinder to focus your camera manually means it forces you to SLOW DOWN.  You have to think about your photography more.  Until very recently, even the digital M’s weren’t very capable of motorised shooting either.  It’s strictly one photo at a time.

Your whole process and relationship to taking a photo changes with a rangefinder style of shooting.  The viewfinder never blacks out when you shoot.  On a DSLR you have a mirror that pops up when you take a photo.

If, like me, you’re a right eyed user, the camera doesn’t really cover your whole face like a DSLR does.  Your face is more exposed to your subject and you never break eye contact through the optical viewfinder.

With rangefinders and especially with the Leica M series, the whole experience of taking a photo, of how you get to that moment, changed for me.   It changed my process of taking a photograph.

I find I get nearly the same experience using an Olympus PEN or even the Olympus EM series bodies.  Though they have a digital or electronic viewfinder, they are small and discreet enough that they don’t get in the way like the dinosaurs that are cameras with mirrors.

I mostly shoot the Leica M-E, the little known last CCD sensor camera Leica make / made before they changed to CMOS.  I could talk a lot about why I stubbornly refuse to update, but for me the simple version is, I like the colour you get from a CCD sensor, well, from THAT Leica CCD sensor.

I tell you this as a backstory to the type of photography I’m seeking to emulate with a medium format camera instead of the smaller sized sensors I’m currently using.

I want to know… Can I use a medium format camera kind of like an observational street shooter setup in mixed and low light conditions, be fast and discreet with a small footprint ?

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These ladies saw me shooting and insisted I take their photo. They then proceeded to arrange themselves into this position. I kept wondering how the kid was doing. I could probably bring this up a little more and I think I made the vignette a little heavy, but it was one of the first images I touched in post. 1/500th @ F8.0 at ISO 100  Click here for a large JPEG

In order to try the X1D out I decided to rent it from my friends at Sammy’s camera while I was in Los Angeles.  As much as you can play with one in a store, it’s always in shooting that you’ll find the pro’s and cons. I actually initially requested a demo though the Hasselblad website but it just seemed to put me on a mailing list rather than give me a chance to get hands on.  So my grateful thanks to Ben Traves at Sammy’s for organising this.

With an X1D in my hand along with two spare batteries and the 45mm F3.5 for wides and the 90mm F3.2 as a kind of portrait lens I headed down to Venice to walk the beach.

Sammy’s kindly supplied me with a Lexar 64GB SD card and I bought a second 128GB card just in case.  And a nice surprise to find there’s two card slots in the side of the camera.

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If you look real close around his hands, I didn’t even notice till in post, the grains of sand flying off his fingers.  Very small detail !  I especially love the blues and yellows here and the skin tone is great in this front lit shot.  Strong colour but the skin tone still looks OK. This was shot at very close range, maybe 3′ but there was no problem with the shutter sound drawing attention.  Click here for a large JPEG

I started in the mid afternoon, hoping to shoot into evening.  Another thing I wanted to look at with the camera was how useful it would be in low light and in mixed lighting too.  Often on set, I am shooting at low light levels and the slower speed of the Hassy primes had me worried.  I know that some users have reported ISO1600 being pretty good.

The downside of my Leica M-E is that it’s pretty much topped out at ISO800 for me.  With an F2 or maybe F1.4 prime and a bit of luck around the 1/30th of a second mark I can get most of the shots I need at that kind of light level.  There’s a beautiful thin envelope of a little underexposure on the M where the noise only seems to add and the colour is beautiful and nuanced.

So here’s a camera with a stop faster sensor (untested yet) but primes that are more than a stop slower means I have a shortfall.

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I think I blew the sky on this one. I may have over recovered the sky.  1/750th @ F4.8 at ISO 100.  Click here for a large JPEG

These photos are the sum total of about 6 hours of shooting with me just having picked up the camera in the morning and just playing around.  I know it’s not the same as any kind of controlled test but for me, it’s the very best way to find out if it’s going to work.

Since I started shooting Leica a few years ago, I’ve moved towards manual everything.  I find it slows me down and makes me think more about what I’m doing, it’s changed my process.  So now even on digital cameras, I tend to turn the dial to M and set everything myself and I also almost always manually focus.

My first instinct with the X1D was to do the same thing.  I set the dial to M and pretty much left it there.  I always used the EVF, I hate live view.  I found it remarkably easy and quick to change my settings on the fly.

The EVF is very nice. It’s sharp and clear.  I could tell roughly what was over and what was under by eyeballing the image in there.  I really do wish you could have blinkies in the EVF BEFORE you take the shot.  An easy and much needed firmware feature fix /add.

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Once again great colour from this image. 1/90th at F6.8 @ ISO 100.  Click here for the large JPEG

I do also wish you could have some look around for the overlays.  Then you could have the full image up and have the information you need, but not overlayed over the image itself.  The only option then is to cycle through the info overlay options.   I want to see the shooting information AND what I’m shooting at the same time in the EVF without it potentially covering the image.

In bright sun walking along Venice, I didn’t struggle at all to see the image and make pretty informed exposure choices.  I used the meter too of course in CWA to help guide me.

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A tricky shot for dynamic range.  There was more information in the blacks here but I chose the darker approach.  There’s a little bit of oddness as it goes towards clipping and this is always a great test for ‘recovery” in any RAW software. Let me know if you can do better with it !  1/500th @ F4.0 at ISO 100 Click here for the large JPEG

With the lens in manual focus there was a very good peaking system which I found worked well.  I also really like the punch in feature activated by pressing the star button while looking through the EVF.  I ended up using that a lot for critical focus work.

So while looking through the EVF I could easily change the shutter and aperture, pick focus with focus peaking or by punching in with the star button, and toggle to the ISO / WB button on top easily too.

I can’t emphasize enough how big a deal this is to me.  I want to be looking through the EVF full time and not have to leave it to change a setting.

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Once again another great test of dynamic range. I have pulled the blacks up a little more in this one but it’s still very clean. I could have added more recovery but it was looking pretty weird on the sun so less is applied. 1/350th @ F6.8 ISO 100. Click here for the large JPEG

There’s another button on the top near the ISO / WB button that seems to have something to do with focus.  It’s the AF / MF button of course, I say this facetiously because as I mentioned I never use AF on motion or stills cameras…until now.

I accidentally found a really really cool feature.  There’s a small button on the back marked AF-D.  This button meant I could leave the camera in manual focus mode, but I could also hold the button in and AF on the box.  Genius.  So simple.  This became something I did often, especially on the wider lens, because it’s often harder I find to pick critical focus on those wider lenses when shooting at  shallow-er stops.

By having it decoupled from the shutter itself it meant I could more easily select when I wanted to AF or or not, instead of it happening every time I woke the camera up to work.

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Sometimes the AF-D misses, likely because of operator error.  In the large version of this you’ll notice the rail is sharp, not our ladies, most likely because I AF-D’d the wrong subject. 1/1000th @ F4 ISO 100.  Click here for a large JPEG

 The AF won’t set the world on fire for sure.  But after being so used to always going manual focus it was a little reassuring to have the backup or confidence check of AF if I needed but it didn’t change my manual focus process.

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1/500 @ F4.8 at ISO 100. Click here for the large JPEG

For most of these shots I worked in MF, occasionally checking with the AF-D button or using a combination of peaking and magnification using the star button, all while still looking through the EVF. Big tick.

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Skaters are especially hard to shoot when manually focusing ! Again I really love the colour here, especially as his yellow shirt heads towards clipping, the colour still looks great and saturated. The sky is just hanging in there as it heads towards clipping where the sun is setting. 1/750th @ F4.8 at ISO 100.  Click here for a large JPEG.

 

Taking photos

This is where I did find the camera was sometimes behind me. First of all the EVF has to be activated by the act of looking through the EVF.  Maybe in future, like on the Olympus OMD’s we can have a menu option to have the EVF permanently on by choice. I know it saves battery and all but I’d rather just leave the EVF active so I can quickly pull the camera up and get it working.

I found most of the time I was lifting the camera to my eye and madly pushing the shutter release to half way to get the camera to wake up.  Once awake the camera is fast and quick to change settings with a minimum of fuss.

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This one was a tough save.  I grossly underexposed her as I was shooting and didn’t want to miss the shot and didn’t make the right exposure correction in camera. You’ll notice the sun looks GREAT but she is in deep shadow in the original.  See if you can do a better job !   1/2000 @ F8.0 at ISO 800 Click here for the large JPEG

The camera itself is a delightfully easy thing to wield. It’s small and reasonably easy to manipulate.  I had little trouble changing lenses one handed with it strapped around my neck though the mount is pretty tight.  I had no trouble holding it for hours straight and liked the way it handled very much.

I had two batteries with me.  I took over 400 shots and used completely one battery and then about 50% of the second battery.  I didn’t ever turn the camera off for the first battery.  I slowed down taking photos for the second half of the day once it got dark and I think once I was caught once when the camera auto-powered off.

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Some interesting cloud formations that at first I thought were an issue with the sensor. The deep blues in the balck are probably pushed too far here.  1/2000 @ F8 at ISO 800  Click here for the large JPEG

Start up time for me was about 7 seconds. I can live with that. Especially once they give me the option to leave the EVF powered on at cost to power consumption and EVF burn in.

Let’s talk about the act of taking a photo.  Mostly, the camera kept up with me.  I’d read about the annoying three click shutter sound.  I can live with that too.  It wasn’t loud enough to draw attention to me in the ambiently noisy environment I was in.  Admitted that it wasn’t exactly a silent place to be, but I was very close to some subjects and the shutter sound never seemed to draw anyone’s attention.  I was close enough that peripherally in their vision they were more likely to notice me lifting the camera to shoot than the sound of the shutter itself.

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Getting into some lower light shots here. 1/1000th @ F5.6  ISO1600 Click here for the large JPEG

However, the blackout time is borderline unacceptable.  Once you take a photo it’s a good second at least, maybe more before you get your live image back in the evf.  It’s terrible.  I really really struggled with wanting to keep watching what was going on through the EVF.  Now this is the true advantage of a rangefinder, where you are always seeing the subject while shooting and you have zero blackout time.  So even if the camera isn’t quite ready to fire again, you can at least observe and see what’s going on so as to be ready to anticipate the next time you want to shoot.

I have no idea if this is something that can be addressed in the current build or in firmware.  I suspect it might not be that simple. But it was a bit of a show stopper for me.  I’d have to shoot with it a bit longer to see how much of an issue it turned into, but it definitely felt like I missed a few moments because the image was blacked out, and reduced my situational awareness.

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Low light again. 1/300th @ F4 ISO 1600.  Click here for a large JPEG

Lenses

I tested the 45mm F3.5 and the 90mm F3.2

From what I can see in the images they are very neutral and flat.  I understand that the Phocus software has the lens geometry “fixes” dialed in.  I certainly saw minimal CA and they had a “modern” look that was clean and crisp without too much contrast.  The Bokeh was kind of interesting, I probably need to explore that more as I didn’t specifically look to test it.

I was manually focussing most of the time and I was expecting to be more annoyed by the focus by wire native lenses.  I would be really interested to try some of the older H series Hassy lenses available with the adaptor as well.

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Getting into very low light now. This is 1/60th at F3.5 (wide open) at ISO 3200.  No noise reduction and it’s pretty clean !  Click here for a large JPEG

Post

So returning home I then got to see what I’d caught.  I know these aren’t the greatest of candid moments but I was pretty impressed with what I was able to get in the 6 hours of shooting that I had with the camera.

I shot RAW and after offloading, I came across a slight speed bump in my desire to augment or maybe replace my current setup.

Post processing of these Hasselblad files can only be done through Adobe Camera RAW or Hassy’s own freely available software, Phocus.

My problem is that I know and love Capture One.  I’ve been using it for several years.  And now I’ve just learned what perhaps many of you know.  Capture One only process their OWN medium format cameras, the Phase one series and do not speak Hasselblad.  

So a major down-tick for Capture one and by collateral extension Hasselblad.

 

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Low light shot with super saturated colour. Holds up well. 1/1500th @ F4 at ISO 1600 Click here for a large JPEG

And as an aside, the market can’t be that big.  Surely it makes NO SENSE to have these kinds of petty proprietary file and software approaches.  Protectionism like this is bad for the customer. 

I don’t really like the Adobe debayer of the Hassy RAW files. Every software application has their own algorithm or recipe for creating the image and it’s something that C1 is known for. Phocus also seems to do a great job for what it’s worth.

I did a very quick compare by doing a default JPEG output and the Phocus images had a very lovely Capture One like feel to them.  The problem is that Phocus lacks some of the sophistication of Capture One’s local adjustments.  

For example, the local adjustments you can do in Phocus are limited, where as C1 pretty much let’s you do almost any of the full suite of it’s controls within a local adjustment, and has some very good colour hue isolations tools for when you want to just grab a particular colour and swing it somewhere else but use the local adjustment to isolate where it’s applied.  

Still, I got the idea and managed to start to get things where I wanted within Phocus. And I must say, it was often hard to argue with where Phocus wanted to start with the image.

How do the pictures look ?

That’s what matters right ?  Right out of the gate the images are rich and thick.  The colour for me is very bold, especially the red / yellows and blues.  And yet the skin tones still look quite natural and warm.  It’s not a neutral camera by any stretch, but that’s a good thing for me. I love contrast and saturation.  And this thing does it in spades.

Some camera files you turn up the saturation and the color starts looking lurid and unrealistic.  Not so the X1D.  It’s strong bold color look never looked over the top.  In most of these files I only added a minimal amount of saturation, usually around +10 in Phocus and no vibrancy. 

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Again the blues are so strong. 180th @ F5.6 ISO 100 Click here for a larger JPEG.

Perhaps it’s the 16 bit files, but they’re damn hard to break.  I didn’t really run into any banding on those skies. In some of the later dusk shots there LOOKS like there is some banding in the sky, but it’s really just the cloud pattern.   

At ISO 100 the dynamic range is a huge improvement over the CCD I’m used to.  And the noise is very low too, I found I could deep dig into the shadows.

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I didn’t think much of this image and wasn’t going to post it however, it’s worth looking at because there’s a subtle reflection of the skyline behind me in the fire truck and the way the blue interacts with the red is very subtle and intriguing. Check out the RAW. 1/500th @ F 5.6 ISO 100 Click here for the JPEG

I went to ISO 1600 and then finally to ISO 3200 as the sun dropped.  The noise wasn’t terrible.  And in full daylight at 100 I could pull those shadows up a lot.  A whole lot ! I feel like I seemed to get better results from a ETTL or an underexposed image rather than my usual ETTR exposed right up to clipping style approach. It’s hard to tell exactly when shooting though cause there’s no way to see clipping till after you’ve taken the shot !

The dynamic range is a big improvement over the CCD of the M-E that I’m used to.  And the noise is pretty low too.  In many ways it reminded me of the stills from my amazing Olympus EM1 mark 2.  Rumor is Olympus use a Sony made sensor in there, and it turns out so the same rumor exists for the X1D.  I have to say it kind felt to me like there were similarities in the way the noise and underexposure pulled up. Maybe there’s truth to those rumours.

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I probably overexposed this a little. Now that I know how much shadow information can be pulled I would underexpose it more.  I wasn’t able to recover much from the sky. 1/350 @ F4.8 ISO 100  Click here for a large JPEG

 

I have included a copy of both the original files, DNG’s of my corrections in Phocus, and then JPEG files HERE and in the link below.  You may be able to get better results than me as I’ve only had an afternoon getting to know Phocus.

Is the X1D a viable alternative to the Leica M rangefinder style of shooting ?

There’s a heck of a lot to like.  The images are very robust, come right out of camera looking pretty good and needing minimal post. The body is so small for such a larger sensor.  It’s reasonably priced compared to the eye watering Leica S series, and it’s just too large to be considered the same style of shooting.

I have actually shot a bit with the Leica S TYP 006, which is a medium format version of the same CCD sensor I love from the M-E but it never really grabbed me in the same way the M does and the staggering price for a camera that is not a bread winner can’t really be justified. Beautiful images no doubt, but the size and price make it a no.

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1/750th @ F3.2 ISO 800  Click here for a larger JPEG

Now, the big $15 000 question is….will I buy one ?  I’m still undecided on that, the major thing for me is the damn amount of blackout time.  As it is I probably will crumble, but it’s a heck of a lot of coin to spend on a camera that doesn’t earn me anything back. 

To really decide I need to shoot a bit more with it and see if I can’t test it on my next set.

The XD1 is an unmitigated joy of a tiny beautifully designed medium format camera that’s smaller and lighter than a lot of DSLR’s. It easily creates beautiful large resolution images that look great right from camera and are thick enough to take a lot of post work and still look unbroken.

So far the colour is pretty close if not equal to the exquisite colour I’m used to from the Leica CCD sensors that I’ve been shooting the last few years.  With a few little tweaks to the firmware the XD1 will mature into a milestone camera. 

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1/80th @ F5.6 at ISO 400 Click here for a larger JPEG

I wish I could customise it more, for example reverse the dials and reverse the actions, make the aperture the shutter and the shutter the aperture.

I wish I could see blinkies before I shoot

I wish phocus would do better local adjustments.

I wish C1 would read RAW Hassy files.

But it’s a pretty small wish list.  I think my biggest wish, to vastly reduce the blackout time, will be more difficult to grant.

Perversely, it’s still a lot cheaper than the Leica S (by maybe 50%??), so there’s always the satisfaction you’ve gotten a bargain I guess.

Hats off to Hasselblad for their innovative design and it’s great to feel like this marque brand is back on the right path after some rocky times recently.    It sure makes nice pictures and so far the colour gamut the camera captures is pretty close if not equal to the exquisite colour I’m used to from the Leica CCD sensors that I’ve been shooting the last few years.

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Might have gone to far with a grad on the sunset and extra saturation. 1/2000 @ F4.8 at ISO 800 Click here for a large JPEG

So here’s a side bar question…Is it medium format ?  

135 is 36mm x 24mm

The X1d and Leica S are 45mm x 30mm

The smallest medium format camera is a 6 x 4.5 camera which is close to 56mm x 42mm.

It’s medium format lite really.  Even the smallest of the medium format film sizes is a fair bit bigger than the X1D and Leica S sensor size.  It’s somewhere in-between 135 and 645.

 I shot these photos using camera firmware version 1.17

Video !?

You may have noticed I’m a DP and cinematographer.  I did note that the X1D shoots video.  I did shoot a little bit because I can, but the rolling shutter looked pretty bad, and the native lenses have a terrible noise whenever you change iris while rolling that makes them hard to imagine using in a professional environment.  Perhaps with an adapted cinema lens with clickless iris we might revisit this.

About johnbrawley

Director Of Photography striving to create compelling images
This entry was posted in Equipment and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Blad to the bone

  1. Ron Coker. says:

    Impressive!

  2. Eric says:

    Lovely DR from the X1D. Wish my Nikon D5300 had such range in the highlights.

  3. kitlaughlin says:

    John, I’d love your impressions of the Fuji GFX 50S if/when you get a chance; we know their lenses from the ciné world, and their old medium format cameras of yesteryear. The new Fuji is almost affordable, and its ergonomics are excellent. As the Japanese say, “please consider!”.

  4. “Blad to the bone!” Really JB. Great review and fantastic pics.

    Greg de Marigny Director of Photography.

    mob: (+64) 021 266 1671 home: (+64) 9 372 6439

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  5. Scott Stacy says:

    Had fun reading this being a former analog Hasselblad owner. Color looks great. The blackout time is pretty discouraging. Thanks for the insightful review and effort you put into your blog.

  6. vivid2 says:

    “The X1d and Leica S are 45mm x 30mm”?

    Half right—the Leica S’ sensor is that size.

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