There is a moment in the life of a photographer when he or she opens the cabinet and looks at the accumulation of stuff and realizes that there are only three options:
- Close the cabinet and ignore it.
- Sell most of the equipment and keep one system.
- Sign up for therapy to figure out why you even have all this equipment.
Option 1 I have done for years.
Option 3 Does not apply to me.
So I stayed with option 2. To give you a better perspective. Over the last couple of years I had used a Leica M240, which I replaced with a Leica M10. To be accurate, I didn’t replace it, I added the M10. Because I wanted to focus on video I added a Leica SL as well. That being said, I do exhibit photos taken with a Leaf Aptus 12 back on a PhaseOne DF camera. This system is an old but amazing horse that still delivers beautiful results when handled carefully. The problem is that it is bulky and not the ideal fit for what I do. So since the Hasselblad X1D came to market I was wondering if this could replace most of the gear in my closet. It uses the same aspect ratio and a bit lower resolution than the Leaf back, still seems to be similar in size to a Leica SL. I had to figure it out. That being said, when I recently looked into my equipment cabinet I had all five cameras in there, which made me wonder if I should actually see a doctor or not. But after some experimentation with the X1D I sold the M10 and the M240 and successfully avoided any psychological evaluation.
I know that the X1D is at the end of its product cycle and could be replaced any month now.
Much has been said about the build quality of the X1D. Overall I would agree with most of that. The machined block feels sturdy and well built. A few items stand out as bad design or not on par with the rest. First, the SD card door is out of thin plastic. Overall that is not a problem but it is too close to the strap attachment. I had several situations in which I thought I would easily break off the open door. I did some research and it looks like that this is not an uncommon problem and point of concern.
The other part is the rectangular eyepiece on the camera. It is a flimsy, rubbery piece that just doesn’t have the same quality as the rest. Compare this piece to the sturdy, tight eye piece of the Leica SL and you can experience the difference.
The viewfinder itself works fine. It is not a detailed as the SL viewfinder but so far I had no issues in composing any images. But the proximity sensor on the other hand doesn’t seem to like me. I wear glasses and I know that my face is not always perfectly parallel to the camera body, and a small light gap is often enough for the sensor to ignore my presence. I am tall as well and tend to bend down for lower viewpoints. In these positions the connection of my eye to the viewfinder is not tight enough to provide a seamless viewfinder experience. Here I have to admit that I am one of the 90% of the population that tends to ignore user manuals because I believe that I already know everything about a product, but actually I don’t. Potentially I may be able to switch off the proximity sensor and just keep the preview in the EVF and not on the back screen. That may solve my problem with the sensor.
Let’s continue on the topic of the viewfinder and previews for a bit.
From time to time I half-press the shutter button and the camera gives me a fully overexposed preview and locks up for 3-4 seconds. After that time it recovers and the preview starts looking fine. It can be frustrating when you need to shoot something quickly and you miss it because of it. I have no idea what triggers it and how to avoid it. It is great when others around you keep shooting with their affordable cameras while you are wondering why your expensive tool has just picked this moment to slow you down. Have you read the reviews in which people say that what they love about the X1D is that it slows them down and makes them think about a shot. Yes, this is one moment that gives you plenty of time to think about the next shot, because you have already missed the one you wanted to take.
Can it be worse? Of course.
The weirdest thing I encountered in Costa Rica. While traveling and hiking along the southern Pacific Coast the camera started to not recognize the lens anymore. I travelled with the 45mm lens and never took it off the camera.
At first it happened a few times. It prompted me with a “No lens attached” message and the camera quit doing anything. At first it recovered after some time. But one day we hiked to a beautiful waterfall, and on the way up it already started giving me that message and as if it wanted to piss me off completely, it did not recover at all while being at a perfectly lit scenery. I tried the following steps:
Turn off the camera and turn it on again. No result.
Turn off the camera, remove and reattach the lens, turn the camera back on. No result.
Turn off the camera, remove the battery, put it back in and turn on the camera. No result.
Later on, back at our place, I found a solution by someone else who encountered the same problem. You have to keep the camera on and remove the lens and put it back on. That allows the camera to reconnect to the lens.
While being at the waterfall I contacted Hasselblad support via email. I have to say I was pleased how quickly they replied and followed up on things. Their main recommendation was to clean the contacts. I did that later on but it didn’t make any difference. The problem occured in a humid environment with around 90 degrees Fahrenheit air temperature.
The problems increased as longer we stayed in humid, hot areas. When we left to higher altitude with dryer, cooler air, the problem disappeared completely.
The lens/body connection overall is very tight. I did not remove the lens until I encountered the problem.
Back in Boston I have exposed the X1D to very cold, dry climate and have not seen that error message since. For a weather sealed camera I would expect that the conditions in Costa Rica would not be a problem. It was not wet, not 100% humidity. It was warm and had higher humidity but nothing concerning. But for some reason the camera did not like it. It seems to favor the northern climate. It is from Sweden. What did I expect?
Time jump. I wrote the last paragraph a while ago. Since then I received a 65mm lens and tested it for two weeks. A few days ago I wanted to use the 45mm lens and attached it to the camera. It did not recognize the lens. I tried all the tricks that I mentioned earlier and nothing helped. I reattached the lens ten times and nothing. Then I pushed a bit against some of the contact pins because one looked not aligned with all the other ones. After I did that I tried again and the lens got recognized by the camera. So I thought about rewriting the earlier statement but there is something strange about the problem in warm weather and then disappearing in colder climates. Probably I have to send in the camera with the lens and have it checked. Or I just keep using it with all my wiggle tricks. Those are the moments when I really appreciate Leica’s manual lenses. You can always use them, no electronics that may block you from doing so.
From time to time I get a frozen ISO dial. I push the ISO button to change the value, it shows me the virtual wheel on the display, but turning the actual wheel doesn’t do anything. Happens once a week I would say.
The control wheels in general I am struggling with. Their feel and build is great. You can use them well with gloves and every step is well defined. But the direction of rotation is different to the direction of the one on the Leica SL. The Leica SL has a top wheel which allows you to control exposure adjustments and shutter speeds. You turn it counter-clockwise and the shutter speeds are getting shorter, which is consistent with the manual dial on the Leica M10. On the X1D, while in shutter priority mode, the front wheel controls the shutter setting. But here you have to turn it clockwise to get a shorter shutter time.
While using manual settings the rear wheel controls the shutter. Now you have to turn this dial counter-clockwise to get to shorter shutter times. Somehow I have trouble adapting to the X1D mental model of using different directions. Maybe it is consistent with Nikon or Canon but I am having trouble to dial in settings intuitively. Switching frequently between the SL and the X1D may even make that worse.
Have I mentioned the electronic shutter yet? I was hopeful to use my Mamiya lenses on the X1D with a simple adapter. They fit but the shutter is almost useless. The readout time is just too long. In the beginning I took an image and then moved the camera back down. After some time I realized that the camera was still recording while I was already moving it. You really have to hold it steady for a while. Plus you have to tell everybody in the image to hold steady as well. Unless you want to shoot some finish line shots of distorted, moving objects, the only other option is still photography. Maybe in a few generations this feature will work flawlessly.
So why have I not dropped that thing into the Boston harbor yet? Simply because it is a pricey piece of equipment.
Let’s find a few positive things here. The X1D display interface is fantastic. Best thing; I can read it. On the Leica M10 you have tiny manual dials. Setting the ISO at night sucks. It really does. Not only is it hard to see the number on the dial but the supporting rear display only gives you a tiny number as well. Leica tried to keep the screen minimal but why just using a small fraction of the surface. The X1D shows all settings bright and big and it is a joy to use.
Image quality is great too. I have the 45mm lens and the 65mm lens. Especially the 45mm lens has a nice balance of size, speed and image quality. I have been really impressed with it and it has become my favorite walk-around lens. The 65mm is really heavy and slow in autofocus, but produces great quality output as well. I have written a short review of the 65mm lens, which you can find here.
Yo can manually focus the lenses and with focus peaking it is accurate. But the XCD lenses don’t have a near and far focus stop on their dial. They just rotate endlessly. I miss the hard stops from the Leica lenses. They give me a reference. With focus peaking the manual operation is fine. To get to manual focus mode you have to push a button on top of the camera housing. But often I like to override the autofocus, which you can do by just turning the focus dial. I just wish the camera would activate focus peaking at that moment, because without I find it hard to quickly dial it in.
Now may be the right time to talk about why I even bought the X1D. To be honest, I mostly bought it for one project. Since I acquired the Leaf Aptus 12 back I have been working on a series called Corner Views. It is a consistent look at various architecture around the world.
I am not going to open up a discussion around the need of that project. I like it and I want to do more with it. The problem with the Leaf camera is that it is heavy, slow, needs a big tripod, etc. Setting it up takes a while but when everything is done well, I get incredibly good images. 60×40” prints can easily be done and you can still observe the image from up close.
Because of the equipment size I can not take it to all the places that I travel to. Plus in many situations I can not set up a tripod, but have to quickly find a spot on the street and take a shot before the next group of cars would roll over me. I have done this several times with the Leaf and have done handheld shots. As long as you stay with at least 1/250 on an 80mm lens it works. So I bought the X1D with the promise that I could use it in more situations than the Leaf and that I would be able to use it as a travel camera as well as a project camera. It took me a while to think about downgrading the series’s image quality from 80mp to 50mp. There is a difference but it is not as bad as I thought. It would even be hard to figure out which photo came from which camera. In a 40×60” print the difference is only noticeable at really close encounter. Personally I am feeling confident that I can use the X1D to continue the series without experiencing a noticeable decrease in quality. Of course I am hoping for the 100mp X1D mk2 to show up, which hopefully would even increase the quality compared to the Leaf Aptus 12. By using the X1D I can create more shots for my photo project and can do it under conditions that would be difficult for the Leaf back. The good thing is that both cameras use the same aspect ratio. That means that I can utilize the full resolution of the Hasselblad without cropping. You see a lot of people on the internet comparing the X1D to full frame cameras, making an argument that a Sony, Canon, Nikon etc with similar resolution would lead to similar results. The problem for me is that those cameras use a 2:3 aspect ratio while most medium format cameras use 3:4. I want consistency and no-cropping, which rules out the full format.
Now I would like to say a few words about the design of the camera. Much has been said and written about it. It is a beautiful camera. Thoughtfully sculpted and well crafted. A designer’s goal is to develop a design language that reflects the product’s brand and build qualities in its Gestalt. You look at it and you feel it and the experienced thoughtfulness on the outside suggests the same thoughtfulness on the inside. In the case of the X1D the designers have done their job really, really well. The problem is that the camera’s electrical engineering and programming execution can not live up to the same promise that is reflected on the outside. The concept of the camera is great, some features like the screen Ui are excellent. But my impression is that not only the software got hacked together quickly but the electrical engineering on the inside as well. The long startup time, the heat dispersion that keeps your hands warm in Winter, etc. There are many awkward bugs in that camera. I can live with them, because it behaves less erratic than my seven year old Leaf back, but they should not even exist in such a high-end product. It reminds me a bit of the first digital Leica, with all of its problems.
I can only hope that Hasselblad will fix most in the next generation. The software already has gotten a lot better over the last years. I hope that they will redesign the electrical layout from scratch and that they will stop using programmers who have initially copied/pasted the crap into this product. But to be honest, they should have fixed it during the development of this first X1D. My guess is that lack of time and good resources may have caused the problems. Hasselblad needed this product to be out in the market to leave behind some of the darker times of product development. The X1D is Hasselblad’s hope to redo in medium format what Sony has done in the full format market.
I think with that desperately needed product on their roadmap they pushed a bit too much and of course released something that should not have been released at all. At least not at that time. But who knows. They sold many of them in the beginning and that cash may have saved them. Who knows what would have happened to Hasselblad if they would have delayed the launch for th X1D. It only sucks that users had to be Beta testers.
So why I am using it and not buying into a Fuji? Two reasons. I really like the size of the body and I think the Fuji GFX 50R is still too large.
I like the simplicity and the layout of the UI. If I want to use a portable medium format camera with its 3:4 aspect ratio then there are not many options out there and the X1D seems to me the most compelling one. For whom is this camera? I don’t know but I know that it fits me. I would love to have it perform better but overall it does a lot of things right. You really have to see it as a smaller medium format camera, not a larger full format camera. Compared to my old Leaf Aptus back it performs like a charm and I can carry it around easily. I can use a small Ona bag and a tiny tripod. I can travel with carry-on luggage only and still have a powerful camera with me. It uses the 3:4 aspect ratio, which I have been using for my Corner View series for years. So that is a perfect fit. These days I do more urban landscapes than people/street photography. Somehow I shifted a bit in my interests and the X1D seems to be a great tool for that.
My expectations in regards to a potential X2D are mild. I guess it will have a better sensor and it will top my old Leaf in resolution and probably in all other aspects. I don’t expect it to be a video wonder box. My guess is that it will stay limited in that regards. It would have been nice because it would allow me to sell my SL as well and use one camera only. But that has been a photographers dream for decades and it will stay like this for a little bit longer. I am more curious about the form factor. The current design is wonderful. But I hope that it won’t dictate the features that Hasselblad is going to use. A better viewfinder would be nice, even if it would require a larger top of the camera housing.
I think if I would have one really big wish for this system, despite a new sensor and redesigned electronics and software, it would be a set of purely manual, small lenses. I don’t need the autofocus and the weight. Not sure if this will ever happen. The leaf shutter may prevent the optics from getting a lot smaller than they are right now. Still, dreaming.
Didn’t I state that I had too much equipment and that I decided on selling most of it. But I also mentioned a brand new 65mm XCD lens that only a few people have even received yet. Where did this come from? That question takes me back to my original three points and that I might have to reconsider option 3.
Still, I hope that you enjoyed it.