Two Days with the Hasselblad X1D

I thought I’d be sensible for once and try before I buy so I headed out to East London to my new friends at PearTreePhoto and rented a Hasselblad X1D for the weekend. The wait for my own X1D has been longer than expected and this seemed like the perfect way to sate my lust for new gear and to verify the X1D fits into my workflow and the type of photography I do. Meaning, this was a practical field test and not a technical analysis with charts and noise analysis.

The Outdoors Shoot

First up on Saturday morning was a headshot shoot with Laura, a personal trainer, on an outside location in East London. This was a chance for the leaf shutter lenses to shine, but it was a cloudy day and not much need for faster shutter speeds. I had no problems blocking out the ambient light at 1/250th of a second and F11. With my Fuji I shoot at F8 and 1/200th of a second, and to get a comparable depth of field with the X1D I should have used F16 really.

We started out using my portable studio with the ELB400 heads and my new trusty Broncolor 75cm Octa. The X1D was in full manual during this shoot, and worked a treat with the Elinchrom Skyport.

The 90mm lens has a minimum focusing distance of 70cm, which meant I could not get in really tight for a photo of the subject’s eyes. The tightest you could do was the head itself, which is probably OK as you got plenty of pixels for a tighter crop.

After 45 minutes I decided to go full auto (ISO locked at 400) and use natural light and a different location. Auto White Balance worked fine, and it was easy to keep an eye on the shutter speed to avoid softness. At F3.2 to fully frame a sitting subject I did not quite get the background separation I would have liked. On the 3rd photo below I could have framed a little bit tighter, but my subject seemed to be rather cold and we wrapped up the shoot here.

Straight out of camera without edits from Lightroom. Lovely skin tones.
Straight out of camera without edits from Lightroom. Lovely skin tones.
Straight out of camera and as close as you can get with the 90mm.
Straight out of camera and as close as you can get with the 90mm.
Straight out of camera. Shot at F3.2 Just to show the kind of background separation you can get when wide open and you are a fair bit away from your subject.
Straight out of camera. Shot at F3.2 Just to show the kind of background separation you can get when wide open and you are a fair bit away from your subject.
Edited photo. Shot at F3.2 just to show the background separation you get when really close.
Edited photo. Shot at F3.2 just to show the background separation you get when really close.

The Indoors Shoot

Sunday morning I went to meet boxer and personal trainer, Simon, at a gym in South East London.

For a more dramatic light I used two Elinchrom strip boxes with the ELB 400 heads. Sadly, my horribly expensive Light Tools grids had not arrived so there was a lot of light spill during the shoot as it was a rather small room with white walls.

The X1D performed well again, which was not unexpected after yesterday’s shoot. Even though we had turned off most of the lights in the room the auto focus did well, much better than expected actually. Having used mirrorless cameras for a long time it might be my expecations are lower than a DSLR user’s.

We even tried a few action shots of Simon working on a sand bag, and even though he was moving very quickly the X1D managed to lock on at times. I thought it would be a 100% miss rate here but it was not worse than 50%. Still, prefocusing will be the way to go for any kind of fast (or slow) moving subject. This is where I started suspecting there was shutter lag though as the actual photo was nowhere close to where I thought it would be, but it could certainly be down to my reactions being slow.

Edited photo from a fitness shoot with personal trainer Simon Zhao.
Edited photo from a fitness shoot with personal trainer Simon Zhao.
Another shot of Simon, edited in Lightroom.
Another shot of Simon, edited in Lightroom.
Had to crop a tiny bit to get this close with the 90mm. Full size here is 8272 and cropped is 8061.
Had to crop a tiny bit to get this close with the 90mm. Full size here is 8272 and cropped is 8061.

The Stilllife Shoot

An Echeveria plant. Photo edited in Lightroom. The plant was maybe 10cm diameter and this was the closest I could frame with the 90mm.
An Echeveria plant. Photo edited in Lightroom. The plant was maybe 10cm diameter and this was the closest I could frame with the 90mm.

Sunday evening I put the X1D on a tripod for some still life. I had bought a lovely Echeveria and had in mind a really tight shot captured straight above the subject. This took some fiddling with my tripod and counter weights before I could get the X1D mounted straight above the subject.

It was not completely impractical to reach the shutter release and I had to use the Phocus mobile app. Connecting was easy enough by starting the WiFi function on the X1D and choosing the same WiFi on my phone and launching the X1D again. It starts by showing a list of available WiFis so not sure that second step was necessary. I did not play around too much with the app, I pretty much only used it as a shutter release.

The minimum focusing distance of the 90mm (70cm) again prevented me from tightly frameing my subject, but it is not a macro lens so I wont hold this against it in this situation.

Handling

The X1D is a camera with a minimalist design, and this philosphy is reflected in its functions. You are left with a camera with the bare necesseties, and it takes pretty much no time to figure out how to use the camera and get shooting.

I cannot but agree with other reviewers how the X1D sits very comfortably in the hand, especially for someone who has only used tiny mirrorless cameras before. The X1D was very well balanced with the X1D and I felt no fatigue even after hours of using it. I was somewhat surprised as when I handled it at demo events it quickly felt heavy, but I guess I was just not holding it properly as I would during a real shoot.

The simplicty of the controls means you barely notice them during a shoot, but I also use flash in manual mode so I don’t change them very often. Setting them all up is quick though. This also means there is not much to do before you can start clicking. The few controls which are on the camera should be obvious to any experienced shooter.

Changing the lens is rather awkward as I would expect to be able to press the lens release button with the hand that also gets a firm grip on the camera (using the grip), but on the X1D the lens release button is on the other side of the lens, opposite the grip. There is no where to get a firm hold of the body and the lens is very tightly fitted, which makes it tricky, but not impossible.

Changing the auto focus point on the X1D is done in a rather awkward way, at least for me coming from Fuji cameras with either joysticks or d-pads.

  1. Press the AF/MF focus button for at least 1 second which unlocks the AF point
  2. You now have to ways to move the AF point
    1. Simply select it on the touch screen
    2. Use the control wheels to move it
  3. Lock it by half pressing the shutter button

Auto Focus

Outside in daylight the X1D had no issues locking focus, and to me (as a mirrorless camera user) it felt fast enough. The second shoot, which was indoors, we turned off some of the lights, and the X1D still had no real  issues locking focus. It certainly was not pitch black, but far from as bright as outside. This was a big relief as initial reports stated the X1D would be rather slow at focusing.

If you want to change the AF point while using the EVF, which you do, you have to use the control wheels. This works, but it is far from ideal and feels like a design after thought. Correctly pressing the AF/MF button was something I struggled with in the field and there was a lot of fumbling around to get this right.

The best way out of this, without a complete redesign of the body of the camera, would be to customise the use of the AF/MF button to ONLY release the AF point. Very rarely during a shoot do I feel the need to switch between AF and MF and it is easily reachable through the simple menus anyway.

The X1D has 35 selectable AF points, which covers most of the screen, but this makes them fairly large. When I shot at F11 using flash my photos were razor sharp, but at F3.2 there were more focus misses. Hopefully, a future firmware release will improve the accuracy of the AF, but also increase the number of selectable focus points.Initially, Hasselblad promised us 63 focus points.

Performance

Battery life felt adequate to me, and I would say at least as good as my X-Pro2, but that’s not a camera known for its amazing battery life. The second shoot was around 250 frames and used 60% of the batter, and a further hour fiddling with the camera and phocus app cost me another 20%. I would not go far without a spare battery, but this is certainly good enough for me.

The EVF has improved much since the early demo days. Gone is the terrible flickering and lag, and now you get a smooth, bright image. I spent an entire evening looking through the EVF just to make sure I was happy with it.

The screen on the other hand left me wanting more. It has a resolution of 920k  display and is 3″. When I took my first picture of Laura and saw it on the back of the screen I did feel rather anti-climactic about it. The image was rather flat and muddy, which threw me a little bit. That was not my best portrait shoot by a long stretch. It was not until I came home and finally got the photos onto my 5k 27″ iMac that it happened. I was simply blown away by the amount of detail and my photos were no longer flat and dull, instead they were rich with color and depth. It’s not impossible increasing the brightness/contrast of the X1D screen would help here, but I did not think of it at the time. At the end of the day it is what the photo actually looks like on your monitor or in print, but for this prize the screen is the biggest failure of the X1D.

Startup time I measured to around 9 seconds, with 7 seconds until the screen turned on and a further 2 seconds until the X1D had registered the SD cards and counted the number of photos remaning. If you leave the camera in sleep mode it starts up much faster and during a shoot this is what you will need to do. As I had no spare batteries I left it at 10 minutes before it turned itself off and I did have to turn it back on a couple of times. Certainly did not miss any shots because of it and I am not bothered by this.

There is a noticable blackout time between each shot, which ideally would be a bit shorter. I did not measure it, and I think it is less than one second.

Software

The X1D never crashed on me, unlike the demo unit, nor did I encounter any serious bugs, but certain settings seemed to be forgotten after turning the camera on and off. Shutter speed was one setting which seemed to have a life of its own after a restart. I also had some issues with the live-view switching to one of the menus for some obscure reason, possibly because of my sausage fingers.

Phocus Mobile App

I made an attempt to view the files on my phone with the Phocus mobile app, but I did not have much success with that. The app connected just fine to the X1D and showed a list of photos, but failed to actually render most of them. It’s worth noting I only shot in RAW, which might have an impact here. The option to transfer a photo to the phone was disabled as well.

For my still life shoot I used the app as the shutter release, which worked fine. You could also see an overview of the camera settings. There seemed to be two screens where you could fire the shutter. The first was on the screen after choosing which camera to connect to, and the second was a dedicated ‘capture’ screen. In general the layout of the UI could use a modernisation, but it is adequate.

The performance of the app itself will need some work as well. I had a few disconnects from the X1D, and when you are without a reliable cable shutter release this will need to be fixed. Actually loading the photos on the phone in the overview list was also very, very slow. If I was not testing it out I would have given up on it to be honest.

Conclusion

The X1D is a lovely piece of a kit and was an absolute pleasure to work with. It’s a camera which lets you focus on your subject and getting the shot you want, and while working with it I almost forgot it was there. A camera should be an extension of the eyes and the mind of the photographer, not a puzzle box you need to solve.

I appreciate my review sounds rather negative and nit-picky, but that is more due to a very long wait with high expectations. I am always on a quest to find the perfect camera and I wanted the X1D to be that perfect camera, but I will happily settle for near perfect. The GFX from Fuji has now been released as well, and sadly it blows the X1D out of the water with some of its specifications. Just look at the superior EVF and screen, and don’t get me started on the price point of the Fuji. Hasselblad lacks the detailed lens roadmap which we have seen from Fuji, and although the 90mm and 30mm lenses are a very good start for me I do miss a dedicated macro lens and a longer focal lens.

The X1D is still the camera I want, and I am really happy with out how it actually performed during a typical working shoot for me. Without a doubt I could use it for 80% of what I do, and at the same time enjoying a quality camera with exceptional photos to show for it. Having said that Hasselblad has a lot to prove now, and it was just announced the CEO, Perry Oosting is stepping down, which at the moment does not feel like good news.

I still have my pre-order for the X1D in place, and I wish Hasselblad the best of luck in near future, and finally a big thanks to Perry Oosting for having made it all possible.

6 responses to Two Days with the Hasselblad X1D

  1. John says:

    An excellent review. It’s funny watching the raving drooling Fuji fan boys knock this camera over their preferred GFX. I’m sure both cameras will be excellent.

    Like

  2. Paul Tortora says:

    Erik, thank you for taking the time to share your X1D experience with us. I have one on order as well and there are days I have very mixed feelings on whether or not I should consider purchasing a GFX instead. I realize that both cameras are certainly different and are worthy of purchase for varying reasons but I just wish Hasselblad came out of the gate with a closer to finished product. The need for so many updates and promised updates makes me a bit nervous, especially with investing so much money between the body, lenses and accessories. It would also be nice to get an accurate X1D road map at this point (like Fuiji has done). I’m not even sure if or when Hasselblad will release a portrait centric sense like the 100mm f2.2. This is the one time I hope my preorder lags on its delivery to give me more time to get a read on both cameras when they hit the field in quantity. Again, thanks for a great article.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Paul. I did reach out to Hasselblad a week ago asking about the lens roadmap. They replied they were planning to release more information very soon.

      Like

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