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Mirrorless Musings

Date: 22/06/2016 | By: Mathieu

The new Hasselblad X1D – Will medium format regain its popularity?


The new Hasselblad X1D – Will medium format regain its popularity?

Hasselblad made history thanks to its medium format cameras (12 of their film cameras are still on the surface of the moon) and nowadays the company produces several high-end medium format DSLRs. Today the Swedish company added a new system to its catalogue. Small hint: there’s no mirror!

The new X1D-50c has the best of two worlds: a large sensor housed in a compact and light camera body. The latter is definitely the most pleasant surprise: the weight and dimensions are not that different from an A7r II and even smaller than a Nikon D810. So for medium format, it is quite compact!

If you are interested in all the specs and details about the new camera, I invite you to check our news article on the curation website. Here I will share some personal thoughts about this new system.

Before starting, let’s sum up some facts about medium format if you are not familiar with it.

Medium format includes any format larger than 35mm (36x24mm) and smaller than 4×5 inches (102x127mm, which is considered large format). One of the most popular medium formats is 120 film which is available in different aspect ratios (6×4.5, 6×6, 6×9 etc.).

With digital, there are currently two main medium format sizes on the market used by several brands including Hasselblad, Phase One and Pentax:

  • 53.9×40.4mm (H6D-100c, Phase One XF 100MP and more)
  • 44x33mm (X1D-50c, H6D-50c, Pentax 645z and more)

The former is very close in size to the 6×4.5 format of 120mm film (whose size is precisely 56×41.5mm). The second is smaller and can be considered the APS-H of medium format (the crop factor is approximately 1.25x). There can be tiny variations in size between these two formats: for example there is a 45x30mm sensor used by Leica for its S system.

sensor formats
Sensor sizes compared

The Hasselblad X1D-50c houses a 50MP CMOS sensor that is 44x33mm in size, which is 1.7 times bigger than the one found in the Sony A7 series. It is a sensor designed by Sony, released in 2014 and used by Pentax, Phase One and Hasselblad on other mirrorless and DSLR medium format cameras. Wait a minute, did you just say “mirrorless”? Yes, because the A-series by Phase One is mirrorless too. The difference however is that the camera is based on the Alpa film system with a digital back. So we can consider the X1D the first 100% modern digital mirrorless system (and “world’s first” always sounds nice in a press release anyway!).

Long story short, the X1D-50c uses a “crop” medium format sensor in comparison to the “full frame” medium format. However when we refer to full frame, we generally mean the 35mm format that, after being the most popular film format, is now also popular for digital photography (the success of the Sony A7 series being the latest proof).

So what do I mean by my title? Well, I’m wondering if one day these medium formats could become as popular as 35mm and APS-C. I think it’s a big challenge but why not daydream for a second?

Hasselblad X1D

Let’s go back in time again. Before the rise of 35mm film cameras for both professionals and amateurs, medium format was the most popular film format used in the first half of the 20th century. Then it gradually became the choice of professional photographers and aficionados. Today it still has its niche of users especially within the film community.

The first digital medium format cameras released from 2004 onward by Mamiya and Hasselblad were very expensive. Hasselblad also produced digital backs that could be adapted to its film cameras but they were pricey as well. They are cameras mainly used for high level fashion and landscape work (and also rented when needed for specific assignments when the photographer can’t afford the investment). But as the technology evolved, medium format and the prices started to decrease.

Today, some of these cameras are still very expensive (the Phase One XF 100MP with the 80mm lens costs $49,000) but other popular medium format cameras such as the Pentax 645z cost around $7000 for the body, which is still a lot of money but on the same level as a high-end 35mm DSLR like the Nikon D5.

The new Hasselblad X1D will start at a retail price of $9000 (body only) or $11290 with the 45mm lens. Expensive, yes, but I do wonder if other brands will join the medium format market now that mirrorless technology is in the game. The 50MP sensor designed by Sony is used by three companies already and I wouldn’t be surprised if Fujifilm or Sony join the party in the not-so-distant future. Sony has a valid partnership with Zeiss who has designed many medium format lenses (including the one on the Hasselblad cameras used for the NASA landing on the moon). Fujifilm designed mirrorless film cameras in the past including the re-branded X-Pan by Hasselblad and has lots of knowledge when it comes to optics (they co-develop the HC lenses for the Swedish company). So I definitely think it’s possible that we’ll see the medium format market increase in the years to come. More cameras and more brands mean more competition and usually that triggers a decrease in price and a bigger second-hand market. The mirrorless option is a good incentive and Hasselblad showed today that the reduced size and weight is possible.

Other questions remain: do we really need it and who it is for?

Certainly the costs involved in the design and manufacturing of medium format cameras and lenses is not indifferent. I am sure other brands will carefully consider whether it is worth the effort and the investment. It might take a long time before it takes off in popularity and the only way to reach a larger group of customers is if the price decrease. But if it happens, we might remember this X1D as the first step in that direction.

For now the specs of the X1D are mainly attractive for fashion, landscape and fine art photographers. The investment is considerable but not out of reach for a professional photographer with good experience and a good income that can amortise the cost over time.

Personally, I am curious to try it to expand my medium format knowledge (and have some fun with it, maybe by comparing the camera to the A7r II!). Of course we could also say that right now the mirrorless cameras we have (micro four thirds, Fujifilm and Sony E system) are enough for most situations and needs. But the “wow factor” is always enticing (and let’s not even start with G.A.S.!).

Are you interested in the new Hasselblad X1D? Share your thoughts below!

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About the author: Mathieu Gasquet

Mathieu Gasquet is a professional photographer with French and Italian origins. Besides running his own video and photography studio 3Dit Lab, he is also the official photographer for the National Cinema Museum in Turin. You can follow him on Google+, Twitter or Facebook!

  • Archieman

    Sorry no interest for me, another purchase that would not contribute to improving my ability to “see” possible interesting images.

  • Mark

    Ming Thien has been using one for a few weeks now and seems to be thoroughly enjoying it!

  • markthetog

    I think what many miss in the introduction of this camera is the leaf shutter lenses. The ability to sync with flash at all speeds is of huge importance to professionals. Thus the popularity of Hasselblad, Mamiya RB/RZ, etc compared to Pentax 6×7 and 645 which did offer only a couple of leaf shutter lenses.
    Compact size and low prices are huge incentives for pros wanting to make the jump.

  • Fred Chopin

    If a person can afford a car then they can certainly afford a Hasselblad. This camera costs a lot less than any car.

  • Mathieu

    They might release another lens later on.

  • Pix_Boy

    Very interesting, my only surprise is that there is no 50mm equivalent lens released with the camera, I think 35,50 and 85 are kinda mandatory.
    I know a 30mm is coming at photokina, but still….

  • zensu

    I’ve dreamed of owning a Hasselblad camera since I was a teen in the 60s’ but alas I’m a poor photographer (still am) and it was (and is still) priced out of my league. This new Mirrorless Hasselblad is still too costly for my means but it does put it within reach on the second hand market in 5-6 years! I’m saving my pennies!

  • Otto Von

    I would buy this camera in an instant if I had the money for it and a lens. This is a very interesting/exciting camera and design! It looks smaller than a Nikon/Canon pro DSLR, and not much bigger than a Fujifilm body – very impressive. I’m very curious to know how fast AF is and how intuitive the controls are. I currently use and love my Lumix GX8 and the m4/3 system. In a few years I’ll be in a better financial situation, so I’ll keep my eye on this camera. Thanks for posting and I look forward to a review.

  • Mathieu

    You could paid Hasselblad a visit and ask to try the camera. Some kind of neighbour courtesy :)

  • Per K

    An obvious comparison, not least price-wise, would be with the Leica SL. The “Bladare” as we say in Sweden is cheaper! Top class image quality engines: booth. But “Bladaren” has larger sensor and twice as many pixels. User interface, ergonomy and build: Equal. Lenses are few but excellent for booth.
    Sony and Fuji could do a conceptually similar camera system, no problem. More logic for Fuji, currently being locked into one sensor size only in their offering: Low volume and an alternative for Fuji users that want to develop their photography.
    Sony are pre-occopied with building up the FE system. However their product development is aggressive to say the least. A scaled up A7R2 type sensor would put IQ ahead of the competition. But are Sony interested in a small volume/high development cost system? Could Sony/Fuji co develop a MF system?
    Anyway I wish I could invest in a camera developed and built just across the river from where I live :-)

  • Mathieu

    During the presentation someone asked if they would produce any more of these rebadged camera and the answer was clear: no! They changed their strategy at the beginning of last year and I guess they realise those products weren’t a good thing at all :)

  • Mathieu

    Maybe Fujifilm will release a digital X-Pan 😉

  • Mathieu

    I like the design too. I hope it is practical too, I wonder how easy it is to change the focus point for example since there isn’t an arrow pad on the rear. Probably with the touch screen.

  • soundimageplus

    I used MF film cameras and the difference in price between them and top of the range 35mm was not so great as it is now. There is also a (lack of) lens problem. 50mp with the Canon 5Ds’s is somewhat cheaper and easier to work with as well. However it’s nice to see Hassleblad producing ‘proper’ cameras again after those ridiculous rebadged Sony’s with the wooden grips and ridiculous prices.

  • Michael

    Again ,a very nice camera design wise , way too expensive for me. I’m still hoping for Hasselblad to release a digital X-Pan , I never got the film X-Pans & have regretted that ever since.

  • Richard Henderson

    Up tothe point you mentioned price I was excited. Unless there is some stiff competition I do not think the likes of me will get to have one of these in my hands :-), but there is always a possibiltity. It is a beautiful looking camera though. Simple in design but very practicle in use.

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