Friday, June 24, 2016

Hasselblad Notes

First let's talk about a couple ideas that the Internet Illiterati are thinking.

This could be a great MF rig for pros

This has several variations, including people pretending to be professionals stating that they intend to buy it. This is stupid on the face of it, it's a wildly incomplete system. Yes, yes, you can adapt these specific lenses, and if you're very careful about which ones and you update the firmware you can get full capability, blah blah blah. No.

Pros will use this as a second camera

Uh huh. Because what pros need as a backup system is something that uses different lenses, different batteries, has a completely different UI, and handles differently. No.

It's so light and tiny!

Well, it's small. And it's light compared with medium format kit, but good lord it's not light. With lens it's over two pounds.

Something I have not seen mentioned is that the ineffable "look" of medium format, which if it's anything is the way focus drops off wide open, is largely or entirely negated by the relatively slow lenses. I'm not sure why I haven't seen any comparisons to the Nikon Df.

This thing is aimed at the moderately well-heeled enthusiast, not the professional. Some professionals will buy it, sure, but it's not a professional system. It's prosumer, just like they say, and that's the industry standard term for well-heeled enthusiast. But this is a great thing. The well-heeled enthusiast has, literally, always been the actual market for expensive cameras. They have funded the whole photography enterprise, start to present! Hooray for the well-heeled enthusiast! You and I are probably well-heeled enthusiasts! Although I admit to being a cheapskate.

H is getting back to its roots here. When I was young, the Hasselblad was the camera we aspired to. It was actually within the grasp, financially, of anyone with a good paying job. You just had to save up and make some sacrifices, or buy used, or both. It was a dream camera, but an achievable one. As Kirk Tuck pointed out, that all went away with digital medium format. You had to be actually quite wealthy to afford these things, and the benefits they offered were (and remain, let us be honest) extremely minimal increments over the best of the 35mm-sized cameras.

This X1D thing isn't the luxury product I was predicting, but it is very much in line with Hasselblad's history.

It also provides a useful benchmark for Hasselblad's design capacity. This thing is, by all accounts, pretty much just the 50mp back wrapped in a box. Now, the design of a box is not to be dismissed, boxes are surprisingly complicated. There's also a slick new UI. But this is not a whole new system, as far as we can tell.

But, if Hasselblad had the engineering capacity to stamp out new camera systems willy-nilly they're not showing us that.


  1. Umm, affordable?? Sorry, but I'm not quite getting this. A very simple kit consisting of body and 35mm-e lens will set you back about 12.000€. Add the short tele and you'll hit 15.000€. Given that they will release a couple more lenses, it it quite easy to spend 20.000€ - on a hobby! Here in Germany, this is the price for an entry level family car (Golf, Octavia, Hyundai i30, second hand Passat or what have you). Even for the upper middle class here such a camera system isn't easily affordable - let alone for a carpenter, as you suggested on VSL. Gee, my car isn't even worth the 35mm-e lens.

    So in my opinion, this is clearly a luxury item (nothing wrong with that, though).

    Best, Thomas

    1. It's not affordable, but it is attainable, for the well-paid working guy. A Master Carpenter in the USA might credibly make somewhere between $50,000 and $100,000 a year. It's not incredible that such a fellow might be able to save up $12,000 over the course of a couple years, for that dream camera.

      Start with a used Nikon D610, used. Save up another thousand or so, sell the Nikon for a little less than you paid for it, and move up to a used Pentax. A few thousand after that and you're into whatever's next. Eventually you've worked your way up to a set of gear you can part out for $8000, and then you save another $4K and, finally, it's time to buy that sweet sweet 'blad with the normal lens.

      That's how we used to do it!

      That particular ladder just isn't feasible when the goal is a $52,000 system. It's just too far to climb, and the gaps are too enormous - you have to save $17,000 at some point.

    2. Hmm, here in Germany the wage of a "Handwerksmeister" or "Industriemeister" is about 45.000€ p.a.. That's significantly above average, but if you have to support a family of four, maybe pay the mortgage for a house, you might struggle to make ends meet, let alone save for a hobby.

      Speaking for myself, the fraction of cost related to gear isn't that big; consumables are expensive. From this year: RAID array since the internal drives are full: 300€; purchasing two boxes of two-sided inkjet paper and several clamping binders and albums for a book project at the local art supply: 240€; replacement for the remote release I dropped into the water: 40€; ink cartridges a 55€ every two months; you get the picture.

      BTW, taking out, say, 20.000€ worth of gear is a big risk, so you'll go for an insurance - the fee for which may approach 1000€ p.a..

    3. Well yes, if there's a family in the picture then the economic picture changes quite a lot.

      Children are infernally expensive!

      Hasselblad was the brand for the doctor, the dentist, and the carpenter who saved money devotedly and had never married ;) These fellows do exist, though!

  2. I think that it might have been more desirable for some art photographers and perhaps travel if they managed to get it up to 100mp or more. At that kind of resolution those that print massive for galleries such as Crewdson or Gursky could use it as an alternative to 10x8 format. Also by virtue of a largish rear screen it could to a certain extent be used on a tripod in a similar way. At 50 mp it is too close to things like the A7r2 and the 5d(s?) that for a travel photographer who is required to print big may not find the bigger sensor as much benefit as the large number of lenses available for other systems along with the unavoidable gain in weight for the lenses to cover a larger sensor. I do wonder if Sony or another will come along with a fixed lens camera using this sensor though as as far as I can tell Sony have had a fair bit of success with the RX1 series and the old Fuji GS645 models were moderately successful in the film era.

  3. As one data point, while I am not a Master Carpenter, I was a paralegal for 11 years and during that time, I was able to assemble a used, medium-format, digital outfit for ~$15k, all-in. (Two Contax 645 bodies, six lenses, Phase One P30+ back, and lots of accessories, including a half-dozen film backs that were part of a package deal.)

    So it _can_ be done if one is determined to do it and prepared to sacrifice as necessary in other aspects of their life.

    As noted above, though, the X1D isn't a camera that I would ever buy. There is a lot about its design that is appealing, but its lack of a shutter makes it completely useless -- hence worthless -- for my purposes.

  4. Just for your information: it has been possible to get second hand digital medium format cameras for as low as 3000€ for the past two years (e.g. and H3D31 or even H3D40) The idea that medium format was unattainable is overrated.