X1D Hands on

This is not a review of the Hasselblad X1D by any means. The following just reflects the process I went through deciding, getting, and using the camera. It's purely personal, and emotional, rather than rational.

SHORT STORY: CONS / PROS

-

  •   price
  •   no image review in the viewfinder
  •   yet no “portrait lens” (100mm to 150mm, f2.0)
  •   startup time
  •   video has NO sound control whatsoever

+

  •   Image quality
  •   4:3 (aka 4,5x6, I love this ratio)
  •   mirrorless (zero vibrations & what you see is what you get)
  •   Camera size/weight/design
  •   Firmware upgrades really enhance the camera each time

LONG STORY (1/2) : WHY THE X1D?

I’ve been shooting for more than 30 years (and I’m not getting any younger…). And despite what adverts say, important technological breakthroughs are few and far apart. Real game changers since the 90’s were

  • TTL flash, 
  • fast and accurate AF, 
  • image stabilisation (try using a 300/2.8 handheld without IS, and you’ll get my point),
  • good digital sensors
  • digital darkrooms (Phocus/LR/C1)
  • mirrorless technology  

Everything else is just bells and whistles, or existed way before (for example the Fuji XT2 is the exact size/shape as the old Contax Aria). And as a matter of fact, the X1D, short of image stabilisation, benefits from all of these breakthroughs. (albeit, the AF is not really meant for sport photography).

For me, one of the most interesting technologies is the “mirrorless” part. In a nutshell, when you press the shutter, the camera takes a hires screenshot of your viewfinder (or back screen). I discovered its sheer simplicity and elegance when I got myself a fuji X100. Suddenly all the DSLRs I had, and had used, felt outdated. That’s when I knew I would ditch my excellent Canon 5D, and move towards a Sony A7 fullframe mirrorless. And I eventually did. And got a H5D because I really wanted medium format.  

Last year, I was still shooting with and H5D (big ass reflex camera) and a Sony A7II when I saw the X1D announcement, I thought “this could be it!”. It was the perfect concept, soon followed by Fuji with their GFX50.

But I wanted a “back to basics” camera. I always had a nostalgia about my Leica M6: small, light, silent, elegant, simple, and darn good! And the X1D seemed to be a resurrection of the M6 in that sense. (plus the digital aspect, and the medium format sensor). And gentleman’s camera. Maybe what Cartier-Bresson would use today…

So in the course of the 9 last months I :

  • sold ALL my photo gear (H5D, sony A7sii, A7ii, lenses and all. I did keep my studio light though)
  • ordered an X1D
  • waited
  • got a Sony Alpha 9 because the waiting time was longish (dudes, 9 months is a long time).
  • sold the Sony Alpha 9
  • bought the X1D
  • sold my big car because the X1D is $$$
  • bought a small 2nd hand car with the $ left
  • got a big smile
  • started shooting
  • got a bigger smile

LONG STORY (2/2) : IN THE FIELD.

Life is beautiful. I can walk around with the camera in a small bag. It’s small, it’s light, I never ask myself anymore “Do I really want to carry a big bag around?”, I just take the camera with me. End of story. It’s really like the Leica M6 days. After having done a few basic tests, I decided to shoot my all time favorite model Ash Lizzies nude on a rocky beach, near Dunkirk. (photos here and www.flickr.com/chrisweiner ). I had the 45 and 90 combo. No tripod. No flash (on the first day). And the shooting went pretty much like a charm. The AF is good for fine arts, the lenses produce exquisite images, had it not been for the lack of image review in the viewfinder, I would have called this a perfect 10. But when you’re on a beach, bright light all around, it’s just like impossible to review the images on the back screen, even with the camera tucked in under my vest. Impossible to check the focus or any motion blur or shake. That was quite unpleasant. That being said, the camera handled splendidly, effortlessly. It’s just amazing.

The next day we returned to the beach with some outdoor studio flash, and experimented the 1/2000 flash sync in bright sunlight. Again, it worked like a charm, I just wished I had a TTL controller for my flash. But I didn’t. The fact that the X1D is Nikon compatible is a great idea, because it opens up a world of existing lighting options. From hotshoe flashes to Profoto TTL studio gear. Great move!

CONCLUSION

It’s a wonderful camera. It’s practical, produces exquisite images, fun to use, beautiful to look at… It almost feels like Steve Jobs designed it. The X1D isn’t perfect yet, but the firmware upgrades really enhance the camera each time. I really hope to see something as “simple” as viewfinder image review (but I know, something simple to use, may not be simple to program into the camera). That being said, the camera’s a keeper. Definitely! I’m only scared to hear about an X2D somewhere down the road… But in the meantime: back to shooting with this great camera, that is slowly becoming my all time favorite camera. And if you knew the size of the list of cameras I owned you’d understand the depth of this statement ;-) 

 

Disclaimer: I’m not affiliated with Hasselblad in any way, the camera and lenses I discuss have been bought with my own money. What I’m going to say just reflects my personal preferences.