Without a doubt, the release of medium format cameras by both Fujifilm and Hasselblad have shaken up the photography industry and have sparked interest from many enthusiast and professional photographers, who are interested in moving up to medium format. While Hasselblad delivered the smallest and the lightest medium format camera ever made in the shape of the X1D-50c, Fuji definitely surprised many of us with the low (for medium format) price of the GFX 50S. With both cameras featuring similar Sony-made sensors with the same size and resolution, one might think that the two cameras compete directly with each other. However, once we look at some details and understand the real differences between the GFX 50S and X1D-50c, it becomes more apparent that the two cameras might have been created for completely different purposes and uses. I have been fortunate to have had my hands on these two cameras for the past few weeks and although I am planning to put the two cameras to real use very soon, I have already gathered some thoughts that I would like to share with our readers. Let’s take a look at the two medium format cameras in more detail and compare them side by side.
Both cameras feel extremely well-built, with magnesium alloy chassis and high-quality plastic materials covering the different parts of the camera body. However, there are definitely differences in perceived quality when you hold both cameras in hand, with the Hasselblad feeling a bit nicer in comparison, thanks to its superior rubber grip, nicely polished and refined aluminum finish and beautiful engravings – it feels like a work of art. It definitely has a style attached to it and its nicely cut, and sometimes edgy corners leave a rich, luxurious feel. The viewfinder is so masterfully integrated into the camera body, that it made me wonder how Hasselblad was able to fit it in such tight space. The X1D-50c is a very minimalistic camera – only a few buttons here and there, along with two dials. That’s it – very classy and chic. It seems like Hasselblad put quite a bit of effort into the design of the camera and it really shows.
In comparison, the Fuji GFX 50S feels quite a bit different. It has the same high-quality finish as the Fuji X-T2, which is very good, but certainly does not have nearly the same feel as the Hasselblad. Fuji chose function over design, which certainly does not make the GFX 50S as sexy-looking as the X1D-50c. There are two large dials for ISO and shutter speed, similar to what we see on other X-series cameras. Two dials on the rear and the front, along with a bunch of functional buttons on the top and the rear of the camera. The electronic viewfinder is not integrated and must be inserted on the top of the camera.
The Hasselblad X1D-50c definitely wins in terms of build quality and the overall feel of the camera.
Ergonomics, Weight and Handling Differences
The two cameras differ quite a bit when it comes to handling, ergonomics and weight. I personally find the X1D-50c much more comfortable to hand-hold compared to the Fuji GFX 50S, not only because it has a very comfortable rubber grip, with nothing on the way of your fingers, but also because it is physically smaller and lighter in comparison. The PASM dial is also very nicely done – push it in and it stays inside the camera without getting in the way. The rubber front and rear dials have a superb feel to them, with distinct clicks, feeling even better than the rubber dials on Nikon DSLRs. In contrast, the GFX 50S dials are made out of plastic, are smaller, feel kind of cheap and they rotate without much resistance. It seems like Fuji simply reused the same dials on the GFX 50S as on cameras like the X-T2, which is a bit odd, as the GFX 50S is a much larger camera in comparison. The grip on the Fuji GFX 50S is nice, but the protruded area to the right side where the “Q” button is feels a bit too rough and sharp for my hands. The GFX 50S is noticeably larger and heavier – those 200 grams of extra weight with the EVF attached are pretty significant. So if we purely judge handling based on the overall feel in hands, total weight and size, the Hasselblad definitely comes out on top.
However, things are vastly different in terms of overall ergonomics and that’s where the Fuji GFX 50S wins, by a huge margin. While Hasselblad focused on a very minimalistic design of the X1D-50c with as few buttons and dials as possible, some things are downright confusing and can take time to get used to. Since there are no navigation buttons on the back of the X1D-50c, you are forced to use the combination of the front and the rear dials, along with the five buttons to the right of the LCD. Those buttons do not have any labels on them – instead, all you see is icons like playback, rectangle, star, an “x” and three striped lines. And depending on where you are in the menu, the buttons have different functions. To jump to a particular menu icon, you either have to use the touchscreen, or use the front and the rear dials – the front dial moves the selection horizontally, while the rear dial moves it vertically. Speaking of the menu, I personally found it to be overly simplified, with some menus having no more than two options. This could be good for someone who is starting out in photography, but come on – this is a medium format camera! People who will be buying such a camera are not going to be novices in photography and they will be expecting to be able to have more options to customize the behavior of the camera.
Another big ergonomic problem for me personally, is the lack of being able to quickly change a focus point. When will manufacturers ever get that the ability to quickly change the focus point is critical for all photographers? The Hasselblad X1D-50c does not have a joystick or navigational buttons to move the focus point. In fact, even after updating the camera to the latest firmware, I could not figure out how to change the focus point on my own – I had to resort to an online manual. It turns out that one has to hold and press the “AF / MF” button on top of the camera in order to bring up the focus points. And guess how you select a focus point? Yup, using the front and the rear dials! Once again, the front dial moves the focus point horizontally, while the rear dial moves it vertically. Why not take advantage of the touchscreen and allow one to just click with their finger to move the focus point to the desired area without having to press anything first? By default, the only thing you can do in live view mode is tap on an area of the screen twice to zoom into it instantly (if you hold and press the “AF / MF” button, only then you can use your finger on the touchscreen to select a focus point). None of the buttons are programmable, so you are stuck with the AF / MF and ISO / WB buttons on the top, and AE-L + AF-D buttons on the back.
The menu system is somewhat buggy and laggy. Even with the latest firmware updates, I found some serious bugs that should be addressed as soon as possible. For example, when shooting in aperture priority mode, if you happen to dial in the exposure compensation via the LCD touchscreen, it will be the default compensation going forward, even if you override it using the rear dial of the camera (Exposure Quick Adjust must be selected to be able to do this). So if I dial something like +1 on the touchscreen, then before taking a picture decide to change the compensation to -1 using the rear dial, as soon as I take a picture, my override resets itself back to the +1 setting. This is a very bad design and something Hasselblad should address – why are there two exposure compensation functions (Exposure Compensation + Exposure Quick Adjust) and why are they not in sync? If I dial compensation, it should be exactly the same, whether I do it via the touchscreen or the rear dial. In fact, I would prefer to have a separate button for exposure compensation – every camera I have used in the past has it, even the most basic DSLR! Camera meters are never perfect and considering how much photographers rely on it, there should be an easy way to change it. And speaking of meters, there is no meter button to be found on the camera. The only way you can switch from one metering mode to another, is by engaging the touchscreen. So if I am shooting in the cold, I either have to have the right touchscreen-compatible gloves for the screen, or I have to take them off. And lastly Hasselblad, what in the world is “Image Orientation” doing in the “Exposure” icon in the menu?
There are many more annoyances and problems, such as the 15 second live view timeout that switches back to the menu if you go idle, but I am going to save all those for the upcoming review.
What about the Fuji GFX 50S, you might ask? Like I said, the GFX 50S wins here by a huge margin! As expected, there are plenty of buttons and dials to quickly change camera settings, very similar to the overall experience one gets from using X-series cameras. A dedicated exposure compensation button, a dedicated joystick for quickly changing focus points (thank you Fuji!), a total of 8 programmable function buttons, an excellent LCD screen on the top of the camera that shows the most important camera settings, the same “Q” button we see on other X-series cameras that allows for quick changes in camera behavior, the same amazing menu system as on the X-T2, tilting touchscreen that actually allows moving focus points by touching different areas of the frame – I could go on and on. Like I said, it is a vastly superior camera ergonomically.
Blackouts and Lags
One of my biggest frustrations when using the Hasselblad X1D-50c has been its blackouts and lags. First of all, the camera takes forever to turn on! After you hold the power button, it takes about 5 seconds for the large “H” logo to clear before the menu comes up (sometimes it takes another 2-3 seconds for the menu to come up). Then if you want to start shooting, you have to half-press the shutter release and there is additional lag that will take another second or two before the LCD or the EVF will engage in live view mode. Think this is bad? Wait until you take a picture! That’s when the biggest issue comes up – the camera goes in complete blackout for 2-3 seconds when shooting RAW + JPEG. During this blackout, you cannot see anything and you cannot do anything, so your only option is to wait. Want more lags? Press the playback button after capture – another 2-3 second wait before the image finally shows up. It almost feels like Hasselblad used a very old and slow processor that cannot keep up with the camera.
The Fuji GFX 50S is free from such issues. Turn the camera on and the LCD comes up almost instantly, with EVF being delayed by less than 2 seconds. The menu system does not have any lags and when you play back images, they come up right away. The touchscreen works very well and pinch and zoom is instant. So far, I have not experienced any major lags and blackouts on the GFX 50S.
Autofocus Speed and Accuracy
Both cameras lack on-sensor phase-detection autofocus, which means that focusing is pretty slow when compared to many other modern digital cameras, since AF is acquired only through contrast detection. Focus speed is not bad, but if you are used to the insanely fast AF of a DSLR, or the latest generation mirrorless cameras, you will be disappointed. The X1D-50c has a total of 35 usable focus points, whereas the Fuji GFX 50S can go all the way to 425 focus points, so Fuji definitely comes out on top there.
When it comes to focus accuracy, I found both cameras to be similar – most images turn out to be very sharp in the areas where the focus point was aimed at, which is great news. However, the Fuji GFX 50S again leads in terms of technical abilities due to vastly better camera firmware. For example, there is no face detection option on the X1D-50c, whereas the GFX 50S inherits these capabilities from cameras like the X-T2 and it works reasonably well. This is a critical function for portrait photographers and I am not sure why Hasselblad did not include it – after-all, Hasselblad medium format cameras are used by many portrait photographers, especially in studio environments.
Overall, as of now, I find the GFX 50S to be superior in terms of AF capabilities.
Leaf Shutter vs Focal Plane Shutter
The biggest differences between the two cameras are leaf shutter vs focal plane shutter. On the X1D-50c, the shutter is located inside the lens, so the front of the sensor is free from a mechanical shutter. When taking pictures with the two cameras, the difference in the noise produced by the cameras is very different – you hear a click-click, click on the Hasselblad, whereas the sound of the shutter on the GFX 50S is somewhat similar to what you would hear from a standard DSLR or a mirrorless camera.
So which one is better, leaf shutter or focal plane shutter? That all depends on what you are going to use the camera for. The biggest advantage of the leaf shutter, is that it can sync with flash at insanely fast speeds, so you do not have to worry about workarounds like high-speed sync. The difference is huge – we are talking about 1/2000th of a second sync speed vs 1/125th of a second. However, that’s also a limitation of the leaf shutter – when shooting in bright conditions, you cannot go beyond 1/2000th of a second, whereas with the focal plane shutter, you can go up to 1/4000th of a second and if you tun on the electronic shutter on the GFX 50S, you can go all the way to 1/16000th of a second.
The biggest surprise for me, however, was the fact that the X1D-50c was not “What You See Is What You Get” (WYSIWYG). Let me show you what I mean. Take a look at the below image:
When I was looking through the viewfinder when messing with the 90mm lens, I saw perfectly round bokeh shapes that looked large and beautiful. And the above image is what came out of the camera after I took the picture. I was a bit surprised to see this, so I took another shot to see if it was a temporary bug, but it happened again – the image looked stopped down! Since I have not had much experience with leaf shutter lenses, I was not sure what was going on, but as I thought about it a little, I realized that such behavior is probably normal, since the lens would be stepping through all apertures at the end of the exposure, potentially causing a very different look. Still, that’s a pretty big problem for me personally, as I would not want to have my images with that “stopped-down look”. Interestingly, this also affects depth of field. When shooting with the GFX 50S and the X1D-50c in a studio setting, the background on the X1D-50c at the same aperture looked more stopped down, with more things appearing in focus.
How does this translate to images? Let’s take a look at a sample portrait using the Hasselblad X1D-50c and the 90mm f/3.2 lens:
As you can see, the out of focus highlights definitely do not show roundness to them at the widest aperture of f/3.2. Even shooting with the Fuji XT-2 and the XF 56mm f/1.2 lens, I was able to get bokeh shapes looking nice and round:
Considering that leaf shutter lenses cannot have very large apertures (and as of now, all three Hasselblad lenses are limited to f/3.2-f/3.5 maximum aperture), I struggle to find the real appeal of the leaf shutter lenses aside from the flash sync speed. If you are after beautiful bokeh, the focal plane shutter is the way to go. Also, you see exactly what you are going to get…
When it comes to lenses, both systems have superb lenses at the moment and I expect more lenses in the next few years from both Hasselblad and Fuji. Just a quick FYI – both systems use focus-by-wire method of focusing. Build quality of lenses seem to be very solid, but the focusing on the Hasselblad lenses is pretty darn loud when compared to Fuji lenses.
I was hopeful when Fuji said that they customized the Sony sensor – I assumed that it would perform better than the Hasselblad. I tested both cameras at low and high ISOs, then even performed basic ISO invariance tests, underexposing all the way to 5 stops and then recovering in post to see if there were any drastic differences between the two. Unfortunately, I cannot seem to find any differences in sensor performance – both sensors seem to be very similar. There are no differences at low ISO values, so I am only going to show you ISO 6400 and ISO 100 pushed to 5 stops. Let’s first take a look at ISO 6400 (Left: Fuji GFX 50S, Right: Hasselblad X1D-50c, click to enlarge):
Do you see any differences here? Good, because I don’t see any either.
Let’s take a look at ISO 100, underexposed by 5 stops and then recovered in post (Left: Fuji GFX 50S, Right: Hasselblad X1D-50c, click to enlarge):
In essence, you are looking at ISO 3200 here. Again, I don’t see any drastic differences between the two images, which shows that the sensors on the GFX 50S and X1D-50c are practically the same. The sensors are pretty darn close to be ISO-invariant, which is great news!
Based on everything above, I can conclude that for my photography needs, the Fuji GFX 50S is clearly a better choice – it is a very functional camera with excellent ergonomics, superb menu system that gives me plenty of customization options, reliable autofocus, easy to use interface and excellent image quality. The Hasselblad seems to be aimed towards those who need to be able to sync their flashes at fast shutter speeds. It is a much sleeker and lighter camera, with very well-thought out design. But aside from that, I struggle to see how the Hasselblad X1D-50c can take on the Fuji – its minimalistic ergonomic approach, long & annoying blackouts, and overly simplified menu system leaves me wondering if Hasselblad is going to take steps to address these problems via firmware updates (and I am not even sure if those issues can be addressed via firmware). Fuji already has quite a bit of mirrorless experience under its belt, with cameras used by the masses, and it really shows. In my opinion, for most photographers looking at a budget-friendly medium format camera, the GFX 50S is the better choice. However, if I were a portrait photographer and fast flash sync speed was important for my style of shooting (without resorting to HSS tricks), I would definitely take a closer look at the Hasselblad X1D-50c.
Update: Received a couple of tips from my friend Ming Thein. Turns out RAW + JPEG slows things down considerably, so switching just to RAW makes a huge difference. The blackout is still there, but it is much shorter. Also, the blackout gets shorter after the first shutter actuation. For better AF experience, he recommends to switch to manual focus and use the rear AF-D button for focusing instead (back-button focusing), which definitely makes a difference. Thank you Ming!
Hope you found this comparison useful. If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments section below.