Hasselblad created quite a bit of buzz when it released the Hasselblad X1D-50c in June of 2016. With its 44x33mm image sensor, 2.36 MP electronic viewfinder (EVF), dual SD card slots, 3″ touchscreen LCD, built-in Wi-Fi, GPS, leaf shutter, a super lightweight construction weighing only 725 grams with a battery and a very compact size, the X1D-50c looked absolutely stunning both in terms of its specifications and its stylish design. Hasselblad priced the camera at $8,999 MSRP at introduction, which when compared to the traditional Hasselblad prices, looked like a bargain for the first time. Hasselblad called the X1D a “groundbreaking” camera and a game changer – pretty bold, but valid statements given “the world’s first medium format mirrorless” status. Despite the fact that the X1D-50c was delayed a number of times since its announcement due to high demand, I was able to get a hold of a sample unit back in March of 2017. So this review is based on 4 months of heavy shooting with the camera in different shooting environments.
Together with the X1D-50c, Hasselblad also announced two new lenses specifically made for the camera – a 45mm f/3.5 (~36mm full-frame equivalent) and a 90mm f/4.5 (~72mm full-frame equivalent). These are the two and only lenses I used for evaluating the camera in the field and in my lab.
The Hasselblad X1D-50c might be the first of its kind, but its sensor is definitely not – we have previously seen it on another medium format camera, the Pentax 645Z. Although the 50 MP medium-format sensor is excellent in every way (as I have described in my Pentax 645Z review), Sony simply decided to resell existing sensor technology to three different manufacturers: Pentax, Hasselblad and Fuji. So whether you are looking at the Pentax 645Z, Hasselblad X1D-50c or Fuji GFX 50S, they all share exactly the same sensor. And although Fuji claims that they “customized” the sensor to yield superior image quality, I personally could not see any noticeable differences in quality, as noted in my Hasselblad X1D-50c vs Fuji GFX 50S comparison article. So at the end of the day, it all boils down to differences in camera systems. The Pentax 645Z is a large and heavy DSLR with a good selection of lenses already available – it is a fairly mature medium format system. The Hasselblad X1D-50c is a lightweight and stylish mirrorless camera with a total of 4 leaf shutter lenses available at the moment (and three coming later on in 2017). And the Fuji GFX 50S is also another mirrorless medium format camera (although with a focal plane shutter) that was announced after the X1D-50c, with a total of 5 lenses available at the moment, with more on the way. I have been fortunate to have used all three, so everything I say in this review is based on my extensive experience with these particular cameras. It is also important to point out that I will naturally be comparing these systems against each other in the review, so there will be a lot of mentioning of Pentax and Fuji (and especially Fuji, since it competes directly with the Hasselblad). Let’s get started!
1) Overview and Sensor Size Comparison
While the Hasselblad X1D-50c technically has more resolution than any other full-frame camera on the market (the closest in resolution is the Canon 5DS / 5DS R), it is not the resolution, but the sensor size that plays a huge role in the overall image quality of a system. Generally, larger sensors have better handling of noise, potentially better dynamic range, better colors and with the right set of lenses, can produce beautifully rendered photographs. At the end of the day, sensor size certainly does matter, but the big question is, how much of a difference is there really between medium format and full-frame sensors? Take a look at the below illustration:
Unlike “APS-C” and “full-frame”, “medium format” does not strictly define one particular size of sensor. As you can see, the sensor on the Hasselblad X1D-50c (just like on the Pentax 645Z and the Fuji GFX 50S), is significantly smaller compared to the medium format sensor found on the Hasselblad H6D-100c. One should understand that moving up to “medium format” can differ quite a bit depending on what size of medium format sensor one chooses. There is a huge cost premium involved when moving up to the largest 53.5mm x 40mm sensors too (for example, the Hasselblad H6D-100c retails for $33K, far more than what the X1D-50c goes for). Think of the X1D-50c sensor as a crop-sensor medium format, because that’s what it is really…
When it comes to overall sensor size, it is also important to point out the physical size difference between the above-mentioned cameras:
- Full-Frame is 236% as large as APS-C and typically 2x-4x as expensive
- Medium Format Small (Hasselblad X1D-50c, Pentax 645Z, Fuji GFX 50S) is 167% as large as full-frame and typically 3x-4x as expensive
- Medium Format Large (Hasselblad H6D-100c) is 149% as large as Medium Format Small and 3x-4x as expensive
As you can see, moving up in sensor size costs a huge premium and the larger you go, the less value you get. Considering that one can get a new camera with an APS-C sensor for around ~$500 nowadays, does it make sense to move up to a Hasselblad H6D-100c that costs $33 thousand dollars? Even if the latter has a 586% as large of a sensor, the cost difference is a whopping 6,600%, which is mind-boggling. For most people, this is simply a huge waste of money. Now considering that the smaller medium format sensor is only 167% as large as full-frame and yet it is 2-3 times as expensive compared to something like the Nikon D810, one wouldn’t get the same dollar per sensor inch value as say when moving from an APS-C to a full-frame camera. Hence, such a move would not make much financial sense for most photographers out there.
However, for those who want to have the best image quality and do not mind the much higher price premium, medium format cameras certainly do have an edge over full-frame cameras. For example, Hasselblad X1D-50c’s pixel size is 5.3µ, whereas the Nikon D810 has a pixel size of 4.88µ. Not only does the latter have less resolution, but it also has smaller pixels, which gives a fairly noticeable advantage to the X1D-50c. The difference is certainly visible in images, but it is very marginal. While jumping from an APS-C sensor to medium format would be huge, moving up from full-frame to medium format is not going to show night and day differences in image quality. And that’s expected, given the relatively small difference in sensor size between the two, as shown above.
2) Hasselblad X1D-50c Specifications
Main Features and Specifications:
- Sensor: 51.4 MP, 5.3µ pixel size
- Sensor Size: 43.8 x 32.9mm
- Resolution: 8272 x 6200
- Native ISO Sensitivity: 100-25,600
- Weather Sealing/Protection: Yes
- Leaf Shutter: 60 minutes to 1/2000
- Storage: 2x SD slots (UHS-I only)
- Viewfinder: 2.36MP XGA Electronic Viewfinder
- Speed: 2.3 FPS
- Built-in Flash: No
- Autofocus System: Autofocus metering via contrast detection; Instant manual focus override
- LCD Screen: 3.0 inch TFT type, 24 bit color, 920K pixels
- Touch Functionality: Yes
- Battery Type: Rechargeable Li-ion battery (7.2 VDC/3200 mAh)
- WiFi: Yes
- GPS: Yes (must be mounted on the hot shoe)
- USB Standard: 3.0
- Weight: 725g (Camera Body and Li-ion battery)
- Dimensions: 150 x 98 x 71 mm
- Price: $8,999 MSRP
A detailed list of camera specifications is available at Hasselblad.com
3) Design and Build Quality
The Hasselblad X1D-50c is one of the most beautiful and well-made cameras I have tested to date. With its minimalistic design, it feels like a work of art. It is clear that the designers paid a lot of attention to all the details, aiming for a simplistic and yet functional look. The camera has a very distinct look, with beautifully curved edges and nicely polished and refined aluminum finish, giving it a very consistent, complete and luxurious feel. On the top plate of the camera, you will find two engravings – one with the camera’s “X1D” model and one directly underneath that says “HANDMADE IN SWEDEN” in small letters. Judging by the built quality of this camera, I have no doubt that each one of these went through quite a bit of manual labor and inspection – it really shows.
The attention to detail is pretty remarkable on the X1D-50c; even the plastic and rubber components that connect to the tough aluminum frame fit perfectly, with no strange gaps or misalignments. Unfortunately, pictures don’t do justice to show just how well this camera is made – you really have to feel the camera in your hands to understand. The front of the camera has a very simple layout. Aside from two buttons (one of which is used to release the camera lens), an AF assist light and a front dial, there are no buttons, switches or dials to deal with. The same concept of simplicity can be seen on the top of the camera. As you can see from the above picture, there are a total of 4 buttons and a single PASM dial. The first button to the left of the PASM dial is used to change between autofocus (AF) and manual focus (MF). The second button is used to change ISO and White Balance. Then there is a Power On / Off button, along with the much larger shutter release button colored in orange. The buttons have very nice dampened feel to them and you can feel a slight “click” once each button is depressed, and this includes the shutter release button.
To prevent accidental toggling of power, Hasselblad lowered the On / Off switch to make it level with the to plate, which is very nice. To turn the camera on, one has to press and hold the power button for a fraction of a second. Once the camera powers up after 5-9 seconds (see “Bugs, Blackouts and Lags” for details on start-up time), quickly pressing the power button puts the camera into sleep mode. So if you want to avoid the long and painful start up, you might want to power the camera once, then keep it in the sleep mode for as long as possible (see additional notes on sleep mode in the “Battery Life” section of the review). To wake the camera up from sleep mode, one can again either press the power button, or simply half-press the shutter release. To turn the camera off, one has to press and hold the power button until both the LCD screen and the orange LED light on the back of the camera shut off.
The refined, polished look on the top of the camera is also reflected on the PASM dial. Hasselblad came up with a very clever way to implement the dial, something I have never seen in another camera before. Basically, the PASM dial by default sits low, so that its top surface is flush with the top surface of the camera, just like the power button. In this position, the dial is impossible to move – it is locked in position. To unlock the dial and change to a different camera mode, you have to push the dial in, which makes it pop out. From there, you can easily rotate the dial and change the camera mode to anything you want. Now this is a very clever way to design the camera! Forget about accidental camera mode changes and dials that get in the way. I have also noticed that after months of use in different environments (including dust and rain), the X1D remained in pristine condition, with no dust or debris getting into different holes and openings that are hard to clean.
As you can see, the same methodology was used to design the back of the camera:
Again, everything is done with a minimalistic style – only two buttons plus a single rear dial on the top, and a total of five buttons to the right of the LCD. The two buttons on the top are used for locking exposure (AE-L) and focusing (AF-D), whereas the dial, just like the front one, is used for different tasks such as navigating the camera menu and changing exposure settings.
The LCD area is pretty large, but the screen itself is not that big at 3″ inches, so there is some wasted space. Since it is a touch-sensitive LCD, Hasselblad intentionally left some space between the LCD and the buttons, so that pressing the buttons does not trigger the touchscreen. The LCD screen is pretty standard, with a total of 920K dots to display images and the camera menu. There are five buttons to the right of the LCD that are labeled with icons and their functions can change depending on what you are doing.
The electronic viewfinder (EVF) is also nicely integrated into the back of the camera. It protrudes a bit and the soft rubber attachment makes it somewhat comfortable to shoot. There is a sensor to the right of the EVF, which causes the camera to switch from LCD to EVF when your face is at proximity. When it comes to EVF resolution and responsiveness, the 2.36 MP XGA viewfinder is certainly adequate, but nothing to rave about. In fact, when comparing the EVF performance between the X1D-50c and the Fuji GFX 50S, I can tell you that the EVF on the GFX 50S is far superior. Not just in terms of detail (the GFX 50S has a 3.69 MP EVF), but also in terms of refresh rate. When shooting in low light conditions, the EVF on the X1D-50c feels very jumpy and if you have any vertical lines, you will notice the effect of the rolling shutter.
The grip area is free of any buttons or dials, something we normally don’t see on most cameras. Speaking of the grip, the Hasselblad X1D-50c has a deeply protruded grip that gives plenty of room for fingers on the front of the camera, as well as plenty of space to rest the thumb on the back of the camera. Couple that with a soft rubber material and you have an ultra comfortable grip that is suitable for hours of shooting. While I personally found the X1D-50c to be a very comfortable camera to shoot with, I cannot say that I am a big fan of its ergonomics, which is what I am going to discuss in the next section.
When it comes to the overall size of the camera, it is impressively small and compact. It is the smallest and the lightest of the three medium format cameras, and the difference is very obvious when you handle the camera. Side by side, it is visibly shorter and thinner than my Nikon D810. And when comparing to the Fuji GFX 50S, the differences are still pretty obvious, especially when it comes to its depth:
Fuji placed its LCD much further away from the sensor to reduce the amount of heat generated by the two and to make space for a large battery.
When it comes to the battery, that’s another area where Hasselblad designers demonstrated their excellence. While most manufacturers put a barn door that one can open to access the camera’s battery, the X1D-50c does not have one. Instead, the battery itself is designed to be both a battery and a door. To pop the battery out, you move a switch on the bottom of the camera, which only makes the battery come down by about 5mm. There is a locking pin in place to prevent the battery from falling off easily, so in order to pop the battery out completely, one has to push the battery in a little bit, which unlocks the lock pin and allows the battery to come out fully. That’s a pretty clever way to design the battery compartment for sure!
It is impressive how Hasselblad was able to cram all the electronics and a medium format sensor in such a small camera. Without a doubt, the X1D-50c is the most beautiful and the most thought-out cameras of the three when it comes to overall design. However, not everything is necessarily good in terms of functionality and ergonomics, so let’s talk about that next.
4) Ergonomics and Menu System
Although the X1D-50c shines with its beauty, design and build quality, I personally found it to be the worst of the three in terms of overall ergonomics. Hasselblad’s minimalistic design gives it the best looks, but it surely hurts it in usability. With only a few buttons here and there, one is forced to either rely on a touchscreen, or get used to pressing different buttons to navigate the camera menu and make simple changes. The five buttons to the right of the LCD are not intuitive in any way and I found myself constantly pressing wrong buttons, which was definitely frustrating. It took a while to get used to them, which did not last very long – as soon as I switched to another camera for more than a week, I had to relearn the buttons again. Hasselblad decided to exclude a joystick or a multi-function dial on the back of the camera, making it unnecessarily difficult to use the camera. When not using the touchscreen, you are basically forced to use a combination of front and rear dials, along with the five buttons to the right of the LCD. As I have pointed out earlier, these 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 have to use the front and the rear dials – the front dial moves the selection horizontally, while the rear dial moves it vertically. This is not in any way intuitive and I really wish the X1D-50c had at least a small joystick for navigation and focus selection purposes.
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. Here is what the menu looks like:
The camera menu is divided into three main sections: shooting menu, video menu and options. I honestly don’t see the point of having these sections, since you can access them all from the left side anyway. To access each section, you either have to touch them on the LCD, or press the corresponding buttons to the right of the LCD (rectangle, star and “x”). And to navigate between the different options, you can again engage the touchscreen or use the front and rear dials. All these navigation pains could have been easily addressed. It is not like there is not enough space: instead of giving so much room for the thumb on the back grip of the camera, I wish Hasselblad added a small joystick / multi-function button there.
Another big ergonomic problem for me personally, is the lack of being able to quickly change a focus point. When will all camera manufacturers understand that the ability to quickly change the focus point is critical for us photographers? The Hasselblad X1D-50c does not have a joystick or multi-function navigational buttons to move the focus point. In fact, even after updating the camera to the firmware release that gave the ability to select a focus point, I could not figure out how to do it 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 or the touchscreen! The front dial moves the active focus point horizontally, while the rear dial moves it vertically. The touchscreen is easier to use than the dials, but I find that too limiting for my needs when shooting with gloves on in cold weather. Touchscreens are nice to have, but they are practically useless in cold weather when wearing thicker gloves. Sadly, none of the buttons on the camera are programmable either, 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 incomplete, buggy and sometimes even laggy. Every once in a while, my X1D sample would lock up with “No Card” error when using SanDisk Extreme cards, which was very annoying. Thankfully Hasselblad engineers were able to figure out and address the problem via the latest firmware update v1.17.0. In addition, the camera would lock up occasionally with an error message, asking me to remove and reinsert the battery. I could not figure out the exact source of the problem, but it has happened more than a few times and I am not sure if this bug has been fixed in the latest firmware update or not. There are other bugs and issues worth mentioning. 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 you take a picture, the override resets itself back to the +1 setting. 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.
The simplistic menu system lacks many options one might be used to seeing on their previous cameras. For example, the camera does not have any bracketing / auto-bracketing options. There is no playback menu to customize image playback behavior. There are no options to add copyright metadata to images. Aside from being able to change JPEG quality and color profile, there are no other JPEG output settings such as “sharpening”, “color” and “noise reduction” available and there are no built-in JPEG color profiles to choose from. There is no way to customize the camera’s autofocus behavior and there are no continuous AF focusing options available either. There is no built-in intervalometer or time-lapse function. No way to customize EVF and its behavior. Aside from rule of thirds, there are no other framing guidelines available. You cannot customize / program any of the buttons on the camera, or switch the function of the front and rear dials. So on and so forth – hopefully you get the idea of what simplistic / minimalistic really mean when it comes to camera functionality.
Another concern is related to Auto ISO. While I am thankful that the X1D-50c has the Auto ISO option, it is too limited when compared to modern Auto ISO implementations on other cameras. For example, there are no options to set minimum shutter speed and there are no “Auto” shutter speed options available either, which take into account the reciprocal rule. When shooting in Manual Mode, Auto ISO is not even an option, which is unfortunate, because Manual + Auto ISO can be a powerful combination.
The good news is, Hasselblad is committed to making the X1D-50c a successful camera, so its engineers are working hard on making constant changes to the camera’s firmware. The bad news is, how long will it take for them to fix so many problems and add more features? To me, the X1D-50c feels like an under-cooked camera that should have been more solid at launch. I would not expect anyone to nail a camera at first try, but it seems like it is taking too long for Hasselblad to address simple issues and make a more usable camera…
5) Blackouts and Lags
One of my biggest frustrations when using the Hasselblad X1D-50c has been its blackouts and lags. First of all, as I have previously pointed out, 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.
I have been told that the reason why the camera takes forever to boot up is because it loads a massive calibration file that contains all the important settings for lenses and the camera, so that it can produce the best image quality possible. While it is certainly a good thing for Hasselblad to focus on image quality, it should not come with such a penalty in my opinion. Perhaps Hasselblad can figure out a way to compress this giant file or somehow load its contents into the camera’s memory permanently, but faster start-up time should be their top priority in the next firmware release.
Now if you think the start-up lag is bad, wait until you take a picture. That’s when another blackout takes place and the camera freezes 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. If you want to have less blackouts, your only option is to change to RAW format only. While I understand that a 50 MP sensor generates massive images that can be slow to write to a memory card, such long blackouts are not pleasant to deal with, not when others like Fuji and Pentax can manage it just fine. Perhaps the processor on the X1D-50c is weaker than it should be, or perhaps there is an issue with an SD card module – I am not sure what the cause of this delay is. Sadly, similar blackout behavior takes place when playing back images as well: be prepared to wait 2-3 seconds more before an image finally shows up on the LCD screen or the EVF (the playback delay is much more tolerable in RAW-only capture mode). I am not sure what Hasselblad can do to address these blackout issues (and if they are even addressable), but as of now I would not consider getting the X1D-50c for these reasons alone.
When I was traveling in Turkey, I missed so many great opportunities because of the slow start-up time and various delays / lags. While I recognize that the X1D-50c is not meant to be for street and action photography, it still should not be that slow of a camera to shoot with. I did not have such problems with the Fuji GFX 50S when photographing in Israel and it performed admirably, so perhaps my expectations were set a bit too high for doing similar work with the X1D-50c in Turkey. Forget about photographing anything moving – by the time the camera powers up, the subject is already gone. And even if you do happen to be in sleep mode and can wake the camera up quick enough, its autofocus system is too slow to be able to focus on a moving subject (see more in “Autofocus” section), as there is not even an AF-C option to switch to.
Another annoyance is with the sleep mode. If you decide to keep the camera powered on, if you accidentally trigger the shutter release instead of half-pressing it, the camera will wake up and immediately take a picture. This one proved to be quite annoying after a while and I ended up taking more than a few accidental shots because of this bug. This one should be relatively easy to fix in a future firmware update and I hope Hasselblad engineers do it sooner than later.
Lastly, there is another lag with the eye sensor on the EVF. While it often works pretty well, occasionally it fails to detect my face, especially right after start up. This also resulted in a few missed opportunities in the field, which was certainly annoying.
6) Firmware Updates
The Hasselblad X1D-50c had a lot of problems with its initial firmware releases that were provided with the camera. Mine was shipped with one of the early firmware releases (v1.12.0) that did not even allow selecting a focus point – it only defaulted to the middle one. So as soon as I saw that there was a new firmware release available, I went ahead and updated. During the bulk of the time I shot with the X1D-50c, I had the v1.15.1 firmware installed on the camera, but I did update to the v1.17.0 release as soon as it became available, so I had to go back and update my review notes and make sure that they did not contain any old information. It is good to see that with each new firmware release, Hasselblad is not only addressing existing bugs, but also releasing new features. For example, the v1.17.0 release now adds ability to power the camera from the USB port, something you could not do before, which is nice.
I do have a small complaint with Hasselblad though. To download the camera firmware, you have to create an account at Hasselblad and login first, which is disappointing. I can understand that Hasselblad wants to keep a current database of its customers, but I was not very happy to go through the registration process. Not just because I don’t like providing my email and my contact info when I don’t need to, but also because Hasselblad wanted too much information during registration – I was requested to put in a link to my portfolio and even provide my biography. Although those fields were optional, why put those in a registration form to download camera firmware? Companies should make it easy to register and better yet, not require registering at all when wanting to address simple bugfixes via firmware updates.
As for the actual firmware update process, it is pretty simple – once you download the latest firmware release as a file like “X1D_v1_17_0.cim”, you simply copy it to the root folder of your memory card. Next, you insert the memory card into the camera, go to the “Service” icon in the camera menu, then select “Check for Update”. This looks for the firmware file in the memory card and once it is located, the camera will ask if you would like to upgrade. The upgrade screen warns that the firmware upgrade procedure takes a long time, up to 15 minutes, so you should make sure that you have a fully charged battery. The process really does take a while and after the upgrade process is complete, you will be notified with an “Update finished” message and the camera will ask you to remove and reinsert the battery. Once you do that, you will be running the latest firmware release.
7) GPS Module
One of the features that was advertised as “built-in” during the X1D-50c announcement, was GPS capability. When I received my X1D-50c, I looked everywhere and could not find any GPS-related menus or options. It turns out that Hasselblad was not able to integrate GPS into the camera, and as of June of 2017, you will need to register the camera with Hasselblad in order to receive a “GPS module” that attaches to the top of the camera’s hot shoe. It is good that Hasselblad is giving these out for free and I hope that existing X1D-50c owners contact the company to obtain their modules. It would have been nice if a GPS chip was included in the camera, but I wonder how it would have performed under that thick aluminum shell. Another concern is battery life – a GPS module will drain it even more, which is a big concern!
8) Battery Life
When the X1D-50c was announced and I saw its battery specification (3200 mAh @ 7.2 Volts), I thought that this camera would be amazing in terms of battery life. Considering that the EN-EL18a battery on the Nikon D5 runs forever and it has a total of 2500 mAh of power @ 10.8 Volts, the specifications of the battery on the X1D-50c sounded pretty impressive (23K mWh vs 27K mWh). When I received the camera and compared its battery with the battery on the Fuji GFX 50S, I wondered if something was wrong with the battery specification. The two batteries seemed to be of about the same weight and size and yet the X1D-50c claimed a lot more power (23K mWh vs 13K mWh on the GFX 50S). Perhaps Hasselblad was using more efficient and more powerful batteries, I thought – the field test was going to determine which one was going to be better anyway.
Well, after shooting with both cameras for a few months, I realized that the X1D-50c battery specifications did not matter. The X1D-50c is considerably worse than the GFX 50S when it comes to battery life, in every way. The camera sucks up the battery juice too fast and I really don’t understand why. Both cameras use the same sensor and yet the X1D-50c battery drains so much quicker in comparison. To give you an idea, I shot a lot more in Israel with the GFX 50S than I did in Turkey with the X1D-50c and the battery on the former lasted at least two full days, sometimes even more. The X1D-50c is extremely inefficient when it comes to battery life – it would not even last for more than a few hundred shots. I am not sure what causes such huge battery drains or leaks, but it is pretty bad. At first I thought that perhaps I had a faulty battery on the X1D-50c, but after asking other readers about their battery performance, the feedback I got was pretty similar – depending on how much the LCD and the EVF are used, their batteries also died just after 200 shots or so. To give you a comparison, the less powerful battery on the Fuji GFX 50S yielded at least 1000-1100 shots for me and that’s with a moderate use of both EVF and LCD! I am puzzled by why battery life on the Hasselblad X1D-50c is so bad – there has to be something going on behind the scenes. Perhaps the CPU is too power hungry, perhaps there are other software / firmware related issues that drain the battery, it is hard to say. With such a huge battery capacity, the X1D-50c should have outdone the GFX 50S in battery life…
One would think that keeping the camera in “sleep” mode would not have much of an effect on battery life, but it certainly does. Instead of turning off the sensor, the LCD and the EVF – the three power-hungry components, Hasselblad engineers for some reason decided to keep the EVF running. That’s right, if you put the camera in sleep mode by pressing the power button, then look through the viewfinder, you will see that the EVF does not fully power off. Its screen gets dark, but it still keeps on running. One would think that a sleep mode should have most of the electronics shut off to preserve battery life, but that’s not the case with the X1D-50c.
When actively using the camera, the battery certainly causes it to get pretty warm. Not hot to touch, but definitely warm enough to notice. I did not see such heating issues on the GFX 50S, probably because the heat-generating components are more spread out.
9) Autofocus Performance
When it comes to autofocus (AF) system, the X1D-50c does not have many bells and whistles. The AF system is simple contrast-detect only, with no phase detection sensors built on the camera’s sensor. When compared to any modern mirrorless camera with a smaller sensor, it is noticeably slow and lenses tend to hunt when there is not enough contrast – all normal behavior for contrast-detect AF systems. Unfortunately, Hasselblad kept the AF system options extremely simple, to the point where there is practically no intelligence built in. For example, there is no face recognition or eye tracking functions available, so if you are capturing a portrait, you cannot have the system automatically find the person’s face / eye and focus on it. There is no AF-C mode available for photographing movement either, so you are stuck with photographing only static subjects. The AF system on the X1D only has a total of 35 focus points, which cover a big part of the frame, but not all the way to the edges. And I have already talked about all the ergonomic troubles when it comes to simple focus selection – you have to press and hold the AF / MF button to bring up the focus points and you either have to use the touchscreen or the front and rear dials to change a focus point, which is too time consuming and painful.
In contrast, although the Fuji GFX 50S also has a contrast-detect only AF system, it is far more advanced in comparison. The GFX 50S has a total of 425 focus points and one can pick between six different sizes of focus points. There are all kinds of focusing options available, including Single Point, Zone AF and Wide / Tracking in both single servo (AF-S) and continuous servo (AF-C) modes. The camera also has face and eye recognition built-in, and one can customize and fine-tune the focusing behavior of the camera. Fuji has far more experience than Hasselblad in making a functional autofocus system and it really shows – the AF options we see on the GFX 50S closely match those of existing Fuji X-series cameras. So if you compare the two side by side, the GFX 50S comes out on top by a huge margin, there is not even a comparison.
However, one area where the X1D-50c definitely stands out is its autofocus accuracy and precision. While the Fuji GFX 50S has so many bells and whistles on its AF system, it can sometimes produce softer images due to AF accuracy, focus shift and other issues. It works reasonably well, but it certainly has its weaknesses and it seems like Fuji needs to further refine the AF system on the GFX 50S. I noticed occasional focus inaccuracies when shooting landscapes off a tripod – in some cases I was able to get sharper results by moving the focus ring manually. The X1D-50c does not have any focus accuracy issues – when the target has enough contrast, the camera nails focus every time. I was able to see this while testing the X1D-50c in a lab environment, where the camera acquired focus precisely each time and Imatest produced very similar, consistent results.
If Hasselblad could enhance the AF system on the X1D-50c and add at least some useful features such as face recognition, I am sure it would make a lot of X1D-50c owners happy…
10) Hasselblad XCD Lenses
As one would expect from Hasselblad, the XCD lenses that are designed specifically for this new mirrorless mount are absolutely amazing. At the time I requested the camera, only two XCD lenses were available – the Hasselblad 45mm f/3.5 and the Hasselblad 90mm f/3.2. Both proved to be stellar in a number of ways, including build quality, compactness and optical quality. While I am planning to review each lens separately, I wanted to give some bits of information in this review in regards to what one can expect from XCD lenses. First of all, they are built to last. Similar to other Hasselblad lenses, the XCD line has a very similar tough metal shell that is smooth to touch. They also have a similar rubber ring around the focus ring, although it is colored and textured a bit differently to give them a distinct look. The lenses feel great in hands and balance very well on the X1D-50c. When using manual focus, the focus ring feels very smooth, something one would expect from such high quality and expensive lenses. The high quality metal hoods attach well to lenses and stay in place, although I found that rotating them the other way around when traveling can be painful.
Hasselblad’s decision to go minimal and simple also shows itself on the XCD lenses, which also has its drawbacks, at least for now. Since the focusing system on the XCD lenses is “focus by wire” (which means that there is no direct mechanical connection between the focus ring and the focusing lens elements), Hasselblad decided to eliminate the distance scale from lenses completely. One would think that the distance at which the lens is focused would at least be provided in the EVF or the LCD, but that’s not the case either – it is nowhere to be found. I am not sure if Hasselblad has any plans to implement a proper DoF / distance scale in the EVF / LCD, but I am actually pretty surprised that it is not even mentioned anywhere. Forget about trying to use a DoF calculator on the X1D to calculate hyperfocal distance – you would have no reference point for numbers. If Hasselblad aims the X1D-50c for landscape photographers, I am not sure how this camera got released without this feature. I hope Hasselblad implements this in the next firmware update.
Sharpness is one area you do not have to worry about with XCD lenses. When testing both 45mm f/3.5 and 90mm f/3.2 in my Imatest lab, I was very impressed by what I saw. Even at maximum aperture, both lenses were able to resolve lots of detail from the center of the frame all the way to extreme corners, not something I am used to seeing when testing lenses. The sweet spot on the 45mm f/3.5 was right around f/5.6 while the 90mm f/3.2 performed best at f/4. The lenses are so sharp that you only need to stop down to increase depth of field.
11) Leaf Shutter
One of the biggest differences of the X1D-50c when compared to both Pentax 645Z and Fuji GFX 50S, is that it has a leaf shutter instead of a typical focal plane shutter we see on cameras. While leaf shutters have their advantages for photographing portraits with flash (due to their ability to sync flash at much higher shutter speeds) and can potentially yield sharper images due to producing less vibrations, they also have their disadvantages. First, they tend to make lenses more pricey (as in the case of the Hasselblad XCD lenses), since they are more complex to design and manufacture. Second, they tend to limit the maximum shutter speed (1/2000th of a second on the X1D-50c) and potentially impact shutter speed accuracy. Third, leaf shutter lenses with relatively fast shutter speeds like 1/2000 are limited to slow maximum aperture, which is why the fastest lens for the X1D-50c so far has a maximum aperture of f/3.2. Fourth, lack of a focal plane shutter on the camera limits the ability to adapt third party lenses. And lastly, I did find one potentially distracting issue with the way the leaf shutter works on XCD lenses – it can negatively affect the bokeh / roundness of the background highlights. This probably happens due to leaf shutter being in motion at the time of capture and it might not have a chance to open fully, causing octagonal shapes as seen below:
This “stopped down” look is something I observed every time when taking pictures at wide apertures, as presented in some of the images presented in this review:
While bokeh itself does not necessarily look distracting, it is unfortunate that you cannot obtain circular background shapes with XCD lenses. I am not sure if Hasselblad can address this in a future firmware update, but if it is technically possible, I would rather see this taken care of. Otherwise, it seems to be a double disadvantage for leaf shutter lenses: they are slow to start with and you cannot even shoot them wide open.
When it comes to noise produced by leaf shutter lenses, that “click-click, click” sound of the leaf shutter is definitely audible and not all that quiet. It is quieter than a typical DSLR’s mirror, but definitely not quieter when compared to the mechanical shutter of many modern mirrorless cameras.
But the big question remains – who is this camera actually for? If lenses are limited to a slow maximum aperture; if they give a “stopped down” look to images when shooting wide open; if there are no face or eye tracking focusing options; if there are no subject tracking options; if there is no distance scale available – what photography genre is going to benefit from such a limited system? Personally, I don’t buy the appeal of leaf shutter lenses. If the only thing they are good for is sync flash at faster shutter speeds, I would rather rely on high-speed sync (HSS) and use a focal plane shutter, which gives me a lot more options. With the Fuji GFX 50S I can use adapters to mount third party lenses, whereas it is not even an option on the X1D-50c, as the camera itself lacks a shutter mechanism. And let’s not forget that I can capture images at up to 1/16000th of a second using electronic shutter on the GFX 50S, and if I don’t have any moving subjects in my frame, I can capture images in complete silence too.
12) Image Quality: High ISO Performance
While medium format is always going to have the upper hand when compared to full-frame in image quality, differences in high ISO performance are going to be marginal, mostly because of the relatively small difference in sensor size. For the below ISO comparisons, I am going to be putting the Hasselblad X1D-50c against the Nikon D810. Since the X1D-50c has more resolution, I down-sampled images from the X1D-50c to match the D810 to make these tests more meaningful. However, keep in mind that these tests are still not ideal, since we are only comparing horizontal resolution between cameras – the X1D-50c has a 4:3 aspect ratio vs 3:2 on the D810, so it has more vertical pixels that are unaccounted for. I am also skipping all ISOs below 3200, since there is practically no visual difference in those. Let’s take a look at how the two cameras compare in high ISO performance (Left: Hasselblad X1D-50c, Right: Nikon D810):
You will notice that the image on the X1D-50c is sharper in this comparison – that’s the result of down-sampling. If you ignore the sharpness differences and concentrate on noise in different parts of the image, you will see that the X1D-50c produces less overall noise. And that’s a given, since it is a physically larger sensor. However, the difference is not huge – there is less than a stop of noise performance advantage on behalf of X1D-50c.
We see a similar situation at ISO 6400, where the difference in ISO performance is less than a stop.
And although I normally would not shoot past ISO 6400 on any camera, it is still interesting to see how cameras perform when pushing ISO 12800 and higher. Here, we can clearly see that both images produce very noisy images, but the X1D-50c still clearly takes the upper hand. There is visibly more chroma noise on the D810 and there is also more loss of color.
Again, the differences are not significant though – the Nikon D810 holds up pretty well on its own overall.
13) Image Quality: Dynamic Range and ISO Invariance
What if were to take images three to four stops underexposed and fully recovered them in post-processing? This would not only give us an indication of a camera’s shadow recovery potential, but also allows us to see if the sensor is ISO invariant. Let’s see how both cameras performed in such conditions. We will start at base ISO, because that’s where the two cameras yield the highest amount of dynamic range. This means ISO 64 on D810 and ISO 100 on the X1D-50c (Left: Hasselblad X1D-50c, Right: Nikon D810):
The Nikon D810 has one of the best full-frame sensors in the world, with an incredible dynamic range performance at ISO 64 and it really shows here – when looking at the two side by side, we can see that the D810 demonstrates amazing shadow recovery options. Although the amount of noise is comparable, it shows slightly more loss of colors, so it is definitely worse in comparison. However, the difference is very marginal and the D810 holds up very well here. But what if we increase ISO to 100 on the D810 and compare the two again?
Now we can clearly see that the D810 loses big time here. Although noise is comparable, there is a lot more loss of colors in the image. This shows just how much of a difference ISO 64 can make compared to ISO 100 on the D810 in terms of dynamic range! We see a similar type of behavior at higher ISOs, with the X1D-50c leading every step of the way. So let’s take a look at how the two cameras differ at much higher ISOs above ISO 3200 and this time we are going to compare shadow recovery pushed 3 stops:
Right off the bat, we can see a huge difference in performance between these two cameras and their sensors. The Hasselblad X1D-50c demonstrates incredible ability to recover shadow details, even at such high ISO as 3200. The Nikon D810 has a lot more luminance and chroma noise and the shadows lose most of their color.
It is fun to look at what happens at ISO 6400, because that’s technically ISO 51200. Here, I can say that there is a solid full stop of difference, with the X1D-50c winning by a huge margin.
And the difference is still great at ISO 12800 pushed 3 stops, which is equivalent to ISO 102,400 – the X1D-50c looks vastly superior, especially when it comes to retaining color.
What about ISO invariance? We know that the sensor on the D810 is not ISO invariant, but how does the X1D-50c do when ISO is pushed and compared to its equivalent? Here is ISO 100 again pushed by 4 stops, compared to ISO 1600:
Unfortunately, it appears that at lower ISO levels, the sensor is not ISO invariant. There is a visible amount of grain added to images when underexposing and then pushing ISO through post-processing, as can be seen from the two crops presented above. However, take a look at what happens when the same test is performed at higher ISOs:
Here, when looking at ISO 3200 pushed to 3 stops compared to ISO 25600, we see practically no difference between the two images. The sensor is ISO invariant, but only at higher ISO levels.
So we can draw a few conclusions from the above tests. First of all, the medium format sensor on the X1D-50c demonstrated incredible dynamic range that overall exceeds the performance of the Nikon D810 (which is as good as a full-frame sensor can get). While the differences at base ISO on both cameras is very minimal, with the Nikon D810 being only slightly worse in color loss, everything starting from ISO 100 and higher shows the superiority of the X1D-50c sensor, especially at higher ISOs. This difference in dynamic range can be very important when dealing with high dynamic range situations, giving a distinct advantage to the X1D-50c. Second, the X1D-50c demonstrated partial ISO invariance, with definite differences from ISO 100 to 400, but practically no difference at higher ISOs above ISO 800.
14) 4:3 Aspect Ratio and the Panorama Shooting Advantage
Having been shooting with APS-C and full-frame cameras for many years now, I am very used to the 3:2 aspect ratio. The Hasselblad X1D-50c, just like the Pentax 645Z and the Fuji GFX 50S, has an aspect ratio of 4:3, which is quite different in comparison. While one can modify aspect ratio in post, I have to say, shooting with a different aspect ratio than you are used to changes the way you frame. Plus, why would you want to lose all that resolution? For me, shooting with a 3:2 aspect ratio yields pleasing, wide images that I am used to working with, whereas 4:3 looks more squarish in comparison. With our computer monitors being mostly wide nowadays, stretching as wide as 16:9, the 4:3 aspect ratio leaves a lot of gaps on the sides. That is certainly a problem for myself and many others when composing tight – if I have to think about 3:2 or other wider options, I have to compose with that in mind. So make sure you take aspect ratio into account when considering these medium format cameras!
At the same time, there is one distinct advantage that the 4:3 ratio sensor gives you when compared to 3:2 – ability to shoot less vertical frames when taking panoramas. While it might not seem like a big deal for some, it actually does become pretty clear when shooting a lot of panoramas, as you end up taking less shots and as a result having to stitch less images in post. On one hand, you gain time with less images to stitch, but on the other, you lose time stitching higher resolution panoramas. However, you still end up with a noticeably higher resolution image at the end of the day with the X1D-50c. With a 50 MP resolution, I no longer feel the need to stitch multi-row panoramas to yield giant prints, and considering that manufacturers will most likely only increase the resolution of future medium format cameras, I don’t think it is going to be something to worry about for a while.
Being the world’s first medium format mirrorless camera, the Hasselblad X1D-50c certainly grabbed the attention of many serious photographers interested in moving up from a full-frame system. Its beautiful design, impressively compact size, solid lightweight construction, accurate autofocus, superb image quality and dynamic range are certainly worth the high praises. However, that’s where all the good ends. The camera is plagued with all kinds of annoying lags and bugs, slow start up time, and battery life is nothing to be proud of either. Top it off with a crippled and slow autofocus system, along with lack of key common features found on most modern digital cameras, and the X1D-50c can quickly become a frustrating camera to use.
As I was using the Hasselblad X1D-50c in different shooting environments, I kept on asking myself the same question over and over again – who is this camera for? Considering the slow nature of leaf shutter lenses, the “stopped down” look of images shot at maximum aperture and how lacking the autofocus system is, I struggle to see how the X1D-50c would be good for portrait photography. Its painfully slow start-up time and inability to quickly switch autofocus points takes it off my list for street and documentary photography. The fact that it misses such basic features as bracketing, distance scale, histogram / blinkies or ability to plug in a remote shutter release, makes me wonder if I would even consider it for landscape or architecture photography needs. Add the poor battery life into the mix and it gets even tougher to recommend it for any kind of serious shooting.
I intentionally held on to this camera for many months, hoping that Hasselblad would be able to address many of the bugs and problems I encountered via firmware updates and deliver some of the missing features. After 4 months of use and a few firmware updates, I still cannot recommend this camera to our readers – it still feels like a very under-cooked camera for its hefty $9K price tag. If you want a functional medium format camera, I suggest that you take a closer look at the Fuji GFX 50S or the Pentax 645Z…
16) Where to Buy
As always, you can support our efforts by buying from our trusted partner B&H Photo Video. As of 07/14/2017, the Hasselblad X1D-50c sells for $8,995.
17) More Image Samples
- Build Quality
- Focus Speed and Accuracy
- Image Quality
- High ISO Performance
- Size and Weight
- Metering and Exposure
- Dynamic Range
- Ease of Use
- Speed and Performance
Photography Life Overall Rating