Tag Archives: Mirrorless

Great Smoky Mountains in the Spring

The usual Great Smoky Mountains suspects – Cades Cove and Tremont – photographed in late April with the Hasselblad X1D and an IR-converted Sony A6500. The weather and atmospheric conditions were ideal, with early morning fog and great clouds. While the dogwoods were just past peak, I was able to capture a few remaining blooms. This park is one of the gems of the US National Park system and a photographer’s dream destination.

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First Impressions of the Hasselblad X1D-50c Medium Format Camera

The Backstory
My fascination with medium-format digital photography began in 2010 when I began my journey by buying a used Hasselblad H4D-50 from an online estate sale. I had read about the advantages (and disadvantages) of medium format over 35mm, researched the available cameras, and watched from a safe distance until a good buying opportunity presented itself. The market was thin and the camera options were expensive and somewhat eclectic. Nonetheless, my obsessive technical curiosity and preference for hands-on learning pushed me over the edge. The H4D was an excellent first step and led me down a sometimes circuitous and always expensive path:

  • Hasselblad H4D-50 – Start of the journey
  • Hasselblad H4D-40
  • Phase One IQ180 digital back with DF
  • Phase One IQ180 digital back with Alpa and Cambo technical cameras
  • Leica S2
  • Leica S Type 006
  • Pentax 645Z – End of the journey?

The common denominators were cost, size and, with the exception of the two tech cams, a reflex mirror. A reflex mirror brings with it varying degrees of vibration introduced by mirror “slap” when the shutter is triggered. They were large, chunky and heavy, requiring a tripod for consistently sharp results. And each was expensive, ranging from $7,000 to $43,000 brand new, not including a lens kit.

I gave up on medium format in early 2016 and centered my photography on the Sony a7RII. The Sony is lightweight, full-frame 35mm, 42 megapixels and mirrorless. It’s easy to hand hold and produces excellent image quality even in low light. For me, perhaps the most important advantage that the mirrorless Sony had over the medium format category of cameras (and traditional 35mm DSLRs) was its EVF (electronic viewfinder) and Live View, giving me the ability to focus accurately manually or to check focus precisely when using AF. Anyone with presbyopia appreciates the advantages of mirrorless – using an EVF, Live View, and focus aids like focus peaking.

My relationship with the Sony is…hmmm…complicated. I love the mirrorless advantages that I’ve mentioned as well as the camera body’s light weight. I dislike the complex Byzantine menu tree. I dislike the myriad of buttons, dials and wheels and their minuscule and varied sizes. I dislike the lack of a consistent lens design standard that would make using different lenses less of a re-learning experience. I love the camera’s performance in low light (using high ISO with little to no noise) and IBIS. And with a 42MP file, there’s plenty of room to crop and still have enough remaining pixels to print relatively large. Like I said…complicated.

But the dream of medium format remained.

The Plot Thickens
Then magic happened. On June 22, 2016, Hasselblad announced the introduction of the X1D-50c, the world’s first mirrorless medium format camera. Using the terms “groundbreaking” and “game changer”, Hasselblad proudly described the camera as compact and lightweight. Using the same Sony-manufactured 50-megapixel sensor as the Pentax 645Z and weighing in at only 725gm (only 100gm more than the much beloved Nikon D810 35mm DSLR that I had previously used), the X1D promised to be my dream medium format camera.

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