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Ming Thein: Hands-on with the Hasselblad X1D

Watch Ming’s Hands-on X1D tutorial videos here

Back in July, I had a chance to use a couple of very early production X1D cameras both to further firmware development, and to produce the travel video and images you see here. Most of my professional work is documentary and with available light, so it made sense to test the camera under this kind of situation; a little trip to the island of Penang was in order. The types of situations I encounter vary from stealthy reportage to long-exposure tripod setups; travel photography offers the same kind of opportunities – a little landscape, a little street, a little blend of both.


Grandfather and grandson: in a lot of ways, I found the shooting experiences very similar. My 501 and CFV-50c is the leisurely, de-stressing camera I use for personal work. The other X1D – with which this image was made – proved to be a very good studio camera since I tend to work with live view almost all of the time for product photography anyway.  Click image to view full size version

I normally shoot with a H5D-50c and a H6D-50c, so the X1D was a nice breath of fresh air with considerably less weight in play – but exactly the same image quality as its bigger brothers. The image qualities that drew me to switch to Hasselblad in the first place are there in abundance: very natural color accuracy and tones, and a magically smooth highlight rolloff with dynamic range so wide you almost never run out of latitude. If anything, I think there’s probably an advantage to the X1D in the form of its new lenses. The 90mm became a fast favourite thanks to its combination of resolution and foreground rendering – it makes for a nicely layered, very cinematic sort of image – or a precisely clinical one, depending on your choice of aperture.

MT-Example1Portrait of the owner of a ceremonial goods store, just before he closed for lunch. Click image to view full size version

Though I personally prefer a good optical finder, the X1D’s EVF proved just fine in use, with ample fluidity and resolution. Manual focusing is of course significantly easier since magnification is possible, and just a single button away. Many of you will also appreciate that with mirrorless cameras, AF speed is tied to video refresh rate: the camera uses the same information to make focusing computations, and the faster the refresh rate, usually the faster the focusing. It was adequately fast to begin with, and gained further significant speed with a firmware update later in the test period – and I believe significant improvements have been made since then.

Even with a slowing economy, construction and development proceeds apace. These are more typical conditions for me: little light, odd vantage points and nowhere to stuff a tripod; the X1D passed with flying colours.  Click image to view full size version

Throughout the test period, what struck me was the overall simplicity of the camera: a minimum of external controls, but nothing missing. Functional, good design, with comfortable ergonomics for all-day shooting and a very solid feel in hand; there’s such a thing as the ‘right weight’ for a camera – you need some heft for stability and haptics, but not so much that it becomes too fatiguing for the grip. The X1D is perfect in that regard, and together with the focused controls and UI – really struck me as a sort of modern successor to the V system I still use on occasion (V1D aside, of course; this was not announced at the time).

Tea time: a group of friends discuss the day’s news at a tea shop in Georgetown. Note especially the foreground smoothness and highlight rolloff. Click image to view full size version

I also had the chance to test the camera briefly in the studio with Nikon speedlights for some product work when I returned to Kuala Lumpur; wireless iPad tethering came in handy for checking critical exposure and focus, and it was nice to be able to use my usual lighting gear – I usually work with small products like watches, which means big lights aren’t quite as important as tight control. No watches in this set as I’d need a dedicated macro lens and movements, however I’m looking forward to retesting the final X1D soon – with the X-H adaptor and HTS 1.5x, too.

Daytime long exposure at a rock believed to be the representation of a Hindu deity; there’s a sort of painterly serenity to the way the water foams around the rocks. Click image to view full size version

A fast food vendor prepares for the evening rush at the Gurney Drive hawker area 

Arrivals and departures – small ferries to other outlying islands and parts of the main Penang island 

Perhaps an odd exposure choice given the amount of light, but attempting to freeze those ephemeral reflections in the ripples requires some stopping power. 

Ming Thein | | Kuala Lumpur, October 2016


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