A World First
It had to happen eventually, but it wasn’t Sony who did it (many thought they would). Hasselblad is teasing the world’s first medium format mirrorless camera: the Hasselblad X1D-50C (www.sonyrumors.com). It uses the same 50MP 44mmx33mm CMOS sensor we’ve seen in the Pentax 645Z, Hasselblad H6D and Phase One’s IQ250. It’s an absolutely brilliant sensor, but now it is packaged in a body that is considerably smaller and lighter than anything else on the market. With a launch price of $9000 (body only), it is also a vastly cheaper system than all existing DSLRs using the same sensor, except for the Pentax 645Z. I have an opinion on most things, so what do I think?
This camera is a game changer. It combines stunning image quality associated with larger sensors and the portability of 35mm/Full-Frame systems. At a price. Be careful with that $9000, though. Do not forget that you need lenses and these are going to be Hasselblad lenses, which are never cheap. Let’s consider how it might impact the competition:
Pentax 645Z – ‘Affordable’ 50MP
Unlike the Pentax 645Z there isn’t a huge collection of native mount legacy lenses to choose from for the Hasselblad. I’d therefore guesstimate that a medium sized outfit of perhaps a couple of zooms and three primes (all native lenses) would be at least twice the price of a comparable 645Z outfit that makes judicious use of legacy lenses. The Hasselblad X1D-50C will be more compact and lighter, however. For those who like the huge flexibility of the Pentax system and the value it offers, the Hasselblad X1D-50C is not really direct competition. Compare systems built up out of current generation digital lenses for the 645Z and prices will be much closer. You can of course adapt Hasselblad V lenses (from the film era and V digital systems) to the 645Z and there will surely be adaptors to allow this for the X1D system. I both cases functionality is a bit limited as there is no electrical connection. In contrast, Pentax legacy ‘FA’ lenses offer autofocus and full data transfer, often for very affordable prices on the used market.
Leica S – Svelte Simplicity & Class
The Hasselblad X1D-50C is the Leica S’s worst nightmare. The Hassy has a superior sensor (Sony made), with more dynamic range and resolution (the Leica is 37.5MP), the body is cheaper and the lenses are much cheaper (or appear to be at the time of writing). The X1D-50C also looks to be slightly smaller and lighter and used the arguably more popular 4:3 aspect ratio. The Hasselblad is beautifully styled and oozes class too, so it’s hardly a case of choosing between beauty and the beast. One could argue that Leica S lenses are peerless and likely to remain a bit better than those that will be coming for the X1D-50C, but I would be amazed if those differences will mean a lot in the real world. Modern Hasselblad optics are genuinely excellent, as anyone who has shot Fujinon large format lenses will know: Fujinon (who make Hasselblad’s lenses, after their relationship with Zeiss ended) are an absolutely top-tier lens manufacturer. Add the fact that Leica S lenses have had all sorts of reliability issues, especially AF motor failures, then the new X1D Hasselblad system is looking very strong indeed. I think this camera is going to steal a lot of ‘new owner’ sales from Leica. Those already invested in Leica S glass are unlikely to switch, though some may. The Leica S was relatively late to market (compared to what was happening at the time) and if there is not an updated S model in the wings, Hasselblad will surely attract customers who may have considered buying into the Leica S System.
High Resolution 35mm Full Frame
If you consider that a Sony A7R II costs three times less ($3000), the Hasselblad X1D is still a very different prospect indeed. A Pentax 645Z outfit using mostly legacy lenses, however, can come in at roughly the same sort of price as a Sony A7R II outfit using new Zeiss and Sony G optics. A Nikon D810 may not be all that much smaller and lighter (especially when you factor in the best Zeiss and Nikon lenses), but its still going to be a heck of a lot cheaper. The 36MP offered by the D810 and the 42 of the A7R II are still plenty enough for anyone printing to fairly large sizes. As a 645Z user, I know the output of my Pentax system is still markedly above my Sony A7R, but you’re miles away from being able to see any difference if you are printing at A2….
What is the Biggest Impact of All?
DSLRs in general, I suspect. This camera offers 50MP in a very modern mirrorless package, yet is much cheaper than existing 50MP DSLR designs from Hasselblad and Phase One. Heck, it is cheaper than 50MP backs without the camera attached! I think this camera will:
Force medium format downwards in price.
Convince more and more people that unless they are shooting fast moving subjects, they don’t need big bulky DSLRs any more. Why would the average person buying into medium format pay 2-3 times the price for the same pixel count in a larger, heavier body. For an Optical View Finder (OVF)? Maybe some will, but as Electronic View Finders (EVF) get better, demand for OVFs is only going to fall.
Who Is Really behind this camera?
With all the rumors of a Sony mirrorless medium format camera, I wonder if this was a Sony-Hasselblad collaboration. For Hasselblad to reach this price point having developed it all in house, well, I’d be surprised. It would seem much more likely that they had a lot of help from Sony making the electronic innards (Sensor, EVF, Autofocus etc) happen. The same thoughts apply to the Leica Q and Panasonic.
Well done Hasselblad. I won’t be buying one, but if you fancy lending me one then, I might be able to help you out…..
It’s a knockout. It will change the market, both for medium format and full-frame. Full-frame mirrorless cameras now have a clear price ceiling that they must stay well below. Assuming Sony is involved and the AF is anything like we have come to expect from recent Sony offerings, this camera will not only work for portrait and commercial photographers, but will be hugely desirable for travel and scenic photographers looking for that little bit more than FF can offer. The DSLR is heading for extinction. With the Sony FE system eating into FF sales and the new X1D system now in the medium format arena, I’d be surprised if every manufacturer doesn’t have serious mirrorless systems in five years. If not, I don’t think they’ll survive for long.