Louis Sullivan, who was an architect wrote an article in 1896 entitled “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered”, coining a guide-phrase for architects, designers and engineers for more than a 100 years. “Form follows function.” To be more accurate, Sullivan wrote, “Form ever follows function,” but the other version is more preferred. The origin of this phrase stated thousands of years ago, as Sullivan attributed the concept to Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, a Roman architect. According to Marcus, all architecture must be designed to be “firmitas, utilitas, venustats” which translates to “solid, useful, beautiful.”
Form Follows Function?
In the world of photography, the guiding principle for the design of camera followed the idea of form follows functions, and cameras that are more famous are those that focus on the little details of interaction between the photographer and the camera.
ISO dials, lens markings, аilm advance levers, shutter release buttons, storage card slots – all these function the way they do because they have to be used in a particular way, at a particular time in the image capturing process.
For me, this is one of the major reasons why the current digital cameras in the market appear a little out of place – these newly produced cameras still make use of ancient designs.
Tribute to History
Film canisters are extinct, but the shapes created by them still persist. A lot of digital cameras have simplified these shapers, while others took a retro design approach and their designs looking lime the type of cameras used in the 1970s, but these cameras still maintained the same shape that started coalescing when the 35mm-format roll of film came to be.
The original Hasselblad medium-format camera has one of the most iconic shapes in photography, it has a cube-like design, top-down viewfinder and protruding fil-advance handle. Photography legends became immortals through pictures of them formed over their camera, when taking shots.
Hasselblad X1D-50c Camera Design
Thus, the Hasselblad X1D-50c becomes one of the most interesting and amazing cameras, my reason is that it is the first camera that did something different from the company’s legendary style and made efforts in creating an amazing camera for the new generation.
X1D Design VS Fujifilm
Previously, Hasselblad made efforts to reimagine the medium-format camera with their H-series, it was designed in conjunction with Fujifilm. The H1 camera transformed the medium format from box-shaped to a 35mm-camera-meets-Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
The Hasselblad X1D-50c also differs from its predecessors by becoming the first mirrorless medium-format camera when it was pronounced in June 2016. Hasselblad won the award for the best new design, while Fujifilm would follow suit with the mirrorless GFX 50S. The Fujifilm has a lot of advantages over the X1D-50c, it has a greater range of controls and a much faster operation. However, the Fujifilm camera looks more like the traditional 34mm-style design.
I wanted to make a full review the first time I got to see the X1D, but I could not due to some performance issues. However, the latest firmware update addressed some of those problems, although the camera has been released long enough, it is clear that what’s on our table is how the X1D will function based on the design choices.
The X1D-50c is not a perfect camera.
The company needs to address a lot of issues in the camera to make it suitable for future generations and it should also meet the needs of different photographers. However, it is interesting looking at the type of cameras photographers will be following based on the workflow.
How X1D Looks?
When you look at the X1D, you get the feeling like the engineers arrived at the shape by cutting out irrelevant features from a traditional camera that had no use a mirrorless system. I made some jokes about the camera the first time I saw it, to me, it looked like a huge slice of bread with a camera lens. I don’t see this as an insult, in fact, this is the type of camera shape I have been anticipating ever since we switched to digital cameras; the relatively flat nature of the electronic circuit and the continues effort to make components smaller made that possible.
The first film cameras were huge, big enough to house the film canister as well as the mechanical components, and later on, it began to sprout grips, motodrives, pentaprisms, and so on.
The X1D takes us back to that original question of the things required to do the job.
For Hasselblad, what it needs is plenty space to mount the lens, grip, large LCD and viewfinder, as well as space for access ports and controls.
This approach is quite similar to the Leica SL, which is making improvements to get rid of superfluous protrusions and edges. Hasselblad was able to place a medium-format sensor inside its camera that looks like a big slice of bread.
Hasselblad X1D-50C Sensor
The X1D-50c has a 50-megapixel sensor, which differs in size with the 50-megapixel sensor found in the H6D. The sensor in the X1D-50c is quite smaller and is of the same size with the sensor in the Fujifilm GFX 50S.
In summary, you get a much better quality image from the sensor in the X1D-50c camera than a 35mm camera.
Theoretically, having bigger sensor gives room for more ability to gather light than a 35mm sensor having the same resolution, although one can doubt this point after seeing recent technologies like the backside illumination on the Nikon D850 and Sony a7R III.
There are other benefits to this sensor size, but they are not as explicit as the advantages in a “real” medium-format sensor.
Perhaps, we can call this a 35mm+ sensor, but sadly, I don’t have the power of titling conventions. The size is larger than 35mm, so we will leave it at medium format.
With the high-resolution 35mm-format cameras and quality lenses that are currently available in the market, one may not really see the benefits of the sensors in the X1D-50c.
That does not mean sensors produced in the future with same size will not be better than the current quality, but it is good to know that you won’t get what you expect with a more traditional medium-format camera if you want to get either of the medium-format mirrorless systems.
How the Design Affects Operation
The H6D camera feels like it can only be used in a studio or outdoors in a location where the photographer has a standby assistant, while the X1D-50c is much more flexible, you can use it anywhere. The X1D is a portable, transportable and the weather-sealed body designs makes it suitable and flexible to use in locations an H6D can’t.
Another feature about the X1D camera is it’s simplicity, the camera is very easy to use. The controls are well placed, but sparse. To turn on the camera, you need to press the on/off button for a long time; this prevents turning the camera on accidentally when the camera is in a bag. The camera also has a blinking LCD that informs you when the camera is in sleep mode.
Hasselblad X1D Control Dials
The control dials are so easy to operate and are positioned in the right places. The size of the hand grip is perfect, making camera very easy to hold and carry around. Most times, I make use of the camera without the strap, I happen to take it anywhere because of its ease of use.
X1D Screen and Menu
Another thing I like about the X1D is the bright, clear, touch-sensitive menu system. The design on the X1D is clean and simple, unlike the complicated menus on mirrorless cameras and high-end DSLRs. The sparse design can be as a result of the relative low features in the camera. You will not find setting for focus stacking, or time lapse, or lens micro-adjustment on the menu of this camera.
The camera also has a bright rear LCD screen that’s easy to use, although it cannot tilt. I will appreciate the future camera to come with a tilting, pivoting LCD screen, as the camera lightness permits it to be used in several situations that appeared impossible or to be able to use it in a view-down manner like the traditional film Hasselblad cameras.
Although the camera has a good LCD screen, I was disappointed with the electronic viewfinder. The display features about 2.36 million pixels, but it refreshes slowly and is not as vibrant as other high-end mirrorless camera systems.
Most times I take a picture with it, the subjects I was pointing the camera at appeared faded and under-saturated. It would have been better if the camera had a viewfinder to match its high resolution, making your focus much clearer.
Having play back images on the EVF would also be a great idea, but this feature is not available as at when this review was written. I have no idea why this feature is not available in the camera, but being able to review images on the EVF is one of the main benefits of having a mirrorless system, my opinion though. I hope they address this omission in future versions.
How X1D Sounds
For those that are not familiar with the sounds of a big medium-format system, know that the X1D is pretty loud. The camera sound draws little attention to it, but I appreciate the metallic “whir-clunk” twang sound it produces when you press the shutter. Luckily, the new update for the camera’s firmware permits the use of an electronic shutter, making it suitable for street photography.
The recent updates also include focus point selection and slightly faster boot times, although the Hasselblad X1D-50c is very slow in booting.
So most times, I leave the camera on and I always carry an extra battery so I would not miss a good shot when turning the camera on. This camera will be a turn off for people who are familiar with the milliseconds shoot time in DSLR cameras.
This camera also has some issues with designs up its sleeve, some are bad, some are good. The X1D has a USB-C for tethering and high-speed transfer (that’s good), but the SD slots do not support UHS-II (that’s not good), this is an issue because the camera’s performance is slow; thus, equipping the X1D with a high-speed SD card would have been useful.
Hasselblad X1D Image Quality
With the numerous high-resolution cameras available in the market, how is the picture quality of the X1D-50c, knowing fully the sensor is not technically a medium-format sensor?
Generally, the Hasselblad X1D-50c has a high amount of resolution. Images have high details, sharpness, color, tonality and saturation. The camera has lots of vibrance in the colors, although you can achieve same effect with other cameras with a little tweaking. Still, the X1D is amazing in taking travel and landscape shots.
However, you need to be careful when selecting your subjects. The X1D has a slow focus and performance, so you may not be able to capture fast-moving objects clearly. The Fujifilm GFX 50S is much faster in capturing moving objects, we got quality pics when capturing mountain bikers on a downhill run. There was a time I tried using the X1D to capture someone performing tricks with a soccer ball, and I had to switch my focus to manual and wait till the person was in my focal plane before hitting the shutter.
To summarize, images taken with the X1D-50c are excellent. But I can’t say there are that excellent when comparing them with images taken with a Sony a7R III and a G Master lens or the Nikon D850 and a sharp NIKKOR lens.
Lack of image stabilization in the lenses (as seen in Canon EOS 5Ds and Nikon D850) or body (as seen in Sony) means that the high resolution 35mm solution can sometimes have an advantage in sharpness, especially when using it in low light.
The Hasselblad X1D-50c is an amazing device, although it has some flaws.
We can say this camera is better than the H1 produced by Hasselblad, which took the company in a whole new direction.
Despite the limitations of the X1D-50c, it is also a fun camera for capturing images. It is a perfect example of reforming technology to conform with a modern workflow, instead of holding to previous one. This camera may not be appealing to photographers who prefer the traditional workflow. Simply put, a studio shooter may have no reason to but an X1D if they have an H6D, but a photographer that’s into travel and landscape shots may want to purchase this camera.
The X1D feels more like a camera for a studio shooter looking to decrease system size, while the Fujifilm GFX 50S, which also has some limitations in its design and operation, feels like a camera for a studio shooter liking to increase system size.
What I can say about this camera is that a lot of photographers will be attracted to it if the speed issues are addressed in future versions. At the moment, the x1D will be a nice choice for photographers who want to give the mirrorless medium-format a try and have little concerns about the limitations in the workflow.