Super Shooter

Meet Hasselblad’s Compact Beauty, the X1D


Tech : Cameras By Photo by Henry Phillips

Swedish camera maker Hasselblad has carried the medium-format flag for decades, creating magnificent-though-pricey favorites of professional studio and fine-art photographers around the world. Its latest release, the compact, mirrorless X1D, aims to bring medium-format digital photography, renowned for its sublime image quality, more fully to a mobile crowd. It’s not necessarily a less affluent set, mind you — the body alone starts at $8,995 — but it’s more mobile nonetheless. The X1D is the first of it’s kind, and perhaps the year’s most hotly anticipated giant-sensor camera kit.

So what’s it like to shoot? I took one out into the Nevada desert to find out. We arranged some attractive subjects for our late-afternoon shoot: the new Bentley Bentayga SUV and a Bowlus Road Chief aluminum trailer. That’s pretty posh metal to match an equally premium camera — and a challenging duo, as well. The lily-white Bentayga would contrast sharply with the desert backdrop, while the mirror-finished Bowlus would provide a squirrely and unpredictable target as twilight settled around it. The location provided yet another twist: a gritty ghost town called Eldorado Canyon Mine. Not exactly the Getty Center, as locales for luxury machines go, but that made it all the more fun. Besides, Eldorado is a former gold mine, which proved an appropriate enough metaphor for a camera looking to score in a notoriously challenging segment.

The X1D is the first of its kind, and perhaps the year’s most hotly anticipated giant-sensor camera kit.

We arrived on scene moments before sunset, and I hustled to find a good spot to place the vehicles that would capture the environment, all the while learning my way around the X1D. The camera’s user-friendly touchscreen menu and minimal surface controls made this easy, which speaks to its distinctly greater grab-and-go vibe than any other medium-format predecessor. It is, after all, a compact, mirrorless shooter that’s meant to be wielded out in the field, not permanently ensconced in a studio. It was already proving its mettle.

X1D Specs

Resolution: 50MP
ISO Range: 100–25,600
Available Lenses: 45mm f/3.5 and 90mm f/4.5
Dynamic Range: 14 stops
Video: full HD 1080p H.264 video at 25 fps
Features: built-in wi-fi, USB 3.0 Type C connector
Price: $8,995 (body)

The rig’s look and feel is unique. It fits snugly into your grip and seems to vanish there. It’s not feather-light, but it’s about what you’d expect if you’re used to a moderately sized DSLR. The camera launches with two new XCD lenses, a 45mm f/3.5 and a 90mm f/4.5, each with an internal shutter and a similarly impressive price tag ($2,300 and $2,700, respectively), and they, too, are sleek and compact. But while eminently portable, the X1D is no action cam.

The autofocus isn’t as fast as it would be in most DSLR’s, and the camera only does single-frame shooting, which is fine given the unique nature of medium-format photography. With 50MP to lay down each time, you can at best achieve a bit over 2 frames per second, as opposed to the 6–10 fps you might get with a machine-gun DSLR. But again — this is a camera that works on a higher plane than your average speed-demon. It’s for travel, landscape, portrait — the times you’re setting up your shots, framing them, considering exposure, etc. You won’t see this on the sidelines of the Super Bowl this year (though in the right hands, it could produce the best single frame of the game).

Photos: Eric Adams

My time in the desert combined many challenges, as well as significant quality time shooting at night. It was then that I found one of the pleasant surprises with the X1D (which include built-in wi-fi, GPS, and weather-sealing) is its long-exposure capabilities. The camera can handle up to a 60-minute exposure, and it includes an exposure countdown clock so you can keep track of where you are in each shot. While attempting a series of 45–60 second exposures to capture stars, the two vehicles, and the flashlight-illuminated aircraft wreckage on display at the mine — it’s from a scene filmed there for 3000 Miles to Graceland — I came to value this smart feature immensely.

In the end, the results were impressive. The collection of huge RAW files captured by the X1D showed off the camera’s excellent dynamic range (14 stops) given the wide span of lighting conditions and subject surface hues on location, and the grain and color were expertly managed, particularly in low light. Ultimately, every frame gives you so much to work with, in terms of editing and refinement potential, that it quickly becomes clear what a forgiving and tolerant camera this truly is. Whether imported into Lightroom or edited with Hasselblad’s own software, Phocus, the images can be unpacked and honed brilliantly. Of course, that usually won’t be necessary, because the X1D is likely to have you get it right the first time.