Hasselblad’s nap is over.
Hooray! Hasselblad is finally trying again! The storied photo brand took the wraps off their latest product today and it’s a world’s first. The X1D is the first mirrorless digital Medium Format camera—it’s a crop sensor, but who cares?! Hasselblad has spent the last few years releasing bad remixes of Sony mirrorless cameras. They were sullying their reputation with wood grips, lousy naming conventions—lunar? Solar? We get it, Neil took you to the moon— and ludicrously high price tags. Hasselblad, like Leica, seemed to think they were impervious to the concussive shot fired at them from the iPhone. They didn’t need to adapt, they would endure and survive, floating above the chaos on a cloud composed of their legacy. But their last few releases, specifically this one and the H6D-100c, signal that Hasselblad is sensitive to the market shifts and their own mortality.
The H6D-100c made waves when it launched due to its rich feature set and price—at $32,000, it was a bargain compared to the similarly spec’d Phase One XF100 MP, which cost $48,999 and lacked 4K raw video. Both cameras are still way out of reach for many photographers, even high paid professionals. If you were a photographer interested in experimenting with medium format you were better off buying a film camera than you were selling your liver to purchase one of existing platforms. The quality boost you got from medium format was nowhere near worth the premium you were forced to pay. There was little economic pressure from the rest of the marketplace until Pentax’s 645z.
The 645z didn’t match the Phase One or H6D-50c on features—its lens lineup is anemic and it the flash sync gives out before 1/300th of a second—but it cost $8,995 (the same price as the X1D) and was equipped with the same Sony sensor as its higher priced rivals, which was enough to make people question those platforms. Hasselblad has proven to be more receptive to that chatter than Phase One, who is effectively shouting “la la lala la!” with their index fingers planted in each ear. For a time, cameras were getting smaller, faster, smarter everywhere except for the high end. The cameras that were supposed to be the greatest in the world were dinosaurs; clunky, overweight behemoths that sat in a studio shackled to a tripod under the gaze of large strobes. Hasselblad is set to kill that narrative.
The X1D is a pint-sized version of the 50c—it features the same sensor, the same 1/2000th flash sync ability, at half the weight, and a third of the price. Hasselblad went from bludgeoning photographers with $11,000 bizarro versions of Sony Alpha cameras to releasing a state of the art medium format camera for less than $10k. This is the disruption the medium format world desperately needed. Many assumed it would come from Sony, a company that was battered by disruptive forces like RED and has mimicked their strategy to great success in the photo world. The conflict of interest may have been too great for Sony as they currently supply all three medium format parties with sensors. But as the ground floor in photography continues to disintegrate under pressure from the smart phone market, Sony will have nowhere to go but up.
But back to the X1D platform. Hasselblad is launching the XCD line of lenses. They’re autofocus enabled and significantly smaller than the H-series lens line (though those will work on the X1D with the right adapter). Hasselblad already has a 30mm planned to launch around Photokina—here’s to hoping their lens rollout is faster than Sony’s was with the Alpha series. Life in the Sony Alpha world is delightful until you have to change a camera setting, forcing you to enter the ninth circle of Hell aka Sony’s menus. The interface on the X1D looks spectacular. It features a 3" multitouch display decorated with large icons allowing you to change settings and access features with just a few taps. Many pros will balk at the lack of physical buttons but they often respond to change like cats do water. What’s yet to be determined is just how smart this camera is. We know it’s packing Wi-Fi and GPS functionality—how about NFC? Will it launch with a smartphone app to quickly grab images off the camera for use on social? What’s with the 2010-era video specs? 1080p, H.264? Does it even do clean video out? Baby steps, I suppose. I’m just happy Hasselblad has finally awoken from their slumber, they had me worried for a second.