General performance

Hasselblad says the AF system has been designed to prioritize accuracy over speed, though the company's designers are still working on making the system faster. The system in place at the moment feels about as fast as I would expect from a medium format camera, which means it isn’t as reactive as most DSLRs, but it’s a lot quicker than focusing manually.

While I was using the camera, new firmware gave me a taste of the X1D's touch AF functionality. Holding the focus button down for a second gave me a choice of 35 AF points arranged in a grid across most of the screen. Touching a square makes that point active, and a further press of the shutter release or AF button activated the focus to fall on whatever was under that point. It seems very good and while the AF points can’t change size at least they are well spread across the image area. This feature is still in beta.

I was impressed with the camera’s metering system which appears consistent and reliable in a range of conditions, and the flash metering seems to work well too. Hasselblad has borrowed the pin layout from Nikon’s flash system, and while I was able to test using hotshoe guns of a range of makes I couldn’t get my Phottix TTL radio unit to work with it off-camera – though Hasselblad says the Profoto B1/2 system does already work. There is no sync socket, so all control for off-camera flash will be via remote systems in the hotshoe or an adapter.

Image quality

I’ve used this sensor on a number of occasions in the Phase One IQ250 and Hasselblad’s H5D-50c and have been impressed with it every time. I have no reason to believe the image quality from the X1D-50c will not be at least as good, and certainly the samples I shot with it demonstrate that we have some great resolution and dynamic range to look forward to. With such a large sensor, and the ability 50 million pixels gives for magnification, there is little room for focusing error, but the amount of detail that it is possible to record is fantastic.

The dynamic range also allows for plenty exposure latitude and curves adjustments before tones begin to separate and before noise becomes an issue.

I don’t know if Hasselblad has finished tuning the sensor’s color, but I have been very happy with skin tones and the way a wide range of shades have been rendered. The images here have been processed in Hasselblad’s Phocus software, which seems to bring out what the camera is good at, requiring very little adjustment. The new firmware came with a new auto white balance setting that worked well to find a natural compromise in some quite extreme conditions.

Conclusion

This has only really been a taste of what is to come from Hasselblad. I suspect that building the physical elements of a camera is less than half the battle when creating a new system, as it’s the firmware that delivers the features, functions and ultimately the image quality. It is probably the firmware that creates all the headaches too.

So far though the X1D is really very nice to use, and already produces first class images. Once it is finished I expect that it will be ideal for a wide range of subjects, from still life, to portraiture, to landscape and documentary work. I suspect the only areas where it won’t be ideal is sports and action, or where candid capture demands quick and responsive focus tracking. It is small enough to carry in the pocket of a large coat, light enough that you don’t need a hard case with wheels and it handles much like a 35mm style DSLR.

Hasselblad has acknowledged that the delay in shipping final products is frustrating for those who have pre-ordered the camera, but in discussions with representatives from the company it is clear that they want to get it right first time and not release the camera before it is ready. They have been delayed, they say, by Sony’s sensor production crisis after the earthquake, but also I think by tuning firmware, making sure the features work as well as they can and tackling the sheer scale of the orders that have come in. If the pre-production firmware that I've used is anything to go by though, it will certainly be worth the wait.

Sample Gallery