Upgrading to Hasselblad X2D: What You Need To Know
I think you should consider this camera. A few reasons why.
There have been plenty of Hasselblad X2D reviews by now but, with the benefit of time and perspective, we’re going to dive into things a bit further. This camera has been a smash success for us. Having only reached the end of our backorder in recent weeks, we’re finally caught up with available stock on our shelf. Being a specialized Hasselblad dealer with complete service and support, we have demonstration units for every primary product line. However, with the Hasselblad X2D demo program unavailable until late December, we’ve only had the X2D available for our use for a short period of time.
The Hasselblad X1D cameras are some of the most attractive-looking cameras I have ever seen. In fact almost all other modern cameras look absolutely … boring, and cut from the same cloth, as if the original designer was the same person for each one and always had a glass of warm milk before bedtime each night. The X2D, with its angled, contoured shape, the feel and color of real metal – it’s a gorgeous camera that resembles no other camera today. The X2D edition veers away from the original 2 tone, matte silver and black look of the original X1D with an updated nearly black surface that in some light appears various shades of dark grey. It turns my head every time I pick it up. Should that matter what the camera looks like? All I know is that it works on me.
What I’ve found with the X2D camera body is that yes, it does feel a little heavier/denser than the X1D/X1D-II. It does not feel as …. carefree. In that way, perhaps the X2D feels more like a real medium format camera. The grip is significantly larger than the original X1D – a bit thicker and deeper. I think it needed to be. Instead of the retro-looking top dial, there is now an LED screen. I don’t miss the dial. Its only function was to choose your exposure mode or bring up pre-programmed setting groups. All I ever shoot in is manual mode, so naturally, I rarely touched it. It forced one to have to look at the rear screen or the EVF to determine real-time changes in exposure. Now I can see that from the top and I appreciate that utility.
The AF/MF button has been replaced by that same exposure mode selector (indicated by the letter M), though one can choose to change that to many other functions (including AF/MF, which was the default on previous X1D cameras). The traditional strap lugs have been replaced with the rounded lugs from the Hasselblad V series. I can’t say that everyone I have spoken to is thrilled about that. But it looks cool.
The left side of the camera provides 2 entrance doors which remain nice looking, though I wouldn’t mind a bit more of a texture somewhere that would produce more grip to slide them open more easily. Behind the doors isn’t much. A USB C port and the media slot for the CFexpress card. A port for a remote release would have been nice. One hopes that Hasselblad will somehow produce a USB-C-based remote release cable. Time will tell. The battery compartment retains the latch/lever that ejects the battery part way and then you press in slightly and it pops all the way out – identical to how a Leica camera SL2 battery door opens. My favorite battery door of any camera I have used.
Now … the EVF. I’ve had so many discussions with clients over how much they detest EVF screens. Really – I think many of them have not really used a recent model top tier EVF. In earlier times, EVF’s really were like watching a low rez TV with UVF channels and antenna, no cable. Things have changed. This is a 5.7 million dot EVF. What makes the X2D EVF so fantastic is that it is the first EVF I have looked through that really starts to feel like a medium-format optical viewfinder. That is, it is not just clear and bright, it is large. It is the largest, brightest, clearest EVF I have ever looked through. While the Leica SL2 also sports a 5.7 million dot EVFG, the EVF from the X2D is substantially larger. The images of the below viewfinders are all accurate, relative to each other in terms of size. To give you an idea of how bright the respective EVFs are, check out the ISO of the Exif data from the iPhone captures below. As the available light lowers, the brightness lowers even more dramatically for the optical finder.
This also brings us to the rear 3.6” LCD screen. This is the largest LCD screen of any current professional digital camera. Period. It is high resolution, it is bright, it zooms to a 100% view into the 100mp image in less than a second and you have amazing clarity of detail. What is really significant is that this is now a tilting screen. There are good things and not-so-good things about this. When you tilt it, the top of the screen does not disengage from the tilting track, so it slides up and down as you tilt, and there are 2 detented positions as you slide it, though you can also move it to a position that is not detented.
This means, unless you’re looking at the screen at a bit of an angle, the EVF housing is slightly in the way at the top of the screen (sort of like an iPhone notch with no Dynamic Island). And the most tilted position is not 90º straight back from the camera but at a slight downward angle. If you want to shoot waist-level style and have the camera on a line directly below your chin while looking straight down, you’ll see some of the EVF at the top of the screen instead of the image. To see unobscured, you need to hold the camera a bit out in front of you or hold it higher, where it becomes more chest level finder than waist level finder. Despite this, I did not find the EVF obtrusion too bothersome and appreciated that I had a tilting option. There is no option to reverse tilt, so I cannot hold the camera above my head and see the LCD screen. And there is no sideways or reverse tilt. So … Tilt good, But limited.
What the X2D really gets right is that the rear LCD screen sits to the left of a similar set of very simply laid out access buttons (4 buttons instead of the 5 button setup from X1D). What I was really keen to see was whether – with its additional features – the X2D user interface, which was perhaps one of the strongest characteristics of the X1D series, would lose any of its charms with the X2D implementation. I can tell you that it has not, despite having more features and complexity added that the original X1D did not possess. Here again, for those who have not had the opportunity to shoot with an X1D/X2D camera, the user interface is lovely. And how many times in your life have you referred to a user interface as lovely? It makes the user interfaces from every other camera on the market feel like they were designed in 1998 and just got stuck there. And this is literally what has happened with all other cameras. Hasselblad has created a user interface that feels like it was made for today and bizarrely, no other camera manufacturer has seen fit to do that. Thank you Hasselblad.
Now, some of the more obvious goodies. The X2D provides a 16 bit 102mp sensor with 15 stops of dynamic range. It has graduated from Contrast Detect Auto Focus to Phase Detect Auto Focus. The auto focus performance compared to previous X1D models feels snappier, just plain faster, and appears more accurate. This may not replace your 35mm motocross tracking camera, but it is a jump forward into a space nearer to what most of us are accustomed to with smaller sensor cameras. Let’s also not forget that the Hasselblad X1D/X2D cameras are one of the few that incorporate leaf shutter lenses, and in fact sync with strobe faster than any other system (up to 1/2000th of a second).
The X2D also comes with a built-in 1TB SSD drive. I have mostly positive feelings about this, but some have made a huge deal of it. I personally don’t mind using a media card at all, it frees me from having to have the camera at my disposal whenever I want to download images. I believe the built-in SSD is responsible for the very snappy review time of these huge files and the download speeds are also faster than what I am used to with media cards. But you have the option, use CFexpress or the built-in SSD. Options – especially when they are very excellent options – are nice to have.
The real benefit of the built-in SSD is speed. I didn’t have a CFexpress card to compare with, but importing 30 raw files from an X2D into Phocus took 69 seconds, a very solid number for raw files that average 150 – 200 mbs each. The more impressive performance was zooming in 100% immediately after capturing a raw file and this happened in less than 1 second. It was ready when I was ready.
But the big cherry on top of the X2D cupcake for me is the 7 stop IBIS. What a game changer. IBIS or In Body Image Stabilization allows one to shoot at many stops lower in terms of shutter speed than one would be able to otherwise. For medium format, this has a dramatic impact since you’re already shooting at a higher shutter speed than you would for a smaller sensor system to avoid vibration artifacts. What I can tell you is that the IBIS flat out works. Is it really technically 7 stops? I don’t really know – I could test? All I do know is that I was frequently shooting hand held at 1/5th – 1/15th of a second over the past 3 weeks continuously and producing tack sharp images. This was not possible before with any Hasselblad camera.
Image quality. Let’s talk about color.
But for those of you who do know Hasselblad and also for those of you who don’t, does the X2D delivery the image quality goods that the specs imply? Yes, it does. The quality of the file is extremely impressive, and I say that as someone who regularly shoots 150mp files with a Phase One IQ4 150 and 100mp files from a Fuji GFX 100s. So it is a given that the 100mp Hasselblad X2D file is going to exhibit fantastic quality. But there is more that needs to be said about the Hasselblad file, which is that it is one of the least “digital” looking files that I’ve seen. And by “digital” I mean not overly sharpened, not overly contrasty, and colors that are accurate and do not glow. The 100mp Hasselblad file is as notable for its lack of excess as it is for it is for fulfilling what those specs actually do imply.
This goes back to previous generations, but the X2D carries on with this pathway. Out of camera, the files are presented in such a way that they are not trying to blow you away. The color palette is responsible. There are no glowing greens in the fauna that I have to dial back, like I see in almost every other digital camera I shoot with. Even on ucky looking, leafless and overcast grey February Georgia days, there is a prettiness to the file, the X2D pulls off the unique feat of producing files that are not drab and yet are not too full of life that they feel artificially amped up. The same can be said for the tonality. If you want amped up, punchy, contrasty files, you can create them in Phocus, but they will not appear that way by default. I appreciate this.
Auto White Balance produces excellent color, but with that said, selecting the appropriate white balance setting does a better job (in the case of February 2023 in Georgia, that would be Cloudy WB).
Now that we’re talking about color, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Hasselblad is the only major camera I know of that is not compatible with Capture One. This is how it has always been, this may be how it always will be. Time will tell. I see no reason for there to not be Capture One support at this point. But for now, that means you’re using either Hasselblad’s Phocus software, or Adobe. Phocus has the advantage for tethered workflow, but Adobe certainly has a greater toolkit for file editing. But there can be different results that come out of Adobe vs Phocus.
What I see is the Adobe As Shot is not bad, not too far off the Phocus rendering. But the selected white balances (cloudy, daylight, etc.) for Adobe look atrocious. And as acceptable as the Adobe As Shot version is, I prefer what Phocus does with this image, especially with the greens. For the Phocus files, I often feel like I am already “there” with regard to specific colors and I am ready to move into more toning and global color tweaks. I would say that getting to where Phocus is with the Adobe Cloudy WB even with the Adobe toolset is not so easy. I believe color is much more complex than meets the eye. There are relationships between all these colors that a global adjustment will not always address. And in my experience, this is what Phocus really gets right.
Just to make sure this wasn’t just an X2D issue with Adobe, I ran some X1D files, and had some better results (with the As Shot). The selected White Balances in Adobe just seem problematic with Hasselblad files, so you’re better off using the standard As Shot. Unless you made a poor choice on your White Balance setting, then …. actually just don’t do that. And be sure your camera develop profile in Adobe is set to Camera Standard.
Being honest, Phocus is no match for either Capture One or Adobe, but it is not as bad as people would have you believe. A lot of that has to do with familiarity. And even if you use Phocus for your Hasselblad files, you’re not likely to use any of your other cameras with Phocus (you do have other cameras, don’t you?), you’re going to use Capture One or Adobe. And so the opportunities for muscle memory retention just don’t happen. So Phocus may always feel a bit choppy. But if the end result means anything, if you shoot with Hasselblad, the results may be worth it, even if you simply convert raw to 16 bit tiff and then go into Adobe or Capture One for further editing. YMMV!
Quibbles … there have to be some quibbles.
No camera is perfect, so let’s deal with some negatives and get those out of the way.
While this camera has the same sensor as the Fuji GFX 100s, its most obvious direct competitor, it is missing features that we take for granted from that camera and many other cameras of today. No Eye Detection mode, heck, not even a continuous auto focus mode, no focus stacking, no pixel shift mode, no live view histogram. It’s assumed these features will come in time via future firmware updates.
As nice as the user interface is, I’d love a Quick Button or Favorites Menu option. Same goes for the lack of a joystick. Yes, I have some issues with some other camera’s joystick implementation, and it would be a shame to junk up such a beautiful camera. But Hasselblad, you created this lovely thing, you innovated with design; show us what your better version of a joystick would be like (next time, I hope).
While I appreciate the built-in storage, occasionally I have to do a dance with getting it to show up. When you plug into your computer, a screen pops up and it has 2 options for USB connectivity: Mass Storage or Skip. Skip means you just want to charge the battery. I never choose this, I always choose Mass Storage. But sometimes I miss the Mass Storage button or the angle of my finger isn’t right when I try to tap it and then it disappears. And you then need to plug it in again for it to show up. I would like to see a preference that I can choose so Mass Storage is always the default and I don’t have to choose it each time.
I have become accustomed to incremental ISO choices and I find the 100 – 200 – 400 – 800 increments from the X2D feel restrictive to me compared to most other cameras that now go from 100 – 125 – 160 – 200 – 250 – 320 – etc.
Importantly, when you plug in your X2D and bring up images in Phocus, the X2D will adopt the White Balance setting that is in use at the time when you unmount the X2D. So, if you shot with AWB and then imported images, Phocus will display As Shot (it has no AWB setting), and reveal the color temperature and tint of the file. These settings are then embedded into the X2D for the next time you shoot. Let’s say you are done importing images, but you click on various images that you are editing, and there is a mix of some images shot outside, some inside, some with strobe, some with tungsten, etc. Whatever the white balance of the last image you have selected was, it will embed in your X2D and be displayed as a manual white balance.
So if you always shoot AWB, the next time you shoot a landscape scene after attaching the X2D to your computer, your X2D will never begin again with AWB setting. The white balance setting will be set to “Manual” on your X2D and reflect whatever that white balance was. So you could be shooting 4100 color temp from your interior shots for your landscape shots, thinking you are in AWB. This is not the end of the world, but I consider it, if not a bug, a version of incomplete intent that can surprise you, especially if you like shooting AWB.
So should you upgrade from your X1D/X1D-II? There’s so many critical improvements and advantages:
16 Bit sensor (despite Hasselblad stating the 50mp X1D/X1D-II as 16 bit, the 50mp sensor is a 14 bit native sensor)
7 Stop IBIS
Phase Detect Auto Focus
3.6” 2.3 Million Dot Tilt LCD
5.7 Million Dot OLED EVF with 100% coverage
Personally, I love this camera. For me, medium format has always been about the best image quality and really what you want is to be able to use it more! A 100mp medium format camera that has excellent high ISO performance, Phase Detect Auto Focus, 7 stop IBIS, beautiful file rendering, and all in a beautiful lightweight body with a super intuitive user interface is a major win. We live in a world where choices are restricted, and consolidations and conglomerations rule the day. But Hasselblad – I have to love what they’ve done. Let’s be clear, Hasselblad has had so many ups and downs, and even at our dealer level, we’ve had to go through them as well, it’s been a bumpy ride, to say the least. But it’s 2023, and yes, let’s take our hat off to them that in a world of assimilation they have chosen a very non-assimilated pathway, against many odds, and the benefactor for this is you the photographer.
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By Steve Hendrix
Thanks for the read! If you have any questions, or interest in Hasselblad, feel free to reach out.Steve Hendrix