Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Hasselblad H4D Studioday March 2011

The only camera that can make an owner of a Nikon D3x feel inferior!

Hasselblad did a demo day run by Photo Pro magazine at their new London studio in Hackney (Fanshaw street) (near old street train station or Hoxton overground station)  See link  

The event was a publicity event to show off the camera to new and future customers, and also to promote the new Hasselblad studio The studio is there for people to rent out and also so to are the cameras. Prices can be found on the website.
Now first warning:  This is not an ass kissing blog, nor am I an ass kissing person,

Where I Do criticise I try and give constructive critique.

Here are my thoughts on the camera (the hasselblad h4d) with the 50mp back (seen here for a bargain basement price of  under 30,000!!!)

The set up

They let us play with the cameras, and also change around the lenses and also brought in a lovely, amazingly beautiful model called Katie Green (check her site, very interesting) and you can also find her here She pulled the best poses and killer eyes and amazing teeth and smiles for the 5 or 6 hours that the shoot went on. Amazing, a true pro!

Anyway, the shoot,
(click more below)

We were working with the Hasselblad H4d  and also a sexy looking but impossible to work (for me)  503cw Which can come with the basic version digital back (ie the sensor) which is 31megapixel CCD sensor and 80mm lens for around £10,000, which a Hasselblad representative tried to convince me is roughly what I would be spending on a top of the range Canon system with lens…… yeah plus an extra 5Grand!

With Medium format cameras an 80mm lens is the equivalent of a 50mm on 35mm film (where as 80mm on a camera such as the Nikon d300 is the equivalent of 105mm on 35mm film).  
For all you aps-c size sensor camera owners, to get the same type of field of view as an 80mm on a Hasselblad you would need a 35mm lens…. Thus meaning an 80mm is still kinda wide!

Getting up close and personal with the model while shooting with something that can produce 50MP images with razor sharp glass really means your models you work with have to be flawless or you have to pay a lot to get your model's tiniest imperfections smoothed out and airbrushed.

So what do you get for your money?

Amazing quality!
Amazing amazing amazing quality images, sharpness beyond what you have ever experienced with a DSLR. Resolution that could cut diamond.

You also get a very simple camera to work. It is not difficult to work and for work in the studio where you set up the power on the flashes manually and not via CLS like with Nikon, it really is a set your settings and start shooting. (just don't move the model or your lights, or change your aperture)

The dynamic range of the images is huge, and the colour is amazing and acurate.

I will go on record here that The images (in terms of optical quality) from the Hassy are easily the best I have ever seen!

You also get Leaf shutters, which mean that the shutter is not in the camera body but in the lens. The means that a much faster shutter speed is available for flash photography. A number of the Lenses had a ring that had markings on it for the shutter speed. It would happily sync up with the studio flashes up to 1/500th of a second. (on a full frame camera getting it above 1.250th requires special flashes from Nikon, with a massive drop in power output) 

Very good software (Focus,  free) which has mapped all the lenses from Hasselblad so that any flaws are automatically softwared out.
This is mentioned especially for the wide angle lenses. the Hasselblad 28mm f4 has not got one of its front glass elements meaning that the images from the lens are distorted (not good for a $4500 lens) but the Focus Software sorts it out perfectly and automatically, same to for vignetting and chromatic aberration. (however this will not work with any film backs obviously)

(oh and a massive bicep!!!, holding this for a long time gets your arm super pumped)


What do you not get?

Now this is difficult coming in from a DSLR background because effectively you get the same things but just less off them. 

1 focus point…..
Hasselblad have developed a thing called true focus where you centre focus on the subjects eye then re position the subject to where ever you want in the frame (not moving your body or the models) and it measures your twist, yaw, rotation etc and inputs that into the focus and either fractionally moves the focus forward or back to keep TRUE focus on the eye.

However this will prove very difficult for any form of subject or object movement.  ie i am sure that even if i breathed deeply or of the model swayed just the tiniest it would not have been able to take that into account.  However the shots i took many were super sharp.

The focus speed 
seemed hella slow in comparison to what I have been use to. 

However I suspect tripods and still life may be of more importance to many of the users of Hasselblad.

File size
These give out monster size files!
8 images on my memory card take up (not the usual 80meg on my D300) but 610meg,
the camera was saying with a freshly formatted 2 gb card you were going to get 24 images!
ok memory is cheap now but still!,  cant really imaging taking that to a wedding, taking a thousand shots??
You will also have to take into account how much this will slow down your whole workflow in editing and converting.  
However I suspect the people who shoot with Hasselblad do not need to worry about that and have a team of specialist editors and photo retouchers.

Frames per second
At the studio we were all hooked up via radio triggers to the Profoto light system which could pump out some serious Wattseconds/jouls/guidenumbers/candlepowers/ lumens/ what ever you measure flash in. so we could all fire off the flash with  no worry of an under exposure.
but the Hasselblad fps was less than one a second this joined up with the slow focusing meant a lot of the time I was staring into the camera listening intently for the trufocus to take lock and holding down the shutter waiting for it to fire. While that was happening my conversation and normal constant communication with the model was severly disrupted.

However, what I would say is that photographers working with this kind of camera are not going to be shooting beginner models or their friends, it is going to be with very very professional models who can bust out the poses hear there and everywhere, and will need very little direction.

Battery life

All the cameras had to be recharged during the shoot.  A Nikon d3x  could have sailed through the whole day getting easily 2000 shots with no worry from the battery.

However, I suspect those who use a Hasselblad do not need to go far from a well electrified studio and are not shooting for long instances.

No vibration reduction
No vr/is/vc/os lenses or in cameras,
(again this camera will almost always be used in a studio with flash and at the top shutterspeed available to this is probibly not an issue for the users.

On the back of my DSLR if i am looking at an image it is very very easy and quick for me to flip from one image to the next, to zoom in to pixel level and to pop up histogrammes and shot details.
All of which is available on the Hasselblad and its digital backs, but it was very slow (obviously! as it is dealing with 50MP images!!!) 
The button layout on the Back was not obvious and the ergonomics not the easiest to play with, especially when you are holding such a heavy camera and lens you dont want to be waiting 5-10 seconds for your image to unblur on the small screen at the back for you to show to your model and to check its focus 5 seconds is a life time compared to 2011 DSLR cameras.

One of the strengths of the camera is its ease of use and its simpleness,  but I do like my settings…. but the more I think about it the more I see that those who shoot with a Hassy, will have no interest in the banks of settings you can set your Dslr with…

Now the event itself.

The Studio,

As you can see from the images above its got a mezzanine for chilling out,  a full curved white wall a door that could accommodate cars coming in, loads of power points, and can be supplied(rented out) with Hasselblads and Powerful computers and also staff / lighting technicians, there is a room for the models to change and have make up done and there is a little kitchen, and the prices seem to be very reasonable for renting it out (if your already a Hassy owner). Here is the layout
It was also well tempratured, I was not cold and the model did not seem to have any goosebumps.

The demonstators /  experts
The people running the event were very personable and easy to talk to.  The MD did mention that he would have to confiscate my Nikon when he saw me taking a shot with that of the location. But he was the kind of person you could tell was having a laugh from the start.  You can see them all in the showreel section on the site (click here) They also showed the confidence they had with the camera, whereas myself and the visitors were holding the cameras like priceless jewels, they would hold them with one hand, pick them up, put them down all in a very nonchalant way, which filled us all with confidence and a form of realism that they are in the end just cameras.

The showing off of the software
There started to be a bit of a queue when we had all shot our 24 images…..  and wanted to see them on the two monitors, but each person was getting a fully guided tour through the software and its inport and export procedures etc that there was a bit of waiting. This was a good time to watch others images and start up some conversations.

There also seemed to be a lot of faults,
Almost everytime I picked up a camera I needed to get one of the experts to really help me out. The screen on the back of one would not show an image and that took the expert a good couple of minutes to figure out.  The scrolling through the images on the back of the camera also proved problematic for some of the experts as well.  It is probably due to the fact that they don't look at the images on the back but leave it till they are on the computer.  The digital back did not prove very self explanatory and a lot of pressing of the (i) button and the up and down usually got you to where you wanted to be but it was not obvious the route you took to get there.
Another time it was the battery,
Another time it was the memory had not been formatted properly
Another time it came up with a fault code which I didn't read and gave to an expert who looked confused fiddled it a bit and gave it back to me working fine.
Also the inside of the prisms were covered in dust and bits of hair. (none evident in the images on the computer though and that is all that counts)

The location
The studio is in Hackney which is only a couple of stops along from Kings Cross train station and also well outside of the congestion charge zones, The street that it is on seemed like you could find a parking space somewhere near but some of the street corners did not look all that safe.  Deffo get some good car insurance if leaving your car outside.

The Conclusion

Would I buy a Hasselblad just now?
Not a chance! really dont have the money for that.

Would I buy a Hasselblad if I had all the money in the world?
Yea…. maybe,

Would I happily pick one up and shoot with it if I was on assignment for a magazine and all expenses were paid?
Hell yes!

If I had a choice of a Hasselblad with lens for 9k or Top of the range Nikon D3x with the selection of lenses making it up to 9k I would go with the Nikon every time. But would I look at the other shooters that are using Hasselblads and be a bit jealous… yes… But then I would blast out 5 fps like a machine gun and feel manly again.

In terms of optical quality, and digital image making quality this is truly the formula one, to the Nikon d3x- Pagani,  to the d700- Ferrari, to the D300- Audi rs4. to the d3100- golf, to the Nikon P7000- new pair of trainers.
 Its another league but that league has a hell of a lot of different rules and regulations compared to the normal road legal cars/ cameras.. I am getting confused in my own analogy.

and anoyingly. I have thought about it every day since the event….


 one day ;)


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  1. I wish I could afford one!!! lol

  2. Hi Dom,

    The analogy you've made about cars is acurate.
    As anyone I also would be glad to own a Hass...and in my tiny brain, it would certainly give me some more creativity for a while, and the analogy with car is there, I would be happy to own a Porsche, and I would spend hours of riding, to hear the engine, to feel the power, to see the people looking at me in "a Porsche" ... But Gosh ... I don't "need" it !!!
    A lot of people think that the equipement is "the" major asset of pro photographer, and in a certain way, it is , but when I have a look at some "poor" photographer, mostly from the eastern parts of Europe ... well .. I feel sad with my 3000€ gears, because with a Nikon D70 and just the regular cheap 50mm 1,8 the blow out the scene ... they have so much more creativity than I will ever have, they make picture I won't ever be able to make ...
    My conclusion : If needed for the job, and I could afford it , I also would buy one ... though, I am not sure it would make a better photographer of me !!!!!

    Yvan aka PicsbyClay

  3. I think it's worth noting that medium format and 35mm are both different beasts, and aren't necessarily to be compared to one another in terms of which one would you have.

    In my opinion, it is a case of the right tool for the job, and medium format and 35mm both have their strengths and weaknesses, which will then determine which camera format is best for any chosen job.

    Therefore, to compare them directly isn't necessary the right thing to do - in an ideal world, photographers should have both in their tool kit, and when they demand speed and flexibility, use the 35mm, and when demanding ultimate image quality, use their medium format.

    Due to the quality and associated file sizes involved with medium format, it is hard to see it ever being as quick and flexible as 35mm DSLR's, so whilst speed and other general functionality can be compared to 35mm as a comparison, it doesn't necessarily mean that one is better than the other. Yes, a 35mm will knock the socks off a medium format camera at a sporting event or in the low light of a church, but use a medium format in the studio or any situation where you are in control of the situation, and medium format will blow 35mm's away in terms of quality.

    The comment about the cost of medium format now being the same as top-end 35mm DSLR's is slightly misleading too. As above, it shouldn't be a case of choosing one or the other - the sub-£9k price of the entry level Hasselblad now allows photographers to buy in to medium format at roughly the same cost as they normally spend on 35mm. A misconception is that medium format costs start from £20k, so many photographers automatically dismiss it without looking in to it fully, so the message is that medium format is now a lot more affordable, and if looking to go for a full toolbox (35mm and medium format), medium format can be added for roughly the same cost as some people spend on all their 35mm kit, meaning that cost shouldn't therefore be an excuse to not consider the quality of medium format.

    Just my 2 pennies worth anyway...

  4. I have one [H4D-60, traded in from my previous H3DII-39], and i am very very happy with the quality, i am a Canon shooter, don't have new models and not so dying to buy new DSLRs, my Hasselblad will hold me for long time in term of quality, and i also have film MF/LF cameras if i want to have another league quality.

    THanks for this long article, keep up your works.