This review is long overdue. In November 2020 we received a package from Hasselblad containing a brand new 907X 50c system along with several XCD lenses. With the COVID-19 epidemic raging, my choices for a productive trip were pretty limited. And yet I managed to organize a short escape to the Kootenays, BC. Why the trip at all?
I like having some dedicated and uninterrupted time with a camera when I review it. I set aside the chaos of daily life and concentrate on the camera or, in other words, give it a chance. I want to use it in different scenarios and assess its technical qualities. Does the camera enhance crafting imagery or hamper it? This review is the result of my experiments with the Hasselblad 907X 50c system. I gave it time.
Before I go into detail, it is worth explaining the 907X 50c system. The 907X body is very thin, weighing just 200gm. It serves as a lens adaptor for the Hasselblad XCD line of lenses. It connects to the digital back (around 540gm) sculptured like an oversized Rubik’s Cube. Although you get both body and back in the box, you don’t have to use both. The body is designed for the XCD lenses but you can connect the CVF II back directly to a V-series Hasselblad camera like the 500C/M. The fact that you can choose to use XCD or Hasselblad lenses all the way back to 1957 is not only cool but a clever fusion of modern design and Hasselblad heritage. I suspect a lot of photographers will be excitedly dusting off their long-shelved equipment.
Let’s go back to the beginning. The moment you take the system out of the box, you know you are dealing with something different and really rather special. Even when opening the box, which is some of the nicest packaging in the business, you immediately know you are dealing with a premium product. This first physical contact is always important to me. Although many of my photographic friends think of their cameras as just trade tools, I think they are much more than that. I have always paid attention to the way things look. I place the form, design and quality of materials on an equal footing with practicality and technical parameters. Nothing annoys me more than a technically strong product in an ugly, poorly made frame.
After shooting with every single digital medium format camera available on the market, there is no question that in terms of aesthetics the 907X 50c is the most elegant. Its cube-like shape entices you to pick it up and play with it. It’s surprisingly small for medium format. Even though it breaks away from the typical SLR/Mirrorless-like form, it fits perfectly in your hands so you experience the fine craftsmanship of the product. The materials are of the highest quality. Every edge, button and surface make me think of a collectable item rather than a typical photographic tool. You see the attention paid to every detail. One thing that drives me crazy about most cameras, including top of the line medium format products, is the flimsy, cheap battery doors. It’s certainly not the case here. The solid, heavy battery door is beautifully made with a good quality letter “H” engraved on it and on the brilliant solid closing mechanism. It gets better! You can open and close the door when the camera is on a tripod without any hassle. I have to say that from the industrial design perspective it is currently the most beautiful camera on the market. Period.
Then, there are the operations. The first lens I attached was the XCD 45p – the smallest but very capable glass in the XCD series. This combo means the system is so small and light you can hold it comfortably with one hand. Holding the 907X 50c is a special experience on its own. I have to admit that I have always worked with typical SLR-like cameras, where you press them tight to your forehead, look through a viewfinder or place the camera on a tripod. So, holding the camera at the waist level and looking down at the LCD was a completely new photographic experience. It didn’t feel strange at all. Actually, my first thought was that it actually felt quite natural. Not only does the camera not block the world in front of you, but it almost disappears and aligns with your posture, so you are free to observe and interact with your environment. And when you are ready to take an image or check the composition you look down at the LCD, assess the scene and decide whether to pursue the image or not. (I really wish there was an option to have a swivel viewfinder which could be installed on the top but more about that later.)
With the shutter button (solid and metal) placed low on the front of the camera I thought my finger would get lost in searching for it. Once again, I was proved wrong. Somehow it felt right on target. The shutter button has a metal, vintage feel but it‘s not outdated or weird. The shutter button is wrapped in a scrolling wheel which allows you to change the aperture. The large screen, cleanly attached to the body, has five solid buttons along the lower edge. That’s all you have and that’s all you need.
I’ve said it many times. The Hasselblad menu system is the simplest and most photography-oriented on the market. It’s all you need for photography. The combination of on-screen menus and physical buttons gets you to all major settings quickly and effortlessly. There are no silly functions, no unnecessary menus and submenus. It is a menu system designed by people who understand interface design and pay attention to such small things as the size of font and spacing between menu items. It is one of those rare cameras which allows you to figure out all the functions without reading the manual. A simple task like formatting the card requires two steps without the need for nervous diving into the menu system. You can change the shutter speed and aperture by interacting with the screen or using the dial around the shutter button. I wish other camera manufacturers would take a look at the solutions here and stop the frenzy of adding functions and buttons to their cameras. The Spartan approach here is very refreshing.
Despite its simplicity, technophiles are being taken care of, rather well. Many companies tried to implement a touch screen and failed but Hasselblad did it really well. From pinning autofocus to magnification or pinch-to-zoom playback, it all works fast and smoothly. If I have any complaint about the screen, it would be the occasional difficulty of viewing it in strong sunlight (once again, a swivel viewfinder, please, in the next version!).
For those who would like to add more functionality, the additional grip, beautifully matched with the camera in terms of materials and form, provides all the answers and more. My favourite is the focus point selector positioned on the upper part of the grip which works very smoothly, like a joystick. Interestingly enough, even with the grip the camera feels light and playful. At the beginning I thought the separation of the grip from the camera by a metal attachment would feel strange but it’s quite the opposite. It feels so refreshing, reassuring and comfortable to hold (your hand can wrap around it, unlike with built-in grips). In fact, the open-air grip allows you to hold the camera without using any straps as the chance of its sliding out of your hands is virtually nil.
How does the 907X 50c perform in the field? I wanted to test the camera in two shooting scenarios which are the most common in my photography. I took it on a road trip during which I shot the camera handheld and on a tripod in various scenarios. Then, I spent a day shooting with the 907X 50c on the streets of Vancouver, mostly from the hand. Right away I noticed that I used the camera differently depending on whether I wanted to have the grip attached or not. It is so tempting to put on a small lens like the XCD 45p and play with the camera, using it in its natural-born format (without the grip). On the other hand, the grip adds functionality and allows you to shoot in a more traditional way. In all those situations the lens size makes a difference. There is no question I enjoyed the camera most with smaller XCD lenses attached. Once I grabbed something bigger, like the 35-75 XCD zoom, the camera started to feel unbalanced and less comfortable to shoot with. This is where you really need the grip to balance and feel confident. I could be wrong here, but I don’t think the designers of this camera imagined someone would be running around with big, heavy lenses. That’s not what this camera is all about.
One of the biggest surprises was the battery life. I was expecting to go through batteries very quickly but just two were enough for the entire day of shooting in the field. Along with the system, I received a charging station. It sounds like a trivial matter but even this item was very well designed.
Once we move into technical specifications, the 907X 50c system becomes much more mainstream and less unique in the context of the fast-changing medium format camera landscape. It has the same sensor as the X1D 50c, Fujifilm GFX 50s and Pentax 645z. The sensor is quite old. Having said that, this senior sensor holds up unbelievably well after all those years (just look at DXO sensor scores). Of course, it is a highly personal viewpoint but I have been a huge fan of this particular sensor. It has a very special, organic and sweet-toned appearance; it is less digital and more film-like compared to newer sensors. I know some of my photographic friends will disagree with me and I respect that. I just think we have reached such a level of sharpness with sensors that this organic look and gentle, satiny tonality becomes more important. In sum, I think the 50-megapixel CMOS sensor is aging quite well and I wouldn’t dismiss the camera because of it unless your printing requirements are well beyond what the 50mp camera could deliver.
In terms of autofocus I will be short and to the point. It is a contrast detection-based system, which means the amount of light will affect how well the camera focuses. If you are looking for the latest Sony-like, cheetah-speed, hummingbird-in-mid-flight autofocus operations with (human and animal) face recognition, you will clearly be disappointed. In fact, the whole idea of shooting medium format may not be for you. Yes, it is slow compared to the fastest action cameras but for my photography it is plenty. I am always amazed how many photographers complain about autofocus in various cameras I’ve worked with over the years, only to find out they shoot landscapes. I think it became an internet obsession and an unhealthy one I would say.
Last, quoting one of the people who worked on the project, the camera is:
“forwards/backwards/sideways compatible with a mountain of lenses. It works well with a V, seamless with X lenses, almost seamless with anything else that will mount. Even a super compact collapsible Leica 50/2.8 will provide full sensor coverage, along with many other M lenses. It may also be the only medium format camera which allows you to do manual focusing single-handed. The 907 was really the result of a camera designed by photography enthusiasts to provide a different experience.”
Of course, there is much more to cover in terms of technical specifications, but this is something you can find on other websites. I talked about the thoughts and experiences that matter to me the most and I hope they will help with your decision.
In summary, while everyone is chasing the newest and the fastest with the best specifications, Hasselblad has found a way to differentiate itself by tapping into its heritage and creating a unique, beautiful and fun-to-shoot system. On paper, it is not the fastest nor technically the most up-to-date camera, yet it feels so good and is strangely inspiring in the hands of a receptive photographer.
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