Last year I had the opportunity to shoot with the original X1D for the first time. Even before I put my hands on the camera, I received a few emails warning me that the original X1D was slow, so not really useful on the street. Regardless, I took the X1D on the streets of Vancouver and…I really enjoyed shooting with it. Go figure!
The three reasons I liked shooting with the original X1D were portability, design and image quality. You can read about my findings here. When I describe a camera, I can’t be impersonal, nor do I pretend to be. I don’t trust reviews that pose as impartial or unbiased. Photography is an intimate, personal experience. I pick up a camera and find out if it complements my way of shooting and seeing. I connect with the camera or I don’t. It’s that simple. Therefore, my thoughts in this article are simply mine. Other members of the Medium Format Magazine may have different opinions. That’s fine.
When I heard that, during my trip to New York, I would be able to try (very briefly) the brand new X1D II 50C on the streets of New York I got excited. I was eager to find out how this new iteration of the camera compares to the original and whether it still matches my shooting style.
This is exactly where I must begin. I have been shooting, studying and teaching photography all around the world and one thing I have always been amazed by is how paranoid and fixated some of my students, and the internet in general, are about speed. I never understood this inclination to hurry. Sometimes it feels as though everyone is after pictures of hummingbirds racing each other on the Daytona racetrack. How strange! Especially so, when this narrative doesn’t match images posted on blogs and forums.
Yes, I understand there are some areas like sport or bird photography which require a certain functionality and speed, but for most types of photography even the slowest cameras are absolutely fine (being slow has its own benefits). For me, photography is a painfully slow craft requiring attentiveness, observation, creativity and articulate framing, including so-called street photography. Great imagery requires time, thought and patience, all in short supply in today’s world.
Maybe that’s why I enjoy shooting with medium format.
The moment I touched the new X1D II 50C I was glad it was exactly the same physical design as its predecessor. The size of the camera itself is something I really liked. The X1D II doesn’t feel like medium format camera at all. Even today, as the medium format market is evolving so drastically, the X1D II is still the smallest medium format camera on the market by far. You really want to pick it up and shoot with it.
All the materials and buttons are top quality. There is no doubt you are holding something expensive and special. The new graphite-grey exterior looks absolutely stunning. Once you wrap your fingers around the grip, the camera stays firmly in your hands. I am one of those people who dislike camera straps and the X1D II with its firm and comfortable grip is among the most comfortable to hold in the hands for hours.
As I navigated through the X1D II the next thing that caught my attention was the size of the LCD screen at the back. It is huge and bright. At 3.6-inch 2.36-million-dots this touch display feels so right on the medium format camera. You want to use it, review your imagery, interact with it. Strangely enough, despite its huge size the LCD doesn’t ruin the overall design but rather complements it.
Then naturally I press the “on” button and find the start-up time is definitely faster than the original X1D. No, it is not lightning fast by any means, but it is an improvement, to be precise, 46% faster according to Hasselblad. As I press buttons and play with settings, the entire experience feels so much faster and more fluid. The new processor certainly makes a difference.
Then I bring the camera up to my eye and a larger EVF is a welcome addition with 55% more pixels than its predecessor (1024×960 vs. 1024×768). I keep playing and notice that now I can fiddle with the menu system in the viewfinder.
THE STREETS OF NEW YORK
As we leave the Hasselblad headquarters, cloudy skies threatening rain await us. The X1D II 50c and I have only about two hours and that has to be enough, for now. As we start exploring the SOHO district, I first try to check the autofocus, which feels more accurate and faster. No, it is not a huge improvement, but it is enough for me to notice.
Out of the corner of my eye I see a young man smoking a cigarette on the sidewalk, so I approach him and ask for a portrait. He kindly agrees and I take a few portraits of him. Then we move on. As I walk by some store displays, I am attracted to reflections in the windows and try to align two visual dimensions with mixed results.
Then we continue until I notice a distinctive window with columns hugging it on both sides. I raise the X1D II to my eye and work on framing. What I really like is the large EVF with all the info displayed at the bottom in big clear letters without blocking the image.
I settle on very tight framing. With such a big LCD I am tempted to take a look, again. I quickly remind myself that I have very limited time and I need to know the camera better. Of course, this fiddling with new gear goes against my nature as I can see stills all around me—it is New York, after all.
So I start scrolling through the images I‘ve taken so far using the touch screen. I smile. I really fancy this big, bright screen. Then I dive into the menu system again and I like the new lettering and improved spacing. The X1D already had one of the nicest and cleanest menus in the industry. The combination of projected menus and real buttons on the right works really well. At this point, it is clear to me that Hasselblad approached the X1D II with the intention of not messing it up with things that worked but rather focusing on issues that needed their immediate attention.
Around the corner I look inside an artistic studio and I notice a statue of a woman bathed in gentle light, which that day was in short supply. What a pity, I quip. Regardless, I like the framework of the windows and I want to use it as a framing help. I totally forgot that my time with the X1D II was very limited and immerse myself in crafting this one image for far too long. I like the results, but I have to pick up the pace. How fitting, in the always hurried and busy New York.
At this point I decide to test the autofocus in action shots. The plain stage provided by a uniform wall should do. A few meters away I notice vapour escaping from a grate in the ground—that would be a nice addition, I reason with my inner self. I position myself so people would walk into my frame. The first character doesn’t fit well with my visual storyline. A few minutes later I see a distinctive gentleman walking firmly along taking big resolute steps. This gives me an opportunity to catch the action. I raise the camera to my eye, wait and press the shutter button at the exact moment. Eagerly I check the result on the screen and yes, my timing was right and so was the camera’s response. We are doing well.
Just then my watch sends me the warning that I have to head back to return the camera. I oblige. On the way back I see many more photo opportunities. I try to muster some optimism. I feel I am just starting. Both the X1D II and I are connecting and enjoying ourselves.
I reluctantly head back. Suddenly my camera turns off. How strange, I think. After all, it is the pre-production model and things often get interesting when working with pre-production versions, regardless of the brand. I quickly realize that isn’t it. I simply need to change the battery. Wait! Where is the replacement battery, which the folks at Hasselblad were so kind to prepare for me? I think and start sweating. It hits me hard. When we picked up the camera, I already had one large bag with me, so I left the Hasselblad bag with its replacement battery in the office. I can’t believe it.
Well, there is a price to pay for your own dizziness. Now I will be walking back for about an hour with the brand new X1D II 50C in my hands and unable to take a photo. Maybe a selfie? With my iPhone? No! Definite no!
At least I can gather my thoughts about the X1D II and the medium format market in general.
The first thing that comes to mind is the topic of pricing.
The new, improved model is priced at US$5,750 or EUR 5,000. This is massively less than the price of the first iteration of the camera. Clearly Hasselblad has positioned the X1D II as an entry model to the Hasselblad medium format world and not far from other medium format cameras in this price range. Given the same sensor and minor improvements, this was a natural move. It leaves space for one more product which would fit into the previous X1D spot and be priced around the US$10,000 mark. Well, let’s stop speculating.
Of course, the much lower price has angered some users, but this is a road toll we need to pay to ride this fast and exciting highway of medium format innovation. Who knew medium format would start invading the higher-end full frame offerings? Think about it! You pay slightly more and instead of a BMW 3, you get a Porsche 911! Not bad at all. This is just the tip of the iceberg. I talk to many photographers who own bags of full frame cameras and lenses and suddenly the elusive medium format has never been that close.
I have already written about the X1D II being the most portable medium format camera on the market. It appears that Hasselblad is working hard to complete the entire experience, finally. As someone who travels a lot, I always drag my MacBook with me. Yes, I tried many ways to bring just my iPad Pro with me but there was always some problem. No one has so far produced a wholesome travel solution where I could upload my RAW files to my iPad, process them and share them efficiently. Yes, Adobe is working on the iPad version of Lightroom, but it is not out yet.
After a brief encounter with the Hasselblad Phocus Mobile 2 I think that Hasselblad may be on the right track. I could import my RAW files directly to the iPad, process them and share without any fuss. I haven’t had enough time to play with the software so I cannot say how well it works but I liked the simple and intuitive user interface and it appears that the RAW files, despite their size, were transferring quickly.
Of course, it is logical to assume that a medium format camera so small and portable would be a global travel companion and I think that matches this philosophy with built-in GPS.
All right, my short but eventful adventure with the X1D II 50C is over. I really enjoyed the camera and I am looking forward to shooting the final production version soon. This time I will make sure to have more time and pack an extra battery. Speaking of batteries, despite the new processor, larger screen and overall improvements, Hasselblad says the battery life should stay roughly the same. Not bad at all.
We finally got back after an adventurous time with the Hasselblad X1D II 50C. After returning the camera, we headed for a cup of coffee. As we took pleasant window seats in a corner cafe and started chatting about the camera, the sun peeked out of the clouds, hugging the streets with beautiful light. I could easily have got upset but strangely I didn’t. Out of nowhere I started reciting the words to Sting’s song “Englishman In New York.” What a strange day indeed.
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