I am often accused of taking photography seriously. It’s absolutely true! For me, photography is my entire life. It embodies my personality, the way I see, feel and function. It is my way of having a conversation with the world. I view it as a serious craft, which requires complete dedication or as Burk Uzzle put it,“Photography is a love affair with life.”Yes, I am having an affair.
Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that when I write a review of any camera, I take it seriously and I take it very personally. Such a review is an absolutely biased and unhinged view of the tool. Some cameras and my seeing click right away, others remain foreign or even unpleasant despite my good intentions to make it work. One example is the GR-line. Many of my friends cherish this camera as one of the best they have ever shot with. We somehow never connected. There is no connection.
Any first impressions or full reviews are always a sort of diary of my encounters with a specific camera. I am not overly technical as a photographer so I don’t spend much time obsessing about technical specifications – in fact I don’t have much interest in such debates. I take a camera and start feeling, connecting, framing, composing. It works or it doesn’t. It’s that simple.
There is one more thing. I am not a brand ambassador of any manufacturer or have any contracts with anyone. I am 100% independent and everything I write is exactly what I think. I respect companies that send me gear for a review without any preconceived conditions. It shows that they believe in their product. I simply don’t work for those who would like to put any restraints on me.
Let’s get to the Hasselblad X1D.
It is one of those cameras when our first encounter went extremely well. The very moment I grabbed the X1D, even before I put the batteries in, it felt good.
First, I was surprised by the size of this camera. The lightning-fast thought went through my head: “Is it really medium format?” It is similar in size to the Leica M10 or Fujifilm X-Pro2 but with a beautifully shaped grip. In fact, the grip is so well designed that I took off the always-annoying strap and held the camera in my hand.
After shooting for months with the GFX50S, I had to find my smaller camera bag to carry the X1D and I loved it. It was like carrying an APS-C-sized camera but it is medium format!
Another pleasant surprise was the battery compartment – there are no plasticky and flimsy doors – you just insert the battery and it clicks into place. There is no way for it to fall out by chance. Then, if you need to change it, just pull a lever and it retracts. Push it slightly, and you’re done. I really admire such thoughtful design.
Before I headed out on the streets of Vancouver, I had to set up the camera. As with every new tool I had to be open-minded. Sometimes we get so used to the way we do things that we automatically refuse different solutions. Having said that, my first slight annoyance came from the lack of an aperture ring on the lens. I knew right away I would miss this feature. Then I dived into the menu system but this time I got a pleasant surprise. The menu appears to be simple and intuitive. For example, to format the memory card you tap “storage” on the touch screen and the first thing you see are two cards represented by two stretched out rectangles. The arrow points to the associated physical button on the right to perform the actual formatting. Simple and to-the-point.
As I was setting up the camera, I noticed that all I needed was there but more importantly, all the other stuff that I never use or need is notthere. This is very important. As technology develops and new functions are added to please the always hungry-for-more high-tech crowds, the number of options are ballooning to truly staggering numbers. No wonder some cameras have a 300-page manual! Come on, I’m a photographer! I just want to take an image.
After the setup, I went out to shoot. As mentioned earlier I already liked the reduced weight and size of my equipment. For the first few minutes, I was confused about whether I had my X-Pro2 or the Hasselblad medium format with me. Yes, the camera is that small.
Then I started shooting. Immediately, warnings from my photographic peers popped into my head. The “come on, this camera is so slow” was the most common one. Slow!? Well, if you don’t tell anyone, I will make a confession: I actually like slow cameras. I remember when the original X100 came out everyone complained how slow everything was. It was never slow in my opinion. I have to admit that I am very slow photographer – in fact much slower than most of the cameras out there. Yes, you press the “On” button and it takes a moment for the camera to start. What the beef is all that about? I am not photographing Formula One races or waking up in the middle of the night with a once in a lifetime opportunity to capture an alien spaceship flying over my house. That’s not the way I work. You might call me the slowest street photographer in the world.
Then, I was ready to craft some imagery. When I test cameras I never shoot so-called test shoots such as benches, telephone poles or people sitting in the park. I approach the session the same way I would for a serious day of photography in the field. The reason I do that is because I want to see how the new tool fits my way of seeing and crafting real-life imagery.
So here we go. I took the first few images. Then another warning from my friends came to the fore: “You will hate the blackout.” At this point I felt quite ashamed. What am I going to say? If I tell everybody that I actually like this blackout time I will be in serious trouble. Olaf goes berserk? My answer – a long time ago! Yes, I do like this blackout time – a lot. As I mentioned earlier, I take photography seriously and there is a strong philosophical component to it. I am not going to even try to explain this phenomenon. When I am working, after long and deliberate framing considerations, I finally press the shutter button. I hear the sound and my viewfinder blacks out for a moment. For me it is the culmination of the extensive process of crafting an image – the great finale if you will. I sometimes close my eyes and take a deep breath. This is the moment to hold, cherish and celebrate. The pause the X1D delivers is part of the process, not a distraction.
As I started shooting, the fluidity of this process was superb. Once everything was set up I focused on observing, seeing and framing. It was a ruthless visual execution. With Auto ISO and in Aperture Priority Mode, I mostly played with exposure compensation assigned to my rear scroll wheel.
That’s exactly the point. The light, portable, fluid camera got out of the way very quickly and allowed me to do my seeing. On the first two days, I took the images presented below.
Regarding the image quality – as someone who has been shooting with the GFX50S, which uses the same sensor, quality is absolutely stunning.
There will be a full review of the X1D coming to the Medium Format Magazine, including more imagery, in-depth analysis of my whole experience and everything I like and dislike about this camera. I will also share with you who I think would enjoy this camera the most. Would I want to own one? Stay tuned! I might also have an opportunity to shoot with the brand new GFX50R, which would be very fitting.
In the meantime, enjoy the imagery and let me know your personal experiences with this camera.
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