What a lens… This is perhaps my favourite medium telephoto despite having worked with similar focal length lenses from other manufacturers. It is elegant, inspiring and has a sharpness of rendition required by the 50MP sensor.
The XCD 90mm is a short telephoto prime lens designed for the Hasselblad X1D, equivalent to 71mm on a full frame sensor. Although I also work with the XCD 30mm, XCD 45mm and XCD 120mm, it has proven to be my most used lens with the camera. As others have noted, the lens is extremely sharp up to f/16, although I have obtained the best results at f/5.6 and f/8 – not unlike many other lenses. I will use f/11 where depth of field is important for the image and do not see any image compromise as a result. The lens has excellent contrast and colour rendition with little evidence of chromatic aberration.
The design of this lens has a beautiful simplicity as does the XCD 45mm. The large rubberised focusing ring operates very smoothly when some manual override of autofocus is needed. I use the camera in manual focus mode with back button autofocus. This, combined with the camera’s excellent focus peaking capability, means that my images are very rarely focused incorrectly.
Most of my work with the camera is out of doors, on a tripod wherever possible, although I did use the 90mm for a large documentary project photographing a stamp collection. The lens performance coupled with the X1D was remarkable. The lens can focus down to 0.7 metres making documentary use very achievable. On a tripod with a 3-second self-timer for the shutter release I saw no evidence of camera shake with the 90mm despite relatively long exposures. I have included a photograph of a single small stamp from a full page to illustrate the resolving power of this camera/lens combination.
Before investing in the Hasselblad equipment I was using a Mamiya Leaf Credo system. It gave excellent results but I greatly appreciate the increased portability and simplicity of operation of the X1D. The 90mm lens at 619g is comparatively light. Although I have the XCD 120mm, it travels with me less often due the greater weight (970g) and size. I was in Kyoto for a couple of weeks recently and was walking several miles a day with the X1D, the XCD 30, 45 and 90mm in a small shoulder bag plus a tripod (Gitzo Traveler). It was very manageable.
I previously lived in Japan and developed a keen appreciation for Japanese aesthetics, which has strongly influenced my approach to photography. I spend a lot of time thinking about image composition, seeking that heightened visual impact we all want in our photographs. In addition, depending on the subject, I like to look for smaller parts of a potential image that are capable of conveying the essence of the larger subject. The angle of view (34 degrees diagonally) of the 90mm is very well suited to this goal and probably explains why I like this lens so much.
My recent visit to Kyoto was the first in Japan with the X1D. Combined with the 90mm in particular, it was an inspirational experience. The lens completely suits how I like to photograph and there were subjects just waiting to be captured at every turn. The black and white image I have included is an attempt to convey the wonderful detail, the massive scale and power of the five-storied pagoda and adjacent Tōkondō hall of Kofuku-ji temple in Nara, which date from the 1400s. It also illustrates how nicely the 90mm files convert to monochrome (using Silver Efex Pro in this case).
As my long-suffering wife will tell you, I am slow and methodical with a camera. I do not take large numbers of images, preferring to get the right shot by taking plenty of time. I have found that I work somewhat faster with this camera and lens than with earlier cameras, due to its greater simplicity of use. However, I am somehow finding a larger range of angles, compositions and subjects, so I still take a lot of time over a shoot.
On those occasions when I am working hand-held with the X1D, the weight and length of the 90mm lens seem to provide the best in-hand balance of the various body-lens combinations. Last November I was in Cornwall, England and took the X1D and the XCD 45mm plus 90mm on the trip. I was particularly interested in photographing one of the iconic tin mines at Wheal Coates. These abandoned tin mines are perched on the top of craggy cliffs above the stormy North Atlantic Ocean. When I reached the cliffs, I could see that a storm was approaching off to sea, so I needed to work faster than usual.
For hand-held shooting I use the camera in Auto ISO mode as the results even up to 3200 ISO are excellent. There is some loss of dynamic range at higher ISOs, but it is quite acceptable and image noise is surprisingly restrained. It was very windy up on the Cornish cliffs but the ergonomics of the X1D with the 90mm were solid in my hands and gave the camera excellent stability. The results with the XCD 90 in the changeable lighting and strong winds were excellent and I was grateful for the weather sealing when the rain and hail started in earnest.
My wife and younger daughter are both knitwear designers, so the Hasselblad gets called upon regularly to photograph new creations. My daughter models her own work and the 90mm is the perfect lens for her advertising images. The legendary skin tones of the Hasselblad are beautifully rendered with the XCD 90. Similarly, close-up textile shots show the colours and textures brilliantly.
We were looking for locations in Kyoto to photograph some of my wife’s work and found a lovely bamboo fence in a moss-covered garden at Honen-in temple, located in the foothills of the eastern mountains of Higashiyama. The 90mm handled the subject exceptionally well, rendering the texture of the stitch pattern beautifully.
So what are the negative aspects of this lens? I have to say that after two years of working with the XCD 90, I have yet to find any issues with its performance. I will look forward to spending the coming years working with it and seeing if I can find any! It would be remiss of me if I did not mention in this context the bokeh of the 90mm. It has exercised the minds of a number of commentators, as the specular highlights are a geometric, hexagonal shape rather than circular. This results from the leaf shutter in the lens and is not limited to the 90mm, although it is more obvious with this focal length. It can be avoided if the lens is used wide open, following a 2017 firmware update, but this is an aperture I rarely use. Aesthetically, it does not bother me excessively and I only occasionally take images with out-of-focus specular highlights. I have included one in the set of images I took recently to provide an example. For the bokeh purists who want to work with the X1D, a possible option is to use a non-XCD lens with a lens adapter.
For those who like to dream about the next big thing, I expect the resolving power of the XCD 90 can work comfortably with a 100mp sensor version of the camera – should it come to pass. For me, after photographing for more years that I care to admit with many camera systems, this camera/lens combination is the best I have used and is unlikely to be displaced. Time will tell…
Tim Ravenscroft is an Englishman now living in Florida. You can see more of his work on Flickr (Tim Ravenscroft/Flickr or https://www.flickr.com/photos/98844125@N04/) and Instagram (x1dman or https://www.instagram.com/x1dman/). Tim has no affiliation with any camera manufacturers.
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