Hasselblad makes world's first mirrorless medium-format camera


— 4:32 PM on June 22, 2016

Here's something you don't see every day. TR photo enthusiasts will be plenty familiar with the concept of the mirrorless camera by now. These next-gen shooters do away with the bulky mirror box and prism assembly of the good old DSLR for an electronic viewfinder and on-sensor autofocus. Those improvements usually lead to wafer-thin bodies like those of Sony's Alpha lineup, or smaller camera systems in general, as one might get with a Micro Four Thirds body from Panasonic or Olympus. Fabled camera maker Hasselblad is taking the opposite approach today with its X1D system. It put a huge sensor in a tiny body to create what may be the world's first medium-format mirrorless camera.

A little primer, first: medium-format cameras use film or sensors that are larger than the standard 36-mm by 24-mm area of "full-frame" digital or 35-mm cameras. The larger image sensor of medium-format digital cameras can result in images with better dynamic range and more detail than those smaller formats can provide, since the pixels on the image sensor itself can be both larger and more numerous.

The 43.8-mm by 32.9-mm sensor on the X1D is 40% larger still than that of a full-frame DSLR's, and Hasselblad packs 50MP onto its area. That means each pixel is 5.3 μm square, 8% larger than the 4.88-μm pixels on Nikon's already-well-regarded D810—and there's 28% more of them to work with here. The X1D can store its 65MB raw image files on a pair of SD cards. It can also shoot 1080p, H.264 video at up to 25 FPS.

Despite the large sensor, the X1D is just 5.9" wide by 3.9" tall by 2.8" deep (150 mm by 98 mm by 71 mm) and weighs just 1.6 pounds (725 grams ) without a lens. That's actually smaller and lighter than the D810 and many other full-frame DSLRs.

A new camera system means new lenses, and Hasselblad's latest will launch with two: a 90-mm normal lens, and a 45-mm wide-angle. Both of these lenses use integrated leaf shutters with speeds ranging from 60 minutes to 1/2000 of a second. They can also synchronize with flash at all of their rated shutter speeds, a useful feature for shooting with flash in broad daylight or for fast action.

Since the X1D is a mirrorless camera, it uses an electronic viewfinder (EVF) instead of an optical one. Hasselblad uses a 1024x768 EVF in the X1D. It's paired with a 3" touch LCD on the camera's rear panel that can be used in a live view mode for composition without placing one's eye on the viewfinder. The touch screen also provides a familiar interface for changing the camera's wide range of settings.

The one pain point with this camera might be its contrast-detection autofocus system. Compared to the fast phase-detection systems available on many DSLRs, smartphones, and even other mirrorless cameras, contrast-detect AF tends to be slower and more troubled by moving subjects. Anybody who's tried autofocus with live view on a DSLR is likely familiar with this problem. Most people probably won't be shooting action with this camera, however, so potentially slower AF is likely an OK price to pay for the X1D's presumably excellent image quality.

Of course, a big sensor comes with a big price tag. The X1D body will carry an $8,995 list price, and its lenses will doubtless cost multiple thousands each. Consider that the company's professional medium-format systems can cost north of $30,000 each, though, and the X1D starts looking like a bargain. For the lucky few able to afford one, this camera looks like it could offer an amazing blend of image quality and portability. The company didn't say when it would begin shipping the X1D in its press release, but Hasselblad endorser Ming Thein says shipments will begin in late August.

   
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