It was the first time I ever had the Hasselblad X1D in studio. The camera seemed too small to be on set, almost as if the practicality made the performance appear too easy, almost approachable by an outsider. Up until this point, the idea of using a medium format camera for a photoshoot usually paired well with an extra upper body workout, because the cameras are huge and lenses extremely heavy. For reference, the Hasselblad HCD 35-90 that I use most commonly on the H6D weighs over double what the Sony A7RIII camera weighs (and that is just the lens). So you can understand why lifting the X1D to my eye and knowing what it was capable of was almost alien in it’s nature to what my past experiences told me was true.
I was using the X1D as a backup to the H6D-100c for a photoshoot that took place both in studio and then on location for background plates. The adapter to use the H lenses on the X1D had just been released and so it (the X1D) was the perfect backup to have on set. At 50 megapixels on a medium format sensor, I knew the resolution and noise performance would pair well with what was done on the main body. We could also switch seamlessly between the platforms for the portrait portion of the campaign for the shutter sync of 1/2000th existed between them. I mean, on paper this looked like it could work, yet I still couldn’t wrap my mind around the possibility of it doing so because the form factor.
We arrived at studio in the morning with a lighting diagram, gel palette and the cameras prepped. As usually is the case, we spent the first couple hours setting up the lighting and putting the models through makeup while having champagne (brunch makes craft services more enjoyable than bags of beef jerky). Once the first model was ready, we proceeded to take the shots with the H6D as planned, for I usually only use camera bodies I have practiced with on set. The images were straight forward and we were able to grab the shot quickly, giving us time to play around with the X1D while waiting for the second subject to finish hair and makeup.
What was funny, but telling of the portability of the X1D was that it wasn’t on the grip cart behind me where the camera gear usually sits on my shoots. The X was slung over my first assistant’s shoulder the entire time, all while he adjusted lights and prepped gels. The unobtrusiveness of the body was startling. Then came time to try it in the place previously occupied by the H6D… Immediately I noticed that it felt like I was holding a phone rather than a camera because of the size difference. However, as I got more comfortable, I used the EVF more and it began to fill the shoes of a true working camera. Where the shock set in next was on the file preview. The images were insanely sharp and detail pronounced in every hair on the model. The XCD 45mm lens not only equaled the studio glass that I was accustomed to, but actually topped some of the lenses that I held dear.
With the only drawback being autofocus speed, I was beginning to see where the future of photography was going. The empty space once occupied by the footprint of a mirror swing was now compressed to accommodate a camera that focuses through the same sensor that records its image. The angle of convergence depth for lenses is now shallower to its nodal point and lens design can approach a new structure of compactness, the likes of which we only knew previously with rangefinder cameras.
However, I didn’t stop using the camera for the studio portion of the shoot, as I also took it out with me to create the background images that would accompany the campaign. The images were to be shot in the evening hours in many places around downtown Phoenix. Some locations weren’t ideal for carrying a large camera around alone, for safety reasons. There are a couple of different solutions to this situation. The first is to hire a crew to walk alongside you for hours. While it makes for good conversations, it adds a few thousand a day to the budget and transporting everyone takes more time than one person and a camera. The second approach was actually made possible by the X1D. I threw on a sweatshirt with a hand pouch and used gaffer tape to cover the camera (my version is the silver edition). I walked alone for hours grabbing pieces into the evening, using benches as makeshift tripods and re-exploring the world with eyes opened by the future of photography.
Is the X1D perfect? No. But no camera is, especially in the eyes of the internet. What the X1D represents to me is the direction of our creations. Photographers begin their journey of camera design language wanting buttons for everything, almost as people begin their journey in wines wanting sweet Rieslings and despising Cabs. However, as a career progresses, the gimmicks of automatic modes fade, giving way to manual control of the exposure. From there a photographer gets to a place where he or she wants merely a box with two dials and a shutter release. Their pallet has matured and the machine’s simplicity compliments their eye’s creation. This is the X1D.