Hasselblad H4D Status Update

As promised, this is another in a continuing series of reviews on my experience as a pro photographer and an owner of a Hasselblad H4D-50 system. For those of you wondering what the heck that is, allow me to explain.

Hasselblad is a medium format camera system. That means that the sensor is significantly larger than a standard 35mm camera and of a slightly different shape (4:3 ratio vs. 3:2 for a DSLR). Instead of the typical 12-16 megapixels (MP) per image you’ll find on most 35mm cameras, the Hasselblad (‘Hassy’) registers images at a mind-blowing 50MP. Other digital Hassy cameras record at 40, 60 and 200MP. The more pixels, the better detail there is when enlarging images. Since I often have to enlarge images to 30 or 40 inches on the short side, more pixels are a good thing. Just last week we printed wallpaper images that were 29-feet  and 19-feet wide!! That is how I justified my H4D purchase.

Two trips this year allowed me to test the Hassy with no-holds-barred. I spent 25 days in Sri Lanka and 16 days in Iceland, with extremes of hot and cold, humid and dry, hurricane winds and calm evenings.

Although I always had my Nikon system with me as backup or, in the case of action shots, as my primary system, the bottom line is that I find using the Hassy an increasingly joyful experience. After 40 years of photography, I relish the chance to use the Hassy, even preferring it over my Nikons in certain conditions (and I own the newest Nikon D800 with 36MP). Using the Hassy forces me to slow down. I find myself more thoughtfully exposing, metering and composing, and I figure that’s a good thing. There is no high speed mode. It has few fancy electronic doo-dads.  It is all about ridiculously finely engineered machinery, top quality lenses, the landscape and you. Frankly, I love that combo.

Most of all, my assistant, Bob Boyer, and I love the smooth, rich tonality evident in every image. It is as close to film-like as you can get, but with the added benefit of digital capture for post-processing flexibility. The files are insanely detailed, but with smooth gradations that don’t flash “DIGITAL” in your face.

To be honest, my Hassy does have its drawbacks, as I’ve mentioned in other blogs. Chief among them is that it is not weatherproofed. For landscape shooters that is a serious drawback. However, to be fair I did shoot with it in 70MPH hurricane force winds in Iceland and got results that I just fell in love with. Of course, I protected the camera and lens as best as I could and did not take the chance of swapping lenses in mid-shoot.

 

Another drawback is its size and weight, topping the scales at 7.5 pounds for the body and a 28mm lens with the tilt-shift attachment. At my age I simply cannot use it for any length of time unless it is tripod mounted, which is fine for landscape. The camera and lenses are also bulky, forcing me to painfully agonize over my equipment choices when I travel.

Another factor to consider when evaluating a Hassy purchase is its price. The H4D body alone costs upwards of $30,000. Add a 28mm lens (22mm in 35mm equivalent coverage) for $4,000 and a 50-110 for $6,000 and, like Senator Everett Dirkson once said, pretty soon your talking real money. On the plus side, Hassy has recently announced a 20% price reduction, in part because of pressure from the likes of Nikon with its new D800, packing 36MP. I might add that those of us who invested in Hassy at full price are not exactly thrilled.

But, the proof is in the pudding and the question is: Would I do it all over again? Damn right I would!

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