When Hasselblad preceded the announcement of its new camera with the promise of "the next chapter in Hasselblad history", many understandably expected a revolutionary new product – a camera with, say, a 100MP sensor in line with what other medium format companies are doing.
Instead, the Hasselblad X1D II 50C is an evolution of the original Hasselblad X1D 50C. And that isn't, necessarily, a negative. When it was released in 2016, the X1D was a revolutionary camera, liberating medium format photography from the bolted-down realm of tripod and studio tripod shooting.
And this is the overriding reason why Hasselblad chose to update the camera, rather than release a new 100MP monster (and it should be remembered that the company already has a 100MP camera, the Hasselblad H6D-100c Medium Format DSLR).
The Hasselblad X1D II 50C retains its predecessor's sleek, lightweight form factor. As such it remains a legitimately portable and powerful imaging machine, comparable in size and weight to a 35mm DSLR, suitable for medium format street photography – which is still an incredible feat.
Certainly, in 2019, it is being challenged by the new wave of full-frame mirrorless cameras with similar image resolution. However, while the 45.7MP Nikon Z7 and 47.3MP Panasonic S1R offer similar pixel counts in similar sized chassis, the fact remains that they are still using 35mm image sensors.
At some 67% larger, the medium format sensor in the X1D II is still significantly larger, and able to capture more image size, detail and that all-important depth of field. So don't get misled by those megapixels – the Z7s and S1Rs of this world may have comparable resolution, but 35mm sensors will never do what medium format can.
Hasselblad X1D II 50C: Specifications
Sensor: 50MP medium format CMOS, 43.8 × 32.9 mm
AF points: 117 contrast AF
ISO range: 100 to 25,600
Max image size: 8,272 × 6,200
Metering modes: Spot, centre weighted and centre spot
Video: "To be enabled at a later date"
Viewfinder: OLED EVF, 3.69m dots, 100% coverage, 0.87x magnification
Memory card: Dual SD cards (UHS-II compatible)
LCD: 3.6-inch touchscreen, 2.36m dots
Max burst: 2.7fps
Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, USB-C (3.0)
Size: 148 x 97 x 70mm (body only)
Weight: 766g (body only, with battery and SD card)
Hasselblad X1D II 50C vs Hasselblad X1D 50C
So what exactly are the differences between the mark II and the original version of the X1D? There are a number of incremental updates that, while they may seem slight, are significant in terms of the new camera's performance.
Both the electronic viewfinder and rear screen are much improved in terms of resolution and refresh rate, which is now 60fps in live view with reduced shutter lag and black out time between frames.
The 3.69 million-dot OLED EVF is a big step up from the 2.6 million dots of the original, and also possesses a greater magnification of 0.87x. Perhaps the biggest plus, though, is the fact that the menu system is now accessible when looking through the viewfinder.
The rear touchscreen is now 3.6 inches (up from 3.0) and 2.36 million dots (from 920 thousand). It's also much more responsive, with some welcome additions such as drag and drop focus point placement (enabling you to shoot through the EVF and move the point with your thumb on the touchscreen) and pinch/spread control to adjust the size of AF points.
The JPG files it produces are now full resolution, as opposed to the quarter-sized reference JPGs of before, and benefit from the Hasselblad Natural Colour Solution technology for improved color rendition. While you're probably going to stick to the raw files if you're using a camera like this, the ability to save and work with full-size JPGs is still very useful (again, especially when raw files are 100MB+).
The overall speed of the whole system is noticeably quicker, thanks to a new electronics platform. In particular, the camera now boots up 46% faster than before and image reviewing is zippier.
The continuous shooting rate has been improved to 2.7fps (positively peppy, compared to the 2fps of the original), and the camera now supports UHS-II SD cards – which obviously makes a big difference to workflow, when you're dealing with raw files that are over 100MB each.
A GPS is now built into the camera, rather than requiring a hotshoe-based add-on, facilitating automatic image geotagging. The USB-C connection enables you to charge the camera using a laptop or power bank (though we weren't able to test whether charging is possible while the camera is in use).
Using the Phocus Mobile 2 software you can shoot tethered via either Wi-Fi or wired connection, and raw images and full-quality JPGs can now be imported, edited and rated for an improved mobile workflow on iPad Pro and iPad Air 2019. The software also enables direct remote camera control.
Hasselblad X1D II 50C: Performance
Despite the improvements in interface and speed, the Hasselblad X1D II 50C still has the same image sensor and broadly the same capabilities as its predecessor. Which means, fundamentally, that its performance is largely indistinguishable from the original.
That means that you can expect genuinely gorgeous images, both in terms of the full-res JPGs and the chunky raw files. Again, 35mm cameras might rival the X1D II in terms of resolution, but their smaller sensors can't compare to medium format when it comes to scale, scope and that elusive 'ethereal' quality.
Image quality really is in a league of its own. Paired with the stunning XCD 80mm f/1.9 (which, with the 0.82x crop factor, is a 65.5mm f/1.5), you have the ability to create portraits with beautifully thin depth of field and falloff.
Shooting wider, such as with the new Hasselblad XCD 35-75mm f/3.5-4.5, enables you to capture images with great dimensionality and the kind of depth that is truly unique to medium format photography.
Still, the images themselves are no different than you could produce with the original X1D. And, unfortunately, the conditions under which you produce them are no different either.
The autofocus is still a bit of a bugbear. It can be very sluggish, even in decent light, hunting helplessly even when using a drag and drop focus point. Whether we were shooting a window-lit model or a bowl of fruit in the middle of a room, the camera always needed a few attempts to find focus.
This is because the X1D II still uses a contrast detect system, which requires good illumination to be able to see the subject. Admittedly we were shooting indoors but, when you're using a lens with an equivalent f/1.5 aperture, it shouldn't be a struggle to focus. It wasn't unusable, by any means, but it remained a notable issue.
Obviously with no image stabilization you will need good camera craft and/or considered shutter speeds when shooting handheld, as the huge sensor will betray even the smallest movements during an exposure.
However, the camera is so light and so ergonomically well designed that we had no issues with shake. It remains an impressive achievement that handheld medium format photography is possible in such a compact camera – and ultimately that is where the X1D II, like its forebear, shines.
Hasselblad X1D II 50C: Early verdict
The improvements in the Hasselblad X1D II 50C are both worthwhile and welcome. They are, however, very much a case if iteration rather than innovation. The X1D II is fundamentally the same camera as the X1D, albeit with a better EVF and touchscreen, better boot-up speed and responsiveness, and superior connectivity and workflow options.
The updates are such that existing X1D owners have no need to invest in the new camera, as there simply isn't enough here to warrant a repurchase. However, if you're new to medium format and you want to explore the unique properties that the standard has to offer, the X1D II is an even more compelling proposition than its predecessor thanks to its newly competitive price point.
In terms of mobile medium format imaging, this remains a formidable tool. The Fujifilm GFX 50R offers comparable quality and performance, along with a cheaper price of admission (particularly in terms of its lens ecosystem). However, much like Leica, there is something undeniably magical about shooting with a Hasselblad – and the XCD optics really are quite special.
We look forward to getting this camera in the lab for full testing, and will present our final findings soon.