Posted February 16, 2011 by Gavin Hoey in Articles

Hasselblad H4D – Experience and thoughts

Let’s get something clear right from the word go… I love my Canon cameras and lenses and have no plans to buy a Hasselblad any time soon. OK with that out of the way I’ll briefly explain why I’m not using Canon for the photos in this post.

A few weeks back I received an email from Hasselblad offering me the chance to get hands on experience with their H4D medium format digital camera. A few emails and a brief meeting later, I’d arranged to shoot a couple of studio lighting videos at Hasselblads shiny new studios in London. They’re coming soon, but for now here’s my thoughts on the camera.

Dream camera?
Hasselblad is a name I’ve been familiar with since my earliest days in photography. It’s a brand that many photographers aspire to and comes with a price tag to match. But for some professional photographers the initial cost isn’t an issue when quality is all that counts and I tell you right now the H4D produces images with amazing sharpness and detail, far in excess of my usual Canon 5d Mark II.

For my day in the studio I’d lined up Delaney, an up and coming rapper, to be my model. Hasselblad had promised to loan me a H4D-31 for the shoot. It has the smallest sensor in the H4D range, but at 30 million pixels small is a relative term. However when I arrived the H4D-31 was unavailable, so instead used the midrange H4D-50 which packs a massive 50 million pixel sensor. Other then a bigger sensor the two cameras are identical.

If it’s heavy it must be good
First impressions of the H4D is that it’s a big, heavy camera, but surprisingly comfortable to hold. When I swapped the standard 80mm lens for a 35-90mm zoom, the H4D became very heavy indeed, which may explain why so many Hasselblad owners prefer to use a tripod.

In use the H4D was as easy to operate as any DSLR camera. All the usual shooting modes are there (Aperture, Shutter Priority and Manual). Half pressing the shutter button will lock focus and exposure just like my DSLR. Perhaps my favourite feature was the “True Focus” function, which allowed me to retain focus on a subject even after I’ve recomposed the shot. Believe me it was clever stuff.

Pressing the shutter button is a satisfying experience. A half press will focus, which isn’t fast, but it works just fine. Fully press the shutter button to take the shot and you’ll hear a very satisfying clunk. The image pops up on the cameras LCD almost immediately for review.

The drawbacks
So it’s good news all the way then? Well no. The 50 million pixel sensor produces a 75mb RAW file, so you’ll need lots of memory cards, lots of hard drive space and a fairly beefy computer to process them all. You’ll also need a spare battery for the camera as they drain surprisingly fast.

Such is the clarity and resolution of the camera that every little detail is visible. So for example on portraits, every minor pimple, dry skin patch or makeup mishap will need retouching. Don’t believe me? Take at look at this actual pixel view… Click to enlarge. The yellow square shows you the area I’ve enlarged. No sharpening has been added, this is straight from the RAW file.

So would I buy one… No. Good as the camera and lenses are, it’s really not going to suit by style of photography. However I’d definitly use one should the need arise, but I’d opt for the hire service that Hasselblad offer on their gear.

Would I recommend one? Well that depends on what sort of photography you do. If you shoot sports, wildlife, need high ISO or prefer to travel light then no, stick to a DSLR. If you shoot landscapes, portraites or still life work, and demand nothing but the best quality images, then this camera should be on you’re radar.

And Finally…
I recorded a couple of videos whilst at the studios. This shot of Sam is a test shot I snapped whilst I figured out one of the lighting set ups. We all loved the background which is made of large pieces of foam. It’s the stuff that’s usually used to sound proof music studios. I’m pretty sure most of it would have mysteriously disappeared had it not been firmly glued to the wall. Great idea that.

Gavin Hoey