Usually when we talk about digital cameras here, the apex is represented by full-frame cameras (mirrorless or otherwise) — they tend to be the high-end cameras from companies like Nikon, Canon, and Sony with huge sensors and powerful image processors that bring semi-professional and even professional performance to the wider market. But, there’s a lot more to the camera market than that. Take a step past full-frame (35 mm) cameras, and you’ll wander into the domain of medium format photography, where you’ll see names like Leica, Mamiya, and Hasselblad — names legendary in enthusiast and professional circles, but less well-known to the rest of us.
It’s the latter that is trying to reinvigorate itself with an impressive new product — Hasselblad has created the X1D, a shrunk-down medium format camera that is the first of its kind to be mirrorless, and is certainly one of the most portable. And, while we wouldn’t exactly say it’s out to bring medium format photography to the masses, there’s a good chance it’s meant to make them more aware of it.
First, some background. Medium format photography is a term that dates back to when film was widely used. It’s a reference to negative size — medium format cameras recorded light taken in to negatives larger than 35 mm, but smaller than the 4″ x 5″ large format. So, what does that mean for image quality? Besides requiring processing, 35 mm negative images need to be blown up, because not too many people want to squint at a bunch of 35 mm-sized pictures. When the image gets blown up, the pixels of recorded light get bigger and distort the image with artifacts — just paste an image into Paint and enlarge it, and you’ll get a more dramatic example. So, the larger the negative, the smaller the distortion, giving you a cleaner final image.
Digital cameras don’t use this process exactly because they don’t use film, but they approximate the effects. Thing is, larger formats require the camera to record more pixels of light and more information overall, requiring more advanced sensors and processors. That means more money — a lot of it. Digital medium format cameras usually go for well over $10,000, putting them out of reach of most people. But, for those with the cash, the difference in image quality is obvious, especially for artists (Ansel Adams, among many others, had multiple large format cameras at his disposal).
Taking all that into account, the Hasselblad X1D is pretty special. It’s the first mirrorless digital medium format camera, which means not only is it much smaller than the usual medium format cameras, it’s much cheaper at $9,000. That’s not cheap, but it does open the door to a lot more people and should help to get a mainstream audience aware of the Hasselblad name.
Next page: X1D specs