Remember that feeling you had as a child, every time you pass a toy shop window and you could see your favorite toy? You pass that window, and your favorite toy sits there, waiting for you to play with it regardless of all the other forgotten toys you have waiting for you back home. All you can do is just imagine the fun you could have with it every day. The toy you'll never get tired of playing with. The toy that allows every day to become a new adventure. The toy that becomes your new best friend.
The toy I dreamed about every night appeared in the form of a big F-15 Eagle fighter jet. It was so detailed, it had rockets on its wings and the wings could fold back, making it more streamlined. The cockpit could open up, revealing the pilot and co-pilot who could be ejected at the push of a button. It was epic in every single way. But then reality hits in the form of a firm tug from one of your parents, urging you away from the expensive toy with a stern “No!”
Twenty-five years later I finally got to play with my toy.
No, I'm not talking about my F-15 fighter jet. That whole theory of “as you get bigger, so does your toys, but boys still remain boys” never really applied so well to me. As I grew up over the years, my toys actually became smaller. It's not like I can park an F-15 in my driveway. I'm sure there are laws against that. The possessions became more expensive and further out of reach as I grew older. Until one day.
The day I was invited into the store to play with a toy I've only dreamed about since starting my career as a photographer. This time, it came in the form of the Hasselblad X1D-50C. A mirrorless medium format camera, fitted with a 50 megapixel CMOS sensor with 16-bit color, 14 stops of dynamic range, and a central lens shutter giving the user access to speeds as fast as 1/2,000 a second or as slow as 60 minutes. All of this, hand made in Sweden.
'Heavy is good, heavy is reliable. If it doesn't work, you could always hit him with it.' - Boris The Blade from the motion picture Snatch.
That line was the first thing I thought as I picked up the camera and my fingers curled around the grip. I don't recall ever feeling a grip on a DSLR camera as good as this. Solid, heavy, deep, and comfortable. My hands never grew tired during the four hour photo shoot. It was like driving a luxury hand made car on an overcast day through some beautiful winding road, located somewhere in the Swiss Alps.
I've been using film and digital single-lens-reflex cameras all my life, but this time I was thrown in the deep end with the X1D-50C. So I thought anyway. The last medium format camera I used was an old Hasselblad 500c film camera about 10 years ago. The fact that it was mirrorless was even more unknown to me. I've only heard and seen many great things about these completely alien cameras and had yet to see what all the fuss was about. I was as excited as the 5-year-old me, enjoying the thrill of the brand new toy. I couldn't wait to take it outside and see what adventures we could share together.
At the first click of the shutter, I knew this was love at first sight. The satisfying sound of “click-clack” reminded me of the Hasselblad 500C's, mixed with the more modern sound of a DSLR. The button layout was simple yet incredibly effective with the shutter and aperture dials laid out in a form reminiscent to that of the Nikon cameras, with one dial by your right thumb in the back and one in the front, conveniently located by your index finger. The menu reminded me of the Canon 5D Mark IV, with its touchscreen interface and simple menu layout.
I felt comfortable with this camera within two minutes of picking it up.
Then came the lenses.
With the introduction of the X1D-50C, Hasselblad announced they would be releasing a completely new line of autofocus lenses made specifically for the X1D-50C. Luckily the owners of the existing H System can use these lenses by means of an adaptor. I was given a Hasselblad 90mm f/3.2 prime lens as well as a 45mm f/3.5. The 90mm was used almost all the time as I was shooting portraits in studio. Autofocus worked quickly and efficiently along with the built in leaf shutter only causing minimal blackout when taking the shot. Everything felt incredibly streamlined. I shot about five test shots with my model, Mike, before we paused to review the images. As I pressed the review button my heart rate increased. The detail captured in the image was just mind boggling. From the shadows to the highlights, it handled everything perfectly. There was detail everywhere, with no artifacts or noise as one would expect on a DSLR. The detail was so crisp on that 90mm I almost feared the post production stage and the amount of work I was creating for myself.
My second challenge was to shoot something outside the studio environment. This time I decided to shoot a live gig. I wanted to test the camera against the extremes of a club environment to see how it performed as I do this regularly with my DSLR and know exactly what results I can expect to receive.
I made my way through the crowd and up the back of the stage area and started snapping away. This is where I realized the shutter lag on this camera makes it perfectly suited for the studio and landscape photographer, but not for the event photographer. I missed almost every shot as the band members jumped around on stage. It was around this time when I unslung my DSLR and packed away the X1D-50C. That being said, the shots I managed to capture came out pristine at 1,600 ISO with a smooth noise pattern and no break up in the shadows or highlights.
So just imagine being given a luxury sports car for three days and you were told to go drive around and enjoy every moment of it.
This is how I felt.
A kid in a candy shop can go eat his heart out. This is everything I've ever dreamed about. I had the privilege of spending three days with this beautiful example of modern day craftsmanship and absolutely enjoyed every moment of it. From the way the shutter sounded, to the layout of the menu, and then of course the way the camera felt in my hands. The aluminum body feeling solid and smooth, reminiscent to that of a Renaissance sculpture. As you hold it firmly in the beautifully curved grip, it fits perfectly under you fingers and you're met with an incredible sense of excitement as well as immediately trusting the camera.
The Hasselblad X1D-50C delivers no matter what. It will become your ally, your best friend. It will stick with you in the darkest and best of times. All without failure. When the day finally arrived, I felt saddened by the fact that I had to return it after the three day journey I embarked with her. It felt as if I was saying a final goodbye to my best friend. My partner. My lover.
And while I loved my time with this incredible camera, I couldn't help but wonder where it all fits in. A mirrorless medium format camera priced above its competitors with less flashy features. Some people would frown at the prospect of not getting more bang for their buck, while I felt strangely comfortable at the thought of having to spend more to own a camera of this nature, minus all the bells and whistles other cameras in its class would offer.
In the end, I felt it was all about the experience of finally being able to hold one of my dream cameras in my hand and use it for more than a few minutes. I fell in love with the X1D as I did with the Hasselblad 500C ten years ago. It's the experience of discovering something new and falling in love all over again.
And once again I felt like the kid, standing in front of the toy shop. Dreaming at a prospect that felt so far away, when suddenly the shop owner comes outside and invites me in to play. The Hasselblad X1D-50C became my adult version of the F-15 Fighter Jet that I never had.
Special thanks to Sunshine Co. Cape Town for supplying the gear and studio space.