Fstoppers Reviews the Hasselblad CFV II and 907X Medium Format Camera System

Fstoppers Reviews the Hasselblad CFV II and 907X Medium Format Camera System

I recently tested out the Hasselblad CFV II and 907X with the XCD 4/45P lens, which Hasselblad totes as the smallest medium format setup on the market.

I fell in love with the idea of this camera the second I saw the Hasselblad press release last year: a fully modern camera with a vintage feel and look with Hasselblad image quality. I figured it’d be a no-brainer. Once I opened the box and held the camera in my hands, that love at first sight feeling really started to grow. In fact, I was kind of star-struck by it and slightly intimidated.

You all know the old saying: don’t judge a book by its cover. Well, I had to take a step back and try not to judge this camera based on its beauty alone. Like any strong and lasting relationship, that love needs to build over time.

When I first got this camera, I was thrown back a little. It took time for me to figure out how to use it best. Relationships are rarely perfect and always require compromise. And the same goes for a camera. No camera is perfect for every person and every situation, and a camera that might be just right for me and my style might not be best suited for you and your style.

However, this was a camera I wanted so badly to love. But what I realized quickly is that we weren’t necessarily a perfect match right out of the box. I like to move fast and shoot a lot, and this camera wants you to slow down and craft your image. Like any relationship, though, if I wanted it to work, I knew I’d have to be the one to change. It would be naive to think I could use the camera the same way I used my other camera; it’s not set up the same, and in fact, it probably wasn’t meant to be used the same way.

Its minimalist design, although beautiful, doesn’t make it the easiest to maneuver through the settings. In order to change almost any setting, you have to pull back and use the touchscreen or press two buttons at once to change something. If you’re used to a traditional DSLR, you’re going to need to take some time to relearn this camera, but like any good thing, if you put the work in, this camera will produce some amazing quality images for you.

So, here’s what I liked and didn’t like so much about the Hasselblad CFV II and 907X.

Pros

First of all, it’s beautiful. I don’t think anyone could look at the camera and not gush over the design. At first sight, it looks like how I imagine all the great photographers of the past. It seems like it’s meant to photograph important things. It’s sleek, compact, and feels solid in your hands. The shutter button is in just the right place when holding it. It just feels good in your hands.  The silver and black body just demands attention. Anytime I pulled it out, I felt like I was showing off a new puppy. Non-photographers would stop me and ask questions about it.

Second on the list (but should be first) is the image quality and coloring. Almost overshadowed by the hype around the design of the camera is the images it produces. The color, clarity, and detail are just phenomenal. I believe it’s the same sensor as the X1D, but just in a prettier box. So, if you’re more of a traditional shooter, the X1D might be worth taking a look at. It's that large 43.8 x 32.9mm 50-megapixel sensor that makes the difference. The resolution is amazing, and the large sensor delivers that creamy bokeh and shallow depth of field that a full frame sensor just can’t do. The colors it renders are so smooth and natural-looking. As someone who loves to play with color, I struggled to want to mess with them, because they looked so good on camera.

The touchscreen is by far the nicest and most responsive touch screen I’ve used on a camera. It feels like you’re using an iPhone; it just works the way you expect it to, while for some reason, other touchscreens I’ve used can’t seem to work as well as I want them to (cough, RED cameras, cough, cough). The tilt feature on the screen is also helpful. I never used the older CFV, but using this as a waist-level camera would be a lot harder without that tilt feature.

It has two card slots, which is nice, because like I said, I shoot a lot. However, this camera slows you down, so I found myself taking significantly fewer images per shoot than normal, but it was still nice to have the second card slot for backups as well.

Long exposures on this camera are amazing. I did a few shots with 4-5-minute exposures with really no noise; in fact, low noise is a great way to describe all the images out of the camera. They have a smoothness about them that feels hyper-real, especially at lower ISOs.

The camera also has multiple ports for audio, USB-C, and flash sync, conveniently hidden under a discrete rubber flap, which only took me a few minutes to find. Having the options is great, but sometimes, I found it hard to get my sync cord plugged in while the camera was on a tripod and had to take it off, plug the cord in, and then put the camera back on the tripod, which was kind of a pain, but not the end of the world. The battery, however, was in a great spot that made it easy to switch out while still on a tripod. And speaking of the battery, even though the camera is constantly using the rear display, the battery life was surprisingly long, and I never had any trouble with it lasting for a shoot.

Cons

The first thing I noticed about this camera that threw me off was the lack of a viewfinder. I’m so used to holding a camera to my eye that it felt weird and mildly amateurish to shoot using a rear display (but this is probably something I need to get over). They have an EVF adaptor that you can purchase to go with the camera, but to me, it severely takes away from the visual beauty of the body and more importantly, costs more money.

With big resolutions come big file sizes. I normally shoot with a Nikon D850 and am used to needing a lot of hard drives, but the file size on this camera is about double that of the Nikon. That can be positive, because that means there’s a lot of information there (50 megapixels, 16-bit color, 14 of stops dynamic range, etc.), but it’s a consideration you’ll need to look at depending on the type of shooter you are.   

One thing that I kept noticing others complaining about but that wasn’t that big of a deal for me was shooting vertically. A lot of reviews say portrait orientation was difficult to shoot in. I found this the case only when I wanted to do it at waist level, because the screen doesn’t flip out that way.  However, when held at a more traditional height near the head, the shutter button actually falls right where it needs to be for vertical orientation and feels more “normal” than you might think.

I mentioned earlier how clean the images were at low ISOs. But one negative is the camera's low-light abilities without using long exposure settings. When you get the ISO up over 1,600, it gets really grainy, and much higher than that, the images start to become unusable. This again is why this camera is best at moving slowly. Get out the tripod instead of cranking the ISO, and this camera will get you the image you imagined. But if you like to move fast and handhold everything, this is not the low-light camera of your dreams.

Another thing that slows you down with this camera is the autofocus. It’s hit or miss at best. So, moving subjects are tough to capture, and waiting for the camera to focus in-between each shot became slightly frustrating. If you’re a landscape or studio photographer, though, this probably isn’t a big deal, and the quality far outweighs that annoyance in that situation.

Now, here’s my biggest overall complaint with this camera that affected me and my shooting style the most: its lack of a hot shoe became very cumbersome for me. I use strobes a lot, and even though the CFV does have a flash sync port, it requires a special cable to connect it to my trigger, which I didn’t have since I had a loaner model. According to the website, if you buy the camera new, it comes with the proper cable, however. However, after some research and emailing back and forth with Paul C Buff and Hasselblad, I was able to get it to work, but it still had my trigger just hanging all willy-nilly from the camera, swinging around.  It wasn’t so bad on a tripod, but trying to move around with it was pretty annoying. If it was my personal camera, I’d probably have to figure out some sort of solution using Velcro or something, because it was just constantly in the way.

Overall Thoughts

Overall, this camera is one that I eventually fell in love with, and by the time I had to ship it back to Hasselblad, I was very sad to see it go. It had its pitfalls and struggles, but every time I pulled it out of the bag and admired it for a few seconds, I was excited about shooting again. It’s a camera that is inspiring to just hold and use. It does slow you down, but in a good way. It makes you think about what you’re doing. It makes you step back and say: “What am I trying to do here, and how can I use this to get that image out of my head and into the camera?”

Sometimes, I think I shoot a lot because I’m afraid I won’t get the shot if I don’t have 100 versions of it. But when I used this camera, I was forced to craft instead of hope for an image I liked.

Ultimately, a camera is a tool. It’s how we as photographers create art. It’s how we get those visions in our heads out and share them with the world. If you consider yourself an artist and if you like to craft your photos and want the best quality image you can get while having fun creating it, I’d recommend taking a look at this camera.

Have you had a chance to use the CFV II and 907X combo? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it down in the comments.

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11 Comments

Pan daBear's picture

Fantastic write-up on a phenomenal camera! And amazing photos to boot.

Jim L's picture

Loved the photos!! I too think this is the best looking camera on the market. But "hit and miss focus" (a common complaint of reviewers) is a deal breaker for me.

Robert Feliciano's picture

The Fuji GFX 100S seems like a better value.

Bill Christian's picture

I really wonder why Hassy didn't go with the newer Sony 100 MP sensor for their cameras. The Hassy cameras are very lovely though.

Alex Zenzaburro's picture

503C/M, FlexBody, ArcBody

Arjo Graaff's picture

Hey Workers

I work in the early days with the kodak pro back for hasselblad then phase one and now the 907 x
I have a few remarks.
First with the handle it shot perfect vertical
The noise at 3200 is better then sony
The flash trigger is simple solved see photo
The back on a 503 cx is amazing wit the the 4 x 4 viewfinder for crop sensor( with beatty screen)

The files i had a trick to open it in Capture one
so much better highlight recovery ( missing in phocus)

The flash sync with all flashes to 1/ 2000
No high speed sync used

Focus is really good and more important with double tap manual focus is fast
I used it yesterday against my nikon see photo
In a commercial shoot , it is fast believe me

A super 21 mm ( 17 mm on normal cameras)

Cons only sometimes a error with the the 45 p

Kind regards Arjo
the Netherlands

Glem Let's picture

“ the autofocus. It’s hit or miss at best.”

We all love beautiful things that look and feel great.... but ultimately it’s a vanity toy... I don’t think it’s aimed at pro photographers (we are only really interested in the content we produce, and easily we can achieve that). I think this camera looks cool, but when you scroll down to Arjo’s set up, it just seems like a step back....
You have to buy, this, then this, then that to make it function... as a camera a pro can use.

As others have noted, the Fujifilm seems easier to just pick up and shoot with. Despite Arjo’s best efforts, ALL MF cameras hold you back with their AF.

I use a H4x and sometimes a H6D, beautiful files, massive, clear viewfinder... a heavy set up with so-so AF.

I use my D850 more than anything, particularly on location:

Weight
Size
AF
Lens options
Batteries
Reliability (a D810 as a spare back up body is inexpensive and I’ve never needed to use it).
Weather sealing

I could go on this toy seems to be for dentists and lawyers and Hassy enthusiasts and good on them for producing such a cool looking camera with a nod back to their 500 series. But it won’t make you a better photographer or improve the images you take, it’s fine having great MF tonality in a 16 bit file... but no good if it’s out of focus.

John Nixon's picture

It is lovely but if they could have made it a 44x44mm square sensor, it would have ended up at around 67mp - with the added advantage of never having to turn it round for ‘portrait’ format.

Greg Wilson's picture

Amazing photos and great review!

Kenneth Tanaka's picture

A good, even-handed review of this rig! June will mark my anniversary with the 907x/CFV II. Unfortunately it will mark an anniversary with limited opportunities to shoot. But I’ve used it more than enough to say that your strengths and weaknesses are accurate. One thing I would emphasize is that prospective buyers who plan to use the rig professionally really should consider the grip accessory a necessity. It make the camera’s ergonomics an order of magnitude better, especially with the functional buttons on the top. Living strictly with that tiny awkward shutter button and it’s multifunction dial was just a bit too much retro allegiance for my taste.

Arjo Graaff's picture

Glem

I am not a amateur , ik work for 40 years every day in the photography business with 3 employees. In the analog times the Hasselblad we used we for more than 3000 weddings and hundreds of commercial shoots and studio shoots.
You learn to focus fast and a little thinking before clicking is not bad.Your answer you had to buy this and this. When I make shoots for Architects with the Linhof Technika with the 47 mm your tool was a Zeiss loupe to nail the focus and the screen . Yes you had to buy this.

The 907 x slows you down yes but I love that . I make no sports photos .With the phase one I shoot always tethered on a Mac book on tripod. Even with a fashion shoots. The client and I love to see a result. You don't have to spend hours later in post processing.
On a wedding the Nikon and now the more relaxen moments with the 907x ore the 503x.

But you have to make a little work before.
Let you Hasselblad be adjust to the sensor and the mirror. Because film had more tolerance.

Ill try the Sony a7 r4 with face detection. What a totally strange camera with horrible menus and buttons you can't relay and that. You see constant a flicker in your screen on the face so not creative to see that. When you set it to live view with flash you had to search all the way to find the right setting.
Than ok its is sharp but why on why put Sony the files in a private structure on your card. Than the colors are really bad.

I use the 907 x every day and believe me it makes you a better shooter. Why ?
You used the square crop more its is really in the studio so much relaxing to find a composition on a square with people ( like a Polaroid)
The tone a especially the Dof, is great.
I can now make in my daylight studio also daylight pictures :)) Because 800 iso is super ( not on the phase one)

I see thousand photographers starting and stopping after a few years.So little can earn a income.

Why? not a creative way of thinking , not a proper eduction ?.
I think the big mistake to shoot everything to fast with not have enough self criticism.

And yes the tool is not important but only your style and creativity.
But I can tell you such nice camera feel the same as having a puppy in your arms :))

Sorry for my English it is not my native language.

Kind Regard Arjo. www.fotograaff.nl