It seems to me that releasing a good lens these days isn't enough. There has to be some edge that the marketing department can use. Hasselblad recently released a tiny medium format lens for the X1D series of cameras, and I had a chance to test it out.
For the most part, larger sensor cameras tend to offer better image quality. Unfortunately, that better quality generally comes at a much higher price. In the last few years, however, we have seen some dramatic shifts within the medium format industry. With companies like Fujifilm entering the race, the prices of several medium format cameras have dropped quite significantly. The original Hasselblad X1D was priced somewhere around $10,000, yet the latest X1D II was released at almost half that price. We can thank competition for that, because for a long time, there was somewhat of a stalemate between Hasselblad and Phase One. Although Pentax did have an option available with the 645Z, they never seemed to make enough of an impact on the market as a whole.
Medium format camera systems are becoming more and more accessible, and the latest lens from Hasselblad really helps in this regard. The XCD 45mm f/4 P lens from Hasselblad has been described as the smallest and lightest digital medium format lens currently on the market. Not only that, this lens does come in at somewhat of a reasonable price point.
Build and Design
This is an area where Hasselblad is doing some wonderful work. The X1D cameras are some of the best in terms of build quality and design. The camera is simply stunning. This translates really well into the design mentality they have for the XCD lenses too. All of the lenses have a sleek and minimal design to them, which in my view is great. The 45mm f/4 P is no different in this regard and continues with the minimal look.
Build quality remains true to the current lineup too. The all-metal design feels great in the hand. The thing I find most interesting about this lens is that it does not have a focus by wire mechanism. The focus ring works even when the lens is not attached, and the elements do move. This, I think, is brilliant, because manually focusing was such a pleasant experience. Ultimately, this is another well-made lens from Hasselblad.
This is my biggest complaint about this lens. Autofocus for this lens was terrible in pretty much every situation. Even when shooting outside during the day, the lens would struggle to find focus on the stillest and msot obvious subjects. When I was trying to photograph Anete, it would take more than a few attempts on average for the lens to find her. This was especially pronounced, because I had been testing the Fujifilm GFX 100 around the same time. Of course, I appreciate that it's not fair to compare the X1D to the GFX 100; however, it effectively demonstrates the differences in focus systems.
Contrast detect is a wholly dated system, and I believe we need to leave it in the past. The argument in favor of contrast detect is that it's more accurate. The problem is that accuracy is meaningless if the camera cannot find the subject in the first place.
The autofocus was so bad that I completely gave up on it and opted to shoot with manual focus only. As mentioned above, manually focusing with this lens was brilliant. The focus ring is responsive and effective. Focus peaking is also quite accurate in the camera. Although it's not perfect, it is very good and offers a much better shooting experience compared to autofocus.
The other thing I wasn't a fan of was the sound the focus motors made. It sounded like a printer trying to grind through a paper jam. Suffice it to say, the lens is loud, and the autofocus is terrible.
1/180s, f/4.0, ISO 100
This is where the 45mm f/4 P shines; the image quality of this lens is exceptional. If you manage to find focus, then this lens will produce beautiful results with incredible amounts of detail. Even when shooting wide open, the lens is impeccable, and details are crisp and sharp. I never felt the need to stop the lens down in order to get a sharper result. The lens does sharpen up in the corners when stopping down to around f/8; however, the performance wide open is so good that this is mostly unnecessary. The optics of this lens completely make up for any issues I had with its autofocus, because I absolutely love the results it produced.
The lack of chromatic aberrations was another huge benefit. I have yet to see any kind of fringing from this lens, even in tougher lighting situations. When it comes to image quality, this is definitely up there with the best 45mm lenses currently on the market. Yes, the aperture is smaller than some of the other alternatives for medium format, but the optical quality more than makes up for any issues.
A Ton of Fun
There aren't many lenses that I would describe as being fun to shoot with. The 45mm f/4 P is, however, one of those lenses. Its relatively tiny form factor and lightweight design meant that it never got in the way. I thoroughly enjoyed shooting with this more so than any lens I've tested in quite some time. The autofocus issues became more of a quirk rather than a flaw.
The overall weight and size of this lens means that you can comfortably carry it in a small shoulder bag. The camera never weighs you down, and I never felt the need to put the camera down due to its weight. Many medium format cameras and lenses tend to be large and bulky. This can be prohibitive if you're planning on shooting for extended periods of time. For that reason, I'd say that this lens is ideal for street and travel photography.
The Smallest and Lightest Medium Format lens?
In some regard, yes, this is the smallest and lightest medium format lens made so far. Having said that, the Pentax 75mm f/2.8 lens is a smaller and lighter lens in comparison. Hasselblad is justifying its claim by calling the 45mm f/4 P a "digital" lens, which I think is grasping at straws. The 75mm from Pentax is still a current production lens that operates on a digital medium format camera. On that basis, one could argue that the Pentax is still the lighter, smaller lens and with a wider aperture.
I think a better way to describe the 45mm f/4 P would to call it the smallest, lightest autofocus medium format lens with a leaf shutter. That, I think, is a more meaningful distinction between the two.
Even still, one does need to consider the system at large. The 45mm f/4 P on the X1D is the lightest medium format system on the market. The 645z individually weighs more than 1.5 kg, which is heavier than the X1D with a lens. On that basis, yes, this is the lightest medium format system currently on the market, and Hasselblad has done something quite brilliant by offering this to photographers.
What I Liked
- Sleek, minimal design.
- Beautifully constructed.
- Incredible image quality.
- The lightest medium format system on the market.
- Reasonable price point.
- Wonderful manual focus system.
- Lots of fun to shoot with.
What I Didn't Like
- Terrible autofocus.
- Horrible sounding motors.
Aside from the terrible autofocus of the X1D system, this lens is something quite special. I thoroughly enjoyed shooting with it. The size and weight of the overall system meant that it never got in the way while we were out shooting with it. The image quality is exceptional, and for that reason, this is definitely one that I recommend.
You can preorder yours for $1099 using this link here.