The Spring 2017 issue of the Michael Clark Photography Newsletter is now available for download. If you’d like to sign up for the Newsletter just drop me an email and I’ll add you to the mailing list.

This issue includes an editorial with recent news, a review of Wacom’s Intuos Pro graphic tablet, an article detailing a recent assignment with the Red Bull Air Force, an editorial entitled The Purple Cow, discussing a book by Seth Godin, and much more.

The Michael Clark Photography Newsletter goes out to over 8,000 thousand photo editors, photographers and photo enthusiasts around the world. You can download the Spring 2017 issue on my website at:

http://www.michaelclarkphoto.com/files/spring_2017.pdf

If you’d like to check out back issues of the newsletter they are available here.

Please note that the newsletter is best viewed in the latest Adobe Acrobat reader which is available for free at www.adobe.com.

I realize including the words “Color Management” in the title of this blog post will probably limit the number of folks that actually read this but I hope many will get past that and see just how critical this important topic is when working up still images or grading video footage. Color management, which involves a whole host of things–part of which is calibrating and profiling your monitor–is the cornerstone of any digital workflow involving photography or video. In fact, color management, including how your set up your workspace, what monitor you use and how you calibrate and profile that monitor is much more important than which camera or lens you use, or how many megapixels your camera has.

“In fact, color management, including how your set up your workspace, what monitor you use and how you calibrate and profile that monitor is much more important than which camera or lens you use, or how many megapixels your camera has.”

I decided to write this blog post after having several instances in workshops where I talked about the importance of color management and met with some resistance. By just describing the issues related to color and digital photography, and how monitors out of the box for the most part are not color calibrated to any known color space, I have found that most people come up with a response that goes something like “Well, the colors look fine to me.” In a recent worksh0p, I ran through the entire digital workflow from ingest to a finished print and it was when the print rolled off the Epson ink jet printer looking pretty much identical to the screen that the importance of color management became obvious. Previous to this, the client had just let the printer determine the colors in the final print and that was a disaster in terms of color accuracy compared to using a robust color management strategy. Just because your monitor looks nice doesn’t mean it shows accurate color or is calibrated as it needs to be for working up images.

In my e-book entitled A Professional Photographer’s Workflow: Using Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, I have an extensive chapter on color management. That chapter has more information about color management than I have seen anywhere else. And when I say anywhere else, I mean everywhere. I have looked hard to find this information for myself and I have pieced it all together after consulting with many color experts and figuring it out for myself. The e-book gets into the nitty-gritty details of color management for photographers and also for those capturing video. Here in this blog post, I don’t have time or space to relay everything in that 57-page chapter but I hope to at least give an introduction to the issues.

First off, as can be seen in the top image of this blog post, controlling the lighting and the brightness of your workspace is critical. You can also tell how crazy I get about color by looking at the walls of my office in that image. I spent over $300 painting my office with color calibrated 18% gray paint I got from GTI. I am not sure I would do that again. But, the point is you don’t want neon pink walls or even tinted walls in your work space if color is important to you. A way to control the lighting in your office will also help. I put up the blinds when working on images so all exterior light is blocked out. Also, making sure the color of the light in your office is Daylight balanced is important as well. Lastly, as far as environment, I wear black t-shirts when working on images. A bright red (or any other bright color) shirt can and will reflect off your monitor and alter your sense of color.

Second, as I have already stated the monitor is the most important piece of photographic equipment you own. I use an Eizo monitor that shows the entire Adobe RGB color space. With DSLRs, most of us typically shoot in the Adobe RGB color space. As shown below, the sRGB color space, which is what 98% of all monitors show is quite a bit smaller than the Adobe RGB color space. Hence, when working on images, if you are working with a normal sRGB monitor then you aren’t seeing all the colors in your image and things can go very wrong in a hurry. [Note: If you don’t know what color space your monitor is then it is sRGB or an even smaller color space.] Another part of this equation is that not all monitors are equal. Most monitors vary greatly from corner to corner in terms of color and brightness.

Third in this series of things to consider about color management, is calibrating and profiling your monitor using a device like the X-Rite i1 Display Pro (shown below on the far left) or i1 Photo Pro 2 (shown below on the far right) is critical. The i1 Display Pro is about $250 and is a great basic monitor calibration device. The i1 Photo Pro 2 costs considerably more but if you need the functionality it offers then it is worth the price. The Colormunki is another good device that I can recommend, though it is a bit dated compared to the first two options. These devices will dial in your monitor so that they show accurate, known and repeatable colors that other devices can replicate. If you aren’t calibrating and profiling your monitor then before you ever start working up an image in Lightroom or Photoshop your color is already off in its own unknown, whacky color space, and doesn’t relate to any other known color space. You might get lucky and your monitor isn’t that far off, but you may not. If you have ever tried to make a print you know what I mean.

In my workshops I state that working up your images on a monitor that isn’t calibrated and profiled is a complete waste of time. I stand by that statement. If you pay thousands of dollars for a high-end camera and won’t buy the $250 device that will help make sure you are seeing accurate colors on your monitor then I don’t know what to say. At the very least, even if you don’t buy an Adobe RGB monitor, buy a monitor calibration device like those shown here and calibrate your monitor. There is a lot more to creating a solid color management system, but calibrating and profiling your monitor is at least a start.

The last part of the puzzle with color management is buying a decent photo printer and making a print after you have calibrated and profiled your monitor. If the print, viewed under controlled, accurate daylight viewing conditions (like in a print viewing box) doesn’t exactly match your monitor then your monitor needs to be adjusted until it does match. This is how you figure out if you correctly calibrated your monitor. Of course, printing involves knowing about printer profiles, or possibly having to make your own custom profiles, which is where the X-Rite i1 Photo Pro 2 excels, as shown below. Printing is not easy, especially if you haven’t dialed in your color management. I think this is a big reason why lots of digital photographers stopped printing their images. But, with excellent color management you can usually hit “Print” once and get a print that looks extremely close to what your monitor is showing if you view it in the correct lighting conditions.

I realize this blog post seems like a public service announcement, and in some ways it is. Digital presents a whole host of issues and problems for digital photographers and very few understand the issues around color management well. I have only scratched the surface here. There is a lot more to consider if you are looking to dial in your color management. If you want all of the answers, I highly recommend my e-book, A Professional Photographer’s Workflow: Using Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. I know many might find it offensive that I am promoting a book when everything seems to be online for free but I have spent over ten years learning everything I could possibly find out about color management and all of that knowledge is contained in this e-book. This e-book is also a real book that is 500-pages long and packed with info. It isn’t your average e-book, as the testimonials on my website indicate. The chapter on Color Management alone would be worth the price of this book. If you are serious about photography, do yourself a favor and get serious about color management.

 

 

  • Thomas - No Michael it does not seem as a public service anouncment for somebody who respects their job and their customers. I have read that the I display pro comes in two different versions. The OEM version and the non OEM. The main difference is that the OEM version is able to work with whatever calibration software we choose. Are you aware of that?

    Thanks for the helpful information! Keep up the good work!

  • Michael Clark - Thomas – I wasn’t aware of that. Thanks for the info and the comment. I use my i1 Pro with both the X-Rite software and with the Eizo software so I use multiple software options with it as well.

Ilford recently ran a series of ads and e-promos with an image of me holding a large print (as shown above). A few years ago I signed on with Ilford as one of the Ilford Masters. It is an honor to be among such an elite group of photographers working with Ilford including Sebastião Salgado, Eric Meola, Gregory Heisler, and Seth Resnick among others. The caption at the top of the ad shown above reads:

“When you print an image you see things you don’t see in the image on a monitor. A print feels more valuable because of the effort associated with making the print and because you are seeing the final image the way images were “traditionally” meant to be seen. The paper lends the print a lot of value as well, especially if it is a thick fine art paper that helps make the image look better. Not only do you get a tactile feel for the image but you can interact with the image in a way that is not possible on a monitor. Also, the size of the image lends a huge amount to the impact it makes on the viewer. When printed large, some images come alive like they never can on any monitor. As a photographer, the emotional response is one of pride in the image. For my customers, they hopefully have a sense of awe about the image and the effort that went into it.”

Ilford also recently posted an interview with yours truly on the Ilford Blog. Check it out below.

My favorite papers from Ilford are Gold Fibre Silk, which is my mainstay go to paper for large fine art prints, Gold Mono Silk for black and white prints, and Textured Cotton Rag for those times when I want a beefier, textured fine art paper. I also use a few of their other papers like their excellent Semigloss Duo and Gold Raster Silk in my portfolios and for test prints here in the office. If you haven’t ever printed your images before, I highly recommend the papers listed above. Gold Fibre Silk in particular makes your images come to life and reproduces extremely accurately the colors I see on my monitor.

My thanks to Peter Ogilvie who helped me out by shooting this portrait in his studio. Also, my thanks to Ilford for all their support over the last few years and for the amazing paper. If you would like to order a fine art print all of the details are on my website here. Any and all of my images are available as fine art prints.

  • Sean - That’s awesome. Congrats.

Red Bull Photography recently posted an interview with me about my most recent assignment for Red Bull with the Red Bull Air Force at their annual training camp near Eloy, Arizona. On that assignment, I spent two and a half days with the Red Bull Air Force, which is Red Bull’s sky diving team based in the USA. I shot over 20,000 images, many with remote cameras. Marv Watson, from Red Bull Photography here in the USA, wanted to interview me to get some behind the scenes info on how I covered this daunting assignment.

I have shot several assignments with the Red Bull Air Force over the last seven years. I consider many on the team to be good friends and it is always a great time hanging out with this crew. The Red Bull Air Force is far and away one of the best group of sky divers anywhere in the world, which is why when Hollywood needs BASE jumpers, wingsuit BASE jumpers or sky divers they usually work with a few members of the Red Bull Air Force. As an example, Jon DeVore was recently in the new Point Break movie, and he and Mike Swanson were also in one of the Transformers movies a few years back as well. Below is an image of Jon DeVore and Luke Aikins jumping from the skids of a Red Bull helicopter, which was flown by Felix Baumgartner, with Kirby Chambliss flying a stunt plane just below the heli while practicing maneuvers at Kirby Chambliss’ ranch near Eloy, Arizona. This image was thought up by Jon and we spent much of the second morning planning out how we would capture it.

Above is a behind the scenes shot of a portrait session with Felix Baumgartner, one of Red Bull’s most famous skydivers. He was also a part of the Red Bull Stratos project, where on October, 14th, 2012, he became the first human being to break the speed of sound in free fall, while skydiving out of the stratosphere. In the above behind the scenes image some have noticed that I am wearing a climbing harness. The reason I am wearing a harness is that between portrait sessions with each Red Bull Air Force team member I was jumping in and out of airplanes and helicopters where I was clipped in while shooting out an open door of the aircraft. The portraits, as shown here, were captured in between flights on an ad hoc basis. I was wearing a harness for most of the assignment. Below is an image of Red Bull Air Force team member Jeffrey Provenzano, which was created using the same lighting setup as shown above.

In yet another photo op dreamed up by Jon DeVore, we attached a GoPro camera to the bottom of the Red Bull helicopter and then had some team members hang from the skids before dropping into a sky dive. From left to right are Jon DeVore, Sean MacCormac, Charles Bryan and Jeffrey Provenzano. The helicopter was being flown by Felix Baumgartner. Below is a shot of the three different camera systems I was shooting with for this assignment, including a GoPro Hero 5, a Nikon D4 (and also a D500 and D810) as well as a Hasselblad H5D 50c WiFi medium format digital camera.

You can read the whole interview over on the Red Bull Photography website. My thanks to Marv for the interview and to Red Bull for the assignment. I’ll have a more in-depth and expanded behind the scenes article on this assignment in my Spring 2017 Newsletter here in a few months. Stay tuned for that.


Last year, I reviewed the new flagship Nikon D5. It is an incredible camera, with autofocus that is far more advanced than any I have ever used. At the same time Nikon released the D500 (shown above), which might have been overlooked, but has since received a huge number of “Camera of the Year” awards at the end of 2016. With demand for the Nikon D500 being sky high for most of 2016, I finally got my hands on it this past month–and it didn’t disappoint. B&H Photo and Video kindly lent me the Nikon D500 for a month to test out as part of their affiliate program–my thanks to them for this opportunity.

Like the Nikon D5, the Nikon D500 is a great camera. The D500 incorporates a DX sized sensor as Nikon calls them, which is a smaller sensor than their full frame cameras and has a 1.5X crop factor. Years ago, I used to shoot with a Nikon D700, which had a full frame sensor, and a Nikon D300, which had the DX sensor, as they gave me different sized sensors and the duo made for a very versatile and lightweight kit. The D500 is a new, much upgraded version of the now ancient D300. For those times when I need a little extra reach, the D500 is a great alternative to my full-frame Nikons. It is built like a tank. It is lightweight and compact, especially when compared to the D5 or my D4. And it has the best autofocus of any camera on the market save for the D5, which has the same autofocus module. In fact, the autofocus on this camera is so good that if you shoot sports that feature alone is worth the purchase price for the D500.

In this review I will cover the basics and give my impression. There are of course far more detailed reviews out there so if you are looking for a comprehensive review check out DPReview.com.

Autofocus

As already mentioned there isn’t any other camera on the market, save for the Nikon D5, that has such incredible autofocus capabilities as those found on the D500. This camera literally locks onto your subject and will not let go. For sports and action photographers like myself, this is a phenomenal feature. The autofocus in my Nikon D4 feels like something from caveman times when compared to the autofocus built into the D5 and D500. The difference is that stark. In fact, I will be going through withdrawals now that I have sent the D500 back to B&H.

On a recent assignment for Red Bull I was photographing the Red Bull Air Force, with whom I have shot with several times. This was a prime opportunity to see just how good the autofocus of the D500 was compared to my other Nikons (the D810 and D4). As you can see in the image below, Miles Daisher is falling out of the sky at a 120 mph (193 kph) after having jumped off the skid of a low flying helicopter. I had the Nikkor 300mm f/4 PF VR lens mounted on the camera and tracked Miles movement from the time he jumped off the skid of the helicopter. The D500, which was set to the AF-C mode with 3D AF Tracking, locked onto Miles and never let go. Literally no images from the entire sequence of 30 or more images are out of focus. Miles is tack sharp in every image.

In another example, using the same autofocus settings (3D tracking and AF-C continuous autofocus), I shot the below image of stunt pilot Kirby Chambliss with a 24mm lens out the open door of an adjacent plane. The 3D Tracking feature uses both color and distance to lock onto the subject and really frees you up from the focus points to adjust your composition quickly. In fact, being able to rely on the 3D AF Tracking mode, where you initiate the autofocus where you want it to start AF tracking, and then recompose the image however you want is one of the best options in any camera I have used in quite some time. My older Nikons have this same mode, and in the Nikon D810 it works decently well, but in the D500 (and the D5) it is ridiculous how well it works. Freeing yourself from the AF points is a huge deal when it comes to creativity and the 3D AF Tracking is the best way I have seen yet in any camera system to free yourself from the AF points. In addition to the 3D Tracking mode, with the D500 the focus points extend right to the edge of the frame so you literally can put a focus point just about anywhere in the frame, which is great when trying to pre-compose an image while shooting fast action.

With these two examples in mind, suffice it to say that the D500 has ridiculously good autofocus. As I said in my Nikon D5 review last year, I have no idea how Nikon will improve upon the autofocus in the D5 and D500. It is just that good.

Image Quality

As a 20.1 MP crop sensor camera, the image quality of the D500 is excellent. It isn’t anywhere near as detailed as the 36 MP Nikon D810, but that is quite a different camera than the D500. For what it is, the image quality is excellent. The Nikon D5, which has the same resolution sensor, but in a full frame format, has less noise than the D500, but that is to be expected. The D500 has quite low noise levels for a crop sensor camera with this resolution. I was impressed and would easily shoot with this camera all the way up to ISO 3200 and even at ISO 6400 in a pinch. Images were crisp and clean at the lower ISOs. I tended to stay below ISO 1000 on the above Red Bull assignment.

With this sensor size and resolution, I would imagine that you can easily produce 24×36 inch prints with no issue whatsoever. With good camera technique, it would be easy to stretch that to 30×45 inch prints. For larger prints you would probably need more megapixels. Regardless, few people are going to quibble about the D500’s image quality.

The Buffer and the XQD Factor

Like the D5, the D500 has a ridiculous buffer when shooting long sequences at 11 frames per second. You can shoot up to 200 raw images at 11 fps without the camera even stopping to breath. Pull your finger off the shutter release for less than a second and you can go again for another hundred frames or more. Because of this, the D500 is an incredible action camera. But there is a caveat. You have to be using the faster XQD cards and you will need the latest and greatest versions available to get this performance.

With my older first generation XQD cards from Sony, the D500’s buffer filled up after 40 or 50 images and the camera essentially stopped firing in order to write the images to the card. For the Red Bull assignment, I needed a camera that could fire continuously without any hindrance so I purchased a 128 GB Lexar 2933x XQD card and that allowed me to get 200 raw images in a single 11 fps burst no problem. I used the camera extensively as a remote camera mounted on the helmet of one of the sky divers where the camera was set up in the interval timer mode shooting 5 fps continually for the entire three minute sky dive. With the fast XQD card this wasn’t an issue at all and allowed me to get images like the one below.

One note I will say about the new XQD cards, at least the Lexar variety, is that the original Sony XQD card readers are not compatible with the new Lexar XQD cards so you will have to purchase a new card reader for the fast XQD cards. This is somewhat of a pain as I have older cards for my D4 and have to carry the older card reader to use with those cards. So, in effect, I have to carry two different card readers for the same style of memory card. I love the XQD cards as they are the perfect size and they are also the fastest cards on the market–even faster than the CFast cards. I know lots of folks were not excited about the new XQD memory cards when they were announced with the Nikon D4, but I wish all of my cameras used XQD cards. They are rock solid and so easy to use…save for this little hiccup with the card readers.

Just like with the D5, if you want to get the best performance out of the D500 then you will have to purchase top-end XQD cards to use with it. If you are considering this camera, keep that in mind.

SnapBridge

I have to say, I had high hopes for SnapBridge, but I was quite disappointed. The D500 would not even connect once with SnapBridge on my iPhone 6s. I tried a half dozen times or more and just could not get it to connect. I see now why it has such a low rating on iTunes with lots of complaints. Nikon needs to hire some full time software developers that stay on top of the compatibility issues inherent in software updates so that they can get this to work. Having used Sony’s wireless software, I can’t say it was a whole lot better but at least it worked to some degree. Hasselblad’s wireless app blows SnapBridge away and is quite reliable on my iPad.

Video

The D500 is also one of Nikon’s first DSLRs, along with the D5, that can shoot 4K video. Having tested it out briefly, I will say that it works quite well. The 4K video is quite sharp and I saw very little jello effect when moving the camera. Combine this with the flat picture profile and the D500 is a decent video camera as well. I tend to shoot most of my video footage with Red Digital Cinema cameras, so it isn’t often I use a DSLR but the D500 is the best Nikon camera I have seen yet for video.

The only downside to the video on the D500 is that the competition has moved ahead. Canon now has the Dual-pixel technology which allows for pretty amazing autofocus capabilities while shooting video and Sony, Fuji, Panasonic and others all have five axis image stabilization built-in, which really helps when shooting on the go. Hence, on the video front, Nikon didn’t really push the envelope here, save for the 4K upgrade.

Conclusion

The D500 is a stellar camera. There is a reason it beat out a lot of other capable cameras last year to win “Camera of the year” from a wide variety of sources, including DPReview and Pop Photo Magazine. It is relatively light, compact, agile, wicked fast and responsive, and with excellent image quality there is very little to complain about save for the wireless app that doesn’t seem to work. If you are in the market for a new action camera then this one is going to be extremely difficult to beat. In fact, I think for my work, and since I already have a beefy Nikon D4, the D500 is a much more interesting camera for my needs than the D5. When shooting surfing for example, I either rent a giant lens (like a 400mm f/2.8 or 600mm f/4) or go with my nimble Nikkor 300mm f/4 PF VR lens, which on the D500 becomes the equivalent of a 450mm f/4 lens with excellent vibration reduction. If I add a Nikon 1.4x TC-E III teleconverter, that becomes a 630mm f/5.6 lens with excellent vibration reduction and the whole kit weighs less than a D500 with a 70-200mm attached. That is a seriously versatile long lens setup. And as shown in the action images above, the autofocus can keep up with pretty much anything.

nikond500_backKudos to Nikon for creating yet another home run camera. A few years ago it was the D750, then the new D810, and now the D500. Nikon is on a roll. And they are showing the world why DSLRs with optical viewfinders still have an advantage on several fronts when it comes to capturing action. At some point here I will most likely add the D500 to my kit. It fills a niche, especially when shooting with longer lenses, that is key for the action sports I typically shoot. And at $1,995 USD, it is a pretty good deal for what you get. There are deals out there already where you can get a refurbished body for around $1,700 USD, which is an even better deal.

I do hope that Nikon can fix the SnapBridge software so that it is easier to use and connect to a phone. It seems like all of the camera companies need to spend more time on the software that they implement into these cameras. In fact, I would say, the camera companies need to rethink the entire menu system and how it connects to the outside world. Hasselblad has done an excellent job creating a very intuitive and easy to use menu in the H6D and X1D cameras. At some point here you would think that Nikon, Canon, Sony, Fuji and others would really invest in the user interface software and revamp it completely from top to bottom.

On another note here, it is my hope that in 2017 we will see Nikon finally come out with a full-frame (FX) mirrorless camera to give Sony a run for their money. If Nikon can use the technology they have built into their 1 series mirrorless cameras and put that into a top-end full frame mirrorless camera then they will have a formidable mirrorless option, that I think will be a top-seller. Additionally, if they can create an adapter for their existing line of 35mm lenses for that new full-frame mirrorless camera then they will have something no other camera company has, a full frame mirrorless camera with a huge lens line up.

 

  • John Munnerlyn - Very good review. I was especially glad to read that I was not alone in having a problem with SnapBridge. 🙂

  • Rob Brown - I’m a Nikon fan. Have been with them 25 years. They are making stellar cameras. But it scares the heck out of me that they are loosing so much money at the moment compared with Canon and Fuji. And why o why have they not coughed up a decent lightweight FM2 type mirrorless for us fans. They’ve got the technology and I hope it comes good for them…..but they need to listen to users a bit more.

  • Michael Clark - Rob – Nikon and Canon are both seeing a shrinking camera market and they are both – along with all the other camera manufacturers – selling fewer cameras every year as the DSLRs hit a maturity where they don’t have to be real,aced every 18 months. Nikon wrote off a huge overhead item, which was that “Extraordinary loss” that was all the buzz recently. They are fine. They are still the 2nd largest camera manufacturer in the world. I have a feeling a sweet mirrorless rig is on the way. Fingers crossed.

  • Rob Brown - Thanks Michael, Good to know for all of us invested with them….would not be good if any of the biggies fell over. And yes…Nikon usually take their time but when it arrives it’s usually good so here is hoping on the mirrorless for the lightweight backcountry camera.

The Winter 2017 issue of the Michael Clark Photography Newsletter is now available for download. If you’d like to sign up for the Newsletter just drop me an email and I’ll add you to the mailing list.

This issue includes an editorial about being Back in Action, a review of Sekonic’s L-478DR light meter, an article detailing a recent assignment with Sekonic photographing boxers, an editorial entitled G.A.S., which means “Gear Acquisition Syndrome,” and much more.

The Michael Clark Photography Newsletter goes out to over 8,000 thousand photo editors, photographers and photo enthusiasts around the world. You can download the Winter 2017 issue on my website at:

http://www.michaelclarkphoto.com/files/winter_2017.pdf

If you’d like to check out back issues of the newsletter they are available here.

Please note that the newsletter is best viewed in the latest Adobe Acrobat reader which is available for free at www.adobe.com.

I have been drooling over the Hasselblad X1D since it was first announced last summer. The X1D is the first mirrorless digital medium format camera. It is also significantly lighter and smaller than any medium format camera on the market that uses an optical viewfinder. With a price tag of $8,995 for the body and lenses starting at $2,295 (for the 45mm) up to $ 3,995 (for the 30mm), this is not a low-end camera system. But, when compared to the Hasselblad H6D or the Phase One XF, where you can easily spend upwards of $30,000 on a camera system, this is a bargain in the digital medium format genre.

Last week I was fortunate enough to try it out for a few days in New Orleans while teaching a photo workshop. Fellow Hasselblad shooter, Michael Kerouac, had just received his Hasselblad X1D “4116” edition only a few days before the workshop and was kind enough to bring it with him so I could shoot with it. As can be seen above, the 4116 edition, which is an abbreviation for the years 1941 (when Hasselblad first announced the V series cameras) and 2016 (when the X1D was announced), is an all black version of the original X1D. My thanks to Michael for letting me try out his brand new camera.

Unlike my other equipment reviews, I only had a few short days with the X1D. Hence, while these are my thoughts on the camera from that short period, I cannot call this a full on review. Others have had much more time with the camera and have been able to put it through it’s paces in a way I have not been able to. If you are looking for an extensive review, Kevin Raber of Luminous Landscape has published a lengthy Hands On Review after a month or more with the camera. Ming Thein has also written quite a bit about Hasselblad’s latest offerings. This review will offer up my thoughts on the X1D but by no means should it be considered comprehensive. I have chosen to write this review because there are so few reviews out there and because so many people, myself included over the last several months, have been waiting to get their hands on this camera.

DESIGN AND ERGONOMICS

When you pick up the X1D it is a bit heavier than you think it would be just by looking at it. It’s diminutive size and mirrorless design implies that it will be a lightweight camera similar to other mirrorless offerings. But, when you wrap your hand around the grip, feel the heft of the camera, and realize it is a solid chunk of metal the realization sets in that this camera is in a whole other league than any mirrorless offering that has come before it. As usual with Hasselblad’s offerings, including my H5D 50c WiFi and all of the H6D cameras I have shot with, the X1D is superbly crafted. Hasselblad’s attention to detail and craftsmanship is on full display with the X1D. Very few cameras that I have ever shot with compare with the X1D or the latest H6D versions in terms of craftsmanship. The Phase One XF is one of the few other cameras I can think of that is in the same league as the new X1D.

The grip on the X1D is the best I have ever seen on any camera. The overall design is absolutely splendid. Again, very few cameras have ergonomics in this realm. My H5D doesn’t feel as good in the hand as the X1D regardless of weight and size. Even my Nikons, which I love, don’t feel as well sculpted as the X1D. The overall design of the camera is simple, straightforward and elegant. I hope that Hasselblad wins some awards for the X1D design because this camera is a masterpiece and deserves any and all design awards that it receives. It’s design is so elegant it already deserves to be shown in museums.

As an example of the modern aesthetic built into this camera, the main mode dial, shown above, is ingenious in how it pops up to make a change and then pops back down to lock in that setting and stay out of the way. The overall design is so intuitive that you can literally pick this camera up and figure it out without having to refer to the user manual and that says a lot about its design ethos. While I didn’t have enough time with the camera to get to know it intuitively, I can see that with time, the X1D could be a very intuitive photographic tool.

Autofocus

One of the things I was keen to check out was the autofocus capabilities of the X1D. My H5D has very accurate autofocus, but it is not what I would call fast autofocus. This is typical of medium format autofocus cameras. I found the X1D’s autofocus was quite fast for a medium format camera. It was noticeably faster than my H5D, but not nearly as fast as my Nikons. I had it set up with back button focus, which is how I have my H5D set up. I was quite impressed with the autofocus speed in all conditions, even in low light. The X1D had no issues focusing in low light as shown in the image below of New Orleans.

In terms of the autofocus points there are 35 AF points available and they cover a large majority of the viewfinder. Switching between AF points is as easy as pushing the AF button on top of the camera and using the touchscreen display on the camera’s LCD to select the AF point (this is the slow method), or by tapping the AF button on the top of the camera and using the front and rear dials on the grip to move the AF point in a similar manner as the older Canon cameras used (before the toggle AF selection was added). This second method seemed a bit clunky but with use I am sure it would become more intuitive. If I were to add one thing to the X1D, it would be an AF point toggle like those found on Nikon or Canon cameras.

The size of the autofocus points seemed a bit on the large side. I am not sure if that makes much difference but when very carefully shooting a portrait wide open, as I tried to do a few times, it took some work to get the eyes in focus. I know that Ove Bengtson of Hasselblad mentioned in an interview with Luminous Landscape that there would eventually be 60 AF points so we will have to wait and see what firmware updates come along in the future. As it is, the autofocus was quite good and among the best I have seen in any medium format camera.

Shutter Lag?

One of the things that was a let down for me is the time lag between the time you press the shutter release and when the camera actually takes a photo. With the H5D, which I have been shooting with for over a year now, the shutter release is pretty much instantaneous. I have shot a lot of sports with the H5D and it is very responsive, which enables me to capture the moment exactly as it happens. With the X1D, there are a series of clicks that are audible when you press the shutter release. I am not sure 100% what all of these clicks are, but my guess would be that the first click is the live view deactivating, the second is the leaf shutter closing down, which is the start of the exposure, the third is the leaf shutter opening and then finally the live view, either on the back of the camera or in the viewfinder, starting up again. The key thing to know is the second click is when the image is actually taken. While my description above sounds lengthy, in use the actual clicking happens quite fast and is not that loud.

I was very surprised with this lack of responsiveness. This is a serious impediment for most of my work. I am sure with experience you can learn to anticipate the shutter lag, but when shooting portraits or action, often there isn’t time to anticipate the shutter lag–you just need the camera to fire exactly when you push the shutter release. I hope that Hasselblad can fix this in the future.

Additionally, when you take a photo, the viewfinder blacks out. The viewfinder black out is not an insignificant amount of time either. It felt like the viewfinder black out lasted longer than it needs to. This black out is another issue that will hinder photographers trying to capture “the” moment with this camera. For landscape photographers, I don’t see either of these issues being a problem, but for photographers who need to react and capture a moment precisely as it is happening this may not be the best tool in the bag. Of course, if you need to react quickly a DSLR or a faster mirrorless option would be the obvious choice. Medium format cameras in general are for those situations when you have more time to consider, compose and focus the final image.

Update February 11, 2017: The shutter lag may not actually exist. Some users have done some testing and found that there is no shutter lag at all, but instead there is an elongated EVF blackout that makes it feel like there is a shutter lag. So, this may not be an issue at all. Form Howard Cubell on the GetDPI forums:

“I read in Kevin Raber’s review of the X1D that the X1D had “shutter lag.” After the X1D I ordered arrived last week, I did some shooting with it and really did not detect what I would describe as obvious shuttler lag. I think there is likely a perception of shutter lag because the leaf shutter makes three distinct clicks after the shutter is depressed. However, the first click is quite instantaneous, the second click follows quickly after the first click, and the third is quite delayed. While I am not sure exactly what is happening, I did a Slo Mo Video of a stop watch with my iPhone with a Nikon SB-700 flash mounted on the X1D and, as best as I can tell, there is a delay of about 10 one hundredths of a second or 100 milliseconds between the shutter being depressed and the exposure. This a relatively crude test, but it is the best I could do. By way of comparison, a Canon 1DX has a delay of 43 milliseconds, a Leica M9 has a delay of 80 milliseconds, and the Hassy H has a delay of 160 milliseconds. So, while I am not sure quite yet, the issue of shutter lag on the X1D may turn out to be a Red Herring. At least for my use cases, it is a total nonissue.”

I didn’t have time to test this out when I shot with the X1D but Michael, who lent me the camera to try out, has been doing some of his own testing and has found that the image is captured pretty much immediately after pressing the shutter so it appears there may not be any actual shutter lag.

From Hasselblad (2/22/2017): The first click is the aperture and shutter closing. The second click is shutter operating. The third click is the shutter and aperture opening again after the data has been read from the sensor. After the third click Live View will operate again. Kind regards, The Hasselblad Team

Handling

Having shot with a variety of mirrorless cameras, I have noticed that their smaller size makes them feel like point-and-shoot cameras that can be handled with less rigor than a normal DSLR or larger cameras. With the X1D I felt the same way. The camera, along with the 45mm and 90mm lenses I used, felt fairly light and agile. Because of this, I had to constantly remind myself to take care when shooting handheld with the X1D. Steady hands and high shutter speeds are required to get sharp images when shooting hand held with this camera and hence, the new 1/2,000th second top-end shutter speed is a blessing for shooting hand held. This comment is not a knock on the X1D, just a reminder for those looking to purchase this camera that care will have to be taken when shooting handheld, just like when shooting with a Nikon D810.

Image Quality

I have shot with several medium format cameras that use the same 50 MP CMOS sensor as found in the X1D. My H5D 50c has the same 50 MP sensor. As you would assume, the image quality produced by the X1D is excellent. I didn’t really see any difference from my H5D 50c. It has 14-stops of dynamic range and has very low noise even at ISO 6400. I don’t think anyone will be disappointed with the image quality. As with the Nikon D810 or my H5D, exposing for the highlights and bringing back the shadows is easily achieved with this sensor. In the image below, I exposed for the sky and brought up the shadows slightly. I could have pulled the shadows slider out much further but wanted to keep the silhouette of the photographers in the foreground.

While I only had two days with the X1D, that was enough time to recognize that the image quality is on par with similar resolution medium format cameras. The X1D is right in there with the best of them.

Lenses

As this is a new system, many are wondering about the new XC lenses. First off, yes, the lens mount has a tight seal when changing lenses. I was a little surprised at the tightness of the lens mount when changing lenses but that only goes to show just how well made this system is and the degree to which Hasselblad has seriously taken the weatherproofing for this camera. The lenses themselves are very elegant, and similar in design to the HC lenses. I found the 45mm and the 90mm lenses to be extremely sharp. They are also both rather small considering the equivalent focal lengths I have used on my H5D. I was not able to try out the 30mm lens as Michael had not received it yet, but I look forward to seeing quite a few more lens options announced this year and in the future.

Hasselblad also is offering the XH lens adapter, which will allow the use of the H-series lenses on the X1D. This adapter gives access to the full range of Hasselblad’s lenses from 24mm all the way up to 300mm. For prior Hasselblad users this offers a very affordable way to use your existing lenses.

I am overjoyed that Hasselblad stuck with the leaf shutter lenses for the X system. Because of the leaf shutters built into the lenses, the X1D can sync with strobes all the way up to 1/2,000th second. That was a major selling point of the H-series cameras for me and is here again another major selling point with the X1D. As a side note, the fact that the forthcoming Fuji GFX only syncs with flash at 1/125th second and below is a serious limitation for my style of work.

The Viewfinder

I have to admit up front here that I have yet to see an Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) that has won me over. I vastly prefer the responsiveness of an optical viewfinder so I can see with utmost clarity what is happening through the viewfinder. If you look through a viewfinder like that found in the H series Hasselblad cameras it becomes quit clear just how amazing a good viewfinder can be and what impact it can have on your images. The best EVF that I have seen in any mirrorless camera is the one in the Leica SL—and I still wasn’t blown away by it. The viewfinder on the X1D is very good, but I found that the “shimmer” effect on moving objects, like flowing water for example, to be a little distracting. I don’t think this is any different than any other EVF in any other brand of camera. This is just where EVFs are at the moment technologically. Regardless, the EVF in the X1D is good enough for the uses one would buy this camera for.

The Touchscreen on the back of the camera was very impressive. In live view mode, the image displayed, even in full sun was pretty spectacular. For landscape photography I could see myself going to a Live View touchscreen workflow where I barely ever looked through the viewfinder. It was that good. Overall, I’d say the EVF was up to par and the LCD was spectacular.

The Menu System

The menu on the X1D is a thing of beauty. This just might be the most intuitive camera menu I have ever seen. Kudos to Hasselblad for creating a simple menu that is so easy to figure out that any 12 year old who has used an iPhone could easily pick up the camera and figure it out rather quickly. Simply touch the item on the rear LCD that you wish to adjust and choose from the options. I found myself changing most settings, like changing the ISO and selecting the focus point, by using the touchscreen more than the buttons and dials. With more time, I am sure I would be able to change the basic settings with buttons instead of the touchscreen as that would allow me to not take my eye out of the viewfinder. Below are a series of images showing the main menu, changing the ISO settings and also changing the white balance settings to give you a sense of the intuitive menu built into this camera.

Battery Life

I didn’t test the battery life out extensively but I shot for a few hours without any issues. After that session I think we still had 60% battery life left. We only had one battery because at this point there are no extra batteries available for purchase.

Also of note, the start up time takes a bit longer than with my H5D and seemed to take around seven seconds or longer. I didn’t measure it but it was a considerably longer start up time than I am used to with medium format cameras. In use, I just left it on and let it go to sleep when I was in between shots. I imagine that through firmware updates this can be improved over time.

The Reality of Medium Format

Many that are considering this camera may not have ever shot with a digital medium format camera before. Medium Format digital is a whole other beast than DSLRs, especially when it comes to software upgrades and feature sets. In the medium format world, it has been my experience that a camera is announced, starts shipping and then the company deals with unforeseen software and/or hardware glitches. This is partly because the digital medium format genre is a much smaller marketplace, but also because the companies themselves don’t have the resources a Canon or Nikon have to dial in the cameras to the nth degree before they are brought to market.

I say all of this just to say that the X1D is still a work in progress and will be for some time to come, just as the H6D is still a work in progress and the Phase One XF is still being perfected. This is not a Hasselblad thing, it is just the reality of the smaller market for these type of cameras. With Fuji coming into the equation I have a feeling they will have the GFX dialed in to a degree the other medium format manufacturers are not able to achieve because they are a larger company and already have a lot of experience with mirrorless cameras. Nonetheless, with any new medium format digital camera you should expect there to be a few bugs in the system that need to be worked out.

Sensor Cleaning

One of the revelations I had when I started working with the H5D was that cleaning the sensor when the entire digital back is removable made it very easy blow off any dust or use an e-wipe to clean off encrusted dust spots on the sensor. Compared to cleaning my DSLR sensors, the H5D is a dream to clean. The downside of the X1D is that the sensor is in a cavity, i.e. below the level of the lens mount, and just as with the DSLRs, it will be a bit harder to clean than my trusty H5D. This isn’t a huge deal but just something I realized while looking down at that huge sensor. Another thing to note is that the larger the sensor the more dust it attracts since the sensor is charged while shooting. I think this might be part of why the lenses lock onto the body with such a tight seal—to keep dust off the sensor. This is just a small side note in this review but worthy of mention since in real world use the sensor will have to be cleaned fairly often.

Conclusion

Having lugged my Hasselblad H5D 50c WiFi all over the world the last year and a half, along with a decent size Nikon kit, the thought of having a smaller, lightweight 50 MP medium format rig is very appealing. The X1D is an excellent camera, with identical image quality to my H5D or new H6D 50c. The size and weight of the X1D is very similar to my Nikon D810. It is such an elegant camera that I found it very hard to put down once I started shooting with it. The X1D reminds me a lot of the Mamiya 7II, which was one of my favorite medium format cameras ever. The X1D’s small size, straightforward, no-nonsense approach to photography, like all Hasselblad cameras, helps you to concentrate on the image and not on the camera. In other words the camera doesn’t get in the way of the image.

Hasselblad-X1D

As an adventure sports photographer, this would not be the camera I reach for when trying to capture fast action. The shutter lag would be a major hindrance. Also, the viewfinder may or may not work well with tracking fast moving subjects. With my H5D, the near instantaneous shutter release allows me to set up the shot and capture action fairly easily. On the other hand, the X1D is a stellar landscape camera. I can also see it being used for other genres like portraits and street photography.

Updated February 11, 2017: As noted above, it turns out there isn’t a shutter lag, just an elongated EVF black out. Hence, the X1D could therefore be a decent camera for capturing action the old fashioned way, the same way I do with my H5D, by pushing the shutter release at just the right moment. In fact, from Howard Cubell’s measurement, which is crude (as he stated), the X1D actually has a shorter shutter release time than the H5D. If anyone has any experience shooting moving subjects and can weigh in on this it would be great to have some other confirmation.

Hasselblad has taken quite a few hits in the media the last few months with the late shipping of the X1D, a new CEO and DJI making a larger investment in the company. Everything seems to have been blown a bit out of proportion if you ask me. In the end, what Hasselblad has done with the X1D is revitalize their brand in a way few camera companies have ever done. The X1D is nothing short of a futuristic version of the original Hasselblad 500 series cameras that they brought to the market in 1941. Don’t get me wrong, it has a few issues to be worked out but they are minor and will surely be fixed this year with firmware updates.

So, I suppose the big question is: “Will I be buying one?” At this point I am still paying off my H5D system so the impetus to spend more money on a somewhat equivalent setup is lacking. Do I want one? Hell yeah. But, I am set for now with my H5D. I will be watching for news of X1D firmware updates and news of the new lenses that become available for it very closely. I might even rent it for specific assignments where I want top-end image quality but need it in a small, compact kit. At some point down the road I could easily see myself purchasing the X1D but for now I am holding off. We’ll see how long I can resist this gorgeous piece of kit…

  • David Clifford - Great review Michael. As always. Any thoughts on using this rig for Architecture?

    Cheers,
    DC

  • Michael Clark - It could be good for architecture, if you use the XH adapter, put the title shift adapter on it and use the H lenses. But by then you might as well have an H6D I suppose. Here is the link to that adapter: http://www.hasselblad.com/accessories/h-system-accessories/hts-1-5-tilt-and-shift-adapter

  • Aldo CG - Regarding Architecture- I am just now noticing that the 30mm has absolutely no distance focus markings on it.

    This is completely and utterly useless for architecture. Everything must be focused manually, and you can’t even see where you’re focusing? I have shot thousands of images for clients and not once have I not relied on distance markings.

  • Niels Volders - Batteries are long available

  • Michael Clark - Niels – Maybe the X1D batteries have been available where you live but here in the USA they are still on backorder and have been for a long time.

  • Jan - How would you compare the AF with a camera as the Sony rx1r? Do you think it is possible to make street photography with the hasselblad x1d?

  • Erik Lundqvist - I rented the X1D for a field test over a weekend a couple of months ago, and one of the shoots I had arranged was a fitness shoot with a boxer. I took around 40 frames of him unleashing his inner fury on a sandbag and I did not manage to nail even one frame just as he hit the sandbag.

    Admittedly, maybe the the series of clicks caused me to think there is shutter lag and as a result I pressed the shutter earlier and earlier, but to me it looked like the boxer was in the process of retracting his arm as the sandbag was in full swing.

    I am not convinced the X1D is shutter lag free, but I would like it to be 🙂

    Erik

  • Michael Clark - Jan – I don’t know. I have not ever shot with the Sony RX1R. You can shoot street stuff with the X1D but just realize the AF is going to be a little slower. I’d say rent one before you buy it.

  • Photographer Michael Clark Reviews the Hasselblad X1D 50C - […] Note: This post originally appeared on Michael Clark’s photography blog and has been reproduced with his permission. All accompanying images are ©Michael Clark and also […]

  • AusTex - Try as I may to convince myself that I need this camera I cannot. The nature of leisure or amateur photography has changed as has our lifestyles. When film and processing was expensive, photos were dear. You put time and thought into every shot. I know because I think back to how much money I spent;-)

    With mobile devices and tablets with their amazing resolution we now view more images on a monitor instead of on paper I wonder where standalone cameras will fit. Purists will of course lambaste me for saying all this but I wonder these fine pieces technology and optics like fine watches are like the old steel mills that are excellent subjects for photographers, symbols of a bygone era?

    I hope not, especially for the company whose cameras went to the moon and back, but I am doubtful.

  • Benjamin Samson - Dear AusTex, These cameras are entirely unnecessary if your sole wish is to see your photos on a computer screen or on instagram. However, if you like to print your photos and print them big then they are quite relevant.

    And whatever happens with time folks are going to keep having a need to fill their walls with content.

  • KK Agrawal - I have not read about any shutter release cable being used with X1D. Do they have anything of this accessory, because this is useful for close-up work.

  • Michael Clark - I have heard folks talking about the smartphone app that can trigger the camera but I don’t think there is an actual cable release as far as I know. I might be wrong on that.

  • Robert Sinclair - Michael – Thank you for an excellent write up on the X1D – very informative.

    I received mine a few days ago and find it a pleasure to hold and work with and the image quality is remarkable. And I am comparing this to my years of Phase One, Leica, and 45 years of Canon use, along with 4×5 view camera film.

    One issue I cannot seem to work around is the viewfinder (I don’t use Live View on the back) black out time period, especially in Continuous Drive Mode, but even in Single Drive Mode with quick shutter releases. I shoot only to RAW files, and because the black out period is longer than time between captures (reportedly 2.3 fps), I am unable to see through the black viewfinder what I am shooting.

    Any thoughts, comments, or suggestions about this?

  • Michael Clark - Robert – Save for the latest Fuji X-Series and Sony A7 and A9 series mirrorless cameras, most mirrorless cameras lock up the viewfinder when firing off bursts. The black out on the X1D is not optimal for any kind of action photography. I see it as more of a one shot beast. Hard to say. Also, for clarification, I do not own an X1D. I shot with a friends for a few days to write this review. I have an H5D and still use that.

  • Robert Sinclair - Michael – Thanks for the quick response. You answered my question, but thus wonder why HB would even include Continuous Drive Mode if its unusable. My Sony a6000 (mirrorless) allows for fast blasting, but its not much more than a point and shoot. Thankfully I don’t do much action work, but found this to be an issue when trying to photograph my 5-month old granddaughter’s beautiful new smiles 🙂
    PS: Your work is outstanding and Shiprock is a favorite subject of mine.
    Cheers, _R

T W I T T E R
L I N K S