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Last month Professional Photographer Magazine, which is the magazine of Professional Photographers of America (PPA), featured a profile of my work in the May 2016 issue. The profile, titled “Rock On,” discusses a wide variety of topics including several close calls, a few specific pieces of gear I use, my Newsletter, how I market my images, and also a few behind the scenes stories from recent assignments. To give you a taste of the profile, here is an excerpt from the opening paragraphs:

“I consider my job not a job but a lifestyle,” Clark says. Besides daredevil feats that most photographers couldn’t stomach, it requires the flexibility to travel nearly constantly. “I just got back from Patagonia, now I’m going to Hawaii, and I’m back one day and then I go to Colorado,” he says. It also calls for a deep understanding of adventure sports, a passion that drew Clark to photography in the first place.

PPA is a professional photographers organization that caters to wedding, portrait, senior and family photographers so my work was quite a departure from their normal fare. With over 29,000 members it is also one of the largest professional photography organizations in the world. My thanks to Amanda Arnold for tracking me down and crafting this profile. Check out the full article online on the PPmag.com website.

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The Spring 2016 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 working with a new Hasselblad medium format digital camera system, a review of the Hasselblad H5D 50c WiFi medium format digital camera, an article detailing a recent expedition where I joined a team of photographers who traversed the Patagonia Ice Cap, an editorial entitled “Breaking through the Noise,” 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 2016 issue on my website at:

http://www.michaelclarkphoto.com/files/spring_2016.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.

adventure-journal-interviewAdventure Journal did an interview with me last week for their venerable website, http://adventure-journal.com. It went live last Friday, and it featured some interesting questions – quite different than the normal ones I get. It also had one of the best intros I have ever read for one of my interviews. The author, Brook Sutton, prefaced the article with the following:

“There’s something exquisite about watching someone do something really well. It could be bowling, as far as I’m concerned. When someone moves in a way they’ve trained and practiced and were born to move, it’s visual poetry.

Capturing that fusion of grace and power in a still image is another thing entirely. Michael Clark has the eye. Perhaps it’s because he’s an athlete, too, that he understands the crux moments of movement. In a single frame, he’s able to somehow show both the intensity and emotion of the human body, and the enormity of the landscape that body is moving through. That ain’t easy.

Clark’s images, while heavy in adventure, don’t discriminate: fringe to mainstream and backcountry to urban are all fair game. Lest we pigeonhole his skills to just shooting sports, his full portfolio is stuffed with character-rich portraits and jaw-dropping landscapes, too. But today we’re feeling inspired by, as Clark calls it, “the fleeting moment of passion, gusto, flair, bravado.” Enjoy.”

The images were collected from my Instagram account for the article. My thanks to the Adventure Journal and Brook Sutton for the great interview! Check out the full interview on the Adventure Journal website.

Maxime Genoud in-line skating in an indoor skate park in Lausanne, Switzerland.I am honored to announce that the image above has been chosen for inclusion in the 2016 Communication Arts Photography Annual, which will be published in the July/August 2016 issue of Communication Arts (CA). The CA Photography Annual is one of the most exclusive photography competitions anywhere. The Communication Arts Photography Annual competition has been held for the last 57 years making this one of the oldest photography competitions in the World. From the Communications Arts press release, “Of the 4,024 entries to the 57th Photography Annual, only 137 were accepted, representing the work of 127 photographers, making the Photography Annual the most exclusive major photography competition in the world.”

Also, for those not familiar with Communication Arts, here is a description from the press release of the magazine, which is more like a high-end book than a magazine: “Communication Arts is a professional journal for designers, art directors, design firms, corporate design departments, agencies, illustrators, photographers and everyone involved in visual communications. Through its editorials, feature articles and the annual competitions it sponsors, CA provides new ideas and information, while promoting the highest professional standards for the field. With a paid circulation of 34,000, CA has a rich tradition of representing the aspirations of a continually-growing and quality-conscious field of visual communications. Now in its 58th year, CA continues to showcase the current best—whether it’s from industry veterans or tomorrow’s stars—in design, advertising, photography, illustration, interactive and typography. Everything is reproduced with printing technology and attention to detail unmatched by any trade publication anywhere.”

For me personally, getting the email this morning that one of my images made it into the Photo Annual is a milestone in my career. Mentally, I was doing backflips here in my office for an hour or so after the notification came through. I have been submitting images to this photography competition for the past thirteen years and this is the first image that has made it into the Annual. I also received an email that I could announce that my image was included in the Annual, even though the July/August issue is yet to be published.

The above image was shot for Elinchrom and was widely published to promote the new Hi-Sync capabilities of the Elinchrom ELB 400, the new Skyport Plus HS and the Quadra HS flash heads. This image was created during a demo of the new Hi-Sync system in front of 80 Elinchrom employees and distributors at a local indoor skate park in Lausanne, Switzerland. It isn’t often I am doing a photo shoot in front of 80 people but, as you can see above, this one went pretty well and the capability of the Elinchrom Hi-Sync technology is obvious. This image was created using two ELB 400 strobes, a Nikon D4 with a Nikkor 70-200mm lens. The exposure was 1/8,000th second at f/3.5 and ISO 800.

My thanks to Elinchrom for bringing me over for the shoot, especially to Bram Dauw and Thiago Costa who helped put this shoot together, and also to Chris Whittle, the President of Elinchrom. Also, my sincere thanks to Communication Arts and the six jurors who chose the winning images: Patrick Barber – Timber Press, Lionel Ferreira – Ferreira Design Company, Karen Frank – ESPN The Magazine, Mark Haumersen – Periscope, Claire Rosen – photographer, and Patrick Coyne – the editor/designer of Communication Arts. And finally, thanks to Maxime Genoud, the skater in this image, who worked very hard to help us create this final image for Elinchrom.

 

  • Mark Astmann - Congratulations Micheal. I’m so thrilled for you.

    All the best.

    Mark Astmann

  • Dhaval Soni - Michael,
    Congratulation for the excellent piece of work. I am thankful to you and complete Elinchrom team to invite me and Pulin to witness this great shoot. Wish you and Elinchrom lots of success.

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Updated on April 5, 2016: After getting feedback from a wide variety of sources I have added some corrections and updates to this review. These updates are notated with bold text at the beginning of the update. The updates are noted in the Autofocus, User Interface, Flash Sync and Software sections of this comparison. Thanks to everyone for the feedback and info.

Addendum added April 7th, 2016: With the announcement of the Hasselblad H6D, this comparison is moot to some degree. Read about my thoughts on the H6D specs at the end of this comparison. 

Before purchasing the Hasselblad H5D 50c WiFi last December, I did a ton of research and tried out both the H5D 50c WiFi and the Phase One XF/IQ350 camera systems before making any decisions. You can see my review of the H5D 50c WiFi right here on the blog. I realize there are a very small number of people out there that shoot with either of these systems or even care about a comparison of these two cameras. But, for those that do, here I will offer up my thoughts on these two state of the art camera systems. When I was doing research, I found nothing out there comparing the H5D and the Phase One XF directly. I found independent reviews of both but no comparisons. Hence, for those few making the move to medium format, what follows are my thoughts and experiences with both systems.

Right up front, I want to make sure folks understand I am not here to bash one brand or another. My aim is to share what I learned in the process of trying out these cameras. I will call it like I saw it. But, I will also say this, I only had one afternoon with the Phase One XF and the IQ350 back and I had five days to try out the Hasselblad H5D 50c WiFi before deciding to purchasing that system. Since I purchased the Hasselblad you might sense a bit of bias towards that system, and you’d be right, but here I will point out the upsides and downsides of each system. I will also relay some feedback from Phase One and Hasselblad users I spoke with about their experiences using these cameras. Because I didn’t have as much time shooting with the Phase One, I ask that any Phase One owners correct me if I am wrong about certain aspects of the Phase One XF by posting comments below.

Let’s start out by saying neither camera is perfect. Both have their upsides and their downsides. Both are capable of creating incredible images with detail no DSLR can touch. These are also both extremely expensive camera systems. At the moment, the H5D 50c WiFi sells for $16,500 USD, which is far below it’s original price of $28,500 USD. I am fairly certain that this low pricing on the H5D 50c WiFi is because Hasselblad wants to bring in a lot of new medium format shooters (like myself) and also that they are going to announce the H6D (or whatever the next version of this camera will be named) at some point later this year. In this interview with Perry Oosting, the CEO of Hasselblad hinted quite openly about a new 100 MP camera during the interview. Just to be up front with readers, I purchased the H5D 50c WiFi during the December sale when it was $14,500 USD, which is a heck of a deal for that system. The Phase One XF and IQ350 digital back goes for $34,990 USD at the moment. When I was considering both systems the Phase One XF / IQ350 went for $40,990 USD. Suffice it to say that right now the Phase One XF/IQ350 setup is significantly pricier than the Hasselblad.

As a side note here, I did not consider the Pentax 645Z, which uses the same 50 MP CMOS sensor as the Phase One IQ350 and the Hasselblad 50c WiFi digital backs because the 645Z has a flash sync of only 1/125th second. One of the important factors in my decision to go with a medium format digital camera was the ability to sync with strobes at higher shutter speeds using a central shutter built into the lens and this isn’t an option with the Pentax system, which is why I did not consider it. By comparison, the H5D can sync with strobes up to 1/800th second and the Phase One can sync with strobes up to 1/1600th second with certain lenses. For those that do not need this option then the Pentax is an excellent camera system to consider and it is also quite a bit less expensive.h5d-XF-frontIn comparing these camera systems, I will list the pros and cons of each camera for a variety of important features. Let’s start out with the autofocus capabilities as that is a huge issue for all medium format cameras.

Autofocus

Autofocus is a feature that needs to be incredibly accurate when using cameras of this caliber. Because of the 50 MP resolution, and the extremely sharp lenses made by both manufacturers, missing focus by even a few millimeters can sometimes make the difference between getting the image or major frustration. Both manufacturers advertise the accuracy and reliability of their autofocus systems as a core feature. Both of these cameras also have a single autofocus point in the center of the viewfinder. Hence, to set your focus off-center you have to rely on the focus and recompose method. Both also have impressive viewfinders and built-in options to add a diopter adjustment to the viewfinder for those that don’t want to wear glasses while shooting.

When I tested out the Phase One XF, I got only 7 images out 200 in focus using that camera’s Honeybee autofocus system. It wasn’t as if all of those 193 other images were way out of focus, but they weren’t critically sharp where I intended for the focus to be. Some images were way off and some were only slightly off but they were off enough that it wasn’t a useable image. I had the XF set up with the focus being initiated by holding down the shutter release half-way. Once focus was achieved you could then recompose the image and push the shutter all the way down to capture the image. I have since been told that the better method is to use a back-focusing method where you set a button on the back of the grip to initiate focus and use the shutter release to snap the photo. I did not have time to test this out so I hope some Phase One users can chime in here and give us their experiences using the back focusing method. I use this back focusing method with the H5D and it’s True Focus technology and it works very well. Also, Phase One has a few options where you can set up the Hyperlocal distance settings for each lens, which allows you to optimize the amount of Depth of Field (relative to the infinity setting) and automatically recall this setting. I did not have time to play with this feature but that is a pretty nice feature to have when shooting with wide angle lenses.

With the Hasselblad, I have had a much higher percentage of in-focus images, up at around 80%. Usually, if the image is out of focus with the Hasselblad it’s pilot error. The True Focus II technology built into the H5D works. It takes some time to get the hang of it and not rotate the camera forward but rotate it on axis so the camera doesn’t move closer or farther from the subject, but once you get the hang of it, the True Focus works well. In fact, it works so well that I shoot a lot untethered and don’t worry too much about the autofocus.

Neither camera has what I would call stellar autofocus. For that matter, no medium format camera that I have ever shot with has stellar autofocus. Both are slow and take some time to get the focus nailed down. In low light situations the XF performed extremely poorly, worse than a mirrorless system. By contrast the Hasselblad could still focus accurately but did so at a slower pace.

In talking with a few Phase One photographers, whom I won’t name, I heard them talk openly about autofocus issues with the XF. One photographer said he doesn’t trust it and focuses manually using the live view all the time. The other, who has shot extensively with the Phase One DF+ and tried out the XF, said the Honeybee autofocus system was a step backwards and seemed worse than the DF+, which was known to be a spotty AF system.

UPDATED 4/5/16: When folks on the Luminous-Landscape and GetDPI forums found this review quite a few Phase One users commented that they have had excellent results with the Phase one XF autofocus. There are also several people who said that their XF has autofocus issues and one even said his is back at Phase One being repaired. From the feedback I have seen, it seems like some, like me have had autofocus issues with the XF, while others have found it to be quite good. So, as I say at the end of this review, test it out for yourself. The above are my experiences with the cameras.

The Clear winner here is the Hasselblad H5D.

Image Quality

Both cameras use the same 50-megapixel CMOS sensor, so you would assume that the image quality is fairly similar. In my experience, I found the images coming out of the Phase One XF/IQ350 to be a bit softer than the H5D 50c WiFi. I know there are a lot of people out there that swear by the Phase One backs so I was pretty surprised by the images I was comparing. I was also quite surprised at the huge amount of capture sharpening that Capture One applied to the images by default. This seemed to only highlight the softness of the images when I turned off the capture sharpening.

Since I did not shoot the exact same scenes with both cameras I won’t show any comparison images here. Also, there are so many factors that come into play that can make for soft images, especially when comparing high-resolution medium format digital cameras. The XF is slightly heavier, and I shot with it mostly handheld. The lenses are physically bigger as well and the large shutters in the lenses could have created more camera shake at the instant the shutter was released. To really know if this was an issue I would have to have both systems locked down on a tripod and then look at the resulting images.

For this comparison, and at low ISOs, meaning anything around ISO 400 and below, I will call it a tie on the image quality. Though, I will say I preferred the image quality out of the 50c WiFi over the IQ350.

High ISO Noise

Because both of these cameras incorporate the first CMOS sensor for medium format cameras, there was a lot of hoopla about how great they are at high ISOs. As we covered in the last section on image quality, at their lowest ISO settings, the image quality was a tie. At higher ISOs, I found the H5D 50c WiFi to be significantly better than the IQ350. As shown below, at ISO 6400, the H5D 50c WiFi (left) shows significantly less noise than the IQ350 (right). At ISO 6400, the IQ350 has a strange blotchy pattern to it that is quite ugly, while the H5D 50c WiFi has a grain-like structure to the noise that is much nicer and easier to deal with when using noise reduction software.

ISO6400-comparison-wlabels

To create the comparison images above, note that both cameras were locked down on a tripod and both had the mirror up. Both of the above images were shot at ISO 6400. This comparison was pulled up in Lightroom. The H5D 50c WiFi is a raw image without any adjustments. The Phase One XF/IQ350 image was exported out of Capture One as a full resolution TIFF file with no adjustments. No noise reduction or adjustments were applied to either image. To see a full resolution image file of this screenshot click here or on the image above. The difference is quite noticeable when you view the larger version of this image.

In talking with a Phase One user, he told me that with the IQ350 he never goes above ISO 1600 because there is too much noise for his taste at those higher ISOs. That was my conclusion as well when looking at the IQ350 files I shot at every ISO setting. With my Hasselblad, I wouldn’t hesitate to go up to ISO 6400 (and I do often when shooting handheld outdoors) because the noise is so smooth and can easily be removed in Lightroom using the noise reduction sliders.

In my testing, the Hasselblad clearly outshines the Phase One IQ350 at high ISOs.

Ergonomics

Both of these cameras are gorgeous, well made pieces of art. The Phase One XF is clearly the more modern looking of the two and it is a marvel of engineering. The touch screen LCDs on the XF give it a sleek, clean look that is very enticing. I will get into the user interface and touch screen displays in the next section. Here, I will discuss the ergonomics of the two cameras including how they feel, how they are balanced and the control layout.
grip-comparison

As can be seen above, both have right angle viewfinders, a beefy grip and controls in similar locations. The Hasselblad weighs in at 1,815 g while the XF comes in at 2,085 g, so there is a 270 gram difference (roughly half a pound). The weight difference mostly comes down to the fact that the XF has two batteries on board – one in the camera grip and one in the back. The XF feels larger in the hands than the H5D. The XF grip also feels larger. For my hands, the grip on the H5D was much nicer than the XF. On the XF, there is a bump on the top of the grips backside (visible in the images above and below) that seems fairly odd and forces your hand to be cocked at a strange angle. I have large hands so maybe for smaller hands that works well, I am not sure. Either way, I prefer the grip on the H5D.

In the hand, the noticeable weight difference of the XF and the larger lenses, make it a beast to handhold. I am a rock climber who is decently fit, so my arms aren’t weak by any means but with some of the massive lenses, like the new 120mm f/4 Macro “blue line” lens from Schneider, handholding the Phase One XF was a chore. I also noticed that the extra battery in the back made the camera feel off-balance compared to the H5D, whose sole battery is in the grip. I found the H5D much better balanced overall. I will say that when I tried it out, I really wanted to fall in love with the Phase One XF. The marketing materials had me all amped up to love this camera, but it was not to be. The ergonomics and the focusing issues really turned me off quickly while testing it out.

In terms of the control layout, I am not sure I had enough time with the Phase One XF to really decisively critique this part of the camera. In my time with it, I found it easy to adjust the big three exposure options: ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture. The XF has quite a few buttons and many of them can be customized so with time you could customize the buttons to your liking. Because of the touch screen interface, I was constantly finding that I changed settings on the top LCD or the back without even knowing I had changed anything. That was annoying. With the H5D, the ergonomics seem to have been worked out more thoroughly. Without having to take your eye away from the viewfinder, it seemed fairly easy to figure out which button you are touching and make adjustments on the fly.

phase-one-xf

User Interface

As I just mentioned in the last section, the touch screen interface on the XF is whiz-bang cool and looks phenomenal, but in practice I found it to be less practical than the old-school buttons on the H5D. Of course, you can lock the touch screen out so that you won’t accidentally change anything but then if you actually need to change something you have to undo that to access those settings again. I have talked with a few other photographers that have had the same experience with the touch screen displays on the XF. With the H5D, you can change settings without moving your eye away from the viewfinder. With the XF, unless you have certain functions set up with a custom button this is difficult if not impossible to do. Need the mirror up? With the H5D you don’t have to take your eye away from the viewfinder. Need to do that on the XF, you have to very precisely touch the top LCD and you’ll have to look at it to do so.

UPDATED 4/5/16: A Phase One owner on the Luminous-Landscape forum indicated their was a way to assign the mirror up function on the XF to a button on the front of the camera so the mirror will stay up until you put it down. This was not pointed out to me by the rep when I tested the camera. I thought I would note this here. 

With the above said, and as you can see below, the actual touch screen interface is pretty phenomenal aside for the issue of accidentally changing settings. The Phase One LCD on the back of the camera and on the top of the grip is incredible. It looks like the screen on a Retina iPhone. The simple four button interface on the sides of the digital back, along with the touch screen options, is simple, elegant and easy to use and navigate. The Phase One LCD displays are a dream compared to the ancient LCD on the back of the Hasselblad. The quality of the LCD on the Phase One is what every camera in this category should have on it.

The Phase One IQ350 back (and all of their current digital backs) are also packed with useful options and features like focus peaking, exposure color charts, and the ability to focus accurately using the live view mode. There is also a feature built into the XF camera body that acts as a seismograph and won’t trigger the camera until all vibrations have quieted down. That is a great feature for landscape photographers. In addition, Phase One has also integrated features that aid the photographer when shooting with HDR techniques, photo stacking, and time-lapse.

LCD-comparison

The LCD on the back of the Hasselblad H5D 50c WiFi is ancient. It is so low resolution it is almost laughable for a camera of this caliber. Luckily, you can sync the H5D 50c WiFi to your iPhone or iPad and check focus really easily but that is a workaround. The LCD on the digital back is barely useable but it does work for checking focus, setting up the shot in live view and checking the histogram. It is also possible to use Live View to focus manually with the H5D even though it is a lower res screen. The quality of the LCD is the achilles heel of the Hasselblad system. It seriously needs to be upgraded and if it isn’t upgraded on the H6D then there will be some boisterous howling on the part of Hasselblad users who are looking to upgrade. When viewing images on the LCD, they appear quite contrasty. Hence, aside from the ability to check focus, viewing the image on the digital back won’t tell you much about the image save for composition.

The LCD display on the top of the H5D’s grip is less horrific. It tells you all that you need to know but the menu system is clunky and difficult to maneuver through. Regardless of the pixelated nature of the top LCD on the H5D, it is well thought out for the basic functions. For example, when you put the mirror up on the H5D it stays up until you put it down. You have to put it up for every shot on the XF.

As for the WiFi option on both of these cameras, I have only tested the Hasselblad WiFi option and did not have time to test out the WiFi capabilities of the IQ350 back. From what I have seen with the Hasselblad, this is an excellent feature that I will be using often. On assignments, even those in remote locations, I can hand the art director an iPad and they can see everything that is being shot right then and there. I have heard Phase One photographers speak of similar great experiences with the IQ350, which may have even better WiFi capabilities than the 50c WiFi.

In terms of looks alone, the Phase One wins this category hands down but when you add in usability, I feel like the Hasselblad is more intuitive. Hence, what you shoot and how you work will determine which of these user interfaces will work best for your needs. At this price point, no one just goes out and buys one of these cameras without trying out a few different options–or at least I would hope they don’t. This is one of those things that is a personal preference. Some will prefer the Phase One others will prefer the Hasselblad.

Flash Sync Speeds

One of the best features of both of these camera systems is that they can sync with flash at high shutter speeds. This is a big reason why professionals choose a medium format system over 35mm DSLRs. To achieve this, the lenses for both systems have built in central leaf shutters. The H5D can sync at up to 1/800th second and the Phase One can sync up to 1/1600th second with certain lenses.

The caveat with the Phase one, as told to me by the rep I worked with, is that the larger lenses have such huge leaf shutters they can really only sync up to 1/1000th second, not the 1/1600th second some of the smaller lenses can. You won’t find this caveat in the Phase One marketing materials for the XF or in any of the marketing materials for the Schneider-Kreuznach lenses. The rep told me that especially the larger new “Blue Line” lenses, like the new 35mm f/3.5 LS  and the 120mm f/4 LS Macro, will not really sync above 1/100th second. Interestingly, on the Phase One website, the specs say that these lenses can sync at up to 1/1600th second. I’d love to hear from Phase One XF users who have tested these new lenses. If this is the case, then this makes the systems a bit more equal on the flash sync speeds.

UPDATED 4/5/2016: After hearing from a few different photographers who have actually shot with these new lenses, it appears that the Phase One rep I spoke with did not know what he was talking about. These new lenses indeed sync at 1/1600 second according to the photographers who have contacted me. Hence, disregard the new paragraph above. 

The bigger question is will either camera work with your flashes. We had a hell of a time getting the Phase One XF to sync at anything above 1/250th second with my Elinchrom strobes. In the end it was a matter of the transmitters we tried not being up to task–and we tried three different brand transmitters. The Phase One dealer had never worked with Elinchrom strobes so they did not have any experience to help out on this front. After doing some research, I finally figured out what the issues were and found that with the new Elinchrom Skyport Plus HS transmitter in Speed mode the XF would trigger the Elinchrom strobes just fine. When using the PocketWizard transceivers, the flash triggering was very unreliable and I am still not sure why that was the case as PocketWizards have been very reliable for me in the past. The XF has a Profoto trigger built into the camera so if you shoot with Profoto strobes you should have very few issues. From what the rep told me, the Broncolor transmitter and strobes also work well with the XF.

By comparison, the H5D worked perfectly with my Elinchrom gear all the way up to 1/800th second on the first try with no issues at all. The top end 1/800th second sync speed isn’t that fast compared to the 1/1600th second shutter speed option on the XF but it is still quite effective for darkening backgrounds and stopping action when used with strobes that have a fast flash duration.

The XF wins here, if you are using lenses that can actually sync up to 1/1600th second.

Shutter Speed Range

The Phase One XF has a shutter speed range of 60 minutes to 1/4000th second. The H5D has a range of 34 minutes to 1/800th second. The Phase One XF has a wider range of shutter speeds due to the fact that it has a focal plane shutter built into the camera body that extends the shutter range beyond the 1/1600th second leaf shutter lenses to 1/4000th second. I can certaily see some scenarios where this would be very useful–like trying to get sharp images while handholding the camera or wanting to stop fast action. So far, I haven’t had any issue with the range of shutter speeds on the H5D though I do shoot at or near the 1/800th second shutter speed when handholding the camera for the sharpest possible images. Because the H5D is a tad lighter and better balanced than the XF, I do feel like I can get sharp images at shutter speeds down to 1/250th second whereas on the XF that would be seriously pushing the envelope.

The Phase One XF wins in this category.

Battery Life

I didn’t have time to test out the battery life of the XF system. I can get about a half day of shooting done with the H5D before I need to replace the battery. That isn’t bad considering how large the components of this camera are and that there is only one battery to run everything. The XF has two batteries so I would expect them to last longer than the H5D’s single battery. In the end, this is a moot point anyway because if you aren’t shooting tethered you would take at least one extra set of batteries.

Reliability

Reliability is always a huge issue for me as an adventure sports photographer. I pound my cameras and I wanted to make sure whatever I purchased could take a licking and keep on ticking. Of course, with cameras in this price range I am going to treat them well. If it is really rough weather or difficult conditions I will take my Nikons, which seem to be able to handle anything mother nature throws at them. I spoke with several different photographers about each of these cameras and specifically about how reliable they were on a variety of assignments. On the Hasselblad side, none of them had ever had to send their cameras in for any repairs of any kind. On the Phase One side, almost everyone said they had to send in their cameras and/or lenses a few times a year for issues. That was a wake up call for me. As it turns out there is a reason the Phase One reps boast about their policy of offering loaners while your camera is being repaired – because most owners have to deal with this issue.

There is also the issue of the camera locking up while on a shoot. The Hasselblad owners I spoke with had never had this happen. The Phase One owners had seen this happen from time to time. Recently, PetaPixel posted an article entitled, I Switched from Phase One to Nikon. Here’s Why. In that article David Cohen de Lara talks at length about the reliability issues that plagued his Phase One cameras. Yes, he had two Phase One cameras. In that article he states, “My experience with Phase One in terms of reliability has been terrible. I’m not just talking about the usual hiccups, errors, and misfires that are an almost daily reality when using these camera systems, I’m talking about things that just stop working altogether for no apparent reason. In just the last four years of shooting Phase One I’ve had no less than 7 instances where I was in the middle of a shoot and a body or lens would just spontaneously lock up, requiring it to be sent in for servicing.” His blog post is rather scathing of the Phase One system and medium format in general. David was shooting with the Phase One DF+ cameras but I have talked with a few Phase One XF owners that have had to send in their cameras for repairs already – and the XF has only been out for a year. None of the Hasselblad owners said anything about their cameras locking up.

As a pro, you rely on your gear. If it isn’t reliable, especially when you have to pay this kind of money for it, then that is a huge issue. The Hasselblad wins massively here on this front.

Lenses

As for lenses, both Hasselblad and Phase One offer a pretty compelling line up of quality glass. The Hasselblad lenses are designed in-house by Hasselblad and are manufactured by Fujinon, who is a less well known, but still a renowned lens manufacturer. It is notable that the leaf shutter mechanism is made by Hasselblad and then assembled into the HC lenses by Fujinon. They note that the Fujinon lenses are just as sharp if not better than the legendary V series lenses made by Carl Zeiss. Phase One’s lenses are made by Schneider-Kreuznach of Germany. Schneider-Kreuznach is another legendary lens manufacturer and the Phase One lenses are stellar by any measure. Phase One recently introduced the “Blue Line” lenses, which they say are ready for the demands of 100+ MP cameras.

camera-systems

Both companies offer an excellent range of lenses. Hasselblad offers a slightly wider focal length range from 24mm up to 300mm. All of the Hasselblad offerings are leaf shutter lenses. Phase One has a range of lenses from 28mm up to 240mm. They offer both leaf shutter (LS) and focal plane versions of most of their lenses. If you need tilt-shift capabilities, the Hasselblad Tilt Shift Adapter works with all of their fixed-focal length lenses up to 100mm. Schneider-Kreuznach has a 120mm tilt shift lens. There are quite a few used Hasselblad HC and HCD lenses on the market that will work with the H5D. On the Phase One side there are some used options out there but with the XF, many of the older Mamiya 645 lenses won’t work with the new camera body.

I prefer the Hasselblad lenses as they aren’t quite as huge as the Phase One LS lenses. The new “Blue Line” Schneider-Kreuznach lenses are massive. I tested out the new 120mm f/4 Macro lens and it is wicked sharp and also giant. The Hasselblad lenses, from my experience so far, seem just as sharp as the Phase One Schneider-Kreuznach lenses. And since I can get accurate AF and sharp images with the H5D they seem a lot sharper that what I was able to achieve using the Honeybee autofocus system on the Phase One XF. Also, in terms of used lenses available, there are a lot of used Hasselblad HC lenses out there that can be had for half the price (or even less in some cases) of brand new lenses.

In terms of lenses, my preferences aside, I’d call this one a draw.

Software

If we are strictly discussing the software options offered by Hasselblad and Phase One then this is an easy choice. Phase One’s Capture One software is far superior to Hasselblad’s Phocus software. Aside from Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop’s Adobe Camera Raw, Capture One is the only really professional alternative raw processing software on the market. Capture One has become much more popular since the demise of Apple’s Aperture. To that point, there are quite a few photographers shooting only with 35mm DSLRs that swear by Capture One. I have tried out Capture One, because I was curious, and I found it quite robust but because I have used Lightroom for a long, long time I wasn’t as enamored with it as many other photographers seem to be.

Luckily for Hasselblad users, Hasselblad has given the folks at Adobe their entire codex, including all of the lens corrections for each of the HC lenses. In my testing, Lightroom affords the exact same image quality as can be had using Hasselblad’s Phocus software. For me, the fact that I can use Lightroom to work up the Hasselblad images makes this a very easy platform to work with. In my testing Capture One is very good. I can see them both having their strong points and weak points so I’d say it is a draw in terms of image quality for each software platform. I actually prefer the color out of Lightroom over Capture One. I know most folks go the other way on that one but Capture One’s color balance seems really warm in terms of skin tones compared to Lightroom. In the end, this software comparison is just a matter of preference.

UPDATED 4/5/16: After more testing, and hearing from other Phocus users, I have done more testing and found that the Phocus software does render slightly better colors and a wider dynamic range than Lightroom. For images that were shot at High ISOs, I found the noise reduction to be considerably better in Lightroom than was available in Phocus. Though, the noise could also have been dealt with using third party noise reduction software in Photoshop. Overall, except for high ISO images, Phocus seemed to render images in a slightly more pleasing manner than Lightroom with less noise and a wider color range. But, the difference is not huge. It is about the same as Nikon Capture NX2 renders images versus Lightroom. 

I’d say in terms of software, because Hasselblad has worked with Adobe, it is a tie on this one.

Summing Up

Let’s get real here for a second. Each of these cameras offer incredible image quality. There are top-end pro photographers working with each brand who are creating incredible images. These cameras are just tools and as such, any photographer using these tools has to learn how to exploit the strengths and weaknesses of each camera system they use. That is just part of the game whether shooting with 35mm DSLRs or a medium format camera.

Each of these two cameras, and for that matter each of these two camera systems, have their weak points and their strong points. For myself, as you have probably surmised from the introduction, I found the Hasselblad H5D 50c WiFi to be the better camera for my needs. This may or may not be the case for still life photographers who shoot tethered in the studio all the time with the camera on a tripod. For those folks, the poor autofocus of the Phase One XF may not be an issue. For myself, the autofocus abilities of the H5D and the low noise at High ISOs, combined with the reliability factor and the user interface sealed the deal for me.

Talking with several photographers working with medium format systems, there are quite a few top-end portrait photographers who choose a hybrid camera: mating the H5D body with a Phase One IQ series digital back. With that combo you get the practical user interface of the H5D up front and the stellar LCD interface on the Phase One digital back. You also retain a camera that can focus accurately. In essence, you get the best of both worlds–unless you want to shoot at high ISOs. This is a workaround to be sure. You have to think one of these manufacturers would get it totally right here at some point. Amazingly, Phase One designed the perfect camera but failed in several key aspects like in the area of autofocus, ergonomics (at least for me) and high ISO noise.

H5D-awardsI can live with the H5D’s lackluster LCD screen. I can’t live with a camera that costs $40,000 and can’t autofocus to save its life. For me, accurate AF is worth more than a touchscreen display. Sure, it would be nice if the H5D could sync with strobes at 1/1600th second, but I can live with 1/800th second. I have Elinchrom’s amazing Hi-Sync technology, which allows me to sync strobes at up to 1/8000th second with my Nikons if I really need to freeze motion using strobes. I also prefer the way the H5D feels in the hand, and how it is better balanced. The user interface, though not modern or fancy, also feels much more useable and practical for my needs and for the way I shoot. I can see why the Hasselblad continues to win awards as the best medium format camera out there, over and above the Phase one XF, as shown above.

The cost vs. value equation also played a huge factor. Right now, with the H5D 50C WIFi selling for $16,500, the Hasselblad is a great value (among medium format cameras), especially in comparison to the Phase One setup. When I did the calculations, I could get a full Hasselblad kit with five lenses and three extra batteries for around $35,000 USD. For a similar kit with the Phase One XF, I was looking at approximately $70,000 USD. Buying a digital medium format camera these days is essentially like buying a car. They depreciate massively as soon as you get it. But the bigger questions are: Will it get you to the place you want to go? Will it be reliable? Will it do what you want it to do? Can you afford it? Those are the same calculations I had to reason with. In the end, the Hasselblad overwhelmingly was the obvious choice for my needs. Your mileage may vary.

For more information on these cameras visit the Hasselblad and Phase One websites.

 


 

Addendum – April 7, 2016: H6D Announcement

With the announcement of the H6D, in 100 MP and 50 MP CMOS versions, Hasselblad has seriously upped the ante. In the images below you can see the new design and some of the upgraded features. A sampling of the H6D specs are as follows:

H6D 100c:

  • 100 MP CMOS Sensor (same as that found in the Phase One XF IQ100) – Sensor Size: 53.4 × 40.0mm
  • New High-resolution Touchscreen with 30 fps Live View –  3 inch TFT type, 24 bit colour, 920K pixels
  • 4K RAW UHD Video
  • Flash Sync to 1/2,000th second with new Hasselblad Lenses
  • Flash Sync to 1/1,000th second with old Hasselblad Lenses
  • New Shutter speed range of 60 minutes to 1/2,000th second – all with Leaf Shutters
  • 16 bit; Dynamic range 15 stops
  • Dual Card Slots for a CFast card and an SD card
  • Expanded ISO range: ISO 64 to 12,800
  • New Phocus 3.0 Software
  • New Connection ports: USB 3.0 (5 Gbit/s) Type-C connector, Mini HDMI, Audio In/Out
  • Better battery life and performance.

H6D 50c

  • 50 MP CMOS Sensor (same as was in the H5D 50c) – Sensor Size: 43.8 x 32.9mm
  • New High-resolution Touchscreen with 30 fps Live View –  3 inch TFT type, 24 bit colour, 920K pixels
  • HD RAW UHD Video
  • Flash Sync to 1/2,000th second with new Hasselblad Lenses
  • Flash Sync to 1/1,000th second with old Hasselblad Lenses
  • New Shutter speed range of 60 minutes to 1/2,000th second – all with Leaf Shutters
  • 16 bit; Dynamic range 14 stops
  • Dual Card Slots for a CFast card and an SD card
  • Faster frame rate of 1.7 – 2.3 captures per second
  • New Phocus 3.0 Software
  • New Connection ports: USB 3.0 (5 Gbit/s) Type-C connector, Mini HDMI, Audio In/Out
  • Better battery life and performance.

Of course, these are just specs. I have not seen or held this camera myself. But, if the specs are any indication, the H6D is a camera to be reckoned with. Notably, in my comparison above, the major issues I had with the H5D are almost all addressed in the H6D. The user interface, shutter speed range, flash syncs and battery life are all improved in the H6D. The new 1/2,000th second Flash Sync Speeds even best the Phase One XF, which is quite a surprise.

Also, I have just been told by Hasselblad directly that the old HC and HCD lenses can have the shutter replaced with the new one so that they can sync with flashes at up to 1/2,000th second with the H6D. I have no idea how much this will cost to upgrade the lenses but that means existing users will not have to buy all new lenses to get the same performance as the new varieties.

The True focus technology is the same in the new H6D. They didn’t change that. All of the electronics in the camera have been upgraded as have the output ports to USB 3.0 and Mini HDMI. It also looks as if the Phocus software has had a substantial upgrade, which is useful for all Hasselblad users. About the only thing that wasn’t upgraded was the LCD screen on the top of the grip (as shown in the images below).

The price for these new H6D cameras is also a bit more economical than the Phase One offerings. I realize that last statement seems ridiculous to most photographers but even in this genre everything is relative. The H6D 50c will sell for $25,995 USD and the H6D 100c comes in at $32,995 USD. Compared to the Phase One XF IQ100, at $48,990 USD, there is a $15,995 USD price difference. That is pretty huge for a camera system with almost identical image quality and also has 4K video, which the Phase One XF does not have.

Well done Hasselblad. I can’t wait to get my hands on this rig. If and when I do, I will offer my thoughts on the new camera.

Hasselblad-H6DH6D-100c-1600x1120H6D-50c-1600x1120H6D-touchscreenH6-Above-Pack-White

  • Equipment Review: The Hasselblad H5D 50c WiFi » Michael Clark Photography - […] « Winter 2016 NewsletterThe Hasselblad H5D 50C WiFi vs. The Phase One XF IQ350 » […]

  • Tony Bonanno - Wow Michael, had no idea about how bad the Phase One AF was. AF is VERY important and add the price differential, it is a no-brainer.. Thanks for the very comprehensive review.

    Tony Bonanno

  • Doug - So I’ve been shooting h5x and credo 40 for about a year and a half, and while k have never shot a cmos back, I agree on all fronts wth what you’ve written. I previously had an older h1 and the af on that was awful – true focus works amazingly well, and I’m probably in the range you are with focus 75-80%. The market for used lenses was a huge factor for me, as I own four lenses but bought zero new.

  • Tony Bonanno - Michael,

    Any chance the Phase One could have been defective ??

    Tony

  • Michael Clark - Tony – I am pretty sure it was fine. Several other photographers have said the AF on the XF was pretty useless.

  • Don McPhee - Michael, Good review. You had commented about sync speeds on the XF and stated the 35LS sync speed was found to sync only to1/100. Is that correct? My 35 LS is actually in, just need to pay for it and I find that info surprising.
    I use Broncolor RFS 2.1 remotes and they have a very fast transmit time and I easily sync to 1/1600 on the Schneider 55,80 & 110LS with no issue at all. I have also used Profoto ( built in transmitter )with no issues. Phase from what I understand is working on additional Profoto features on the menu, “Fast mode” is one of them I understand which speeds up the transmitter “transmit time” to take full advantage of 1/1600 sync speed. Pocket Wizard transmitters must be set to TX only and receivers must be set to HSR mode in order to work properly with HSS. Have you received any other correspondence from other pros regarding A/F or lack of A/f accuracy?

    Don

  • Michael Clark - Don – Thanks. I look forward to hearing your experiences with the new lenses and the flash sync speeds. To clarify, the lenses that were in questions with eh 1/1600th sec flash sync speed were the new larger “blue line” lenses.

    As for feedback on the Phase One XF’s AF abilities, as I stated in the article everyone using the XF that I talked to before posting the review considered the AF extremely poor on the XF. There is a health conversation going on in the Forum’s on Luminous-Landscape and GetDPI about this review and comparison. Some say the AF is great and serves them well others say they have had quite a few issues with it.

  • Tom Cunningham - Interesting stuff! I moved from Hasselblad to a Phase One XF last December. I ordered the 80MP CCD back, but by the time it shipped the 100MP CMOS back was also available, so I paid a discounted upgrade price and went for broke! My old H3D II was getting on for eight years old, and whilst still amazingly good, had started showing signs of wear. On top of that my fighting lens, the 35-90 locked up when the internal focus ring failed. It came back after $1500 holiday but still wasn’t right – soft on the righthand side. This was one of the reasons I chose the XF – Schneider-Kreuznach. I understand they’re optically comparable with Hasselblad’s, but I just felt the build quality was a bit better. With the Phase One XF and back it’s been so far, so good. I haven’t experienced any issues with autofocus. It’s probably done 30 or so shoots with no lock up. Yes, it’s a bit heavy handheld!! I shoot a hell of a lot of stuff on a tripod or high hat with the mirror up, so love the time delay options and seismograph. I’d developed a knack with the H3D of knowing when images were sharp (you couldn’t always tell from the preview!), but with the XF the screen is amazing. There’s also the promise that of this thing fails, they’ll ship a replacement to me – anywhere in the world. To give Phase One their due, the XF is still being developed. Yesterday I was sat reading about the automatic focus stacking capabilities which comes with the latest update, as does time lapse. The Phase will be more expensive than the Hasselblad (all day long) but no one ever pays the published price – inc. me!

  • murray - Wow you really didn’t get on with the XF did you?

    I wrote a review of the XF + IQ350 in July 2015 (on my website) and didn’t experience any of the issues you describe.

    One of the lenses I had was the new blue ring 35mm which I would agree is a substantial piece of glass but I loved using it. I wouldn’t describe it as excessively heavy but the camera body weight has increased because of the inclusion of a glass prism.

    The problems you experienced with the new focusing system are difficult to explain but in the couple of weeks I had the camera focussing was never an issue.

    I used Pocket Wizards with Elinchrom heads in the studio and they fired every time without issue. I also use a Broncolor Move kit and they worked fine on location.

    One of the strengths of the Phase One / Capture One software is Capture Pilot and the ability to push images to an iPad / iPhone directly from the IQ back by using the built in wi-fi transmitter. As you say Capture One Pro is way ahead of Phocus or LR and working tethered with an XF / IQ3 is just so easy.

    There is no doubt that the H5D is an excellent camera and at the price point in December represented excellent value. The handgrip LCD and the LCD on the back are as you say awful and unworthy of the camera. The price reduction in my opinion was probably more about shifting old stock than trying to bring people into MF. Lenses are also currently on offer suggesting that a major overhaul of the product range may be coming on April 7th.

    As I don’t own either I look forward to seeing how Hasselblad respond to the XF system.

  • Frank Ristau - Michael, thanks for the review. Half a year ago I was considering changing my Contax 645 with a Leaf Aptus 7 II-back to a H5D 50c. Comming from Nikon fullfomat I was through with the one AF-point, low ISO and bad display of the CCD-back. At that time the price for the H5 was at € 25K or so. I tried it against the Pentax 645 Z, you have mentioned too. Doing this I found out, that the Z has a very well functioning AF-System, even in low-light-situations and Ricoh advanced the sensor so Hi-ISO above 1000 are no problem at all. The handling and the display are like DSLRs. The only thing which I didn´t like was the flash-sync-time of 1/125. But as you wrote: I can use a fullformat DSLR with highspeed-sync if needed. So I bought a used Z and then several FA 645 Lenses. Now I am having a digital medium-format system, with 35mm, 55mm, 75mm, 120mm macro, 150mm, 200mm, 45-85mm and 80-160mm-lenses and the overall best medium format camera for much less than $ 14.500,00. Even new, the whole system with the newest lenses (25, 35, 90mm) would be less than the H5 without any ore with only one lens. So I think, that it is ridicoulous to pay 20 or 30 or even 40 to 60 grands for camera-systems with almost no AF bad displays and bad ISO. I want more than 70% percent and for sure more than 10% sharp images. I hope you will like your Hassi instead and have a lot of fun with it!

  • Michael Clark - Thanks for the comments Frank. Great info there….good to hear you haven’t had any AF issues. It seems like there is a mix of issues.

  • Vincent - Thanks you so much for this awesome post: this is the review I have been waiting for for a long time. Precise, informative, you cover every aspect for both cameras. Definitely sharing your post with friends photographers! Cheers.

  • Jeffery Salter - How many photographers who own XF cameras told you they had focus problems? You said “everyone” you didn’t call me nor any of my numerous professional colleagues who shoot with the camera.
    You shot with the camera for one day? I would hardly consider that enough time to get use to the camera and learn how to operate it. Why didn’t you ask one of the photographers who own the XF to shoot the alongside you? Are you going to show us the test photos you shot?

  • Michael Clark - Jeffery – As I said in the comparison, those photographers I talked with said they had AF issues. I didn’t say I had talked to every XF owner. Those photographers that I talked to that own an XF live in other States and are working pros so it is tough to get together and borrow their camera while they are traveling non-stop. I won’t be posting comparison images as I did not have both cameras at the same time so I think it is unfair to both cameras to post comparison images of different scenes – aside from the noise test. This is just my experiences and thoughts on the two cameras.

  • 62. ?To MF or not חלק ב׳ – Camera & Photo Technology - […] 5.4.16: השוואה מענינת בין Hasselblad H5D 50C WiFi לבין PhaseOne XF […]

  • Andrew Paquette - I’ve been shooting with the DF+ and a IQ250 back for about a year with LS lenses. The autofocus performance I’ve seen is decent in the sense that it gets close, but it is not perfect often enough that I usually double-check the focus. In practice this means that is spot-on about half of the time, but I don’t like trusting that any given shot is in perfect focus. This is why I try to shoot tethered whenever possible and use AF to get approximate focus. If it proves to be soft in Capture One, I make small MF adjustments until it is perfect. Once this is dealt with, the model can start posing/acting in earnest. It takes several minutes to check this, and it has to be re-checked after every significant shot or if the model moves off their mark. Having said all this, I am used to MF on DSLR cameras (Zeiss on Nikon) so this doesn’t bother me much.
    AP

  • Lawrence - I attended the launch party for the H6D series in NYC. They went to great lengths to specify that the old H lenses cannot be upgraded with the new shutters. They found that they couldn’t manufacture enough shutters to build the new lenses and upgrade all the old ones. The NYC staff had just gotten their hands on the h6D just a few days before the event, so a lot of the information was new to them. I think it would probably be wise to wait to know more before expecting the opportunity to upgrade.

  • Michael Clark - Lawrence – I was told they could by several Hasselblad reps and online directly from Hasselblad. I guess we will see here at some point. It won’t matter to me as I have an H5D and won’t be upgrading anytime soon.

  • Clash of the Titans … | Ottoman•Photography - […] The Hasselblad H5D 50C WiFi vs. The Phase One XF IQ350 […]

h5d-50c_wifi_black2_croppedLast December, after doing some extensive testing of various medium format digital cameras, I decided to purchase the Hasselblad H5D 50c WiFi camera and three lenses. As you might suspect, this wasn’t a snap decision. It was over a year in the making. I started thinking about medium format cameras early in 2015 when I worked with Andrew Eccles, a top-end, world famous portrait photographer and a good friend. In my ever expanding effort to push the limits of photography, I am always looking for new tools to give me an edge. Whether it is new technology from Elinchrom, like their Hi-Sync technology, or more resolution and and a different look, as is the case with this Hasselblad, whatever can give me an edge on the competition is what I am after. Once I started testing out a few different medium format rigs, I was inspired by the images I was seeing and a whole new way of working.

Of course, the gear doesn’t make a photograph. These are just tools. I haven’t given up my Nikons. I am still shooting 80% of everything I create with my Nikon D4 and D810. The Nikon D810 is currently my favorite all around camera for almost any subject–even sports. When it comes to capturing action I need wicked-fast autofocus and for that scenario the Nikons are the best option in my tool bag. The autofocus on the Hasselblad, or any other medium format camera for that matter, is pathetic by comparison. Just as with anything else, you use the right tool for the job.

Initially, when I started looking at medium format digital cameras, I wasn’t considering the Hasselblad. I was looking at the Phase One offerings since they had just come out with the Phase One XF, which is a modern, updated version of the Mamiya 645 cameras the older Phase One’s were modeled after. With touch screens and a squared-off look the XF seemed like the best camera out there in this format. I had used the older Phase One DF+ years ago and was not impressed at all by that camera. The autofocus was pretty much unusable on the DF+. When I test out the Phase One XF, I was underwhelmed by the touch screens and the autofocus seemed even worse than it was on the DF+. By comparison, the Hasselblad H5D seemed more old school in terms of the push button layout but ultimately it was and is a much more usable camera. I’ll get into the details on that statement here later in the review.

Here in this review, I will first discuss why I decided to purchase a medium format digital camera. I realize that will be the biggest question most folks reading this review will have right off the batt. Then I will offer up my thoughts on the H5D 50c WiFi. Last, I will offer up the reasons I chose the H5D over everything else out there. As already noted, no one buys a camera in this price range without testing out the competition. For a comparison of the Hasselblad H5D 50C WiFi and the Phase One XF with the IQ350 back follow this link.

h5d-50c_wifi_white2_comp

Why go with a medium format digital camera?

When I published the Winter 2016 issue of my Newsletter, I mentioned in the opening editorial that I had purchased a Hasselblad H5D. Within hours of sending out that Newsletter, I received a few calls asking why I purchased such an expensive camera and also what it does that my Nikons can’t? I can understand the reaction. I had the same reaction to medium format cameras years ago when I shot with that Phase One DF+ mentioned above. Over the last year, and while testing out medium format cameras there were several factors that made me seriously consider such a camera system.

First, whether you are shooting on medium format film or digital the larger sensor size gives a different look to the images. In part, this is because there is significantly less depth of field with this format than with 35mm DSLR sensors. The larger sensor of a medium format camera creates a more isolating look when shooting portraits or anytime you are using a large aperture. This is not to be understated. Medium format has a certain look that is quite different. I realize that only a small percentage of clients and everyone else will be able to see that difference, but for those that can or even if they can’t, it will make people look at the image just that much longer. I am already working with those clients who are discerning and are looking for the best image quality possible so this new aquisition just adds another tool I can use to keep those clients and find others like them.

Another factor is image quality. My Nikon D810, with it’s 36 MP sensor, already has phenomenal resolution and overall image quality. It uses a 14-bit sensor, which is amazing, but can’t match the 16-bit images produced by both the Hasselblad and Phase One cameras. To understand the difference between 16-bit versus 14-bit sensors requires a bit of math. A 14-bit sensor can record up to 16,384 colors per channel, which means a total of 4.39 x 10(12) possible colors. A 16-bit sensor can record up to 65,536 colors per channel, which comes out to 2.81 x 10(14) possible colors. All that math means a 16-bit sensor can capture 64 times as many colors as a 14-bit sensor. That is a huge difference. In terms of the final image, a 16-bit sensor shows many more subtle tones than an image captured with a 14-bit sensor. And this is especially noticeable with portraiture, which is why pretty much all of the top portrait photographers work with medium format digital cameras.

The new CMOS sensor in the H5D 50C WiFi (and also in the Phase One IQ350 and Pentax 645Z) offers unparalleled low noise at high ISOs. In my testing the Hasselblad H5D 50C has the best low noise of any medium format camera. In fact, ISO 6400 on the H5D 50C had similar amounts of noise as my Nikon D810 at ISO 800, which is just amazing. That makes the H5D 50C incredibly versatile when shooting handheld without a tripod in less than ideal light. I don’t hesitate to crank up the ISO on the Hasselblad. I found that the H5D 50C WiFi had significantly less noise than the Phase One IQ350. Strangely, they use the same sensor but with the IQ350 I wouldn’t shoot with it at anything above ISO 1600 whereas with the Hasselblad I find that ISO 6400 is phenomenal.

Aside from the look of the image file and the extra color information, working with a medium format camera also slows you down quite a bit. It forces you to be more intentional and thoughtful when shooting with such a large camera, and because of this it often results in higher quality images. Many medium format shooters work tethered to a computer all the time. As an adventure photographer this isn’t always possible for me but when I can shoot tethered with the Hasselblad I will. Even if I can’t shoot tethered the WiFi capabilities of the H5D 50c WiFi mean that I can use an iPad or my iPhone to check exposure and focus in the field.

On the technical side, the Hasselblad also allows me to sync strobes at shutter speeds up to 1/800th second, which allows me to darken the background considerably when shooting outdoors. It also means I can use less light output (less Watt/Seconds) to get the same effect as I would with my 35mm DSLRs. Note that with the Hasselblad when syncing the flash at 1/800th second I am not using High Speed Sync, Hypersync or Hi-Sync techniques. I am using the entire burst of flash, which makes this a more powerful option in many ways than using Hi-Sync or High Speed Sync.

mclark_H5D_1215_0150v2

Lastly, there are the lenses. When you see a digital medium format image shot with an extreme depth of field (as shown above), you’ll notice that the image is tack sharp from corner to corner. With the Hasselblad lenses, the corners are very nearly as sharp as the center of the image. This is a massive difference from 35mm lenses, which are amazingly good these days but still no match for a top-end Hasselblad or Schneider medium format lens. Even the best of the best 35mm lenses, like the Zeiss Otus lenses, are no match for medium format glass. As in the image above, the corners of this landscape image are crazy sharp. This image was shot with the Hasselblad HCD 28mm lens.

Summing up, combining the shallow depth of field, the incredible image quality, the low noise at high ISOs with the new CMOS sensor (at 50 MP), the amazing lens options, the flash sync options and how it forces you to work in a different manner all adds up to whole different ball game. These are the main reasons I purchased the Hasselblad because it allows me to take my work to the next level in terms of image quality and it also opens up doors to images I couldn’t produce with any other system.

Does your camera inspire you?

There is another reason I purchased the Hasselblad H5D setup, and that is the inspiration it provides. I know this may sound a bit strange, but every time I have shot with a medium format camera throughout my career, they have inspired me to work harder to create more interesting images. That doesn’t mean I am not inspired to create amazing images with my Nikons, but that inspiration is more a matter of hard work to further my career. There is something about pulling out this camera that makes me feel like a fine craftsman using top-end tools to create art rather than just images. Perhaps it is because I forked over a boat load of cash to acquire this setup. I do know that there is a little voice jumping up and down in the back of my head telling me I better get my ass out there and create something special with this camera or it will be a financial catastrophe.

mclark_gear_1008_024

This feeling of being inspired by a Hasselblad is no different than when I owned the Hasselblad 503CW, pictured above. I loved that camera. In fact, other than my old Nikon F3, it is the only camera I have sold that I wish I still owned. There is something about owning a finely tuned instrument with which to do your job or ply your craft. I am not the only one waxing poetically about Hasselblad and medium format cameras right now, if you are itching to read more on how medium format can impact your images check out Ming Thein’s recent blog post, The Switch. As I said above, I am not switching cameras systems by any means. It doesn’t make sense for my work. I have just added another tool to the camera bag that will work in certain genres like for portraiture, lifestyle, landscape and some action scenarios.

Thoughts on the H5D 50C WiFi

Without a doubt the H5D is a beautifully crafted camera. When you pick it up everything about it oozes high-quality craftsmanship. This thing is pretty much a sculpted chunk of metal. Even the lenses are encased in a metal barrel and have modern looking rubber focusing collars. It is a solid feeling camera, and a hefty one at that, but such is the case with medium format cameras in general. About the only thing that looks a bit old school is the LCD on the digital back.

I will also say that when you pull this thing out on an assignment, there is a certain reaction you get. Most people are fascinated by the size and bulk of the camera because it is so much different than anything they have ever seen. The camera makes an impression. While that may be hard to quantify, this effect is not to be understated. Of course, if you can’t make amazing images with the camera then all of that becomes moot. I will say that the images shown here in this blog post are nothing special. I have only had the camera a month and have not had a lot of opportunities to shoot with it just yet and the best images I have shot with it so far are under embargo by the client. Stay tuned for more images from the Hasselblad.

The rubberized camera grip, which also doubles as the battery, is perfectly sculpted and feels comfortable in the hand. I love that there is a ledge for the top of your forefinger to rest against on the upper front part of the grip. This ledge helps to form a secure grip on the camera. I have added a Peak Designs “Clutch” hand strap to the camera, which makes the grip even more secure. I found the H5D to be the most ergonomic and comfortable medium format camera that I tested.

I realize that the H5D is a bit long in the tooth since it was introduced about two years ago. This has allowed Hasselblad to figure out a lot of the issues with the camera so that it is now robust and reliable. The H series Hasselblad cameras have been around for a long time, and they have been greatly refined with every iteration. Having shot a with a few of the prior generations, including the H3D, the H5D feels more solidly built and better thought out than any previous model that I have used.

I realize that 50 MP is not the wildly high resolution that it used to be since the Nikon D810, Sony A7rII and the Canon 5DSr came along. Nevertheless, 50 MP is still a huge amount of resolution and is more than enough for any assignment. I would be very surprised if Hasselblad didn’t release an H6D using the new 100 MP CMOS Sony sensor within the next 6 months or so, but with that said, I don’t feel like I will be missing out. Sure, 100 MP sounds great but that sensor will not have the same low noise at high ISOs like this 50 MP CMOS sensor and along with 100 MP comes even more issues when trying to get sharp images because that sensor is twice as sensitive to camera shake. All that is to say that I will be plenty happy with the H5D 50C WiFi for quite some time to come.

The autofocus on the H5D is also far better and more accurate than any other system I have tried out. That doesn’t mean it is crazy fast but it is faster and more accurate than the competition. There is only one focus point in the center of the frame–as is the case with every medium format digital camera. Hence, if you want the subject off center you have to focus and recompose. The problem with the focus and recompose technique, especially when using large apertures with medium format cameras, is that the focus distance to your original point of focus actually changes slightly when you recompose, which results in missing the focus where you want it to be. As in the diagrams below if you focus on the eye then recompose, the subjects ears be in focus but the eyes won’t because the actual distance has changed. Anyone who has ever shot with an 85mm f/1.2 or f/1.4 lens wide open on a DSLR has had to deal with this same issue.

hasselblad_truefocus_diagrams

As shown above, the True Focus technology built into the H5D body works quite well and helps us overcome the focus issues associated with the focus and recompose technique. The True Focus system works by using a yaw rate sensor and an Absolute Position Lock (APL) processor in the camera, which is able to correct for the vertical and horizontal focus shift as a result of recomposing a camera. Basically, the True Focus system recalculates the focus as you move the camera up or down or side to side to accurately adjust the point of focus selected before recomposing. In practice, it works extremely well, even when shooting wide open with a lens like the HC 100mm f/2.2. As discussed above, because medium format has even less depth of field than a 35mm DSLR, having extremely accurate autofocus is a huge deal. This factor alone might be the biggest consideration when purchasing a medium format camera. When I tested out the Phase One XF, I got only 7 images out 200 in focus using that cameras Honeybee autofocus system. With the Hasselblad I have a much higher percentage of in-focus images, up at around 80%. Usually if the image is out of focus, it’s pilot error.

[Side note: I only had one afternoon with the Phase One XF and only shot around 200 images with it. Because I had a limited time with it I didn’t test out all of the autofocus options. There may be better ways to set up that camera that would allow it to focus more accurately. I am reporting here my experience with that camera. If you have found it to be quite accurate please add a note to this review. I am not trying to bash the Phase One XF. It is a gorgeous camera. I just found the H5D to be a better fit for the way I work.]

The H5D 50C WiFi has incredible image quality. At 50 MP and with a 16-bit sensor there are very few cameras that match up to the image quality delivered by the 50 MP CMOS sensor built into this camera. In fact, I found the Phase One IQ350 image quality to be a step down from the H5D 50C in my testing. The H5D had less noise at all ISO settings and seemed sharper straight out of the camera. Of course the brand new Phase One IQ100 back, which is the first 100 MP digital camera, has more resolution than any other camera on the market and is the only digital back that can outperform the Hasselblad 50C WiFi back. As I said above, I am sure Hasselblad will be closing that gap shortly.

mclark_H5D_1215_0475wredAbove is the full image and below is a cropped section (shown in red in the image above) of the image at 100% magnification. This image was shot handheld at ISO 3200! In the image below it is very difficult to see much, if any noise. I shot this image at 1/800th second at f/11 with a Hasselblad HCD 35-90mm f/3.5-4.5 lens. That lens is wicked sharp but it is also a huge lens that is a like a boat anchor hanging off the front of the camera, which is why I shot at 1/800th second.

100%_crop

A huge part of why I went with the H5D was that I preferred the buttons and dials over the touch interface of the Phase One XF. I found that having a button to push was much easier to use and allowed me to change settings on the top of the camera without having to take my eye away from the viewfinder. On the Phase One XF, I found that I was inadvertently changing settings on the touch interface without even knowing it, which became rather annoying quickly. I also found that I ended up changing settings on the XF that I didn’t intend to because my finger was bigger than the icon on the touch sensitive screen.

With medium format cameras, a fast frame rate is anything more than one frame per second. The H5D 50C WiFi is no speed demon in this department. It can only shoot at 1.5 fps. That is faster than quite a number of other medium format rigs but not fast enough for motor driving along while shooting sports. Hence, how sensitive and responsive the shutter release is becomes that much more important. I found that the shutter release on the H5D had very little lag time and I could trigger the camera at just the right instant. As an adventure sports photographer that is a key feature for those times when I get one shot as the athlete passes through the frame.

H-system

As shown above, the Hasselblad system includes a wide variety of lenses and accessories. Hasselblad has the widest array of lenses of any of the medium format camera systems – though if you include some of the older Mamiya lenses then Phase One has a few longer autofocus lenses than the Hasselblad system. With lenses ranging from 24mm to 300mm, Hasselblad has a lot of lenses to choose from and because the H series lenses have been around for ten years or more, there are a lot of these available in the used market. Often the used lenses are half price, which makes adding lenses to your kit quite affordable compared to other medium format options. When I bought the H5D 50c WiFi body, I also purchased the HCD 24mm f/4.8, the HC 100mm f/2.2 and the HC 150mm f/3.2 lenses. I thought I would start out with these three lenses and then build the system from there. I am going to test out the 300mm f/4.5 and the 50-110mm f/3.5-4.5 next and then decide on those lenses after having used them for a while. On that same note, it is very easy to rent Hasselblad lenses, which is not the case with a lot of other medium format systems like Phase One or Pentax. One can also use any of the V series Hasselblad lenses, which have been made for 40-plus years now, on the H5D with the addition of the CF Lens Adapter. This opens up a few extra focal lengths like the Zeiss 30mm f/3.5 Fisheye lens and the Zeiss 350mm f/5.6. There is also the Tilt Shift Adapter and the 1.7X Teleconverter that offer even more options. All of this adds up to a very versatile system.

While there is a lot to love about the H5D there are several antiquated features that could definitely see an upgrade. The LCD on the back of the camera, as shown below (left), is ancient compared to just about any LCD you’ve seen on any other camera. It is useable for most functions but only barely so. The menu access on the digital back is rudimentary but functional. By comparison, the Phase One backs have a much better user interface and LCD. I am certain the H6D will update this feature. The LCD on the top of the grip, as shown below (right), works just fine but the text and icons are a bit pixelated.

hasselblad-h5d-back-top-comp

In use, the LCD on the 50C WiFi digital back is usable in Live View and you can tell when the image is in focus if you use Live View to manually focus the lens. The LCD displays the images with a lot of contrast so the LCD is not the place to judge the tones in the image. There is also a feature where you can push a button and it zooms into 100% on the point where you focused originally (if True Focus was used). This allows you to see if the image is in focus. Using this feature I can generally tell if the image is in focus or not but for situations where I really need to know I will use the WIFi connection and check the focus on my  iPhone or iPad. Of course, if you can shoot tethered to a computer, then that is the best option for making sure the image is dialed in. The LCD can also display the Histogram. I have found the autoexposure to be erratic at best. But with this level of camera I am taking my time and dialing in the exposure using both the Histogram and a handheld light meter.

While the longest shutter speed is a respectable 34 minutes, the shortest shutter speed is only 1/800th second. I’d love to see a 1/4000th second shutter speed that works with a shutter curtain (as with the Phase One XF) but since the shutter is built into the lens this isn’t an option for now on the Hasselblad. So far, I have not found the 1/800th second shutter speed to be limiting. For fast moving sports, this is the absolute minimum shutter speed I would use to stop action. Also, because the shutter is built into the lens and closes like an aperture, it offers slightly more stopping power than a curtain shutter. The key word there is slightly.

Syncing strobes at shutter speeds up to 1/800th second is more complicated than you may have realized. Most wireless transmitters, like the PocketWizard, etc. can only go up to 1/250th sec without some serious tweaking. Luckily, Elinchrom, Profoto and Broncolor all have their own transmitters that can sync with the Hasselblad H5D at up to 1/800th second. The new Elinchrom Skyport Plus HS, when set to SPEED mode, can sync with Elinchrom strobes up to 1/800th second without any issues. For this to work well you need to use strobes that have a shorter flash duration than 1/800th second, like the Elinchrom Ranger RX Speed AS power pack and the Action heads or the ELB400 and the Action heads. Speaking of flashes, there is also a built-in, pop-up flash on top of the H5D’s viewfinder. That seems fairly odd to me for a camera of this caliber. I don’t see myself using that ever.

I want to mention the WiFi capabilities of the H5D 50C here as well. Setting up the WiFi connection is incredibly easy. To turn on this feature simply enable it on the digital back and then go into your iPhone’s wireless settings and choose the Hasselblad WiFi. Once it is set up the Hasselblad Focus App will show all of the images that are on the card in the camera and you can browse them simply by swiping as you would any other photos normally. You can zoom in to check sharpness and even rank the images in the App. In my limited testing so far, it works incredibly well and it is a feature I will use often, even when shooting alone.

I could go on and on discussing all of the various features of the H5D, but the in the end all that matters is what I can produce with it. At this point, as I mentioned earlier, a good chunk of the images I could show in this review are still under embargo. There will certainly be more to come on that front. I love working with this camera and every time I pull it out of the bag I am inspired to create something special. Stay tuned for more images.

Reasons for going with H5D 50c:

In summing up, I will cover the main reasons I decided on the H5D 50C WiFi over everything else out there at the moment. When I purchased the camera the Phase One XF IQ100 was not announced yet, though I don’t think that would have changed my mind. There were a combination of factors that helped me make a decision, which are covered below.

    • It can actually focus accurately. This is perhaps the #1 biggest reason I love the Hasselblad. Purchasing a $30,000 digital camera that can’t autofocus is like buying a Ferrari that doesn’t have a steering wheel.
    • Faster and more accurate focusing than Phase One XF.
    • In my testing, it has slightly better image quality than the Phase One IQ350.
    • It is more reliable and won’t need to be sent back to Hasselblad for repairs two to three times a year. I spoke with a number of Phase One owners who said that they have already had to ship their XF back to Phase One to be repaired. None of the Hasselblad owners said they had ever had to ship the camera back for repairs.
    • The shutter release is responsive so you can catch the decisive moment. By comparison, when I tested the Phase One XF its shutter release felt mushy and there was a noticeable delay. I am not sure if that was an issue with how it was setup but it was a serious issue.
    • Hasselblad has a slightly wider selection of lenses.
    • There are tons of used Hasselblad H series lenses on the market and many are available for one-third or half the cost of the new lenses. This allows me to build up my kit without going broke, especially since Hasselblad HC lenses (aside from the 80mm) range from $4,500 up to $9,000 apiece.
    • I prefer the Hasselblad lenses over the Schneider lenses – they are smaller and have a nicer finish.

H5D

 

  • One Lens in particular, the Hasselblad HC 100mm f/2.2 medium telephoto lens (as shown above), caught my eye and had me drooling. On the H5D 50C WiFi this lens is the equivalent of an 80mm f/1.0 or so in 35mm DSLR terms. It is ridiculously sharp and a perfect portrait lens. It is also the fastest medium format lens available, which makes it unique. This lens, as well as the sweet 24mm f/4.8 landscape lens that I bought with the system were two that helped seal the deal.
  • The Hasselblad 3FR raw images have full support in Lightroom, which means I can continue to use it as home base for my digital workflow. Also, since Lightroom is a key part of the look and feel of my images this is a huge deal and means my digital workflow won’t have to change.
  • The image quality at high ISOs is mind-blowing. Better than anything else I have seen anywhere near 50 MP, including the Phase One IQ350.
  • The H5D works flawlessly with my flashes and with the Elinchrom Skyport Plus HS.
  • The WiFi feature built-in to the H5D 50C WiFi a is a great asset for jobs where the art director wants to see what is coming in. I can hand them an iPad on location and they can see everything I am shooting wirelessly. This feature is also great for when I want to check sharpness and see more detail in an image on my iPhone. I wish my Nikons had this feature.
  • The camera has great ergonomics and the grip is much nicer than any other medium format camera I have worked with.
  • The camera is more useable without taking your eye away from the viewfinder than any other medium format digital camera I have used. I don’t accidentally change settings while shooting with the camera.
  • The mirror stays up when you put it up.
  • There are several places that rent Hasselblad H series lenses so getting an exotic lens to shoot with for a specific assignment isn’t that difficult.
  • The full H5D 50C WiFi camera, back and a kit including five lenses ended up costing around $30,000 USD. For a similar kit from Phase One, it would have cost around $70,840 USD.

In the end, it was an easy decision to figure out which camera worked best for me and which made the most sense to purchase. The bigger issue was whether or not I should purchase a medium format digital camera or just stick with my Nikons. Only time will tell on that question. But, with such a huge investment you can be sure that I am going to put this Hasselblad to work and get seriously creative with it to make sure it pays off. Speaking of paying it off, getting access to a variety of medium format cameras to test them out is a huge process on it’s own. I’ll finish up this review detailing that process.

The Purchasing Process

I have to say that Hasselblad impressed me quite a bit when I asked to test out the H5D 50C WiFi in December. I initially contacted Samy’s Camera and they connected me with a Hasselblad rep who agreed to send me the camera and two lenses to test out for five days free of charge. Hasselblad even covered shipping both ways. By comparison, to test out the Phase One XF, I had to drive six hours to Denver and only got to test it out for an afternoon. Kudos to Hasselblad for their generous testing policy. I really got to know the camera during those five days and had enough time to shoot with it to know if it would work for me or not. Below is a shot of the test camera with the incredible 35-90mm f/3.5-4.5 zoom lens on it.

IMG_1508

Another big factor in my decision to go with the Hasselblad, aside from all of the points listed in the last section, was that in December Hasselblad was having a huge sale on the camera body and also on their lenses. The H5D 50C WiFi camera body normally goes for $28,500 USD. On the morning I went to test out the Phase One XF and the IQ350 back, I got an email from Hasselblad announcing that the H5D 50C WiFi was on sale for $14,500 through the end of December. Of course, $14.5K is still a lot of money, but since I was considering a $42,000 camera, which was the price of the Phase One rig at that time, $14.5K seemed like a bargain. In the end, the price of the Phase One didn’t matter because I found that the H5D was a much better camera for my needs.

My thanks to Jim Chaconas at Samy’s Camera for all of his help in this process and also to Angela Buckley, a fellow photographer, who spoke extremely openly and honestly about her experiences working with Hasselblad. Samy’s Camera is one of the only vendors I know of in the USA that sells both the Hasselblad and Phase One systems so they were my first call. Jim was also great to work with, extremely knowledgeable and understands photographers needs. He also understands that the jump to medium format digital is a gargantuan purchase for most photographers. He guided me through the process with ease and even held back a camera for me while I got my payment in order.

I also have to thank the Hasselblad reps Matthew Frary and Greg King, who were very helpful. They were never pushy or over the top trying to sell me on the Hasselblad system. By providing the 5-day loaner they gave me the time to figure out if the camera would work for me or not. They were also only a phone call away if I needed help getting it set up or dealing with any issues.

For more information on the Hasselblad H5D 50C WiFi and the Hasselblad lens line up visit their website at www.hasselblad.com.

  • Sean - Rad. Stoked to see you made the switch. MF is still king. Great lens choices and it’s nice to see that the Skyport works without issue.

    Looking forward to seeing what you produce with this setup.

  • Ming Thein - Welcome to the club 🙂

  • Michael Clark - Thanks! I enjoyed reading your blog posts about your experiences with the Hasselblad. Congrats on becoming a Hasselblad Ambassador!

  • Michael Clark - Thanks! I enjoyed reading your blog posts about your experiences with the Hasselblad. Congrats on becoming a Hasselblad Ambassador!

  • Domenico Rota - I agree, using this camera since it’s introducition without a problem or issues, before with first 50c I found a bug and Hasselblad send me a new camera in exchange!
    It’s heavy, cumbersome and slow, but if IQ is important for You there’s Nothing best in the 50Mpixel reign.

  • The Hasselblad H5D 50C WiFi vs. The Phase One XF IQ350 » Michael Clark Photography - […] camera systems before making any decisions. You can see my review of the H5D 50c WiFi right here on the blog. I realize there are a very small number of people out there that shoot with either of […]

  • PHOTOGRAPHER MagazineHasselblad VS Phase One - PHOTOGRAPHER Magazine - […] camera systems before making any decisions. You can see my review of the H5D 50c WiFi right here on the blog. I realize there are a very small number of people out there that shoot with either of […]

winter_2016_smThe Winter 2016 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 my latest travels and purchasing a new Hasselblad medium format digital camera system, a review of the G-Tech G-Dock ev, an article detailing an assignment for Elinchrom last fall shooting BMX, an editorial entitled “Standing Out,” and much more.

The Michael Clark Photography Newsletter goes out to over 6,000 thousand photo editors, photographers and photo enthusiasts around the world. You can download the Winter 2016 issue on my website at:

http://www.michaelclarkphoto.com/files/winter_2016.pdf

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