Mirrorless medium-format model camera unveiled

By BBC Technology

Swedish camera-maker Hasselblad has unveiled the world’s first mirrorless medium-format model.

By putting a larger-than-normal sensor in a relatively small body, the firm aims to make it easier to take “ultra-high quality” photos than before.

Professionals say the X1D should help them to capture images that feel more filmic, which many clients prefer.

But until prices for the technology fall, medium-format photography may remain a niche activity.

The mirrorless designation refers to the fact that the camera does not use a mirror to bounce light through the viewfinder.

This means its owner does not look through the lens, but must rely instead on a small electronic display built into the viewfinder or a larger touchscreen below.

The “medium format” terminology indicates that the sensor measures 43.8mm by 32.9mm (1.7in by 1.3in). The Sony-made part captures 50 megapixels and is said to be capable of recording a wider range of brightness values than the norm.

That compares to 36mm by 24mm for “full-frame” cameras, and about 23mm by 15mm for APS-C cameras.

The camera costs £7,188 – including VAT – which is more than double the price of Canon’s full-frame 5DS R, which has the same megapixel resolution.

“Medium-format cameras are better at capturing light because their sensors have bigger pixels, which means they won’t produce as much image noise in low light conditions,” explained Jon Devo, retailer Wex Photographic’s blogger.

Autofocus trade-off

“This camera also has 14 stops of dynamic range, which means you will get a lot more detail in the image with better colours – it’s a completely different league from what you would get with a DSLR.

“There have been other digital medium-format cameras, but you weren’t able to wear them around your neck. This could make medium-format photography accessible to a lot more people.”

X1DImage copyrightHASSELBLAD
Image captionThe X1D can capture video as well as photos

Like many mirrorless cameras, the X1D uses a type of autofocus that relies on maximising the amount of contrast in the sensed image.

This tends to be a slower process than the phase-detect autofocus technique used by many DSLRs, which splits the view in two and alters the focus until they come together in order to determine distance to a subject.

That may make the new camera unsuitable for sports photographers, for example, but still appealing to those working in fashion or other situations in which the subject can be posed.

Once focus is attained, the camera can freeze the action at speeds of up to 0.002 of a second.

‘Dreamy images’

The new camera weighs 725g (1.6lb) without a lens attached, which is lighter than many DSLR models including Canon’s 5DS R and Nikon’s 36 megapixel D810.

However, with only 14 compatible Hasselblad lenses at launch, there is considerably less choice than for Canon, Nikon or Sony’s rival systems.

X1DImage copyrightHASSELBLAD
Image captionThe mirrorless nature of the new camera allows its aluminium body to be kept relatively compact

One photographer said the company already had a strong reputation with professionals, but the weight of its previous digital medium-format cameras had discouraged their use outside studios.

“Hasselblad is the closest to film I’ve come on any digital camera I’ve tried,” said Jessica Klingelfuss from Wallpaper magazine, who has had hands-on time with a prototype X1D.

“The colours and tones of light are rendered differently. There’s kind of a creaminess, a softness – things can look more dreamy.

“With normal digital cameras you find they can’t really render red properly, images can seem lacklustre.

“So, the price may sound high, but it’s still more affordable than other Hasselblad cameras, and I think you’ll find semi-professionals and avid amateurs who might buy it.”


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