Photoessay: People of Penang, with the Hasselblad X1D

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I’ve spent the last week producing some material for Hasselblad with a pair of preproduction X1D prototypes; I’ve teased the results of that in this post and the full content is in final production right now. In the meantime, I wanted to share some images from that shoot and thoughts on use of the X1D for street photography/ documentary. The portrait samples go up first because I’ve received quite a lot of mail asking about a) bokeh; b) available light performance; c) people.

Additional X1D coverage can be found here: announcement, first shooting impressions, teaser

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Even though the X1Ds I was using were preproduction models with the expected glitches and bugs, there is no question in my mind that the concept is sound and image quality is top notch. Concerns over the EVF and refresh rates etc. given the state of live view on the H5/6 are completely unfounded. The EVF was detailed enough, smooth/fast enough not to really give it too much thought. Image quality is as far as I can tell identical to the H5/6 – this again is not surprising given the X1D shares the same electronics as the H6D. Battery life was better than expected, though three batteries for a very full day of shooting with a bit left in the tank is about what I was averaging.

The big difference between this and ‘conventional’ MF is that it’s a very low profile, stealthy camera: I don’t attract anywhere near as much attention as I normally do, and often my subjects weren’t aware I was shooting until I’d gotten several shots and was trying to move for a different angle. I got a lot less suspicion (not quite hostility, I guess), too – though we can’t rule out the location. At any rate, I was only asked if I shot for the media once – instead of the usual three or four times. But being able to fit the entire day’s kit into one very small pouch is really liberating – the lack of fatigue really makes me miss shooting with the smaller formats. (I can’t say the same of my videography team, who were the mules this time…)

In any case: it’s early days for the X1D; I’m told the next firmware update will significantly improve performance. But I think the images say enough – it’s already shaping up to be a formidable tool for its size…MT

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Ultraprints from this series are available on request here


More info on Hasselblad cameras and lenses can be found here.


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  1. Scott Root says:

    Will the H1D accept SD UHS-II cards for transfer rates up to or exceeding 200mb/s?

  2. Beautiful pictures, and beautiful optics!
    Now if Hasselblad could make something like APO-Lanthar 125mm f/2.5 or APO-Macro-Summarit-S 120mm, longer portrait lens with close focusing ability… 120mm f/4? With eye-detect AF that would be a dream machine.

    • Dr. Scott Root says:

      Do you know if any third party company is considering the manufacturing of Leica S to Hasselblad X1d adapters that enable the use of the leaf shutter versions of S series lenses?

  3. Ming, thanks for your wonderful coverage as usual. Your pictures look phenomenal. I have a complicated question that probably can’t be answered simply. In terms of image quality, how do you think the Hasselblad X1D-50C would compare to the Sony A7R-II with Otus lenses. If you had to choose just one and were being paid for image quality, what would you choose and why? (sorry to put you in a difficult spot)

  4. As to the comment on making faster f/stop lenses for the Hasselblad X1D, I hope they make slower lenses. I want the physical size as small and light as possible. Less is more, when your hiking or just walking around. I see the whole idea of this camera is to make it as portable as possible and therefore fun to use. This camera is an exciting development! It reminds me of my lovable old SWC film camera, which is a gem.

    With wide angle lenses, starting with 90 degree angle of view, I would prefer manual focus, with distance scales on the lens, for hyper-focus settings. This would not only make them more useful but smaller as well. The extreme depth of field on super wide lenses do not warrant auto focus, in my book!

    My wish list for lenses, in equivalent 35mm focal lengths are > 20mm f/4.5; 90mm f/4; macro 180mm f/4. < approximates OK.
    (The 45mm, = to 35mm, Hasselbladblad already makes.) Then I'll buy.

    Obviously there is an optimum point of f/stop and physical size for these X lenses and seems Hasselblad has done that with two available lenses. Although I still find them overly large, compared to the size of the body. your blog is excellent as are your photos.

    May I suggest a dedicated site for updates on the X1D. Then we wouldn’t have to scroll all the way back to this site and the original ‘first look’ site, to keep up! Your comprehensive evaluations are important, besides being well written.

    Thanks again and keep up the good work.

    • The 90 they also make – it’s f3.2, which isn’t far off f4.

      Hyperlocal doesn’t work with that level of resolution. You still need AF out much further than you think you do, or you’re simply leaving resolution on the table and largely defeating the point of MF entirely. Size is a function of both optics, and the stuff that has to go inside – the leaf shutters themselves aren’t small in diameter.

      Sorry, but I don’t have time to maintain another site just for one product and a few people. Remember that this site itself is not supported or paid for by ads or sponsorship, which means that everything I do is on my own time and budget. The manufacturer does that already.

  5. Scott Root says:

    This Hasselblad X1D looks tempting, but the yet-to-be released adapters dissuades use of H series lenses on the X1D. The 45/3.5 is most likely a steller performer, but it is 35/2.8 35mm format equivalent which is quite slow for isolating subjects. The make or break factor for me considering investing in the X1D is whether or not Hasselblad will come out with faster native lenses for the system. Do you have insider insight into Hasselblad’s plans for at least 3.0 or 2.5 lenses for the X1D?

    Dr. Scott Root

    • I would be speculating as much as the next person. All I know is they’ve also got a 30mm planned for Photokina; my guess would be the leaf shutter is the absolute limiting factor – that said, the 100/2.2 has a 1/2000s leaf shutter also, with at least a 46mm nominal diameter. Realistically, to design a short back focus, fast, high quality lens is going to put you up against laws of physics that are going to require some serious size – which defeats the point of a small body.

  6. snapshoticon says:

    Very nice photos

  7. Thank you Ming – my X1D is on pre-order in part due to your excellent coverage. I was wondering how you found using the Leica Q alongside the X1D and how it may have complemented (or not) the X1D? Do you find the X1D as intuitive and fun to use as the Q? I had the Q and regrettably sold it to help pay for a Pentax 645Z (which I recently sold due to size/weight and to save up for the X1D).

    Now I am back to using my Sony A7RII kit and while the file quality is very good it is absolutely no fun to shoot with, especially compared to the Q. My thought is to go to a X1D kit and have the Q when I want to go smaller or wider. I am not a pro (and don’t need to have a wide variety of lenses – I usually shoot in the 24-50mm range), although I do sell my work and often print big (usually up to 40″ x 60″) so the file quality of the X1D would be appreciated. Thanks for your thoughts!

    • My X1Ds have gone back to the mothership – they were very early hardware prototypes. The Q hasn’t been touched in nearly six months. I’m doing all of my shooting with the H5D these days…

  8. John Giolas says:

    So…. What is the timeline of your X1D and H6 coverage?

    • When I have had enough time to use FINAL production hardware and firmware, which I don’t have yet. The X1Ds I was using were very early betas, and have gone back – I am told final hardware will be different. My H6D is the same, and lacks some things later demo units have. There is no point in reviewing something that isn’t representative, and repeated asking can’t and won’t change that. It will be done when a) I have hardware, and b) I have time. Reviews are not and have never been my priority. I can review only what I actually use and I have to use something before I can review it!

      • John Giolas says:

        Got it. Thanks Ming. I’m thinking about trading in my H5D for an H6D, and already have an X1D on order. I know, I know, I just barely got the H5, but… the H6D fixes some of the very issues I’d love to have improved on the H5D. All this is pending some review experience from those I trust, you chief among them. Did you have a pre-production 100MP? I’m conflicted as to whether to stick with the 50, or go all the way to 100. I love the files from the 50C, and really don’t want to fix what isn’t broken. Unless, that is, the 100MP represents real substantive improvement.

        • What does the H5 not do for you that you think the H6 will fix? There are no preproduction 100MPs, I’m using a -50.

          • John Giolas says:

            Little things that add up. High-res back screen for critical focus. SD card in addition to the C-fast. Faster shutter speed (with most of my lenses). Etc… Do I sense some skepticism? Is it your thinking that the H6D doesn’t represent a big enough upgrade to justify the move? Perhaps I should just stick with the X1D and the H5D?

            • I’m thinking that the things that bother you must really bother you because it’s another 12-13k to fix those things…and most of them are fixed with the X1D, too.

              • John Giolas says:

                Well, it is difficult to justify the upgrade using your value equation. But perhaps your most compelling point is the X1D addresses these same issues, and would also provide a nice second body to the H5D. The X1D would also be usable as a walk-around and even a travel camera. I’m currently traveling with the H5D (along with a smaller rig, too), and, while I’m glad I brought it, bringing it along was no small thing (literally). BTW, the Billingham 445 is the perfect travel bag for the H5D, a couple lenses, a laptop, filters, charger, and some other supporting kit. Love it. Perhaps it does make more sense (as much as any of this makes sense) to exercise some patience and wait for the prices on the H6 to come down, when the differential isn’t so great between it and the H5.

  9. Hiroshi S says:

    Lovely pictures Ming! I have a technical question regarding the X1D. I think you somewhere stated that the old V lenses could be used on the X1D by combining the existing H-V and H-X adaptors. Yet, in a getdpi forum contribution a reader (chrismuc) reported from a Hasselblad presentation that “there is no way to use Hasselblad V lenses even with the V-H plus H-X adapter (this means no way to trigger the leaf shutter in the V lens by the camera)”.
    Do you have any further insight on this?

    • Thanks Hiroshi. I was told that it should work: the V-H adaptor has no mechanical connection between H body and adaptor, so the triggering mechanism is contained within the adaptor itself – which does have a trigger and cocking mechanism to fire the V shutter. Since the H and X lens mounts use the same pin configuration and electronic protocol, and the H-X adaptor is basically an extension tube with electronic contacts – I don’t see why it won’t work…

      • Unfortunately that combination of adapters will still set us back $2000 and that in turn will give us pause as to why we didn’t just buy the CFV-50c when it was $10000 US (now back to $15,000 US).

        • Surprising – there must be some still available at the old price. Try the UK 🙂

          • It’s actually $15,500! I guess Hasselblad needs as many of those sensors as possible so they’ll slow the rate of CFV-50c sales. Not sure I want to pay the duty on buying from an overseas store. I’ll just be patient and see if the price goes down again.

  10. Hi Ming, thanks for your comprehensive reviews.

    You mentioned that AF will be in the future also working beyond the central focus point. However, there doesn’t seem to be a “joystick” like for example on the Leica SL. Could you please share how one will be able to direct the AF point ?


    • Easy. There’s a touch screen…

      • Even while using the EVF ? If you are working through the EVF in 100% mode it is quiet convenient to be able to direct the AF point around with a button. Or how would you suggest doing it when looking through the EVF ?

        • It remains to be seen how exactly they implement this – but either using the LCD as a touch pad like other cameras (D5500, Pen F, GM5, GX8 etc.) would work quite well, or using the dials.

          • If they could do it with the press of a Fn button and it allows to scroll sideways with front dial and up/down with back might be a good solution. Then press on Fn to revert back to existing controls on dials…..would that be better than touch pad? Coming from a rangefinder for the past 4 years I just focus recompose now anyway.

            • Seems like unnecessary pressing to me, and forces your finger away from the shutter since there’s no other way to move the front dial. I find that the touchpad method actually works pretty well in practice providing they tune the sensitivity right…

              • Mmm… does it have a touch pad? I just re-looked at it and does not seem to be one!

                • It has a touch screen.

                  • Obviously I have not used an X1D though that seems to me like a haptics killer for street photography. I’d just focus recompose I would think. I imagine if the joystick is what you are after the possible new Fuji MF might be a better option. Same sensor most “rumours” are pointing towards.

                    • I really find the rumours disingenuous. Why not start a rumour about an eventual 500MP camera, because somebody someday might make it? It seems to take away from the actual point of photography: i.e. making images – and focuses solely on chasing unicorns.

                    • Sorry Ming but is directed at me the last comment? I’m not sure what its a reference to?

                    • WordPress has lost the chain, it seems. It should have gone under your comment about rumoured Fuji MF.

                    • Ahh…ok! Yes there enough of them it’s become its own sector in the photography world. All part of the expectation of immediacy!

                    • I’m actually in a very happy place now where the hardware does what I want it to, I know it’s pretty much as good as it’s going to get, and I can just get on with the serious business of making pictures. That said, I was told to expect a H6-100 in the near future… 🙂

  11. Spectacular set of Photos, truly artistic !!!

    I was wondering how good is a lens like the 90mm compare to the Otus 55mm
    I love to use the Zeiss with the 5Dsr and I am doubting if i shall not get the same kind of drawing style from the Hasselblad


    • Thanks. The lens doesn’t have the same depth of field or drawing style – remember focal length and aperture are very different – but I have no doubt it comes pretty close to the 85 otus…

  12. Rosa Michaels says:

    Sometimes it is the camera 🙂
    Nicely done , sir .

  13. Richard P. says:

    Hi Ming, fantastic set of everyday life. I love the colours and tones – very nice. The focus is sharp and bokeh is pleasing. Look forward to more!
    Cheers Richard P.

  14. Stuart Foster says:

    Outstanding set, Ming. I’ve been a fan of yours for several years now and I think I’m right in saying that you are continuing to hit new heights in your art. Very nicely done and very inspirational. Thanks for posting!

  15. John Chiefari says:

    Hi Ming, love the photos and appreciate your insights. I am not sure I’d you mentioned this before, but are these images straight OOC jpegs or have you worked your magic from RAW?

  16. Ming, is there auto ISO on the camera with an ability to set a minimum shutter speed? If not, any sense whether this will be coming on future firmware?

  17. Isabelle May says:

    Very nice photos, you capture the beauty of everyday life marvellously!

  18. And given the firmware version, these are all focus and recompose with the single, central AF point, correct?

  19. Ming, are these shots generally stopped down or shot wide open?

    • Mix of both.

    • Ming, two more questions:

      1) as a street camera during the day, assuming it’s next to impossible to shoot wide open due to the 1/2000 minimum shutter speed. Would minimal depth of field generally require an ND filter?

      2) as a street camera at night, do the smaller maximum apertures require you to boost ISOs to a level that is uncomfortable for image quality? Assuming that you’d need about 2.5 stops better ISO performance to match a 135 format camera working with lens at f/1.4, assuming the same shutter speed.

      Basically trying to understand if it’s a flexible enough tool shooting envelope-wise to essentially give you an EVF-style, somewhat slower medium format M/A7 experience.

      • 1) I didn’t hit the limit as much as I might’ve thought, and f4 or f5.6 is usually enough to get around it – even in the tropics. No, didn’t need an ND filter in practice.
        2) Yes and no; depends on steadiness of your hands and comfortable threshold for IQ. I didn’t find I needed to go beyond 3200 much. IQ is better than the 35FF cameras, and yes, it’s like a slower M experience more than an A7 experience – nowhere near as button-driven and the UI is refreshingly absent of unnecessary confusion (unlike the A7).

  20. I like your photography very much! Thumbs up!!

  21. jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Even from those few shots, Ming, it seems clear that this camera heralds the opening of a new age of photography.

    • Thanks – but I’m curious, what makes you think so? I could have made the same with the H5, admittedly with a bit less stealth and more backache, but the IQ, composition and rendering would be the same…

      • Bit as you yourself mention, your subject’s attitudes toward you may mot be the same. Relative portability and inconspicuousness are important.

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        It’s not just the back ache and the stealth, though. That’s part of it, Ming. The other part of it is that this camera seems to have provided you with something you’ve been searching for.
        Eg – you said recently in another post that you don’t find as much to shoot in your own town. That’s a familiar phenomenon – most of us let tourists take shots of OUR town, while we go to theirs to take our photos. Partly that’s “familiarity breeding contempt” – partly it’s because we need to open our eyes more. This cam will help with that.
        You also mentioned in another post that you were searching for something else. With my limited imagination, I couldn’t think what on earth could better the photos you normally take – perhaps that’s a reflection on my skill set, but this isn’t about me – what I did see in these photos is a “different” Ming Thein, taking photos I hadn’t seen on your blogs before. They reminded me of a scene I saw once, about 30 years ago, in Hong Kong – a scene which I “shot” with the camera in my mind’s eye, but one that I deliberately chose not to shoot with my cam, even though it was on the table in front of me. In some ways I’ve always been sorry that I chose not to take it, but in my opinion it would not have been appropriate to do it. I was reminded of that scene by a number of the shots you posted on this article – not (I hasten to add !!) suggesting you’ve invaded someone’s space the way that “photo” of mine would have, but because you’ve captured so perfectly in shot after shot a similar atmosphere.
        Your professional work commands a different type of photo. But you seem to be enjoying using this cam to capture a fresh range of image, and it’s most impressive.

        • Could be, but Penang isn’t my own town – I visit at least once a year, but it’s a very different part of Malaysia compared to Kuala Lumpur.

          As for the similar atmosphere – the curation helps, too. 🙂

          Bottom line: whilst the right tool is a good enabler, as it was in this case, I’d like to think that compositionally and artistically it’s something I’d have done with the H or V (or Q or any other alphabet…) because that’s gear independent…

          • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

            I was thinking that you could take photos of that genre in KL just as easily – I’ve had enough trips there to be able to think of things like the places that still make traditional batik – markets – HEAPS of places in and around KL, where it’s easy to find similar subjects. But few people in fact “do” their own local habitat – we all seem to leave it for the tourists to do, instead.
            While you can take similar photos with practically anything – maybe not, a Daguerreotype might be a bit too slow (even collodion wetplates might be – LOL) – but you described how the X1D overcame one of the great issues for street photographer, because it doesn’t scare off the people in the scene and I felt you were saying it in contrast with the other ‘Blads in your collection.

            • No, it’s not the same – I’ve looked. The attitude and the actual work is different, and somehow translates in the images.

              Curiously, I found the V series don’t scare off people either – I think they enjoy the vintage curiosity. Perhaps the same might be true of a wooden 4×5 or the aforementioned Daguerrotype… 🙂

  22. Tchiwas says:

    It is a very long set, and I think it just shows how good you are at observing and interacting with people and capturing decisive moments and slices of lives and putting them in great compositions with a strong aesthetic sense. I can hear the traffic, the folding machine and the pontoon cracking under my steps, I can smell the incense burning, the night market and the ocean, I can imagine the days of the rattan guy, the dust in the printer’s workshop, the pace of the place, the heat…
    This is the power of photography, the talent of a great photographer and what I aspire to reproduce when I go out shooting. I think this series is fantastic.

    • Thanks Francois – this kind of photography is no more than an observation and documentary of daily life, and perhaps no less, either – a way to bring somebody else into a little scene which they might not otherwise have gotten to experience 🙂

  23. The IQ of the X1T is superb! A pitty that I will never be able to afford one…but also a huge compliment to you for composition and finding those wonderful motives 👏👏👏

  24. Much shutter lag Ming or too early to say?

    • Too early to say, I think. There should be zero lag with the MQ/ electronic front curtain mode, but it’s not implemented yet. Right now the leaf shutter has to close and then open again before the exposure can start.

  25. Got my first taste of medium format with a Mamiya C330 I picked up, had it CLA’d with a couple of lenses here in Cali while vacationing away from Guam. Had the film developed and scanned, I like the square ratio and the mamiya lenses has pretty good bokeh. From your experience, and been doing research on this, if a medium format lens is f/2.8, it has an equivalent Depth of Field of F/1.4 on 35mm full frame? I know that 80mm is about 50mm on full frame 35mm, BUT I been hearing that digital Medium Format is a big smaller than regular 120 film? so the f/2.8 is more of like a f/1.8 on 35mm full frame, I hope im making sense! Thanks!

    • No, equivalency doesn’t work that way. Actual DOF – what is critically in focus beyond the circle of confusion – is dependent on resolution of the recording medium and decreases for a given FL and aperture as resolving power increases. This is because the in focus to out of focus transition isn’t binary; it’s a gradual thing. With regard to FF vs 35mm, it’s the same thing: actual critical DOF depends on the sensor/film, and the transition between in and out of focus – to a given degree of blur, if you will – happens over a much smaller change in focus distance with a longer lens than a shorter one. This is what you’re seeing with MF vs 35mm.

      • Yes I understand, Thanks Ming for taking the time and always replying to my comment and others 🙂 really appreciate it.

  26. Roger Wojahn says:

    Mind blowing set, Ming! Which lenses were most in use? This is the first time I’ve thought about switching into this kit. Very inspirational and intriguing.

    • There are only two at this point – the H-X adaptor wasn’t ready – the 90mm and 45mm, with the 90mm just working better for me. Odd because I liked 50mm a lot on the H5, which is a pretty close FOV to 45…

  27. Jonathan Bush says:

    Beautiful images Ming. The sharpness is certainly there, but the colors/tones and out-of-focus areas are what draw me in. Thanks.

  28. The sharpness! And bokeh looks beautiful also! It seems to me that some of the images look a bit more saturated than usual (mainly skin tones/reds), is this intentional/post-processing? Or is it the camera/lenses defaults? Colours look so vibrant! As usual, great photos, thanks for sharing!

    • Saturation: possibly because I was processing on my laptop instead of the usual monitor, possibly because the sun was pretty intense (leading to higher actual contrast and higher perceptual saturation to some degree).

  29. These are beautiful images/portraits. Their sharpness is breathtaking. Congratulations on such excellent job well done.

  30. Outstanding work, Ming! Thanks for sharing the reality side of using the X1D. Looks like a game changer. For what it does, the size and weight alone for me is a game changer.

  31. richard majchrzak says:

    I like Penang (Indian food ,Chinese food , mmmhh )and I like your shots.


  1. […] Photoessay: People of Penang, with the Hasselblad X1D […]

  2. […] People of Penang, with the Hasselblad X1D […]

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