Back in 2017, I reviewed the original Hasselblad X1D and while I absolutely adored the images that it produced and the design aesthetic of the camera body and menu system, actually using the camera was a slow, plodding, often frustrating experience. It used what was even back then a poor contrast-only autofocus system, had a painfully slow boot time, and terribly slow write speeds to a ghastly UHS-1 SD card. Even with these problems, using the X1D felt like shooting with the future.
Nearly six years later, we now have a camera that lives up to the core dream of that camera. The image quality is, as you might expect, incredible and that is finally bolstered by a shooting experience that lives up to the modern expectations of a digital mirrorless camera.
Don’t get me wrong, there are still a few speedbumps on this medium format road, but they’re not so steep that they slow down my overall positive feelings towards Hasselblad’s new flagship.
Note: The Hasselblad X2D 100C we had access to is a pre-production model, and as such there are features that are subject to change with the final version that ships to customers. As it is pre-production, this is not a full or final review.
Simplified and Streamlined
I think what makes the X2D overall a better experience is Hasselblad’s apparent streamlined focus. This camera doesn’t shoot video, it doesn’t have a ton of ports like all other cameras on the market today, and the experience is very purely about taking single images.
Video on medium format sensors is, at least for now, a mistake, and I actually applaud Hasselblad for not including it on the X2D. Leaving it off feels like a statement: if it’s not going to be used to produce content to the quality expectations of a Hasselblad, it’s not going to be included.
The rest of the camera experience leaves all the things I loved about the original X1D: the camera feels fantastic to hold, the menu is probably my favorite out of any camera system on the market, and the EVF and rear LCD are crystal clear and feel true to life.
Hasselblad included a built-in 1TB SSD and while I can appreciate that, I think if the company could have left it out in exchange for making a cheaper camera, it should have. Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of not needing to remember a CFexpress card, but at this point checking for a memory card is second nature after more than a decade of shooting digital. It’s just not something I’m going to forget.
A full terabyte of storage space is also a ton, and while yes the X2D can fill that faster than other cameras due to the massive file sizes it produces, Hasselblad could have gotten away with half that if including built-in storage was a must-have.
A Modern Shooting Experience
Shooting with the X2D is what I was hoping the X1D was like: fluid, relatively fast, and unimpeded. Basically, while you do have to expect that it runs a bit slower than something like a Sony Alpha or Canon R camera, it operates in a way that meets expectations for a digital camera in 2022 — except it’s doing it with a massive 100-megapixel medium format sensor and leaf shutter lenses.
For those of you unfamiliar with the idea, Hasselblad uses what is called a leaf shutter, and rather than being housed in the camera body, it’s located in the lenses. Maximum shutter speed, therefore, is determined by whatever lens you have attached. Two of the three new XCD lenses Hasselblad announced along with this camera support up to 1/2000 second shutter speeds, while the last one can go even faster: 1/4000.
Even more impressive, because of how they are designed, leaf shutters can sync with a flash at any shutter speed, widely opening up the options for studio lighting. Imagine what you could do with a flash that was able to fire at maximum power while also syncing with a camera firing at 1/2000 second without relying on high-speed sync. That right there is why Hasselblad is still used by so many high-end studio professionals.
The focusing speed of the X2D 100C isn’t by any means fast, but it’s so much better than where we started with the X1D. Hasselblad says the camera uses a hybrid phase detection and contrast detection system and while I believe them, I think it can be further improved. Even in bright, blazing sunlight I still see the camera racking back and forth to acquire focus, which is certainly much faster thanks to the improved STM motors in the new XCD lenses, but it’s still well below the autofocus expectations set by Sony, Canon, and Nikon. I’m not fully convinced that my sample at least was using phase detection at all.
Despite this, the camera was accurate and fast enough for my purposes and I only needed to stop and really focus the camera on a subject a handful of times during my short time with the camera. I would say it was at least on par with something like a Leica SL2 or a Panasonic S series camera: not going to win any awards, but enough to get the job done.
The in-body image stabilization of this camera is probably the most impressive thing about it. I was able to hand hold shots down to 1/6 a second and still get tack-sharp photos. It wasn’t so long ago that I couldn’t take a blur-free photo with a Canon 5DSR, and yet here we are taking photos twice that size and getting perfect sharpness now.
The battery is rated for 420 photos by CIPA, and since that organization hasn’t been accurate one time since the advent of mirrorless, I fully expect it to last much longer than that. In my time with the camera, I never once was worried about the battery dying on me.
Massive, Gorgeous Photos
As expected, the quality of the photos produced by the X2D are truly gorgeous. The colors look spectacular and while I think they are a bit muted straight out of camera, they take to editing extremely well and I am very satisfied with the results. The dynamic range also feels in line with Hasselblad’s claims, but we’ll get more into that in a full review of the camera in the future when we also do a deeper dive on ISO performance and color depth. Since this is a pre-produciton model, we’ll reserve judgement there for now.
When shooting with the X2D 100C, you need to come into it expecting some serious photo data. Each RAW file is over 200 MB in size and finished JPEGs after editing were anywhere between 33 and 48 megabytes. This is a camera that you are going to take your time with, not only because it’s slower than other cameras on the market right now, but also because you have to consider how much data you’re going to need to store. Editing is also a consideration, and going through my photos was the first time I really felt like I was pushing a fully-loaded Mac Studio with an M1 Ultra in a task that wasn’t video related.
But boy, there is something special about medium format photos. You can say it’s the aspect ratio, the depth of the focus, the bokeh from the unique lenses, or even the size. I think it’s a combination of all these things, plus a bit of the “spirit” of this format that you can’t quite put to words. Even the most mundane subjects just ooze emotion.
I mean, look at this: it’s a water fountain. And yet, it’s beautiful.
Hit and Miss
While I do appreciate a more simplified shooting experience, there do feel like a few things that should have been included at launch. For example, the camera doesn’t have focus peaking. This was a feature that was included with the original X1D so it’s exclusion from a camera two successors and six years later feels particularly notable. It does have a way to see if what you’re pointed at is in ideal focus, similar to what Canon has on its camcorders, but it’s not as good as focus peaking in my opinion.
I mentioned the autofocus isn’t super fast, and that’s made a bit more unweidly by the scant few autofocus control options in this camera. It has a single-point AF system that is either minuscule or small — pick your poison. It would have been nice to see a tall or wide focus area option at least.
On that note, Hasselblad does say it has plans to add multiple autofocus options such as tracking with future firmware updates, but did not provide any concrete timeline of when to expect them and didn’t specifically say if other autofocus areas would come with that update.
Since there is no rear joystick, autofocus location is controlled by looking through the diopter and moving your thumb around on the upper right-hand corner of the rear LCD. The touch controls recognize where you’re moving and the focus point moves around to follow you. It works reasonably well, but those of you with smaller hands will find it difficult to comfortably reach. It wasn’t the easiest for me, for example.
Oh, and the diopter is electronically controlled through the menu instead of via a physical dial. It works, but I would have preferred the analog option.
The lack of ports could be potentially problematic if Hasselblad doesn’t release support for something like a shutter release. At launch, the X2D doesn’t support one and the only way to do remote shutter release is wirelessly via the Phocus Mobile 2 app… which isn’t ready yet. I imagine you could also remote fire the camera by tethering into Phocus with a laptop, but that’s really impractical for shooting situations outside of a studio.
The boot time for the X2D is certainly faster than Hasselblad’s previous cameras, but it’s still not fast: it takes about two seconds for the camera to come online after hitting the power button. That said, the camera is quick, snappy, and responsive once you fire it up, so I tip my hat to Hasselblad for including what appears to be a solid processor.
Practical Medium Format
In 2016, the Hasselblad X1D was fun and exciting, but in the end impractical. It was slow, inaccurate, and expensive. Today with the X2D, we have a camera that is still expensive at $8,200, but actually does a lot to earn that price since it is much faster, a lot more accurate, and far more practical.
There are a few notable things missing from this camera to get it to the point where I would say run out and get one right away (I’m never a fan of buying something hinged on the promises of future updates), but my time with the X2D 100C has shown me that Hasselblad has created a camera that has a legitimate place in the camera market today. I fully expect Hasselblad will add more features to this camera over the next several months and the X2D 100C will be a lot easier to recommend midway through 2023 than it is now.
But even as it is, you have to consider what it brings to the table. While not the only mirrorless medium format body out there, it is the only one that features leaf shutter lenses and combines that with IBIS, decent autofocus, a fast processor, a long-lasting battery, a built-in SSD, and the best menu system on the market.
I understand that medium format is going to come with a lot of limitations, which you get in exchange for incredible image quality. I think that’s probably why I am so forgiving of the X2D 100C.
That is probably why, despite all the little things, I really enjoy using this camera. I think if given the chance, most of you will, too.