Hasselblad is back with a second-generation medium format mirrorless camera. Its first take, the X1D-50c, fell shy of expectations. The second effort, the X1D II 50C ($5,750), offers a lot of improvement, but is still held back by an underpowered battery, slow autofocus, and, at press time, promised features that just aren’t there. It’s an intriguing camera, and may be the right fit for you, but it isn’t as versatile or affordable as GFX models from rival Fujifilm, including the budget-friendly (for medium format) GFX 50R.
Stunning Industrial Design
Hasselbad’s design team knows how to make a camera look great. The X1D II riffs on its predecessor, using the same basic body. It’s a pretty one, with exposed metal, finished in a darker, gunmetal gray this time around. The texture of the leatherette wrap has changed a bit too—the rectangular grid mottling has been dropped, in favor of a more traditional, and understated, pebble texture.
The body measures 3.8 by 5.8 by 4.9 inches (HWD) without a lens, and weighs about 1.7 pounds. Despite including an image sensor with more than twice the surface area of a full-frame (35mm format) model, the X1D II isn’t that much bulkier than most in that class, including the 60MP Sony a7R IV (3.8 by 5.1 by 3.1 inches, 1.5 pounds).
The compact frame certainly makes the X1D more appealing for travel when compared with a bulky medium format SLR like the company’s H6D-50c. The body and lenses include dust and splash protection, so you can use it to make images, even if the weather isn’t perfect.
Control at Your Fingertips
Despite putting an emphasis on looks, there’s little sacrifice in function. The camera feels steady in the hand, with a grip that’s comfortable and solid. The system can feel a little front-heavy if you add a weighty lens, like the unique XCD 80mm f/1.9, but it’s absolutely perfect with a smaller prime, like the ultra-light XCD 45P.
There’s a single control button on the front, positioned so you can reach it with your right hand. By default it activates a depth of field preview, stopping the lens down to the set aperture, so you can get a true preview of your frame in the viewfinder. This button can be reprogrammed.
Also reconfigurable are the two functions on the top plate, AF/MF and ISO/WB. They’re joined by the On/Off button, shutter release, and Mode dial. As with the first edition, the Mode dial can be locked in place by pressing it straight down—it sits nearly flush with the top plate when in the recessed, locked position. And, in a change, the shutter release is now finished in metallic orange, a color that Hasselblad has been using to identify the brand in recent years.
Control wheels sit on both the front and rear of the grip for ready control over shutter speed, aperture, and EV compensation. Two round buttons sit between the rear wheel and EVF; AE-L locks in exposure, so you can recompose a shot without changing the way a scene is metered, and AF-D activates autofocus.
You can split off autofocus to the rear button only, if you prefer. It’s not intuitive, but setting the camera to MF mode will disable the shutter button’s focus function, though AF-D will continue to engage the system.
The remainder of the control buttons are arranged in a column, running alongside the big 3.6-inch rear display. The buttons (Play, Display, Favorite, Delete, and Menu) work in conjunction with the touch interface.
The tile-based menu is completely customizable. You can assign up to nine custom functions on the main screen, giving you quick access to settings you’ll want to adjust with any frequency. For more esoteric options, the rightmost column gives access to the full menu. It’s broken into Photo, Video, and General settings, though the video functions of the camera were not ready during our review period.
The first X1D used an EVF that is, by recent standards, quite dated. It showed good detail, but a choppy readout did more to take you out of the moment than to put you in it. The X1D II’s EVF is massively improved. Its resolution is among best in class (3.6 million dots), its 0.87x magnification rating is also large, and its refresh rate is silky smooth.
The rear LCD is big and sharp, at 3.6 inches, with a 4:3 aspect ratio to match the image sensor, with plenty of resolution (2.4 million dots). It’s not all roses, though. At default brightness the screen is hard to see in bright sunlight; you can make it brighter, which helps, but also cuts into the already short battery life.
Viewing angles are good, though. The screen is fixed, so you’re not able to tilt it out to face up for low-angle shots, but it’s an understandable omission given Hasselblad’s design priorities. The X1D is built to be as sleek as possible, and adding a hinge mechanism for the screen would make it a bit thicker.
Still, I miss the articulation. Fujifilm includes a screen with two axes of articulation with its GFX 50R, and I like being able to get shots from a low angle without having to get down on the ground to peer through the viewfinder.
The X1D also relies on its display as a control surface. Touch support is tightly integrated, and is your only option for navigating through the various menus or selecting a focus point. It’s generally responsive when using menus, but I was disappointed by the focus point selection process when framing shots with the EVF.
The touch pad focus selection function isn’t new—Canon, Panasonic, and others have been using it for years. And while the implementation here isn’t terrible, it’s not seamless. The touchpad was sometimes unresponsive, and the focus point difficult to move with consistency. Too often it would jump erratically from one section of the frame to another.
Compounding the issue, only a portion of the screen can be set active for focus selection—either the right or left half, or any quadrant when breaking the display up into four equal segments. There’s no option to use the entire screen, a downer as it means the camera won’t respond to an attempted adjustment if your finger touches the screen in the wrong area, or strays beyond the confines of the virtual boundary.
Power and Connectivity
The X1D II features dual memory card slots, each supporting UHS-II SDXC media. Other connections include 3.5mm jacks for headphone and microphone and a USB-C port for charging and data transfer.
The camera uses the same battery as the first-generation model. Without question, it’s the weakest link in the X1D II’s proverbial chain. Hasselblad doesn’t publish a CIPA-tested battery rating, but it didn’t do well in our field testing. On a very cold morning I was only able to net 85 exposures on a fully charged battery, during a photo walk that spanned about two hours, with about 15 percent charge left. In warmer weather I did better, with 88 exposures sapping just half the battery over another jaunt, over about four hours, and netted similar results when working in the studio.
I’d expect about 180 exposures per charge, depending on how you use the camera. I left the built-in GPS turned off, and disabled Wi-Fi. If you use both, expect less. You’ll also get less life if you scale back the power-saving features, which are set aggressively by default.
The camera goes to sleep automatically after five seconds of inactivity, cutting the feed to both the rear LCD and EVF. There’s a delay to wake it up, frustrating when you’re trying to capture Cartier-Bresson’s decisive moment. You can set a longer delay—10, 20, or 30 seconds, or 1, 2, or 3 minutes—but doing so will definitely cut into battery life. You can also manually put the camera to sleep at any time with a short press of the power button (a long press shuts it down entirely).
If you’re thinking about buying the X1D II, I’d recommend spare batteries. It’s possible to charge on the go via USB-C, either with a power outlet or USB battery. It also opens up the time-lapse possibilities—the X1D II has a built-in intervalometer.
Hasselblad offers tethering via its desktop app, Phocus, which doubles as a Raw processor. With the X1D II 50C it’s added support for newer iPads as well, via the Phocus Mobile 2 app. You’ll need a high-end tablet, like the 11-inch iPad Pro I used, or the 2019 edition of the iPad Air.
The camera is able to plug right into the iPad, via a USB-C cable, for tethered shooting, as well as image transfer from the memory card. You’re able to activate autofocus, adjust exposure settings, and fire the shutter from your tablet, but you won’t see any sort of live feed from the camera lens. The same is true when connecting to the tablet via Wi-Fi, which is an option.
Image transfer is quick thanks to 802.11ac Wi-Fi—a 50MP Raw image transfers in just about five seconds. Phocus Mobile 2 doubles as a full-featured Raw image processor. You can see the processing options in the short video above.
The body is designed to work in conjunction with Hasselblad’s XCD lens series. These lenses incorporate integral leaf shutters, which are quieter and introduce less vibration into the system when compared with a focal plane shutter, especially one large enough for the X1D II’s medium format sensor.
Some medium format cameras support both shutter types. The Leica S system, with a new model due later this year, can use an in-camera shutter with any lens, and has a line of leaf shutter lenses available for photographers who prefer them. Fujifilm’s GF system doesn’t include native lenses with leaf shutters, but can use Hasselblad H lenses via an adapter.
Hasselblad offers an adapter to use H lenses with the X1D as well, as well as one for vintage V lenses—it will work with V lenses dating back to the 1950s. With the more modern H lenses you’ll maintain leaf shutter support—and if your lens is new enough to support it, autofocus as well.
With V lenses, or with any other type of lens you attach via a third-party adapter—Fotodiox sells several—you’ll rely on the electronic shutter. Unfortunately, the sensor readout is very slow, so even if you’re snapping a shot at a brisk shutter speed, you’ll have to hold the camera perfectly still for about a third of a second to prevent some rather gnarly distortion, as seen in the following image.
This means that, if you’re interested in using the camera with non-native lenses, you’ll need to take some care. Hasselblad recommends you use a tripod at all times, but really, just be careful to keep the camera still for a half-second or so after pressing the shutter. You can forget about fast-moving subjects with the electronic shutter, though.
Thankfully, all of the native XCD lenses include in-lens shutters, capable of exposures as long as 68 minutes and as short as 1/2,000-second. There are currently ten, with focal lengths as wide as 21mm and as long as 135mm. There is one zoom, a 35-75mm, covering a wide to standard angle of view.
I had two lenses at my disposal during my time with the X1D II, both unique in their own way. The XCD 4/45P is the most recent release, and also the most affordable ($1,099) and compact. It balances extremely well on the body, making the kit something I’d feel comfortable using with a wrist strap—though I paired the X1D II with a Peak Design shoulder strap.
Most of the lenses I’ve used from the system have balanced quite well and are light enough for comfortable carry and all-day photography. I won’t make that claim about the XCD 1,9/80, the fastest, and heaviest, lens in the system.
I only had access to a pre-production sample, but the lens offers a wider aperture than most medium format lenses, for an ultra-shallow depth of field. It’s also priced more in line with the rest of the XCD lenses at $4,845. Aside from the 45P, all of the lenses in the system are priced above $2,000, and most are more than $3,000.
Slow to Focus
Medium format photography has, traditionally, been a slower process than working with more nimble 35mm equipment. It’s been true in the digital age for the most part, though we have seen competitors speed up autofocus and startup time to match smaller format cameras. The Fujifilm GFX100, despite packing 100MP of resolution, can keep up with full-frame models in terms of focus speed and power-up time.
The X1D II, however, isn’t nearly as speedy. It’s slow to power on, lock focus, and capture an image. It requires a good 7.9 seconds to do so on average, which is an eternity when trying to make an image. If the camera is simply asleep—and it will be quite often given the aggressive power-saving measures required to eke any decent life out of the battery—the delay is still about two seconds.
Those figures include time to confirm autofocus, so you can get the shot off a little bit quicker if you opt for manual focus. I wasn’t expecting lighting-quick focus performance; the camera uses a rather rudimentary contrast based system, without the benefit for advanced tricks like face and eye detection, or speedy on-sensor phase detection pixels (all of which are available in the pricier GFX100 and the smaller-sensor (but higher resolution) Sony a7R IV).
There’s a consistent 0.7-second delay between pressing the shutter and making an exposure when using autofocus. If you’re a landscape or portrait photographer you’ll still get the shot, but it limits the X1D’s usefulness for more fleeting subjects, documentary and street photography, and other disciplines where capturing a fleeting moment is the goal.
Continuous drive is available. Hasselblad advertises the camera as offering 2.7fps burst capture, but that’s a bit of a fib. It’s only capable of doing so in a special shooting mode, indicated as Mq on the dial, for Manual Quick. Its usefulness is limited, as you’ll need to prefocus and compose an image in another mode before using it—Mq disables the feed to the viewfinder. It’s something most owners will use rarely, if ever.
In Shutter priority capture, with the speed set at 1/500-second, the X1D II fires shots at 1.9fps. It can keep the pace for a decent 14 shots when working in Raw format, but our tests netted fewer when working in JPG (10 exposures) or Raw+JPG (4 exposures). Expect about 20 seconds to clear the buffer after a full burst, though you can keep firing shots, albeit at a slower rate, if needed.
Not the Latest Image Sensor
Hasselblad drastically cut the price of camera this go-round, adjusting the original X1D’s $9,000 cost down to a more reasonable $5,750. But that means it’s not packed to the gills with the latest tech, like the 100MP sensor Fujifilm uses in the $10,000 GFX100.
Instead we get the same 50MP sensor found in the first generation X1D. There’s nothing bad to say about its imaging capabilities, however. It offers a wide sensitivity range, starting at ISO 100 and going all the way up to ISO 25600, with 16-bit Raw file quality, in a 33x44mm form factor, offering nearly twice the surface area of a 35mm full-frame chip.
Images are clean, with excellent detail and little visible grain through ISO 3200 when working in Raw format. There’s some visible noise at ISO 6400 and 12800, but it’s not until you push the camera all the way to 25600 where I’d call the output rough.
New to the X1D II is full-resolution JPG capture. While I’d expect most X1D II owners to opt for Raw, the JPG engine is available if you prefer not to deal with processing software. The JPG output is similar to Raw at lower ISOs, but begins to lose a bit of crispness starting at ISO 800. It’s pretty minor, though, and detail is strong all the way through ISO 3200. At higher settings we see softer edges and fine lines smudging together.
There are more reasons than a little bit crisper output to opt for Raw capture. You’ll have much more control over color and exposure, along with the ability to curb highlights and open up shadows. The files are quite robust.
Still, there are some things lost. The older sensor reads out slowly, making the electronic shutter less than useful for capturing motion. Likewise, 50MP isn’t as staggering a figure as it was a few years ago. Full-frame systems are more competitive across the board—Leica, Nikon, Panasonic, and Sony all offer full-frame mirrorless cameras at 45MP and up.
But your images do look a bit different when working with a larger sensor. Lenses that cover a wide angle of view have longer focal lengths, changing your perspective. The 4:3 aspect ratio also comes into play—you’ll compose shots differently than you would with the full-frame 3:2 ratio. For some photographers, that’s enough reason to choose the X1D II over a 35mm alternative.
Where’s the Video?
The X1D II has a video setting on its mode dial and a placeholder for the function in the menu system, but it’s not available to use yet. The company promises to add it via a firmware update, and has gone as far as to include headphone and microphone jacks on the camera body.
But…don’t buy this camera if you care about video. If you want a high-resolution sensor and pro-grade video to match, the 60MP Sony a7R IV, 47MP Panasonic S1R, and 100MP Fujifilm GFX100 are better bets—all offer extraordinary 4K quality and stabilized image sensors.
Beautiful but Flawed
The X1D II 50C is a sleek, gorgeously built digital camera. It has a striking silhouette, and exposed metal plates set it apart from a bevy of competing cameras that, for the most part, follow the same basic-black motif. And it’s not just jewelry—dust and splash protection add appeal to travel and landscape photographers, and there are plenty of superb XCD lenses available.
But, for as good as the camera and the images it captures look, there are some real performance concerns. The battery life is pretty bad, so you’ll need to carry a few spares, an external power pack, or both if you’re out for a full day of imaging. Power-saving measures are used to extend life, but come at the cost of ready access to the shutter—there’s a delay of more than a second when waking the X1D II from sleep. I spent as much time framing shots as I did waiting for the camera to wake up.
These drawbacks are a downer, and it’s a shame Hasselblad wasn’t able to avoid them. The X1D feels absolutely wonderful in the hands, balancing well with most native lenses, and offers some welcome improvements over the first-generation model, notably a much better viewfinder. You may find the form factor and imaging capabilities to be worth losing out on next-generation autofocus and all-day battery life, but when you’re spending this much on a camera, you shouldn’t have to compromise.
As for alternatives, the Fujifilm GFX 50R is the most similar camera out there, but it’s quite different. The rangefinder-styled medium format mirrorless body is boxier, without nearly as much style, but is speedier and more capable. Fujifilm also has the GFX 50S, the same camera in an SLR form factor, and the high-end GFX100 in its medium format series.
To spend significantly less, you’ll need to step down in sensor size to the 35mm full-frame format. There the Sony a7R IV is our favorite high-resolution model, but you can also look at the Nikon Z 7, the Panasonic S1R, and the Leica SL2 if you’re not a fan of the Sony system.