Monday, June 21, 2010

What's going on with the Hasselblad?

Kaley H3DII-31 1/180th, f/4.0 ISO100 80mm lit with a reflector from camera right

It's been quite the journey with the H3DII-31. Without getting into specifics, after playing with the Mamiya 645AFDII with film back, I began researching medium-format digital.

The choice was pretty clear to me. Hasselblad has a line of cameras that sync at 1/800th with the leaf shutter lenses available. The second most important thing? The Hasselblad name.

There were other reasons for choosing Hasselblad and some against choosing Hasselblad but I'll save the specifics for an interview. The most important thing has been getting used to the new system coming from shooting my Nikon D3. For the most part, there's nothing remarkable to report. It's a reasonably well-thought-out system that doesn't really interfere with my style of shooting except for the following:

1) It has 1 focus point in the middle of the frame.

Being used to 51 focus points (and still wishing I had more focus points in the extremes parts of the Nikone D3 frame), makes me afraid to focus-recompose when shooting the H3DII-31. Fortunately with enough depth of field, that isn't a huge issue but it still makes me leery when I'm shooting that I won't get a tack sharp image.

2) Hasselblad RAW files (.3FR) won't import into Lightroom as .FFF (with Hasselblad adjustments).

The Hasselblad's .3FR file is created at camera capture. Upon importing into your computer, Hasselblad's proprietary software Phocus (a Lightroom competitor) converts the .3FR file into an .FFF file. The benefit of this is that Phocus reads the Hasselblad metadata and applies certain "adjustments" automatically (such as noise removal, lens correction, etc.), that typically make the image better. Well, this isn't available when importing .3FR files straight into Lr (which only recently became possible to do). In fact, to my knowledge there's no way to export the Hasselblad .FFF with these proprietary adjustments.

For the most part, the H3DII-31 doesn't really feel a whole lot different than my Nikon D3. After a few shoots I'm rather comfortable with it and simply forget that it's a Hasselblad. It does a good job "getting out of my way" as Ken Rockwell would say. I notice I take less frames though, likely due to the slower frame rate, write speed/review speed on camera, and of course my unfamiliarity with the system. I think within a couple more shoots I'll be extremely comfortable with the H3DII system.

As far as the results, I've grown accustomed to looking at 31MP files. It's taxing on my MacBook Pro 6.2 but that's what external drives are for. I much appreciate being able to zoom in for extreme detail at 100%. I'll never tire of looking at the sharpness and clarity of the 31MP image. Not having an anti-aliasing filter is a real treat. So far no moiré issues (knock on wood).

Upon disassembling the camera for dust-blowing purposes, I noticed there was a scratch on the sensor. The camera was purchased from Calumet as a demo unit (used) so it's perfectly possible that upon assembling the back onto the body, someone misaligned the parts and scratched the sensor. Fortunately it neither appears severe nor appears in images. I'm hoping that it's just the glass surface of the sensor that is scratched and can be fixed. As I type this I have already sent my digital back to Hasselblad USA for repair.

In the meantime, I'm shooting with another 31MP back. Calumet has been nice enough to loan me their Los Angeles demo unit's 31MP back as a substitute for the time being. So far, aside from a mini-glitch (where the images recorded as all white), the loaner digital back is playing nicely with my H3DII body. Although the replacement 31MP back has not been factory calibrated for my particular H3DII body, the sharpness is still amazing. There are several hot pixels on this digital back as well but nothing that can't be removed in Photoshop.

I suppose it's obvious but I'm really enjoying my time with the H3DII-31. Being out in the desert yesterday and shooting outdoors at high noon, I was able to shoot what appeared as a black image at 1/800 and f/32 at ISO100. The possibilities for balancing ambient are endless as long as you have enough power to push big light. Reviewing yesterday's images, I shot mostly f/8.0 ISO100 because I was already at full power with the AlienBees B1600. With pack lights I am looking forward to shooting f/11+ ISO100.

Hopefully my experiences remain good with the H3DII-31. I'm really looking forward to pushing the limits of the camera once I achieve a certain comfort level.


  1. Charles,

    I'm really liking the changes you've made to your shooting style. Imperceptibly, I think your shooting style has become more and more intimate as time passes. In comparison to your earlier work on Flickr, I think your recent stuff (past few months) shows a greater level of comfort, ease and confidence with your subjects. Your material was always good, but I think you've hit another threshold.

    Your camera is starting to move in closer to your subjects; you're more playful with your angles and in choosing what to include in the image and what to leave out; and the part of the subject that falls out of the frame also draws the viewer closer to the center of the image. Also, whether of their own volition or through your direction (I suspect it's the latter :), your models are doing more interesting poses.

    Well done. Keep it up!

  2. Thomas, you are a testament to my photography... having guys like you around that can perceive these differences are paramount to my own growth! Thanks for your amazing comments, I dunno how I can entertain a photographer of your own stature long enough to read my BS but I truly appreciate it ;P

  3. Charles,

    You are too kind. I don't know what kind of stature I have since I am comparatively new in the photography business, but I know I have a good eye that's been trained through years of studying paintings and images.

    BS? Hardly :) I always find your posts informative and frank, and it gives others a window into how you create your images. I just call it like I see it :D.

  4. till which maximum size print in cm were you able to enlarge your photo?

  5. That depends on the audience's viewing distance. There are calculators for that online that I've never bothered with :)