Friday, October 1, 2010

Hasselblad H3DII-31: My take (a subjective review)

Old campaign poster from the release of the H3D-31 back in early 2007. Hasselblad launched the H3DII in September 2007

I take offense when people think they can differentiate between my images that are shot with the D3 and my images that are shot with the H3D? Why? Because it implies that there's something about the quality of these images that is intrinsically related to the camera and not the processing. Yes, I'm being hyper-sensitive :)

But I can't even tell which of my pictures were shot with the D3 or the H3D! I have to reference the EXIF data or my Lr organization.

The biggest difference is that I don't use the H3D to shoot tight crops of the face. Know why? Because I can't. The HC-80mm f/2.8 acts like a 50mm in 35mm format and distorts the face when I get close enough for a tight crop. That's why I'm looking to acquire a HC-210mm. So anytime you see a tight crop of the face (as of now), you can safely say I shot that with the D3.

But that's it. That's all you get! :)

What then IS the difference between the H3D and the D3?

Well, that depends on whether or not you want a story or do you want to hear the truth?

The grass is always greener on the other side. Before I got the H3D, I thought acquiring the camera would create drastic differences in my photography. Has it? Not that I know of! Here's the side-by-side comparison when I demo'd the H3D prior to purchase from my
original post:

I had to look twice and think twice before I could definitively say which was the H3D. The one on the right was from the H3D. You know how I deduced that? There's are a few large dust bunnies on the middle left of the frame. I remember exclaiming how dirty the sensor was LOL! :)

I work with both files regularly now. From both the D3 and the H3D. You really have to examine them before you notice that the H3D holds highlights better, provides better shadow detail, and smoother gradients. In fact the D3 does just fine for midrange detail. I switch between the two and usually don't notice any differences other than the color cast that each provides.

Will the 35mm dSLRs catch digital MF? Unlikely. Physical limitations such as resolving power of glass and number of photosites you can squeeze onto a 35mm will preclude it from ever being "better" as far as image quality is concerned. I see the gap closing a little but never bridged between 35mm and MF. While sensor technology is constantly improving I think the biggest the improvements are in the algorithms responsible for interpreting and converting analog-to-digital data (read: software).

Where does 35mm have the upper-hand? Usability. 35mm functionality is light-years ahead of MF. Low-light? 35mm dSLRs can now shoot ISO102,400. Auto-focus? Canon's USM and Nikon's AF-S have been kings for years now. Number of focusing points? How about 51 for the Nikon D3 and 1 for the Hasselblad H3D. Battery life? I can shoot thousands of frames on the D3 probably 2 full days without even thinking about charging. With the H3D I carry 2 batteries at all times and worry that each battery won't last a single shoot. Screen visibility? The D3 has an almost 1MP screen where the H3D has a pitiful 230,400 pixel screen that has to buffer slowly when viewing zoomed in. What does this mean? It means 3 people hovering over the camera trying to make small talk in order to break the awkward silence while the Hasselblad is taking its sweet time to zoom in.

35mm dSLRs are just fast. Faster in every respect. Everything is just fast. Shooting, writing, viewing, focusing, handling... bam, bam, bam.

The H3D is like a 18-wheeler. Slow in every respect but when you see one heading your way, you nothing but respect for the kind of damage that thing can do. Smooth gradients from 16-bit files. Magnificent sharpness and detail (no anti-aliasing filter). Again, fantastic dynamic range allows holding highlights and providing more shadow detail. All of this equals more flexibility (or greater margin for error LOL!).

The files are massive. They open up as 180MB TIFF files in Photoshop. The file size also forced me to purchase a 32GB Sandisk Extreme CompactFlash card for faster downloads and greater shooting capacity. The native 6x4.5 aspect ratio (3:4) is more comfortable than the 35mm dSLR (3:2) aspect ratio. The technically retouch better because of greater bit depth and are less prone to banding and posterization though honestly I haven't seen any difference in comparison with the D3 files. I think Photoshop plays an equalizing role here because it does a great job at "filling in the blanks" when the histogram gets spotty.

Then there's are the abstract and intangible differences when you shoot the H3D. It's visibly not the same. It's the camera Testino shoots Vogue covers with (though Mario uses a Phase back last time I checked!). It's the only camera that's been to the moon. There's a stigma to the name and it's not Phamiya. People in the know, they know.

So how do I like it? I suppose I like it a lot!


  1. You bake cakes for a living.

    Sometimes you use the $4000 oven, other times you use the $20,000 oven.

    Nobody who tastes you cakes can ever tell the difference.

    Why did you buy the $20,000 oven?

  2. To see if the grass was truly greener on the other side... ;)

  3. Barrington, should I ever admit that sometimes I find rats in my batter??? :)