H6D-100c and the HCD lenses

It has now been a little more than a month since I received my new Hasselblad H6D-100c and I have got to test it out properly, at least in the field. One of the things I was most curious about was how my lenses performed on this new, physically larger sensor.

Most H-system lenses (denoted HC) were designed for full frame medium-format which corresponds to medium format 120 film. Often called 645, referring to the full size of the film of 6×4.5 cm, the true image area of the film most often is around 42x55mm. Thus, the HC-lenses image circle covers this area and are designed to be sharp in the edges and don’t make too much vignetting even on a sensor this size. However, more recent H-series lenses were made to work optimally for a slightly smaller sensor (37x49mm) that was widely used in the early days of digital medium format. These lenses, (denoted HCD), makes a slightly smaller image-circle than the HC-lenses and are the 24mm, 28mm and the 35-90 zoom. I own, and have grown to be very fond of, the hcd 28 and the hcd 35-90. Little has been known about how these HCD-lenses performed on the new full-frame sensor, and concerns have been raised regarding both sharpness and vignetting.

So, I have now tested my new full-frame H6D-100c with the HCD 28 and the HCD35-90. Basically I am happy with the results. The short message is that the there is no real cut-off of the corners. The vignetting is pretty significant, but easily corrected in both Phocus and Lightroom. Sharpness is good but not excellent in extreme corners, but very good in corners. As a landscape-photographer, the sharpness and vignetting does not represent any problem at all in most real-life situations as long as software profile-correction is used. However, this is just my opinion. You can have a look at the images below and judge for yourself.

All images are taken from a tripod, mirror lock-up, manual focus in live-view. Iso 64. Daylight temperature. Aperture as denoted and shutter-times from approximately 0.5-2 sec. Images are processed in Lightroom, raw-conversion only, no raw-sharpening, no other corrections. Standard lightroom lens-profile correction  where this is noted. Images are not cropped and are all 11600×8700 pixels. Exported as 3000×3000 max quality jpgs with medium output-sharpening for screen. The lightsource is a huge window with slightly overcast daylight from the left. I wish I could have found a scene more evenly lit by daylight, but that is not very easy in Norway this time of year…



HCD 28, f4. Uncorrected. Rather heavy vignetting fully open, but no real cut-off of corners.



HCD 28 f4, profile corrected in Lightroom. Vignetting is well handeled.


HCD 28, f8. Uncorrected. Much less vignetting compared to uncorrected f4.


HCD 28 f8. Profile corrected in Lightroom with an excellent result.


HCD 35-90 @35mm, f 4. Wide open, there is rather heavy vignetting on the zoom without correction.


HCD 35-90 @35mm f4. Same image as above but with Lighrooms profile correction yields almost no trace of vignetting.


HCD 35-90 @ 35mm f8. Uncorrected


HCD 35-90 @35mm f8, profile corrected in Lightroom.


To compare to my HCD zoom, I took this image with my HC 35mm @f8. Uncorrected. Less vignetting compared to the zoom uncorrected, two images up.


HC 35 @ f8, corrected.


2. Sharpness


HCD 28 @f8. 100% crop from extreme upper left corner. Notice how small this area really is by comparing to the two first images. 100mpx is really quite stunning. Profile-corrected but no raw-sharpening was employed.


HCD 35-90 @ 35mm f8. 100% crop of extreme upper left corner. Profile-corrected but no raw-sharpening. Sharpness is compromised in the very extreme corner. As I knew my zoom had a slight issue in the upper left corner used at 35 mm f4-f8 on close distance i made another 100% crop a little bit more centrally in the left corner, see next image.


HCD 35-90 @ 35mm f8. More central left corner. Profile-corrected but no raw-sharpening.


HCD 35-90 @ 35mm f 8. Extreme upper right corner is sharper than extreme upper left at this aperture, but still not perfect.


HC 35mm @ f8. 100% crop of extreme upper left corner using my HC-35mm lens to compare it with the zoom @35mm (see two images up). Sharpness is significantly better in extreme corners with this lens compared to the zoom.


HCD 35-90 @50mm f8. Extreme upper left corner is better @50mm compared to 35mm on this lens.

To summarize, I would say that vignetting is not a significant problem as long as you use profile correction. I have tried out both Phocus and Lightroom. Phocus does a slightly better job, with a little bit more evened-out result after my taste, but nothing that will make me change my standard workflow from Ligthroom. The only concern is on severly underexposed images (more than 2-3 stops) at iso 1600 and upwards, where I have found that the vignette correction may give some slight color noise (not shown here). This is not unexpected at all, but should be known when shooting with these lenses on very high iso. Regarding sharpness, I am happy with the HCD 28, at least from f8 and upwards where I usually shoot (f 11 – 16 is my go-to aperture on these lenses). The sharpness in extreme corners using the HCD 35-90 @35 is somewhat compromised at f8. It is better at longer focal lenghts and good in the not-so-very extreme corners. I know my lens has a slight issue from f8 and wider on close distance of the upper left, but this is very rarely a concern as I mostly shoot landscapes on longer distances and wider apertures.

I have also done some testing using filters, both a regular UV-filter that I use for my Lee 100mm push-on holder and a slim polarizer from Nisi. I will try to process and post these images sometime during next week.

Hope you found this helpful. Let me know if there are any specific tests you want me to do, and I will try to make room for it within a week or two.

Full Frame 35mm or Medium Format?

Yes, both, thank you very much!

Winter shores

An image from my first session with the Hasselblad H5D-50. Postprocessing to get the right colors and tonality in both water and sky was a dream!

First of all, for those of you not familiar with these terms: “full frame” refers to a camera sensor-size corresponding to the 35mm film back in the good old days (24 x 36mm). Medium format refers to the larger size film/sensor (6 x 4,5, 6×6 or 6×7 cm in the days of film now 33 x 44 mm and up sensors), wedging itself between 35mm and large format (8×10 inch etc., film only). Today, there is a number of high quality 35mm full-frame bodies both from Nikon, Canon and Sony. And Pentax is in the pipeline. I currently use full frame Nikon d800e bodies sporting 36 mpx.

However, as a photographer always striving for perfection and that little “extra” I have been struggling with the question in the headline for at least a couple of years now. Larger sensors have basically meant more resolution, bigger pixels and larger dynamic range. Furthermore, all medium format camera makers have amazing lenses, which is paramount for taking advantage of large high-resolution sensors. The depth-of-field is also more shallow on a larger sensor, making focus control somewhat different from standard DSLR’s. However, with todays amazing high-resolution CMOS 35mm full format sensors, the gap up to medium format is closing in with respect to technical quality. And when images are viewed on-screen or as small to medium-sized prints, there is basically no difference in technical quality.  Although I have been extremely happy with my Nikon d800e’s there has been a curiosity “could there be something even better out there”?

The drawbacks of Medium Format systems are obvious for anyone having looked into it. First of all there is the price. A complete medium format system with camera, digital back, viewfinder and a set of lenses will easily set you back more than a decent brand new car would. $ 40 000 will bring you a long way, but maybe not all the way…. Second, medium format systems are very much bigger and heavier than standard DSLR’s. They are (mostly) not as good weather sealed and are in many ways a little more complicated to use. The lenses also have to be bigger and heavier, not only to achieve optimal quality, but simply because they have to make a larger light-cone due to a larger receiver/sensor. And again, the lenses are ridiculously expensive too.

So, this is what I have been considering the last couple of years. A (very) slight, but definitely present increase in technical quality (at least in large prints) at a very high price and different workflow. At the end of last year I decided I had to give medium format a go and see if this was something for me. Would it be expensive? Yes. Would it alter my workflow? Yes. Would it be heavier to carry around? Yes. Would I make technically better images? Maybe. Would I take “better” pictures? Probably not.

What eventually made me go for medium format was not the technical considerations. It was the curiosity for the workflow. To get the little extra out of medium format, I had to be even more meticulous with exposure, focus etc on location, and it would be more demanding in post-processing (especially noise-reduction). I could probably snap away with a medium format system and take the same pictures as I did with my full-frame bodies and achieve the same results. However, if you put some extra work into the capturing and post-processing, there is a potential to lift the quality somewhat and make images sing even louder. E.g there are very few zooms available and working with primes is the norm. I don’t say that is necessary to produce fine images, but it alters the workflow. For me, probably in a positive, slower way. Of course I could have done all this also with my full frame systems, but modern DSLRs are so easy to use…. 🙂

Anyway, I decided to invest in a medium format system. Basically there are 4-5 systems available. There is Phase One, Mamiya Leaf (owned by Phase), Pentax 645, Hasselblad H-system and the Leica S. The Pentax is the outsider here. It comes at a price less than half of the other systems, is very well weather sealed and sports a 33x44mm 50mpx CMOS sensor. The same (Sony-made) sensor can also be found in other systems, but at a higher price. However, CCD-sensors have a particular charm to them and are larger in physical size. Something to consider when judging the assortment of lenses you need (larger sensor means that e.g. a 28 mm is somewhat wider compared to on a smaller sensor). Although less capable in low-light situations, images from CCD-sensors do have a certain quality to them that is hard to define. And I very seldom use ISO above 100… Well, long story short – I decided to go for Hasselblad H5D-50. Due to several reasons, sentimentality being only one. One of the most important considerations was a very serious dealer/service department (Interfoto in Oslo) and short way to Hasselblad’s main facilities (for service etc.) in Gothenburg, Sweden. Also, I felt very much at home with the Hasselblad body. Although having been criticised for lacking some functions (Woha- there is no video!!) I felt that this system had exactly the controls and functions that I wanted and needed, and it was to a large degree customizable to my needs. This is no bells-and whistles camera, it only carries the functions serious professionals need to do their job. Also, it is has a 16-bit color output which sets Hasselblad apart from all other currently available systems. And the lenses are amazing.

The last few weeks I have learned my new Hasselblad system and invested in a few lenses and other accessories. My accountant may disagree, but my personal experience so far is very, very positive. The more laborious way of working has brought me so much joy the last days. Will I keep my Nikons? Definitely. For low light work and long hikes.

If you have any questions or comments regarding DSLR’s vs. medium format, feel free to ask or comment! Have a splendid week!

Dag Ole

Copy 1B8403960

A more than 100% crop of a dark portion of the scene showed in the image on top of the page. After lots of work in postprocessing, a totally crisp and noiseless image is slowly revealed, even when viewed on a very large screen (well, at least in 16 bit TIFF, maybe not the low-res .jpg here :).