The Hasselblad H6D is here, and I spent an entire day shooting with it before it ships. I’m not here to tell you about all the fancy specifications and impressive numbers the camera boasts. Instead, I’ll be detailing exactly how well I thought the camera performed in real life scenarios. I won’t do much comparing to the older H5D, or to any other popular DSLR’s on the market right now. I’m going to lay out what was good and bad about the camera in different applications, with as little bias as I can.
Check out the BTS video (Be sure to turn on HD), and my final thoughts below!
First, lets touch on the camera itself as a unit. It’s big. That won’t come as any surprise to a seasoned medium format shooter though. The camera felt significant in my hands, however it did not fatigue me. When I handed it to assistants or others on set, they carried it with a lot of careful attention, cautious not to drop it and make the most expensive mistake of their lives. But you shouldn’t feel afraid of holding this camera. I felt great carrying it around. The grip is solid, and even carrying it by a lens body felt right. Shooting in landscape orientation felt most comfortable, while tilting it sideways to shoot portraits did feel a bit cumbersome. Hasselblad’s button layout is terribly easy to get a hang of. I’ve never had any issues finding things on older models, and the H6D is no different. Every button, dial and scroll wheel is exactly where you’d want it, and the new touch screen is a welcome addition. In summary, the camera feels great. It’s intuitive, weighty but not fatiguing, and you really do feel like a badass welding it.
I put the camera through its paces using several different lighting setups. I didn’t want to shoot anything standard and boring though. No on-white product shots or static headshots. We all know this camera would perform well under those stresses.
Backlighting: I did two backlit setups with the camera. One with a parabolic umbrella with a CTB gel inside it as the backlight, and another with a large scrim diffusing natural light as a backlight. I wasn’t surprised one way or another with the results. The camera rendered the highlights well, the images were sharp as hell. Even with the natural light backlight it didn’t hunt for focus too much. We’ll touch on autofocus a little later. While it didn’t hunt for focus, I do have some complaints in that department.
Harsh natural light: I took the camera outside around noon to see how it would do with really harsh, bad light. Here’s where I was surprised. The dynamic range of this camera is unreal. I was hardly able to get a frame with lost detail in the highlights. Skin tones look natural and have plenty of detail you can resolve in post. For me, I think this is one of the most impressive features of this camera. I don’t shoot much natural light, but with this camera, I might. The files look spectacular, and you’re given so much grace from the sensor.
Low light: I did a number of indoor portraits with no strobe. The ISO performance of the H6D is massively improved over older models. Medium format isn’t known for its capability in low light but the H6D made me feel very comfortable shooting in low light. I could go up to 800 ISO without much issue. Above that, with some noise reduction you’d probably be ok too.
In all other situations, the camera handled incredibly well. The detail you get from this sensor is absolutely nuts. All of my files give me so much freedom for editing. I’m able to do things with these files that a DSLR simply cannot deliver. In short, there is almost no lighting situation that this camera can’t handle. It’s truly impressive.
So what about the cons? Well, there are plenty, to be sure. First and foremost, the autofocus was a huge let down. When the camera grabbed focus, it was sharp as hell. But the problem was finding focus. Like I said before, it didn’t hunt for focus much, but you only get one autofocus point. So you have to select your focus, and then reframe your image. The problem here is two-fold. Firstly, not only do you only have one focus point, but the selection point is huge in the viewfinder. The square you’re given to select focus covers a fairly large area. You might be selecting someones eye, but accidentally focus on their nose because both the nose and eye fit within that not-so-little square. Secondly, reframing is much less forgiving than on a DSLR, especially at low apertures. The depth of field is so shallow at some apertures/focal lengths that by just reframing ever so slightly, you could completely miss focus. There were other times when the camera simply missed for no apparent reason at all. The camera is supposed to beep when you lock focus, but I found that it didn’t always do that. The shutter release button is also pretty sensitive, so I found myself snapping off shots I didn’t mean to take, while I was trying to grab focus. This was almost never an issue when shooting higher than f5.6. I was so impressed by how capable the sensor was in natural light, but unfortunately the AF system couldn’t deliver the same impressive results in those situations where I was shooting at f3.5 or f4.
The next area I’d like to touch on is the display. Its sharp and vivid and bright and beautiful. But thats actually a huge issue. The images I was looking at on screen looked perfectly exposed, but when I imported them later they were a whole stop underexposed. This can be easily fixed by tethering, or metering, of course. But it’s still worth noting that what you see is not what you get with the display on the camera. Also worth noting, the images on the display looked very warm, and had a pretty noticeable green-shift. I can’t recommend using this camera without tethering.
Speaking of tethering, it seems like Hasselblad hasn’t quite perfected tethering. We had several big issues getting the computer to recognize the camera, and stay tethered. I’m still not 100% sure if this is a hardware or a software issue, but I have never used a medium format system that performs well tethered, regardless of the software I’m using. Every once in a while my DSLR will lose its tether to Capture One, but with medium format it’s something you ALWAYS have to keep an eye on, which slows your shoot down and can cripple you on set.
Some other things to take into account that aren’t cons, but are worth noting: The files are gigantic, duh. About 50mb each on the 50c sensor. The camera also takes SD and CFast, but not traditional CF cards, so don’t plan on using older CF’s.
Final Thoughts: I am wildly impressed by this camera system, but still somehow unsatisfied. That seems to be my experience with Hasselblad and other medium format systems in general, actually. There’s so many benefits to using a medium format system, but the user experience just isn’t there yet. There’s tethering issues, on camera screen performance issues, and a huge gap in auto focus performance between this system and a DSLR setup. That said, this camera is still a workhorse, and will make a lot of photographers very happy. Shooters who are able to take their time and slow down their sets will love this camera. Photographers who need ridiculous resolution and unparalleled sharpness will love this camera. So basically, anyone who currently uses a medium format camera system will love this camera. It is absolutely a huge improvement on the previous generation. The touch screen and user interface was a big upgrade. The low light performance was another huge upgrade. If you’re thinking of switching from a DSLR, make sure you keep your DSLR. You will find plenty of situations where the H6D simply doesn’t cut it. It’s not a run and gun camera. It’s not for off the hip shooters. I will definitely consider renting this camera in the future. There’s bound to be shoots where that much resolution will come in handy for me. But as a day to day camera? I’ll stick to what I’ve got.