Hasselblad X2D 100-Megapixel Camera Review

For this video, I tested the brand-new Hasselblad X2D camera extensively on two separate photoshoots. The first is a fashion and beauty shoot, while the second is a studio product photoshoot.

To better understand the performance of this new mirrorless medium format camera, I’ve also used my Hasselblad H6 100 (Hasselblad's current flagship camera) on one of the shoots so we can make some side-by-side comparisons.

The X2D camera sensor

The X2D boasts a 100-megapixel back-illuminated sensor. It’s a Sony sensor, but Hasselblad has invested heavily in research and development, customising and tailoring it to their bespoke natural colour requirements.

On top of that, with the X2D optimised for a broad range of exposure times, they’ve significantly improved noise reduction at higher ISO and for long exposure shots.

F11 focus stack of handbags photoshoot with X2D
F11 focus stack of handbags photoshoot with X2D
Insane detail - a crop from focus stack of handbags X2D test product photoshoot
Insane detail! A crop from the above image

Recording 16-bit RAW image files

This sensor is capable of recording 16-bit RAW image files but with the ability to switch to 14-bit image files with JPG and RAW file options if you require smaller file sizes. 16-bit images will of course deliver the highest quality and largest dynamic range from the RAW file.
X2D 100 Megapixel back-illuminated sensor

X2D 100 Megapixel back-illuminated sensor

X2D 14-bit and 16-bit menu selection

X2D 14-bit and 16-bit menu selection

Focusing system improvements

There have been huge improvements with the focusing system accompanied by a new retro-style lens design for manual focus. Although the X2D is still compatible with the old X1D lenses, these new lenses are very stylish, swift to react, and silent in focusing compared to the old system.
New retro styled lenses for X2D

New retro styled lenses for X2D

Phase detect autofocusing

Phase detect autofocusing is interactive, accurate, and much quicker than the previous X1Dii system. To quickly select your focus point for pin-sharp results, simply drag your finger over the back screen view.

I've been told that Hasselblad even has face recognition with eye tracking in the pipeline for future firmware updates. This function allows the automatic focusing system to lock onto your subject's face or eye, making autofocus a breeze.

However, the main takeaway for me was how accurate the focus point was – if I clicked a focus zone for the model's eye, her eye was pin-sharp. This also made focus decisions on product photography easy to work with.

Phase detect autofocusing

Phase detect autofocusing

Other X2D camera features

Built-in image stabilisation

New with this camera is an impressive seven-stop improvement with a sophisticated 5-axis image stabilisation system. What does that mean?

It means that you can shoot hand-held with much longer shutter speeds than you could without it – for example, in low-light situations such as events, weddings or street photography, the ability to shoot slower shutter speeds hand-held opens up a lot of creative opportunities.

Top view of Hasselblad X2D

Other X2D camera features

Internal solid-state drive and card photo storage

A great feature is the huge 1TB internal solid-state drive with rapid transfer speeds. Ideal for photographers on the go! However, the camera also has a memory card slot that accepts CFexpress cards which can hold up to 512GB.

With a card inserted, the camera features mirrored storage, meaning your images are saved on both the internal drive and memory card – great for extra peace of mind on those critical shoots. But I love not having to even think about putting in a memory card – I can just pick up the camera and shoot.

X2D 100 Megapixel back-illuminated sensor
X2D memory card slot that accepts CFexpress cards which can hold up to 512GB
1TB internal storage on Hasselblad X2D
1TB internal storage on X2D

Faster shooting speeds

Compared to its predecessors, the X2D is significantly faster to work with, capturing just over three frames per second. This really does help me on fashion photoshoots when the action needs to be faster paced. This is an improvement over the H6 and the X1Dii.
Beauty photoshoot using NEW Hasselblad X2D

Beauty photoshoot using NEW Hasselblad X2D handheld

Transitioning from a mirrored to a mirrorless Hasselblad

After 30 years of shooting with mirror and prism cameras, I must admit I was concerned about how this mirrorless camera would feel during a shoot. How would it feel looking through an electronic viewfinder and would I be able to adjust?

During the test shoots, I was pleasantly surprised using the full 1X magnification viewfinder. It’s a larger 5.76-megapixel viewfinder, giving a big and bright view compared to the previous model.

This clear, pin-sharp preview was also quickly refreshed on the large, tiltable back screen. The screen offers easy double-tap and pinch-zoom functions so you can inspect your photos whilst working.

Transitioning from a Mirrored to a Mirrorless Hasselblad
Transitioning from a mirrored to a mirrorless Hasselblad

Exposure simulation

If you’re working away from the studio or using natural light, you can take advantage of the exposure simulation function. If you’re out and about on location, you can use this function to test out exposure adjustments through the viewfinder to get an idea of how these adjustments will affect your image.

It's perfect for natural-light work, street photography, wedding images, and so on, but with the ability to turn this feature off in a studio environment when using studio flash.

New XCD lens system

The new retro-styled XCD lenses provide an intuitive manual-operated focus ring and can also work rapidly and silently in automatic focus mode. The lenses also offer focus assist mode using the interactive touchscreen on the back of the camera – I thoroughly enjoyed using the manual / focus assist mode if I really wanted a ‘retro’ feel.

As well as the front control wheel on the camera, the lenses also have a traditional aperture ring. This provides that quality feel reminiscent of traditional manual cameras. As the lens ring is adjusted, the relevant information is clearly displayed on a mini electric panel on the top of the camera body.

Interestingly, this same lens ring can be configured through the camera’s menu settings to work for ISO, shutter speed settings, and more, giving you more options on the configuration and user experience of the camera.

New XCD Lens system

New XCD Lens system: NEW 38mm, 55mm, and 90mm lens choices

Lens choices and adaptors

At launch, there are three new design lens choices for this new camera: a new 38mm, a 55mm, and a 90mm lens. However, if you already own any X1D lenses they’re all compatible with this new system. If you’re an H6 user then you’ll be happy to know that there’s an adaptor for your lenses and even an optical convertor.

According to Hasselblad, the convertor will actually improve the resolution of your H-lenses, but I’ve not actually tested this out yet. There are also adaptors for XPAN lenses and the XV system.

As with the Hasselblad medium format system, we have the great benefit of the leaf shutter which is actually within the camera lens. The leaf shutter means we’re not restricted by flash sync speeds such as 1/125th of a second because we can sync at 1/2000th of a second or even 1/4000th of a second using the new 90mm lens.

This is a huge benefit for a photographer like me. I’m often shooting fashion on location and the ability to block out existing ambient light, or underexpose ambient light, whilst retaining correct exposure on the flash is a very important part of my creative process.

It’s useful in the studio too, of course, as the higher sync speeds also allow you to avoid light pollution from your studio modelling lamps.

Battery pack

The battery pack is easily accessible and enables around 420 shots on one charge. During the test shoots, I discovered by chance that it actually charges when tethered – a clever solution to those annoying downtime software crashes caused by low battery power that I often experienced with the H6.

Hasselblad X2D test photoshoots

I tested this new X2D camera on a tethered product shoot and an untethered fashion and beauty shoot.

As you can see, I chose a handbag theme for both. Looking at the images, you can see the amazing level of detail. Thanks to the incredibly sharp results enabled by the higher-quality XCD lenses and the new back-illuminated sensor, I actually didn’t need to do any sharpening in post-production.

The 100-megapixel resolution gives you so much image data to work with that most crops that you apply still leave you with tons of resolution. The touch screen function makes it easy to discover a ridiculous level of detail in your subject if not shooting tethered too.

In product photography, I tend to use focus stacking for extreme depth of field and to achieve my desired results. The same is true in this product shoot, where I captured a selection of images with incredible detail at F11. I then used Helicon focus software to deliver my final image.

Fashion photoshoot test using X2D
Fashion photoshoot test using X2D
Product photoshoot test using tethered X2D
Product photoshoot test using tethered X2D

When you look at the physical size of the X2D camera and note how small it is in comparison with the H6, the level of detail that you can capture is mind-blowing!

There’s also quite a weight difference with the H6 being a lot heavier. I could comfortably hold the lighter X2D throughout the fashion shoot without needing to put it down.

The only gripe I have is the back of the grip, but this might simply be down to my familiarity with the H6 system. I felt that the back thumb area of the grip could have a contour to make it even better to hold. The front part of the grip, though, is very comfortable, giving a good feeling of security.

The X2D is comparatively small when compared to the H6
The X2D is smaller and lighter than the H6
Beauty Shot Crop - X2D photoshoot test

A close-up crop from the beauty shot above – X2D photoshoot test

4K video

Unfortunately, 4K video isn’t available on the X2D at launch. I was quite disappointed by this – because the camera is compact enough that I feel I would happily take it more places with me, it would be great to have video as an option. I really do hope that Hasselblad can bring video to this camera at some point as they did with the H6 and the X1Dii.

Diffraction: side-by-side comparisons

I also took shots straight from the camera at f11 and f16 in order to compare the H6 and X2D directly. It’s really important that we can identify any diffraction in the shots to see where it becomes a problem.

What is diffraction?

As product photographers, we want as much depth of field as possible. We need our products to appear sharp from their front through to the back. This can be difficult to achieve with traditional lenses, which is why we often use tilt-shift lenses or tilt-shift adapters, or focus stacking.

As an alternative, we might choose to stop the lens to f16 or f22 to maximise depth of field. However, the lens ‘sweet spot’ tends to be middle aperture, meaning f8 or f11 will usually get you the best quality. But when you start to close the aperture down from f11 to f16 for increased depth of field, you start to experience the problem of diffraction. This is when the image depth of field increases but the very fine detail actually becomes softer.

This problem starts on the H6 at around f16 to f22, so you wouldn’t really want to shoot beyond this point. With the X2D, my initial concern was that it would suffer diffraction earlier because it has a slightly smaller sensor (in terms of physical dimensions), resulting in smaller photo-sites to accommodate the 100mp resolution.

To my surprise, the X2D actually achieves a crisper, clearer image than the flagship Hasselblad H6 at f16 and f22. This improved image clarity is down to Hasselblad’s new lenses with their increased optical performance and also the new 100-megapixel back-illuminated sensor.

These changes mean that this new camera can deliver a better quality image at all apertures, including f16 – fantastic news for product photographers like myself. (Of course, as with all cameras and lenses, there is still diffraction at smaller apertures, but it is less noticeable than I was anticipating.)

H6 Diffraction Detail Test Shot
H6 Diffraction Detail Test Shot
X2D Diffraction Detail Test Shot
X2D Diffraction Detail Test Shot
X2D beauty test photoshoot of girl with handbag
X2D fashion and beauty test photoshoot
Superb detail - A crop from the fashion and beauty X2D photoshoot

Superb detail! A crop from the image above

Image noise

Image noise is another form of digital photography degradation. It occurs when increased ISO speeds or longer exposures generate noise that spoils image clarity.

It was great to see that the X2D performed extremely well, even at 3200 ISO! This is fantastic news for street photographers, wedding photographers, or any photographers shooting in natural-light or low-light conditions. This coupled with the seven-stop stabilisation will open up a lot of creative opportunities for medium-format photography.

X2D set at 100 ISO
X2D set at 100 ISO
X2D set at 3200 ISO
A slight colour shift was noticed in the cyan at 3200 but not at iso 400 or 800.

Conclusion: X2D outperforms H6

Having run my photoshoot tests and compared the results, the X2D actually outperforms the H6. This is significant considering that the new X2D costs around $8500, while the H6 has a price tag of around $27,000.

With any camera, my primary concern is image quality. I’ve not seen image quality this high on any digital camera.

It’s easier to handle, lighter, and more compact than my H6 – a great bonus. It even looks cool and I’d feel comfortable carrying it around on holiday – Something I wouldn't do with my H6 due to its size and weight. The only disappointment is the lack of video mode for moments like that. I hope it’s something Hasselblad brings to this camera in the future.

The face detection eye tracking will, I've been told, be coming in a future firmware update. This feature will be a welcome addition.

As for the grip, I hope I can get used to it. If not, I might attach a small softer rubber strip where my thumb wraps around. But it may just be that, having held the H system for decades, I need to give it a bit more time.

I've shot with everything from 5x4 film to the best 35mm digital and medium format cameras, the bottom line for me is always image quality and I will say it again: I have never seen images this beautiful from any other camera – ever.

© All words and images copyright Karl Taylor Photography and may not be used without permission.

Comments

  1. Hi Karl,
    Great video comparison so thanks for doing it. Just a note on the battery. It is not actually a “new” battery (which scared me as I have so many X1D batteries). It is the same battery as the X1D so they are compatible. Yes it does charge while you are tethered but on the X1D at least if shooting quickly the battery can drain faster than it charges, so eventually it may need to be changed. Cheers.

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