Hasselblad's next generation
By Stan Sholik
While other camera manufacturers may be searching for direction as the medium-format world makes the transition from film to digital, Hasselblad’s direction is clear. This was the message from Christian Poulsen, founder of Imacon and new CEO of Hasselblad, at the West Coast launch of Hasselblad’s next generation of products. That direction is embodied in the newly released Hasselblad H2 cross-platform (film and digital) camera and H2D fully integrated digital camera, and two new digital backs, the Ixpress CF and Ixpress CFH.
The H2 is the next generation in the H series. It features internal hardware and firmware updates to take full advantage of the new 22-megapixel Ixpress CFH digital back. With a film back or digital back other than the CFH, functionality of the H2 is identical to that of the H1.
The H2D is a digital-only body incorporating the new Ixpress CFH back, 80mm lens and viewfinder. While the CFH can be removed from the H2D for cleaning, it isn't possible to mount a film back.
Both the H2 and H2D accept the full range of Hasselblad HC lenses with integral leaf shutters, making it possible to use flash at all shutter speeds, which range from 1/800 second to 32 seconds. Other features rival those of digital SLRs, including autofocus, a selection of exposure modes, TTL flash metering with its built-in flash or flashes compatible with the Metz SCA3002 system and spot, center-weighted or averaging metering. Hasselblad sees the H-series cameras as an upgrade path for professional photographers who are looking for more image quality than it is possible to obtain with digital SLRs but who don’t want to sacrifice the functionality and ease-of -use to which they’ve become accustomed.
Whereas the Ixpress CF back is compatible with many medium- and large-format cameras, the CFH is only compatible with the H2 cameras, a factory-upgraded H1, or with select view cameras through third-party adapter plates.
Other than that, the Ixpress CF and CFH digital backs share many common features. Both incorporate a Kodak-manufactured, 22-megapixel single-shot CCD measuring 37mm x 49mm. The lens multiplication factor is approximately 1.2X. The file size for an 8-bit RGB capture is 66MB. Three storage modes are available for both backs: an on-board CompactFlash slot, Hasselblad’s Imagebank FireWire drive, and tethered operation for direct image capture to a Mac OS X or Windows 2000/NT/XP system. Both backs incorporate Hasselblad’s Instant Approval Architecture, providing audible and visible feedback, including a red/yellow/green coding system that automatically evaluates exposure and focus based on pre-defined reject/borderline/accept criteria determined by the photographer.
A next-generation 2.2-inch OLED display on the back provides an extremely sharp image that is clearly visible in bright light. Native file format for both the CF and CFH is Adobe’s compressed DNG (digital negative), allowing the RAW files to be opened directly in Photoshop. Hasselblad has listened closely to photographer’s comments since the release of the original H1, and from owners of Imacon backs. The company reached the conclusion that most photographers prefer using the RAW conversion tools in Photoshop rather than learning another program, such as FlexColor, even if the other program offers a more complete set of controls.
Hasselblad’s FlexColor software, now compatible with the DNG format, is available for commercial photographers who want a wider range of controls or for others who need live video, overlay masking and fully tethered operation of the backs. The software has been extensively rewritten to make it compatible with the new features of the CF and CFH backs. It is possible to transfer all images stored on the CompactFlash card to the computer, only the green-coded selects, both the green-coded selects and the yellow-coded borderline, or any other combination. A full suite of evaluation and correction tools is provided in the software. Unfortunately, the version available didn’t allow for tethered operation.
Attached to the H2D, the CFH back takes power from the camera battery, which according to its specs, is able to supply four hours of power to the system. ISO equivalents are 50-400 while the capture rate is 1.5 seconds per image. Hasselblad is developing lens optimization settings for the back that will minimize or eliminate any artifacting or color fringing with the full range of Hasselblad HC lenses. The new settings should be available by the end of 2005. Currently there are eight fixed focal length lenses available, from 35mm to 300mm plus a 50-110mm zoom. An adapter that accepts all V-series C lenses is also available.
According to Poulsen, sales of the H-series cameras are doing very well, offsetting the drop in sales of the V-series (2-1/4 square) cameras. However, Hasselblad intends to continue the manufacture and support of V-series and H1 bodies until sales fall below a sustainable level.
For owners of existing Hasselblad or Imacon equipment, an extensive upgrade program is available to move to the H2/H2D/Ixpress CFH generation. MSRP of the H2D is $26,995.