Hasselblad H4D-40 Field Test; Is Spectacular Image Quality Really Worth $20K? Page 2

The sum and substance of the case is that True Focus provides a reasonably reliable and somewhat more convenient method of shooting sharp pictures of off-center subjects handheld in AF mode with a medium format camera, and it’s a nice feature to have, especially on a camera that delivers shallower depth of field to begin with. Our verdict? True Focus generally works quite well in the field but it does not always yield results that are dramatically different from using center focus and AFL, then recomposing and taking the shot. Also, you’ve got to learn to use it properly because the shutter-release button is very sensitive. Finally, True Focus corrects AF discrepancies only when pivoting the camera on its axis up, down, laterally, or any combination of the two—if you move the entire camera away from its original position or move your body while recomposing, all bets are off. (Speaking of focusing, we loved the Hassy’s autofocus override. All you do to refocus the lens is grab the focusing collar and turn it like a manual camera; no need to select MF mode.)

In The Field
The first time we glanced through the H4D’s viewfinder the clouds parted and a beam of light lifted our spirits. Seriously though, this is one of the brightest viewfinders we’ve had the pleasure to use. The viewing image is, of course, larger than that on a 35mm-style D-SLR; detail is extraordinary. The click-stopped diopter adjustment holds its settings well and the digital read-outs are commendably large. Once you learn the button locations and sequences you can easily operate the camera without taking your eye away from the viewfinder and the whole viewing experience is like day and night compared to our venerable Hasselblad 500 C/W. Like Hasselblads of old, the H4D still makes a loud “thwapping” sound when fired—it’s attributable to its unavoidably large instant-return mirror mechanism.

Autofocus is far less audible, but it’s slower than a typical 35mm-style D-SLR due to the sheer mass of the glass and the greater distance over which the AF motor has to move it. (Hasselblad claims that the HCD 28mm and HCD 35-90mm zoom have faster-focusing AF mechanisms.) Considering these inherent factors, the AF system is reasonably swift, very precise, and performs quite well with low-contrast subjects. The new bright white AF-assist light helps to provide faster, more accurate autofocusing in low-light situations.

Master Cabinetmaker
Superb definition at point of focus (eyes). Note beads of sweat on forehead! This is outstanding performance at ISO 1600. (HC 80mm f/2.8 lens, A mode, tripod-mounted exposure of 1⁄50 sec at f/5.6.)
Mark Kalan

Shutter button sensitivity is, as mentioned, remarkable—if anything we’d prefer a more definitive halfway position. You can also program the time lag for the shutter to suit your preferences—a cool feature. Compared to, say, a Nikon or Canon D-SLR, the H4D is physically slower, and it’s only able to shoot 50 frames in 60 seconds so it’s not the hot ticket for capturing blazing sports action, wildlife on the fly, or even dance floor scenes at weddings.

Ultimately what the Hasselblad H4D is about is spectacular image quality, enhanced depth-of-field control, and that distinctive look you get when shooting with longer focal-length lenses that cover a larger format. At maximum resolution the H4D’s files open to an impressive 24.3x18.3” at 300dpi (compared to 14.6x9.7” for a typical full-frame D-SLR), and based on our results, we can affirm that its optics as well as its sensor deliver the goods when you have to crop and enlarge a small section of the image or turn out mural-sized prints.

True Focus Comparison
Here are cropped sections of same subject portraits shot under identical conditions with the Hasselblad H4D-40 and the HC 80mm f/2.8 lens, at f/2.8 and 1⁄250 sec, ISO 100. Image on left was shot by positioning the subject near the center of the frame using central AF to focus on the subject’s right eye. For the center image, focus was locked at the central AF position using the AF Lock, and the camera was pivoted to the left, placing the subject at the right-hand edge of the frame before taking the shot. For the right-hand image, True Focus was enabled, the subject was placed in the center of the frame, focused using central AF and the camera was then pivoted to place the camera at the right-hand edge of the frame. Verdict: In this studio example, Hasselblad’s True Focus system provided more precise focus and a sharper image with a typical off-center subject than simply locking focus on the central AF position and recomposing. In typical field shooting situations, visual results are more variable, but the system does deliver improved AF performance with off-center subjects most of the time.
Mark Kalan

Those large pixels also help to maintain outstanding performance at high ISO settings. Our pictures of detailed subjects shot at ISO 1600 are crisp and artifact-free, showing only a slight loss of color saturation compared to those shot at ISO 100. Film-like “digital grain” was visible when we viewed images shot at ISO 1600 at 100 percent, but this is still a usable setting for most applications. One of the H4D’s best features is that the sensors in its DCUs are sealed behind a glass IR filter. So if you need to blow the dust off, just go ahead and do it. Look ma! No more dust marks!

When shooting with the camera tethered to a computer the photographer can shoot handheld and each image is instantly downloaded, or the computer can control the tripod-mounted camera remotely, a great way to shoot still life images. Hasselblad’s included Phocus 2.5 software for Mac or Windows provides Live View at the computer so art directors and staff can offer their comments and suggestions while you shoot.

Workshop Still Life
Note excellent definition at point of focus (Norris, London nameplate at top of old wood plane) and shallow depth of field at f/5.6 at short focus distance. (HC 80mm f/2.8 lens, A mode, f/5.6 at 1⁄50 sec, ISO 1600.)
Mark Kalan

When you connect the CF card and import the images they’re converted to .fff files. From that point you can adjust them individually or in batches and export them as JPEGs or 8-bit or 16-bit TIFFs. As with all Raw files we needed to adjust the curve and white and black points, but once we did so the files were crisp and detailed to the point of amazement, and color saturation and subtlety were astonishing. We have never been happier with digital image files as we were with the H4D-40 files we exported from Phocus.

There is, of course, much more to the Hasselblad H4D-40 than we can possibly detail here. While it is undoubtedly the most versatile digital Hasselblad to date, it is not a sports camera, a concert camera, or a wildlife camera. Based on return on investment, it’s most definitely overkill for the average wedding or event photographer (except maybe those who bill at $25K a pop and up). The H4D is also not a substitute for a 35mm-style D-SLR, but rather a complement to it that delivers a distinctive look and feel due to its shallower depth of field and enhanced selective focus possibilities.

Hudson River Balloon Show
Shot against an early morning sky, image shows excellent definition (see textures in large balloon at left) and accurate color rendition. (HC 80mm f/2.8 lens, f/8 at 1⁄350 sec, ISO 100.)
Mark Kalan

It will surely delight any pro specializing in commercial, architectural, portrait, celebrity, or fashion photography as well as serious, well-heeled fine arts enthusiasts—in short, anyone who demands the ultimate in precision, resolution, color reproduction, and overall image quality.

For more information, contact Hasselblad USA, Inc. at: www.hasselbladusa.com.


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