Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Hasselblad H4D-60 review


UPDATE 18 May, 2012: Hasseblad is set to reduce the price on the H4D cameras by as much as $11,000 / 6,200 Euros on the H4D-60, bringing the price to 23,900 euros ($30,995 / £21,995). Please see here for more details.

The last couple of decades have been turbulent for medium format camera manufacturers, but now after several well-known names have withdrawn, the market looks healthy. Two new unexpected entrants, Leica and Pentax have added to the dynamic at opposing ends of the pricing scale, forcing the two established system players to compete fiercely in their traditional rarefied role as well as the entry-level.

Partnering with both Leaf and Mamiya, Phase One has developed a trio of entry-level Mamiya DM models starting at under $14k/ £9k while continuing to offer a wide range of Phase One and Leaf backs, up to 80-megapixels. Through various offers and incentives these backs, are most likely to be partnered with the 645DF body but they are in fact compatible with a wide range of cameras.

This is in stark contrast to Hasselblad's sleek industrial- and -totally integrated design philosophy. Hasselblad H series cameras are modular in name, but from the H3D onwards, the camera and back have been matched at the factory. Not only can you not switch backs between other Hasselblads neither can you use third-party backs. However, new firmware released for H4D-60 (with the H4D-50 /40 to follow later in the year) promises compatibility with view cameras, and adds several new features. Unfortunately, the sensor pairing between bodies remains but this does mean you can still buy a spare body as a back-up and use it with your existing back providing the body has been calibrated to it. The cost of a spare H4D body (I beleive without head) is currently £2,695.00 plus VAT.

Although the entry-level H4D-31 can be had complete with the HC 80mm f/2.8 for just $13,995, or £8,995 plus VAT, this pairing means you can’t trade in the 31-megapixel back for a 40, 50 or 60-megapixel back. This could be viewed as a limitation, but in practice you’ll likely get a better deal as a whole when trading up. Even if you could swap backs between bodies you wouldn’t be able to do so quite as freely as you might think. The bodies supplied with Multi-Shot sensors most likely adopt specific firmware but even if that’s not the case there are two versions of the camera; one adopting smaller size sensors, and another essentially full-frame body. The H4D-60 adopts the larger full-frame 4:3 format 60 megapixel CCD measuring 40.2 x 53.7mm.

Even with 10 million more pixels than the H4D-50, the physically larger sensor means the sensels are the same size (6.0 microns) as the others in the series, only the entry level H4D 31 can boast slightly larger light receiving pixels. You might expect to see this camera match the others with a top ISO1600 setting but in fact sensitivity runs from ISO 50 through to a mostly usable ISO 800, though I suspect any higher than this and it wouldn’t be.


Despite accommodating the larger sensor, the body looks no different to the others in the range and is about the same size as the old 500 models (retrospectively named V series). But, the built-in grip complete with data panel and small lithium battery makes it feel larger than those old mechanical cameras. It feels more robust though, perhaps because it's heavier, but the body with its steel outer shell over an aluminum chassis is as solid as a rock.

The larger sensor, almost the same size as a single frame of 645 film, means the H4D-60 is equipped with a different eye level viewfinder with a slightly lower (2.8x) magnification than the others but is no less impressive for it's large, bright view and high acuity. Indeed, it's a variation of the film based finder found on the original H series, but more importantly the larger sensor captures more of the lens' image circle.

Thus the angle of view of the widest lens in the range, a 28mm, would be the equivalent of an 18mm on a 35mm DSLR but for the fact that this particular lens is one of two carrying an HCD designation, meaning its narrower image circle is intended for the smaller sensor variants. It can still be used on the H4D 60 but the edges vignette while the camera’s optional built-in crop feature only reduces the angle of view. Nevertheless, the H4D 60 remains the most suitable of the range for architecture and interiors.

Like others in the range the H4D-60 has seen the inclusion of the yaw rate True Focus sensor technology. Not only does this AF technology permit accurate automatic correction of focus for off centre subjects, it is highly effective and extremely clever solution for the adoption of a slightly limiting single central AF point. Perhaps more importantly, when used with H-series lenses the camera can compensate for focus-shift (using a series of built-in correction tables) ensuring sharply focused images throughtout the aperture range.

Also common across all models is the adoption of Hasselblad designed central (leaf) shutter lenses for fast flash sync unto 1/800 sec (faster than the Leica S2), though there is no focal plane shutter, which can be seen as either a benefit or disadvantage depending on your point of view. Certainly, vibration and noise levels are low for this class of camera. But, using this camera on location is anything but discrete, though that also applies to rivals.

In use I found the menu system a bit tricky in use, mainly due to small size of the data-panel. New firmware allows for some features (notably ISO and White balance) to be selected from the rear 3-inch screen, though it’s a long way short of what you would see on a 35mm DSLR. The upgrade also unlocks the screen’s full resolution, now at 460K dots and up from a grainy 230k dots. Greatly adding to the flexibility the new firmware means the back can be used with view cameras. Power is supplied via the FireWire 800 connection adding the benefit of tethered operation using Hasselblad's free fully-featured Raw conversion utility, Phocus. Live view via Phocus is now possible too. Though the image is in mono only and refreshes about once a second it could be a valuable addition for shooting still life or product photography but it's far removed from the live view systems found on modern 35mm format DSLRS.

Hasselblad’s strengths are many and wide-ranging. The H-series is a proven system but equally as important is the support network, not only in the field and from the factory but also in terms of a subsidized studio and equipment rental. While not without some shortcomings the H4D-60 is an outstanding camera and with others in the range to suit more modest aspirations and budgets any commercial photographer will find the H4D a tempting proposition

Sample Images


St Paul's Cathedral, London. H4D-60 with HC-80mm f/2.8 ISO200 at f/8, developed in Phocus.

The H4D-60 captures an enormous amount of detail, even when hand-held, as this 100-percent crop from the above reveals - you can just make out a small crowd of sightseers on the Golden Gallery - 85 meters above the Cathedral floor.


[UPDATED] Studio shot, 1/800sec flash-sync at f/2.8, using the HC80mm f/2.8, ISO50. I used the outstanding True-Focus AF mode to focus on the sitter's left eye (facing the camera) and then recomposed. Notice the soft roll-off of the edges, giving a near 3D effect - developed to taste in Lightroom 4.



For more information including technical specs, please follow the link here or

Hasselblad UK runs a studio in London, please see here for the details;

Buy From

Adorama US

Hasselblad H4D-31 c/w 80mm f/2.8HC ($13,995)
Hasselblad H4D-40 c/w 80mm f/2.8HC ($19,995)
Hasselblad H4D-50 c/w 80mm f/2.8HC ($30,995)
Hasselblad H4D-50MS c/w 80mm f/2.8HC ($37,995)
Hasselblad H4D-60 c/w 80mm f/2.8HC ($41,995)
Hasselblad H4D-200MS body only ($43,995)

Choice lenses:
HCD 28mm f/4.0 $5,295
HCII 50mm f/3.5 $4,395
HC 150mm f/3.2 $3,795
HC II Macro 120mm f/4 $5,095

B&H Photo

Hasselblad H4D-31 c/w 80mm f/2.8HC ($13,995)
Hasselblad H4D-40 c/w 80mm f/2.8HC ($19,995)
Hasselblad H4D-50 c/w 80mm f/2.8HC ($30,995)
Hasselblad H4D-50MS c/w 80mm f/2.8HC ($37,995)
Hasselblad H4D-60 c/w 80mm f/2.8HC ($39,995)
Hasselblad H4D-200MS body only ($43,995)

Choice lenses:
HCD 28mm f/4.0 $5,295
HCII 50mm f/3.5 $4,395
HC 150mm f/3.2 $3,795

UK readers can inquire at pro-dealer Calumet. Please note, Robert White are no longer Hasselblad dealers.

Related posts

Mamiya DM33 review
Pentax 645D review
Hasselblad Europe offer half-price lens deal
Hasselblad announces H4x

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