Fstoppers Reviews the Hasselblad CFV II and 907X Medium Format Camera System
I recently tested out the Hasselblad CFV II and 907X with the XCD 4/45P lens, which Hasselblad totes as the smallest medium format setup on the market.
I fell in love with the idea of this camera the second I saw the Hasselblad press release last year: a fully modern camera with a vintage feel and look with Hasselblad image quality. I figured it’d be a no-brainer. Once I opened the box and held the camera in my hands, that love at first sight feeling really started to grow. In fact, I was kind of star-struck by it and slightly intimidated.
You all know the old saying: don’t judge a book by its cover. Well, I had to take a step back and try not to judge this camera based on its beauty alone. Like any strong and lasting relationship, that love needs to build over time.
When I first got this camera, I was thrown back a little. It took time for me to figure out how to use it best. Relationships are rarely perfect and always require compromise. And the same goes for a camera. No camera is perfect for every person and every situation, and a camera that might be just right for me and my style might not be best suited for you and your style.
However, this was a camera I wanted so badly to love. But what I realized quickly is that we weren’t necessarily a perfect match right out of the box. I like to move fast and shoot a lot, and this camera wants you to slow down and craft your image. Like any relationship, though, if I wanted it to work, I knew I’d have to be the one to change. It would be naive to think I could use the camera the same way I used my other camera; it’s not set up the same, and in fact, it probably wasn’t meant to be used the same way.
Its minimalist design, although beautiful, doesn’t make it the easiest to maneuver through the settings. In order to change almost any setting, you have to pull back and use the touchscreen or press two buttons at once to change something. If you’re used to a traditional DSLR, you’re going to need to take some time to relearn this camera, but like any good thing, if you put the work in, this camera will produce some amazing quality images for you.
So, here’s what I liked and didn’t like so much about the Hasselblad CFV II and 907X.
First of all, it’s beautiful. I don’t think anyone could look at the camera and not gush over the design. At first sight, it looks like how I imagine all the great photographers of the past. It seems like it’s meant to photograph important things. It’s sleek, compact, and feels solid in your hands. The shutter button is in just the right place when holding it. It just feels good in your hands. The silver and black body just demands attention. Anytime I pulled it out, I felt like I was showing off a new puppy. Non-photographers would stop me and ask questions about it.
Second on the list (but should be first) is the image quality and coloring. Almost overshadowed by the hype around the design of the camera is the images it produces. The color, clarity, and detail are just phenomenal. I believe it’s the same sensor as the X1D, but just in a prettier box. So, if you’re more of a traditional shooter, the X1D might be worth taking a look at. It’s that large 43.8 x 32.9mm 50-megapixel sensor that makes the difference. The resolution is amazing, and the large sensor delivers that creamy bokeh and shallow depth of field that a full frame sensor just can’t do. The colors it renders are so smooth and natural-looking. As someone who loves to play with color, I struggled to want to mess with them, because they looked so good on camera.
The touchscreen is by far the nicest and most responsive touch screen I’ve used on a camera. It feels like you’re using an iPhone; it just works the way you expect it to, while for some reason, other touchscreens I’ve used can’t seem to work as well as I want them to (cough, RED cameras, cough, cough). The tilt feature on the screen is also helpful. I never used the older CFV, but using this as a waist-level camera would be a lot harder without that tilt feature.
It has two card slots, which is nice, because like I said, I shoot a lot. However, this camera slows you down, so I found myself taking significantly fewer images per shoot than normal, but it was still nice to have the second card slot for backups as well.
Long exposures on this camera are amazing. I did a few shots with 4-5-minute exposures with really no noise; in fact, low noise is a great way to describe all the images out of the camera. They have a smoothness about them that feels hyper-real, especially at lower ISOs.
The camera also has multiple ports for audio, USB-C, and flash sync, conveniently hidden under a discrete rubber flap, which only took me a few minutes to find. Having the options is great, but sometimes, I found it hard to get my sync cord plugged in while the camera was on a tripod and had to take it off, plug the cord in, and then put the camera back on the tripod, which was kind of a pain, but not the end of the world. The battery, however, was in a great spot that made it easy to switch out while still on a tripod. And speaking of the battery, even though the camera is constantly using the rear display, the battery life was surprisingly long, and I never had any trouble with it lasting for a shoot.
The first thing I noticed about this camera that threw me off was the lack of a viewfinder. I’m so used to holding a camera to my eye that it felt weird and mildly amateurish to shoot using a rear display (but this is probably something I need to get over). They have an EVF adaptor that you can purchase to go with the camera, but to me, it severely takes away from the visual beauty of the body and more importantly, costs more money.
With big resolutions come big file sizes. I normally shoot with a Nikon D850 and am used to needing a lot of hard drives, but the file size on this camera is about double that of the Nikon. That can be positive, because that means there’s a lot of information there (50 megapixels, 16-bit color, 14 of stops dynamic range, etc.), but it’s a consideration you’ll need to look at depending on the type of shooter you are.
One thing that I kept noticing others complaining about but that wasn’t that big of a deal for me was shooting vertically. A lot of reviews say portrait orientation was difficult to shoot in. I found this the case only when I wanted to do it at waist level, because the screen doesn’t flip out that way. However, when held at a more traditional height near the head, the shutter button actually falls right where it needs to be for vertical orientation and feels more “normal” than you might think.
I mentioned earlier how clean the images were at low ISOs. But one negative is the camera’s low-light abilities without using long exposure settings. When you get the ISO up over 1,600, it gets really grainy, and much higher than that, the images start to become unusable. This again is why this camera is best at moving slowly. Get out the tripod instead of cranking the ISO, and this camera will get you the image you imagined. But if you like to move fast and handhold everything, this is not the low-light camera of your dreams.
Another thing that slows you down with this camera is the autofocus. It’s hit or miss at best. So, moving subjects are tough to capture, and waiting for the camera to focus in-between each shot became slightly frustrating. If you’re a landscape or studio photographer, though, this probably isn’t a big deal, and the quality far outweighs that annoyance in that situation.
Now, here’s my biggest overall complaint with this camera that affected me and my shooting style the most: its lack of a hot shoe became very cumbersome for me. I use strobes a lot, and even though the CFV does have a flash sync port, it requires a special cable to connect it to my trigger, which I didn’t have since I had a loaner model. According to the website, if you buy the camera new, it comes with the proper cable, however. However, after some research and emailing back and forth with Paul C Buff and Hasselblad, I was able to get it to work, but it still had my trigger just hanging all willy-nilly from the camera, swinging around. It wasn’t so bad on a tripod, but trying to move around with it was pretty annoying. If it was my personal camera, I’d probably have to figure out some sort of solution using Velcro or something, because it was just constantly in the way.
Overall, this camera is one that I eventually fell in love with, and by the time I had to ship it back to Hasselblad, I was very sad to see it go. It had its pitfalls and struggles, but every time I pulled it out of the bag and admired it for a few seconds, I was excited about shooting again. It’s a camera that is inspiring to just hold and use. It does slow you down, but in a good way. It makes you think about what you’re doing. It makes you step back and say: “What am I trying to do here, and how can I use this to get that image out of my head and into the camera?”
Sometimes, I think I shoot a lot because I’m afraid I won’t get the shot if I don’t have 100 versions of it. But when I used this camera, I was forced to craft instead of hope for an image I liked.
Ultimately, a camera is a tool. It’s how we as photographers create art. It’s how we get those visions in our heads out and share them with the world. If you consider yourself an artist and if you like to craft your photos and want the best quality image you can get while having fun creating it, I’d recommend taking a look at this camera.
Have you had a chance to use the CFV II and 907X combo? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it down in the comments.