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Hasselblad X2D 100C: Incredible resolution, beautiful imperfections

Stunning painterly images and a beautiful design, but fairly basic technology

Steve Dent/Engadget

After releasing two previous models, Hasselblad seems to have finally nailed the compact medium format camera with the X2D 100C. With a 100-megapixel backside-illuminated sensor that doubles the resolution of the last model, it promises incredible image quality and a stunning design. However, it also has limited autofocus abilities, no video and a large price tag. So is this just a luxury item, or is it good for serious photographers?

My pro photographer friend Nathanael Charpentier wanted to find out. He was interested in seeing if the X2D could help him take more creative photos compared to his current Sony A1 and A9 cameras. At the same time, he was looking to use it in select situations to complement, rather than replace his existing setup.

The X2D is obviously going to work well and take great shots in a controlled studio environment, but Nathanael wanted to test it in more challenging scenarios like live events. As such, he photographed a theatrical group, several professional scenarios, musicians and an evening out – with both the Hasselblad and his Sony A1 for comparison. I also took it myself to test in low light, for landscapes and more.

Body and handling

The X2D is bound to draw comparisons to Fujifilm’s 100-megapixel GFX 100S. On the one hand, Fuji’s model has more advanced technology like eye- and face-detect AI autofocus. However, the Hasselblad offers a better industrial design, handling and build quality.

Physically, they couldn’t be more different. Where the GFX 100S looks like other Fuji mirrorless cameras but larger, the X2D is sleeker and more modern. It has nearly the same design and controls as the X1D II and X1D first introduced in 2017, with a few refinements. That’s great, as the body is both beautiful and practical. There are a few usability quirks, though.

The control layout is sparse compared to the GFX 100S and most other modern mirrorless cameras. It has front and rear dials for primary settings, along with ISO/white balance, mode, power, exposure lock, display and menu buttons. They’re generally responsive and have a high quality feel.

It’s relatively light for its category at 895 grams but still quite heavy. Luckily the big, non-slip grip is nice to hold and makes the X2D comfortable for all-day sessions. Ergonomically, it’s generally easy to use, but I missed having a joystick to move the AF point. That has to be done using either the display or the dials, which can be awkward.

The menu system is equally simple. The main settings are available on one screen, and everything else has its own category, like focus, exposure and general settings. Again, it’s easy to use, but some extra manual controls would help if you need to make adjustments on the fly.

Where the X1D II had a fixed display, the 3.6-inch, has a 2.36-million dot touchscreen. It’s the only way to change many settings, so luckily it’s bright, sharp and reactive. It does tilt up, unlike past models, but only 70 degrees which is insufficient for very low shooting angles. It’s also blocked a bit by the large protruding viewfinder (EVF) when you’re looking straight down.

Hasselblad X2D 100C: Incredible resolution, beautiful imperfections
Hasselblad X2D 100C: Incredible resolution, beautiful imperfections (Steve Dent/Engadget)

Speaking of, the OLED EVF is another strong point. It has a sharp 5.76 million dot resolution with a 60 fps refresh rate and a huge 100 percent magnification. It even offers an electronic diopter adjustment for folks who wear glasses, which proved to be effective and kind of cool. Setting it is like taking an eye test, as words come into focus.

On top of the CFexpress Type B slot, the X2D has a built-in 1TB SSD, enough to hold over 3,000 RAW and JPEG shots. It’s easily fast and spacious enough to hold and transfer the enormous images. I never even used the CFexpress slot, except as a backup – but it’s also nice to have a high-speed card slot for rapid transfers.

With 420 shots, battery life is better than on past models, but still on the low end, and that figure is reasonably accurate in our experience. Luckily, it supports PD 3.0 fast charging up to 30W, so you can get a full charge in about 2 hours and run it on AC power in a studio. Still, I’d recommend extra batteries and the optional dual-battery charger, which costs $155 extra.

Hasselblad X2D 100C: Incredible resolution, beautiful imperfections
Hasselblad X2D 100C: Incredible resolution, beautiful imperfections (Steve Dent/Engadget)

If you are shooting in a studio, you can use Phocus’s app (on Windows or Mac) for remote triggering and photo organization. It does offer exposure bracketing, but doesn’t have a live view or any way to change settings.

Finally, while the X2D 100C is well made, Hasselblad doesn’t say if it’s weatherproof, So for landscape shooting in bad weather, the GFX 100S might be a better choice as it’s rated by Fujifilm for dust and splash protection.

Nathanael: My first impression was around the handling. I found the ergonomy to be very good. It’s quite heavy, but it has a great grip, so you always have a good hold on it. It was easy to change key settings like ISO, shutter speed and aperture, but moving the autofocus point could be a bit awkward. Once I got used to the controls I was able to shoot pretty quickly.

Performance

With a new processor, the X2D starts up much quicker than before (2 seconds compared to 4 seconds) and is considerably faster in general over the X1D II. Hasselblad also has three new series V lenses (the 38mm f/2.5, 55mm f/2.5 and 90mm f/2.5) that are designed to focus three times faster than past models when used with the X2D’s new hybrid AF system.

Hasselblad X2D 100C: Incredible resolution, beautiful imperfections
Hasselblad X2D 100C: Incredible resolution, beautiful imperfections (Steve Dent/Engadget)

Speed isn’t what the camera was built for, but it can manage about 3.3 images per second (in 14-bit mode only), which isn’t bad considering the 215 MB RAW frame size. However, photographers won’t be buying this as a sports camera and most will likely only ever use it in single-shot mode in order to get full 16-bit images.

Where past models had contrast detect autofocus only, the X2D finally has superior hybrid phase detect AF. The implementation, though, isn’t ideal. The single small AF point often wasn’t precise enough for the extremely shallow depth of field. And other than a setting to make the focus point slightly larger, there are no other AF options like area, etc.

Eye and face detection isn’t available either, though Hasselblad has indicated that it’s coming in a future update. Engadget has reached out to the company to find out when that might be happening.

In any case, Nathanael wasn’t too fussed about perfect AF and often preferred manual focus, and that works very well. Like other mirrorless cameras, it has a magnification system that kicks in when you operate the focus ring manually. However, it’s the best implementation I’ve seen – the high sensor resolution allows for a large 100 percent zoom, and it’s very clear on the high-resolution display. At the same time, the improved focus clutch on the new V lenses makes fine focus adjustments quite easy.

Hasselblad X2D 100C: Incredible resolution, beautiful imperfections
Hasselblad X2D 100C: Incredible resolution, beautiful imperfections (Steve Dent/Engadget)

Hasselblad’s famous mechanical leaf shutter built into the lenses keeps noise and vibrations to a minimum and allows flash sync up to the maximum 1/2000th speed. As with Fuji’s GFX100s, the electronic shutter isn’t really usable for most moving subjects due to the extreme rolling shutter.

Finally, the X2D is equipped with a new stabilization system developed from scratch by Hasselblad for the large sensor. It allows for a claimed seven stops of blur reduction, compared to six for the GFX 100S. That allowed us to take sharp pictures at shutter speeds as low as a fifth of a second – no mean feat with such an exacting sensor.

Nathanael: I shot almost exclusively in manual focus to start with. It didn’t bother me because there are several tools to help a lot with that. When you turn the focus ring, it really zooms in, and you can clearly see the focus. Later on, I learned all the quirks of the autofocus and figured out how to make it work better, so I started using it more often. At the end, I was mostly taking sharp photos using a mix of manual and autofocus, depending on the situation.

Image Quality

The X2D’s greatest weapon is the new 100 megapixel, backside illuminated sensor – likely the same one used on Fujifilm’s GFX 100S and its own H6D-100C. For reference, the pixel size on the X2D is 3.76 micrometers, the same as Sony’s 61-megapixel A7R V. You can shoot JPEG, 10-bit HEIF or 16-bit RAW photos.

Hasselblad says that dynamic range exceeds 15 stops, which is more than any camera I’ve ever tested. The company also uses what it calls “Natural Color Science” to provide accurate and pleasing hues.

With all that, the X2D delivers the best images I’ve ever seen straight out of a camera. Color rendering is superb, and of course images have more sharpness and detail than nearly every other camera on the market. That’s aided by the new XCD V series lenses, which deliver incredible sharpness all the way to the edge of the frame.

Hasselblad X2D 100C sample image gallery
Hasselblad X2D 100C sample image gallery

Low-light performance is formidable for such a high-resolution camera as well. Grain is well controlled up to ISO 6400, and while it’s far more noticeable at ISO 12800, picture quality is still excellent. Beyond that, though, grain starts to become noticeable and distracting.

The 16-bit RAW files provide incredible detail and nuance. They can be pulled and stretched in post by a large amount, making them great for pros who do a lot of post-processing. Lightroom worked well for the editing I did, though you’ll need a reasonably powerful computer to handle those enormous file sizes. All that being said, you often don’t need to do much to photos as they look amazing straight out of the camera.

Nathanael: The image quality is really impressive. As soon as I took the first photos and looked at them, I said “wow!” There’s almost no need for post processing. One thing I like is contrast. With the X2D I can take contrasty photos, but they still have tons of detail. And you get incredible dynamic range in low light.

Wrap-up

Hasselblad X2D 100C: Incredible resolution, beautiful imperfections
Hasselblad X2D 100C: Incredible resolution, beautiful imperfections (Steve Dent/Engadget)

The X2D is Hasselblad’s best X System camera so far, thanks to improvements across the board but especially with image quality. It now reigns supreme in that area, besting Fujifilm’s rival GFX100S by a good margin.

Yes, the X2D is expensive at $8,200 and the lenses are also sky-high at $3,700 each for the two I tested. That said, it’s not a giant leap over the $6,000 GFX100S and is relatively cheap for a Hasselblad. Plus, it’s designed mostly for pro photographers who would see it as a working tool.

More importantly, how does Nathanael feel about it?

Nathanael: In a way, it’s a return to “real photography,” where you manually control every aspect, even the focus. At the same time, I found it could handle tricky non-studio work. I would only use it in certain situations, like during pre-wedding preparations of the bride: make up, hairstyle, dressing because those are aesthetic moments where you have more time. I'd also use it for photos of the nuptials. However, for critical live work, like the marriage itself, the A1 and A9 would remain my primary cameras.

It's certainly an outstanding portrait camera, with gobsmacking resolution and image quality. And another thing, when you arrive to shoot with a Hasselblad, it's noticed by astute clients. It seems like nothing, but it does give extra credibility that you don’t get with other cameras.

So that begs the question: Is it really worth it, or not? Because it’s quite the investment, $8,200 (8,700 euros) for the camera and another $8,000 or so for the lenses. But my feeling is, better equipment lets you take better photos, which helps attract a superior clientele. But that only applies if the camera truly brings something extra to the table, and the X2D really does that.