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Worth its luxury-car price tag: Hasselblad’s new H6D camera

What do the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Marilyn Monroe, Steve Jobs, David Bowie, and NASA moon landings all have in common? They, and other notable figures and events, have been photographed with a Hasselblad. Its cameras, hand-made in Sweden, are some of the most prized medium-format cameras sought by photographers, particularly those who shoot portraits or expansive landscapes. The company, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, is introducing a completely new digital medium-format camera that combines heritage with modern photography needs.

Let’s get this out of the way: the new H6D, as with previous Hasselblads, is expensive — well-equipped mid-size car expensive. It’s available in two models: a 50-megapixel CMOS (H6D-50c, 22,900 euros, or $25,900, available this month) and a larger, 100-megapixel CMOS (H6D-100c, 28,900 euros, or $32,600, available in June), and lenses aren’t included. When you put your hands on one, you can feel the quality craftsmanship (even the name sounds pricey, not to mention how it makes any amateur feel like a professional). But like a luxury car, it’s packed with the components required for today’s digital photography.

“We live in today’s world,” Hasselblad CEO Perry Oosting said during the camera’s official unveiling in New York City. “We are not 75 years old, we are 75 years young.”

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With the H6D, Hasselblad says the H-series has been completely rebuilt. Besides the Sony-developed sensors, the new camera has a wider range of shutter speeds (60 minutes to 1/2,000th of a second, using lenses with new exposure unit), increased sensitivity (ISO 100-6,400 in 50c, ISO 64-12,800 in 100c), a USB 3.0 Type-C connector (seven times faster than the Firewire 800 used in the previous H5D), dual card slots (SD and CFast), HDMI-out, and Wi-Fi (2.4 and 5GHz).

The three-inch, high-definition (920k pixels) rear touch-LCD is very bright, and features a new icon-based graphical user interface; navigating through screens and scrolling through and selecting settings is as buttery smooth as using a high-end smartphone. In live view mode, the display has a high frame rate of 30 frames per second (fps). We wish all new digital cameras featured an LCD as intuitive and well designed. While the camera is geared toward photography, Hasselblad has added 4K video recording in the 100c and Full HD in the 50c (at 30 fps),; however, the company places less emphasis on video.

Hasselblad uses the same iconic modular system design as in the past 14 years (the digital back could be used on Hasselblad film cameras). It’s large and heavy (more than 2,000 grams), but the big pistol grip provides good ergonomics that makes it feel more portable than it would suggest. Paul Claesson, a Hasselblad tech support manager, said Hasselblad’s ergonomics are the “best in the industry” in terms of medium format. In addition to a top monochrome LCD, there’s a quality viewfinder with diopter control. In our brief hands-on, we had no issues photographing a model using the H6D-50c in our hands, allowing us to move around freely versus fixing it on a tripod. There’s enough surface area to grab onto, so it never felt we would drop it, but we can see how our arms would get tired after some extended use.

Related: Check out the Hasselblad family here

The enhanced specs allow the H6D to shoot even higher quality medium-format photos — the type of photos you would use in glossy magazines or photo books, or print out as posters, or use in any situation that calls for the best photos you can shoot. Full-frame cameras already do a great job, so you can imagine what medium-format delivers. Indeed, we didn’t have to put too much effort to shoot some really amazing quality portraits. Settings were easy to adjust, thanks to the new GUI. In a mock studio setup, we photographed a model from a good distance using a 100mm lens.

A sample shot with the H6D-50c and 100mm lens at f/5.6, ISO 100, and 1/1,600th of a second shutter speed. Click to view in its full size (8272 x 6200). Although it was compressed from RAW to JPEG, you can still see great details when viewed in full.

A sample shot with the H6D-50c and 100mm lens at f/5.6, ISO 100, and 1/1,600th of a second shutter speed, without post-editing. Click to view in its full size (8,272 x 6,200). Although it was compressed from RAW to JPEG, you can still see great details when viewed in full.

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When we reviewed the photos using a an older version of Hasselblad’s Phocus software (the company also announced a new version 3.0 that has a new interface), not only did they look sharp and with great coloring, but when we zoomed in 100 percent, we could see the details on the model’s face. If you had to crop the image, you’re going to retain a lot of information and still be able to use the images at large sizes. Even after converting to JPEG, the resulting image retained a lot of the details despite the compression. The camera has 15 steps of dynamic range, and the amount of data between highlight and shadow that you can record is incredible, Claesson said.

Cropped from full size.

Cropped from full size.

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Image quality is top drawer, but unless you’re an artist or professional photographer, the H6D isn’t practical for everyone else. Even if you could afford the price of the body plus lenses, it’s not a flexible everyday camera. The camera shoots uncompressed RAW, and a 16GB card will only hold an average of 240 (50c) or 120 images (100c); of course, higher capacity cards are preferred, although studio photographers will have it tethered to a Mac or PC.

So why should you care? Well, if you are paying to have expensive portraits taken — whether it’s a wedding, family photo, newborn, or any memorable moment — you want to make sure the photographer you hire is using a good camera. If it’s one of these new Hasselblads, then you’re sure to get the best quality images a camera is capable of capturing. If an opportunity to use or rent one arises, definitely give it a try, because this camera turns any casual photographer into an artist. Or, at least make you feel like one for a day.

Hasselblad has a 1,000,000-exposure guarantee. If you own the previous H5D, you could trade it in for $11,500, and apply it to the new camera.