Hasselblad H3DII-31 Review

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Hasselblad H3dII-31

I have been getting a lot of emails lately about my thoughts on the Hasselblad H3DII-31 camera and what my experiences with it has been.  Seeing as how the camera is on sale right now, and the sudden interest from many of you, I thought it would be helpful to do a little review.  Not to mention I don’t have time to write back to everyone in great depth.  I am not going to get super technical or compare images at 100% with different cameras.  There are plenty of sites already doing that, but I can tell you about my experience of using this camera for the past year and a half.  For those of you not familiar with the H3DII-31, it is a 31 megapixel medium format camera.  This is not just a digital back you put on a medium format film camera body.  The entire camera was designed together so the end result is a very impressive piece of equipment.  The sensor on this camera is much larger than the sensor on a 35mm format DSLR, and this delivers details not previously seen on a digital camera.

After I made the decision to take the plunge, it took me a few weeks to get used to the H3DII-31 and learn to trust it’s auto focus.  During those first few weeks, I shot everything with the H3DII-31 and my Canon just to be safe.  I needed to get to a place where I could trust the Hasselblad as much as I trusted my Canon (most of the time) and know that it was focusing where I wanted.  Six years ago, I had a Mamiya 645AFD which is an auto focus medium format film camera.  I hated that thing.  I am not a fan of manual focusing, so the auto focus feature was what drew me to that particular body.  I can’t remember exactly what the focusing screen looked like on it, but it was impossible to choose a precise point to auto focus on.  Like my subjects eye, for example.  It was just as likely to focus on the tip of a nose, or the back of an ear as it was the eye, and it was really difficult to tell what was in focus through the view finder.  I think that experience with an auto focus medium format camera is what made me so hesitant about the Hasselblad at first.

Thankfully, my experience with the H3DII-31 has been amazing in contrast to the Mamiya, and to this day it has never focused anywhere I didn’t want it to.   Not only is this camera accurate, but the sharpness and clarity is incredible.  After all this time with it, I still get excited and amazed by the detail and richness of my images.  The out of focus areas in the background are smooth without banding, and the detail areas of the images are so crisp and brilliant.

The LEAF Shutter in the Hasselblad H3DII-31 is a feature I especially like.  What this allows for is the ability to sync with strobes at shutter speeds up to 1/500th of a second.  I have found this to be most helpful when shooting outside and I don’t want to shoot at f16.   And it gives you more options if you want to shoot with strobe and maintain a shallow depth of field.  Shooting at 1/500th also gives you better protection from camera shake and helps keep everything sharp.

A feature of this camera not often discussed is the aspect ratio.  It is medium format after all, so it is 6 x4.5 as opposed to 4×6 on 35mm DSLR’s.  Making the switch back to medium format for me was a breath of fresh air.  I feel like 645 is how I see things, and composing in the H3DII-31 is much more enjoyable for me.  Some people like square format, and some of you will prefer 35mm.  It’s just a matter of personal preference, but this was a big deal for me, and one I was happy to switch to.

I have found the color on the H3DII-31 to be much more accurate and rich than on other cameras I have used.  Shadow detail is also something that really jumped out at me.  When working with my Canon, I became used to flat shadows with little detail, but the Hasselblad seems to have a much better range between darks and highlights.

The resolution is also amazing.  Frequently, I will come across details in a picture while using Photoshop I never could have seen with a different camera.  For example, I was photographing a CEO on the 45th floor and the city was in the background.  When I was working with the images, I zoomed to 100% and noticed there was a man standing in a window of another building several blocks away, and his face and clothing were clearly recognizable.  The man in the window didn’t do anything to make the picture better, but it was just really cool in a tech nerd sort of way.  The size of a H3DII-31 image is 6496 pixels x 4872 pixels.

The Hasselblad Phocus software has been my only complaint about the H3DII-31.  For a while I was stuck converting all of my images into DNG files before I could work with them using an old version of Hasselblad FlexColor.  For about a year, I was not able to use Phocus, and I was stuck using an old Hasselblad program to convert to DNG before I could work with the images.  Thankfully Phocus 2.0 was just released, and I will say the new version has been working very well.  I wish the camera would create a file that was supported by other software options, but Hasselblad claims one of the reasons their files are so great is because they can completely control them through Phocus.  Maye that is true, and I do agree that the H3DII-31 creates amazing files.  I guess I just wish there were more options for working with the raw files.  In the scheme of things, this is not a huge deal for me, especially considering the final product produced by the H3DII-31.  That being said, the new version of Phocus is a good program.  It just takes getting used to, as does any new program.

Something else worth mentioning is the excellent support and customer service I have received from Hasselblad.  While I was having problems with Phocus, Hasselblad techs have always stayed on the phone with me or emailed me right back when I had a problem or question until it was resolved.  Just today I had a question about batch processing and I got a detailed email response within 15 minutes.

Some of you have asked about the workflow with a Hasselblad.  I copy the Hasselblad 3FR files from a compact flash card to my server.  Then I open Phocus and import the images.  This essentially creates a duplicate file of the images you “imported” and the new imported files (3F or FFF files) are the ones you work with in Phocus.  I then make my selects, and delete the imported (3F) files which didn’t make the cut.  I still have all of the original 3FR files though, so I haven’t truly deleted everything yet.  In Phocus you can make a number of RAW adjustments just like you would in Bridge or Lightroom.  From there you can export to any file type and then it’s off to Photoshop.  If you shoot tethered, then the files are automatically imported and you don’t have to go through that process.

In conclusion, I really like this camera.  I would buy it again in a heartbeat, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to take their photography to the next level.  It would not be a good camera if you shoot live sports or anything requiring rapid shooting simply because it does 1 frame per 1.5 seconds compared to several frames per second with Canon and Nikon DSLR’s.  Rarely do I ever need anything that fast, so it’s not an issue for me or photographers who shoot products etc…

I have seen a huge jump in the quality of my work since I began using the Hasselblad H3DII-31.  It feels like an extension of me when I am shooting, and has made photography much more enjoyable.

So there you go.  I hope this information is helpful.  Feel free to leave questions or start a discussion in the comments.  And again, (HERE) is where you can get the H3DII-31 for a killer deal.  $6,000 off is a lot less than I paid, so I consider that to be a deal.