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Hasselblad H4D-50 against Canon 1Ds MarkIII: what do we get for the money?

I had a great opportunity to test-drive a new Hasselbald H4d camera with its huge 50 Megapixel digital back, thank to John Williams from Hotwire-digital.com. Knowing specification of the Hasselblad, I did not want to simply compare those 2 cameras: they are very different animals, with different purpose… besides the fact they both capture images :-)

Ease of use, camera controls, weight, focus speed and other “external” parameters is not interesting for me, as all of this parameters is highly subjective, both cameras has a big list of fans among professional photographers.

Hasselblad-h4d50 medium format camera
Hasselblad-h4d50 medium format camera


Canon 1Ds mark III 35mm DSLR camera
Technical specification of Hasselblad H4D-50: Data sheet Technical specification of Canon 1Ds mark III: data sheet

What I was curious to see is an actual difference in the image quality, especially in macro and around macro world: this is most important for me as a product photographer.

What is image quality for me? First of all, amount of visible details, then sharpness of those details and then dynamic range of the image. The way lens and camera handles high pitch glare pieces was also interesting for me to compare. Obviously, lens is also responsible for most criteria, so we can call it a lens test as well.

Hasselblad had 120mm F4 HC macro lens, Canon was wearing 100mm F2.8L IS macro.

This is how we did the test:

H4D 50 and canon mark-3 studio setup for test
H4D 50 and canon mark-3 studio setup for test

Two very different object were photographed: one high contrast, high reflective jewelry piece and a live flower, it’s full of pollen stamen in particular. Exactly the same lighting and shooting distance were used for both cameras.

First, we shoot a sequence of different apertures to see how DOF is changed, but most important, how diffraction started to become an issue. This is very interesting to me, as many times I have go with as deep as possible DOF while working with various products, and knowing how much sharpness and details I will lose when closing aperture down is quite important to know.

Obviously, this was more like a lens test, as lens plays the main role in fighting (or helping) with a diffraction, but this is what I need as well: both cameras had best mainstream macro lens on them, and moist likely I would use the same HC 120mm lens on Hasselblad when (if) I decide to switch over to a Hasselblad system.

BTW, the super shallow DOF because of a larger physical sensor size, which always refers as an advantage of the medium format systems over 35mm ones, is not an advantage for me: Working about 5 years as a product photographer, I’ve never needed a super-shallow DOF. Instead, in most cases I need as super-deep DOF, and quite often I do a focus-stacking to get that desired deepness.

Second test was done by shooting both overexposed and underexposed images of that jewelry: high contrast, deep dark areas and bright silver makes already complicated shoot even more harder job for a camera to capture when under/overexposed.

For Hasselblad I was using Phocus 2.5.2 software to convert, adjust and generate lossless TIFF files, which was cut in Photoshop for this article. I found that Phocus works better in recovering dark or bright areas then Photoshop.

For Canon, all image manipulations were done in Photoshop CS5 and it’s RAW converter. No other editing were applied: sharpness was set to “high” for Hasselblad, default sharpening for Canon files in Adobe RAW converter. This settings seem to match Hasselblad’s “high” by the amount of sharpening. White balance was set to match flash color: K5700. No other white balancing was done: I want to use a default color from a camera RAW to see the color difference as well. But definitely, this test was not about the color reproduction.

The results are below.

The most significant difference, as we already know, is a sensor size. 22 v.s 50 mega-pixels is a huge difference. First I was thinking to minimize that difference to shoot closer to the object with Canon, so it will be more of the dynamic range test and contrast/sharpness and glare control test only, but than decided to do a real-life test. Megapixel count is a biggest advantage and the most expensive piece of the medium format sensor, and it won’t be fair to exclude it from the test.

Dynamic range and glare control test sequence:

1. Overexposed recovery test.

I’ve tried to use the same amount of light for a both cameras. “Tried” because H4D-50 was set to ISO50 and Canon was at ISO100, so at the same aperture I had to adjust lights accordingly every time we swap the cameras.

hasselblad vs canon overexposed full photohasselblad vs canon overexposed full photo

100 crop of above:


Hasselblad vs canon overexposed example 100 cropHasselblad vs canon overexposed example 100 crop


As wee see, a huge dynamic range of Hasselblad camera sensor make possible to recover almost everything. However, I’ve noticed that strange color casting around the edges and on a blurred highlighted areas (look at top right corner): I see greenish and purple spots. Have no idea what is that, but the same purple casting on a bright and green on a dark areas can be found on mot of the shots of the ring.

When I’ve tried to fix this with color and WB adjustments nothing seems to work. Lens correction was ON by default, and did not play any role on this color issue.

Therefore, a question to those who knows Hasselblad system better: what are that color casting? Is this because I’ve got such shiny object? In any case, I’ve never seen anything like this in Canon, regardless of how I develop Canon’s RAW.

UPDATE: the answer is below

Here is the same shot with Canon 1Ds Mark 3:

canon 1dsmkIII vs hasselblad h4d-50 overexposed sample shotcanon 1dsmkIII vs hasselblad h4d-50 overexposed sample shot

100% crop from above:

canon 1dsmkIII vs hasselblad h4d-50 overexposed jewelry 100 cropcanon 1dsmkIII vs hasselblad h4d-50 overexposed jewelry 100 crop

As you see, Canon did a great job as well, but it’s narrower dynamic range is slightly visible: Hasselblad got a little bit more details recovered. No color issues here. Also, I’ve noticed Hasselblad handles glare a little bit better.

2. Underexposure test:

Hasseblad H4d-50:


Hasselblad h4d-50 vs Canon 1ds markIII underxposed jewelryHasselblad h4d-50 vs Canon 1ds markIII underxposed jewelry

100% crop of above:

Hasselblad h4d-50 vs canon 1ds MarkIII underexposed 100 crop testHasselblad h4d-50 vs canon 1ds MarkIII underexposed 100 crop test

Canon 1Ds MKIII:

canon vs hasselblad underexposed jewelry test full imagecanon vs hasselblad underexposed jewelry test full image

100% crop of above:

canon vs hasselblad underexposed jewelry 100% cropcanon vs hasselblad underexposed jewelry 100% crop

This is where Hasselblad 16 bit sensor is truly shines! I had (the reason is gone) the image for hasselblad underexposed a little more then for Canon, but still was able to recover almost everything on the darkest part of the composition! No visible noise, and all the details are there.

Canon can’t get even closer to this result: I’ve used as maximum as possible recovery (fill light + exposure compensation actually), stopped just before noise start to kill everything, but it was far away from the H4D achievements. Now I feel so sorry about my poor cheap Mark :-))

DOF/glare/sharpness test on various aperture settings.

The idea was to see how image details will be changing when closing aperture down. Like I said previously, deep DOF is very important to me. Hasselblad HC 120mm F4 macro lens has maximum aperture of F45 versus F32 on Canon 100mm F2.8L IS macro lens.

The full image:

No sharpening was applied beside RAW converter: “High” for hasselblad in Phocus, As-is for Canon.

All photos below are 100% crops

Hasselblad H4D-50 with HC 120mm F4:


Hasselblad h4d-50 HC-120mm F11 100 crop macro test
Hasselblad h4d-50 HC-120mm F11


hasselblad h4d 50 HC 120mm F16 100 crop macro


hasselblad H4d-50 HC 120mm f22 crop macro


Hasselblad h4d-50 HC-120mm f32


Hasselblad h4d-50 HC-120mm f41

Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III with 100mm F2.8L Macro lens:


canon 1ds markIII 100mm-macro-IS F10-100-crop-macro-test


Canon 1ds markIII with 100mm-macro-IS at F16


canon 1ds mark3 100mm macro IS at f22


canon 1ds markIII 100mm macro IS at F29 100-crop-macro-test

First of all (besides the resolution difference, which is so dramatic;-), the color:

Like I mentioned before, both sequences were not color corrected, only the same color temperature was set. Hasselblad shows very neutral colors, while Canon added too much saturation into the picture.

Amount of details are enormous on the image captured with 50 Mpx sensor: tiny 35mm sensor simply can’t capture that many. Hasselblad is also softer, despite of sharpening was set to “high” in RAW converter: This is the way I want it to be, as we can always increase sharpness later in post production, but still have maximum of the details from RAW.

Regarding DOF:

Large sensor has shallow DOF compared to a smaller 35mm sensor at the same aperture, as expected. However, because it’s 120mm lens has more room for aperture adjustments, it still wins the competition: while providing extremely shallow DOF when needed, it capable to deliver still full of detail image at almost completely closed iris, F41.

Canon is showing very good results as well, despite the fact that image was a little overexposed (see those orange stems). Even at F29, it is still good (not as good to be used though, I usually do not go beyond f22). Probably the same as HC 120 at F41, if only the resolution would be the same:-)

The last test:

Overexposure on non-reflective object, the same flower

Hasselblad h4d-50 vs-canon 1ds-markIII overexposd

Canon MK3:

Canon 1ds mkIII vs hasselblad h4d-50 macro dynamic range testCanon 1ds mkIII vs hasselblad h4d-50 macro dynamic range test

Again, Canon was able to recover the same (+-10%), I really do not see the difference) amount of overexposed tissue. It looks like highlights is not a big problem for Canon, but deep shadows are.

Ok, almost done here:-) Except the video. Yes, we got a video of the whole process, and I need one more day to finish it up. There will be mine and John’s happy faces talking about the cameras, the shooting setup and, most interesting, a focus adjustments on Hasselblad when shooting tethered. This is one thing about Hasselblad’s controls I definitely like: I can select any point on the image (all done from connected PC or Mac) and adjust focus to get the maximum contrast (which is an indication of a maximum focus), all controlled from a computer.

UPDATE: Here it the video:

Update 9/29/10

Found some interesting info regarding Anti Aliasing filter on our cameras:

There is a company called Maxmax, they can remove AA filter from most of 35mm DSLR. There is a comparison before and after AA filter removal on maxmax.com

Quite interesting, is not it? There is a long debate about AA removal, enjoy all ten pages, if you can: AA discussion

Now, the conclusion.

The ultimate question, does new Hasselblad H4D worth it’s price ($38K $25K for the 50 megapixel version, $40K for top of the line 60 megapixel one) has not been completely answered for me. From one side, it is definitely YES:

Amazing dynamic range, huge resolution, precise focus and camera’s mechanics, lenses which are able to capture all that details: the new Hasselblad worth every penny Hasselblad’s family asking for it. Having top-of the line equipment, camera with the most sophisticated and most recent technology involved should cost such money.

From other side, do I really need such camera for such money? Do I want it? Yes! Can I successfully continue to work without it? Yes! The most important question, I think, is “WHEN“. When will I have to buy such or similar camera?

So far, working with my Canon, which is no doubt more faster and more convenient in everyday use (IMO) and 5(!) times less expensive then Hasselblad H4D, I never had a situation when client asked something like “can I have a larger image?”, or “is there is a way we can see more details of our product?”. So far I am able to deliver everything they want with my MarkIII. Yes, I shoot 3 exposure HDR for interior/exterior to get all the lighting range under control, I use focus stacking on some of my product shots, but it works, and it works great!

However, I do have goals I need to move towards, I know that at some point any 35mm DSLR won’t be enough for me. I really hope I’ll figure out that “point” sooner then later:-) I do not want to wait till my new big customer will tell me that image does not have all the details they where looking for and therefore they can’t use it for the application they want. On other hand, I do not want to invest $50K (think about the lenses needed) in something which may not pay off its price withing one year. But I’ll get there. Maybe even sooner then I am thinking now :-).


Hope this article was interesting, you can Like our facebook company page and subscribe to RSS feed: it is better stay updated. I am currently working on a blog post from our latest project, a children fashion photo shot, we got some amazing images :-)

Also, I would really love to hear your opinion, especially from those who worked with Hassleblad systems for a while. Again, many thanks to John from Hotwire-Digital.com, the place where we can Get the Best from the Experts.


On fredmiranda.com, where I have posted thois article, one good guy explained that color fringing I’ve seen on all Hasselblad’s overexposed images of the ring: It called longitudinal chromatic aberration, or color bokeh.
Below a scan from Zeiss article about this issue. Whihc i understand, but still not like: little canon lens almost free from it. may be because it is little? Smaller glass element is less likely to have that chromatic abberation? Not sure. So, here is the article (the full document “DOF and bokeh explained” can be found here):

carl ZeisCarl Zeiss article explaining color bokeh, or longitudinal chromatic aberration s article explaning color bokeh, or longitudinal chromatic aberration
Carl Zeiss article explaning color bokeh, or longitudinal chromatic aberration

UPDATE (10/17/2010)

Want to make sure we have a correct exposured image, 100% of the same area from H4D: it is almost free from Chromatic Aberration, see yourself:

hasselblad h4d correct exposure 100% crop
hasselblad h4d correct exposure 100% crop

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20 responses on "Hasselblad H4D-50 against Canon 1Ds MarkIII: what do we get for the money?"

  1. Thank you Alex for this excellent report. Thanks also to the many persons who have commented on the report. Very helpful, indeed. I found this posting while researching the Hasselblad 120mm Macro lens for possible purchase.

    The Hasselblad 120 Macro Lens covered in your report has been superseded by “version II” of that lens. I strongly suspect that the new lens was introduced to correct the spherical aberration issues you reported at close range. I am considering buying a used original version of the lens, which is the same as the one you tested. Does anyone know whether the digital color fringing correction now provided in both Phocus and Lightroom 4 would substantially correct or eliminate this problem as part of the raw conversion process? I do not know whether or not DAC (Digital Aberration Correction) was present in Phocus version 2.5.2.

  2. 1Dmk# is very good so are all tghe 1000 x photographers on the street any time making rather good pictures

    what proffesionals like is not a good photo bud the best photo and most of the time this is about the details shown

    so buy yourselfs asap a Hasselblad if you like to stay in the business selling photo’s either find a new proffesion

    sports photographers and papparatzi are having a busines about shooting pictures not photo’s so this is a different story Hassy hates

  3. Thanks for this amazing and great information
    I’m a 1Ds Mark III owner
    That camera has been and still is serving me very well. It’s built like a tank and shoot like a Canon (was that a pun? I dunno)
    I’ve often wondered what difference would it make shooting with a Hasselblad.
    Done some research, and I found that what I like the most about those cameras is the dynamic range they can handle. I guess that what separates Medium format and 35mm (both digital of course), and that, to me, is worth the high price

  4. I appreciate you saying up front you don’t care about “external” considerations. What you don’t say is that you’re basically testing the sensor ONLY. The fact that the Hasselblad has more chromatic aberration than a $1k L-series lens is a HUGE deal. Canon excels with its glass and omitting this consideration isn’t ‘external’. (The lens you used has an Ultra-Low diffraction element.) I also wish you would take into effect this was a rigged match. How much influence over the tests and setup did the Hasselblad rep have? This reminds me of a late-night must-have-product infomercial. Everyone I know agrees the back is second-only to the lens in overall image quality. The items that were actually tested seem to be 1: remote on-demand focus (a niche feature at best) and 2: bit-depth of the raw image. Finally, those external considerations don’t seem so external really. Yes, a 50-60 megapixel sensor is a sexy novelty, but when you have to compare a polished elegant, weatherproof, rugged $6k workhorse to a quirky, LOUD lab-queen that weighs in at $60k; I’m sorry, I’ll wait another few years and pick up a 60MP Canon body with the interest I make on the $60,000 I’m not spending today.

    • Well, lens can be replaced with another, but AA filter on sensor not:-)
      Now I shoot with canon 5D and Hasselblad H1 and PhaseOne P25+ back: both cameras are 22Mpx, but the image quality … you need to see yourself. large sensor, ISO50 and absence of AA filer gives a huge different IN STUDIO.. Where weather proof and speed is not needed.
      Canon/Nikon – best for outside, MF – for sterile studio inside:-)

      Thank you for stopping by!

  5. JP It’s kinda like driving a Chevy and coveting a Rolls Royce. While I’m not circulating in the thin air of professionals like all you guys I have a canon mk 3 and don’t really have too much of a clue as to how to use it to the best advantage. In the hands of a PhD a scalpel is useless albeit the bearer is a doctor. Same here (I know I know again with the analogy,) I’m an amateur with a canon mk 3 – doesn’t make me a photograher.

    • Well, I have a different vision of such comparison: rally made Subaru and formula one car. Each one the best it what it was created for and the price difference is the same.
      What is was trying to drag race both, shoulder to shoulder:-)

  6. Was the lack of live view on the H4D a problem for you? I use this all the time for macro/tilt-shift pictures (mostly in the field) as my eyesight is nowhere near good enough to just use the viewfinder. I think this is something that is lacking in all of the MF digital choices right now and the LCD on back of the H4D was not very good as I recall.

    • Stephen,
      I shoot tethered in studio, and H4D has a live view on a monitor and I can tune focus and compose a shoot from a computer. But on a field, having LV (especially for macro) can help a lot, I agree.

  7. Hi Alex and all,

    Thanks for taking the time to do this comparison and for the comments and other contributions.
    I am currently near to investing in an H4D – the new(-ish) 31 MP version (currently own Canon 1D MkIV and 5D MkII). I actually don’t need more pixels. For me one of THE major arguments for looking at the ‘Blad is simply the format.

    Before digital I had a superb Contax 645 which I quickly sold when I bought my first digital camera (the original 1Ds). Much of my work is portraiture (corporate mostly). After 8 years I’m hating more and more the 24×36 frame proportions. Just too long (or thin). Of course I could ‘think’ 645 when shooting 24×36 and crop in post-prod, but it’s just not the same. I’m developing a phobia that’s stifling me. I just want to see differently !

    Now is that worth the $10k + $6k of extra lenses ? I’m pretty much convinced !



  8. Alex, i dont think a client would tell me that jeje, what i was trying to say is that in the enviroment where i work and i think all over the world also , we had to deal with the “new guys with digital cameras” when digital photography came out strongly, and i think we somehow for a period of time lost some clients who wanted to try with the new cheaper guys untill those clients understood that is the photographer and not the camera. I work in Ecuador, a very small country with a medium small for commercial photograhy market, i do advertising and some fashion work , so that is why i am really thinking to do the jump from mark3 to H4, i know that the images i shoot depends on my skills and photographic experience but if you think marketingwise that is the way to keep one or two steps ahead form my competitors.


    i have benn watching some of your videos, congrat, they are very ilustrative, keep going

  9. i am a canon mark 3 user, and very happy with results, now 2 things: 3 months ago my client came into the studio and said to me….ohhh i own the same camera ….. then i understood that i really should go H4 soon, and you know guys… i really want to own one before i die, isnt that any photographers dream?
    thanks jp

    • Well.. What would you do if your next client will own H4? :-) Owning a camera and producing good photography is more far from each other then we could think, IMO.
      As for a dream as a photographer… My dream is to own a world best photography studio:-)

      All the best,

  10. Hi Alex, we work with H3DII 39MP and the Canon 5DII. The highlight recovery, the bigger dynamic range and the details in the shadows for me is more important than the megapixels.In the end it is a matter of working with the tool you need and you can actually afford, high end shooters can easily buy an H4D and amortize the investment in a period of time just think how much a high end shooter earns doing a catalog for a worldwide clothing store or a worldwide campaign, while other shooters who have more modest gigs can amortize the investment of 1ds MKIII based in their income. Take care … from cologne, dirk

  11. Yes, all else being equal, smaller lenses are slightly less likely to have that problem. However, you’ve confused the smaller and larger lens, here. The Canon is much larger than the Blad 120mm f4 Fujinon lens. It’s a 100mm f2.8, that’s an optical path 36mm in diameter (100mm / f2.8) and looking at the design, maybe 115mm long. The Blad is only 30mm (120mm / f4) and pretty short, it looks like about 105mm long.

    But you note I said “slightly”. That’s obvious, because the larger Canon lens is dramatically outperforming the smaller Blad lens. So, why “slightly”? Why does the size of the lens have little or nothing to do with either lateral or longitudinal CA (chromatic aberration)?

    I’ll try to keep this simple… Generally, longitudinal CA happens because the CA of different kinds of glass, each separating the spectrum differently (a characteristic known as “dispersion”) are being played off against each other. This lets the lens designer get the CA to cancel out at the focal plane, eliminating lateral CA (the kind that software can fix, unfortunately) but it tends to exacerbate the the longitudinal CA. The thicker the lens elements are, or the farther they are apart, the worse this lateral/longitudinal trade-off is. Thicker elements enable more CA correction, but the more lateral CA you correct, the worse the longitudinal CA gets. The Blad has a very unusual design, the elements are both thick, and very far spaced. All 9 elements (the individual glass lenses that make up what we call “a lens”) are isolated, and it’s totally asymmetric, the front part of the lens looks nothing like the rear, so the rear can’t really help correct the CA of the front. This type of design means that every single lens element gives you four “degrees of freedom” in the design, the curve and location of both the front and rear surfaces. So, 9 elements gives you 36 parameters to tune, trying to squeeze every last drop of sharpness out of the lens.

    The Canon 100mm f2.8 IS is an entirely different design. Literally, they’re about a quarter century apart, the Blad Fujinon looks like a 1985 design, the Canon looks like today. It has 15 elements, but four are flat, don’t contribute to the CA situation at all, and only serve to provide the IS. Of the 11 that are left, 6 are thin, and cemented together in pairs, making their CA cancellation very effective both for lateral and longitudinal CA. But gluing two elements together means giving up two of those “degrees of freedom”. The lenses have to mate, the front curve of one has to snuggle into the rear curve of the other. The front surface of the one is also located against the rear surface of the other. Two lenses, 6 degrees of freedom, instead of 8. Canon has two more elements than Blad, but burns up all the extra degrees of freedom in the process of killing the longitudinal CA.

    • Joseph,
      Very interesting information. Thank you.
      Those things you are explained confirms my thoughts: The whole Hasselblad system (this may be true for any MF camera) was created to deliver maximum resolution images, trading in at some degree the rest parameters, like CA, etc. Meaning studio environment with controlled lighting is preferable place to work with it.
      Canon is more like everyday horse: you can shoot products in a studio, Afghanistan warriors and fashion show with the same success.

  12. concerning chromatic aberration, you are right when you say that the bigger the lens diameter, the greater is the effect. Indeed, if you reduce the iris (increase f/stop number) in the Hassy lens, the effect decreases.
    hope to have been usefull ;-)
    thanks for sharing your fantastic tuts, keep up the good work.

  13. Brilliant comparison!

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