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In studio test: Hasselblad H3D-31 v.s Canon 1Ds Mark III mounted on large format camera

I had an opportunity ( many thanks to John Williams from Hotwire Digital) to play with this beast, Hasselblad H3D -31 few month ago, eventually got time to write this short review.

The intention was to compare Hasselblad with tilt shift adapter  with my Tilt-shift adapter system for Canon EOS I am currently using.

In studio test hasseblad H3D-39
In studio test Hasseblad H3D-31


Unfortunately, we did not have a macro lens for Hasselblad and used  non-macro 80mm f 2.8 H lens. I am not going to write a technical review, as there are so many on the web, as I did  not have enough time to test every aspect of the camera. Instead, I am going to tell what I liked and what I did not about this Hasselblad, compared to my Canon 1Ds Mark III.

Do Not like:

  • The camera is big and slow. Slow- meaning it is slower that my Canon 1Ds Mark III. Slower focus, slower operations
  • Only one focusing point (center),¬† which sometime forces you to use manual focus for a product shots. Not a big deal though.

Do Like:

  • Bright, big viewfinder. Very good for low light work. Very good and precise matte focusing screen.
  • Good use of “live view” feature (which I’ve never used with my Canon), as it let me precisely adjust focus by¬† looking at the monitor. Focusing can be controlled¬† from a computer, wile working tethered. However, for some reason we couldn’t get good focus using this feature, but i do not blame the camera, rather my limited experience working with hassel :-)
  • The most I like in Hasseblad, (true for any digital medium format) is: resolution, color depth (16 bit v.s 14 bit per channel)¬† and .. removable back! Yes, ability to take back out and clean sensor is what I am ready to pay for! DSLR’s deep hidden sensor gets so dirty when I change lens a lot, or even more dirty if I attach the camera body to a large format system bellows. And it is so hard for me to clean DSLR sensor! Sounds familiar? You clean it with wet swab, than wipe,¬† wipe, … close a shutter, mount a lens just to find few leftovers on the sensor.¬† With medium format digi back tt should be much easier to detach back, wipe it and put it back again.

Ok, back to the test. I can’t get close enough to the bracelet¬† to match the same magnification ratio as I had with my Mark mounted on modified Cambo MAster PC rails, but I think extra resolution of the 31 Mpx sensor will help to minimize the difference. Below is the full uncropped image from Hasselblad¬† with it’s own tilt-shift adapter HTS 1.5 and 80mm F2.8 lens set at F16,¬† no sharpening or any other adjustments were applied:

Jewelry shoot with Hasselblad H3D-31, 80mm non-maco lens
Jewelry shoot with Hasselblad H3D-31, 80mm non-maco lens, F16

100% crop:

Hasselblad with HTS 1.5 jewelry example 100% crop

Now the same setup with Canon 1Ds Mark III mounted on Cambo Master PC rails with Rodenstock 80mm f/4 APO-Rodagon N Enlarging Lens set at F16:

Canon mounted on large format (Cambo PC) jewelry, F16

100% crop:

100% crop Canon with Rodagon 80mm lens

I clearly see that Haselblad’s¬† HTS 1.5 tilt-shift adapter has more limitation on it’s tilt angle, which makes impossible to get all object into the focus, even when aperture was closed to F16¬† (maximum useful number due to a diffraction). Large format camera allows much more¬† movement to tilt a lens, providing a real advantage when shooting object at such low angle. ( One more example of what it is capable is here). The overall details and clarity seems to be even. I guess if I would use¬†¬† Hasselblad with true macro lens it will beat my little $900 enlarging lens by amount of details, but¬† couldn’t do anything with¬† the distant part of the object I shoot: it just can’t tilt¬† enough to get focus there..

I know Hasselblad with it’s 31 Mpx 16 bit color depth sensor will outperform small Canon’s 14 bit ¬† sensor, but in a studio, where I have all lighting under full control, dynamic range is not that critical like on location, where you fight against sun, bright sky, etc. However, everything has it’s price, and 3 years ago I did not see any reason to invest 3 times more to a digital medium format system (comparing to high-end Canon). My client’s simply did not need that extra details and dynamic range for the price. Now, when¬† medium format systems with 30+ Megapixel back’s being sold below $20K , the gap is closing.
Next year I’ll have a medium format monster in my garage:-) Not sure if it will be a hassel, as by nature I never liked closed architecture, always prefer more freedom of choice:-)
And it will be really cool to have digital back mounted on a large format camera, tilting and shifting it to any usable angle while using any large or medium or even enlargement lens with it! Must work perfect for product and food photography.

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13 responses on "In studio test: Hasselblad H3D-31 v.s Canon 1Ds Mark III mounted on large format camera"

  1. Weird to hear you have a dust problem. I have a D700 which I use intensively for 2,5 year now, and since I only use old MF fixed lenses I have to switch them all the time. I can tell you: I have NEVER EVER have my sensor cleaned, I only used the sensor cleaning function maybe 5 times, and there is 2 little spots on the sensor now, which are almost never visible in my shots!

  2. Akel –

    Thank you for writing this article. I like to experiment, and your idea of mounting a 35mm digital camera on the back of a 4×5 view camera rocks! Wonderful idea. Thank You.

  3. Hi
    I think I agree with Monty, Hasselblads are very good in contrast and colors, with an interesting resolution. I don’t think Canon is the same … I going to buy a Canon EOS 1 Mark III to see, but I’m sure Hasselblad is better, but you can’t do all the same with it. The Blads need a lot of light to work well, and of course, you can’t shoot many time a second.
    I have one with the 39 MP sensor, it’s really incredible.
    Alex, you can try with the Cambo and just the sensor of the Hasselblad on it, I think, with an adapter …
    I have a 120/4 macro, it’s a good lens, but I don’t have the HTS.

  4. Hans,
    Any other way to shoot with Hassel macro using tilt-shift? It would be a big disappointment it there is no way to use Hasselblad with til and shift in product photography. I ma really close to make a final decision on what to buy. I know I cxan use Sinar Digi backs this way..

  5. The macro 120mm will not work with the HTS, if you are planning to do this. HTS is limited in many ways: 1.5 x multiplicator. Limited movement. No macro lens possible.

  6. Hi,
    who ever gave you the material should have told you the HTS (Tilt-Shift adapter) and the 31 and 40MP do not work well together. They are not Fullframe sensors and therefore are limited in adjustments, due to the micro lenses on the pixels. For full use and proper use of HTS you should use or 39 or 50MP Hasselblad backs.

  7. I must agree that this is not a very comprehensive test but full marks for giving it a go. The two camera systems have VERY different qualities and actually you are comparing 35mm with 5X4. You get lots of ease of use with 35mm, thats what its for but less with MF and large format. You get much more quality in terms of colour and range with MF but less with 35mm. They are different machines with different qualities and I do find it frustrating when people want an MF to be like 35mm….thank goodness it isnt!
    There is now the H4D 40 which replaces the 31 and it has a new focussing system.
    I am currently shooting with the H3D 50 and will be upgrading to the H4D 50 this year. The colour on this camera is absolutely amazing and this is something that Hass have taken great pride in getting right, of course the image quality is as good as it gets.It is particularly realistic. Its very hard to work with and its not fast but thats how I like it.

    • Monty,
      I’ve liked test Hasselblad a lot, and yes, it is a very different cameras with canon, 100% agree with you. Like I said, I see my future as a commercial photographer with medium format camera in hand.However, still has not decided which brand to go with. It will be either Hasselblad or Phase One..

  8. This is a crappy test, if you can even call it that.
    How hard would it have been to go out and rent the needed equipment so that you could have done a real world practical comparison.
    really pathetic,and another example of how mediocrity has become the norm

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