Text & Images by Diane Berkenfeld
In 1948, nature photographer Victor Hasselblad created the 6x6 medium format camera system that bears his name. And for almost 50 years since then, Hasselblad cameras have offered only the square 6x6 format. While the prints have stayed the same shape, technical refinements over the years have ensured that the Hasselblad name has always been known for quality.
With the introduction of the H1, Hasselblad's first 645 format autofocus camera system. the company has made a bold leap into the 21st century.
To distinguish between the three camera systems offered by Hasselblad, the company has renamed the 6x6 system, the "V" system; the X-Pan the "X" system; and the H1, the "H" system.
Each of the three camera systems are unique and each offers its own accessories. The square format "V" system viewfinders, bodies, backs and lenses are not compatible with the viewfinders, bodies, backs and lenses of the 645 format "H" system. However, for those photographers that own Hasselblad "V" series cameras, the H1 will allow the use of their Carl Zeiss lenses, through an adapter, scheduled to be released this summer.
Hasselblad H1 camera was designed to merge seamlessly into the digital world. Two manufacturers have designed digital backs to be used with the H1: Kodak's DCS Pro Back 645H and Phase One's H101.
The Kodak DCS Pro Back 645H features a 16-megapixel sensor that can generate a 12 bit image or 96 megabyte RGB file. ISO range is from 100 - 400. The back does not have to be tethered to a computer and features a full color LCD screen to review images.
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The H1 system offers four lenses: a 50-100mm zoom, 150mm, 80mm, and 35mm fixed focal length lenses. Three additional lenses will be available in 2003: 210mm, 120mm, and 50mm. The system also offers compatibility for a Polaroid back and two digital backs: Kodak's DCS Pro Back 645H and Phase One's H101.
Putting the H1 to the Test
I recently had the opportunity to shoot with the H1 at the New York Botanical Gardens. While the wind was howling outside making it unpleasant for shooting, inside it was warm and dry and perfect for testing out the H1. After a short introduction to the basic workings of the camera, I set to wandering the gardens in search of subjects. The H1 can be used with minimal or total control, depending on the needs of the particular photographer. The camera controls on the H1 are well designed and the menus are easy to navigate through.
The built-in meter offers spot, center weighted and average metering patterns. Shooting modes include two program, an aperture priority, shutter speed priority, and full manual. In testing the camera, I used both program and manual modes. Regardless of shooting mode, the camera's built-in meter was spot on so my images were correctly exposed every time. The autofocus is quick and accurate, easily focusing in low light or low contrast scenes. The lenses produced sharp images with crisp, vivid colors.
The H1 system has been designed from the ground up as a separate camera system from the current Hasselblad square format cameras, therefore each part of the H1 is brand new and incorporates features that make the photographer's life easier when shooting. One film back is used for both 120 and 220 film. I know I'm not the first person to scamper around a crowded dance floor looking for the darkslide that slipped out of a pocket. With the H1, this scenario is history because the darkslide is incorporated into the film back. And when the darkslide is down and you try to shoot, you see a message in the viewfinder telling you the slide is down.
One of the many features of the camera is a built-in pop-up fill flash. This feature is most commonly found on amateur cameras but has been showing up on more pro models recently. The built-in flash is one feature that I really like. As a fill-flash, it provides just the amount of light needed and you don't have to weigh yourself down with a full-sized external flash.
One of the great custom features of the H1 is its ability to keep track of the number of frames that have been shot by each lens, body and film back. Another helpful feature is the data imprinting offered by the H1. Data can be imprinted on the edge of the film, including exposure information, date/time or text.
The shutter speed range of the camera is from 18 hours to 1/800 of a second and the flash syncs at all shutter speeds. The camera prewinds the film to the first frame for shooting and when it reaches the end of the roll, it winds the film out. The H1 also features a self-timer and interval timer.