I can't stop looking at it. I mean, I really can't stop looking at. What I'm talking about is the 30x40-inch print I just made from an image taken on the new Hasselblad H3D-39 with a 39-megapixel back. It truly is amazing! The quality, the tones. It may be better than anything I've shot with film.
For a wedding photographer who grew up and learned the business of photography with a medium-format camera, I found the Hasselblad H3D as close to heaven as it gets.
Our studio, Fred Marcus Photography, has been in business for more than half a century, concentrating primarily on high-end weddings and portraiture, with a clientele including Fortune 500 executives and people looking for the finest portraiture available in New York. So the camera's quality, ease of use, and comfort came as a quite a pleasant surprise.
Wedding Test Drive
My expectations for the H3D were high, because it has the Hasselblad name. Nonetheless, it exceeded even my wildest expectations of quality. Working with the camera at a recent wedding was really easy and comfortable—even easier than what is out there today in 35mm format. The auto-focus, which is instantaneous, worked flawlessly during my testing.
The camera controls are easily accessible and, in most cases, are right on the camera grip within easy reach. The ISO range is from 50 to 400, and the motor lets you to take an image once every 1.2 seconds.
The H3D also scores high marks for versatility. For starters, it offers three different ways to store images. You can shoot tethered, record to a Hasselblad Image Bank (in essence, a 100GB hard drive) via FireWire, or save to a CompactFlash card, which is what I used. The decision on which storage solution to use generally will be dictated by the project you are working on.
After recording my images on a SanDisk Extreme IV 4GB card—the files generated by this camera are so large, this card holds only 40 images—I converted the 3FR files the camera generates into DNG files using Hasselblad's FlexColor software. This allowed me to open the images in Photoshop for retouching. If you're unfamiliar with this format, these files have a large set of metadata, keywords, and copyright info attached to them.
The Beauty of Ultra-Focus
The sharpness of the images from these files was impeccable and actually seemed sharper than images I focused manually. Hasselblad calls this quality "Ultra-Focus," a well-deserved moniker! The camera is built around a new digital camera engine that enables this increased sharpness.
I worked with the HC 3.5/50mm and HC 3.2/150mm lenses, which have the heft and feel of the old CF lens. The camera offers a selection of viewfinder options. The one I was given to use, a 90-degree prism, was perfect, because that's what I use to shoot my weddings.
The photo session in my studio—during which I shot that amazing portrait—was, in a word, a breeze. I put a radio slave on the camera, set it to manual, dialed in my exposure, and started shooting. After taking the images, I downloaded them to my Mac, opened the FlexColor imaging software, and converted the images to TIFF files, which I subsequently imported to Photoshop for any adjustments.
I have been told that the reason I can't stop staring at the portrait is what Hasselblad terms "HNCS"—Hasselblad Natural Color Solution. As the tech team explained to me, HNCS is a powerful new color profile they've developed to simplify capture of typically troublesome subjects, including various skin tones, metals, fabrics, and flowers.
Working in the background along with the FlexColor imaging software—which is Mac- and Windows-compatible—HNCS produces outstanding "can't stop staring at it" results. To support the new color system, they developed a custom RAW file format called 3F RAW, the previously mentioned 3FR.
In the end, for wedding work, I would have to say the H3D-39 is probably too much camera. Those stunning files are simply too large for me to comfortably recommend this camera to wedding shooters.
However, discriminating commercial and portrait photographers will find the H3D-39 one unbelievable piece of equipment. If you have a high-end clientele who regularly request large wall portraits or supersized commercial images of the highest quality, this is the camera to use. You won't be able to stop staring at the results. Most likely, your clients won't be able to either.