Digital Hasselblad H3D-31 !!
Matthew Osborne Photography / @MrLeicaCom
Digital Hasselblad – Intro
As was the case with buying my first digital Leica M9 camera, I never ever thought I’d see the day that I bought a digital Hasselblad. I didn’t even lust after one after as I knew they cost like $40,000 for a new one (when released).
I was looking at some Hasselblad assesories for my Hasselblad V Series 501C film camera when I saw an unpriced second hand digital Hasselblad. I enquired to the store but it so happened that the camera was no longer for sale. That one sighting spiralled into 2-3 days of intense reading and research. I think I have watched every Hasselblad related video ever posted to YouTube! It certainly felt like that. I looked at the Hasselblad CFV-50C digital back for the older Hasselblad V System cameras and also the more recent Hasselblad H Series digital cameras. To cut an ever longer story short I found a few reasonably priced older digital Hasselblad cameras on eBay and put in a low bid only to have it accepted to my surprise!
Hasselblad H3D-31 Digital Camera
I am the very proud and excited new owner of a digital Hasselblad H3D-31 camera with 80mm f2.8 H series kit lens. The camera bundle I purchased also included a Hasselblad H series film back and a spare battery grip. This means for the first time I can shoot both digital and film on the same camera body / lens combo! My dream camera surely!
Hasselblad H3D-31 Camera Spec
As a brief overview I will summarise some of what I absorbed during my reading. The H Series Hasselblad camera system like the V Series camera system is completely modular. As with my analogue Hasselblad 501C camera the H3D-31 camera consists of the lens which is interchangeable, the viewfinder or prism, the camera body and the camera back. H3D relates to the camera body model. There was the H1D released in 2002, followed by a H2D, the H3D I have, then H3DII, H4D, H5D and the current model is a H6D. The Hasselblad digital back is where the technology has advanced the most and the numbers ’31’ in H3D-31 name relates to the digital back. 31 means 31 megapixels. There is a 39MP model ( H3D-39) which I considered and then newer digital backs such as the 40MP, 50MP, 60MP..
Why do I need a Digital Hasselblad?
Good question! I guess the honest answer is I don’t ‘need’ it so why did I buy one if I already have the digital Leica M 240 camera? As the months pass I am getting more and more obsessed with light and in particular adding artificial light to my model photography images using strobes. I always wish the Leica M 240 had a faster flash sync speed of greater than 1/180 but it doesn’t. I am spoilt by my Hasselblad 501C film camera that can sync with flash at 1/500. If you are not a strobist, what this basically equates to is I can dim daylight to a greater extend (such as on a bright day) then light the model with strobes. The Hasselblad H3D-31 lenses can sync at 1/800 so it will be like living the dream (and the newer Hasselblad ‘orange dot’ HC lenses sync at 1/1000 on my H3D and at 1/2000 on the latest H6D camera body).
The Hasselblad H3D-31 is certainly not the perfect camera so here are some pros and cons compared to my Leica M240.
Hasselblad H3D-31 vs. Leica M240 – Pros
- Larger digital sensor – giving a look more similar to medium format film than 35mm. More detail captured, more colour depth, texture and dynamic range (more steps of grey between absolute black and absolute white).
- Fast flash sync speed – 1/800+ on all lenses for my strobist work
- Shooting teathered – I can use a FireWire to connect the H3D-31 to a laptop to display images straight to a computer screen. This is great when shooting for clients and has become almost expected in the fashion industry. I plan to use the Hasselblad on location as much as possible and unteathered but at least I now have the option to connect to a laptop if requested.
- Retouching for magazine submissions and clients – the larger sensor captures more detail so I have more information to work with if retouching an image for a magazine spread. I would say medium format has become the industrial standard for fashion and beauty images over the last five years.
- Interchangeable digital back and film back – being able to shoot both film and digital on the same camera body is one less camera to carry around. I love black and white film but if I’m honest I think for colour images I get better results with digital. I always favour my Hasselblad 501C over my Leica M 240 for the special / key photos with models but the processing time to develop film on mass is quite a time burden when I have clients waiting. The digital Hasselblad H3D-31 will speed up my workflow and capture high quality images.
- Modular Hasselblad system – being Mr Leica some people may ask why I didn’t buy a Leica S2 for the superior image quality verses the Leica M 240? I like the Hasseblad H System because it is modular. As technology continues to advance at the rapid pace looking ahead I can use the same lenses, prism and camera body and just upgrade the digital back. This was a big plus for me as I didn’t want to invest in a camera that would become worthless in a few years.
Hasselblad H3D-31 vs. Leica M240 – Cons
- Expensive camera system – most things associated to Hasselblad (like Leica) are expensive but for digital Hasselblad even more so. Whether a spare battery, a lens or a digital back, it is crazy expensive.
- Useable ISO – I’m told by owners of H3D-31 cameras that they rarely go above ISO 100/200 but 400 is possible. In contrast, the Leica M 240 is happy at ISO 3200.
- Big and heavy – I’ve done the maths and I calculate that the digital Hasselblad H3D-31 weighs the same as my current Hasselblad 501C setup with prism and both cameras with the 80mm kit lens. It is certainly not a pocket camera but I can still carry it in 8kg hand luggage overseas.
- Close focus – the original plan was to buy a H3D-31 (or H3D-39) camera body (only) and then buy the amazing Hasselblad Makro-Planar 120mm f4 lens for close focus and overall good sharpness/ contrast. As I got a good deal with the smaller lighter 80mm kit lens I will start with this setup and look to get a good deal on a 120mm lens going forward. The inability to focus closer easily with the Leica M240 always bugs me.
- Bigger file size – will fill memory cards and computer hard drives faster but I think I will shoot less and use my film photography mentality when shooting. I don’t mean under shoot but think more before pressing the shutter. That can only continue to be a good approach and the polar opposite to the machine gun approach of some DSLR shooters.
To sum up the Hasselblad H3D-31 purchase, I bought it to continue my progression towards the world of fashion photography and to take me and my photography to where I want to be. I continue to aim to make the best possible images and I think the detail captured can only benefit me. I understand a good photographer can use any camera to make a great images, even an iPhone, but the fast sync speed and different look of the image gained are specific to my own needs and will give a look I cannot achive at the moment.
I bought the Hasselblad H3D-31 camera ahead of a model photography trip to Budapest, Hungary. I have just returned from a long weekend away so I will write a follow up post soon to give my first thoughts of the Hasselblad and also some sample images!
Hasselblad H3D-31 User’s Manual