Friday, February 19, 2010

Is Handheld Medium Format Becoming A Reality?

Alaska Fine Art 14
Denali - Handheld From Airplane with Hasselblad H3D 

As a landscape photographer I primarily shoot with a tripod in low light (sunrise & sunset) conditions, usually at the very low iso of 50 on my Hasselblad Medium Format H3d-39. I have only used the H3D for handheld work with very bright daylight conditions that allow me to use a high shutter speeds with a low iso (usually no higher than iso 200). The image above of glaciers on Denali in Alaska was shot with the H3D handheld from an airplane in very bright conditions.

Last week I went to Calumet in San Francisco to check out the new Hasselblad H4D-40 megapixel camera. The Hasselblad video presentations on the camera seemed to really be promoting it as a handheld shooter. You can see the videos at this link:

I was able to shoot a few frames outdoors with this new camera at various isos, ranging from iso 100 to 1600. I was very pleased with the quality of the 40 megapixel files at high isos, and found that iso 800 could easily produce a large exhibition quality print. With more agressive noise reduction the iso 1600 could produce a good print. At iso 800 I could shoot at 1/400 of a second at f16 outdoors in overcast conditions.  1/400 vs 1/20 shutter speed at a lower iso is  the difference between getting a good depth of field wildflower scenic shot on a breezy day versus getting nothing usable. I prefer handheld shooting for photography overseas and in more developed urban areas -  it is really a pain to set up a tripod in urban areas or really anywhere there are people around.  Tripods really create unwanted attention. With a very usable iso of 800 that can be pushed to 1600  I think the H4D 40 can realistically be used for handheld photography, and most importantly produce wonderful high resolution 40 megapixel files that can make 30" wide large prints with no upsampling, and can go up to 10 feet or more with upsampling such as Genuine Fractals. Given that the H4D is really no more of a burden to carry than a large DSLR like the Nikon D3/D3x, I think the H4D is now viable for me to shoot with as a handheld system. The Nikon D3-D700 is still supreme for super high iso shooting (above iso 1600), but it is difficult to make fine art prints larger than 30" with these cameras.

Hasselblad's new True Focus technology will also be very useful for me since I do a lot of landscape compositions that require focus on a very close foreground in the lower portions of the frame. I have an upgrade order in for an H4D-60 which has true focus. The H4D-60 has a different sensor than the H4D-40, so I will plan on testing its high iso capabilities before determining which H4D system to upgrade to - the H4D-50 would also be an option if it's high iso performance is similar to the H4D-40. 

Here is a link to download a small crop of an H4D file at iso 800 - no sharpening or noise removal has been applied to this file:

Download H4D40iso800crop

You can judge for yourself the image quality. This image was developed in the Hasseblad Phocus 2.0 software - noise removal and sharpening were de-activated.

Comments and contributions on this topic are welcome - I will share any future comparisons and test files here as well. 


  1. I will see when i will get H4D-60, hope it will be better in high ISO than my H3DII-39

  2. I know this about hand holding, but I have a tripod question. What tripod do you use when you are hiking or biking into a location?

  3. Thanks for the info!