Hasselblad H4D-40 Impresses

h4d Feb 11, 2010

Today, I had the good fortune to attend the Hasselblad H4D launch event held at Studio 27 in Miami, FL. There was a very good turnout, including reps from Hasselblad, our local Hasselblad dealer (Peter Lorber of peterlorber.com) and one of the 2010 Hasselblad Masters, Claudio Napolitano (a resident of Miami as well).

The real star of the show was the new Hasselblad H4D-40, the new low-end system from the Swedish camera maker. The only reason I call it “low-end” is because it is the smallest (pixel count-wise) lowest-priced (kit price $19,995 USD MSRP) member of the H-System of cameras. Beyond that, it meets or exceeds all of the other members in that system.

H4D-40 with PocketWizard flash trigger

The H4D camera body was announced last year, and the H4D-40 sports a new digital back which boasts the following specifications:

  • 40 megapixel image capture
  • 33.1×44.2mm (1.3x crop) sensor size
  • ISO 1600 performance (without pixel-binning)
  • Exposure times from 1/800s – 4 minutes

New to the H4D body is True Focus and Absolute Position Lock. From the H4D press release:

“True Focus helps solve one of the most lingering challenges that faces serious photographers today,” he continues, “true, accurate focusing throughout the image field. Without multi-point auto-focus a typical auto-focus camera can only correctly measure focus on a subject that is in the center of the image. When a photographer wants to focus on a subject outside the center area, they have to lock focus on the subject and then re-compose the image. In short distances especially, this re-composing causes focus error, as the plane of focus sharpness follows the camera’s movement, perpendicular to the axis of the lens.”

The traditional solution for most DSLRs has been to equip the camera with a multi-point AF sensor. These sensors allow the photographer to fix an off-center focus point on an off-center subject, which is then focused correctly. Such multi-point AF solutions are often tedious and inflexible to work with, however, and do not really solve the problem, claims Poulsen.

“Photographers have grown accustomed to using auto-focus systems in their day to day work and we see increasingly higher numbers of focus points advertised in each new wave of AF products. The term ‘multi-point auto-focus’ is a bit misleading, however, for cameras with sensors larger than APS,” claims Poulsen. “Due to the physics of an SLR-camera, the off-center focus points that are offered are all clustered relatively close to the center of the image. To set focus outside of this center area, the photographer is still forced to focus first, and then shift the camera to reframe, with the resulting loss of focus as a result.”

To overcome this problem, Hasselblad has used modern yaw rate sensor technology to measure angular velocity in an innovative way. The result is the new Absolute Position Lock (APL) processor, which forms the foundation of Hasselblad’s True Focus feature. The APL processor accurately logs camera movement during any re-composing, then uses these exact measurements to calculate the necessary focus adjustment, and issues the proper commands to the lens’s focus motor so it can compensate. The APL processor computes the advanced positional algorithms and carries out the required focus corrections at such rapid speed that no shutter lag occurs. The H4D’s firmware then further perfects the focus using the precise data retrieval system found on all HC/HCD lenses.

“This technology takes AF to an entirely new level, correcting for the vertical and horizontal focus-shift that results from the rotation of the camera around an axis close to camera,” says Poulsen, “In simple terms, True Focus allows the photographer to concentrate on their composition, to focus on their creativity, while True Focus takes care of the other, more mechanical focus.”

True Focus on the H4D can be set to work at a half press of the camera release button, or via any user button programmed to AF-drive when the camera is in manual focus mode. This, the first release of True Focus, only corrects the horizontal and vertical positioning of the camera, and does not correct for any focus-shift which results from larger lateral movements of the camera during recomposing. The True Focus technology and APL (both patent pending) mark a significant milestone for Hasselblad’s high-end DSLR strategy and represent the result of many years of development work.

I was allowed to shoot photos of a model hired for the event. In practice, True Focus works as advertised. I would press the True Focus button located on the back of the grip,

H4D-40 True Focus

and, once focus has been acquired, release the button and reposition/reframe my shot. When I depressed the shutter release halfway, the H4D would read data from a set of internal accelerometers and correct the focus for the positional shift of the camera, maintaining sharp focus on the original point I had selected. All this, using only one focus point. Sounds like science fiction, but it really worked.

There is another reason why Hasselblad could make this happen: With the announcement of the H3D, Hasselblad decided to close the H-System. This meant that H-backs could only be used on H-bodies with H-lenses. Now this sounds contrary to the free-wheeling modular world of medium format digital cameras and it is. But it works. Perhaps the most successful example of this is Apple. By closing the Mac Operating System to work only on Apple made Mac hardware, Apple maintains high levels of integration and quality control over their products. The same now goes for the Hasselblad H-System which I have dubbed “the Mac of medium format digital.”

I am planning a extensive hands-on review of the H4D-40 in the next month or two, so stay informed by subscribing to my twitter, Google Buzz or RSS feeds.

In the meantime, here are the three videos shown at the launch event:

Michael Grecco

[hdplay id=1 ]

Kevin Then

[hdplay id=2 ]

Steve McCurry

[hdplay id=3 ]

Here is a link to the official H4D-40 brochure.