If you’ve ever spent any time learning about the process of photography, chances are you’ve heard the name Hasselblad. The storied company has been making cameras since 1941, and it has been involved in some very iconic photos over the years: The Beatles’ Abbey Road cover, the black-and-white portrait of Steve Jobs, even the first photos taken on the moon were all shot with Hasselblads.
Today, the company is still making high-end, medium format cameras that can capture stunning images with tremendous amounts of detail, but of course, they are all digital. The newest model, announced recently, is the H6D, which comes in a 50-megapixel version and a staggering 100-megapixel option. It’s been updated with a number of new features, the most notable of which is a new autofocus system that can lock on to a specific point, such as a subject’s eye, and track it as the photographer adjusts composition.
The H6D also has also gained a number of features common to smartphones and compact cameras, such as a touchscreen and 4K video recording. But the Hasselblad is no phone: the 50-megapixel model runs about $27,000, while the 100-megapixel version commands $33,000. Lenses extra, of course.
The reasons why someone might consider spending as much money on a Hasselblad as they might on a mid-size car are varied, but chances are they are looking to create massive images with insane levels of detail. A museum might want one to catalog the artwork it houses to preserve every little piece of detail. A portrait or fashion photographer might want one to capture arresting and emotional portraits that a lesser camera just can’t match. Or a landscape photographer might want a Hasselblad to be able to accurately capture the wide-ranging tones and range of color they see in nature.
It’s safe to say that these cameras are not designed for hurried photography or fast action. They’re big, heavy, and slow, and are built around shooting with a considered approach: thinking about the shot before it’s taken, lining up composure, getting exposure correct, and finally, snapping the shutter.
Shooting with a Hasselblad is unlike shooting with a phone, compact camera, or even a DSLR. The heft and size of the camera make every action more deliberate, and since the camera doesn’t shoot more than a couple frames per second, it’s not a rapid-fire experience.
But once you’ve gone through the work to set up your shot, line up the frame, set focus and exposure, and then finally snap the shutter, you’re rewarded with images packed with detail and wide dynamic range. We used the H6D to shoot both still life and portraits in a studio setup, and it was able to capture far more detail than any smaller camera we’ve used in the past. The sheer size and resolution of the files mean you can zoom in incredibly far on an image and still have unmatched levels of clarity. The wide dynamic range lets you see details in the shadows and highlights that even full-frame DSLRs can’t match. And the large physical size of the sensor combined with Hasselblad’s precision lenses provides ultra smooth out-of-focus backgrounds and beautiful transitions from in-focus to out-of-focus areas.
Much like Leica, Hasselblad’s name has reached storied levels, and it is often considered out of reach for many would-be photographers. That’s not wrong — the price of the equipment plus the knowledge and dedication required to get the most from it prevent most people from ever considering a Hasselblad as part of their kit.
But if you want to capture the absolute best images, with the most detail and a je ne sais quoi look that just can’t be matched by a smaller camera, there’s one rig you need to consider: Hasselblad’s.
Take a look at the photos taken with the H6D's 50-megapixel sensor below. Each full-size image is followed by a 100 percent crop to show how much detail is captured by the large sensor.
James Bareham contributed to this report.
Photography by James Bareham and Amelia Krales
Video by Max Jeffrey and Phil Esposito