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H6D series brings 4K video to medium format, general updates for 50c (hands-on)

The 100-megapixel model of its new medium-format series can record 4K video, while the 50-megapixel version gets some enhancements from the system upgrade.

Hasselblad held events around the world to celebrate its 75th anniversary and its new H6D medium-format system, putting the $26,000 (£17,900) 50-megapixel H6D-50c in the hands of the press for brief, supervised shooting sessions. I'll admit to a brief, supervised bout of giddiness, even though it seemed like the camera took an immediate dislike to me.

The company launched its H5D series of medium-format camera backs almost 4 years ago, with the last update -- a 50-megapixel back with Wi-Fi -- about two years later. The H6D has a similar body design, but with new electronics on the inside. It launches with two backs: the H6D-50c and the 100-megapixel H6D-100c. The latter can shoot 4K video, a first for medium format.

Relative sizes of bigger sensors. Lori Grunin/CNET

While medium-format cameras are expensive -- without a lens the 100c will go for $33,000 (£22,600) when it ships in June -- they offer image quality significantly better than most full-frame models, in part because the sensors are huge in comparison. (I don't have Australian prices, but the US prices directly convert to AU$33,700 and AU$42,900.) You'll also be able to trade in your old Hasselblad gear for nontrivial sums (US trade-ins, UK and European trade-ins)

The larger sensor also gives you more creative control over depth of field (the ratio of in-focus vs. out-of-focus areas). But despite its size, these days it's not a given that a medium-format camera will always deliver better image quality, depending upon your needs; for instance, the Nikon D810 has larger image-sensing areas (4.9 microns compared to 4.6 microns on the 100c) and a comparable rated dynamic range (the same 14 stops as the 50c). But even if it's comparable, it's for a much higher resolution.

Though they're both part of the H6D series, the 50c and 100c are somewhat different animals. The 100c is the more groundbreaking model; there's no standard for sensor sizes in medium format, but many of Hasselblad's past sensors have been rather small. That includes the 42.8 x 32.9mm sensor for the 50c, the same sensor used by the H5D; in contrast, the Sony-produced 100c's is a much larger 53.4 x 40mm.

In fact, the specifications for the 100c are quite similar to those of the 100-megapixel model of the Phase One XF IQ3: 15 stops of dynamic range with a maximum sensitivity of ISO 12800. Hasselblad leapfrogs Phase One slightly with a new series of leaf-shutter lenses that support flash sync speeds of up to 1/2000 sec, compared to Phase One's 1/1600 sec. Plus the H6D seems to be substantially lighter.

Because the body design hasn't changed that much from the H5D, the shooting experience is very similar. It has a smoothly operating and well-designed touchscreen interface plus a huge viewfinder and necessarily hefty and comfortable grip and thumb rest. It's not nearly as big or heavy as you'd think; with a lens, it's a little lighter than, say, a Nikon D5-sized camera plus lens. Although it's a lot more idiosyncratic than a dSLR -- the autofocus system is a lot less sophisticated, for example -- in most ways it's very much like shooting with one. I can't wait to try it out in natural light rather than a studio setting, as well as see how the 100c handles the 4K video.

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