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- Photography using Digital SLRs


 

Hasselblad H1 & Kodak Pro Back 645H Experience Report


Hasselblad H1 with Kodak Pro Back 645H attached

A review diary by Uwe Steinmueller

 

 
 
 
We might add some more findings as our review continues.
 
8/10/2003
 
It took us one year to test our second medium format camera equipped again with a Kodak Pro Back. Last year we had a brief look at the Contax/Pro Back 645C combo.
 
Hasselblad H1
 

The Hasselblad H1 is Hasselblad's move to the popular 6x4.5cm format and marks a new era for Hasselblad:

  • No 6x6cm
  • No Zeiss lenses (Fuji)

For many the first one might be even more a problem than the second one. We cannot compare here Zeiss vs. Fuji lenses but everything indicates that the H1 lenses do just fine.

 
H1 is a Hybrid for Film/Digital
 

Because the H1 is the most recent released new medium format camera it was designed to be more digital-ready than other MF cameras on the market. That means:

  • No extra cables required for camera/back communications
  • Even Histogram display on the camera panel

Hasselblad stayed with it's traditional leaf shutters (but a new electronic one: 18hours to 1/800 sec). This solution results in more expensive lenses but has two principle advantages:

  • Higher flash synch speed
  • Zero shake at longer exposures if mirror is up

We hardly ever use a flash in our outdoor work. But the zero shake is a big plus for many exposures between 1/60 and a couple of seconds if used with mirror up.

 

Mexican Feeling (H1 + 80mm + Pro Back)
 
Using the H1
 

What is the big deal about a medium format camera? With film it is clearly resolution and the big viewfinder. With digital the resolution advantage is still there but for us the viewfinder might be the more important feature. There is no doubt in our mind that a bigger viewfinder allows more control for composition. The H1 has one of the best viewfinders in its class.

Handling the H1 is pure fun. Here are our highlights:

  • Bright and large viewfinder with easy control of shutter speed and aperture
  • Easy mirror lockup
  • Fast autofocus
  • Zero shake on long exposures (your tripod and the wind are your limitations)
  • Excellent grip for handheld operation
  • Histogram display on camera panel

What is the downside of the H1?

  • Much more expensive than the Contax or Mamiya
  • Still a very limited selection of lenses available

Why don't we mention the exposure metering system? In our style of digital only photography we only use manual settings. The exposure metering is used as a hint and then we adjust the exposure to the resulting histogram. Here the histogram display on the camera LCD comes in handy as it is easier to read than e.g. on the Pro Back LCD in bright sunlight.

Note: If you use the Pro Back noise reduction feature for long exposures you might need to recall the the histogram manually as it takes the ProBack some time to generate the extra data needed for dark-frame subtraction.

If price and the limited line of lenses are no issue then we think this is a 645 camera as good as it gets today.

 


Faded Colors (H1 + 80mm + Pro Back)

 
Kodak Pro Back 645H: Transforming the H1 into a digital camera
 
If you add the Kodak Pro Back 645H to the H1 you really get a well integrated digital camera. This has the advantage that you can use one camera with different backs (studio and outdoors). Your H1 will also be ready to take the next generation of digital backs. Even if we did not hear that much about the new Fuji back (announced at this years PMA) this might be a great surprise for all H1 users. Keep in mind that the H1 is manufactured in cooperation with Fuji and also sold under the Fuji brand name in Japan.
 
If it comes to outdoor photography a back that is not tethered like the Pro Back 645H (and there is no other back like this) is a big advantage. There are no cables to trip on.
 
The Pro Back 645 feels nearly like a film back. Only the battery makes a difference but we did not find it in our way at any time. The other difference is the a different viewfinder screen. This is needed as the Pro Back has a sensor size of 37x37mm and only uses a crop from the 60x45mm format.
 
Square again
 

With the Pro Back 645H all H1 users win the square format back. You can chose also rectangular formats on the Pro Back but would just throw away some resolution. So why not shoot square and crop later.

We have never been a fan of the square format but we now learn that there are many, many compositions that break the 4x5 or even 3:2 barrier of 4x5 and 35mm cameras. It probably can be said that square is the most flexible format to use and we begin to like the square.

 
Pro Back Software and Workflow
 

We used the Kodak Photo Desk software many times and really find it not to support our kind of workflow (here we use Phase One's Capture One DSLR most of the time). We would rather like to use Adobe's Camera Raw even if the Kodak cameras are not officially supported. But unfortunately we think that the latest version of Photo Desk delivers better results in terms of colors. For this review we will only use Photo Desk with sharpening and noise reduction set to "None". All images are converted using the "Product Look" in Photo Desk 3.1.

Note: We still think the Photo Desk does some sort of noise reduction anyway.

 
Some Tests
 
From now on we will provide as some kind of a reference a shot of a brick wall with a GretagMacbeth Color Checker.
 

Note of Caution: This is not a scientific test, but should give some clue about the resolution and color qualities of a system:

  • Camera
  • Lens
  • Sensor
  • Software (Raw converter)

We also provide a link to the original RAW files. As base reference we will use our Canon 1Ds.

 

Processing:

  • Camera specific raw converter (specified)
  • Some contrast adjustments using the white, black and gray fields of the Color Checker
  • Sharpening with FocalBlade
  • needed extra steps (specified)
 
Note: Yes, the Canon 100mm is an excellent lens to beat. But this is by no means a macro shot and should be in the reach of any normal lens.
 
 
1Ds + 100mm Macro Reference shot (original raw file 10MB)
 


1Ds + 100mm Macro, Raw Converter Capture One DSLR

 
H1 + 80mm + Pro Back 645H (original raw file 20MB)
 


H1 + 80mm + Pro Back 645H, Raw Converter Kodak Photo Desk

 
100% Pixel crop comparison
 


1Ds


Pro Back (some additional "Clarifier" USM 0.35, 40, 0)

 

Comments

a) Resolution

The Pro Back needs a bit more sharpening. Some raw converters apply some implicit sharpening. But we think the 1Ds + 100mm Macro have a very slight edge over the H1 + 80mm + Pro Back 645 combo at the pixel level. But the pro back delivers 16 MP vs. 11 MP of the 1Ds. Depending on how you crop the difference might be smaller or even bigger.

b) Colors

We are very pleased with the colors we get so far and find them pretty truthful.

c) Noise

The Pro Back has slightly more noise but we printed a couple of 20x20" prints and got excellent results. We also see no problem to use the Pro Back at about ISO 200. In case we see too much noise for our taste we use "Grain Surgery 2" to lower it.

Make up your own mind and download our full sized raw files.

 
Long Exposures
 


Power of the Square (H1 + 80mm + Pro Back 645H at 2secs)

 
We also made some exposures at 2-6 seconds and found the results really good.
 


H1 + 80mm + Pro Back 645H at 2 secs


100% pixel crop (sharpened)

 

Some more Shots


Hakone Gardens in Saratoga


Point Lobos Rock Abstract

 

Conclusion (8/17/2003)

The Hasselblad H1 and the Kodak Pro Back 645H deliver a good portable medium format solution we would like to use every day. The square format is also a big advantage and we find more and more compositions that benefit from the square.

Michael Reichmann called it "A very 'restful' format" and we can relate to it. If it would not be a major investment we would easily go the Hasselblad H1/Pro Back route. It would not be a replacement for our 35mm cameras but as a major addition. We would use it for about 70% of our work if we could get our hands on the Hasselblad 120mm Macro lens.

We recommend both camera and back.

 
 
 
Other Reviews about the Pro Back 645
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

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