For medium-format fans, Hasselblad adds H5X camera body

Hasselblad, one of the most storied names in the photography business, announced its new H5X camera body Tuesday that combines newer technology with an older way of putting together a camera.

The company specializes in medium-format cameras, which in the film days meant larger frames of film — and now generally means larger image sensors — than what’s used in 35mm-format cameras from Canon, Nikon and Sony. Medium-format photography offers higher image quality, but at a major price premium, with lenses costing thousands of dollars and cameras and sensors together costing tens of thousands. Typical customers shoot subjects like high-end product ads or photos for magazine covers.

To adapt to the digital era, Hasselblad shifted much of its focus to integrated systems like the H5D-50c that include both the camera body and image sensor. That’s a departure from earlier medium-format cameras that could accept different “backs.” Originally the backs housed film, but when digital photography arrived, customers often instead bought expensive image-sensor backs such as those from rival Phase One.

Hasselblad’s H5X is just the camera body, accepting backs on one end, lenses on the other end, and handling tasks like autofocus and exposure metering.

It’ll cost €4,595 without a viewfinder and €5,795 with a viewfinder. (Hasselblad didn’t provide non-European pricing, but that’s the equivalent of about $5,920 / £3,680 and $7,470 / £4,640.)

That’s expensive, especially given competition from Canon and Nikon, but for those wedded to medium format, it’s not as expensive as upgrading to a new medium-format back, too. The H5X works with most existing digital backs, including those from Phase One, Hasselblad said.

Hasselblad will show it off for the first time next week at the Photokina show in Germany.

Compared to the earlier H4X, the H5X adds a new grip and LCD display, better lens compatibility and Hasselblad’s True Focus system to better suit photographers who focus on one point of a subject then move the camera to reframe. And of course it still works with film for those who prefer an old-school style.

It’s been a tough time for medium-format camera makers. The high costs of digital image sensors mean the price difference over 35mm is much higher than in the film era. Meanwhile Nikon and Canon have been pushing higher-end, higher-resolution full-frame SLRs, helped by improvements in lens design and by higher-end lenses like the new Zeiss Otus 1.4/85.
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