Consider this post as a primer for more posts to come on this subject in the next few weeks. For the sake of the discussion, I refer to focal lengths in full-frame terms, unless otherwise noted. Although i focus on the Hasselblad X-system, findings should also be mostly applicable for the Fuji GFX-system.
As most serious photographers know, there is no such thing as a single landscapephotography focal length or lens. Although this genre is strongly associated with wide-angles or even ultra wide-angle lenses, I hope we can all agree that various subjects and personal vision dictate different focal lengths. I too appreciate the “deep landscape” compositions with foreground and backdrop captured with a wide-angle lens. The distorted perspective may result in a 3d-feeling and strong sense of place. But sometimes we need to isolate the subjects, compress the scene and make those compelling, narrower compositions with a longer focal-length.
Browsing my archives, I see that my mostly used focal-lengths are in the range from 24 to 70 mm. Why do I prefer that? I don’t know. Maybe it has to do with the way I spot my compositions with my real eyes’ “focal length” of approximately 50mm, or maybe I prefer to avoid the distortions of the more extreme focal-lengths? From time to time, however, I spot a composition that calls for a longer focal length. Not very often, but I always bring a short-to-moderate telephoto lens in my bag. Some of my very favorite images have been made with such lenses.
For my Hasselblad H-system I have the HC 150 mm, equivalent of approximately 105mm in full-frame terms. I also have the 1.7x converter, giving me a 255 mm, corresponding to a full-frame focal length of ca. 175mm.
For my Hasselblad X-system i have the XCD 90, which has the same angle of view as a 70mm on a full frame camera. This is actually one of my mostly used lenses, but I sometimes find myself wanting a little more reach. Yes, I could always buy the XCD 120 or 135, but I haven’t. Yet. For several reasons. Importantly, they would probably not see heavy use, and investing 4500-5000 USD for a rather big and heavy lens that I would use for only the odd composition does not make much sense. So, I have been researching a few alternatives.
The Hasselblad X-system, being mirrorless with a very short flange-sensor distance, open up for use of adapters and third party lenses. Lacking a focal-plane shutter, you will bind yourself to the “dreaded” electronic shutter. For me, that is absolutely no problem. I do close to 100 % of my work with stationary subjects from a tripod, so the issues of distortion due to the sensor’s long read-out-time haven’t brought me any problems so far. There has been some talk about the level of noise in longer exposures (10+ sec?) with the e-shutter, but I can’t say that I have noticed that.
You can find “dumb” adapters for most lens-mounts to Hasselblad X. A dumb adapter only features the mechanical coupling and correct flange-distance for using the lens on the camera, no electronic information is transferred. Thus, you loose autofocus, auto aperture and some other functions, e.g. exif-data. I know of only two smart adapters for Hasselblad X. The Hasselblad XH adapter (or XH converter) give you full functionality with modern H-series lenses, even auto-focus, but the H-lenses can be rather big, heavy and expensive. The only other smart adapter I know of is the Techart Canon EF to X adapter. I have no experience with that. Using a dumb adapter means that the lens should be well suited for manual focus, and it needs to have an aperture-ring. I focus mostly manually in 100% live-view anyway, so no problem there. The only slight annoyance is that I have to open the aperture fully to focus and then close down again. I can live with that. The most important issue when researching third party lenses relates to the size of the image circle the lens produces. Obviously, other medium format lenses will suffice, but even some tele-lenses made for full-frame cameras produce image-circles large enough to cover the 33×44 mm medium format sensor.
There are several advantages to adapting third-party lenses. First, you can find focal-lengths and special functions not yet covered in the Hasselblad range. How about a 300mm? Telezoom? You will need to adapt. Tilt-shift lenses? Hasselblad does not yet have a good working system for that on the X (yes, I know, you can use the HTS via adapters, but that’s just a pain. I prefer pure TS-lenses). The obvious advantage of going for manual focus, manual aperture, third-party lenses is that you can mostly find them for a very good price on e.g. ebay. Furthermore, most of the older, manual focus lenses are very well built with full-metal bodies and wonderful focus- and aperture rings. They also tend to be smaller and lighter than the original Hasselblad lenses. But what about the image quality? Does older glass hold up to the modern 50- or 100 megapixel sensors? We will see in the weeks to come.
Throughout the years, I have collected quite a few different lenses for various systems. I have tele-lenses for Nikon, Leica and e.g. Mamiya 645. I am no Jim Kasson, and have not gone deep into technical stuff. I have just tested them in a real-life setting similar to how I mostly use longer focal-lengths: Hasselblad X2D-100c, tripod, 2-sec timer, camera in manual or aperture-priority, auto white-balance, subject close to infinity, f11 (I often want some level of depth in my telephoto-shots, and f11 is often a good compromise in my compositions) and of course e-shutter. I have analyzed the files in Lightroom with respect to vignetting, distortion, sharpness and chromatic aberration after standard initial RAW sharpening (deconvolution): amount 30, radius 0.5, details 100. No other initial correction unless otherwise stated.
Here is what I have tested so far:
|Hasselblad XCD 90 f3.2 (“gold standard” in my tests)|
|Hasselblad HC 150 f3.2 (If only this was half the size and weight..!)|
|Nikon series E 135mm f2.8 (very small, very old and very cheap!)|
|Nikkor 200mm f4 (very old and also quite cheap)|
|Leica R 180mm f2.8 (will the famous Leica quality hold up?)|
|Mamiya 150mm f 3.5 (large image circle, good availability and good price!)|
|Mamiya 105-210mm f4.5 (see above)|
|Mamiya 300mm f5.6 (see above)|
|Kenko teleplus 1x konverter for Mamiya 645 (cheap, but seriously, a teleconverter….??)|
The short conclusion is that most of these hold up surprisingly well on the Hasselblad X2D-100c. Even my Nikon series E 135 mm from the early 80’s has seen some use. All of the lenses have strengths and weaknesses. Some need a few tricks (read: removal of soft vignette and chromatic aberrations or AI-based software for sharpening) to make technically “perfect” images, but I can live very well with that. Detailed tests of these lenses will follow in the weeks to come.