was kind enough to supply me with both a Hasselblad H5D-40 and a set of Elinchrom Ranger Quadras for my Fallen Angel photoshoot.

It was the first time that I was going to get the opportunity to shoot with a Hasselblad, and I was understandably excited given the hefty price tag and un-rivaled quality of the images that it was rumoured to produce. How did the 30,000$ 40 MP beast compare to my 3,000$ 36MP D800E? I’ll let you decide.

In last weeks post, I detailed how the entire photo-shoot fell into place, this week’s post is going to be a little bit more technical: Gear, Lighting and BTS!

For those of you that missed it, the BTS video shot by Kumbukkage Shriyantha Tory Wimalasekera

Disclaimer: I am not sponsored by either Nikon or Hasselblad. Whatever I say below is just my honest opinion. Take it or leave it.

How many of you have dreamt of shooting Medium Format? That whole “one day I’ll be able to afford it… or maybe just play with one” mentality. Well, I was kinda in that exactly situation back in October so when BorrowLenses said they’d send me a H5D to shoot with, I was ridiculously excited.

This wasn’t the first time that I got to play with a Medium Format camera. I had the privilege of toying around with a Phase One IQ140 at another workshop I gave back in Vancouver but since it was a workshop, I didn’t get to seriously put much time into it. All I remember, was being ridiculously frustrated at the 3 slow inaccurate focusing points, and the speed at which the device handled.

Bracing for the worst, but hoping for the best… I whipped the H5D out of the box.

VON 7623

Highlight the black bar to reveal camera settings: Nikon D800E | 24-70mm f/2.8 | ISO 50, f/4, 1/80th Sec

So what’s it like shooting with the H5D?

In a word: Awesome.

The controls are extremely simple to access, the weight well distributed despite being significantly heavier than that of a D800E and ergonomically quite comfortable… and when that shutter clicks, wow! Somehow each shot just felt like it had more weight to it.

The True-Focus of the Hasselblad (single centre focus point that recalculates when you tilt the camera to frame your shot) actually works. The fact that it’s a slower camera didn’t bother me quite so much, as I’ve been looking to pay more attention to details so slowing down wasn’t a big bother to me and the fact that I could sync the camera past 1/250th even though I never ended up needing it in this particular shoot) meant that I’d get more power out of my small little ranger packs while maintaing a shallow depth of field. Most importantly, shooting with the Hasselblad on location in the massive viewfinder felt like I suddenly had more breathing space in my image. Maybe it was just my imagination but while creating these images… I just felt that the shallower depth of field due to the larger sensor really gave that extra breathing room to my images.

Can you tell the difference? Which was shot with the H5D and which with the D800E?

VON 7905 Edit Edit
Highlight the black bar to reveal camera settings: Nikon D800E | 70-200mm f/2.8 | ISO 400, f/4.5, 1/250th Sec

B8405254 Edit
Highlight the black bar to reveal camera settings: Hasselblad H5D-40 | HC 80mm F/2.8 | ISO 100, f/4, 1/125th Sec

Invaluable as all these functions were, there were some drawbacks. ISO performance for anything above 200-400 would become ridiculously grainy especially when the shadows are pushed… and the autofocus abilities of the Hasselblad become completely unusable as the sun began to set. The camera, despite its price tag, is not weather sealed, and perhaps most significantly, I didn’t notice a particular increase in dynamic range or a significant difference in resolution between the D800E and the H5D-40. (Check out the more technical comparison that The Camera Store did a while back.) Finally on a sharpness scale, I was completely incapable of telling the difference between the two files.

Can you?

Untitled 1

All my shots from this shoot were cropped at a 4×3 ratio, and edited to look as similar as possible. I specifically wanted these shots to be unrecognizably Nikon or Hasselblad because at the end of the day, clients don’t care what tools you choose to use so long as you’re able to deliver amazing consistent results.


Highlight the black bar to reveal camera settings: Nikon D800E | 24-70mm f/2.8 | ISO 100, f/5, 1/50th Sec

So what does this all mean?

The H5D and the D800E at the end of the day are two different classes of camera. In the same way that my Fuji x100s and X-Pro 1 will never replace my D800E, neither would the H5D (assuming I owned one). They each have different duties to fulfil, and each have their own strengths and weaknesses.

More important than resolution, and other minute details such as sharpness, bit depth and all the other technical jargon to me are the sensor size and higher sync speed capabilities that make the difference between getting or missing the shot that make me want to add the Hasselblad to my arsenal of gear.

VON 7744
Highlight the black bar to reveal camera settings: Nikon D800E | 70-200mm f/2.8 | ISO 100, f/4, 1/200th Sec

Is it worth 30,000$?

Well, for me, at the moment… No. Renting seems to make much more sense – choose the body, digital back and lenses you need job specifically. The D800E is an amazing camera and I’m completely outfitted with Nikkor, but in the event that I do find myself needing those specific MF traits, I now know how to use it, what to expect and where I can rent it.

And that, in my opinion, is more important that dreaming about owning one, one day.

B8405284 Edit
Highlight the black bar to reveal camera settings: Hasselblad H5D-40 | HC 80mm F/2.8 | ISO 100, f/4, 1/90th Sec

And some BTS provided by Edward Lian Photography

IMG 7973 copy



  • Upcoming workshop in Singapore!! Click to learn more.
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  • carnagex2000

    I think the biggest advantage for the Hassy is the flash sync speed of 1/800th. Its the one feature the DSLRs are missing. (which is why the x100s is an amazing bit of gear).

    • Art Nau

      ultrasync been around for a while now

      • MorZar

        Hypersync …

  • David Paul

    Ugh, I freaking love this. Thank you so much for posting all this info and doing the video. It really is inspiring to watch and learn.

  • Sam Jost

    What did you think about the out of cam – colors of both compared?
    As far as I understand the colors from most MF should be nicer than ISO-Boosted DSLRs.

  • Joe Gunawan

    Woohoo! Got all my guesses right!

    Amazing images, by the way!

  • Woohoo! Got all my guesses right!

    Amazing images, by the way!

  • alainpilon

    Another important aspect of these expensive medium format bodies is how consistant their sensor are regarding colors across bodies. I never tested it myself, but according to a Phase One rep I talked to a while ago, if you shoot in the same conditions with two different bodies, you will get the same results while 2 D800 (or any other SLR) will have small variations.

    These kind of things are not important for 99.999% of the photographers, but are (supposedly, according to the rep), crucial for any commercial photographer shooting products.

    And I totally, having a big viewfinder really helps to frame your subject and have more breathing room in your frame.

  • sigmund

    I’m constantly amazed at how many people attempt to compare a $3000 camera with one costing 10x as much. We say megapixels don’t matter but that’s the only reason the Nikon is compared to a medium format – because beyond that there is no comparison. I’ve shot medium format for years and there is a HUGE difference when viewing the pics as full images rather than these compressed jpegs. They are 2 different cameras. Stop trying to show the world how similar they are so people who buy the Nikon feel good about their decision.

  • Samuli

    Make same kind of comparison between these two cameras when editing photos. With Hassel you can get so much more details out dark areas without noise. Its there were you see the difference of these two.

  • Fredrik

    Only thing i see is that I can continue to buy the D800E upgrades every three years for 27 year for the cost of one Hassy. And then I have not factored in the secondhand value of the D800E sold.

  • Tenisd

    At 640x480pix there is no difference.. But the B8405138-Edit-Edit.jpg at over 2000px allready shines 🙂

  • Sir Stewart Wallace

    Unless you’re photographing the same scenes at comparable settings, the comparison is almost useless.

  • Yuri Koltsov

    I guess unless you have a trained eye it’ll be pretty hard to tell the difference, but I had no problems solving your shots/camera trivia (nice idea )).

    Truly, camera bodies do not make such a dramatic effect on the final image, but MF cameras like Hassy have better and bigger glass letting more light on to the chip or film, while delivering awesome gamut and almost cinematic DOF compared to 35mm optics… and it really shows in “B8405284-Edit” shot.

    I have both D3x and H3D and I have to say they are both great. Especially, when used accordingly to the shooting task and concept.

    But in my life I’ve seen such incredible pictures shot by pros with $10 disposable cameras or polaroids… and it only proves the fact that what really matters is not in your hands, but in your head… I think you don’t have problems with that ; )


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