Things We Love: Hasselblad H-Series Cameras

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When I first set out to create the portraits for “What is Photography?” I was faced with the challenge of building a series of photographs that shared a recognizable aesthetic, despite being made over the course of several months, working with many different personalities. The solution that producer John Harris and I came up with was to establish a set of controls that would secure a consistent look while still permitting me to create an expressive portrait for each person. In homage to past pioneers of the studio portrait tradition, we found a north-facing daylight studio, at Highlight Studios, and decided that the final images would all be in black-and-white. We chose a hand-painted background from Oliphant Studios to appear in every shot. Last, but certainly not least, all of the photographs were shot with H6D-100c or H6D-50c medium format DSLR cameras.

John Harris and Suliya Gisele

Among the perks of writing for Explora is having access to a steady stream of new cameras and lenses as they are released. With that access comes a deluge of advertising copy proclaiming game-changing, revolutionary advancements in nearly every camera that enters the market. It is hard not to become jaded. Shooting with the Hasselblad’s H-series cameras was one of the first times my expectations for what is and is not possible with a camera has changed. There is a debate around the office at B&H (and in the Comment sections of certain Explora articles) over how important—or unimportant—sensor size is in a camera. Shooting with a 50MP, 43.8 x 32.9mm and 100MP, 53.4 x 40.0mm sensor ended this debate for me. While some may argue that this level of detail is not necessary for most photographers, or that it does not justify the steep price point, in terms of creative possibilities, the results speak for themselves.

Maciek Jasik

The amount of information retained in highlights and shadows was the first thing that struck me about the images produced by the H-series cameras. The daylight studio at Highlight Studios is essentially a greenhouse in the middle of Manhattan, sans plants. Shooting multiple sessions per day over the course of the summer, lighting conditions varied from blindingly bright to gloomy or downright dark. Nevertheless, a decision was made to stick to natural light for all shots in the series. Pairing 16-bit color depth with the 50c’s 14 stops and 100c’s 15 stops of dynamic range meant no matter how disparate the shooting conditions were, I could achieve the look that I desired in the final image.

These are heavy, specialized cameras. I wouldn’t recommend taking them out on a safari or into a sporting arena. In an industry obsessed with creating smaller, lighter cameras, they are behemoths, flirting with 5 lb in weight and performing best on tripods. Working in studio, this was rarely a problem and, when I did need to shoot handheld, I was able to adapt for short periods. When on a tripod, their touchscreen LCD and live view shooting satisfied my neurotic obsession with manually focusing portraits.

Miranda Barnes
Maciek Jasik and Erica Jay
Alan-Michael Duval
Daniel Power
Jamel Shabazz
Geoffrey Berliner
Lily Olsen-Ecker
Ben Zank
Michael McCoy

The majority of the portraits made for “What is Photography?” were created with the Hasselblad HC 100mm f/2.2 Lens. When wider focal lengths were needed, I turned to Hasselblad’s HC 50mm f/3.5 II and HC 35mm f/3.5 lenses. All three were sharp and capable of delicate falloff when opened wide. The H-series cameras and lenses produce a distinct aesthetic that transcends the usual bickering and rattling off of technical specs all too common in the photo world. My jaded eyes have opened. It must be love.

Each week, we will be adding new participants to the “What is Photography?” series. See more photographs created with the H-series cameras and follow the project’s growth here.

The “Things We Love” series articles are written by B&H Photo Video Pro Audio staff to talk about products and items that we love. Opinions expressed in the articles are those of the writers and do not represent product endorsements from B&H Photo Video Pro Audio.

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