Hasselblad's H1 is the most advanced medium-format SLR ever. But at $5,700,
is it the best?
The original Hasselblad 1600F of 1948 was the world's first 2-1/4 x 2-1/4 camera based on a compact, box-shaped body, to which lenses, backs, and finder modules could be fitted. This simple, elegant concept and 2-1/4-square format were maintained for over 50 years. Although shutters changed with various models, today's V-series Hasselblads bear more than a passing resemblance to their illustrious forebears.
But for all their Rolls-Roycean panache and performance, the 2-1/4-square Hasselblads had reached the end of the line in terms of technological development. It was simply not feasible to produce an autofocusing, multimode, all-electronically controlled Hasselblad with full film and digital interfaces within the classic body. This led to a five-year development project for the H1, a Hasselblad for the 21st century.
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Format follows function
While Hasselblad maintained its signature modular design, excellent ergonomics, and unsurpassed quality, some things had to give. The most obvious is the format, which is 6x4.5cm (2-1/4 x 2-5/8) on 120/220 rollfilm instead of the time-honored, much-touted 2-1/4-square format provided by the still-current line of V-system Hasselblads. Given the performance of modern films and digital systems, the reduced format size should have little effect on image quality, provides more pictures per roll (16 on 120, 32 on 220), and helps keep camera size and weight down. However, the photographer's ability to crop each square image into a horizontal or vertical format is lost, as is the ability to mount V-system lenses on the H1.
The second major change: All Hasselblad SLRs were made in Sweden, with German-made Carl Zeiss lenses and (in leaf-shutter models) Prontor/Compur shutters. The H1's main body module is still made in Sweden, and many design elements (such as the unique electromagnetic interlens leaf shutters) are of Swedish origin. However, finder screens and cross-field AF-sensor technology are supplied by Minolta. The lenses, shutters, meter finder, and film magazines are all made by Fuji in Japan. Fuji's engineers also had a hand in the H1's design and production engineering. Indeed, Fuji is marketing a Fuji-branded version of the H1 in Japan only.
The Hasselblad H1 has a remarkable number of unique features in its class. Most important, it's the first medium-format SLR to provide a complete electronic interface for compatible digital backs, with histograms displayed on the LCD atop the grip, and the ability to adjust gray balance and delete images, among other things. This month, we put the H1 through its paces as a film camera. In a future issue, we'll assess its performance as a digital camera.