Hasselblad's H1 is the most advanced medium-format SLR ever. But at $5,700,
is it the best?
Let's load up
The H1's snap-on film backs have built-in dark slides, a great convenience since you don't have to remove and store a separate slide. The control buttons atop the back turn data imprinting on and off, set the frame counter to display the number of frames taken or remaining, set the film length (120 or 220), number of exposures (8, 16, or 32), and ISO (from 6 to 6400). There's also a bar-code icon that sets film speed and ISO automatically when you load bar-coded films (Fuji is the only manufacturer currently offering this feature).
Remove the magazine's film-holder insert, which comes off and loads in the usual way. Since the H1, like all Hasselblads, features an S-curved, reverse-curl film path, it's especially important to wind it one complete turn so the paper leader is firmly affixed to the take-up spool. If you don't, we discovered that the end of the paper leader can slip out of the take-up spool and the film won't advance. If this happens, or if you forget to open the dark slide before shooting, you'll get a warning in the viewfinder.
When the camera is turned on, the film automatically advances to the first frame as soon as the film holder is reattached and an H1 logo is displayed on the LCD atop the grip. Press the shutter-release button partway in and the LCD will display your present camera settings. Taking into consideration the vast array of settings and functions built into the H1, we found the camera controls logical, intuitive, and straightforward. For example, if you want to change the AF setting, press the AF button, and use the front control wheel behind the shutter release to scroll through the AF options: AFS (single-shot AF with focus priority), AFC (continuous AF with release priority), and MF (manual focus). To select your option, look at the top band on the LCD, where you'll see two choices: "exit" and "save." To save (that is, activate) the setting on display, press the button closest to the word "save" (in this case, the Drive button).
The same basic procedure is used to choose drive, flash, and intervalometer settings-you turn the front control dial to scroll through different sub-menus, press Enter, scroll to the specific setting you want, and press Save to activate it. Because the dot-matrix LCD displays words and easily understandable icons, we found the whole process of learning to control this electronically complex camera remarkably quick and user-friendly. The same basic system is used for metering settings, which are a function of the reflex finder unit. They're controlled with buttons marked +/- (exposure compensation) and Exp (meter modes and patterns) on the finder's right side, but still conveniently accessible.
Just shoot it
Okay, let's do some shooting. Bring the H1 to eye level, press the shutter release partway in and, if you're in an AF mode, the H1 will rapidly snap into focus. The very legible, illuminated dot-matrix LCD panel displays meter mode, meter pattern, aperture, shutter speed, film status, frame number, exposure compensation, focus-aid/confirmation LED arrows, and, if applicable, flash-ready and warning LEDs. Shutter-release action is very smooth and predictable, with a clear differentiation between the first part of the stroke (meter on, autofocus) and the follow-through (shutter firing) phase. When the shutter fires, you'll hear a sharp "clack." No, that's not the sound of the shutter, but of the mirror flipping out of the light path and returning to viewing position. This is followed by a softer "ssst" as the film advances.
In fact, we found that the H1's actual shutter noise is extremely low, but the "click" of taking a picture is fairly loud-typical of medium-format cameras with instant-return mirrors. More important, mirror-induced vibration (perceived as camera shake) is extraordinarily low, according to our tests. Hasselblad claims this is partly attributable to special circuitry that slows the mirror's action just before exposure. In any case, we found the H1 to be an excellent choice among 2-1/4 SLRs for shooting handheld at slow speeds, as borne out by our field test results.