Hasselblad's H1 is the most advanced medium-format SLR ever. But at $5,700,
is it the best?
Focus on AF
Another area where the H1 excels is in AF performance. It's the only medium-format autofocus SLR with a central cross-field AF sensor, and it certainly is a giant step ahead of all other medium-format cameras without cross sensors. In low light, with low-contrast subjects, it snaps into focus with speed and alacrity. Under unfavorable focusing conditions, it proved noticeably better than its competitors. Aiding its stellar performance is a near-infrared AF-aid light built into the grip, with a tested range of 7.3 meters (about 24 feet).
No AF system can autofocus under all conditions, and the H1 clearly indicates when it can't. If your subject is too close, only the left-hand focus-confirmation arrow lights up. In other cases, when AF cannot be achieved, both AF arrows flash in warning. To focus manually, just keep the shutter button partially depressed and turn the manual focusing ring. However, you must then judge the sharpness of the finder screen image visually-the arrows confirm focus only in manual-focus (M) mode.
The H1's built-in flash is a marvel of compact, integrated design. Push a tab on the left side of the finder housing to pop it up. When it's fully charged, a lightning bolt (which also indicates low flash and flash OK) lights up in the finder. When the flash is in use, the metering system continues to read out the ambient light exposure and indicate the deviation from the correct exposure via the exposure-compensation scale. By turning the front wheel, we were able to easily balance the flash-to-ambient ratio to get any effect we wanted, from a hint of fill to an all-flash exposure. Brilliant!
This technique is easiest to use in A, S, or M modes. In P mode, the camera automatically selects a 1/60 sec exposure. This flash unit also reads TTL and OTF (off-the-film), and we found it to be extremely accurate. While its power output (Guide Number of 40 at ISO 100) is reasonable for a small built-in unit, it won't cover the field of lenses shorter than 80mm-you'll see light falloff with wide-angle lenses.
As our lab data suggest, the Hasselblad H1 provides a very high level of performance in terms of exposure and shutter-speed accuracy, autofocus speed, and (judging by the 80mm lens for starters) optical performance. These data are fully corroborated by its field performance, which we found generally outstanding. We shot close to 1000 pictures on a variety of color transparency, color negative, and black-and-white films. The H1 acquitted itself admirably, producing sharp, accurate available-light and flash exposures even under less-than-favorable conditions.
Criticisms? You have to be precise when installing the finder unit, lens, or film magazine. If you're sloppy, what you're mounting may seem to click in place, but the contacts on the module and body may not mate perfectly. Result: a strange reading on the grip LCD (such as "autofocus not possible with this lens," when an AF lens is mounted). Once, the camera wouldn't turn on at all; we cured the problem by removing the finder unit and remounting it properly, as suggested in the manual. Speaking of the manual, what we received with our H1 was a "preliminary version." It's a valiant effort, but we found it to be organizationally challenged in places, with a few rough edges. Hasselblad expects an improved manual to be in the hands of H1 owners by late this year.
So what, in the final analysis, do we think of the H1? Frankly, it's the camera Hasselblad had to produce for the company to prosper in the future. On balance, they did a splendid job. No, it's not all European, and it's not compatible with 2-1/4-square Hasselblads. But, in our opinion, it is also the best integrated, most technologically advanced medium-format SLR on the planet, and the one best positioned to allow photographers to expand into today's brave new world of combined film and digital photography.