November 2, 2017

REVIEW: Hasselblad H6D-100c Foreshadows the Medium Format Cinematography Revolution

Is this the beginning of the next cinematography wave?

Bigger sensors are the future. As we discussed in our NAB podcast, the camera market hasn't felt super dynamic lately (with the exception of perhaps the EVA1), and at least part of that is the feeling that the Super 35mm sensor size has really peaked. Super 35mm cameras are amazing and affordable. The Alexa sensor is almost a decade old and still cranking out beautiful footage. The Varicam has a native 5000 ISO that provides clean footage. The new Red Helium is squeezing 8K out of Super 35mm.  Where do we go from here?

More resolution doesn't get that exciting anymore, with 8K not being wildly more exciting than 6K. Instead of focusing on more pixels and higher frame rates, the next wave of cinematic camera development will be larger sensors. At the high end, this has already started with the Alexa 65 turning out truly stunning imagery in films like The Revenant. And while you can't buy an Alexa 65, you could buy a 4K medium format camera today: the Hasselblad H6D-100c. That is, if you have $33,000 to spare.

[Full disclosure: we basically pestered Hasselblad for nearly a year until we got to play with the H6D-100c for a weekend. Our contacts at Hasselblad are very nice folks, and we're grateful for the experience.]

How will a drone maker help create the medium format cinema camera of our dreams?

While Hasselblad has entered into a creative and technical partnership with DJI (DJI, in fact, now owns a majority stake in Hasselblad), cross-pollination between the companies will be an evolution rather a revolution, so it should come as no surprise that a Hasselblad that fits in your pocket and flies hasn't appeared overnight. Hasselblad remains a company that isn't obsessed with constant news or attention, and focuses on making absolutely the best medium format camera and lenses money can buy. The company doesn't even have a Super 35mm camera.

Hasselblad is medium format, and has been for a very long time. This makes the teaming of their medium format knowledge with DJI's motion expertise uniquely positioned to bring us what we are all really waiting for, which is the "5D Mark II" of medium format.

Credit: Charles Haine

The H6D-100c is not the "5D Mark II" of medium format cinematography

The H6D-100c isn't the "5D Mark II" of medium format cinematography, but it's getting close enough that we believe this will happen soon. For starters, the H6D-100c is ten times the price of the original 5D Mark II, and the price is one of the most important parts of starting a camera revolution. The medium format cinema camera of our dreams (MFC-cood for short) won't be as cheap as the 5D, but will be under $10K.

Additionally, the 100c suffers from some pretty intense rolling shutter artifacts. Of course, so did the original 5D Mark II, but it's even worse here and our expectations have changed. Filmmakers of 2018 won't suffer the same rolling shutter we put up with in 2008 because we've had too many years of cameras that don't suffer from that artifact. The 100c is putting out a tremendous amount of data, so the shutter rolls pretty drastically and the only thing that will fix it is faster processing at the sensor level. This is an area where DJI can help with its experience of stabilizing cameras and avoiding rolling shutter in drones (which are basically vibration machines).

Credit: Charles Haine

If it's too expensive and the shutter rolls too badly for handheld or even fast pans, why were we so excited to play with the H6D-100c? Because, in proper conditions, the footage just looks amazing, turning out beautiful creamy shots from a very small package. The H6D-100c body is roughly the size of the FS7, but packs a full size 53.4 x 40.0mm sensor. 

Medium format means a much larger sensor than Super 35mm

A medium format still photo sensor is significantly larger than even a Full Frame 35mm sensor like you see in the 5D or the Vista Vision RED cameras. In the 100c, it's 53.4 x 40mm, versus the 25 x 18mm size of Super 35mm sensors. That's over four times the area covered with Super 35mm sensors. In the days of shooting film, that tremendous size allowed much higher resolution imagery, and medium format was used not just in fashion photography, but also on the Apollo moon missions and in aerial work. Hasselblad has been one of the pioneers of medium format imagery throughout its history.

Credit: Charles Haine

From a purely technical perspective, massive sensors make low-light senstivity easier to achieve. Of course, the Varicam LT achieves pretty stunning results at 5000 ISO on a Super 35mm sensor, but as we push into lower and lower light shooting, bigger sensors mean bigger photosites, and bigger photosites are able to record image information with less light. Like a bucket in the rain, a wider bucket will catch more water than a narrower bucket, for the same number of drops. The same is true with photosites and lightwaves, and noise free, high ISO video will come more easily from a bigger sensor. In our tests at 12K8, or 12800 ISO, we found the video to be exceptionally useful with low noise. Yes, the A7SII gives useable footage up to 25600 ISO, but it will be a medium format sensor that first gives us really useable footage above that.

Medium format isn't purely a technical distinction between cameras, either. There is also a real aesthetic difference between smaller and larger sensors. As you go to a larger sensor, for the same field of view, you need longer and longer glass, which gives you a shallower depth of field that you can feel in the imagery. This becomes especially important as a differentiator. As more footage is shot with iPhones and GH5s and other small sensor images, big sensor footage will set a project apart. A larger sensor provides a distinctly different relationship to scale, as The Revenant and other projects with sweeping cinematography demonstrate. You get that from the H6D-100c. Just don't let the camera shake.

One current frustration is that to work with the RAW 4K files, you need to use Phocus, the proprietary Hasselblad software. It's actually pretty good and works quite well, but filmmakers are creatures of habit and will be much happier when Resolve is able to import the RAW footage natively.

Medium format is the future

The film industry is already anticipating the medium format cinematography wave. Hasselblad glass provides most of your options for shooting on the Alexa 65. RED has floated designs for larger sensor imagery on a few occasions (and is teasing the Monstro brand again), but has released nothing bigger than Vista Vision/FF because the company can't support the full infrastructure. RED doesn't have the history with lens engineering and image processing to deal with it. Hasselblad does.

Combine that with DJI cash and expertise, and we would bet money that Hasselblad will be in the running with a strong contender for the "5D Mark II of medium format" sometime soon. The camera that most of us shoot our first medium format movie on. The camera that every Alexa 65 production uses for its B-cam/action cam. The first one you can (maybe, someday, if you rent it out a lot) afford to buy. Or if not you, your rich buddy who wants to get into movies and will loan it to you if you teach him how to use it.

Credit: Charles Haine

Medium format cinema lenses will soon be in demand

After the RED ONE came out, there was a price spike in vintage PL mount glass, as there was a tremendous hunger for cinema lenses that fit the camera and covered the circle. While we aren't guaranteeing a timeframe for when medium format cinematography will arrive, vintage medium format lenses will appreciate in value when the wave finally hits. Currently, Whitepoint Optics is rehousing vintage Hasselblad V-mount lenses into a cinema-friendly setting, with a cinema-style price point of renting for $200/day each. Those same vintage V-mount lenses, which are available with smooth aperture and focus rings, regularly show up under $1,000 on eBay, with some as low as $200. 

To be clear, these lens aren't easy to convert to full cinema mode. Medium format lenses use an internal shutter mechanism that makes the conversion more difficult than other lenses. We reached out to Duclos Lenses, which suggested that Mamiya lenses were much easier to convert to a modern cinema system, and Duclos is happy to do it. There are piles of them on eBay for a few hundred dollars right now. PL mount glass has always been rarer than medium format glass, and none of these lenses are guaranteed to go up. But as a DP, it's interesting to consider spending only a few thousand dollars and getting a full set of medium format capable cinema quality glass, designed from scratch for larger sensors and high resolving power. That stock sitting there waiting for conversion will help adoption of whatever medium format cinema platform comes down the pike.

Credit: Charles Haine

In the meantime, it's a bit too early to say this revolution has started, but it feels like we're achingly close, and nobody is poised like Hasselblad. But if you want to be ready for the revolution when it happens, it's time to start reading up on medium format, trying to rent one for a weekend if you can, pitch a client on it if possible. If you have an upcoming job that calls for a locked-off camera or lots of controlled, steady movements on a geared head, where an epic, pristine look is required, get your hands on the H6D-100c and give it a test.

Tech Specs:

  • 100MP 53.4 x 40.0mm CMOS sensor
  • 16-bit color, 15-stop dynamic range
  • UHD 4K and full HD RAW video at 30 fps
  • ISO 64-12800, shooting up to 1.5 fps
  • Shutter speeds: 60 min to 1/2000 sec
  • 3.0" 920k-dot touchscreen LCD monitor
  • Dual CFast and SD memory card slots
  • Built-in Wi-Fi, USB 3.0 Type-C

Your Comment

12 Comments

Not impressed.

November 2, 2017 at 2:27PM, Edited November 2, 2:27PM

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That demo video is awful.

For $33,000? No.

November 2, 2017 at 5:33PM

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Agreed...

November 2, 2017 at 9:52PM, Edited November 2, 9:53PM

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J Robbins
262

November 2, 2017 at 6:33PM

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Your review is much, much better. Still not impressed with the look of the video, regardless of price.

November 3, 2017 at 9:06AM

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Great article! You guys missed a few really amazing opportunities for medium format coming up on the horizon. The Sony VENICE and RED Monstro are really the best option with their full frame sensors. I've been using Kipon focal reducers and they're great, even with an A7s. It'll be even better on the full frame VENICE. Unfortunately the RED doesn't have a native M or E mount (even third party).

https://vimeo.com/203257566

I'm working on a custom mount for the RED as well with the Kipon optics. The Dragon isn't quite full frame so the focal reducer doesn't quite give the medium format look, but it does get further than the Vista Vision look! Can't wait to try it out on a MONSTRO someday soon ;)

If you dig into the RED forums, there's a few sets of the Duclos Mamiya lenses there. They're really fantastic. I think the Pentax 67 lenses are good candidates for cine conversion as well. The older Hasselblad series lenses are also fairly inexpensive online right now.

November 2, 2017 at 6:58PM

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Zack Wallnau
Cinematographer & Tinkerer
678

As the sensor size appears to be 11,608 by 8,708, then the stills mode resolves at 11.6k--more if you cheat(ish) and slap on an anamorphic lens (that probably doesn't even exist). Not to be greedy--and knowing this is more of an academic exercise--but if a digital friendly version of Christopher Nolan wanted to shoot a true Imax killer (70mm Imax, not LieMax) by shooting with a 10-12k resolution medium format camera, what would be the engineering hurdles from the processing end be like?
In other words, I wonder how much computing/storage power and speed would be needed to truly Imax a sensor of this resolution into being a workable 24p 11k immersive image camera for blockbuster movies and 180 degree projection theme park rides like Soarin' Over California... Anyone technologically minded care to theorize in this thought experiment?

November 2, 2017 at 9:45PM, Edited November 2, 9:45PM

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J Robbins
262

What did you smoke prior to writing this article ?
1)No, Medium format is NOT the future.
How would you extract a 2.35 out of a square sensor if not by dividing its resolution by 2 ?
2)Each Hasselblad medium format lens cost an eye and there's no adapter. Unless canon 5D you can mount cheap M42 lenses for indie filmakers.
3)who would be stupid enough to go through so much head & ass pain for the near the price of an Amira or Alexa Mini ?
So thanks for waking up 5years too late Hasselblad, but a future with you sucks.

November 3, 2017 at 1:38AM

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Martin Brewer
Director, DOP
228

For what seems to be a sponsored article the execution and first info on this camera seems to be awful.

From the sample video which only shows handheld footage with too much bokeh of mundane objects...

The article points out that resolution doesn't matter, yet the camera is 4k. Alexa is not even real 4k yet. What about image skew? Is this not a concern? You invest 1000s into redesigning the hasselblad then release a video where you can't even pan across with a car and not have it look like a cheap entry level dslr. I spend most my time refining my craft and carefully selecting my gear. This doesn't come close to making the cut.

November 3, 2017 at 5:21AM

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Ivan K
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The near-square format does not help with video unless you are using anamorphic lenses and proper anamorphic cinema lenses are far too expensive for most production.... however... the medium format "look" is appealing... I saw something about a speed booster style adaptor to refocus medium format glass onto a 35mm sensor... now that would be something that I would like!

November 3, 2017 at 1:32PM, Edited November 3, 1:32PM

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Michael Ford
Owner / Wedding Photographer / Do everything
1

Hi all, in practice we are not a rehousing firm as mentioned in the article. We are building the lenses completely from the platform. We only use optics from Hasselblad lenses. All the other parts of the lens are our designers and manufacturers. Our look is quite different from the basic Hasselblad V - series lenses. We have full circular iris so the bokeh is very soft but readable.
Test footage shot: https://vimeo.com/user67211082

Timo Alatalkkari
Chief Optics Technician
Whitepoint Optics

November 3, 2017 at 1:56PM

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Timo Alatalkkari
Chief Optics Technician at Whitepoint Optics
9

Quality video is suck... Take the ursa mini pro from blackmagic and you will be happy :-)

November 3, 2017 at 2:02PM

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