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Reader Question: Hasselblad X1D Leaf Shutter and Fill Flash (and Ricoh GR)

See my Hasselblad X1D wish list and Fujifilm GFX wish list and compact camera wish list.

Michael Erlewine writes:

Since I don’t use flash, I am wondering whether I would want to use a small amount of flash outdoors with a camera like the X1D and its leaf shutter.

I don’t totally understand leaf shutters and their advantage, but perhaps with the X1D I might want to use a small amount of flash and a wider aperture for various effects. If you ever have time and there are any advantages to having a leaf shutter for outdoor work with the X1D, I would love to understand this better.

DIGLLOYD: fill flash for outdoors work is a HUGE plus. A leaf shutter allows far higher shutter speeds than are possible with focal plane shutters (a few have special multi-burst flash modes, but these can lead to artifacts due to the shutter curtain travel).

While fill flash is a big plus under many circumstances (see images below), I rarely use it because of the bulk and weight and general unbalanced awkwardness of a flash on the camera hot shoe. So I hugely prefer a built-in flash. Just as a camera not carried takes no pictures, a flash not carried provides no flash fill.

And so this is one disappointment with the Hasselblad X1D: the camera has leaf shutter lenses but lacks a small built-in flash that would make it even more compelling*. The svelte form factor appeal of the X1D is totally lost should a CaNikon-sized flash unit be mounted in the hot shoe. Worse, a stack of gear like that calls a lot of attention to itself precisely when I might not want it. A camera-powered dinky little unit good for -2 stops at up to eight feet distance would be a huge plus, if/when Hassy or someone should ever make one. Studio shooters won’t care, but I’d bet that a big part of the appeal of the X1D is also to outdoor shooters.

* A built-in flash might have been omitted because the lenses may be too large for a built-in flash to throw its light properly. But that would not stop an Olympus E-M1 II style mini flash option.

So the question with the X1D is how big/bulky the flash will be, and whether the camera can properly dial in and meter correctly for the -2 stops flash comp that I used in the images below for a natural look—the Ricoh GR sets the excellence standard, but few if any cameras can match it.

Howard C writes:

I understand your point about mounting a “serious” Nikon flash like the SB-700 on the X1D. However, one of the nice features of the X1D is that the camera is designed to be compatible with and operate seamlessly with Nikon flash equipment. The about $147 Nikon SB-300 is pretty svelte.

DIGLLOYD: the about $147 SB-300 might do the trick for both clearance and weight, weighing in only 97 grams (more with 2 AAA batteries, so maybe 130 grams or so). According to the Hasselblad specification sheet for the X1D:

Flash control: Automatic TTL centre weighted system. NikonTM compatible hotshoe Output can be adjusted from -3 to +3EV.

However, I have found that even Nikon flashes on Nikon suck for metering, at least compared to the Ricoh GR. So it remains to be seen just how well things actually work. I have three Nikon SB-800 units, which are a bit old, but I may borrow an SB-300 to try it out and confirm.

Fill flash examples

The best outdoors examples of fill flash are discussed in my review of the Ricoh GR, which has a leaf shutter lens and built-in flash and superb fill-flash balancing/metering—an awesome combination for bright outdoor conditions which remains unrivalled by any other camera system I’ve used regardless of cost.

I consider the Ricoh GR one of the best digital cameras ever made (now the about $599 Ricoh GR II), a true milestone, with a design usability unmatched by any camera on the market today. And a design sadly ignored by Pentax in its K series DSLRs.

Below, notice the subtle catchlights in the eyes, and lack of shadows on key areas of the face.

Dad and Daughter
f/5.6 @ 1/250 sec handheld, ISO 100 Ricoh GR with fill flash at -1.7

Fill flash subtly improves shadow areas when black outlines are undesirable.

At the Beach
f/9 @ 1/1500 sec handheld, ISO 100 +1.33 push
Ricoh GR with fill flash at -1.7 second

A touch of fill flash goes a long way towards any kind of outdoor shot.

Post-ride Chill
f/8 @ 1/100 sec, fill flash, Ricoh GR

A shot like this can be balanced with fill flash. Otherwise, it’s a choice of totally blown-out sky (and probably some lens flare) or a very dark face. The foggy background was blazingly bright, having almost burned off.

f/9 @ 1/800 sec handheld, ISO 400 +1.66 push Ricoh G
with fill flash (amount unknown)

Bart H writes:

Funny that you should write about the X1D flash capabilities as I was just pondering that. I downloaded the manual from the Hasselblad site and apart from the dreadful style and the multiple repetitions that succeed to make a very tiny amount of information look huge and confusing I must say I um underwhelmed and left with a lot of questions, one of which is regarding flash.

Does this camera really ONLY support center weighed TTL, the only mode I never use? I almost always use manual mode (yes, even for fill flash) and there is no such setting. How will the camera behave when the flash is set to manual?

The manual is very restrictive about the flash units to be used, just a handful of Nikon units basically. While many vendors state that damage may occur when connecting other types than their own, Hasselblad uses more restrictive terms by stating that “only Nikon flash units listed above …. can be connected to the hot shoe of the camera”. Surely, a simple center contact driven unit like the cheap but fine Yongnuo YN560 can be used, like on any other camera? Or remote controls? Doubt sets in…

But other things spring to mind when reading the manual: having dual SD slots without “backup” mode, only “overflow”? Again, “backup” is the only mode I ever use and it is really useful.

There does not seem to be an option to set white balance of a target such as a WhiBal card. While I do not shoot JPEG a lot, I find that this can be very useful in many indoor situations such as parties, where guests can be offered or mailed a picture when they leave later that evening.

No electronic shutter options whatsoever…

Have you read the manual? I hope that many shortcomings will be. or better yet, are already addressed in firmware updates and that the manual is simply already outdated.

I know that many vendors do a lousy job when it comes to manuals, and they hardly ever update them with firmware updates, but it is a bit disappointing to see that Hasselblad has started out with the same thing: a lot of (often repeated) words and pictures, very little useful information. Do we really need a whole page on removing and attaching the lens cap?

I am looking forward to your reviews and will definitively take a subscription to the MF section when your camera(s) arrive, I am very curious what you think about both the X1D af the GFX.

DIGLLOYD: this speaks directly to my concern... a camera can “support” a flash without making it particulularly easy to use well. With the Ricoh GR, I used aperture priority, dialing in (typically) -1.7 to -2.3 stops of flash compensation.

It is my intent to cover as many things like this as I can regarding operational aspects.

As for “no electronic shutter”, the idea is that a leaf shutter suffices—except that it does not suffice if one ever wished to shoot an adapted lens. Thus the Hasselblad X1D is never going to work with adapted lenses.

The Fujifilm GFX has both a mechanical shutter and more electronic modes than any cameras I’ve ever seen. Fujifilm apparently went to some trouble to do the shutter right. I don’t yet understand all these options or how to use them, but it looks to cover all the bases.

Fujifilm GFX shutter modes
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