HASSELBLAD XCD 21MM F/4 IN-DEPTH REVIEW
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THE WIDEST SMALL MEDIUM FORMAT LENS ON THE MARKET: HASSELBLAD XCD 21MM F/4 IN-DEPTH REVIEW!
The release of the Hasselblad XCD 21mm is what convinced me to consider the Hasselblad X1D system for my work: see in this Hasselblad XCD 21mm in-depth review my thoughts about this feat of optical engineering, and why this lens is so important for me!
When Hasselblad first released the X1D I loved the concept, but I thought that it was not a viable system for my work just yet. The lack of any lens wider than the Hasselblad XCD 30mm (24mm FOV equivalent in so-called “full frame” terms), despite my love for the 24mm focal length, and the lack of electronic shutter, made it a no-go for me.
Then, everything changed: Hasselblad first added electronic shutter in Firmware, allowing us to use adapted third-party lenses. Most importantly, though, they released the Hasselblad XCD 21mm f/4. With its 17 mm FOV equivalent, the Hasselblad XCD 21mm is not only an ultra-wide-angle lens, but it’s the widest native lens available today on the market for any small medium format system.
Thanks to these two changes, the X1D suddenly became not only viable, but the best system for my work (see A LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHER IN-DEPTH HASSELBLAD X1D REVIEW to see why).
The lens in this Hasselblad XCD 21mm in-depth review came with me everywhere for about 8 months now: therefore, as always, this will be a review based on real use of the lens in the field, and while you’ll find controlled tests, you won’t find any charts or any studio shots.
Finally, please keep in mind that all my reviews are made under the point of view of a Fine Art Landscape Photographer: if your genre of photography is different, my findings might not apply to you and your work.
Disclaimer: At the time of writing, I am not affiliated with Hasselblad in any way. I am a professional photographer looking for the best equipment for my work, I buy all my gear with my hard-earned cash and I don’t get paid by anyone to write articles for my blog.
Before we start, I’d like to thank the guys at NEWOLDCAMERA in Milan for their great service and their help in getting this lens to me. They are simply great to deal with: extremely knowledgeable, friendly and always ready to go the extra mile for you. Highly recommended, whether you live in Italy or not. Disclaimer: At the time of writing, I am not affiliated with NewOldCamera in any way.
Let’s get started now and see in this Hasselblad XCD 21mm in-depth review if it delivers!
BUILD, SIZE AND WEIGHT
The Hasselblad XCD 21mm is built like a tank, featuring a truly compact lens body for such an ultra-wide medium format lens. The lens feels very solid, with no rattles, internal moving parts or noises of any kind. The lens barrel is extremely minimalistic in terms of controls, featuring just a focus ring.
As all Hasselblad XCD lenses, and as the X1D itself, the Hasselblad XCD 21mm is weather-sealed. This is a must for me and my work: having used the lens in pretty much any adverse weather condition possible I can easily confirm you that the weather sealing works perfectly. With its 83mm diameter and 106mm height, weighing at 600 gr, and with a filter thread of just 77mm, the Hasselblad XCD 21mm f/4 not only is the widest lens for any medium format system, but is also smaller and lighter than anything else in the medium format arena covering similar focal lengths.
For comparison, the Fuji GF 23mm f/4 is 89.8 x 103mm, has an 82mm filter thread and weighs 845 gr; the Leica 24mm Super-Elmar-S f/3.5 is 101 x 112mm, has a 95mm filter thread and weighs 1260 gr; the PhaseOne 28mm f/4.5 is 90 x 136mm, has no filter thread (you need to either use rear gelatine filters or use 150mm filters with special holders) and weighs 1100 gr; finally, Hasselblad’s own HCD 24mm f/4.8 is 100 x 99mm, has a 95mm filter thread, and weighs 810 gr.
USE OF FILTERS
Thanks to the Hasselblad XCD 21mm’s 77mm filter thread, I can use my regular 100mm Formatt-Hitech Firecrest filter holder and my set of Formatt-Hitech Firecrest Ultra 100mm square filters on this lens, without any issues whatsoever. More, as you can see in my FORMATT-HITECH FIRECREST 85MM FILTER HOLDER REVIEW, amazingly enough if you wanted to keep your kit even smaller you could go one step down in filter size and use Formatt-Hitech Firecrest 85mm filters with the Hasselblad XCD 21mm, as well as with any other lens in the XCD line-up.
This is an amazing feat for a medium format system in terms of keeping the bulk and weight of your bag down, and there is nothing else coming close in the medium format world today.
Starting October 2021, I am a proud Ambassador for H&Y Filters, in my opinion simply the best filters out there with the most innovative, easy to use, practical filter holder (see my BEST FILTERS FOR LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY and BEST 100MM FILTER HOLDER FOR LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY articles for more info).
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IN USE: FOCUSING AND DIAPHRAGM
As with all Hasselblad XCD lenses, you can focus your images using either auto-focus or manual focus. Auto-focus is not really blazing fast, but that is of no consequence for my Fine Art Landscape work. What counts the most for me is focusing precision, and here the Hasselblad XCD 21mm doesn’t disappoint. Given a little light, the lens will focus perfectly every time. Of course, as with any Hasselblad XCD lenses, you can move your focus point all over the frame without having to take your eye off the viewfinder, which is pretty cool.
If you prefer to use manual focus instead, you can focus the Hasselblad XCD 21mm by turning the focus ring on the lens’ body. Please note that, like all XCD lenses, the Hasselblad XCD 21mm is a focus-by-wire design. What this means is that turning the focus ring will not directly operate the focus mechanism, it’ll send electrical impulses to the auto-focus motor instead. Some like this system, some like it less: I am in the second group, but I have to say that manual focusing XCD lenses, thanks to the well-implemented focusing aids of the X1D, is easy and precise. The Hasselblad XCD 21mm is no exception.
Like all XCD lenses, aperture on the Hasselblad XCD 21mm can be controlled via a wheel on the camera body, or via the touchscreen, in all shooting modes supporting user aperture control.
SHARPNESS AT INFINITY
Methodology: using my usual “real world” test scene, I manually focussed the lens on the trees on the far ridge in the middle of the frame, using the maximum focus area magnification for precise focus, with the lens wide open. I then prepared 900 x 600px, 100% crops of the center, the bottom left corner and the mid-right side of the frame at full-stop apertures ranging from wide open to f/22. My Hasselblad X1D had Firmware 1.22 installed.
Let’s start looking at the full scene first, to see how much coverage a 105 degrees angle of view will give you in the real world. The red rectangles mark the locations of the crops (click on the image to enlarge):
Let’s now examine the crops in detail, starting with the center of the frame (click on the images to enlarge):
Sharpness in the center is most impressive: the Hasselblad XCD 21mm f/4 starts razor sharp wide open and stays that way until f/16. Apertures smaller than f/16 start suffering from diffraction. Just perfect.
Let’s now examine the bottom left corner (click on the images to enlarge):
While not as flawless as in the center of the frame, the Hasselblad XCD 21mm showed a nearly perfect performance in the corner as well. The lens starts very slightly soft wide-open, but sharpness improves already at f/5.6 to be nearly perfect at f/8 and razor sharp at f/11 and f/16. Apertures smaller than f/16 start suffering from diffraction.
Finally, let’s check the mid-right side of the frame (click on the images to enlarge):
Results at mid-right of the frame are better than those in the corner, with the lens starting off slightly soft wide-open at f/4 and becoming razor-sharp from f/5.6 on. Again, apertures smaller than f/16 start suffering from diffraction.
SHARPNESS AT CLOSE FOCUSING DISTANCE AND BOKEH
To examine sharpness at close focusing distance, as well as to see how the Hasselblad XCD 21mm draws out-of-focus areas, I focused on the Phillips screw right under the mailbox’s red flag in the lower right corner of the frame. Together with the full frame image I included 900 x 600px, 100% crops taken at the point of focus, to check out sharpness, and center crops to see what happens in out-of-focus areas near infinity.
Let’s see the full image first, again to see how wide a 105 degrees angle of view is in the real world, as well as to see the locations of the crops (click on the image to enlarge):
Let’s now examine sharpness at the point of focus (click on the images to enlarge):
This Hasselblad XCD 21mm in-depth review showed a truly spectacular performance of the lens wide open at close distance, even better than what we saw in the lower left corner at infinity. The lens is razor-sharp wide-open, and it stays that way up to f/16. As expected, apertures smaller than f/16 start suffering from diffraction.
Let’s see now how the Hasselblad XCD 21mm renders out-of-focus areas at far distances in the center of the frame (click on the images to enlarge):
While a 17mm FOV equivalent ultra-wide lens would not be my first choice to create bokeh, the Hasselblad XCD 21mm paints out-of-focus areas nicely wide open, with a smooth but not mushy rendition. Please note that I always keep the “Full Aperture” setting on the camera on, all the time. Moving from f/4 to f/5.6 marks a significant increase in sharpness and stopping down after that shows the lens slowly and gracefully gaining sharpness with each stop.
With such an ultra-wide-angle lens, depth of field is pretty extreme: despite focussing so close to the lens, at f/16 you almost get everything in focus from close up to infinity. As with any ultra-wide angle lens, with the Hasselblad XCD 21mm if you need everything to be perfectly in focus all over the frame in near-far compositions, then using hyperfocal distance or focussing one third in between the foreground and the background will produce better results than focussing either at infinity or on the objects closer to you.
This Hasselblad XCD 21mm in-depth review showed an extremely impressive performance for any lens, let alone for such an extreme ultra-wide-angle medium format one. At infinity, the lens is razor-sharp in the center of the frame at any aperture, and while slightly soft wide open in the corner, sharpness improves constantly stopping down to become perfectly sharp all over the frame at f/8 – f/16. At closer focussing distances, the lens is perfectly sharp at any aperture.
For my Fine Art Landscape photography work, this is simply a fantastic performance, and a performance confirmed by my use of the lens all these months in the field.
VIGNETTE AND COLOUR RENDITION
As to be expected with such an ultra-wide lens, the Hasselblad XCD 21mm features a little soft-vignette wide-open, which gently disappears stopping the lens down. Applying the available Hasselblad XCD 21mm lens profile in Adobe Camera Raw you can easily fix what little vignette there is, modulating its level to taste. In most cases, I found that a vignette removal value of 40-60 gives me the results I want. Please note that I often add back some soft vignetting to my images at a later stage in post-processing anyway.
Colour rendition is beautiful to my eye, using the camera standard colour profile gives me a wonderful starting point for my post-processing.
To check for distortion, I photographed my garage door, which – while uninspiring – with its straight metal lines offers a neat test scene for distortion. For your convenience, to help you check distortion easier I slightly increased contrast, added straight red lines in PP, turned the image horizontal and I cut the frame in two, showing you just the top half of the frame. Adobe Camera Raw’s Hasselblad XCD 21mm profile has been applied. Let’s see the results (click on the image to enlarge):
As you can see, the Hasselblad XCD 21mm with its lens profile applied is extremely well controlled for distortion: straight lines stay perfectly straight all over the frame.
FLARE AND CHROMATIC ABERRATIONS
During my tests, on purpose I didn’t used the provided, removeable lens hood. I never use a hood for my work either, since I almost inevitably have a filter holder on the lens, and I wanted the test to mimic my working conditions as closely as possible. In the test image below, I included the sun in the frame, keeping in it close to the image’s corner. As well, I included a crop of the area surrounding the sun to check for chromatic aberrations (click on the images to enlarge):
As you can see, the Hasselblad XCD 21mm showed great contrast and resistance to flare, with no “ghost” images of sorts. Both as you can see in this Hasselblad XCD 21mm in-depth review’s images and during my “real world” use I have never seen any sign of colour fringing or chromatic aberrations.
NIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY AND COMA
Thanks to its amazing sharpness wide-open, the Hasselblad XCD 21mm proved to be a great lens to have during my Northern Lights sessions in Iceland. Using it wide-open against a starry sky, the lens behaved pretty well showing just some sings of butterfly-shaped coma in the stars closer to the corners of the frame.
The widest native lens for any small medium format camera system as I write this Hasselblad XCD 21mm in-depth review, this lens is a must-have for the ultra-wide loving landscape photographer using a Hasselblad X1D system.
Under a technical point of view, the Hasselblad XCD 21mm is as close to perfect a lens as I have ever seen. At infinity, it’s razor-sharp in the center and performs admirably all over the frame at any aperture. Focussing close to the lens, the lens becomes even better. Between f/8 and f/16, the standard working apertures for near-far compositions in landscape photography, the Hasselblad XCD 21mm is simply perfect all over the frame. It’s amazingly sharp, shows great macro and micro-contrast, has no distortion, no flare or ghosts and no chromatic aberrations. While it does show a little vignette at larger apertures, this is all but gone after f/5.6 and is easily fixable applying the lens profile in Camera RAW if you prefer a clean image shooting wide-open.
Under an artistical point of view, while a very personal thing I can easily say that the Hasselblad XCD 21mm draws as beautifully as any other ultra-wide lens I have ever used, if not better.
A MUST-HAVE LENS? THOUGHTS ON THE FOCAL LENGTH
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I love ultra-wide lenses. For me to even consider any camera system, this needs to have at least a native option covering 100-110 degrees of field of view, or something between 15mm and 17mm in so-called “full frame” FOV equivalent. Failing that, a camera system must let me adapt a non-native lens covering that range, as did the Leica SL before the arrival of the 16-35mm Vario-Elmar-SL.
So, for me the 21mm is truly a must-have lens. So much so that when a so-called “gentleman” made my tripod fall on the ground at St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, causing my Hasselblad XCD 21mm to break at the bayonet, I immediately ordered another copy to replace it while my original lens was being repaired.
Should you get it? Well, as always it depends on your preferences in terms of focal lengths. If, like me, you love to use wide and ultrawide-angle lenses, this lens is a must have. In fact, the Hasselblad XCD 21mm might be one very important reason (if not THE reason) for you to choose to go with the Hasselblad X1D system versus any other medium format solution on the market: I know this was the case for me.
In conclusion, I loved the Hasselblad XCD 21mm. It’s as flawless as a lens can be, and if you need this focal length there is nothing out there like it. Highly recommended.
As always, the photographs are what counts the most. Before saying goodbye, enjoy a small gallery of images created with the Hasselblad X1D and the Hasselblad XCD 21mm f/4 around the world (click on the images to enlarge):
Thanks for reading this Hasselblad XCD 21mm in-depth review, I hope you enjoyed it! Why don’t you share it with your friends, or drop me a comment to let me know how you feel about this?
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