Every photography nerd worth their salt has imagined what it must be like to shoot with a Hasselblad or a Leica. Even seasoned pros can’t help but crave it the technical marvels of the inventors at Hasselblad and Leica make.
The legacy of these camera brands is simply unmatched. No matter how great camera brands like Sony, Canon or Nikon are, they will never match the stature of Hasselblad and Leica. In fact, the situation is exactly the same at the moment.
Sony, Canon, Nikon and Fujifilm make some of the most technologically advanced cameras that are great for taking photos and videos. The image quality of some cameras from these brands is so good that they have been used in feature films and documentaries. Sure, they’re nothing like the Arri or Red cameras, but they’re pretty close.
Hasselblad and Leica, on the other hand, don’t have cameras that can capture video anywhere near as well as your latest Sony A7s, Nikon Z9 or Canon R3. And yet people are more than willing to spend up to ten times more money to get a Leica or a Hasselblad.
The cheapest Hasselblad money can buy is the X1D II 50C medium format mirrorless, which costs around $5,750, or just over Rs 4.5 lakhs, for the body alone. That means shelling out another Rs 2,000 2-4 lakhs for a compatible lens. At least you want to spend at least Rs 6-8 lakhs. And that’s not even their current best-selling camera. That has to be the H6D-100c, which starts at $32,000 or about 28 lakhs, again just for the body. Add a couple of lenses and you’ll easily want to spend around 35-40 rupees.
Leica has a similar story. So why are people paying so much for these cameras and lenses when there are many cameras out there that offer “better value for money”?
resolution and details
Even if the resolution of a sensor is not the absolute benchmark for assessing a camera, it still plays a role, especially when working professionally. A Hasselblad like the H6D-100C comes with a 100-megapixel medium format sensor, which is larger than that of a full-frame sensor typically found on high-end Sony, Canon and Nikon cameras. Hasselblad even has a camera with a 400 megapixel sensor. Similarly, Leica’s current best-selling camera, the M11, has a resolution of 60MP.
And mind you, these are larger pixels than those used in most consumer cameras, so the quality of each pixel is much better anyway. Additionally, unlike most entry-level and consumer smartphone cameras, Hasselblad and Leica do not use pixel binning. Pixel binning is a practice where smartphones take the average value of 8-16 pixels and count them as one. What this enables them is to do come in resolutions like 100MP or 200MP which looks great for the marketing team, but actually outputs an image that’s close to a more manageable 12MP. Simply put, Hasselblad and Leica don’t need to cluster pixels. Since Hasselblads use 120mm sensors, they’re even better than Leica in that sense.
Hasselblad, Leica and Zeiss make some of the best lenses in the world. These legacy brands make some of the sharpest and most color accurate lenses out there. No matter how great a sensor you put in a camera, if it’s not used with a good lens, the resolution, the dynamic range, will fail. Scientists often use lenses from these manufacturers for astrophotography, as well as for taking pictures of flora and fauna in order to catalog them.
In fact, a number of space research organizations are developing camera modules and sensors to be sent into space after spending millions of dollars, using off-the-shelf lenses from Zeiss, Leica and Hasselblad.
One of the biggest criteria that makes or breaks a camera is dynamic range. Hasselblads and Leicas have some of the best dynamic ranges of any camera brand. This allows them to accurately capture the smallest details in the lightest and darkest areas in a single photo, without having to expose the same image twice or stitch two different images together. This, combined with the incredibly high resolution of its sensors, means that anyone shooting with these cameras can have a billboard printed directly from the camera, with no processing required.
Each camera brand develops its own color science. At its most basic level, color science is basically the process and calculations used to record what a sensor sees. No camera sensor is actually capable of reproducing the exact colors of an object. Basically, no camera is ever able to capture the true, real colors of an object. In humans, too, each pair of eyes has its own color science. No two pairs of human eyes see the same shade of blue when looking up at the sky. Hasselblad and Leica are no different. However, they come the closest of any camera manufacturer in the world.
Hasselblads and Leicas are built like tanks. Hasselblads have often been taken on space missions simply because they can operate in a variety of hostile environments. In fact, all the images we see of the first moon landing were taken with a Hasselblad. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin used a silver HDC camera along with a Zeiss 60mm f5.6 lens.
Likewise, the Leica has been to the top of mountains like K2 and taken on expeditions to Antarctica and Siberia, some of the coldest places on earth. These cameras work perfectly without hiccups in situations where most electronic and mechanical devices just give up.
Now that might not seem like a very important aspect, but every Leica and Hasselblad camera is assembled by hand. Each camera that is built is then thoroughly tested for color fidelity, sharpness and robustness. In any given year, these two manufacturers can produce a maximum of 10,000 units. In comparison, Nikon produces 10,000 units of its best-selling cameras every few days.
Leicas and Hasselblads may not be the most plump cameras on the market. There are far cheaper cameras out there that work wonders for most people, including professionals, and can also record great videos. But if you’re looking for a pure still camera, if you want to understand what photography has always meant, you can’t choose anything but a Leica or a Hasselblad.
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