Hasselblad XCD 4/21mm – Review 2018

Hasselblad’s X mirrorless medium format system launched with three prime lenses, including the wide-angle XCD 3,5/30mm. But system owners craving an even wider field of view were left to adapt larger lenses developed for the company’s H system. The company is filling the gap with the XCD 4/21mm ($3,750), a prime that covers the same angle of view as a 17mm on a 35mm full-frame camera. If you’ve got an X1D at home the 21mm is worth checking out, especially if you crave a very wide view of the world.

Design: Minimalism at Work

The XCD 4/21mm is all black, with a metal barrel and a large rubberized manual focus ring. Adornments are minimal, with the Hasselblad logo, the focal length and aperture, and an indicator reminding you that the front filter is a 77mm size, all in white text around the front element. The Hasselblad logo and some additional text are printed toward the base, though in a gray font that all but blends into the matte black finish.

Given its coverage and angle of view—the X1D’s image sensor is significantly larger than full-frame—the lens is relatively compact, at 4.2 by 3.3 inches (HD) and 1.3 pounds. Front and rear caps are included, as well as a lens hood. There’s no in-lens image stabilization—Hasselblad has yet to include that feature in any lens for its X system.

Hasselblad XCD 4/21mm : Sample Image

The only control of which to speak is the manual focus ring. All lenses for the X1D are focus-by-wire. Turning the ring activates a motor to adjust the point of focus, in contrast to lenses that have mechanical manual focus. This is the current norm for mirrorless design, and while some photographers will miss the tactile feedback and hard stops you get with a mechanical focus ring, the manual focus mechanism does offer some physical resistance, so you’re not without tactile feedback when opting to focus manually. Autofocus is supported, of course.

Hasselblad XCD 4/21mm : Sample Image

The X1D doesn’t have a focal plane shutter, so Hasselblad has built a physical leaf shutter into the lens itself. It’s quieter and introduces less vibration, and it adds the benefit of high-speed flash sync. The 21mm can sync with strobes at shutter speeds a short as 1/2,000-second. Compare that with a high-resolution 35mm SLR like the Nikon D850, which requires speeds of 1/250-second or longer in order to sync with a flash or monolight.

Hasselblad XCD 4/21mm : Sample Image

The 21mm isn’t a macro lens by any means. It focuses to 12.6 inches, which puts it at a disadvantage in close focus to many ultra-wide lenses for 35mm systems, which can often focus very close to the front element. Still, you can make images with a subject close to the lens, backed by a wide view of the landscape behind it. The shot of the flowers above was captured close to the minimum focus distance. As with any ultra-wide lens, be wary of getting too close when photographing people, as perspective distortion can exaggerate features in an unflattering way, like in the image below.

Hasselblad XCD 4/21mm : Sample Image

Image Quality: Sharp, With Dim Corners

The XCD 21mm is only compatible with one camera at press time, the 50MP X1D. Thankfully the two work well together to capture crisp, vibrant images. At f/4 the lens resolves 4,979 lines on Imatest’s center-weighted sharpness test, much better than the 2,750 lines we want to see at a minimum from a 50MP sensor. Image quality isn’t dead even from center to edge, but the periphery delivers a strong 4,646-line result.

Hasselblad XCD 4/21mm : Sample Image

Results are even better when you set the f-stop to f/5.6. The average score jumps a bit to 5,196 lines, and the edges show 4,999 lines. Resolution takes a small step back at f/8, but the lens still nets 5,081 lines.

Hasselblad XCD 4/21mm : Sample Image

Diffraction sets in a little early. We see 4,672 lines at f/11, less image quality than you get at f/4, and the edges take a dive down to 4,058 lines. The trend continues to f/16 (3,772 lines), f/22 (2,642 lines), and f/32 (1,634 lines). We expect diffraction to be an issue with high-resolution sensors, but wide-angle shooters who are used to setting a lens to f/16 for best results should adjust their mindset with the XCD 21mm. Its sweet spot is in the f/5.6 to f/8 range.

Hasselblad XCD 4/21mm : Sample Image

Delivering sharp images, even at the edges of the frame, is a big plus for an ultra-wide lens. But the 21mm doesn’t deliver completely perfect optics. There is some barrel distortion visible, about 3.7 percent, which draws straight lines with a slight outward curve. It’s something you can correct in software—despite the 21mm being a very new lens (it’s not yet shipping at press time), Adobe Lightroom Classic CC already has a one-click correction available to compensate for the distortion. It works well, straightening the lines of our test chart perfectly with a single click. Since nobody will shoot in JPG format with the X1D (it’s only capable of 12.7MP JPG output), Raw conversion is a necessity when using the system.

Hasselblad XCD 4/21mm : Sample Image

In addition to curved lines, the lens captures images with corners that are noticeably darker than the center of the frame. At f/4 the vignette effect is strongest, dropping illumination by 3.3 stop (-3.3EV). It lessens at f/5.6 to –2.7EV, but stays steady there through f/32. Thankfully, as with distortion, the vignette is removed using the Lightroom lens profile. And, if you want to remove distortion but leave corners dark (or vice versa), you can adjust how much vignette compensation the profile applies using a slider.

Into the Great Wide Open

There’s something magical about shooting with an ultra-wide lens, especially when walking through the tight confines of an urban environment. The XCD 4/21mm’s angle of view certainly comes in handy for cityscapes, but it’s also sure to find its way into the bags of travel and landscape specialists who use the Hasselblad mirrorless system. Its optics are strong and it balances quite well on the X1D. If you’re invested in the system and crave an ultra-wide lens, it’s an excellent performer.

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