Sony A9 and Hasselblad X1D shoot Low Light…Together
By Steve Huff
So last night I went out with Debby to shoot the Sony A9 with Voigtlander 65mm f/2 and the Hasselblad X1D with the 90 f/3.2 (I extended my rental for a day). Since I raved and loved the X1D so much for low light shooting at one of my fave local hangouts here in Phoenix, I decided to put it to the test against the might A9, what I feel is the best overall 35mm format mirrorless camera on the market. With the A9, I had the stunning Voigtlander 65mm f/2 APO attached, and to be clear, this is a fantastic lens. The more I use it, the more I really fall for it. I now OWN this lens, as on the A9, it is fantastic. At its asking price, for your Sony, it is a versatile lens that doubles as a macro and a general purpose lens.
Hasselblad X1D, click it for larger. 90mm f/3.2, ISO 6400
In any case, the Sony combo will allow me to shoot at f/2, so letting more light into the sensor..but the X1D with its much larger sensor and somewhat slower lens will mean I will have to crank the ISO up to the max at times, which is 25,600 on the X1D. While it has proven itself to me in this location, at this ISO, I wondered how the A9 would do with the f/2 lens. So away we went once again to the Lost Leaf in Phoenix. This is an awesome place where local bands play 365 days per year. It’s about a 40 minute drive from us, but soon we will be moving within 5 minutes from this location, and I can not wait. I will be able to shoot music 3-4 nights per week instead of 2-3 times per month.
I had both cameras in my Wotancraft Camp Ryker and they both fit in, snugly, with lenses attached. Both cameras were about the same size with lenses attached, though the Sony was a tad heavier due to the Voigtlander lens being built like a tank. Both felt great in the hand, in use but the Hasselblad felt better. Even so, I could not complain about the A9 here. It feels good as well.
I will write my 100% honest heartfelt opinions here as I adore and own both of these cameras. While I am currently having a love affair with the X1D, that does not mean my opinion of the A9 is any different than it was when I shot it at launch. It’s a capable versatile camera that doubles as my main video camera as well. It can use Leica M lenses, and provides me with a better EVF experience over the X1D.
Sony A9 and Voigtlander 65mm f/2, ISO 2500
So with that, away we go.
I set both cameras to Auto ISO, and shot RAW on both. Photos from the X1D were processed with the free Hasselblad Phocus software, as it just works best for X1D files (and runs fast and smooth on my Mac Pro). The Sony files were processed with ACR. I let the cameras meter in most cases though for some I adjusted in real time with some exposure compensation. A note about the Lost Leaf: It is about as low light as one gets when shooting in this type of scenario. No stage lights, no big stage, just a small room, a red light or two and the band. It’s a challenge and most cameras can not cut it. Cameras that have passed the test here have been the Sony A7SII, A7RII, A9, X1D and that is about it. I have tested a Fuji here without the best of luck, I have tested an Olympus here with some luck using the 25 1.2 lens..but the cameras that have always been the best here have been the X1D and the Sony’s.
Tonights band was “Jiggle” and they were a fabulous Jazz band that sounded amazing.
Below are two shots, taken in near darkness. Click them for larger, and to see better details as these are small compressed versions you see here. I exposed these to be somewhat dark as if I brought them up, both cameras would show an ugly sort of image noise, plus I like the dark moods sometimes. The Red lights here are tough to to tame, so I normally convert most to B&W but here I wanted to show how each camera handled the red lights.
What is very interesting here is the Sony chose ISO 4000 while at f/2 and the Hasselblad chose ISO 800 at f/3.2 – So the Sony is already at a high ISO yet still looks similar to the X1D as far as noise goes.
Here are two shots, again, in color to show the way the cameras recreated the red light. Both times, above and below, the A9 renders the red in a bolder way, the X1D a softer way. The Voigtlander shows its stuff here with a nice sharp rendering of the subject. This time the Sony is at ISO 8000 and the X1D at 6400. Click them to see larger.
For the images I am showing here in this little segment, I tried to take similar style shots, and each was taken one after the other. I was not trying to match any settings, just letting each camera do its job in Aperture Priority mode, and lenses wide open. Here is a B&W conversion, just by taking the saturation slider down to zero. No plug ins or fancy conversion software was used.
The 1st shot, The X1D is at ISO 25,600, and the A9 at ISO 8000. I admit, I prefer the X1D shot here for sure. Click them to see larger.
Now a few for fun comparisons… The 1st one from the X1D below was at ISO 25,600. The reds are strong and no color degradation from the high ISO can be seen. The A9 was at ISO 2000 in this one, so not a fair fight at all. BUT both look fantastic here. Both lenses are superb, both cameras are superb. But the fact that the Sony A9 can hang with a Medium Format in this scenario is pretty incredible. Just as I said in part of my X1D review, the IQ differences for what most use these cameras for today (sharing, social media, online) are minimal. Where the differences lie are in usability, handling and if you want to print large or shoot high detail landscapes. This is where the IQ difference of the X1D would show itself.
Here the X1D chose ISO 1600, the Sony chose ISO 800. The Sony at f/2 and the Hasselblad at f/3.2 – Both lenses are similar in the fact that the Hasselblad 90mm f/3.2 behaves like a 70mm f/2 in full frame 35mm. So a little longer than the 65 but DOF is about the same.
Color test. There was some light here on the mural…I prefer the X1D color here but not are nice.
X1D at ISO 25,600 outside, with the A9 at ISO 10,000 right after the X1D shot
At the end of the night, and after looking at images from these cameras, yes, I do prefer the X1D’s output but they are close, and for most out there, the Sony is close enough. Having the ability to shoot at f/2 with the Sony allowed for lower ISO’s where the Hasselblad lens limitations of f/3.2 of the 90mm meant it usually needed high ISO. The color output for me goes to the X1D but again, the 35mm full frame A9 did fantastic considering this location is a true torture test for ANY camera.
Shooting both, I can tell you that the A9 has the superior EVF. It is clearer, sharper and looks like a video screen, like watching a HDTV. The X1D’s is more like the A7RII generation of EVF. You would think that Hasselblad would have put something upper end in (Like Leica did with the SL) but it is what it is, and it is very usable and it never hindered me getting a shot.
The X1D start up time of 6 seconds or so is long but once I had it on, I left it on. I have it set to sleep after a couple minutes of not using it. The A9 starts up almost instant and is ready to go at a moments notice, so speed…yes, even with manual focus, the Sony wins for speed. But they are more similar than they are different..size..mirrorless..,etc
X1D B&W version of image earlier up…
Handling for me goes to the X1D but again, the A9 also feels great, no complaints. I am blessed to be able to own both of these cameras and they are both, IMO, the top mirrorless cameras in the world right now, with my old fave the Leica SL and M10 right behind them. With being the top, they do come at a cost of course with the A9 at $4500 for the body only, and the Hasselblad X1D at $8995 body only. Phew, not cheap, but man, so enjoyable. The Leica SL is $5995, the M10 around $7k. Buying these top end mirrorless cameras is not a decision to make or take lightly but some spend way more on other hobbies with watches, boats, audio, etc.
One of my life passions is photography as I enjoy the process from heading out to shoot, to actually shooting to coming home to see the results. Now, an occasional print as well. The enjoyment it brings to my life, well, I can not put a price on that. I would not recommend someone go out and buy an X1D, as honestly, you can get close with something like a Sony A9, or A7RII. The X1D is IMO, for those who fit into one of these categories:
- You shoot landscape, on a tripod and do it in gorgeous light. In this way, the X1D will give you amazing files that beat any 35mm full frame format, period. It will also reward you with fantastic colors that need little tweaking.
- You appreciate design, feel, simplicity and appreciate build quality. The X1D is simple, back to basics that does one thing well. Photography. It is like work of art, and feels amazing in the hand.
- You crop a lot and love cropping power.
That’s about it. Me, I own the X1D due to the design, size, feel, build and the fact that it is simple and takes me back to basics. Aim, frame, click, and walk away. I do love the color, the high ISO, the IQ but I also get that from my Sony A9, and for 99% of you, that will be more than good enough. In IQ you gain a little with the X1D mostly in Dynamic Range and low light but at the end of the day, the Sony A9 can rock it and get close. Neither is cheap, but the Sony is half the cost of the X1D ; )
I shot both of these, at the same time, in the roughest shooting conditions I know of for light. The results are above and I had a blast shooting them.