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Hasselblad CFV Digital Back User report


Active Member
Good news everyone !

This new back not only looks great it is a spectacular performer using the latest Flexcolor software or even as DNG files opened in Adobe Camera RAW (ACR).

Before employing it for wedding work, I took it on vacation with me last week for a shake down cruise. Passed with flying colors. Used a Zeiss 40/4 FLE, 100/3.5CFi, and 180/4 CFi plus a 1.4XE converter (used on the 180).

The biggest and most important thing I discovered was the the tonal range and ability to record shadow detail is extremely contrasty lighting conditions while faithfully holding detail in the brights. The color fidelity of the Zeiss lenses comes through beautifully. Deeply saturated colors even in overhead summer sun at the beach.

I deliberately shot very challenging scenes fully expecting to get some blown highlights, or crushed blacks ... neither of which happened.

Here's where we stayed on the coast of Lake Michigan ... with sun blasting the front of the house and all else in deep shadows ...

Here's beach scene ... nothing to write home about, but it was awfully contrasty light to act as a test ... one where my Canon 1DsMKII would crush the shadow areas under the umbrella in order to hold the whites and bright colors with any degree of saturation ... but the CFV and Zeiss 180/4 + 1.4XE did it without breaking a sweat.

Marc, many thanks for posting the update. Even at web based resolution the images do demonstrate the characteristics you've reported. It's great to see this "entry-level" back shows such quality imaging.

For those of us who don't have the commercial justification of top quality MF backs there is much hope!

Tell me, how do you find working with the crop factor (on this and the 39MP you recently bought) - having to re-think DOF and adapt to the lack of truly wide angle optics? That always seems a bit daunting to me. Is the sensor size the same as the 22 and 39MP backs (unlike 35mm where manufacturers have varying sizes as well as resolution capacities)? Do you think the software is a critical element of the performance or is the sensor on its own that good?
Simon, the CFV is a 36.7 X 36.7 Kodak sensor. I think the firmware may be different than with the 96C. The H2D/39 sensor is a 36.6 X 49 mm rectangle. Being a Square sensor, it works with the sq. camera.

The back itself is substantially different in how it matches the V series chrome trim cameras and looks like a sightly deeper film back. It is VERY well made and comes with an etched focusing screen showing the crop factor which is 1.5X, as well as a battery adapter for use on the SWC and ELM, X & D cameras.

I was surprised that the crop factor has as little effect on my shooting mentality as it does. But I tended to favor use of the 50mm over the 40 in past, so now I use the 40 instead which is suppose to look like a 60mm, but seems wider to me (look at the shot of the Inn where we stayed for ex&le... doesn't it look like a lens wider than 60mm was used?)

Of course, it does offer the benefit in that it effectively extends the lenses on the longer end. The 180 visually becomes a 270/4 and retains the same close focusing distance.

The net of this is to extend the use of all 500 series cameras including the SWC, and surprisingly also all the 200 series camera with a slight modification by Hasselblad which I will be doing as soon as wedding season is over.

This back on my 503CW substantially outperforms my Canon 1DsMKII in terms of image quality much the same way MF outperforms 35mm film ... smoother tonal gradations as well as more visual data to start with (larger sensor, and 16 bit). It makes me dissatisfied with using the Canon for all but where it is needed for speed and high ISO imagery.

The Flexcolor software has been substantially improved in recent months with the most noticeable improvement in higher ISO (400) image quality ... in reality all the ISO settings have been improved in terms of noise reduction and color fidelity. The Zeiss lenses do make a difference also IMO.

Here's another "Tourist" shot ...

Hmmm, I may have oversharpened that last one for web use, but you get the idea (it was the 180 & 1.4X).

Here's another with the same combo ... The sun was directly hitting the chrome on this motorcycle, so I shot it to see how the back would handle it ...

Wow, Marc the detail and sharpness are superb - even over the web! Very easy to see why your enthusiasm.

I'll read your coments more closely tonight - again thanks for sharing your experiences with this aparent "bundle of joy"!

What really strikes me is the lack of that awful "plasticisity" one so often sees in digi images. These seem as compelling as 6x6 film images.
Marc, The horse one came over very well at this end. But the bike (seat) in particular shows the superb detail so well it's as if it is real - and over the web what's more!
Yes, it reminds me of well exposed transparency films Simon.

This unit is totally portable. No connecting cords to the lens. Shoots straight to a CF card.

It was all metered with a PME45, using the 503CW without the winder, since I was walking about I wanted to keep it simple given the size of the camera and lenses. I had a small bag with a second lens and that was it. I even went bicycling with it : -) No problem at all.

While the back isn't exactly inexpensive, it does assure a long life for the 500 series gear no matter what the film makers decide to do in future. In the meantime, just use both film and digital by swapping backs ... which can be done in seconds. I took film backs with me but never used any as I played with the new toy : -)

Hasselblad also supplies a cap for the back which is super heavy duty all metal ... literally over-enginereed to protect the sensor... so switching back and forth from a film back to a digital back is pretty secure.

I admit to making photographs I normally wouldn't even consider shooting while on this test mission. But as difficult contrast situations arose I took the shot to see how it performed ... BEFORE using on a wedding job where a blown white wedding dress or detail-less tux isn't all that desirable.

Here's just such a shot. Deep shadowed areas of the pier side and under the boat canopy with potentially harsh direct overhead sunlight on a cloudless day that would make holding the top of the boat canopy and the boat's wake difficult to maintain detail at the same time as keeping the shadow detail from blocking up. Frankly, I'm amazed myself.

Thanks for sharing these impressive images. Perhaps you have already done so, but might you indicate what the size of the digital file(s) were? Did you need to increase the amount of your computer's RAM and hard disk capacity?

Without my appearing to be too intrusive, can you indicate a price range that one might expect to find for such a digital back?

Thanks again.
Marc, thanks for sharing your experiences. Overall how does the end result compare with the 'old' back you have/had? (Do you still have the old one?) Have you tried the new one with a SWC or equivalent?

Hopefully more of us will start acquiring DB's for our MF gear soon. Sure am glad I held on to my stuff, just have to figure out a good way to rationalize the expense.
This specific Imacon back is $9,995. I believe. If you are a former Imacon customer, you receive a 10% discount.

The 16 meg RAW 3f Imacon file straight from the back, and opened in Adobe Camera RAW @ 16 bit, produces a 13.6" X 13.6" 300 dpi, 95.3 meg Tiff file. If you use the interpolation option in Adobe Camera RAW (the best place to up-size an image), it produces a 20.5" X 20.5", 216 meg Tiff file. I would confidently say you could make a 30" X 30" print from this back with no quality penalty ... probably even larger if you use the right program.

This is not to be confused with scanning a MF film and getting a 600 meg tiff file. They are like comparing apples and oranges.

The end result is similar to the 96C back I recently sold ... but visibly better. It actually is better most likely due to firmware improvements and the upgraded software. Beyond that, this back is superior in design and by virtue of it's total portability.

I am also very happy I did not knuckle under and sell my V system gear.

Here's another difficult lighting situation ... another resort town Hotel where we stayed overnight ... sun blasting the front with deep shadows ...


Your images are just fantastic. I am very jealous of your CFV digital back. I just could not talk my boss(wife) into letting me getting this digital back since I just purchased a H2 and H1D as my toys of the year. If I keep beggin my wife and promise her a lot(take the trash out every week, let her wear the pants in the house, NO sex for 1 year, etc.), I may eventually get the CFV digital back for my loney 503CW. Again thanks for the information and fantastic images you contributed.

I saw you first posts at 3 am this morning and was happily impressed. Recently, I was told that the special edition would be the last of the V cameras. The other shots give me some cause to hope that this product will help to continue the V system. At least the 503. The horse and Harley are just great shots. You are talented.


Thanks alot "Marc A. Williams (Fotografz)"
Very informative and interresting. How could you descripe the results
(1) On the print(say 20"X20")?
(2) Compared with similar file size obtained from scanning MF film ?
Could you please download a 200% cropping of this detailed image?:
If you chose the windows, it will be great.
Again & again thanks toooooooooo much.
Film and digital look different no matter how you look at it. I use both for their specific charms, and try not to compare one to the other.

I'm also not much of a pixel-peeper, but what the heck ... here is a huge blow up from the shot requested.

I can understand a company the size of Hasselblad having to focus on the primary business at hand which is currently the H system and development of leadership in digital capture ... which may make the V series an orphan ... it can't be easy to sell $3,200. cameras that can be readily purchased used for 1/3 of that. It's their fault for making bullet proof gear that lasts for generations : -)


Can I add my thanks to the chorus? You are generous to share your experience and the fruits of the opportunity to own such gear (esp. the Canon comparison).

This is a very real user test...and from someone not welded to Canon and so justifying that ad nauseum!

Impressive results too...just like fine film! The comments on how 'film-like' they look are interesting. It is hypothetical at the moment as I am not (yet) in the market, but one issue is how true and real the colour and 'surface'(no waxiness!) is. True and real to Zeiss that is, but I am sure you all know what I mean.

The statement that the advantage of MF over 35mm sensor-size in digital is the same as film is also very interesting! Especially on dynamic range.

One thing though (not a criticism): the specular highlight on the motor bike seems a bit this an issue with digital capture more than film??

Well Marc that was one great purchase especially when you're already an H2D 39MP user!

This is the first digi device that has made me stand up and take notice - nearly an affordable option for an amateur; superb quality imaging.

You've made some very valuable comments that are made more meaningful by your reliance upon quality imaging to make a living and your skills.

The comments were: like the difference between 35 and 120 film; the Zeiss quality comes through; how high contrast did not block up the shadows in the boating scene (I have to feel most films can't achieve that) - to name a few only. But a question, do you feel that your own judgement in metering that scene helped the sensor get it right, if not, is the PME that good or the sensor is that much better?

And like you say, if nothing more in digi square sensor backs comes from Hasselblad we V series users can remain fully satisfied. Of course we have no reason to ever expect a new V series model camera - among the 500, 503, 200 and 550 categories we have had all that there is to have as best I can see (but will stand corrected)- and what more could we want - all the lenses we need are there and are current; all the accessories seem to be there....? The 500, 550 and 200 versions just didn't survive the digi challenge.

Indeed Hasselblad has proven with this back that quality is more important than quantity - the CEO said recently 45MP may be the limit and their focus is on the quality of the MPs as well as the quality of the firmware/software. Some felt that was a cop-out especially those with a thirst for a full frame sensor. But here is some proof.

Finally, I respected your comment as something I keep feeling when I see better quality digital images - there is still a different look between film and digital images - different horses for different courses!

Have you had a large print done yet as a test? I thought since part of your skills must be great prints to make wedding couples 100% happy, then it will be very interesting to see how your critical eye feels about say a 20x20 print!

In the meantime, I'm staying tuned.... again thanks for going to the trouble to share your experience.
(I apologize in advance for a long post)

Hi Nick. I think the specular highlights on the Motorcycle shot could have happened with most any medium. The hot spots are the sun itself reflected in the polished chrome, and may be more a result of the lens than the medium used. This was the 180/4 with 1.4EX attached.

A lower contrast color film may have helped tame it better due to having a touch more dynamic range than any digital sensor can provide. I shot the pic because it was so harsh ... again as a test of the back's ability to handle such situations BEFORE I have to do it for real on a paying job.

What I think is more important is that the near spectral areas held tone rather than burning out ... which is what I have experienced with 35mm type DSLRs.

I know for a fact that a Canon 1DsMKII would have fared worse. I learned that when trying to shoot diamond jewelry for a catalog once. The Canon with L lens couldn't handle the spectral highlights and I immediately had to revert to a MF digital back.

Lastly, I may have not processed the shot to it's maximum ability. 3f files opened in Flexcolor are better than DNG transfers processed in ACR in may instances ... but it is a slower processing method more suited to precise commercial work than large volumes of shots like travel and weddings produce. This may be because I still have a lot to learn about Flexcolor, and know a lot more about Adobe Camera RAW processing.

The process of compressing shots for internet display doesn't help either. The spectral highlights in the full sized file show more separation and tight edging than the upload.

For those interested in a digital back to extend the functionality of their Hasselblad V cameras this back is a wonder. While expensive, I found that it provides a long term protection of an investment that far exceeds the cost of the back itself. I have all the Zeiss lenses from fisheye to 350 which over time have cost an arm and a leg even with careful shopping. Selling them off in the depressed MF market wasn't an option. In fact, the depressed market allowed me to complete the lens collection once I made the decision to stick with Hasselblad 500 & 200/Zeiss. This decision wasn't made out of lack of experience. I have a Canon 1DsMKII + L lenses which I use extensively for weddings. I also (until recently) used a Contax 645 and 16 meg Kodak ProBack 645C ( another less expensive, real option for extending the functionality of the V series cameras); and lastly I currently use a H2D/39 with a full compliment of HC lenses from 35mm to 300/4.5.

I can offer you this opinion: while the H2D/39 costs 2.5X as much as this back ... it does not produce results 2.5X that of the CFV back. Each step up is very expensive, but not an equal leap forward in image quality. The HC lenses are better than most folks give them credit for, but IMO aren't Zeiss.

And yes, the qualities of the Zeiss lenses are apparent when using the CFV back. I think that is demonstrated by the vivid, clean color and micro contrast in the T* shots I've shown here.