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Hasselblad CFV–39 digital back review
Part three

Battery life

I cannot make competent comments on the battery life performance as the CFV–39 was lent to me with batteries that had been used for at least a while with other CFV backs. Nonetheless, I would like to share my observations here as new batteries will sooner or later reach the same stage of battery life as the batteries that I had were at.

I had two batteries on loan—one smaller (2000mAh) and one larger (4000mAh); even bigger batteries (6000mAh) are available, too. As I mentioned in the handling section of this review, the CFV–39 perfectly transforms classic film cameras into digital workhorses without affecting the aesthetics of the V system. This, however, is only the case when the smallest battery is used—once you attach a bigger power pack you will be aware of its presence at all times due to the extra weight and protrusion that affects handling of the camera in general and handhold–ability in particular. Bigger batteries last longer but I would rather have several small batteries in my camera bag than one massive power pack attached to the back.

 
Danxia landforms at Zhangye / Hasselblad CFV-39 digital back
 

Danxia landforms at Zhangye
Zhangye, Gansu Province, China (中国甘肃省张掖)
Hasselblad 503CW camera body, CFE 2.8/80 lens and CVF–39 digital back

Overall, I was not very impressed with battery life—in this day and age we have seen and grown accustomed to a more respectable performance. For a full day of shooting with a reasonable amount of histogram peeking I would not feel comfortable without having at least three fully charged 2000mAh batteries.

Image quality

The files produced by the CFV–39 vary from just over 20MB to almost 80MB depending on the complexity of an image (the more detail, the larger the file size if all other factors are the same); most of the files that I shot during the expedition, however, are in the range of 60MB to 70MB. As one would expect, this is a lot of information that should translate into outstanding image quality. Indeed, image quality at the native ISO setting (ISO50) is nothing short of astounding.

Sidebar: All photographs posted in this review were taken with the CFV–39. I have to note that the small size of the images does not make them justice and you have to see real–life prints to appreciate their intricacy. I do not mean this to be a shameless plug, but if you are considering buying the back or simply curious about MF digital back image quality, you might want to buy a print of one of the images to see for yourself what the print quality is like.

First, there is the number of pixels. The dimension of the images produced by the CFV–39 is 7212 by 5412 pixels, which at the printing resolution of 360dpi translates into 51cmX38cm prints of absolutely superb quality. And of course, one can print much larger than this while retaining outstanding print quality at appropriate viewing distances. Second, there is the quality of the pixels. The back does not have an anti–aliasing (AA) filter and pixel–level sharpness is stunning. The flip side of not having an AA filter, however, is that aliasing artifacts (such as moiré) might be a problem in certain images and especially with textile patterns. I, however, so far have not encountered this issue; also, Hasselblad Phocus software allows effectively removing moiré with the use of the Deep Impact Moiré Filter.

Dynamic range of the CFV–39 is enormous—Hasselblad claim it to be 12 stops and it seems to be the case. The test shot below was taken around midday against the scorching sun of a desert town and it holds both highlight and shadow detail exemplarily well. The histogram on the right corresponds to the processed image and there actually was a lot more room for maneuvering when working on the image in RAW converting software. Also, images are captured in true 16–bit mode, which makes them even more robust.


 

One would naturally be interested in how image quality of the CFV–39 compares with photographs from medium format film (6X6 in this case). This is a very complicated issue that involves a large number of variables and, due to its complexity, is outside the scope of this review. I, however, could not hold back my curiosity and had a close side–by–side look at prints of comparable sizes from CFV–39 files and those made from scans of 6X6 slides. While this certainly is insufficient to draw any conclusions, my initial impression is that prints from the CFV–39 files look noticeably crispier and sharper than the best prints I have been able to produce from 6X6 slides scanned with a Hasselblad X5 scanner at 3200dpi, post–processed to the best of my ability and printed at 360dpi.

 
The Great Wall at Jiayuguan / Hasselblad CFV-39 digital back
 

The Great Wall at Jiayuguan #2
Jiayuguan, Gansu Province, China (中国甘肃省嘉峪关长城)
Hasselblad 503CW camera body, CFE 2.8/80 lens and CVF–39 digital back

The CFV–39 offers a range of ISO settings from 50 to 800 and high ISO performance (by "high" in this context I mean all settings higher than the native ISO50) is, well, mediocre at best, especially in the light of what some 35mm DSLRs are capable of. As soon as you go beyond ISO50 noise becomes visible, fine detail starts being lost to noise, dynamic range gradually shrinks and images start having increasingly strong magenta cast. Personally, I would not use settings above ISO100 for critical work. At first I thought I would post crops from files shot at different ISO settings but then decided not to do so in order not to overemphasise an aspect that was never meant to be raison d'être of the CFV–39.

Conclusions

The Hasselblad CFV–39 is not a jack of all trades—if you are looking for a general purpose, do–it–all digital camera you should look elsewhere. Instead, it is a solid professional tool that caters for a particular audience and distinctly excels in one specific area: the CFV–39 successfully extends the legacy of the Hasselblad V system into the domain of digital photography while providing the users of the system with state–of–the–art image quality. The minor shortcomings that it has can be easily worked around and most likely will not be bothersome to potential users—after all, what matters to the group of photographers it is intended for is continuing using their existing equipment in a familiar, well–practiced and meticulous manner while producing large prints of impeccable quality. To that end, the CFV–39 delivers in abundance.

Part one

Part two

Part three