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Nikon D3 vs Hasselblad H3D-22Mb
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January 2008


Reader and commercial photographer Paul Reklaitis sent me comparison images between his Nikon D3 and his Hasselblad H3D-22 (22MP). The Hasselblad costs five-figures, body only. I'm not familiar with the H3D, but from what I see, the newest versions are 39 MP.

Full images. (mouse-over to compare)

Obviously the Hasselblad covers a professional 4:3 aspect ratio, while the Nikon, like all 35mm-based DSLRs, uses the wider and usually less useful 3:2 ratio. The Nikon can be set to a professional 5:4 ratio, but it does this by chopping off the sides.

Let's check out crops from the Hasselblad at 100%. Crops from the Nikon D3 are resized to match. If we required the Nikon to cover the same picture area, it would be at even more of a disadvantage.

(mouse-over to compare)

The D3 is lighter (more real ISO), so let's tame the D3 with some curves and see what happens:

(mouse-over to compare)

The Hasselblad is obviously sharper, at these crazy 100% enlargements, which is the same as making a 54 x 40" (4.5 x 3.3 foot or 1.4 x 1.0 meter) print and looking at it this close.

Let's add some sharpening to the Nikon and see what happens:

(mouse-over to compare)

The Hasselblad still looks much better to me.

Test Method

Here's how Paul made these shots and sent them to me:

Setup the studio with backdrop, mannequin, hat and gray card.
Setup one light; Elinchrom RX2400 with umbrella.
Measured the light with Sekonic L-358 light meter and PocketWizard PlusII receiver.

For Hasselblad H3D-22:

Setup light at 1/250 and F/8 at ISO 50
Set White balance per Hasselblad instructions.
Used 120mm f/4 lens at about 4 feet from subject.
Converted 16 bit Raw file to DNG using FlexColor Software
Opened DNG file with Adobe Photoshop Elements 5.0
Saved as JPG 10/12 quality.

For Nikon D3:

Kept the light in same location and just lowered the light by 2 f-stops
Re-measured with light meter for accuracy.
Set camera to 1/250, F/8, ISO 200
Turned OFF auto ISO – (Why is this still on in Manual Mode??? - Paul. Because it's a serious firmware defect - Ken!!!)
Set White Balance per D3 user manual.
Used 85mm f/1.8 lens at about 4 feet from subject.
Set D3 to save as Raw 14bit depth.
Opened NEF file with Adobe Photoshop Elements 5.0
Saved as JPG 10/12 quality.

Native image sizes:

Hasselblad H3D-22Mb: 5,440 x 4,080.

Nikon D3: 4,256 x 2,832. I (Ken) upsampled this image to 5,200 wide to compare to the Hasselblad in the crops, using Image Size > Bicubic Sharper.

For the sharpened version of the Nikon D3 image, I (Ken) used Smart Sharpen, Lens Blur, 300% at 0.2 pixel, which is a lot.


Commentary and Analysis

Paul's personal analysis: I would never use the Hasselblad at an event. It's too hard to use, doesn't shoot over ISO 400, has no auto ISO, has no auto WB, and the file sizes too big: RAW only.

Paul would never use the D3 in studio. The colors and picture quality just don’t compare.

Paul loves the D3 for ease of use and for low noise with low light at events and concerts. The D3 just gets out of the way and lets him take pictures!

For those of us in the press (Ken), we laughed when we looked at the EXIF data of Nikon's PR photos of the D3. They were shot in a studio, so of course Nikon had them shot with an appropriate camera: a $30,000 Phase One P45 back.

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