I have been on the fence about wanting to switch to medium format, but I haven’t been able to commit. There aren’t a lot of fast aperture lenses available. Editor-in-chief Chris Gampat and I discussed how that void is the biggest drawback of digital medium format offerings. Many photographers would gladly pay a little extra. After a few years of radio silence, Hasselblad is back in the game. The Hasselblad 38mm f2.5 XCD lens is a fast aperture lens with a fantastic all-around focal length.
It looks like a supersized Leica lens, and the all-metal design feels premium. Hasselblad knows how to make gear that feels like a natural extension of yourself. They are also notorious for superior optics, as reflected in the price. Is this versatile lens worth $3,699? We think so if you can afford it. Keep reading to find out more.
Table of Contents
The Big Picture
The Hasselblad 38mm f2.5 XCD lens is lightweight, compact, and a perfect travel companion. It is comfortable to photograph with on the longest work days. The focal length is ideal for landscapes, cityscapes, street photography, architecture, commercial, still life, and fun portraits.
Hasselblad’s 38mm f2.5 lens satisfies a wishlist for medium format photographers wanting faster primes. And speaking of fast, it is swift to focus in well-lit environments. Backlit images can take a little longer. It also sometimes focuses on the background instead of your subject for macro-type images. Manual focus comes in quite handy here.
Other than that, there’s a lot to like about this lens. The 38mm lens creates detail-rich images with plenty of sharpness, gorgeous editorial hues, and dreamy bokeh. Distortions are minimal, and imperfections are easily corrected. You can also lean into the distortion for some fun portraits. The best part is that most images are sufficient without any editing. Photographers can get back to being photographers again.
- Great all-around focal length
- Hasselblad color science creates gorgeous tones
- Wonderful contrast without being too much
- Minimal distortion
- You can skip editing if you want
- Plenty of character
- Premium all-metal construction
- Simple to use
- It isn’t fully weather-sealed
- Autofocus can miss when using the large focus point
Hasselblad isn’t reinventing the wheel with the 38mm f2.5 lens. It follows a classic design and performs very well. The company has focused on making the lens feel as comfortable and natural as possible. Photographing with it is pretty enjoyable.
We received a 38mm f2.5 lens and X2D 100c loan unit from Hasselblad to review. Other gear included a Nanlite Fixture Forza 150B and the photographer’s personal Broncolor Siros L.
The Hasselblad 38mm f2.5 lens weighs less than a pound and fits comfortably in your hands. From a design standpoint, it reminds me of a supersized Leica M-series lens.
The control ring sits closest to the lens mount. Customize it to suit your needs for a more personalized experience. I prefer to use it as my aperture ring. Next is the focus ring. Utilize autofocus with it positioned closest to the camera.
Or slide it forward to reveal the full depth of field scale and enable manual focus.
Here is what it looks like from the side.
The 38mm lens accommodates a 72mm filter.
Hasselblad’s XCD 38V lens has a sleek all-metal design with a detachable metal lens hood. The focus ring twists and slides effortlessly. You will find a rubber gasket at the lens mount. However, it is not fully weatherproof, and there is no IP rating. The lens will perform as it should in moderate moisture and extreme heat. It survived a typical Montana autumn day filled with fluctuating heat, gusty winds, and rain. Although, I would not suggest using it in severe weather conditions.
The Hasselblad 38mm f2.5 lens features a stepping motor that focuses quickly in ideal light. In imperfect environments, it achieves focus at a more glacial pace. There is no tracking or eye AF.
The lens would often focus on the background when utilizing the large focus point when photographing small subjects. It was more problematic when attempting to capture macro images of nature with a plethora of background separation. It was more advantageous to switch to manual focus to get back to my desired area of focus for macro images. The X2D 100c does not have focus peaking, so I would periodically change back to AF mode before pressing the shutter.
The small focus point was much more to my liking. It was quicker and very accurate. It rarely missed my subject, and I had no need to switch to manual and recompose.
Ease Of Use
The simplistic design of Hasselblad’s 38mm f2.5 lens is very user-friendly and easy to use. I appreciate the ability to utilize an aperture ring so that my eyes do not have to leave the frame when making exposure adjustments.
Users who are accustomed to the speeds of mirrorless full-frame options will need to develop a new, slower cadence. The pairing with the X2D 100c isn’t meant for spray and pray. Contrarily, it’s more about slowing down and savoring the moment.
The X2D 100c is not equipped with tracking, human and animal AF, or eye AF. It also lacks focus peaking. In ideal light, the XCD 38V focuses sufficiently. It is also great for longer handheld exposures. Exercise patience in other lighting scenarios, it does pay off. Attempting macro images without those features is also more challenging, although not impossible.
I found it best to utilize MF to gain the proper distance and then slide the ring to AF and dial it in when photographing a butterfly with the larger focus point. It took about ten frames to get the image I was striving to get finally. It could partly be because the X2D’s rolling shutter takes some practice to dial in your timing. Even so, I found myself missing focus peaking. Hopefully, Hasselblad will add it in a future firmware update.
The Hasselblad 38mm f2.5 lens has an approximate 30mm f1.98 full-frame equivalent. It is an ideal all-around focal length to leave affixed to your camera for long periods of time. It is lightweight and compact enough to throw in your camera bag for an adventure. I enjoyed taking this lens around Montana and on a few paid jobs.
It is an excellent choice for photojournalism, landscape, cityscape, commercial, interior, and street photography. The wider angle can be challenging for portraits. Lean in and embrace the fun distortion. Or you can mitigate by centering your subject in the center of the frame.
The Hasselblad 38mm f2.5 lens produces detail-rich images with beautiful tones and prominent bokeh when you want it. Shadows are deep without being overbearing and make for pleasing portraits in hard light. Minimal editing is required if any at all.
The 38mm f2.5 lens can produce lovely bokeh. It has a minimum focusing distance of .3 meters, or just under a foot. Give your subject plenty of background separation, and watch details beautifully melt away. The lens also produces wonderful environmental portraits with pleasing bokeh when stopped down.
The 38mm f2.5 lens produces beautiful true-to-life colors with an editorial flare. Hasselblad’s color science creates one of my favorite color palettes to work with. The colors are gorgeously vibrant without being over the top. The blues and greens look like what you see in fashion magazines. Skin tones are realistic and require very little editing.
One of my biggest complaints about modern lenses is how boring they have become in the quest for perfection. The Hasselblad 38mm f2.5 lens has struck a harmonious chord. Distortions and highlight fringing is minimal and easily corrected when aiming for precision. The natural vignetting is easily corrected if you aren’t a fan of it. You can also lean into the distortion and play with really fun angles for portraits. Its leaf shutter blades create fun sun stars and light stars. Want lens flare too? Go for it. I also appreciate the shadow detail when photographing portraits in hard light with contrasty shadows. Images require little post-processing work.
Hasselblad’s XCD 38V lens produces sharp images with an abundance of detail. Only the corners and outermost edges are soft at its widest aperture. Stop down if you want to extend the sharpness throughout the entire frame when focused at infinity.
Extra Image Samples
From day one, The Phoblographer has been huge on transparency with our audience. Nothing from this review is sponsored. Further, lots of folks will post reviews and show lots of editing in the photos. The problem then becomes that anyone and everyone can do the same thing. They’re not showing what the lens can do. So we have a section in our Extra Image Samples area to show edited and unedited photos. From this, you can make a decision for yourself.
Who Should Buy The Hasselblad 38mm F2.5 Lens?
There is a lot to like about Hasselblad’s 38mm f2.5 lens. Although, it isn’t perfect. The lens is not fully weather-sealed. It will perform well in moderate moisture and temperatures. We do not recommend photographing in adverse weather.
The lens performs as you want it to in ideal situations. It is slow in poor light and sometimes focuses on the background instead of your subject. There is no tracking, human/animal AF, or eye AF with the X2D 100c. I found myself lusting after animal AF when photographing a butterfly. Manual focus was more successful in that scenario. It is possible that the final production of this lens will be more prompt with improved firmware.
If you are patient, the pros far outweigh the cons. Images are beautiful with gorgeous hues, true-to-life skin tones, and near-perfect contrast. Hasselblad color science is pretty great. Any imperfections are easily remedied, and most photos don’t even require editing. Photographers can be simply photographers again.
If I owned the Hasselblad system, I would invest in this lens and leave it affixed to my camera most of the time. I appreciate that the company sees a missed opportunity of fast medium format lenses and is filling the void.
It is lightweight and comfortable to photograph with all day. Its compact size makes it the ideal travel companion. The focal length is excellent for portraits, landscapes, cityscapes, commercial images, photojournalism, architecture, and street photography. The gorgeous images and newfound time of not having to edit satisfy the $3,699 price tag.
Hasselblad’s newest additions have been a pleasant surprise after such long silence. We look forward to seeing how they move forward from here. You can pick the lens up if you are ready to buy it. Or rent it from Lensrentals to take it for a test drive.
Tech specs are from Hasselblad.
- Focal length: 38mm
- Equivalent Focal length (24×36): 30mm
- Aperture range: 2,5 – 32
- Angle of view diag/hor/vert: 70°/59°/46°
- Length/diameter: 68/76 mm
- Length (from camera lens mount flange): 63mm
- Weight (excl. covers and lens shade): 350g
- Filter diameter: 72mm
- Product number: CP.HB.00000719.01
- Minimum distance object to image plane: 0,30 m
- Maximum scale image: 1:6,2
- Corresponding area of coverage: 27 x 20 cm
- Corresponding exposure reduction: 0 f-stops
- Compatibility: Hasselblad X System & 907x cameras
- Elements/groups: 10 elements in 9 groups
- Aspherical elements: 3 aspherical elements
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