Every camera sensor is woven with microscopic threads of blackness, thousands of vertical and horizontal lines draped across the sensor that do nothing at all to help you capture a stunning image. These are the spaces between the pixels. No matter how small the pixels become or how large the sensor, they’ll always be there, leaving the camera to interpolate the colors and content contained in those dead spaces. It’s this conflict that creates the moiré pattern you often see in situations where the detail density of the subject exceeds the resolution of the sensor.
For the most part, that’s fine. Few photographers really worry about that level of detail. Unless, of course, you’re trying to capture exactly that level of detail — if you’re, say, shooting classic cars or archiving precious artwork or, in my case, trying to document a fragile family heirloom before too many more years take their toll on it.
That heirloom isn’t a vintage Rolex or a turn-of-the-(previous)-century dress. It’s a model airplane. A U.S. Air Force F-15 Eagle, to be precise—large, gorgeously built from an expensive kit by my father two decades ago, just before he died suddenly from undiagnosed heart and brain disease. He did a fantastic job on the model, with precision painting and decal work, as well as solid construction from nose to tail, wingtip to wingtip. That was his way. He spent his lifetime building scale model airplanes — most of which actually flew — and was a skilled craftsman. This model, now starting to weaken and fade as time marches on, is the only evidence I have of his lifelong passion.
Hasselblad H6D-400C MS
Sensor: CMOS, 100 megapixels (11600 × 8700 pixels)
Image Size: single-shot (100MP), 4-shot (100MP), 6-shot (400MP)
ISO: 64, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400, 12800
Shutter Speed: 60 minutes to 1/2000 sec
Color Definition: 16 bit; Dynamic range approx. 15 stops
Weight: 77 ounces
Price: $47,000 (body only)
So when offered the chance to try out Hasselblad’s new H6D-400c MS — a 400 megapixel, $47,000 camera that solves the knotty sensor resolution problem by automatically moving the sensor around to plug those gaps — I knew exactly what I’d want to shoot with it: Dad’s airplane. Its slightly yellowing decals and degrading glue signaled the need.
Because the 400c isn’t exactly a point-and-shoot camera, and indeed requires tethering to a robust computer to best manage the shooting and process images on the fly, I had to transport the model to Hasselblad’s New York office. I gingerly pulled it out of its home in a plexiglass display case, carefully wrapped it into a box stuffed with whispy slivers of foam rubber — the packaging equivalent of baby’s breath — and drove two hours across what turned out to be rain-slicked highways and heavily potholed streets into New York City, fearing the whole way that the model would be dust by the time I arrived.
The 400c includes a 100-megapixel medium-format sensor that’s standard in all H6D’s. Its bonus trick is its ability to physically move the sensor in one-pixel or 1/2-pixel increments over four or six shots and then merge the images together.
It wasn’t, thankfully. I pulled it out at the Hasselblad office, placed it on a pedestal to shoot, and it looked fantastic. Dan Wang, the company’s representative and resident 400c maestro, set up the lights and navigated me through the minutiae of what’s called multi-shot photography. The 400c includes a 100-megapixel medium-format sensor that’s standard in all H6D’s. Its bonus trick is its ability to physically move the sensor in one-pixel or 1/2-pixel increments over four or six shots and then merge the images together. The four-shot mode captures 100 megapixels, 579-megabyte TIFF files from four images shot in one-megapixel steps in a square pattern. The full six-shot mode adds extra horizontal and vertical shots displaced by 1/2 a megapixel, generating a 400 megapixel, 2.4 gigabyte TIFF file without the dead spots, and thus possessing truer colors and details.
single-shot mode on the left; 6-shot mode on the right.
With dad’s model, you can see the camera’s power in the details. The yellowing of the decals, though unflattering, is still an important nuance, and it can be detected much better when photographed in color-enhancing six-shot mode. Details in vents, panels, and even inside the cockpit — visible through the not quite optical-grade plastic canopy — are crisp and complex. Even the imperfections in the paintwork, which are intrinsic to model building, come across not as flaws but as character elements, which fade at a distance, giving the model the realism people crave. In these images, it doesn’t look like a “real” F-15 up close. It looks like something an actual human built.
Most of those interested in actually acquiring these cameras, as you might expect, are going to be institutions or the professionals who shoot for them. After all, it requires a stable shooting environment — ideally with concrete floors, as a creaky footstep or even the vibrations from a truck driving by can wreck the shooting process. And, again, it’s a $47,000 camera body that can produce single images that are each 2.4 gigabytes in size, so it requires some computer horsepower to manage. But the results? Well, I think Dad would approve.