Hasselblad, a once innovative company, has been left behind by almost everyone.
The name Hasselblad resonates with force throughout the Photography community. Rightfully so. The company is steeped in heritage and lore. Their cameras were so good at one point that NASA decided their cameras should be used in space. In fact, their 501 EL made it to the moon. This thrust the Swedish company into the limelight, and the rest, as they say, is history. For years Hasselblad was one of the top camera and lens makers. Seen by many as the ultimate craftsmen, photographers paid top dollar for Hasselblad gear. Step forward to 2021, and Hasselblad still has a mighty reputation. Their cameras and lenses are still meticulously crafted. However, in terms of performance, they’re a shadow of their former selves. Fujifilm has shaken up the Medium Format market so much that Hasselblad has been in a tailspin. Let’s talk about what they need to do to course correct.
Step Into the 21st Century Hasselblad
Hasselblad’s Medium Format Film cameras are still highly regarded. Look around the used market and you’ll see that the cameras still command a hefty sum. The cameras back then were built like tanks. Thankfully this is still the case today. Pick up an X1D II 50c, or the new 907X 50c and you know instantly that you have a product that has been crafted to perfection. Hasselblad are a boutique camera maker in the same vein that Leica is. Both of these companies pride themselves on the build of their cameras. This is where the similarities end though.
Leica knew they needed to bring their cameras into the 21st century. They have been hard at work adapting to the needs of modern photographers. They’ve used new sensors, new autofocusing systems, new processors, and much more. Their cameras are just as luxurious as they always have been, but they now pack a technological punch that makes their cameras relevant today. Hasselblad creates some truly gorgeous cameras, but they have fallen far behind the pack when it comes to tech. There’s still time for Hasselblad to catch up, though.
To start, let’s talk about what Hasselblad gets right. The Hasselblad user interface is hands-down the best in the business. The menus are slick. They’re fast. The design is easy on the eye. Two screen taps, and you’re where you need to be. You can get into the menu system, get out, and get on with your life quickly. This is how it needs to be. Every other camera manufacturer needs to pay attention here. Bravo, Hasselblad.
Sit Down. Here Comes the Bad Stuff
Hasselblad needs to stop thinking they’re the bee’s knees because of their past. The past is the past. You’re now being judged on your present, and honestly, it’s not good. You’re charging $5,750 for the X1D II and $6,399 for the 907X. Cameras that both use a seven-year-old sensor. The sensor itself is not bad at all. It can render gorgeous images. Still, you haven’t bothered to try and get the most out of it in the same way that Fujifilm has. The GFX 50R, the 50S, and now the GFX 100S are light years ahead of your two competing cameras, and they cost less!
You could argue that using a Hasselblad is all about the user experience. Paying top dollar for a camera in 2021 that only looks and feels nice but doesn’t perform is just crazy. It would be like spending six figures on an Aston Martin to just look at and touch. You’d soon get pretty frustrated if that stunning sports car only had a 4 cylinder engine in it. This, I’m afraid, is the state that Hasselblad cameras are currently in. I get that you have a niche market that perhaps wants a ‘Hasselblad experience,’ but something has to give. It’s an injustice to photographers who are spending obscene amounts of money.
It’s Not Just Hasselblad Cameras That Need Help
Both Hasselblad X series cameras use truly awful contrast-detect autofocus systems. It’s one of the most inaccurate autofocusing systems I’ve ever used. The image above shows this. During my review of the X1D II, I tried to shoot this scene five times. Four of the images were out of focus as the camera gave false positive focus readings. Autofocus is painfully slow too. You can’t use the argument that Medium Format cameras are just slower to focus, either. Again, Fujifilm has shown that blazing fast autofocus is possible on the Medium Format platform.
Then there are the lenses. Now, I always say I like using lenses with character, but wow. When I say character, I mean flaws like CA, fringing, and vignetting. Current X mount and H mount lenses take ‘character’ to a whole new level.
In fact, in many circumstances, there’s so much fringing, it’s shot ruining. The lenses are also hefty and expensive. They cost anywhere from $1,100 to $9,000 each! I appreciate the craftsmanship, I do. I love the sound the leaf shutters make. However, the performance is not what you’d expect from such expensive glass.
It’s Time To Innovate, Hasselblad
DJI purchased a majority stake in Hasselblad in 2017. Honestly, it’s probably not something they want to shout from the rooftops. A company with so much heritage being owned by a drone manufacturer. Still, good things could come from this. DJI and the minority shareholders need to pump some cash into Hasselblad to catch up to the other players in the Medium Format space.
Hasselblad, you make some of the nicest cameras I have ever held. The fit and finish are second to none. The materials used are stunning. You make luxury cameras, but it’s time to mix your heritage and history of making these gorgeous cameras with up to date tech. We need class-leading weather sealing. You need phase detect autofocus to compliment the contrast only system. There’s no excuse to leave out IBIS. Introduce better electronic viewfinders. Introduce LCDs with higher resolutions and offer better connectivity options. You can do this and still produce beautiful, handcrafted cameras.
Hasselblad, it’s time for you to do the same. Otherwise, Fujifilm will take your breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and they’ll eat them too. We’ve entered a time where nostalgia and relying on the past just won’t cut it anymore. What do you think Hasselblad needs to do? Let us know in the comment section below.